KOLKATA: There is a memorial across the border in Bangladesh but none on the Indian side to remind people of a famous battle fought exactly 49 years ago, barely 100km from Kolkata. This was a battle involving the Infantry supported by tanks that is unlikely to ever take place again so close to the city. Yet, only a few would remember the Battle of Garibpur that was a precursor to the 1971 Indo-Pak War, leading to the liberation of Bangladesh. A movie on it is expected to be released soon.
Mukti Joddhas from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) would cross over into India for training after skirmishes with the Pakistan army. The Pakistan army would make incursions into India till troops of 14 Punjab (Nabha Akal) were entrusted to take over Garibpur. The attack was to be a surprise but a patrol of 14 Punjab had an encounter with Pakistani troops on the night of November 20, and the Pakistan army, that had a strong presence in Jessore, was well prepared by the evening of November 21. The Indian infantry battalion was supported PT-76 light tanks of the 45 Cavalry.
“The Pakistani side had US-made Chaffee tanks and attacked Indian positions. The Indian light tanks were not considered a match for the far more advanced Chaffees. The Pakistani infantry was also supported by heavy artillery. There was a close-quarter battle through the night and the Pakistanis were forced to retreat by the morning of November 22. They left behind 11 destroyed Chaffee tanks and three in running condition. The Pakistanis followed this up with air strikes by Sabres till IAF Gnats brought down two of them over Bongaon and forced another one to fly back,” a senior Army officer said.
Kolkata has two Chaffee tanks, their turrets pointing towards the ground to signify that they are war trophies. Officers believe they are from Garibpur. According to one of them, the Battle of Garibpur may have been fought well before the actual war was declared on December 3 but it played a very important role in affecting the morale of Pakistani troops based in Bangladesh. It is believed that Pakistan lost nearly 300 men in the battle.
“Tactically, it also forced the Pakistanis to vacate Chaugacha and cleared the road to Jessore. India’s 9 Infantry Division proceeded along this road towards Jessore, which was a Pakistan army stronghold. Maybe we should have a memorial on the Indian side of the border to commemorate this great victory,” the officer said.