Successful Deception in War-time: Para-dropping at Tangail (1971)

Deception has always played a major role in the victory in battles and wars. In this article, the author describes how the Pakistani Army was deceived to believe that a very large Indian force was paradropped behind their lines. Read the interesting episode of 1971.

All of us have heard this famous adage: "All is fair in love and war". Let us leave aside 'love' from the scope of the present discussion. Everything is allowed in war. The experienced military men know that throughout the ages, deception has played a major role in victory in battles and wars. Eminent Chinese philosopher and military tactician Sun Tzu has aptly stated in 'The Art of War': "All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near"

For quick victory in the War, Indian Army also resorted to deception during the very short Bangladesh war in 1971. Astute military strategy and planning, innumerable instances of gallantry, co-operation from the Bangladeshis and a little bit of deception helped the Indian forces to achieve victory within only 12 days. In this article, let us know about this interesting 'little bit of deception'.

The background of the airdrop

This was perhaps the first time in Indian history when the Indian Army was fully prepared to face the aggression. So, immediately after the declaration of war by Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan, the Eastern Command of the Indian Army crossed the border. The overall in charge of the Eastern Command was Area Commander Lt. Gen. JS Arora. Under the Eastern Command, the 2nd Corps under Lt. Gen. (later General) TN Raina entered East Pakistan from its Headquarter at Krishnanagar in West Bengal through Boira/Gharibpur. The 33rd Corps (Headquarter: Siliguri) under Lt. Gen. ML Thapan sent its soldiers to enter the northern part of East Pakistan from Hili. Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh, Commander 4th Corps, entered East Pakistan from Corps Headquarter at Agartala. Finally, 101 Communication Zone (equivalent to a Division) entered East Pakistan crossing Surma River from Silchar. It was headed by Maj. Gen. Gurbax Singh Gill and later by Maj. Gen. Gandharv Nagra (when Maj. Gen. Gill was injured during the war).

While 2nd Corps and 33rd Corps concentrated on the objectives earlier decided for these two formations, Lt. Gen, Sagat Singh's 4th Corps took a momentous decision after entering East Pakistan emerging victorious in the hard-fought Battle of Feni. Instead of making effort to achieve its pre-decided objective of taking Chittagong, it moved towards Dhaka. This change of plan of 4thCorps changed the entire scenario.

The Tangail paradrop

Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh ordered his Corps to run towards Dhaka. Now, if we examine the topography of Bangladesh, we will find that the route from Chittagong to Dhaka is full of big and small rivers. Sagat's strategy was to bypass Pakistani garrisons on the way and march for the final assault (on Dhaka) at the earliest. Tangail paradrop is an important aspect of his strategy. On 11th December 1971, Indian Army's 2 Para under the direct command of Lt. Col. (later Maj. Gen.) K.S. Pannu paradropped behind the enemy line at Tangail.

This successful daredevil act was completed by 4.30 p.m. and was immediately followed by the link-up with 1 Maratha Light Infantry (MLI). 2 Para and 1 MLI captured Poongli Bridge on River Jamuna. This important task was completed by 7 p.m. on the same day. This action totally cut off Pakistani 93rd Brigade under Pakistani Brigadier Abdul Quadir Khan. This action enabled 4th Corps and 101 Communication Zone to reach Dhaka very fast. On the other hand, Pakistani forces could not retreat to defend Dhaka.

Now, the deception

Lt. Col. Ramamohan Rao of Directorate of Public Relations was attached with the office of General (later Field Marshal) SHFJ Maneckshaw during the war. He was called by Maj. Gen. (later Lt. Gen.) Inder Gill, the then Director of Military Operations (DMO) and the Colonel of the Para Regiment. Inder Gill intimated Lt. Col. Rao about the paradrop in advance and ordered him to give adequate publicity of the event. Lt. Col. Rao, while carrying out the order, could not readily find any picture of the Tangail paradrop. So, he played a trick.

He used a photograph of the paradropping training of the entire Parachute Regiment held in Agra the previous year and give it a caption of Image of Tangail paradrop. This trick could not be found by any news agency. The photograph made it appear that an entire Para Brigade was airdropped at Tangail. This picture appeared in the Times published from London and the New York Times from New York. BBC reported that 5000 paratroopers of the Indian Army had been paradropped at Tangail, while, in actuality, only 540 paratroopers were airdropped.

Result of this deception

The news-item appeared in the Times, London which was read by Pakistani Lt. Gen. Niazi in Dhaka. He was totally disheartened. Coupled with this deception, the call of Maneckshaw to surrender within 48 hours and daring attack and bombing of the Governor's House in Dhaka by Indian Air Force while a meeting was in progress, completely demoralized Pakistani military establishment in the Eastern Theatre. As a result, despite the Pakistani Army was very well in a position to hold Dhaka for another ten days, entire Pakistani Eastern Command surrendered to the Indian Army on 16th December 1971. A new country was born.

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