The 1971 India-Pakistan war stands out on many counts. It was a barely two weeks long war fought in two separate theatres that severed off the distant Eastern half of the then 24 years old Pakistan and which also liberated that Eastern chunk to become Bangladesh. Two other reasons for the military uniqueness of that war was that it featured amphibious tanks actually fighting afloat and it ended with 93,000 Pakistan armed forces personnel surrendering to Indian Army. It was this West Pakistani force, aided by local Razakars, which had killed over 3 million Bengalis in the largest ever genocide since the Holocaust and raped up to 4,00,000 women. A determined group of Bengali youth who formed the Mukti Bahini (freedom force) were trained by Indian Army and became a valuable asset in operations against the rogue and barbaric Pakistan army.
The title of the book refers to Pak army’s Chaffee tanks of American make deployed in East Pakistan. This book is the first of its kind to focus on the operations of Indian Army’s three armoured regiments deployed in the Eastern sector during that war. These regiments were 45 Cavalry (Cav) and 69 Armoured Regiment (AR), equipped with amphibious PT-76 and 63 Cav, equipped with T-55 tanks—both manufactured and sold to India at political prices by the former USSR. Another aspect of this book is that it records the combat experiences of young officers and their troops, the ‘cutting edge’ of the nation’s military power. The junior leaders— blooded in battle- brought victory and glory to their units and the nation. How despite contrary orders, deficiency in planning and paucity of logistics, the miracle of success was achieved, remains, as it often does, under a veil of secrecy. The author, then a young officer, lifts that veil to present an accurate and unbiased account of how 45 Cav, the only regiment raised post independence, with a mixed class composition, led the Indian advance into erstwhile East Pakistan and fought there. After 45 Cav’s ‘C’ squadron comman-der got killed, the author took command. This squadron completely destroyed Pak army’s 3 (Independent) Armoured Squadron and badly mauled its two infantry battalions and a company of the reconnaissance and support battalion, at Garibpur on 21 November 1971. The squadron then led the advance of HQ 9 Infantry Division through Burinda – Jessore – Ramnagar – Daulatpur-Khulna, until ordered to halt tanks from assaulting across Bhairab River, for capture of Khulna on the afternoon of 16 December 1971.
The book’s battle account is noteworthy for the wide range of combat situations experienced by tank crews. Some of the nightmares the author relates are destruction of enemy tanks at a range of 30 metres on a foggy winter morning; the reactions of tank crews trapped between date trees while under rocket attack by F-86 Sabres; driving through 800 metres of anti-tank minefield where trailing tanks have become mine casualties and floating down a tidal river in an amphibious tank, with jammed water propellers and enemy’s 6 pounder coastal guns coming into full view.Such combat experiences provide valuable lessons to serving personnel. To that extent, the book not only informs and instructs but also entertains and educates the reader about the very basics of men in combat.
There is an interesting account of then Defence Minister ‘Babu’ Jagjivan Ram arriving to address a gathering of over 100 Indian and foreign journalists to brief them about Pak army’s suicidal attack plan. The Defence Minister was accompanied by his wife and the couple were photographed mounting a destroyed Chaffee tank. This picture fired the imagination of the Indian masses and subtly conveyed India’s resolve to invade and destroy the Pakistani forces and ensure the birth of a new nation – Bangladesh.The book also exposes Pak army’s barbarism and glaring leadership lacuna. Pakistani brutality towards Indian prisoners was in sharp contrast to the humane treatment meted out to the 93,000 prisoners taken by the Indian Army. Each Army, eventually has its own ethos. This book, worth reading by general public, must be read by all Indian armed forces serving and retired officers, as well as those of foreign armed forces, particularly Pakistan’s.