On this day (11 December), in 1971, Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted the pivotal paradrop of 2 Para at Tangail — the first of its kind in the subcontinent — which eventually led to the surrender of Dhaka.
Following the heli-lift of 4/5 Gorkha at Sylhet on 7 December, and the crossing of Meghna at Ashuganj on 9 December, along with the ongoing airlift across Meghna from Brahmanbaria to Narsingdi, a sense of panic set in among the Pakistani ranks.
As the Indian forces, led by 4 Corps commander Lieutenant General Sagat Singh, had correctly identified Dhaka as the centre of gravity of the war in eastern Pakistan, the Indian forces commenced their dash to Dhaka.
The Pakistan Eastern Army Command Headquarters, realising the objective of the Indian forces, instructed all available forces under its command to withdraw for a final showdown in Dhaka.
However, Indian troops held up multiple Pakistani formations with minimal forces, preventing their withdrawal to Dhaka, while simultaneously using heli-lifts to quickly bypass rivers and advance towards the city.
In the east, two Pakistani brigades (202 Adhoc and 313 Sylhet), totalling close to 7,000 soldiers, were held at Sylhet by just 400 battle-hardened soldiers of 4/5 Gorkha. Meanwhile, the helicopter crossing of 11 Guards at Raipur and river crossing of 19 Punjab using boats prevented two Pakistani Army brigades of 14 Infantry Division from moving to Dhaka.
From the north, the entire 2 Para, led by Lieutenant Colonel Kulwant Singh Pannu, was airdropped in the afternoon at Tangail across the Jamuna River by a fleet of 6 AN-12s, 22 Dakotas, and 20 Packet aircraft.
The first wave of An-12s dropped heavy loads, followed by Packets dropping platform loads and troops, with Dakotas dropping the bulk of the troops.
The airdrop spanned from 1600 to 1630 hours, during which more than 750 men, along with their artillery and light vehicles, were airdropped.
The primary objective of 2 Para was to capture the Poongli bridge on the Jamalpur-Tangail road, cutting off the retreat of Pakistan Army's 93 Brigade and linking up with the Maratha Light Infantry to move towards Dhaka.
2 Para swiftly captured the lightly defended Poongli bridge by 2000 hours and successfully repelled all five counterattacks launched by the 93 Brigade throughout the night of 10/11 until the morning of 12 December.
By the afternoon of 12 December, 2 Para had linked up with 1 Maratha Light Infantry. The combined forces of 2 Para and 1 Maratha effectively disrupted the 93 Brigade's movements through well-coordinated ambushes and the support of extensive bombing by the IAF.
As a result, 93 Brigade ceased to be a cohesive fighting unit, and its remaining elements retreated. Brigadier Qadir, the commanding officer of the 93 Brigade, was captured along with 26 officers.
The complete destruction of the 93 Brigade, combined with the successful delay of multiple Pakistani formations preventing their retreat to Dhaka, played a crucial role in the eventual surrender at Dhaka.
2 Para would eventually become the first Indian force to march into Dhaka.
Pakistani Army Commander Lt Gen A A K Niazi later explained his decision to surrender despite having adequate forces to fight for another 40-45 days. He pointed to the photograph of the airdrop of troops on the front page of The Times newspaper as a pivotal factor in his decision.
Editorial Associate at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.
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