At around 10:55 am on December 14, 1971, in the midst of the Indo-Pak war, four MiG-21FLs from the No. 28 First Supersonics pierced the fog screen and took off from the Air Force Station, Borjhar located to the west of Guwahati. They flew south for about 20 minutes, hit the assigned targets and returned unheralded. The fliers, at that moment, assumed it to be a regular combat sortie similar to the ones which they had been flying ever since the war broke out from the first week of December that year.
Unknowingly Air Force Station, Borjhar was pre-ordained to gain historical significance by launching the strike which led to the largest surrender by an army after the World War II. It contributed significantly towards the decimation of the swagger of the Pakistan Army and catalysed their surrender in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Borjhar became a part of the famous attack on the Governorís house in Dhaka which was the cradle of the Pakistani might in the East Pakistan.
When the war broke out between India and Pakistan on December 3, 1971, the First Supersonics was at Tezpur and it was ordered to redeploy at Borjhar within hours. Immediately after relocating to Borjhar, the First Supersonics along with the MiG-21FLs of No. 4 Oorials started to mount regular attacks in support of the Indian Army in areas in and around Maulvi Bazar, Commila, Narsingde, Lalmai, Mainamati and Dhaka. Borjhar was one of the operational air bases along with Tezpur, Hasimara, Bagdogra, Agartala, Kalaikunda and Dumdum.
From the northeastern side Borjhar had become the hub of air activity against Pakistani deployment in the East. Underground command centres were set up to coordinate offensive air action along an extensive corridor that included two important Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bases at Tezgaon and Kurmitola which hosted F-86 Sabres. Attacks were concentrated primarily to neutralize the Pakistan Armyís ability to wage war for a longer duration and assist the Indian Army in its forward thrust towards Dhaka.
Before the war started, extensive air activity was sustained by the PAF and the first combat action in the East took place on November 22 when four F-86 Sabres attacked Mukti Bahini positions along the Jessore border. The attacks were carried out undeterred from morning till 3 pm, when four Indian Air Force (IAF) Gnats from the No. 22 Swifts squadron scrambled from Dumdum pounced and shot two of them. The IAF fighters under radar cover had an advantage but the PAF had maintained a strong presence in and around Dhaka with its air bases in Tezgaon and Kurmitola in full operational status with extensive infrastructure.
The PAF lost air superiority in the East during the first few days of initiation of hostilities. There was virtually no air support to the Pakistan Army in its effort to resist the fast forward movements of the Indian Army under close air support from the IAF. The strategy was to encircle the Pakistan Army, wherever possible destroy their resources, capture areas under their occupation and liberate what later became Bangladesh.
The Indian Navy with its carrier battle group led by the INS Vikrant had blocked the sea lanes and launched massive carrier based air assault from December 7 along the coastal belt of the then East Pakistan by particularly concentrating on Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and Barisal. The UN had already declared a few safe pockets in Dhaka and asked civilians to take shelter. In such a situation, the disintegration of Pakistan and liberation of Bangladesh seemed imminent.
The speculation of an American intervention to prevent a defeat of the Pakistan Army took a real step forward when the US Navyís Seventh Fleet was asked to sail to the Bay of Bengal. At that time the puppet Pakistani government in Dhaka led by the Governor Dr Mallik was in a precarious position and was trying their best to save face. They tried everything they could to prevent an overrun by the Indian Army while the Pakistani military commander of the East General Niazi declared that his forces would resist till the end.
The IAFís relentless air offensive had a major psychological impact on the Pakistani establishment in Dhaka. The Governor was a key figure who suffered one such breakdown when he faced an attack by the IAF right in the premises from where he used to run his establishment. The Governorís house suffered extensive damages when IAF fighters struck it on broad daylight when Dr Mallik and his advisers where discussing key policy issues.
At around 10:50 am on December 14, 1971 Wing Commander (later Air Vice Marshal) BK Bishnoi, commanding officer, First Supersonics received an instruction to attack Governorís house in Dhaka by 11:20 am. He had just returned from a combat mission and had no target information. He could barely think about rest or receive some briefing, only managed to collect a few tourist maps and within minutes got airborne along with three of his key members of the squadron.
Bishnoi had taken over the charge of the First Supersonics just one year prior to the war and was not an original MiG-21FL pilot but had recently converted. The No. 28 was the first IAF squadron to convert to the supersonic MiG-21FL, hence the name First Supersonics. The squadron was served by several illustrious fighter pilots of whom a few went on to become the Chief of the Air Staff.
There were two government houses which the Pakistani establishment used frequently those days in Dhaka ó one a circuit house and the other the Governorís house. As Bishnoi and his colleagues were taxing out for take off, one of his flight commanders confirmed again that the target was the Governorís house. The legendary, bi-sonic, classical delta winged MiG-21FLs acquired from the Soviet Union in 1963 had proved their worth throughout the 14-day campaign and for that mission each of these fighters was loaded with high explosive rockets.
Maintaining complete radio silence and flying low after crossing the hilly foliage in Meghalaya, Bishnoi and his men were over Dhaka just minutes before the fixed time, but was unsure about the specific location of the target. The last minute instruction to target only the Governorís house meant that it first must be located and then only attacked. The team made one circle and found the Governorís house right ahead of their flight path.
It was a magnificently decorated, palatial structure with a high dome, surrounded by a lush green compound and a garden. At that time when it was spotted by Bishnoi and his team, quite a few numbers of vehicles were parked inside the entrance. The information passed on to the Air Headquarters, New Delhi that Dr Mallik and his aids were to hold a meeting that day appeared correct.
The Governor and his men were engaged in a serious meeting when the first of Bishnoiís rockets struck the prominent dome. The MiG-21FLs targeted the room just below the dome where the meeting was going on. The fighters made two runs and emptied all of what they had carried that day and returned.
Dust and fire engulfed the structure and it reflected the state of the Pakistani establishment which was about to collapse. It was reported later that the Governor was so fear stricken by the attack that he resigned immediately and took cover of the UNís air shelters. The establishment moved to the Dhaka University campus which next became the target of the IAF fighters. From then on till December 15 Bishnoiís men and a few from the other IAF squadrons flew extremely low along the curvy lanes of Dhaka, picked key targets and strafed to reinforce the fear which had already gripped the Pakistani machinery.
Gen Niaziís bravado evaporated soon as the barrage of rockets and bombs continued to rain over Dhaka and by December 18, 1971, he along with 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered and the war ended. While peace returned and the IAF fighter sweeps stopped, Gen Niazi confessed off the record that the air assault was instrumental in wreaking the moral of the Pakistani forces and hence surrender remained the only option or else face annihilation.
Far off at Borjhar, Bishnoiís men maintained their birds on full combat alert ready to fly and hit targets again but the guns fell silent. The First Supersonics was conferred the battle honours for contribution to the air effort in the eastern sector. The Air Force Station, Borjhar entered the chronicles as the launch pad of extensive offensive action in a theatre of a war which gave birth to a new nation ó Bangladesh, the process of which was accelerated on a day to the extent that the enemy surrendered abruptly as if struck by a bolt from the blue.
Kandarpa Kumar Sarma