Sunday, May 2, 2010
The meeting on the Meghna was the first set-piece battle of the liberation war. It amply demonstrated enemy’s superiority in fire power and its ever whelming capability to move at ease by air and water. The enemy was better trained in modern warfare and in the handling of weapons. With the lack of mobility and fire power the two main deciding factors for any conventional warfare, no commander can ever conceive of an armed engagement. But the situation was different with the liberation army. We had to fight with what ever we had. We knew it for certain that today’s defeat would bring forth victory in the future. The first set-piece battle had its obvious toll in killed and injured. Subedar Sirajul Islam, Lance Naik Abdul Hai, sepoys Kafil Uddin and Abdur Rahman Sarkar and many others died in this action while a good number got injured.
After a long hurried night march the troops got exhausted and tried. They were thirsty. Sarail gave them a rather cold welcome. The warmth and enthusiasm of the locals on the previous day diminished to its lowest ebb. We could appreciate the feeling of the people. They had reposed high hopes on us. We failed them and could not come up to their expectation at Ashuganj.
Another eight miles to Shahbazpur, on the banks of Titas. I was there with my troops less the company under Matin. By the second half of the night Matin reached Shahbazpur. Bhairab could not be held for long. Matiur was overpowered. The use of the bridge and the river Meghna to get across to our side of the bank was denied to him. Matiur withdrew to the north along the railway track to Kuliarchar. He joined me later through Chatalpar.
Nasim and Morshed sustained injuries during this action which had an adverse effect on the battle. Now with the successful heli landing of the enemy I thought it better to get my troops extricated to safety. They were already disorganized and were in utter confusion. Towards the evening Nasim fell back towards Sarail. The enemy flotilla turned on the mouth of Titas, landed their troops and began to sweep along my left flank. Matin at Lalpur began to feel uneasy. The position was no more tenable by him. It was evening when he fell back along the railway track and there from to Brahmanbaria. Brahmanbaria wore a deserted look. It was about midnight when, Matin along with his troops made for Sarail without any delay and found none of our troops there also.
The Ajabpur position was thinly held by irregular troops under a junior commissioned officer. The heli landings took place around that place unhindered. The enemy air strikes continued to dominate the battle field. My troops simply ducked down in their trenches. Their power of movement and initiative was snatched away. The heliborne troops soon organized themselves quietly and attacked our position at Ashuganj from the north-east of the railway track. To counter this unforeseen development, that is, the landing of the heliborne troops at the rear, Nasim quickly reorganized his company inspite of air action and assaulted the enemy. Lance Naik Abdul Hai, the detachment commander of an MG post, kept on firing on the enemy from an open trench on the railway track till he was hit by a direct shot from 83 mm blendicide causing his instantaneous death. The enemy closed in our defended localities in a body. Soon they were drawn in unawares within our fold. Close quarter battle that continued for about an hour had witnessed some of the fiercest hand to hand fights. The enemy suffered a good number on casualties in this encounter.
As the battle raged on the enemy bank, the flotilla closed in within range and formed a perfect target. The commander at Lalpur, Matin, in his hurried and difficult move the previous night had left his 106 mm RR with the company at Ashuganj under Nasim. The RR could not be moved because of carriage difficulties. However, one 75 mm RR was moved from Gokanaghat to the mouth of Titas which scored 5 shots at the LCT without causing any material damage.
When the flotilla was still looking for our position with searching eyes, a trigger happy soldier from the middle opened fire. The enemy returned immediately with a volley from the tanks. Instantly all the fire opened up. Our rocket launchers and mortars started pounding the enemy. The enemy was taken aback. The flotilla gradually started drifting away from the bank while the guns kept on spitting fire. In no time, six Sabre F-86 fighters were on our positions at Bhairab, Ashuganj, Lalpur and at Brahmanbaria. They were playing havoc and kept us pinned down. Air action left my troops in a spell of chaos and confusion. This continued uninterrupted for 6 hours from 5-30 a.m. to 11-30 a.m. it was during this time that I noticed a beeline of MI-8 helicopters yonder across the river to Shohagpur between Ashuganj and Ajabpur. The helicopters squatted for a while to unload the Pakistani “Maroon Barets” and flew back to fly in more sorties. It was a company plus that landed behind our position. I had no anti-heli force to counter this dangerous threat behind my back. Thus, to our great disadvantage, another dimension was added to this battle, where we could not help much.
At 5-30 a.m. on April 15, enemy guns opened up on our positions at Ashuganj, Lalpur and Bhairab. It was evident that pre-H hour bombardment had started. I guessed, it was from the vicinity of Khana Bari railway station that the guns were firing. The enemy flotilla again appeared in front of Lalpur. Heavy bombardment continued which kept our heads done. My troops at Lalpur under the command of Matin caught sight of the enemy advancing cautiously over the Meghna. The enemy was heading towards Lalpur for a landing under the cover of their artillery fire. It was virtually a flotilla that carried the enemy on board, approximately a battalion plus strength. The fleet consisted of two gunboats, two landing craft tanks and four launches. Troops of chafe’s PT 76 with their upright hulls were ominously lurking at Lalpur. I must congratulate my boys for exercising extreme restrain and control on fire. With their eyes on the enemy and fingers on the trigger, they were measuring up the range.
In the meantime another enemy battalion stole on Bhairab Bazar along the railway track. I had no means to influence the battle across the river. Matiur was instructed to contain and to impose maximum delay on the enemy and ultimately fallback on the home bank over the bridge and by boat.
However, on reaching Lalpur Matin hurriedly positioned himself on the left of Morshed’s position. As he moved along river bank he had to leave behind his recoilless rifles at Ashuganj with Nasim because of transportation difficulties. Morshed remained deployed at Lalpur on the right side of Matin’s company. It remained a mistry to me why this company from Sharail was moved to Lalpur on foot via Ashuganj rather than sending them on vehicle via Brahmanbaria.
On hearing about this impending enemy landing, at 2 a.m. on April 15, I left Moulvi Bazar and reached Brahmanbaria at dawn. I was surprised to learn that my reserve company was already moved from Sharail to Lalpur by Lt. Col. Reza. Lalpur tactically was an important place no doubt. It dominated the mouth on Titas and the track running due south-east of Brahmanbaria. For this purpose I deployed Morshed there. But to me depth at that time was more important under the circumstances, than linear deployment of all the available troops on the river bank. Beaching operation, though an extremely difficult one, but is never a failure. A determined enemy could always make a landing on the enemy shore, and successfully make a bridge head. We could stop him only after the landing and fight him from successive intermediate positions. But my intermediate position remained unoccupied.
I had no wireless communication with the companies. The use of a foot runner was time consuming. The battle was gaining momentum. Recalling of the reserve company at this hour was nighters neither possible nor logical particularly when we were under constant enemy air attack. I took the bitter pill and only hoped for the best.