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5 heroes of 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War who led India to decisive win over Pakistan

On 3 December 1971, India and Pakistan got engaged in a war that lasted 13 days and led to the splitting of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh.

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New Delhi: On 3 December 1971, Pakistan Air Force had carried out preemptive aerial strikes on 11 Indian Air Force stations, setting off hostilities between the two neighbours. The day also marked India’s entry into the liberation war being fought in East Pakistan, which is now Bangladesh.

The war, which lasted 13 days, ended with the surrender of nearly 90,000 Pakistani soldiers — the largest surrender by an Army since World War-II. India won the war decisively — splitting Pakistan into two, with the creation of Bangladesh.

The war, however, came at a price for India — nearly 3,900 Indian soldiers were killed and nearly 10,000 others injured, with many left to suffer from life-long disabilities.

Among the Indians fighting the war were five heroes whose unforgettable contribution led to the decisive win.

R.N. Kao

Rameshwar Nath Kao, whose team was called ‘Kao-boys’, is known as the ‘architect of Bangladesh’ for his role in the 1971 war. He was then the chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s external intelligence agency.

While the war was indeed a military victory and credit goes to the Army, Air Force and the Navy, Kao was the one working behind the scenes and under whose leadership, the RAW actively helped Mukti Bahini, the Bangladesh forces, to triumph over West Pakistan.

The RAW trained over 1 lakh East Pakistanis, who led the country to freedom with assistance from the Indian military.

General Ziaur Rahman, President of Bangladesh from 1977 to 1981, was said to have told then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi that “this man (Kao) knows more about my country than me”.

Interestingly, such was Kao’s acumen that two years before the 1971 war, he had told Gandhi to be ready for Pakistan’s partition.

While Indian diplomats and many others were of the view initially that a united Pakistan was best for India’s interest, it was Kao who nudged Gandhi and others to exploit the freedom movement in East Pakistan.

Also read: Bangladesh will always be grateful to India for its role in Liberation War: Sheikh Hasina

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

Sam Manekshaw, who was the chief of the Indian Army at that time, played a crucial role in delivering India its victory in the Liberation War.

In April 1971, Indira Gandhi wanted the Army to move into East Pakistan. Manekshaw, however, told Gandhi that the Army wasn’t yet ready for war. He asked for a few months’ time to prepare, and Gandhi accepted his request.

In the same month, the Army, however, launched a number of operations in East Pakistan, including helping the RAW train and equip the Mukti Bahini.

About three brigades of Bangladeshi troops were trained along with several thousand guerrillas that eventually took on the Pakistani military and civil officers in the lead-up to the war.

For his able and deft leadership, Manekshaw was awarded the Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan — India’s second and third highest civilian awards. 

In January 1973, Manekshaw was conferred with the rank of Field Marshal — the first Army officer of independent India to be honoured with the rank.

Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri

Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was a Major in the Indian Army during the 1971 war. His valiant actions in the famous Battle of Longewala will forever be remembered in the history of the Indian military.

In that battle, Chandpuri was commanding a small group of just over 100 soldiers but had bravely defended the Longewala border post in Rajasthan by fighting against nearly 2,000 Pakistani soldiers who had over 40 tanks.

The small group of soldiers led by Chandpuri thwarted Pakistani attempt to cross the Longewala post for an entire night on 4 December.

Chandpuri was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, which is India’s second-highest gallantry award, for his exceptional leadership during the battle.

The 1997-hit film Border, based on the Battle of Longewala, showed Chandpuri’s heroic efforts in the battle. Actor-turned-BJP MP Sunny Deol had played Chandpuri in the movie.

Major General Ian Cardozo

Major General Ian Cardozo is a name synonymous with the 1971 War. He was a young Major with the 4/5 Gorkha Rifles when the war broke out.

His battalion’s second-in-command was killed in action and Cardozo was ordered to replace him. Cardozo, who was called cartoos (cartridge) sahab by his Gorkha men as they found pronouncing his name difficult, took part in the Indian Army’s first heliborne operation.

Towards the end of the war, Cardozo stepped on a mine and his leg was badly injured. Due to non-availability of morphine and absence of medics, his leg could not be amputated surgically. Faced with the threat of the gangrene spreading in his body, Cardozo used his own ‘kukri’ (a curved knife) to amputate his leg. Later, a Pakistani military doctor captured by the Indian forces operated on him.

He eventually became the first war-disabled officer of the Indian Army to command a battalion and a brigade.

Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon

Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon is the only Air Force officer to be honoured with the Param Vir Chakra. He was a pilot of a Gnat detachment based in Srinagar for the air defence of the Valley against Pakistani attacks.

Right from the beginning of hostilities between India and Pakistan, he and his colleagues fought successive waves of intruding Pakistani aircraft, maintaining a high reputation of the Gnat aircraft.

On 14 December 1971, Srinagar airfield was attacked by a wave of bombing and strafing of six enemy Sabre aircraft. Sekhon, who was on duty, took off immediately and engaged a pair of the attacking Sabres.

In the fight that ensued, he secured hits on one aircraft and set another on fire. By this time the other Sabre aircraft came to the aid of their hard-pressed companions and Sekhon’s Gnat was again outnumbered, this time by four to one.

Sekhon, however, engaged the enemy alone in an unequal combat. In the fight, he almost held his own but was eventually overcome by sheer weight of numbers. His aircraft crashed and he was killed, his citation read.

Also read: Need compassion and not disdain, says 1971 war hero on Indian Army’s disability pension tax


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  1. Bangladesh always remember the sacrifice of our indian brothers with utmost respect. May the Friendship between the two countries last for ever.

  2. Don’t talk like stupid, this war was between Bangladesh and Pakistan and india helped Bangladesh for the last few days, the war happened between March to December. Bangladesh won the war on 16 December.
    This is fake news delete it…

  3. Don’t talk like stupid, this war was between Bangladesh and Pakistan and india helped Bangladesh for the last few days, the war happened between March to December. Bangladesh won the war on 16 December.

    • And who trained Bangladesh to fight Pakistani army? It was RAW’s painstaking intelligence gathering and training over months that helped. Pakistan declared war on India in the last 13 days, before that refugees were being safely brought into India and sent back after training. India blocked airspace and waterways to stop Pakistan. Otherwise, Bangladeshis were being massacred in Operation Searchlight.

  4. Though there is no dispute,about the Bravery and spirited fighting by late Brig Chandpuri and his Punjab Regiment company , the credit of destroying the Pak tank and infantry column in the morning after they had attacked Major Chandpuri, post should go to Indian air force . Hunter Fighter Bombers found these pak tanks in the open in the early morning without any Pak Airforce or Air defence cover . Hunter Fighter Bombers had literally a range practice without any opposition to hit and destroy these tanks .The aerial pictures taken by the hunters had shown how the Pakistanis tank crews had tried to escape the repeated attacks from the air by driving around in circles and in zig zag fashion without success. Actually the Pak commanders in this column were either very stupid or had to much ego that this Indian infantry company when attacked by tanks will run away .when they lost 2 or three tanks to anti tank mine and Recoil less anti tank gun fire from Chandpuri Company they just stopped . They did not assault Chandpuri s could not assault Chandpuris company with tanks due to fear losing tanks in the mine field and they had left their accompanying infantry battalion far behind .They could not launch an infantry attack that night Even a young officer with some basic training will know that tanks without night fighting capability as was the case with both armies in 1971 attacking entrenched infantry behind anti tank mines was suicidal for tanks unless the defending infantry lost their nerves and ran away .Punjabi company under Chandpuri did not oblige them

  5. Very few cite the actual account of Maj Chandpuri’s fight with 100 or so men. He did not engage at first sight of Pak troops rather he withdrew to the last of the three posts under his command. It was a debacle in the making. Gen. Sethna was pegging for Rahim Yaar Khan without knowledge of Paki’s thrust from south. Intelligent failure. Paki’s spotter planes were flying near Indian posts well below firing levels of Indian A/A guns which were mounted on high sand hills. Even all this gave no alarm of the ensuing attack. It was sheer Paki’s stupidity that they came in such force without Engineers support. They had armour, they had infantry trecking into desert terrain and yet no Engineering support as also intelligence. They attacked first post presuming it to be occupied around 9:30 in the night. The attack went on till 11:30 till it dawned that the post was unoccupied. Mine clearances, tracking through sand, fear of an ambush at night etc took time till the attack on second post was conducted at around 1:30 AM. Again it was realised that this post was also vacant and the time had climbed to around 3:30. In between small engagements were kept on and around 4:30 in the wee hours of dawn Maj Chandpuri and his men engaged with the attacking Paki forces. Slowly the horizon lighted up, the Hunters picked up their cherries and rest as they say is History. Maj Chandpuri won accolades and a name for himself in the history books against all odds and yet it could have all gone wrong. For him to be selected amongst the top 5 would be unfair to the others who probably have been much more valiant in 1971 war.

    • I too had come across similar account. Of course, now Maj Chandpuri is not around now to give exact details. He always avoided talking about this battle in public. But Pak forces had acted irresponsibly. Tanks moved well ahead then some turned back to look for infantry support, which was left behind. The difficulties of desert terrain were underestimated. Many vehicles bogged down. The absence of air cover made easy for IAF on next day. Pak was desparate to avoid Indian attack on RYK. Perhaps they wanted to head straight for jaisalmer avoiding small resistances. But in the end, Sikhs held the Pak infantry till next daylight in face of multifold Pak strength.

    • Thanks for sharing this information. I have read quite a bit about this battle but wasn’t aware of the details you mentioned. Would you be able to share some references or sources which cover this aspect of the battle?

  6. How can Maj Gen Kler be left out? He was the first to enter Dacca. A highly decorated soldier.

  7. Sagat singh is mainly responsible for 1947 victory. India Pakistani infantty ratio was around 3: 2 not a very high one for offensive operations. Unfortunately Sagat Singh is forgotten in india

  8. Sagar Singh ji is the creator of Bangladesh how you don’t know about this pls show some light on this.

  9. As a boy enamoured with IAF, Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was the first name I became familiar with after Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. There were several reasons for such a decisive 1971 victory, which included: “free and frank discussions” that kept the parliament in loop and built a national consensus, after having learnt lessons from 1962 debacle; Highly integrated inter-services collaboration (Venkatraman, R., 2016: 182-84. Higher Defence Organisation in War in Ed. Singh, J. (2016). Role of Indian Air Force in 1971 War. KW Publishers). Venkatraman quotes Air Commodore Jasjit Singh: “complete mutual trust between the IAF and the ground forces, with full understanding of each other’s needs, limits and capabilities at the operational levels working towards common goals.” Needless to say Indira Gandhi was a pragmatic and decisive leader never shy of taking risks and giving national security priority over woolly-headed diplomacy when push came to shove.

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