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Tariq Aqil

The author serves as an English Language and World History teacher and holds the position of Head of the English Department at Headstart School. Additionally, they work as a teacher and trainer for GRE and SAT at the United States Educational Foundation in Islamabad. E-mail: [email protected]

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Hilal English

Hilli: The Bloodiest Battle of 1971 in East Pakistan

December 2023

The Battle of Hilli during the 1971 Indo-Pak War saw the courageous defense of Pakistani forces against a massive Indian invasion on the Eastern Front. Several heroes emerged, showcasing extraordinary valor and sacrifice. Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed (Nishan-e-Haider) stood out for his courage, leading from the front and repelling the Indian advance until his martyrdom on December 5, 1971. Another gallant officer, Major Sabir Kamal Meyer, received the Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ) and Bar for his heroic actions.


On November 2, 1971, General Sam Manekshaw, leading the Indian Army, launched a full-scale invasion across the international boundary. This ferocious onslaught unfolded in 23 different locations simultaneously as the Pakistan Army units were moving to their battle stations. The Pakistan Army, comprising just one Corps and 34,000 men, had been strategically deployed in penny packets around the borders to prevent India from capturing territory. Most army battalions had only two companies, with many reduced to just a single platoon. The East Pakistan theatre of war abounds with acts of valor, courage, and bravery. Officers and soldiers of the army undertook their tasks above and beyond the call of duty.
Fighting an insurgency within East Pakistan, the Eastern command was in no position to deal with an Indian invasion on 23 fronts. On the Eastern front, the Battle of Hilli is regarded as the most ferocious and bloodiest battle of the 1971 War. In this battle, the primary objective of the Indian army was to neutralize and capture all Pakistani fortifications around the village of Hilli, advancing further to seize the strategic town of Bogra in their onward march to the capital city of Dhaka.
On the Indian side, the 20th Mountain Division, commanded by Major General Lachman Singh, was deployed to capture Hilli, and the 202nd Mountain Brigade was at the forefront. The 20th Mountain Division of the Indian Army consisted of four Infantry Brigades: the 340th, 202nd, 165th and 66th. All were assigned different objectives in the Battle of Hilli. The 202nd Mountain Brigade had the 5th Battalion, Garhwal Rifles, 8th Battalion Guards, 22nd Battalion Maratha Light Infantry, 37th Mountain Regiment (artillery), 38th Medium Regiment (battery), 100 Mountain Regiment, and one squadron of T-55 tanks of the 63 Cavalry, supported by a huge armada of the Indian Air Force (IAF). 


In this theater of war, the battlefield witnessed numerous acts of bravery and valor. Unit commanders, leading from the front, embraced martyrdom with a smile. Major Sabir Kamal Meyer, a gallant officer, received the Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ) and Bar for his heroic actions. A remarkable example of courage and bravery was Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed, who fell fighting on December 5, 1971. He steadfastly resisted the ferocious Indian advance, supported by the Indian air force, heavy artillery, and armored units, thwarting all attempts to break through Pakistani defenses. 


On the Pakistani side, responsibility for the defense of Hilli-Bogra was entrusted to the Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier Tajamul Hussein Malik. The Infantry Brigade had two Baluch Regiments, one  Frontier Force Regiment, one M24 Chaffee Squadron, and one artillery regiment. It was just one brigade against an entire division with total air support and artillery cover. Although in technical and legal terms, India and Pakistan were not at war in November 1971. It was Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Eastern Command, who ordered the attack on Hilli on the morning of November 22. 8 Guards Battalion was chosen to lead the onslaught on Hilli.
The Pakistani defenses at Hilli included well-dug trenches, bunkers, firing positions created from repurposed railway cars, mines, booby-traps, and barbed wire, strategically set up for all-round defense and covering all approaches to the village. Morapara, located north of Hilli, was a crucial point in the defense, surrounded by wet paddy fields, marshes, and mud, making it the most well-defended angle of the complex and the primary target for attack. 



In adherence to the army's finest traditions, the  Brigade led by Brigadier Tajammul Hussein Malik, and the resilient defenders of Hilli refused to surrender even after the instrument of surrender was signed on December 16. Only upon orders from the General Headquarters (GHQ) did the defenders of Hilli lay down their arms on December 18, 1971. 


The Pakistani Frontier Force Regiment, assigned to defend Hilli, had fortified Morapara into a stronghold. On the night of November 22, the Indian artillery, including the 37th Mountain Regiment, the 38th Medium Regiment, and the 100th Mountain Regiment, initiated a massive and deadly barrage, ceasing just before the infantry advance. The 8th Guards attacked from the North and the West, with B and C companies from the North and D Company attacking from the West, supported by the T-55 tanks of the 63 Cavalry.
The initial Indian onslaught was bravely parried, blunted, and repulsed by the courageous defenders of Hilli. After suffering losses, the Indian forces withdrew to regroup and reorganize their attacks. Major Hemant Manjrekar, the Indian Company Commander, was killed in the opening charge, and the "A" company lost all four of its officers. "B" company, attacking from the North, lost its Commanding Officer (CO), Major R. Nath, in the assault on Morapara. In sheer desperation, the Indian brigade commander ordered a distracting assault on Basudeopur, a smaller fort adjacent to Morapara, but this assault was also gallantly repulsed.
The 202nd Indian Brigade failed miserably in breaking through and pushing back the gallant Pakistani defenders. The Pakistani forces held their ground until December 11, managing to resist breakthroughs in a few areas. The Frontier Force Regiment, through repeated counterattacks, successfully kept the Indian forces at bay.


Major Sabir Kamal Meyer, a gallant officer, received the Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ) and Bar for his heroic actions. Exhibiting remarkable leadership and steadfast bravery, Major Sabir Kamal Meyer Shaheed, alongside his courageous comrades, sacrificed their lives to effectively impede and ultimately halt the enemy's advancement. By skillfully eliminating enemy tanks and causing substantial casualties, he played a crucial role in thwarting the enemy's assault.  


In this theater of war, the battlefield witnessed numerous acts of bravery and valor. Unit commanders, leading from the front, embraced martyrdom with a smile. Major Sabir Kamal Meyer, a gallant officer, received the Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ) and Bar for his heroic actions. Exhibiting remarkable leadership and steadfast bravery, Major Sabir Kamal Meyer Shaheed, alongside his courageous comrades, sacrificed their lives to effectively impede and ultimately halt the enemy's advancement. By skillfully eliminating enemy tanks and causing substantial casualties, he played a crucial role in thwarting the enemy's assault. He sacrificed his life fighting the Indians at Bhadaria in the Hilli Sector on December 8, 1971, he was honored with the SJ, underscoring his exceptional performance.
A remarkable example of courage and bravery was Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed who fell fighting on December 5, 1971. He steadfastly resisted the ferocious Indian advance, supported by the Indian air force, heavy artillery, and armored units, thwarting all attempts to break through Pakistani defenses. His determination and grit were so profound that, even after his martyrdom, his company continued to hold its position.


Carrying a 40 mm Chinese Rocket Launcher, Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed crawled alongside his runner right up to the clump where enemy tanks were positioned, sitting almost 100 meters from them. With incredible precision, he engaged the adversary, destroying three tanks and instilling immense dread in the enemy's armored column. While targeting the fourth Indian tank, he was spotted, and the enemy tank fired a burst from its .50 Browning Gun, piercing his neck. His dying words were, "Hold on until the last."  


Throughout the intense three-day Indian attacks, Major Akram, with brilliantly executed tactics, sheer valor, and raw guts, had the honor of blunting the Indian assault. His exemplary leadership and gallantry earned him a posthumous award of Nishan-e-Haider (NH), immortalizing his name in the annals of military history.
Carrying a 40 mm Chinese Rocket Launcher, Major Muhammad Akram Shaheed crawled alongside his runner right up to the clump where enemy tanks were positioned, sitting almost 100 meters from them. With incredible precision, he engaged the adversary, destroying three tanks and instilling immense dread in the enemy's armored column. While targeting the fourth Indian tank, he was spotted, and the enemy tank fired a burst from its .50 Browning Gun, piercing his neck. His dying words were, "Hold on until the last." Even after his martyrdom, his courageous soldiers maintained their positions and repulsed all enemy advances.
This valiant soldier was acknowledged even by the antagonist. Major General Lachman Singh, whose 20 Mountain Division was pitched against 4 Frontier Force at Hilli, writes in his book Victory in Bangladesh: “Throughout the early hours of November 24, 1971, the fight continued from bunker to bunker, pond to pond and from trench to trench. At this stage, 8 Guards had suffered heavily and was running low on ammunition. As the first light appeared (November 24, 1971), it was certain that 8 Guards could not clear Morapara. It was a ruthless determination to exterminate the other side. Finally, the Pakistanis managed to retain most of the objective area…" 
Field Marshal (retired) Manekshaw gave an interview to the BBC on July 30, 1999, where he specifically praised the Battle of Hilli. He mentioned that he had personally recommended the name of a Pakistan Army officer fighting on that front for a gallantry award.
In adherence to the army's finest traditions, the Brigade led by Brigadier Tajammul Hussein Malik, and the resilient defenders of Hilli refused to surrender even after December 16. Only upon orders from the General Headquarters (GHQ) did the defenders of Hilli lay down their arms on December 18, 1971. 


The author serves as an English Language and World History teacher and holds the position of Head of the English Department at Headstart School. Additionally, they work as a teacher and trainer for GRE and SAT at the United States Educational Foundation in Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]


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3.   Khan, A. Qayyum. 2012. “Lieutenant Colonel Quazi Nuruzzaman: A Remembrance.” The Daily Star. May 6, 2012. https://www.thedailystar.net/news-detail-232857. 
4.   bdnews24.com. n.d. “Tributes to Nuruzzaman.” Bdnews24.com. Accessed November 9, 2023. https://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2011/05/07/tributes-to-nuruzzaman. 
5.   “Muktibahini Wins Victory - Maj Gen ATM Abdul Wahab 365p.” n.d. Pdfcoffee.com. Accessed November 9, 2023. https://pdfcoffee.com/muktibahini-wins-victory-maj-gen-atm-abdul-wahab-365p-pdf-free.html. 
6.   “Pakistan Army Pays Tribute to Major Akram on 49th Martyrdom Anniversary.” 2020. The Express Tribune. December 4, 2020. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2274665/pakistan-army-pays-tribute-to-major-akram-on-49th-martyrdom-anniversary. 
7.   www.webspider.pk, Web Spider (pvt) Ltd. n.d. “Nishan-e-Haiders of Pakistan.” www.hilal.gov.pk. Accessed November 9, 2023. https://www.hilal.gov.pk/eng-article/detail/NDkx.html. Niazi Amir Abdullah Khan. 1998. The Betrayal of East Pakistan. New Delhi: Manohar.

 

Tariq Aqil

The author serves as an English Language and World History teacher and holds the position of Head of the English Department at Headstart School. Additionally, they work as a teacher and trainer for GRE and SAT at the United States Educational Foundation in Islamabad. E-mail: [email protected]

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