3 December 1971
Inconclusive, Formal start of Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Indo‑Pakistani War of 1971, Tangail Airdrop, Battle of Garibpur, Battle of Boyra, Battle of Hilli
Operation Chengiz Khan of Pak Air Force | Deikhoo Tv
Operation Chengiz Khan was the code name assigned to the preemptive strikes carried out by the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) on the forward airbases and radar installations of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on the evening of 3 December 1971, and marked the formal initiation of hostilities of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The operation targeted 11 of India's airfields and also included artillery strikes on Indian positions in Kashmir. The air attacks failed as India had moved all aircraft to reinforced bunkers in anticipation of preemptive action by Pakistan due to India's support of the Mukti Bahini.
- Operation Chengiz Khan of Pak Air Force Deikhoo Tv
- The strategy of pre emption
- The first strikes
- Followup counter air strikes
- The Indian retaliation
In an address to the nation on radio that same evening, then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held the air strikes to be a declaration of war against India and the Indian Air Force responded with initial air strikes the same night, which were expanded to massive retaliatory air strikes the next morning. Statements released by both nations the next day confirmed the "existence of a state of war between the two countries", although neither government formally issued a declaration of war.
In March 1971, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) declared independence from Pakistan, starting the Bangladesh Liberation War following rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan and the brutal suppressive force from West Pakistan in response (see Operation Searchlight and 1971 Bangladesh atrocities).
Pakistan came under increasing criticism from India, the Soviet Union, Japan, and Europe as the plight of the refugees and their impact on the Indian economy were highlighted by Indira Gandhi in the UN and on a number of global tours. However, the United States and China showed little interest in the situation and actively opposed aid, intervention or support to the Mukti Bahini (possibly fearing advancement of Soviet influence deep into South Asia). India's aid to the Mukti Bahini continued unabated, and fighting between the Mukti Bahini and the Pakistani forces grew increasingly vicious. On 9 August 1971, India signed a twenty-year co-operation treaty with the Soviet Union which promised military support to either nation should she be attacked. This provided India cover against any possible Chinese or American intervention in aid of Pakistan if it went to war with India. To the Pakistani leadership, it became clear that armed Indian intervention and secession of East Pakistan was becoming inevitable.
The strategy of pre-emption
By October 1971, the Mukti Bahini had started launching massive raids deep into East Pakistan with active support of the Indian Army troops. The situation had detoriorated to a state of active undeclared war in the East by the end of November, when Indian and Mukti Bahini forces launched offensives on both the eastern and western borders of East Pakistan. Regular Indian army troops engaged and mauled Pakistani armour at Garibpur, during which the 2 intruding PAF jets were shot down and 1 more badly damaged in the Battle of Boyra while offensive manoeuvres were launched in Atgram against Pakistani border posts and communications centres along the eastern border. The Mukti Bahini also launched an offensive on Jessore at this time. It was clear to Islamabad by this time that open conflict was inevitable, and that East Pakistan was indefensible in the long run. Yahya Khan chose at this point to try to protect Pakistan's integrity and to hold India by Ayub Khan's strategy – "The defence of East Pakistan lies in the West".
This policy made the assumptions that an open conflict with India would not last long due to international pressure, and since East Pakistan was undefendable, the war-effort should be concentrated on occupying as large an area of Indian territory as possible as a bargaining tool at the negotiating table. To this end, Gen. Tikka Khan had proposed an offensive into India, and the PAF's overriding priority was to give maximum support to this offensive. The initial plans for the offensive called for at least a temporary cover of air dominance by the PAF under which Khan's troops could conduct a lightning campaign deep into Western India before digging in and consolidating their positions. In order to achieve air dominance, Pakistan decided to launch an offensive counter air strike codenamed Operation Chengiz Khan on Indian airbases.
A second objective for the PAF was to conduct air interdiction against the supply routes for the Indian troops opposing Khan's proposed offensive, but these were accorded as secondary targets to be engaged after the operation started.
The PAF's strikes were based on the same strategy of pre-emptive neutralization of enemy air capability used by the Israeli Air Force against Egyptian and Arab air forces in Operation Focus during the Six-Day War of 1967.
The decision to hit India with a pre-emptive air strike was taken on 30 November 1971 during a meeting among the Pakistani President, Gen. Yahya Khan, Chief of Staff Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan, and the Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gul Hassan Khan.
The objectives of the strike were:
To achieve surprise, the decision was made to strike on a Friday, the day of the jumu'ah (Muslim Sabbath), at 17:45 hrs when shifts in IAF control centers were changing. Emulating its operations' experience in battle against the Indian Air Force during the Indo-Pakistani Conflict of 1965, the decision was made to hit the Indian bases in a two-wave dusk strike followed by a number of night-interdiction missions through the night. The plans for the strike also anticipated the Indians securing their aircraft in blast pens. Also, anticipating difficulty in target acquisition for camouflaged targets such as fuel tanks, ammunition dumps and command centers, the primary objectives set for the operation were the runways and air defense radars.
The first strikes
The final orders for the strike were issued at 17:30 hrs on Friday 3 December 1971. The first formations were in flight and heading for their targets by 17:40 hrs. Officially, it was announced via government channels that the airstrikes were launched in response to attacks along the western border on Pakistan Rangers' outposts by regular troops of the Indian army, which the Indian Air Force was providing support to. The Indians would later deny any engagement on the Western Front. However, the Indian air defence radars failed to detect the approaching formations. The first indications for the Indians of the impending assault was the roar of the strike aircraft over their airfields, while in Delhi, the air-raid sirens were the first indications for newsmen, gathered for the daily brief of the East-Pakistan situation, that something was going on.
Within forty-five minutes of these strikes, Pakistani troops had shelled India's western frontier and were reported to have crossed the border at Punch in the state of Jammu.
Followup counter-air strikes
The third wave of the PAF counter air strikes were directed to strike Ambala, Agra and Halwara around 18:00 hrs and continued in single or two ship formations through the evening until at least 22:30 hrs. These strikes involved fifteen B-57 Canberras, four T-33s, and one C-130. The B-57s flew seven single ship sorties. These caused significant damage, especially in Uttarlai, and Halwara and impeded IAF's preparation for retaliation.
The later flights were not expected to achieve any significant objectives which they miraculously did, and also aided to hamper any counter-strike by the IAF.
The Indian retaliation
As Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressed the nation on radio shortly after midnight informing about the Pakistani attack, the Indian Air Force struck back. By 21:00hrs, the Canberras of the No.35 Squadron and No.106 Squadron, as well as No.5 and No.16 squadron were armed and ready for their foray deep into Pakistan. These flew against eight Western Pakistani airfields of Murid, Mianwali, Sargodha, Chander, Risalewala, Rafiqui, and Masroor. In total, 23 combat sorties were launched that night, inflicting heavy damage to Sargodha and Masroor. The PAF units stationed on these airfields had to operate from taxiways for the following two days.
Through the night the IAF also struck the main East Pakistani airfields of Tejgaon, and later Kurmitolla. At the same time, the IAF was deploying additional aircraft to its forward airfields for the strikes that were to follow the next morning. Within days, the Indian Air Force was to achieve air superiority.
In total, the Pakistani Air Force dropped 183 bombs over 12 target runways and 120 hits were reported by the pilots. However, of its stated objectives, the PAF was unable to neutralize the Indian Air Force in the west although it certainly achieved surprise besides damaging a few aircraft.
Just as importantly, only a limited section of the PAF's strike capability was employed during Operation Chengiz Khan. Also, compared to the Israeli Air Force's preparation for airstrikes against Egyptians (the Israeli pilots had flown against replicas of the most important Arab airfields) and the use of specific armaments, the PAF had been limited by servicability before the USA supplied spare parts in March of the year and training was limited if any. Constraints of the fledgling Pakistani economy also meant the development of its military could not be supported. The Pakistani Air Force thus lacked ammunition for effective runway denial. East Pakistani personnel of the PAF who defected may have revealed some of the plans, and it appears that IAF was expecting a pre-emptive strike against its forward airfields. A large-scale offensive was therefore doomed to fail, likely to cause heavy losses and bring the PAF in a position where it could never seriously challenge IAF operations.