Pilot recalls bombing mission in 1971 liberation war

A pilot who deserted the Pak Air Force to fight the B`desh liberation war in 1971 recalled having bombed the Chitttagong port and damaging two Pakistani ships.

Dhaka: A pilot who deserted the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to fight the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 Thursday recalled having bombed the Chitttagong port and damaging two Pakistani ships, while flying a transport aircraft lent by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

In a midnight mission dubbed "Operation Kilo", Flight Lt. Shamsul Alam took off from Kailashahar, a military base on the Indian side. He flew low to avoid Pakistani radars. Along with a co-pilot and a gunner, he fired 24 rockets at the ships and oil depots before his aircraft was badly hit by ground fire.

Alam managed to fly back to safety to Nagaland in India`s northeastern region.

"O boy! You have done it! I am so excited," was the praise he won from an IAF officer monitoring the mission, The Star newspaper said recalling Alam`s mission to mark the 39th anniversary of Bangladesh`s liberation.

Alam undertook the mission on the night of Dec 4, 1971, a day after the liberation war began. His task was to damage an oil depot to stop fuel supply to the army in the then East Pakistan.

This was one of the successful and memorable attacks by a pro-Bangladesh pilot inside the East Pakistan territory during the war that ended with Pakistan surrendering with 93,000 soldiers to the joint command of India and Bangladesh forces Dec 16, 1971.

"There was no navigation system in the plane and I had to find out the target after counting time, maintaining direction and watching the surface features," Alam told The Daily Star.

"A strange feeling overtook me when I saw flames following a bang after the rockets hit the target," said Alam, who won the Bir Uttam title for this outstanding operation.

Once machine guns started to rattle from below, "it was our sheer good luck that we could eventually manage to escape".

"It was a serious blow to the confidence of Pakistani forces. They had become morally weak after the attack, as it was done at midnight which was beyond their imagination," he said.

After the mission, landing of the plane on a small runway at Kurigram in Nagaland was not easy without any signal system or light.

"I had to land seeing surface features and it was tough as the runway was on a place surrounded by plenty of trees," said the great war hero who landed his aircraft at around 5.00 a.m. after an eight-hour flight.

"I am still taken by surprise whenever I recall memories of that mission," he said.

The Canada-built Otter aircraft that Alam flew was a utility transport plane not meant for combat missions and is now in the Bangladesh Air Force Museum.