Dimapur Air Base And Formation Of Bangladesh Air Force

 

  • NET Web Desk

Fifty years ago to this date, Indian Air force chief Air Chief Marshall P C Lal and Group Capt. A K Khandker, Deputy Chief of Bangladesh’s ‘Mukti Bahini’ (Freedom Force) together declared the formation of ‘Bangladesh Air Force’.

The Dimapur Air Base played a significant role in the birth of Bangladesh Air Force and clinching victory for its government in exile.

It was basically formed with three malfunctioning, outdated aircraft in an abandoned airfield vis-à-vis the Dimapur Air Base.

The Dimapur Air Base was a World War II vintage airfield with ramshackle flight controls and a short runway.

The Bangladesh Air force initially consisted of three old and malfunctioning aircraft given by the Indian government.

There was a DC-3 Dakota gifted by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, a DeHaviland Twin Otter plane and an Aluette III helicopter.

Besides, India had also supplied the machine guns, rockets, and fuel for the aircrafts.

“The day remains etched in my memory I had crossed over to India on April 3, with help from a couple of Indian journalists a day after Pakistan Air Force had bombed Chuadanga. Till then, I had been a pilot with PIA. I was itching to join our liberation effort and this ceremony on September 28, 1971, was the starting point for it,” Capt. Shahabuddin Ahmed, a Pakistan International Airlines pilot and significant army men of the Bangladesh government in exile told PTI in a telephonic interview.

Captain Shahabuddin said their training with those aircraft in north-eastern India was fraught with danger. “We could not fly above 200 to 250 metres and there was always a chance of crashing into the mountains. But we completed our training with those aircraft in a very short time,” he recalled.

After completing their training, the pilots and technicians of the budding BAF formed a flying unit named ‘Kilo Flight’.

Squadron leader Sultan Mahmud was appointed as the commander of the Kilo Flight with the two planes and the single helicopter.

The Alouette helicopter had to be first repaired to get it into operational form. In late November, it had its maiden flight as part of Kilo Flight.

Now there lies an interesting story with ‘Kilo Flight’, there was a huge controversy on naming the flying unit, as ‘Mukti Bahini’, which was continuously turned down by Indian top officials, stressing the need for secrecy.

According to the PTI report, towards August-end, Air Chief Marshall Lal and his wife Ela threw a dinner for Khandker in Kolkata.

As before, his request for an air wing for the ‘Muktis’ was once again politely turned down. However, to the surprise of the Bangladeshi officer, the air chief’s wife suddenly intervened in support of his idea and seemingly convinced her husband to think afresh.

A month later, Khandker flew down in an IAF Caribou aircraft to Dimapur after having assembled the personnel for his air wing.

Khandker is believed to have told his newly recruited fly-boys : Our days of waiting are over. We are going to establish our air force in exile and you are going to be the first officers of the Bangladesh Air Force, a PTI report stated.

Soon after the formal inauguration on Tuesday, September 28, 1971, as conversion training started for the pilots, the flight of three disparate flying machines was officially dubbed the ‘Kilo Flight’ in the ledgers of the Indian Air Force.

The air wing was mainly employed in communication with the Bangladesh government in exile and the military top brass.

On the eve of Indo-Pak war, which began on December 3, 1971, the air force started its combat role and launched its maiden attack under the leadership of A K Khandaker.

The plan was to strike fuel dumps near Dhaka and in Chittagong at midnight on November 3 to cripple the Pakistan Air Force in the East from another discarded World War airbase at Kailashahar in Tripura.

But the attack was put on hold as then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was going to the US and Europe to meet world leaders to persuade them of our cause and an attack at this juncture may not go down well in global community, said Capt. Shahabuddin.

However, exactly one month later, the planned attack did take place. On December 3, PAF jets struck Indian airfields in Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Jodhpur, Ambala and Agra among others.

That same evening, the ‘Kilo Flight’ was asked to prepare for war, an attack that took place at midnight on the Narayanganj fuel depot near Dhaka using our helicopter and at 12.10 with a strike by the Otter on Chittagong port’s fuel dump.

Ahmed added that both the attacks were totally successful and the fuel dumps were ablaze in no time.

The news that we had our own air force and it was successful in blowing up vital war materials caught the imagination of the youth. It boosted the morale of people who had been living in fear and suffering for nine long months since the Pakistani crackdown in Bangladesh started, Capt. Shahabuddin added.

By December 5, Bangladeshi and Indian Air forces had freed the skies over Bangladesh, thereby declaring their formation.