FE Today Logo

The battle of resistance at Kalurghat

HELAL UDDIN AHMED | December 16, 2023 00:00:00

Bangladesh Betar’s Kalurghat centre in Chattogram from where the proclamation of independence of Bangladesh was aired on March 26 night — Collected Photo

The Battle of Resistance at Kalurghat of Chittagong, officially now Chattogram, was one of the first battles that took place between the Pakistani army and the freedom fighters of Bangladesh from 26 March to 11 April in 1971. The Pakistani forces suffered substantial losses during this battle. But the resistance fighters were ultimately forced to retreat as their troops and arms were not sufficient compared to the Pakistanis.

The Eighth East Bengal Regiment played the leading role in this battle. At the start of the war, this regiment was located about 4 kilometres away from the Chittagong cantonment in Sholoshahar CDA Market area. The non-Bangali Lt. Col. A R Janjua was its commanding officer, while Major Ziaur Rahman was the second-in-command. Major Meer Shawkat Ali was next, followed by Captain Oli Ahmad - the quarter master. Captain Khalequzzaman Chowdhury, Captain Sadeq Hossain, and the non-Bangali Captain Ahmed Deen were company commanders, while Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury was the adjutant, and Lt. A Y Mahfuzur Rahman, non-Bangali Lt. Azim Uddin, and non-Bangali Lt. Humayun Ahmed were company officers. This regiment was stationed at Sholoshahar, as there were instructions for it to relocate to Kharian of West Pakistan within March-April 1971. For this reason, arms and ammunition were not supplied to it. It had only 12 LMGs and three hundred rifles (303) for the purpose of training.

The Pakistani army launched genocide at the EBRC (East Bengal Regimental Centre) between 10.30 and 11 pm of 25 March night. As instructed by the commanding officer, Major Zia was on his way to the port to unload arms from the ship 'Swat'. When he reached Agrabad, Captain Khalequzzaman passed on a message of Captain Oli to him stating that the Pakistani forces were firing and killing unarmed civilians in Dhaka. Besides, military action was underway at Chittagong cantonment and Chittagong town, and many Bangalis were killed. In response, Ziaur Rahman returned to the Sholoshahar headquarters towards 11.45 pm at night and arrested Lt. Azim and Nabik who were accompanying him. In the meantime, the non-Bangali Captain Ahmed and Lt. Humayun were arrested as per Captain Oli's order. It was then 11.30 p.m. After midnight, Major Zia himself arrested Janjua from his residence. All the prisoners were killed including Janjua before 12.30 past midnight.

After 12.30 midnight, two non-Bangali officers Major Abdul Hamid and Captain Nazar were detained in accordance with Oli's order from the EPR officers' mess located in the opposite direction of regimental officers' mess. They were then killed. Towards 1 a.m., one Havildar and two Sepoys who had escaped from the EBRC informed after arriving at Eighth East Bengal Regiment that the 20 Baluch Regiment had attacked the EBRC with tanks and heavy weaponry. Major Zia assumed the command of Eighth East Bengal Regiment and announced his revolt against Pakistan by standing on a drum. He then instructed the soldiers to move towards Kalurghat. Before that, many soldiers who could escape from the EBRC joined them.

On their way, the Eighth East Bengal Regiment met the EPR Company led by Captain Harun Ahmad Chowdhury at Kalurghat. Harun was asked to remain with the Eighth East Bengal Regiment by Zia. After this, the regiment along with this company reached the Karaldenga hill of Boalkhali thana.

Towards 10 am in the morning of 26 March, the Awami League leaders M A Hannan, Ataur Rahman Khan Kaiser MNA and Dr. M A Mannan MPA met Major Zia and his companions on the bank of a pond on Karaldenga hill in Boalkhali thana. When the politicians requested Zia to return to Chittagong town, he told them he was very tired but would communicate with them within 27 March after framing the war strategy. When the civilians departed, Zia adopted a military plan for Chittagong town including the Kalurghat area. It was as follows:

1. The headquarters will be set up at Fultala Primary School, Boalkhali, under Captain Oli Ahmad;

2. The Kalurghat Radio Centre and Chawkbazaar will remain under the control of a contingent led by Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury;

3. A contingent of soldiers under the command of Lt. A Y Mahfuz will remain as reserves to face emergency situations;

4. Captain Khalequzzaman will maintain position at Kalurghat and Chittagong radio centre with a group of soldiers.

All the groups were instructed to take up their respective positions after the sunset of 26 March. Following their departure, Major Zia and Captain Oli spent the night inside a school 2 kilometres away from the Karaldenga hill.

Major Zia went to Patiya on 27 March. On that day, a part-time radio employee Belal Mohammad met him there and requested him to make arrangements for guarding the radio centre. On the same day, the EPR Subedar Mofiz was going to Chittagong town with two truck-load of soldiers. On the way, they were joined by 20 policemen. Major Zia stopped them at Kalurghat and ordered them to take up defensive positions at Chittagong court building area. The headquarters of Eighth East Bengal Regiment was set up at Fultala Primary School premises in the afternoon. Besides, Major Zia announced the declaration of independence on behalf of Bangabandhu on 27 March from Kalurghat radio centre.

Meanwhile, a platoon of the Pakistani army was directed to destroy 'Bahaddar Hat' area, including the Kalurghat radio centre. As a follow-up, the platoon entered a small canal near Char Rangamatia via Karnaphuli River on speedboats; they then crossed the Lever Brothers factory, disembarked on the canal's bank, and reached the 'Krishibhaban' of Kalurghat on foot.

The building was a 3-storied one, and the platoon took up position inside it. It was around 12 midnight then. There were 40 soldiers in the platoon who spent the night there. In the morning of 28 March, the security guard of the Lever Brothers factory came to know about the arrival of Pakistani invaders from a teenager. He informed two of his close EPR friends about this. When they went near the Krishibhaban to verify the authenticity of this claim, shots were fired at them when they were 200 yards away. They then informed the Bangali soldiers at Kalurghat road about the Krishibhaban incident.

Lt. Mahfuz was also informed about the Pakistani soldiers' presence at Krishibhaban in the morning of 30 March. He instantly ordered a combined platoon of East Bengal Regiment and EPR soldiers to move in that direction on a vehicle. They were attacked the moment they reached near the Krishibhaban. But they dodged that assault and managed to reach near 400-500 yards of the building through bushes and walls. But the Pakistani soldiers identified their position. At first, they attacked Mahfuz's contingent with machineguns; then other weapons were used. But Mahfuz and his soldiers reached within 100-200 yards of Kirshibhaban by crawling, and then surrounded the building from three sides. A heavy exchange of fire ensued between the combatants. At one stage, the Pakistani soldiers fired two rocket launchers towards Mahfuz and the EPR soldier Nur Mohammad, but they remained unscathed. After that, Mahfuz fired a rocket launcher towards the Krishibhaban. Two Pakistani sabre jets then fired on the position of his troops at 10.30 in the morning, but could not cause any harm.

Following the stationing of Pakistani troops at Krishibhaban on the night of 27 March, another Pakistani platoon led by Captain Sajjad also took up position there with the goal of blowing up the Kalurghat Bridge. Lt. Mahfuz and his platoon fought against them throughout the day on 30 March. In the morning of 31 March, Mahfuz and his platoon succeeded in entering the Krishibhaban after an assault, but the Pakistani soldiers fled. Mahfuz's group did not suffer much damage during the encounter. On the other hand, 5 among the Pakistani troops were killed and many were injured. The group captured huge quantities of arms and ammunition left behind by the Pakistanis, which were deposited at the Fultala headquarters.

Coinciding with the fierce battle taking place at Krishibhaban, considerable damage was inflicted by the Pakistani Air Force on the Kalurghat radio centre through raids. Shots were fired from machinegun, and bombs were hurled on the centre from jets. The 1-kilowatt transmitter preserved at the Kalurghat radio centre had to be dismantled on 31 March and brought to Patiya Al-Jamiah Madrasa with military protection on a truck. Later, the transmitter was transported to India via Dohazari and Bandarban.

In the evening of 30 March following the Pakistani air attack on Kalurghat radio centre, Major Zia headed for Ramgarh with 20 soldiers. Major Meer Shawkat Ali then chalked out some combat plans for Chittagong area. The following were applicable for Kalurghat:

1. One company of soldiers under Captain Oli would take up position at Kodurkheel and Charandwip area of Boalkhali thana on the eastern bank of Karnaphuli river, north of Kalurghat Bridge;

2. One company of soldiers under Captain Harun would take up position in Hamidchar and Mohra areas, and the southern end Kalurghat Bridge;

3. One company of soldiers under Captain Khalequzzaman would take up position on the eastern bank of Karnaphuli river stretching from the mouth of Kalarpool to the southern edge of Kalurghat Bridge.

4. One company of soldiers under Lt. Shamsher would take up position at Char Rangamatia and FIDC road area of the Arakan Road originating from Chawkbazar.

5. One company of soldiers under Lt. Mahfuz would take up position in the area extending from the base of Bahar Signal to Madunaghat via the bend of Kaptai road.

Captain Oli was active at Kalurghat from 31 March to 7 April. In the meantime, when the Chittagong city went under the control of the Pakistani forces after the fall of Chittagong court hill, Captain Rafiq moved to India to collect arms and ammunition. He re-entered Bangladesh with the first consignment of arms and ammunition and went to Udalia tea garden on 5 April. He set up a base there and assigned Lt. Ejaz the responsibility of that base. He then headed for the Kalurghat Bridge, where there were around 1 thousand soldiers of Eighth East Bengal Regiment, EBRC and EPR. Captain Rafiq gave a large chunk of the arms and ammunition he brought from the Indian BSF to the troops stationed at Kalurghat.

Meanwhile, Major Meer Shawkat and Captain Khalequzzaman returned from Cox's Bazar on 7 April. Meer Shawkat took over the command from Captain Oli after returning, and Captain Khalequzzaman took up position on the southern bank of Karnaphuli. The Pakistani forces attacked and captured Kalurghat radio centre on 7 April, and then advanced towards Kalurghat Bridge. On that day, Lt. Mahfuz was in a defensive position at Madunaghat as per Meer Shawkat's order. Corporal Sirajul Karim of the air force and a combined company comprising members of EPR, Bengal Regiment and Ansar Bahini joined Lt. Mahfuz there. When the Pakistani forces reached Monti-tannery of Kalurghat, Lt. Shamsher launched an attack on the Pakistani forces there along with some soldiers on 8 April. Nayek Nayeb Ali of Shamsher's contingent embraced martyrdom when hit by a bullet during this encounter. The next day on 9 April, Meer Shawkat attacked Monti-tannery with only 10 soldiers and captured the place after killing 20 troops including one Captain and one Subedar of the Pakistan army.

The Pakistani forces came very close to the Kalurghat Bridge on 10 April. On that day, Meer Shawkat instructed Captain Khalequzzaman and his contingent to take up position at Kalarpool of Patiya. It was not possible for the Pakistanis to enter the southern area of Chittagong via Kalurghat Bridge via Chittagong-Cox's Bazar Road (Arakan Road), as the headquarters of the Eighth East Bengal Regiment were at Fultala of Boalkhali. As Kalarpool Bridge was built over the Barkal canal, Meer Shawkat directed Captain Khalequzzaman to take up position there.

On 10 April, Captain Khalequzzaman took up position at Kalarpool with his contingent. Meanwhile, artillery attack on the Kalurghat area from Karnaphuli River was launched by the Pakistani forces from that day. Meer Shawkat went to Kalarpool early at dawn on 11 April to gather information about the situation there. He learnt from a message sent by Captain Oli in the morning that 700 to 800 Pakistani soldiers had attacked Kalurghat. Captain Harun was seriously injured and Lt. Shamsher was missing. On getting this news, he asked Captain Oli to assemble the resistance fighters.

While Meer Shawkat was at Kalarpool, some Pakistani soldiers in the guise of women and civilians came to Kalurghat Bridge by shouting 'Joy Bangla'. The Bangali officers including Shamsher and Harun could not identify them at first. Lt. Shamsher was standing on the bridge with 20 soldiers, while Captain Harun was in position with some EPR troops. They were all digging bunkers, and a steamroller was put on the bridge to serve as a barricade. Barricades made of cement were also put up. When the Bangali officers identified the Pakistani troops who stepped into the bridge in the guise of women and civilians, they started firing. A Pakistani ship in the Karnaphuli River was by then brought near the Kalurghat Bridge. A fierce battle ensued. The Pakistani ship started bombing and hurling artillery fire on the position of Lt. Shamsher. The ferocity of the battle increased with each passing moment. Within one hour of the shelling, 200 Pakistani soldiers attacked the position of Lt. Shamsher, and casualties mounted on both sides. When Captain Harun was seriously wounded at one stage, Lt. Shamsher sent him to the eastern bank of the bridge. From there, he was taken to Patiya thana dispensary on a microbus, where he was provided preliminary treatment. He was then transferred to Dohazari Hospital. Later, he went away to Burma. There was intense shelling when he was being removed to the eastern bank from the bridge, and the EPR soldiers became demoralised after his departure.

At this stage, Lt. Shamsher succeeded in sending the dead-bodies of 8 martyred comrades as well as the wounded fighters to the eastern bank. But the Bangali fighters could not cope with the Pakistanis due to their inferior numbers. At one stage, they were surrounded by the Pakistanis. As he could not move to another place, Lt. Shamsher came out of the bunker and started firing randomly towards the advancing enemies. At this juncture, three Pakistani soldiers were killed and one seriously wounded. Just at that moment, Shamsher fell down on the bridge after getting wounded by enemy fire. Although he considered committing suicide to be a better option than getting caught by the enemies, it was not possible as his weapon was beyond his reach. The Pakistani soldiers were therefore able to capture him. But instead of killing him, they took him to their commander, and then to the Chittagong Circuit House.

Meanwhile, Major Meer Shawkat Ali arrived at Kalurghat from Kalarpool towards 9 a.m. in the morning and directed all fighters deployed at Kalurghat to pull back. He also asked Lt. Mahfuz to maintain his position at Madunaghat as long as the fighters were retreating. In this way, Kalurghat fell to the Pakistanis on 11 April. After that, around 450 soldiers of EPR, police and the Bengal Regiment reassembled at Patiya and headed for Bandarban under Meer Shawkat's command. They reached Bandarban on 12 April, and arrived at Rangamati via Kaptai on the same day. They then set up the battalion headquarters at Mahalchhari. Although Lt. Mahfuz continued to fight the Pakistanis, at one stage he took up combat positions first at Noapara of Rauzan and then at the Engineering University area. On 14 April, he rejoined the battalion at Mahalchhari in accordance with Meer Shawkat's order along with 200 troops.

[Reference: Bangladesh Muktijuddha Gyankosh: Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, 2020.]

Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed is a retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.

[email protected]

Share if you like