Eagles over Bangladesh : The Indian Air Force in the 1971 War

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Title: Eagles over Bangladesh : The Indian Air Force in the 1971 Liberation War
Authors: P.V.S.Jagan Mohan & Samir Chopra
Publisher: Harper Collins India, 2013
Price: $24.99
ISBN: 978-1469196565
Pages: 428


Exhaustive books on the Indian sub-continent air operations are rare – one on the 1971 air war covering both the larger Western and the Eastern sectors even more – none exist.

The author and historian Jagan Mohan, Samir Chopra and Harper Collins are complimented for publishing the definitive account for the Eastern sector operations (in erstwhile East Pakistan) where the IAF took on the lone PAF Sabre fighter 14 squadron and played a decisive role in the creation of Bangladesh -and it took almost 8 years in the making.

The USP of this massive 400 + page tome (soft cover ed) are the exclusive and diligent research and first person accounts from the Indian Air Warriors ex AVM Bishnoi et al and some from the Bangladesh AF which the authors have gleaned over the years – along with rare b/w personal photos and 16 pages of glossy pages which embellish the tome.

The introduction with a short political scenario is supplemented by an excellent account of the IAF between the wars and the build up to the air campaign – while on the PAF side it is a bit brief.

The events leading to the defection of Bengali pilots to India and the first Kilo Flight audacious air strike and a detailed day by day account of the major ops read like a fast paced thriller – the reader can almost envision himself in the cockpit as the action envelopes him.

The famous battle over Boyra , many little or unknown nuggets including the capture and ordeal of Squadron Leader Bhutani as a POW , to the final decisive raid on the Governor’s house are covered meticulously – the nugget on the downed future PAF chief Qureishi returning the compliment to his adversary Lazarus, in a rare display of fighter fraternity, is priceless.

To my delight , Each chapter has extensive notes containing useful information and cross-references – the usage of the Mig 21 gun-sights , the failure of the AA-2 Atoll (K-13) Missile ,the steep glide bombing tactics employed for the Russian M-62 ordnance during runway denial ops etc

The book ends with an aftermath of the war , a concise analysis of the IAF and PAF during the war and the start of the fledgling Bangladesh Air Force and finally discloses the reason for the surprising hostility towards their benefactors – the IAF – which had puzzled me .

A detailed appendix with Orbat for each AF , along with a detailed list of kills (indian sources) , combat ops statistics , gallantry awards , officers rosters and a bibliography follows.

What could be enhanced for a second edition:

  1. There are only 2 maps – a few more maps in each chapter with relevant markings would improve the spatial understanding
  2. Few more action sequence diagrams to supplement the lone Boyra flying formation diagram would serve as a fantastic primer on air superiority
  3. Each chapter could have some sub-titles along with the relevant date of campaign
  4. More details on the air operations from the naval sqn
  5. Sections on the objectives of each AF at the inception and lessons learnt at the end
  6. Future progress and careers of the main protagonists
  7. Lastly – colour artwork profiles and possibly colour paintings from Polly Singh would have greatly enhanced this book given the proliferation of glossy paper – this is the biggest lacuna
  8. Next on the anvil – the long awaited tome on air operations in the Western Sector ??

There are also some interesting ponderables – had PAF utilized the other air base in Kumaritola or had there been another PAF Sabre sqn deployed – would it have impacted the inevitable?

In summary this is a must buy – not only for the discerning air war or mil history buff, but also for the casual Western reader ,of an era where aircraft guns and cannon roared and resulted in the liberation of Bangladesh.

Reviewed by Krishna Jaga

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