During 1971 liberation war, Pakistan Army's ninth infantry division was deployed in Khulna region. Supported by two additional tank-squadrons, the division was the strongest one in East Pakistan. Fighting such forces was nearly impossible for Mukti Bahini that did not have any sufficient troops and arms.
But on March 31, even when the sectors (for liberation war) were not formed to launch systematic attacks against the occupied forces, the Mukti Bahini, comprised of Bengali soldiers and bureaucrats, launched a surprise operation and liberated Jessore. However, seven days later, they had to retreat due to the intense artillery firing by the Pakistani troops and Jessore fell to enemy. Pakistani troops then rapidly advanced to Jhenaidah and occupied the town on April 17. Then they took Kushtia which was liberated from March 30. Therefore, retreated Freedom Fighters from all over Khulna front were withdrawn and gradually all were pushed towards Benapole.
Pak forces were superior in every category and quickly made their way through by outdoing the freedom fighters. Benapole remained the only unoccupied zone in the Khulna region. Major Abu Osman Chowdhury planned to hold Benapole at any cost.
Major Osman built a defense line in front of Benapole in Kagojpukur area. Three Bengali paramilitary company were deployed to hold the defense line and one more East Bengal Regiment company was reserved in Benapole headquarter. Some of the soldiers in front line even didn't have a rifle. Even though they did not have proper weapon and other logistics, they had one thing in abundance: Courage. Pakistani troops, which encircled them from three sides had a strategy to penetrate the Bangali's defense line and pushed them to India and sealed the border.
The refugees coming from Jessore informed that the Pak army had deployed long range artillery pieces near Navaran. The entire Benapole was under their range. Even it could shell on Indian Territory. The artilleries could turn the whole area into dust.
On April 21 a raiding party consisting of 20 soldiers led by Captain Hafizuddin Ahmed raided Navaran. Marching eight kilometer to the west, they engaged targets with mortars and rockets. Enemy fired tracer rounds and they crawled back.
The next day, the Indian Signal Corps intercepted Pakistani radio message and found that they had lost two artillery pieces. It was a successful raid but it was the opening round of furious battle.
From April 23, enemy troops launched super charge to sweep Muktibahini out. They tried to flank them from both side. The north flank retreated but the south side was able to hold the enemy. In the middle point, Muktibahini was about to retreat but Nayeb Subeder Mujibul Haque fired his machine gun and wiped out a whole enemy platoon.
Pak army resorted into deceptive tactics: By putting on EPR (East Pakistan Rifles fighting for Bangladesh) uniforms, they started to walk to muktibahini's line like friendly troops.
The right flank of Bangali forces got aware of that trick played by the Pak forces and started firing immediately. Pakistani troops failed to get succeed and were forced to retreat. As there were no field telephones on the battlefield, that incident in the south remained unreported to other positions.
Meanwhile, the Pak army dressed as EPR came very close to Nayeb Subedar Mujibul. He refrained from firing on them thinking it was his own force. He understood later but it was too late. Bullets pierced his body.
The mortar battery was advancing from the Benapole headquarter to aid Mujibul Haque's positions. A car was carrying ammunition for the mortars. As the unprepared driver faced enemy soldier, he abandoned the car and the mortars and ammunition were lost to enemy forces.
After retreating from Kagojpukur, the freedom fighters quickly assembled behind the customs colony. Then they built new defensive positions just behind the customs colony near the border. This time two company of the East Bengal Regiment were put in the front line of defense. The southern defenses were set up one mile behind the Benapole check post.
During the last three days of April and the first week of May, Pakistani forces repeatedly attacked the muktibahini's line.
They bombarded continuously and charged infantry time and again. Muktibahini went through the barrage of shell waves but they managed to hold somehow. The enemy used to fire 30/40 rounds of shell and charge the infantry but they failed to capture MuktiBahini's positions. The situation was stalemate which was costly and humiliating for ninth division and a tactical victory for freedom fighters.
In early May, high ranked military and government officials met up at Benapole to build a strategic plan. Foreign journalists and photographers used to come to Bangladesh during war through Benapole.The newly formed Immigration Department of Bangladesh put an entry seal on their passports. When BBC's Panorama broadcasted the interviews of Major Osman and Captain Hafizuddin, the world could know that an area is independent even in the face of the modern weapons of the Pak army.
Ninth division had to send portion of troops on other fronts as they were bogged down by hit and run attacks in other fronts of Khulna. Despite the Pakistan army's best assault weapons, freedom fighters continued to maintain the stronghold. Enemy troops never put their boots here.
The writer is a final year student of Economics, Jahangirhanagr University and feature writer.