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OP-ED: Remembering Captain Akram Ahmed, Bir Uttam

  • Published at 12:39 am December 15th, 2020
Bir Uttam Captain Akram Ahmed
Bir Uttam Captain Akram Ahmed Courtesy

He was a foundational part of the forming of the BAF

Hours after the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) attacked Indian Air Force bases in the western frontier on the evening of December 3, 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was urgently briefed by her military commanders.

She advised that Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) should strike the eastern war theatre occupied by Pakistan and officially declare war against Pakistan. The “Kilo Flight” was entrusted for the secret mission by the exiled government in Kolkata.

The “Akash Shainik,” the nicknames for the pilots and gunner crew of the newly raised “Kilo Flight” scrambled from Kailashahar, a non-operational airfield in Tripura, at 11:40 pm, flying an Otter DHC-3. The outstanding ground technicians, who defected from PAF, painstakingly refurbished the civilian aircraft to enable for both air and ground battles with additional fuel tanks.

Heart thumping in excitement, Captain Akram Ahmed, a former pilot of East Pakistan Plant Protection Agency, had experience in low-level flying with poor navigational equipment. The commander Flight Lieutenant Shamsul Alam in their first combat mission flew 225 km south at a low altitude to avoid being spotted by enemy radars. They navigated on a foggy moonlit night -- the destination was Chattogram. 

The secret mission was also accompanied by Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Rustam Ali, manning the heavy machine gun, while Corporal Mujammel Haque manually operated the rockets in the rear cabin. With the aid of a simple compass, Capt Akram navigated the aircraft. In two hours, the flight approached Chattogram covered in a blackout. The only lights visible from the cockpit were ships anchored at the port. 

The pilots located the Chattogram Airport, then made a shallow dive and slammed two rockets into the fuel tanks of Eastern Refinery to interrupt the fuel supplies of the Pakistan occupation army. While making a second attempt, the combat aircraft was attacked by enemy anti-aircraft batteries.

The Otter pulled up, and on its way out, fired a rocket at a foreign ship and flew back to Kumbhirgram Airport in Silchar, Assam, at 3:10 am on December 4. Moments after the Otter had passed Teliamura, Sqn Ldr Sultan Mahmud, accompanied by Flt Lt Badrul Alam and Sergeant Shahidullah, took off in the Alouette III helicopter heading for the target in Godnail at the fringe of Dhaka. 

The helicopter passed Akhaura, Elliotganj, on the Dhaka-Comilla highway, turned south at Narayanganj along Shitalakshya River, and blasted the Eastern Refinery oil depot at Godnail with rockets on December 4. After the accomplishment of the mission, they returned to Teliamura at dawn, completing the three hour round trip with 12–15 minutes of fuel left to fly.

Captain Akram was among the nine pilots and 58 defected PAF personnel who joined the Kilo Flight squadron under the command of Group Captain Abdul Karim Khandker on September 28, 1971. 

The BAF was born with three aircraft, Alouette III helicopter, Otter DHC-3, and DC-3 Dakota donated by the Indians during the bloody War of Independence in 1971. Pilots of an Alouette III were Sq Ldr Sultan Mahmud, Capt Shahabuddin Ahmed, and Flying Officer Badrul Alam. Pilots of Otter DHC 3 were Flt Lt Shamsul Alam, Capt Akram Ahmed, and Capt Sarfuddin Ahmed. While pilots of DC-3 Dakota were Capt Abdul Khalque, Capt Abdul Mukit, and Capt Alamgir Sattar.

“Akash Shainik” Captain Akram Ahmed, Bir Uttam, died on December 7, 2020 at Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka Cantonment due to a heart attack. He died at the age of 74.

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]l.com; Twitter @saleemsamad.