Remembering a naval commando of Bangladesh War of Liberation

Pradip Kumar Dutta

Abu Musa Chowdhury

Pradip Kumar Dutta

Abu Musa Chowdhury, an unsung Hero of Bangladesh's glorious war of Liberation has passed away quietly in his native village of Haidchakia,Paindong under Fatickchhari upazila of Chittagong. His deeds during the war were of huge importance that could attract the attention of international media but his name never came to limelight. He after all was a boy of 16 years of age when he followed the whole Nation to go to fight for it's freedom on the call,given by the pied piper Bangabandhu and never bothered about any recognition. Though after the Victory came on 16th December,1971 the Bangladesh Government mulled the matter of recognition and in the course of a year few hundred gallantry awards were donned on Heroes of the Liberation War. But as you can realise and expect,not every detail comes in front of the review panel and it is not easy to make a cent percent justice in dishing out so many awards without any problem. Deserving candidates were definitely left out may be due to improper reportiryng. But it is never too late to rectify a fault,if any,after proper verification.

Now let's get back to Abu Musa's story. When Bangalees of East Pakistan were on fire,fighting against their West Pakistani counterparts for their due rights in all spheres of National life,Musa a student of ninth grade in his local Fatickchari school,was a leader of Awami League supported Chhatra League and fought the political battle from the front. He was an activist of Awami League during the 1970 National electioneering which resulted in a  landslide victory for Bangabandhu's AL. But it was evident that the Pak military junta was in no mood to hand over power to the winning party. They rather took to scorch earth policy to free East Pakistan of Awami League and resorted to a massive Genocide starting with infamous Operation Searchlight on 25/26 night. Bangabandhu had no alternative in hand except for declaring Independence of his country. Bangladesh was born and the War of Liberation of the country from Pak occupation army began. Abu Musa,a student of class 10 joined the freedom struggle. He received his first one week long basic military training in the Ramgarh School grounds near Indian borders and came back towards Fatickchari to fight the Pakistanis to stop their advancement towards Ramgarh. Later he and his group withdrew after some casualties were inflicted on them and crossed the Indian borders to join the Sector 1 HQ of Muktijuddha at Harina. Here,he got further military training and at a later stage was selected as a Naval commando to get specialised training in Palashi(Murshidabad,West Bengal). Bhagirati,a branch of the Ganges was their training venue. He was promptly despatched to his new training center where he commenced his Naval training immediately along with other comrades. They had a rigorous training in the river Bhagirathi. Their training included physical fitness training, swimming endurance training,training to remain afloat for long duration of time,use of Limpet mines to explode naval vessels and other such related tactics to carry out successful marine guerilla operations. Till July they had been made operation worthy. One or more groups of 20 commandoes each were despatched to basically four target areas of naval commando operation: Chittagong,Mongla,Narayangonj and Kanchpur-Daudkandi.Abu Musa found himself in the Chittagong Group which included among others Dr Shah Alam BU,Rear Adm A W Chowdhury BU and Faruk E Azam BP. He was one of the junior most fighters in the squad. The naval commando attack code  named Operation Jackpot on 15 August 1971 was a resounding success. Though Abu Musa was one of the combatants of this group,his contribution to this operation was not much. Other senior fighters were very successful and the whole Pak authority was dumb founded. They could not even dream of such a daredevil attack which turned Chittagong port partially paralysed and attracted attention of all foreign media. The world understood that the War of Liberation in Bangladesh was gaining momentum.

For the next operation, young Abu Musa was assigned to blast ships at outer anchorage of Chittagong port with his group. Unfortunately,though they started swimming towards the targets,ships appeared to be too far to reach and return before  daybreak after blasting them. The operation had to be called off.

Abu Musa Chowdhury's main achievement came during his third operation. 

It was on 2 October. By that time naval commandoes have done wonders. They struck again and again and by that date one and a half dozen of vessels of different denominations were damaged in different degrees at Chittagong,Chalna,Mongla and Natayangonj. A Greek flag carrier MT Avlos refused to keep the Pakistani flag flying as per protocol for keeping it safe from Muktibahini (Freedom Fighters) commando attacks after 15 August Jackpot operation. The Pakistani maritime authorities put an embargo on its leaving Pak waters. It lay idle on one side of the port channel in Chittagong which was already partially blocked by other vessels damaged by the Muktibahini. Abu Musa Chowdhury's target was this huge tanker Avlos. He set out in time from his hideout. With swimming fins on, it was difficult at first to approach the canal which had thorny bushes on it's bank. He was fine once he could dip into the canal water. From the narrow canal on he went into the open waters of Karnafully and swam towards the Avlos. Just before reaching the hull of Avlos he was spotted by Pakistani patrol party who were posted on the river bank. As he was challenged,he took advantage of the night's darkness and swam under water to the other side of the ship and was no more visible from the road. He was carrying two limpet mines and a dagger with him. Quickly he got engaged,cleaned the surface of the ship under water with his knife and the mines were placed in two proper locations.All these he had to do in a hurry so that the patrol party could not start any search operation on suspicion. The detonators were to be fixed to cause explosion after 45 minutes. But due to rush and hurry one was fixed at a much shorter lead time. After fixing the limpet mines he started swimming towards the other side of the river to take refuge in the village. Within 10/15 minutes a defeaning sound was heard. He was too close to the explosion site. His ears started bleeding. MT Avlos was severely damaged. Abu Musa had to continue swimming albeit injured. By the time he reached the other bank of the river in Anwara, another blast occured as scheduled. The ship tilted and blocked a part of the river channel. Operation was successful. The next few days international media including BBC,Aakshbani,VOA covered the incident widely. The Greek company claimed damages from Pak government as the ship was under their custody. Mahmud Ali, Pakistani representative in the UN claimed that the damage was caused by Muktibahini miscreants at the instance of India,so Pakistan was not responsible. This was enough for them to lose their face. It was evident that Pakistan was not in proper control of their Eastern part as claimed by them. Partial navigability of Chittagong and Mongla were lost. Many foreign lines started refusing cargo to this part.Even the Yahya military regime was also apprehensive of shortage of commodities and impending famine. This Avlus operation of valiant marine commando Abu Musa Chowdhury shook the Pakistani authorities capabilities to keep it's imports safe and maintain it's supply chain.

After this operation,there was no looking back for the Hero. He took part in sinking MV Turag in the confluence of Dhaleshwari and Buriganga. Later still,he participated in operations in Narayangonj and Kanchpur ferry terminal. Victory in the war of Liberation was knocking at the door. After the final whistle blew on 16December 1971 Abu Musa,like most of the Muktibahini fighters did not wait for any recognition or remuneration. The supreme honour: Freedom of Motherland was sanctioned to them by the Almighty. They went back home and got busy with day to day life.

Mr Abu Musa was engaged in looking after his paternal property and engaged in small commodity business which did not bring much return. Meantime,the injury he received during the first blast of Avlos continued bothering him. So,at one point of time,in 1995 he migrated to USA to earn his living and get a treatment.He stayed there till 2020 and returned home just before Covid 19 broke out. Of course,in between also he came back once for a couple of years to get settled in his homeland. That was in 2002. But by 2005 he could not afford a decent treatment and life in Chittagong which prompted him to go back. Covid 19 did not allow him to return this time and he was spending his time in his village home in Haidchakia. Just before Eid ul Azha he went for purchase of his sacrificial animal to a village haat. Therefrom he returned late that night and had a sudden heart attack which he could not survive. May Almighty grant him the highest coveted place in his eternal abode.

Though he deserved the highest possible gallantry award for his brave operation,he did not receive any. Never did he bother about it. 

His comrade freedom fighters and conscious civil society expects that Commando Abu Musa Chowdhury be considered for his due gallatey award by the competent authorities. Its never too late. It can be awarded posthumously. Similarly many other deserving freedom fighters and Shaheeds are yet to be recognised. The onus is on the Government to take necessary actions to show proper honour to each and everyone who deserve it. That way, Bangladesh as a Nation will be free of it's indebtedness to those who fought for the country and had to undergo miseries including supreme sacrifice.

(Pradip Kumar Dutta is a Masters in Engineering. He writes regularly in Bangladeshi,Indian,Srilankan and UK Newspapers on History,heritage, traveling, people's rights and environmental issues).