HOW I GOT CAPTURED – Air Cmde JL (Brother) Bhargava.

On 05 Dec 71, with Air Cmde KK Bakshi  as my leader  I was in a 2 a/c formation attacking Naya Chor Area . It was my first sortie.  Over the target I was hit by ground fire and I experienced numerous emergencies, one after another – hydraulic failure followed  by controls reverting to manual,  port engine flaming out,  ASI zero , R/T failure and finally starboard engine JPT rising above the red mark and RPM fluctuating. I decided to eject. My parachute barely opened when I touched down.  I probably damaged my spine during this ejection. When I settled down on a sand dune, time was 0920 (IST). I looked for a map but to my surprise I had none. There was NO map in the survival pack. I thought that I was North of the Rly line ( Khokhropar to Naya Chor ) and close to Khokropar whereas I was actually South of this line and near Vasarbha, which is nearly 15 KM west of Khokropar. I knew for certain that I was in Pak territory. I changed my watch to PST.

All my decisions of commencing a walk back were on the basis that I was North of  the railway line. At about 1230 I heard some conversations at a distance and I thought the Pakistanis were approaching me.

Brother flanked by Brian Demagary and Sudhir Batra on his return. (Courtesy Sudhir Batra)

With the help of the survival pack compass, I ran on an easterly heading. After some distance  I removed my G suit and hid it in the nearby shrubbery. I was in civies. There were never-ending sandunes. It was also very tiring. I came across a few snakes, which scared me a bit. I was left with no water and my throat had become very dry. I needed water badly, I was almost on the verge of giving up. Soon after, I saw a big village on my right which I thought to be Bhitala. I noticed that there were a few huts nearby and I decided to go there to fetch water first , then proceed to this big village. In a way I was lucky to have taken this decision.

As I reached the huts, one old man met me there and I introduced myself as a PAF officer, Flt Lt Mansoor Ali. I requested for water and he pointed to the tank normally used by cattle. I drank that water and replenished the 4 small bottles. I asked him whether that big village was Bhitala. I was shocked when he told me that it was Pirani Ki Par. At this stage I realized that I was way south of my track and I told this old man ( luckily there was no one else there at that time ) not to let anyone know that Mansoor Ali had come. I gave him  Rs 20/- (PAK currency) and now fully satisfied with  water, with 4 filled bottles, and knowing where I was, my morale was high. I headed 040 degrees on compass. Had I a map here, I would have walked North to reach  the railway line soonest, but alas that was not to be. Time was nearly 4 P.M.(PST). I continued on 040. Skirting the sand dunes, I walked till about 0530 P.M. I heard one helicopter and soon saw it too. It was a MI-4. I waived but he did not spot me. It was getting dark. I saw some movement, so I decided to rest in a man-made ditch 8 X 8, just sufficient to lie in.

I was suddenly challenged by 3 persons wanting to know who I was and what was I doing there? I told them I was A PAF pilot,  Flt Lt Mansoor Ali and that my aircraft had been shot down by Indian Army near Bhitala. They told me that I was walking towards India and forced me to accompany them to their village nearby. On the way I asked them if there was any Police Station or army persons  in their village. They replied in the negative. I heaved a sigh of relief. Then I asked them how far away I was from the border, since as per them I was walking towards India, 10 – 12 KM was the answer. I entered the village with them and was soon surrounded by most of the villagers. One of them was Headmaster of the school. From his body language, it seemed he was not convinced by my story. He asked me the place I belonged to, Rawalpindi I replied. He asked me where in Rawalpindi, I replied Mall Road and he then told me that I was in an Indian village. I requested them to let me go back to Pakistan and only then he said not to worry, I was in a Pak village and that he was testing me! I was waiting for an opportunity to escape, soon it became quite dark and yet again it was not to be. I was taken to a village hut and offered tea. Meanwhile I had enquired whether there were any Rangers around. I was told they would be here within  3 hours. I don’t know why, but I  was mentally prepared to escape after 8 P.M. It was 0740 P.M. I was made to sit on a jute charpoy where at least 10 – 12 villagers were sitting on the ground. I had planned to ask them to take me out to answer the call of nature and then run. I had kept one knife and 4 bottles of water, the rest of the items I had gifted to some children there. And at about 5 minutes to 8, four Rangers arrived, started asking me my name etc etc. I told them I was Flt Lt Mansoor Ali of PAF but they were not convinced. At about 9, their leader, Awaj Ali, threatened me to tell them the truth otherwise they would use some other methods. I looked around and finally told them that I was Flt Lt Jawahar lal Bhargava of the IAF and to do whatever they wanted, even kill me. At this stage, the villagers told me that I was a guest of Pakistan and no harm would come to me. The Rangers then took me into custody. I was handcuffed and blindfolded, my journey commenced on camel back, escorted with auto rifles and what have you. It took two more days to reach Umarkot where I was handed over to the Army…….

JL Bhargava

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6 Responses to HOW I GOT CAPTURED – Air Cmde JL (Brother) Bhargava.

  1. suniti says:

    A book worth reading….

  2. I would love to hear more about the escape. I miss the evenings when me and my cousins would sit around papa (late gp capt Harish Sinhji) and urge him to recount his, gary’s and jafa’s heroic escape and unfortunate recapture. It’s so nice to see how you are immortalising the accounts you have…
    Kaveri

  3. JL (Brother) Bhargava says:

    Story thus far ia only about my unsuccessful escape bid. I’ll continue the story in parts and will cover the entire one year of our captivity until return to our Motherland on 01 Dec 72.There is a lot to tell about the escape attempt from the POW Camp by DK Parulkar, MS Grewal and late Harish Sinhji.I will cover how they broke out of the Camp and their subsequent capture near the Afghan border. Parulkar & Garry and other Co-POWs should also add their experiences. As already brought out by Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava Sir,I can now see a mini book coming up….

  4. ACM Lal’s book, My Years with the IAF has a detailed story on the escape of the POWs from Pakistan. This was added by DS Jafa, his ex-staff officer. But he got his VrC and VM while in No. 26 Squadron. His is obviously not a Marut tale. It would add to Brother Bhargava’s story.about the escape and recapture.

    Now, how is that for memory?

    Just in case, you are over-impressed, this is borrowed memory from someone else’s brain, with memory much sharper than mine! Plagiarism knows no bounds.

    With best wishes,
    Kapil Bhargava

  5. Air Cmde JL (Brother) Bhargava has done a very good job of giving the detailed personal account of his experience. This is valuable history. Now a lot of writing still lies ahead of him to complete the story of the Great Indian Escape.

    While we were together in Jodhpur he had described in detail the careful and extensive preparations for it. Thereafter the story of the adventure of travel and eventual capture has to follow. These were very fascinating events and were well explained by him, and some others. Brother’s total output will end up as a mini-book which, apart from remaining on this Blog, can eventually be published on the Internet.

    Meanwhile, if someone has a copy of Air Chief Marshal PC Lal’s autobiography ‘My Years With The IAF”, (completed after he passed away), it has a fairly complete story by another POW and the escape from his point of view. Some ex-POWs are still around and should be traced ot get their tales. We should also look for those Marut pilots who did not fall into the hands of the Pakistanis and yet did many operational sorties during the 1971 War. Perhaps some of them were present at the Jodhpur reunion in March this year.Bu5 if not,Dara & Co. have to go after them.

    I also think that Dara’ appeal for more photographs or other details should be extended to the families of the pilots and engineers who are no longer alive. Surely some good ones can then be located. All these efforts should end up in a good and valuable historical record of the Marut.

    • Dara says:

      Sir, I think it is absolutely imperative that we end up with a comprehensive historical record of the Marut. This also seems the ideal time to get cracking on it. A lot can be achieved between now and next June.

      Fortunately, I have been able to get brief, but interesting, inputs from Bats, Air Cmde Bakshi, AVM Sreekanth and Air Cmde Bhargava. Am coaxing others to contribute and share more of their own experiences. Others are helping out by trying to get information and photographs from Unit albums and diaries. God willing it will all fall into place in due course.

      Unfortunately, am not in touch with any of the families at this point, will explore that suggestion too. I also hope others will move along those lines also and help us all.

      Can only wish Brother all the best in compiling a blow by blow account of his experiences. It will be a valuable contribution and a welcome read.

      Dara

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