The POW Saga – Part I: Air Cmde JL Bhargava (Retd)

The first post, on the subject,was a synopsis of events immediately following his ejection. Air Cmde ‘Brother’ Bhargava is now writing a more detailed account of the whole episode and has added interesting anecdotes and his own feelings at the time.

Besides covering his own experiences, in as much as detail as possible, he will also be covering the great escape attempted by Harisnhji, Garry Grewal and Dilip Parulkar subsequently.

On 05 Dec 71, Sqn Ldr KK Bakshi was my leader in a 2 a/c formation attacking Naya Chor Area . It was my first sortie. As the main runway of Uttarlai was not available due to enemy bombing, we had to take off from parallel taxi track. As we crossed the border heading about 300, my leader made R/T contact with FAC but I could not hear clearly since my R/T was a bit distorted. Now I know that this was an important conversation about the latest ground position of our Army or in other words “ FLOT–Forward Line of Own Troops”. Apparently our troops had moved quite a bit further west towards Pakistani territory. Had I heard this, at a later stage, this would have helped.

Over the target I was hit by ground fire and experienced numerous emergencies one after another ( hydraulic failure, went into manual,  Port engine flaming out, ASI zero , R/T failure and finally starboard engine JPT rising above the red mark and RPM fluctuating ). Since it started with hydraulic failure, I had initiated a gentle climb simultaneously turning right to roll out on 090. Before R/T had fully packed up, I was able to inform my leader that I was hit and returning to base. I clearly remember him telling me to roll out on 060 but then with all these emergencies one after another and my losing sight of him, I probably remained on 090 and decided to lower my height since my tail was not clear. I came down to almost sand dune height trying to do various things in the cockpit – relighting port engine, punching drop tanks etc etc but did not succeed . At this stage I felt that my speed was very low ( close to landing speed) and I was further convinced that I was losing speed…because I saw an abandoned mosque on my left  and I felt the ac was not moving that fast. To add to this , there was no joy on my engines and was convinced my speed was really very low. At this stage I made a firm decision to eject. First I pulled the standby ejection handle between my legs.It did not function as I was unable to pull it up fully. In some panic I tried again, but nothing happened. More panic and I pulled the main handle with one hand, while the other was on the control column, as I was flying just above the sand dunes. This time the seat fired. My parachute barely opened when I touched down. Without realizing it, I had probably damaged my spine and fortunately landed on a sandy area. Though I had landed safely I was most worried about a hostile mob surrounding me. The Marut had crashed and dug itself almost half into the dune  and  I could hear the rockets exploding. I got a bit scared and decided to get out of that area soonest. I buried the parachute as best I could in the sand, I continued wearing the helmet, picked up the survival pack and moved about 100 meters east of this site. From between two sand dunes, I saw my leader overhead. There was smoke coming from his exhaust and I got little worried about him. He made two or three circles whilst I was vigorously waving at him. I thought he had seen me, alas  he had not and went back. I then perched atop a sand dune, safe from the exploding aircraft and was waiting for the helicopter. The time was 0920 (IST).

I looked for the map but to my surprise I had none. The one I was navigating with had gone with the ac and there was no map in the survival pack. I had no choice but to mentally work out my actual position on the ground. I thought that I was North of the Rly line ( Gadra Road –  Khokhropar – Bhitala –  Naya Chor ) and close to Khokropar . I was actually South of this railway line and near Vasarbha which is nearly 15 KM west of Khokropar. I knew for certain that I was in Pak territory and was contemplating to walk in case I was threatened. I changed my watch to PST.

 

The Blue trail ends at Bhitala in Pakistan

 

I selected a few items from the survival pack and put them in a bag provided in the survival pack and started walking on the basis that I was North of  the railway line. Surprisingly there was not a soul in the vicinity but I was waiting for the helicopter. At about 1230 I heard some conversation at a distance and I thought the Pakistanis were approaching me. I ran on an easterly heading, leaving foot prints on the sand, for about a km. After some distance,  I removed my G suit and hid it in the nearby shrubbery, I was in civies now, and walking in the direction of 090. I heard some shouts here and there but no one came my way, it was all barren and uninhabited. It was also very tiring. I came across a few snakes which was a bit scary.  Soon, I was left with no water and my throat had become very dry. Incidentally my parachute, ejection seat and the G suit were found by our Army search team who, I am told, came to rescue me and the same were handed over to my squadron. From these items, it became evident to them that I was alive but where on earth I had disappeared to, no one could guess.

Going back to my story, I needed water badly and was on the verge of giving up my march. Soon, I saw a big village 3 km away on my right, which I thought to be Bhitala but it was not. Because as I turned right towards this so-called Bhitala, I noticed that there were a few huts nearby and I decided to go there to fetch water first and 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 PAF officer Flt Lt Mansoor Ali. I requested for water and he indicated I use a 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. I told the old man not to let anyone know that Mansoor Ali had come. I gave him  Rs 20/- in Pakistani currency. Fully satiated with  water,  with 4 filled bottles and knowing where I was, my morale was high. I walked towards 040 degrees on compass. Had I got a map here, I would have walked North  to reach the railway line soonest – alas that was not to be. By now it was 4 pm, I continued on 040. Skirting the sand dunes, I walked till about 5.30 pm. I heard one helicopter and soon saw it. It was a MI-4, I waived, but he did not spot me, perhaps because it was almost dusk. It was getting dark and I saw some movement so I decided to rest in a man-made ditch, 8 X 8, sufficient to lie down 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 was 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 in their village. They replied me 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 also requested one of them to arrange a camel to take me to Bhitala and when he said Bhitala was under Indian control I replied that Pakistan has got it back that day itself. He indicated that a camel could be arranged. I opened my wallet and showed him the Pak currency to convince him, that I was a PAF pilot, and that I could pay for it. Again it was not to be. I heard the local school Headmaster telling them that a camel was not to be made available.  I entered the village with them and was soon surrounded by most of the villagers. One of them was the Headmaster. From his body language, he did not seem convinced that I was A PAF pilot. He asked me the place I belonged to, Rawalpindi I replied, then he asked me where in Rawalpindi I lived, I replied Mall Road; he then told me that I was in an Indian village. I requested him to let me go back to Pakistan and only then he seemed satisfied, I was in a Pak village, he said, and that he was testing me! After having passed this test, and as it was getting dark, I was looking for an opportunity to escape. Yet again it was not to be. I was taken to a  village hut and offered tea which I accepted. I enquired whether there were any Rangers around. I was told they would be here within about 3 hours. I don’t know why but I mentally prepared myself to escape after 8 P.M. It was 7.40 P.M. I was made to sit on a jute charpoy with at least 10 – 12 villagers sitting on the ground. I had planned to request them to take me out to answer the call of nature and then run. I kept one knife and 4 bottles of water and rest of the items I had gifted to some children there.

At about 5 minutes to 8, four Rangers arrived and.started asking me my name etc etc. I told them I was Flt Lt Mansoor Ali of PAF – they were not convinced. At about 9, their leader, Awaj Ali. smilingly asked me to recite Kalma if I was actually Mansoor Ali. He even recited the Kalma himself and asked me to repeat, but I could not. He then threatened me to tell them the truth or else 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 they could do whatever they wanted,  even kill me. At this stage, the villagers told me that I was the guest of Pakistan and no harm would come to me and the Rangers took me into custody. All my items including the wallet were taken away and my pockets emptied. Before we set course on camels, I was offered a chicken dinner around 11 pm. While I was eating one of the villagers told me that he regularly visited Barmer and I could write a letter for my Begum ( wife) and he would stamp and post it at Barmer. I immediately wrote a small note for my wife – that I had ejected, had been taken over by the Rangers and that I was very sorry to have disappointed all. I addressed it to 225 Sqn C/O 56 APO. My wife naturally never got that note.

My  journey then commenced on camel back. I was handcuffed and blindfolded using my personal hankies ( I always carry two handkerchiefs on me) guarded by auto rifles and with one camel ahead  and one behind, we set off.   This was the first camel ride of my life, that too handcuffed and blindfolded. My plight can be well imagined. The next day at about 1230 (PST), I heard some fighters, so I told my escort Mohabbat Ali – he was on the same camel – that we must make the camels sit down, so that we were not spotted by the fighters and we all sat down. I requested them to remove my blind fold so that I could advise them what to do further. Awaz Ali agreed and he opened the blindfold. I looked around and saw two Maruts flying in the close vicinity but they did not open fire. Thank God!  On my return I saw the Author book; Wg Cdr Jit Dhawan and Batra were the two airborne at that time . After these two Maruts pushed off, I was promptly blindfolded. Immediately thereafter, Awaz Ali introduced me to some other Rangers. One of them asked loudly as to why I was in civies. I replied that the G suit was very heavy and that I had an identity disc with my name and other details with me. I could not see him but he retorted and kind of ordered Awaz Ali to kill me there and then. I heard him saying “ Goli maar Dalle Noo” – means shoot this pimp – he is a spy being in civil dress. I just cannot explain here as to  my feelings when I heard this, I was sure I was going to be shot and killed. I requested Awaz Ali to remove my blindfold before shooting me. I was temporarily relieved when he told me that no one can kill me as long as Awaz Ali was there and they quietly took me to the camel and we started. I must confess that for the next half an hour, I was shuddering and expecting a bullet from behind anytime – I was really, really scared. There were 5 Rangers; 2 in front , 2 at the back and one with me. Around 4 P.M, we got down and had tea. At this time I was introduced to an Army Major, he was courteous to me. In fact he asked Awaz Ali as to why they had blindfolded and hand cuffed me. I was also given some biscuits. After tea, we again started and I continued to be blindfolded & hand cuffed. Awaz Ali apparently did not obey the Major.

Sunset brought darkness and since I was blindfolded with my handkerchief , I could partially see some part of the surroundings and sky by tilting my head back. Then, another bombshell. From their conversation, I could make out, though not very clearly, that they were proceeding towards a village “Chachro”. It was totally dark by now.

 

The blue trail starts from Bhitala (North) to Chachro.

 

The most uncomfortable and painful part of the journey was the sitting and rising of the camel every time we stopped. I had reached the point that I hated that camel! I was asked whether I wanted to drink water. I answered with a vehement “No”. But the Rangers on the front camel told Awaz Ali that they would like to have water. We therefore had to stop. I asked Mohabat Ali ( my escort) not to make the camel sit down and our camel  kept standing. The Rangers from the front camel got down for water and soon informed Awaz Ali that Chhachro had been occupied by Indian Army and I clearly heard this. These Rangers probably got the information from the villagers. Had we not stopped for water, anything was possible – including my escort Rangers becoming POWs themselves and my return to my own people! The result – we stayed in that very village for the night and left for next destination on 7th Dec  morning.

JL Bhargava

To be continued………….

© Copyright Air Commodore JL Bhargava (Retd). All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.

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4 Responses to The POW Saga – Part I: Air Cmde JL Bhargava (Retd)

  1. I am writing as the editor of http://www.indiaofthepast.org, a website that aims to capture personal memories of India and Indians. I would like to reproduce this article (I could not find Part 2) on my website, I am a professor of economics, living in Washington, DC. My website is not affiliated with or back ed by an group or organization. Please contact me at scmathur@gmail.com, Subodh Mathur, editor

  2. Reblogged this on defence lover and commented:
    amazing ! must read !

  3. raj sharma says:

    i served under AIR Cmdr Bhargava when he was GP capt Commanding af stn singharasi. A nice human being and very fun loving person.

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