We have earlier been through excerpts from an article which appeared in the Vayu giving a brief account of the history of 10 Squadron. Now, with valuable inputs from and in consultation with Wg Cdr Bobby Kasbekar, AVM Pillai, AVM KP Sreekant, Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas, Wg Cdr SK Singh, Wg Cdr Sudhir Batra and Keru, it has been possible to create a concise insider account about the initial days of Marut operations. Inputs have also been taken from an article “Winged Daggers” in an old issue of “Vayu”, forwarded by Mr Pushpinder Singh. Then Flt Lt Brian deMagery has been widely quoted in that article and his recollections of those early days have helped enormously.
10 Squadron, after being in hibernation since April 1964, was revived and re-equipped with Marut Mk I aircraft at Armament Training Wing (ATW), Jamnagar on a significant date – 01 Apr 67, the Air Force Day was also on 01 April. Till then, the Maruts were being flown by Aircraft and Armamnet Testing Unit (A&ATU), which performed the role of a handling flight after HAL test pilots had completed proto type and pre-production testing of the Marut. The A&ATU was commanded then by Wg Cdr Karan Yadav and he along with the other test pilots there, Sqn Ldrs Prithi Singh, P Ashoka, Brijesh Jayal and Arun Sapre, conducted dual checks for the squadron pilots on Hunter T-66 aircraft. The Ground Training was conducted by Shashi Ramdas and Suresh Shrotriya Tech (Armt).The nucleus and pioneers of 10 Squadron, on 01 Apr 67, were:
Wg Cdr VK Murthy…………………..(Murph)
Sqn Ldr Ranjit Dhawan……………..(Jit)
Sdn Ldr MS Jatar ……………………..(Mickey)
Flt Lt CKK Menon……………………(Minnie)
Flt Lt SK Singh………………………(Eskay)
Flt Lt JS Kapur………………………..(Jug Jug)
Flt Lt JS Sisodia……………………..( Sis)
Fg Offr JS Sidhu………………………..(Panchi)
Fg Offr SS Bajwa……………………….(Sukhwant)
Fg Offr MY Kasbekar…………………(Bobby)
Sqn Ldr KR Lamba STO………………(Kuldip)
Fg Offr Rao Dasari…..Sig Offr …….(Rao)
Fg Offr K Ramchand…Tech Eng……(Ramu)
The squadron inventory comprised a mix of 12 prototype and pre-production type Maruts and two Hunter T 66 trainer aircraft. These early Marut versions had dissimilar cockpit layouts of instruments and switches. Serviceability during the ‘good’ times was bad, with an occasional grounding of the fleet thrown in for good measure. Completion of the conversion took over six months. Hunter background pilots – Punchi and Bobby were fortunate to get attached to the Hunter OCU to complete their flying bounty quota of six hours a month.
The squadron had its first tragic casualty precisely a month after inception, on 01 May 67, when Fg Offr Sukhwant Singh Bajwa met with a fatal accident on his 4th conversion sortie. The cause was never known though the wreckage was located in the local flying area. Bobby mentions that he was in fact detailed for the sortie while Sukhwant had been detailed for the very first Airmen pay parade. However, claiming seniority over Bobby, he convinced the Flt Cdr to detail Bobby instead to do the dog work. To add to the misfortune, within a few days Boss Murthy ejected. Following the ejection, Wg Cdr Gabboo Sen took over the Squadron. Within the next six months there were some more additions; Flt Lt DS Jatar (Dinky), Fg Offrs PV Apte (Pradeep) and SK Agnihotri (Aggy). The quantum of flying was slack and it took a whole year for the Squadron to carry out armament work at Sarmat Range and become operational.
Almost two years to the day after it was re-equipped at Jamnagar, the squadron moved to Air Force Station, Poona in Apr – May 1969. Shortly thereafter, it was split vertically and 220 Squadron, ex Vampires operating at Poona and commanded by Sqn Ldr ON Kacker (Piloo), was the second operational unit of the Marut fleet. Sqn Ldr Kacker was posted as Flt Cdr 10 Sqn. Wg Cdr Jit Dhawan took over as Boss with Sqn Ldr CKK Menon as his Flt Cdr. Bobby was also moved to the new formation and was promptly installed as Adjutant. Sqn Ldr Shashi Ramdas, on completion of the Technical Staff Course at IAT, Khadakvasla took over as the STO.
Then followed a major shuffling of pilots moving into and between the two squadrons. Sometime between then and end 1969 additional postings in to 10 Sqn initially, were KP Sreekant, DNGP Rao (Pinky), JL Bhargava (Brother), Brian deMagry, Y Chauhan, Sudhir Batra, KK Bakshi (Joe), AV Kamat (Kammy)and GS Sarao. Some were then posted to 220 within a short while again. When some order and sanity was restored:
10 Sqn had Boss Gabboo Sen with Sqn Ldrs Mickey Jatar, and Piloo Kacker along with Sis, Jug Jug, Kamy Kamat, Panchi Sidhu,Dinky Jatar, Aggie, Pinky Rao and Y Chauhan.
By May 1970 Wg Cdr Gabboo Sen was posted to Air Hq and Wg Cdr Piloo Kacker took over the squadron from him. Mickey Jatar too was soon to follow him to Air Hq and Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor joined the squadron. Tragically on 01 Sep 70, Piloo Kacker was killed in a crash immediately after take off at Uttarlai. The next CO was Wg Cdr CK Agarwal (Aggy), who took over the Squadron in November, 1970.
220 Sqn was Commanded by Jit Dhavan, with Sqn Ldrs Minnie Menon and Joe Bakshi and by end 1969 – early 1970, there were Shashi Ramdas, Bobby, KP Sreekant, Pradeep Apte, Sudhir Batra, SK, Brother Bhargava, Brian deMagry. Soon Eskay, was posted out to AFTC, Jalahali, in 1970, to do the Engineering course – perhaps the only pilot to do so successfully. He returned to the squadron in 1974.
These were the Marut pioneers as far as Squadron service was concerned. As far as squadron operations are concerned, the first year saw chronic shortages of spares and serviceability. Bobby recalls there were days on end when there was one aircraft on the line. This too would be taken up by the Flt Cdr for the first sortie and invariably ended up with snags galore. That was the end of the days flying. Once Bobby managed to get airborne on that lone aircraft. The Flt Cdr was greeted with a message on the briefing – room board “The early worm gets the bird!” By 1968 things began to improve and a silver lining began to appear. In Brian deMagry’s words “However, we eventually learned to love the Marut, which was an excellent and steady weapons platform.” A familiar refrain repeated by subsequent Marut pilots during the rest of its operational life.
On 26 Jan 69, the Marut was show cased to the nation during the Republic Day flypast for which it operated from Agra.The very next day, on 27 Jan, the entire Squadron took off in a Packet for Bakshi Ka Talab in order to celebrate Sis Sisodia’s wedding in grand style! There is an interesting story about this flight, which will have to wait a bit for now.
In Feb 69, 10 Squadron took part in Ex Phataka from Pathankot. The Maruts were involved, perhaps for the first time, in providing CAP sorties besides undertaking the usual ground attack strikes. The next month, in Mar 69, the Squadron took part in Ex Arjuna – the WAC live gunnery meet.
Again in end 1970 both squadrons moved detachments to Chandigarh to take part in the inter – command gunnery meet. The Marut proved just how excellent a weapons platform it was when 10 Sqn won the Shallow Glide and air to ground rocket trophies at the meet. In addition, Y Chauhan from 10 sqn topped in rocket firing and Brian deMagry in gunnery. The Marut had arrived with a bang and straight away made its presence felt.
In Dec 1970, the Air Force Flying College wound up at Jodhpur and became the Air Force Academy, AFA, Dundigal. Jodhpur became a dedicated Marut Base and both the squadrons moved there from Poona around Christmas 1970. AFFC, Jodhpur became No 32 Wing, AF on 01 Jan 1971 under Air Cmde Kanwar Singh. Around this time, just after the move to Jopdhpur, Fg Offrs KR Singh (Keru) and Sam Shekhar joined the Marut fleet.
Jodhpur remained a Marut base till the early 1980s and a number of Marut veterans were stationed there, as guardian angels. Prominent amongst them were Gp Capt Kapil Bhargava, Station Commander, Wg Cdr Murph Murthy and Gp Capt Prithi Singh who served as Chief Operations Officers, Jodhpur. Another famous notable to nurse the Maruts, almost throughout their squadron life, Sqn Ldr and later Wg Cdr Shashi Ramdas. He also did his pilot training and earned his wings with the 79th Pilots Course. He first met the Marut at the A&ATU, Jamnagar, then later joined 220 as the STO and took over as the first CTO of 32 Wing. He carried on throughout 1971 operations and left Jodhpur in July, 1972 for a cushy posting to London as the Deputy Air Adviser there. Like the proverbial penny, he was back again in Jodhpur in April, 1976 till he left for Air Hq in July, 1978.
Sudhir Batra has provided an interesting account of those early, dare we say heady, days:
“AOC-in-C , WAC ( I think Air Mshl Minoo Engineer) wanted to show cause Maruts as a potential force. In early 70s, most senior officers pinned lots of faith and hope on the Marut, because they felt that during war we can not depend on western suppliers and we should develop our own fighting machine. He decided that four aircraft of 220 Sqn would take part in Fire Power Demo at Tilpat Range in 1971 to celebrate AF Day. The formation, was to come over Tilpat at 1000 feet in diamond close formation, carry out a loop and terminate the loop firing front guns on designated targets. We carried out intensive training of formation flying at heights between 3,000 and 5,000 ft at Jodhpur and later at Hindon. I was right wing man and late Apte was tailman. I do not remember the left wing man (probably Brian) who was no 3. The Fire power demo was on 4 Apr 71. During rehearsals, it was decided that instead of diamond, we will fly in finger four (very tight) and carry out the task. It was considered a bit dangerous for tail man to switch over from centre to right of right wing man. Apte used to tell me, hold the position tight since every vertical movement of mine would be multiplied four times on him.
To conclude this portion on a lighter note we must revisit the 10 Sqn trip to Bakshi Ka Talab for Sis’s wedding. The Squadron was already in Agra for the Republic Day flypast and promptly on 27 Jan 69, Gabboo Sen, not one to take ‘no’ for an answer, hijacked or at the very least clobbered a few heads and got a Packet to ferry the squadron officers to Lucknow. Panchi Sidhu, resourceful as ever, procured a Master Mastaram ‘best seller’ for the flight. Boss Sen, not one to stand by and let events pass him by, commandeered the book. He had first reading rights, but he was generous to a fault, if nothing else. As he finished a page, he tore it off and passed it on to Mickey Jatar and so it went down the line to tail-end-Charlie , Bobby Kasbekar. Bobby’s job was to recompile the book at his end and as they disembarked at BKT, Panchi got his book back, albeit in loose pages.
To be continued……….