The Marut Gets Operational Part II – 1971, Build Up to Op Cactus Lily

220, Pune 1970. On Wing: Flt Lt Joseph, Flt Lt Brother Bhargava, Fg Offr KP Sreekant. Standing: Fg Offr BR Sharma, Flt Lt RP Jain, Fg Offr Pradeep Apte, Fg Offr Sudhir, Sqn Ldr Brian DeMagry, Sqn Ldr CKK Menon, Sqn MWO and WOs. (Photograph Courtesy Sudhir Batra)

The move of personnel of both squadrons from Pune to Jodhpur was by special train while all the aircraft were ferried. As Flt Lt Sudhir Batra described it “The Sqn moved in special train.  Bobby Kasbekar was main action player in moving the men, families and material (ground equip, ration, files and records etc) by liaising with Railways to get the special train.  He was designated as train commander.  We travelled from Pune to Ahmedabad on Broad gauge and then switched over to Meter Gauge at Ahmedabad.  The Ladies enjoyed the trip getting food cooked at siding on stations. It was a real fun….”

Within a short while of moving to Jodhpur there was again a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of aircrew during early 1971. Flt Lt  SK Singh had already gone off to AFTC and Flt Lt CKK (Minnie) Menon had been posted out before the move. Immediately after reaching Jodhpur, Bobby went off to FIS to be followed a few months later by Flt Lt JS Sisodia and Flt Lt Jug Jug kapoor. Also, as Fg Offr Hufrid Mulla-Feroze has mentioned earlier, Fg Offr KR (Keru) Singh, Hufrid, Fg Offr Lofty Karambaya, Fg Offr Sam Shekhar and Fg Offr Shukla were posted in together from various Hunter squadrons in Apr 71. According to Hufrid, Lofty was posted out soon again because his torso was not compatible with the ejection seat. Shukla also left due to medical reasons.

By Mar 71, events in East Pakistan set the tone for stepping up preparedness on the Western sector. Both squadrons were tasked to operate from Uttarlai in case of operations. Accordingly, detachments at Uttarlai, which was then a Care & Maintainance Unit (C&MU), became routine with the squadrons taking turns there for brief periods. In mid -71, Bobby, Sis and Jug Jug visited the squadrons for a fortnight’s refresher syllabus and were then routed back to their parent units in Training Command.

Routine operations and exercises were conducted from Uttarlai and fortuitously operations from the parallel taxi track were regularly practiced. Sudhir Batra remembers the early days of the Marut activity at Uttarlai:

“In Aug 1971, 10 Sqn was sent to Uttarlai and 220 was held up at Jodhpur and replaced 10 Sqn in Sep.  Things were hotting up at the time.  As the Air Defence detachment had not arrived, Maruts were utilized for CAP/ORP duties. Jit Dhawan realised that most us were from a ground attack background.  Joe Bakshi, Brian, Brother and self were ex-Mysteres.  KP Sreekant and Fg Offr Pradeep Apte were ex-Hunters.

Boss Jit covered the briefing for CAP and ORP to initiate us.  I did two morning shifts and two evening shifts.  Evening shift had an advantage of getting airborne an hour before dusk carrying out a CAP over Jodhpur Airfield and landing half an hour before sunset.  To give us practice of scramble, orders were given by ATC to scramble. I am sure KP, Brother and the others also carried out some of those CAP duties.  I remember that I had Jit as my leader in one and Joe Bakshi in the other.”

One important advantage that the squadrons enjoyed was that Wg Cdr VK Murthy, who was O i/c Flying at Jodhpur took over as the Base Cdr. By all accounts, this benefitted the Maruts tremendously. As Bobby mentions, “Wg Cdr Murph Murthy was OC Uttarlai and keeping up with his Marut loyalties provided superlative support to the Marut fleet there.” Sudhir Batra also agrees with this whole-heartedly and how much it worked to their advantage to have him as the Base Cdr there.

As international events progressed, Bobby has given an account of his recollections of the mobilization that followed. “In mid-Oct 71, one Dakota and an IL-14 flew to AFA, FIS and FTW to pick up all the instructors. They had been given 48 hours notice and were told to be prepared to be away for an indefinite period. Pilots from AFA were picked up at midnight after a fond farewell organized by Mrs Rita La Fontaine, Groupie Dennis La Fontaine was the CI at Dundigal then.  I joined Jug Jug and Sis, who had been picked up earlier from Tambaram, and we landed at Palam early morning.  HQ WAC had made very nice arrangements for our reception and briefing.  We were then flown to Jodhpur in an IL -14 where Sis and Jug Jug were attached to 10 Sqn and I returned to 220.  In mid Nov, both squadrons moved six aircraft each permanently to Uttarlai. The four ORP blast pens were utilized by the Gnats, which were positioned there for Air Defence duties.

It would not be out of place here to mention that Mr Barkatullah Khan, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, personally visited the Base regularly to encourage the Air Warriors. One Minister in addition to the DC and SP were directed to ensure that the Army and Air Force did not want for anything. In addition to the routine flying training, the Maruts took part in an Army cooperation exercise ‘Exercise Non Plus’. The other routine exercise that we were generally involved in was trench digging.

Prior to commencement of hostilities we were thrilled to have the COAS, Gen SHFJ Maneckshaw  (Sam Bahadur) give us an inspiring talk. His parting words were ‘this is a golden opportunity for you young men to excel and pick up your medals and decorations.’ Some were so inspired and fired up that they wrote out the drafts of their own citations by evening! Soon thereafter the PM, Mrs Indira Gandhi, visited the Army officers and Jawans at Uttarlai and some of us attended her address there.”

Sudhir batra adds “I am reminded of visit of CM of Rajasthan Mr Barakatulla Khan.  He came with a few packs of Whiskey and Rum for personnel at Uttarlai.  He also gave a pack of Rajasthan’s famous Kesar Kasturi.” No wonder he was so popular and they remember his visits so clearly.

In addition, Air Marshal Shashi Ramdas and Air Cmde Brother Bhargava distinctly remember the Raksha Mantri, Babu Jagjivan Ram, also visiting and by all accounts he gave a very inspiring, morale pepping and motivating talk.

AVM KP Srrekant remembers another  visitor:

“Just before the war AVM Subia visited Utarlai and stayed overnight with us. I remember very well because I had fixed him his premium scotch and was bawled at for attempting to mix the drink with soda. He spoke at length on the impending war and the precautions that we should take. I remember one of the things he said to Jug Jug Kapoor was to knock off his hair and beard, because if he ejected in enemy territory he wouldn’t have much of a chance. His words were prophetic. One of my former squadron mates from Hunters, Harvinder Singh(Honda), after ejection from a Su, was butchered at Lyallpur. Now I wonder how and in what capacity did AVM Subia come to Utarlai?”

Interestingly Hufrid Mulla Feroze has also sent a similar comment on identification:

“This has stayed in my mind because then Flt Lt Naqui (Mian Naqui – veteran Mystere pilot) was wearing a name plate ‘ E PETERS’, and I was a little confused as I had met Naqui earlier and was sure it was him.  I came to know later that he had been given a fresh identity, just in case he was shot down and captured in Pakistan.  His name would have gotten him into further trouble – I wish they had given me a fake one too as ‘Mulla-Feroze’ did not jell too well with them either. Telling them I was a ‘Parsi’ did not cut much ice, as it was understood as ‘Farsi’, which to them was the same difference.”

By end November war clouds were looming large and Gen Yahya Khan had boasted that it was quite likely he would be at war within the next 10 days. On the eve of hostilities breaking out, and from what I have been able to gather, almost the whole original lot was back together. The two exceptions were SK who remained at AFTC and Minnie Menon, who was attached to a Hunter unit that had been equipped with photo recce capability.

The youngsters who had joined in April were on FAC duties, with Hufrid Mulla-Feroze being positioned with “Mahar Regiment of 11 Div. as the FAC.  I was with them till December 07, 1971.  The rest is history.” Keru was also sent off as an FAC, so too Sam Shekhar, who went off to the Chamb sector and was Mentioned in Despatches for his excellent performance.

The aircrew who operated from Uttarlai were:

10 Sqn – Boss Aggy Aggarwal, Sqn Ldr Mickey Jatar(attached), Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor, Flt Lt Kamy Kamat, Sis, Jug Jug, Panchi Sidhu, Y Chauhan, Flt Lt GS Sarao and Fg Offr DNGP Rao.

220 Sqn – – Jit Dhawan, Joe Bakshi, Brian deMagry, Flt Lt Dinky Jatar(attached)’ Brother Bhargava, Bobby Kasbekar, Bats Batra, Pradeep Apte and KP Sreekant

I think no account of those days can possibly be complete without mention of the Tech Officers and their immense contribution. Unfortunately I must profess ignorance and apologise for not giving details about their postings, work and placement. Again, I have been able to gather from Sudhir, Air Mshl Ramdas and Sree some of the names, though am unable to give any more details. Those who were there in both squadrons and moved to Jodhpur were Flt Lt RP Jain, Flt Lt Joseph and Fg Offr BR Sharma. Sudhir Batra, as always, adds a bit of interesting information, “ These three officers came from Pune. Joseph  took the house of Ram Singh Bhati (Africa Wala) at Ratanada and BR Sharma took a house at Shastri Nagar.  RP Jain got a house on road opp Officers Mess.  We called it a ‘shocking house’ because bad elect wiring gave shocks to residents.  He worked hard to find faults and make it livable. By the way, these officers were very popular with bachelors for nice and sizzling breakfast on Sunday mornings.”

Subsequently after the move Sqn Ldr RP jain took over as the STO as Wg Cdr Shashi Ramdas took over as CTO 32 Wing AF. Before the operations and around mid – 1971 there were more postings – again to quote Sudhir “Later around May 71, Jatana, BR Kapoor, Chabbra and Ghei joined Maruts (Tigers). I remember Sreerangan of 10 sqn playing a leading role at Uttarlai in keeping the Maruts going.”

At Uttarlai Dec 1971: Flt Lt Jug Jug Kapoor, Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor, Flt Lt Brian DeMagry, Flt Lt Punchi Sidhu, Fg Offr Sudhir Batra, Boss Jit Dhawan, Bobby, Boss Aggy, Flt Lt Y Chauhan, Fg Offr BR Kapoor, Sqn Ldr Joe bakshi, Fg Offr KP Sreekant, Fg Offr Sreerangan. Sitting: Flt Lt GS Sarrao. (Photograph courtesy Sudhir Batra)

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8 Responses to The Marut Gets Operational Part II – 1971, Build Up to Op Cactus Lily

  1. Ramesh Phadke says:

    Hi, You great Marut guys, what a great pleasure to see all the old friends in the photos above. We were at the OTU in Jamnagar in 1967-68 and the senior guys of No. 10 sqns taught us many good things. Boss Aggy was my instructor at JTW. Best wishes to you all and will keep in touch. Phady

    • Dara says:

      Dear Ramesh,

      What a pleasant surprise to see you here.

      Miss you on the golf course yet seeing you here makes up for it to some extent.

      Looking forward to hearing more from you,


  2. Dara says:

    Thanks Jagan for the clarification and the compliment. Like I said, who needs Google or Wikepedia!

    I know Sree was agitated about it and we tried to guess but never convincingly. Now that you mention it, I feel like saying “Now why didn’t we check that?”

  3. Jagan says:

    REf to the query on AVM Subia ” Now I wonder how and in what capacity did AVM Subia come to Utarlai?” .

    AVM Subia was SASO WAC at that time.

    Dara sir, thanks again – this and the POW Account of Air Cmde Bhargava are turning out to be two great accounts that I keep looking forward to.

  4. Sorry Friends, That should read Aldous Huxly. Inadvetant spelling mistake.
    Just look up the 1944 book and the author in
    I was most affected by his “Brave New World”. On my first arrival in England in August 1953, my reaction was that I had arrived in the very nasty place of his book.It was the greatest disappointment for me from what I had thought England would be.
    Hopefully, you would not mind this diversion. Else, the Moderator may please remove this and if required edit the last comment.

    • Dara says:

      Dear Kapil Sir,

      ” Else, the Moderator may please remove this and if required edit the last comment.”

      Firstly, I honestly don’t have the guts 😉

      Secondly, comments with a personal touch, like this one, add to the quality.

  5. A request: For old fogies like me, the first time you use a nickname or an abbreviation of the real name, please put the full name within brackets immediately after it. This way, people like me might also be able to identify some of the personalities in the stories.
    Otherwise soon enough no one will know who some of them really were.
    Despite Aldus Huxleys plea, Time Does Not Have a Stop.
    Thanks for a nice record.

    • Dara says:

      I took it for granted that most know everyone else and also that I had done that in Part I. However, point taken, will try and inject them here too wherever possible.

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