In late Nov 71 Yayha Khan, in a speech said he could be at war in 10 days time.
From mid-71 detachments of No 10 and No 220 Sqn operated in rotation from Uttarlai. In Nov 71 both squadrons moved detachments of six Marut aircraft each to Uttarlai. A Gnat detachment was also positioned there for Air Defence Duties.
To their good fortune Wg Cdr Murph Murthy, the first Marut Boss, was the Base Commander.
Have compiled a brief narrative of some events during the war. This does not purport to be a record for history as it is based on recollections of those who were there over 40 years ago and memories are now not what they used to be. Neither are we!
10 Sqn – Boss Aggy Aggarwal, Mickey Jatar, Pete Gaynor, Kamy Kamat, Sis, Jug Jug, Panchi Sidhu, Y Chauhan, GS Sarao and DNGP Rao.
220 Sqn – – Jit Dhawan, Joe Bakshi, Brian deMagry, Dinky Jatar Brother Bhargava, Bobby Kasbekar, Bats Batra, Pradeep Apte and KP
Dusk 03 Dec 71
The enemy fired the first shot as recounted by Murph Murthy:
“There was no night capability at Utterlai Airfield and complete blackout was resorted to. The Air Defence Artillery were kept in ‘Guns Free’ status at night. This was a regular routine feature while waiting for the balloon to go up.
On 03 Dec 71 at dusk, after declaring Guns Free, I was returning to my bunker when I saw Canberra aircraft over head and wondered who the devil it was coming at this time and without informing the base. The aircraft made a direct approach and flew along the runway at 1000 feet dropping bombs at will. There were a total of eight craters starting from the dumbbell to the end of the runway, making the airfield totally ineffective. The impact of the bombs made deep craters on either side of the centre line – five on the right and three on the left. To patch up the craters, it took the MES Rapid Repair Force about 7 days“
The runway was out of commission for 7 days. How operations continued is a fascinating story by itself. Again, we have the Base Cdr telling us just how common sense and dedication to duty can work wonders.
“Sub Labh Singh was JCO, MES, at Utterlai. While cleaning the taxy track of the debris from the main runway, we ran out of brooms and shovels. Mid night passed with hardly any progress. We were helpless. I saw Sub Labh Singh kneeling down chanting ‘Vayu Guru…Vayu Guru‘ and then he took off his turban twisted it with another holding the other end and started sweeping the PTT. It worked! Everyone then followed his example – turbans, shirts, pajamas, pants, what have you – they all came in handy. We reached the end of the taxy track just before 5 am and the first mission took off on time.”
A teeny bit of insubordination and initiative also helps!
“How using the PTT for take off and landing was thought of and executed is also another story. This concept was the brain wave of Jit Dhawan and Aggy Aggarwal. I simply endorsed it at my level, without informing the higher-ups. When I got a mild rocket from AOC, Jodhpur, saying that I should know simple english – taxy track is meant for taxying and not for take off or landing! I realised that I should just take my own decision on the matter.
I authorised both the Squadron Commanders to carry out only take offs and practice approach and overshoot at 100 feet . They, like good Commanders, went one step further and made all operational pilots touchdown and land as well! I turned a Nelson’s Eye to all this. To our great good fortune this unauthorized training came handy from the very first day of the war itself.”
The Maruts Hit Back
The Marut Fleet got into the act at first light on 04 Dec with counter air strikes on Nawabshah and Hyderabad air fields by 220 and 10 Sqn respectively. The first 220 Sqn strike was planned with Joe Bakshi as the leader with Bobby No 2, Sqn Ldr Dinky Jatar No 3 and Fg Offr Pradip Apte No 4. As Bobby recounts events ” War or no war, the Marut remained true to type. Dinky had a fuel leak and Pradip a hydraulic leak resulting in both switching off but maintaining R/T silence. Due to the R/T silence, start-up and taxy was on time and take off on green from the Aldis Lamp. Both aircraft got airborne from the PTT.” As Bobby continues “When we pulled up at Nawabshah we sighted the cross runways and the Control Tower but there were no aircraft in sight, only empty open pens. We both attacked the intersection of the runways with 68mm rockets and let fly a burst of guns into the flying control.”
““The last mission on 04 Dec was a FAC controlled, pre-planned, close air support strike at Ghazi Camp just across the border at Munabao. Boss Jit and I had already been briefed by the GOC 11 Inf Div earlier on this target. The mission was led by Joe Bakshi and I was No 2. again. The Forward Air Controller (FAC) was our own, Fg Offr Hufrid Mulla Feroze. As the runway was still under repair we again took off from the PTT. We reached the IP at Ramsar and established contact with the FAC. On being given the course and distance from there the formation set off but could not locate the target – all the sandy, hilly features looked the same. After two orbits Joe asked Hufrid for his position – “20 kms away and trying to get closer”. The mission returned to Ramsar and asked for smoke indicators from the FAC. We saw the coloured mortars which had been fired. These were immediately followed by more smoke mortars in an altogether different direction. This created a little confusion in our minds. The additional smoke indicators were perhaps set off by the Pak Army, from Ghazi camp itself, as a diversionary measure.“
Fg Offr Mulla – Feroze, who was controlling the strike from the ground had this to add:
“Joe Bakshi’s rockets hit the right spot and there was a huge black coloured mushroom cloud that rose well above two – three hundred feet. It was like the kind of things you see in the movies. I confirmed to Joe Sir that the target was hit and Bobby transmitted that he was going in for an attack. Joe Sir’s baritone came on and told Bobby to catch up. If Bobby had gone in for the attack, the rising debris would have flamed out his aircraft and he would probably have been a guest of the State, along with me.
Needless to say the Army was thrilled and we were told to ‘bash on regardless’.”
Sadly, all three passed away last year, within months of each other. RIP
Meanwhile the Gnats had been taken off from the base, replaced by Migg 21s of 29 Sqn. The dettachment was led by Sqn Ldr IS Bindra and performed most creditably accounting for 4 F-104 Star fighters shot down over Uttarlai by IS Bindra, Buzz Datta, Sam Shah and Kuki Kukreja.
The secret of the Marut success perhaps lay also in the leadership and examples of their Base Cdr and Squadron Commanders
There is an interesting story too about Sub Labh Singh told by Murph Murthy:
“I did not wear my AVSM Ribbon till Lab Sing was awarded.
When I recommended for his award to 32 wing AF, WAC, sent it to Army as he belonged to Army. Promptly Army forwarded it to MES organisation as he was with them. Lt. Gen Das, E-in-C, sent it to me to forward through Air Force. I was back to square one. When General Bewoor Army Cdr came to congratulate me , he asked why I am not wearing my AVSM . I told him the whole story and said I felt Sub Lab Singh deserves more than me. I will put on my decoration when he gets some recognition
Within 48 hrs , Sub Lab Singh, MES , got Mention – in – Despatches from MES, Honorary Commission from Army & Cash Award from Air Force. When Sub Lab Sigh came with a basket of Ladoos to thank me , I bowed to him and thanked him.”
Over 40 Years later – Some Snapshots
Compiled from previous posts and photographs received from MarutFans, Sudhir Batra, Bhushan Narang and HAL, Bangalore after the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Jun 11.