Maruts At Uttarlai – 1971 Revisted

In late Nov 71 Yayha Khan, in a speech said he could be at war in 10 days time.

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Original Photograph by AVM Pinky Pillai, Uttarlai

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.

Murph Murthy with his top guns Wg Cdr Aggy Agarwal, 10 Sqn Boss and Wg Cdr Jit Dhawan Boss 220 Sqn

Murph Murthy with his top guns Wg Cdr Aggy Agarwal, 10 Sqn Boss on the left and Wg Cdr Jit Dhawan Boss 220 Sqn at right. (Air Cmde Murthy))

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

Aircrew and Technical Officers of 10 and 220 Sqn at Uttarlai, Dec 1971. Flt Lt Jug Jug Kapoor, Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor, Flt Lt Brian DeMagry, Flt Lt Panchi Sidhu, Flt Lt Sudhir Batra, Boss Jit Dhawan, Flt Lt Bobby Kasbekar, Boss Aggy Agarwal, Flt Lt Y Chauhan, Fg Offr BR Kapoor, Sqn Ldr Joe bakshi, Fg Offr KP Sreekant, Fg Offr Srirengan. Sitting: Flt Lt GS Sarrao. (Photograph courtesy Sudhir Batra)

Aircrew and Technical Officers of 10 and 220 Sqn at Uttarlai, Dec 1971. Flt Lt Jug Jug Kapoor, Sqn Ldr Pete Gaynor, Flt Lt Brian DeMagry, Flt Lt Panchi Sidhu, Flt Lt Sudhir Batra, Boss Jit Dhawan, Flt Lt Bobby Kasbekar, Boss Aggy Agarwal, Flt Lt Y Chauhan, Fg Offr BR Kapoor, Sqn Ldr Joe bakshi, Fg Offr KP Sreekant, Fg Offr Srirengan. Sitting: Flt Lt GS Sarrao. (Photograph courtesy Sudhir Batra)

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.

Slide26

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

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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.

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100_5605-1

Pete Gaynor getting briefed for a mission by an Army Unit on telephone. Alongside ,the GLO, Maj Sanadi and the Base Cdr. (Air Cmde Murthy)

The secret of the Marut success perhaps lay also in the leadership and examples of their Base Cdr and Squadron Commanders 

Slide34

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.”

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Wg Cdr Murthy, a fully recovered Sqn Ldr Mickey Jatar, CM Rajasthan Mr Barkatullah Khan, and Wg Cdr Aggy Agarwal at a celebratory party after the cease fire (Air Cmde Murthy)

Brother Bhargava welcomed back after his POW stint in Pakistan. L to R Mickey Jatar, Sudhir Batra, Brother and RP Sharma. (Photo courtesy Sudhir Batra)

Brother Bhargava welcomed back after his POW stint in Pakistan.                                         Front Row L to R Mickey Jatar, Sudhir Batra, Brother and RP Sharma.                        (Photo courtesy Sudhir Batra)

Over 40 Years later – Some Snapshots

Air Cmde Murph Murthy (Retd) on his 80th birthday, 2010

Air Cmde Murph Murthy (Retd) on his 80th birthday, 2010

The Batras, 2011

The Batras, 2011

Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas adressing the audience at HAL, Bangalore, 17 Jun 11. Celebrating 50 years of the first flight of the Marut 17 Jun 61

Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas adressing the audience at HAL, Bangalore, 17 Jun 11. Celebrating 50 years of the first flight of the Marut 17 Jun 61

AVM Sis Sisodia (Retd)

AVM Sis Sisodia (Retd)

Brother Bhargava, 2011

Brother Bhargava, 2011

Sush and Boo Srikant

Sush and Boo Srikant, 2011

Brian Demagery

Brian deMagry

Guests of the Pakistan Government in Dec 71 (PsOW) meet again. L to R Kuruvilla, Brother Bhargava, Vikram Pethia

Guests of the Pakistan Government in Dec 71 (PsOW) meet again. L to R Kuruvilla, Brother Bhargava, Vikram Pethia

 

Compiled  from previous posts and photographs received from MarutFans, Sudhir Batra, Bhushan Narang and HAL, Bangalore after the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Jun 11. 

Dara Cooper

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10 Responses to Maruts At Uttarlai – 1971 Revisted

  1. Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd) says:

    Dara,
    I just read your interesting recollections of Dec 71. I wish to point out a couple of errors in the list of decorations in the photos’ This is how we won the war’.Wg.Cdr Jit Dhawan was awarded a AVSM and not a VrC. Mickey Jatar got his VrC in Sep 65. As far as I know he never got a Bar to his earlier VrC. Please get this clarified by other sources if you can. History has to be accurate.
    Regards,
    Philip Rajkumar.

    • Dara says:

      Thanks Sir, will reconfirm and check out. As far as I remember, and thats not very far these days, got it by word of mouth.

      However, shall check and amend accordingly.

      Dara

    • Dara says:

      Just to confirm, you are right on both counts.

      Will do the needful.

      Appreciate your pointing them out.

      Dara

  2. Sam Sekhae says:

    Masterpiece Maestro.Well Done DARA.

    The Marut Missions would do a stream take offf on the taxy track.Mid way through the first day one Mission gets airborne and all hear this transmission.”Jay Bee Aye Bee Tea See.” Since all aircraft are on the same frequency,the C A P aircraft engage re-heat and go in to a 4 ” G ” CAP pattern.The returning Maruts go “BUSTER” and A to Z RAO flying BD 844 goes sonic as he is flying the High Speed Finish Aircraft.The tension of not understanding the transmission is mounting.C A P Controller Auric Maurie blurts out on the radio where are the enemy aircraft.The same voice that gave the mysterious transmission says on the radio this time,

    JEET-BOBBY-AIR-BORNE-TAIL-CLEAR
    It was Kasbaker informing Bossman Dhawan that he is airborne and his tail is clear.

    Meanwhile on the EASIERN FRONT Dinshaw Driver gets airborne as a number two in a 2 aircraft Counter Air sortie.The ink on his Fully Operational Certificate is barely dry.There is sparse and sporadic transmissions on the radio.Dinshaw wants to desperately get into action.The Mission flies over disused rail tracks and Driver spots a bashed up rail carriage .He gives the now famous transmission.

    “BOGIE 5 OH CLOCK LOW.”

    Thirty plus fighters and six Dakotas go in to A HARD LEFT IMMEDIATELY.

  3. Dara says:

    Email from Air Mshl Shashi Ramdas:

    “Dara,
    That is a truly lovely account of the Uttarlai days that you have put together. Full marks to you.
    Reading through it and looking at the pictures brought back such nostalgic memories.
    How time has flown!!! After reading your article, December 1971 seems like it was only yesterday.
    Sadly, so many of our colleagues have passed on since then, but their memories will always be fresh in our hearts and minds.
    Dara, you are truly doing a tremendous job in keeping the Marut saga alive. We are indeed very grateful to you.
    Warmest regards…………………………… Shashi
    PS Have you heard about the time when our then Raksha Mantri, Babu Jagjivan Ram, had visited Uttarlai in Nov 1971? He gave a most inspiring talk to all the officers and airmen based there. I happened to be in Uttarlai that day and I can never forget the sight of him, atop a yellow steel servicing platform in front of a Marut parked in a blast pen, with the airmen squatting on the ground in front of him and officers standing behind them in a semi-circle. “

    • Dara says:

      Thanks and I’m glad you commented Sam, in your typical style.

      Gives me the opportunity to mention here that both Sam and Keru, along with Hufrid, were also very much in the picture as FACs and if I am not wrong, remember Bobby mentioning both as having done a wonderful job. In fact, again if memory serves me right, he also confirmed that Sam got a Mention-in-Despatches.

      So how about you two coming up with your experiences too. Would be worth reading, of that I am certain.

  4. Dara says:

    On email from Boss Murp Murthy:

    “Hi Dara,

    Nice summary of the whole episode, bringing back the True story for future generation.

    I have many interesting stories and incidents to narrate. You kindled my memory of those days .Things Like , how we managed Pre War problems on Logistics, Post War Auditors Harassment
    and a few unconventional decisions taken on my own risk to manage the situation.After all I was the Boss at that time with no communication with AOC and WAC for sometime. I was ready for a Court Martial for things I did ( like taking the DC Mr Srivastava in a chopper at night to show him , how vulnerable we are from aerial attack from enemy even in dark nights as the white concrete Runway was quite visible. The very next day he sent an engineer with 100 drums of black TAR
    to paint camouflage pattern for the entire runway.

    The next incident , making Mrs Bharkatulla Khan wife of Chief Minister to fly on MI4 aircraft in the forward area . That kept the morale of the Troops and in flowed RUM & Chocklets in TruckLoads for the men. The morale of the Base was HIGH throught the War, though unfortunately our own resources and supply did not reach the far flung forgotten forward base.

    Finally we were the Victors ! No question was asked but praised with showers and awards !!

    All ends well and praises are plenty when you are a VICTOR. That is how we won the WAR.

    V.K.Murthy”

  5. Dara says:

    Received on email from Anil “AK” Mathur:

    Dear Dara sir,
    Thanks a lot for this very absorbing narration. Many of us were not
    there to witness all this, but your narration took us back in time.
    Yes, we did hear of these anecdotes from our seniors. Extremely well compiled & narrated. The pics have made this all the more interesting.
    Regards
    Anil

  6. Dara says:

    Received on email from Air Cmde JL Bhargava:

    “Excellent dear Dara..Very well written. Thanks
    Brother”

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