Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Anti- Climax 71 WAR - Forty years down the road

Narrated on Behalf Of Kulbir Harnal

This memory is of how we were treated by our own, forty years ago. I am not surprised that outsiders have joined the bandwagon in the time that has passed. Who is to blame for our current plight? is the question.

Three days after the Cease Fire the Sqn was moved to  Hindon.

We were told that we would not be going back to Baghdogra till after the R-Day Fly Past, as the Sqn operated the Modified Hunters which could  trail the colors of the National Flag during the Republic Day Fly past. We were tasked to do that on 26th Jan 1972, before returning to our home base Baghdogra.

Around Jan 10th we moved to Palam and started rehearsing for the Fly past. The Air Crafts (A/C) were fitted with modified out board drop tanks disconnected from the fuel system.These tank were filled with 60 gallons of liquid color through a Cap. The Gun pack below the cockpit was fitted with a tank  full of Talpa Oil which was let out in the tail pipe by a booster pump via a thin tube running along the upper spine of the A/C outside the engine casing.

On the Command "Color Color now" by the leader the Formation we would flick the two 'Green Salad' switches which would open the cut away Dump valves at the base of both the drop tanks and start the booster pump to let out the oil into the exhaust, which gave off white smoke. 

So, you had the Colors of our National Flag  streamed this way. Simple but ingenious modification by one of our Engineers.

Wg  Cmdr  Suri  who  retained command till after the Flypast led a seven ship VIC formation flying in at the very end of the Flypast, and pulling up to 7000ft over India Gate with the colors  of the National Flag gushing out in full flow.

All of us were keen to get back to base and our comfort zones so the days at Palam passed slowly.

The fly past came and went, and  we eagerly, geared up for the final leg home looking forward to familiar  pastures.

Suri handed command to Alan Alley and gave us a tremendous send off party at his home in Haus Khaz. 

To me his 'Wing Man' he  sent  off with the words "Good job" and a pat on my back.
He looked out for me, for years till I left the AF for Air India in 86. To this day whenever we meet the conversation reverts to Dec 71 in seconds.

We ferried to Baghdogra on the 2nd of Feb'72 (BA 296 as per my log book). I was no 3 in the first four A/C formation led by Allan Alley.

Crossing  Purnea, Alley set up a shallow dive and we flew overhead in a finger four formation clocking upwards of 450kts. A  T/ A  peel off was followed by a tight curved approach and landing. 

The second formation of four  A/C  screamed in minutes behind us.

I remember the expectation of a hero's welcome as  emotions built up at the sense of being back home after some achievement. My eyes scanned the Tarmac as I taxied in, looking for signs of that welcome, but it looked desolate barring the lone Marshaller and a few Airmen.

To our everlasting dismay and utter dis belief there was not one Officer from the our home base to welcome us back. No proud handshakes or a pat on the back, from any of our Station Bosses who were conspicuous by their absence and it seemed all the more insensitive as we had come back minus our own Boss.
To top this humiliation we had to wait  as usual for the Aircrew Transport. This hit us in the gut as we grappled with reality, hurt and confused that this was the lowly recognition of our effort.

Back to my room the happiest person to see me back was perhaps my Orderly.
Later in the evening the Gnat boys put up an impromptu dinner for us. We had Mrs Coelho (boss's wife) and Sandra D'costa  join us, as we sat drinking rather bemused and slighted at this reception by our Stn Cmdr, ( Dotiwala) COO (Satnam Shah)  and others.

One AOP pilot recoiled when he saw me. "I thought you had been killed" he blurted out.

That this guy could sustain this notion after the war had been over for six weeks went to show the extent we had had been forgotten.

The first day at work I got a call from the Stn Adj. "We have gifts for your Sqn, please come and collect them" I borrowed Co's car  so that it would be easier to carry them, rather  than on my Bike.

He handed me a carton of Cigarettes and two pocket Transistor Radios.

We heard about, and saw what had transpired in our absence in the days that followed (The station  had a Victory Party when both the sqns were still out), but more than these  materialistic issues,  it was the indifference to our war effort that bugged us.

This story about the Pathankot  Hotel Bill (where some of us were lodged in the Pilot dispersal plan) for the dinner of 5/6 days summed up how short was the public memory of our War effort This bill of about Rs 1200, followed us to Baghdogra. as nobody wanted to  pay as the District Collectors's patronizing spirit with the back slapping and  salutations, vanished the moment the War was over.

Declining, Wg Cmdr RV Singh, the new CO's offer to pay from the Flight Fund, the six of us paid up.

Eastern Air Command found it made more economical sense to authorize a Hunter Trainer to fly to Pathankot and hand over the personal cheque as this issue had become a bone of contention between the DC and the Stn Cdr Pathankot, with the DC maintaining that dinner was not authorized  for the Pilots staying at the Hotel as they should  have dined in their Mess, even if it meant going back and forth under 'Blackout Conditions' What a change from the days of the War when they were ready to kiss our A----e.

Till I left the Sqn in July 72 for JBCU Agra, not one day went by when this bitterness between the Sqn and the Wing, did not rear it's ugly head, both at work and in the Mess.

Our war effort was  totally eclipsed, getting buried under the tons of  mutual Scorn and Animosity  between the Sqn and the Station that we became to be regarded as the bad guys by all and sundry



  1. Dear HKS,
    I read your account of your experiences in the 71 War. It was with a sense of dismay, nay, more than that, I was SHOCKED to read that you had to personally pay for your stay at Pathankot Hotel.

    The requirement to stay at Pathankot Hotel during the war was not your PERSONAL requirement. It was not even the requirement of the Station or for that matter the Air Force itself. Your continued well-being as a pilot, the requirement to have you available to fly the operational mission the next day, was the requirement of the NATION.

    The Pathankot Hotel bill should have been forwarded by the Station Commander, Pathankot to Air HQ who should have in turn forwarded it to the Central Govt through MoD for payment.
    Why should YOU have to pay? Why should your squadron Flight Fund have to pay?

    The problem, in this matter, lay with our spineless leadership is all I can say.

    Gp Capt VK Vidyadhar

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