Special Heli Borne Ops - Sylhet and Meghna

The story of the Special Heli-Borne Operations of the 1971 war - as told by Sqn Ldr Pushp Kumar Vaid, VrC. 


Mi4 Z633

The Trusty Steed - An Mi-4 Z633.  Photo Via Wg Cdr Subir Sen

 

There was once a war, long ago in 1971, which Hindustan (India) won in 16 days, liberating East Pakistan and creating a new country called Bangladesh. It is a matter of great pride for Hindustan, because it is the only war which Hindustan won hands down in its long history after Mahabharat, six or seven thousand years ago, accepting a public surrender from fully armed, 93,000 strong enemy, led by butchers and religious zealots, whom we imprisoned but protected, fed and set free in an extraordinary show of ‘Ahimsa’, the essence of Hinduvata. Much water has flowed under the ‘Coronation Bridge’, across the mighty Bramhaputra river in Hindustan, which branches and forks into the mighty Meghna when it enters Bangladesh, a formidable barrier for military endeavors or manoeuver. The water has now stopped carrying the plasma, blood sweat and tears of the participants of that war. This lesser known, remembered or sung story is about a few helicopters, pilots and technical personnel, who rose to the occasion to help the soldiers to leap over the  riverine and marshy areas quickly, with no precedent, or doctrine, to  win the war quickly,     

The mobility of IV Corps, commanded by Lt Gen Sagat Singh,  was due largely to its intelligent and bold use of helicopters. Once Sagat Singh saw how fast he was able move his troops over marshy land and unfordable rivers including the 10-12 km wide Meghna river, he decided to get to Dacca as soon as possible, and the fact that he and his army got there in 12 days was amazing. And the credit for this goes to the helicopters of 110, 105 and 111 HUs, along with the Indian Army.

Eastern part of Bangladesh is crisscrossed by rivers and marshes, one of the most difficult terrain in the world to commute, or make war.  To make it worse, during the 71 war Pakistan army had destroyed most the bridges to prevent IV Corps from advancing into East Pak from the east. Because of the helicopters available to Sagat, we got to Dacca very fast, saving our army and our country in men and material and horror of long war. And of course the enemy was hoping to delay the inevitable and perhaps get a ceasefire. Sagat could not have achieved this without the whole hearted empathy and cooperation of another fellow Rajput, then Gp Capt Chandan Singh, AVSM, VrC.  Sagat only claimed a  wound medal for his outstanding  accomplishments in winning the 71 war, but ensured that Chandan was awarded an MVC and many of the warriors VrC and more. Chandan retired an Air Vice Marshal, and at at 98 recently died in Jodhpur. Sagat lived and died long ago, unknown and unsung except for his posthumous awards.

   

 Gp Capt (later AVM)  Chandan Singh, MVC,  AVSM,  VrC  Stn Cdr Jorhat,  O i/c Kilo Force &  SHBOs  


This helicopter story is through the eyes of Sqn Ldr Pushp Kumar Vaid VrC,

Our helicopters did four SHBO during the war between 7th and 15th of Dec 71. All the task was completed on time and on occasions the delay was on the part of the army because they could not keep up with us with supply of the troops and load in time, more so for Syhlet and Baidya Bazar.

We at 110 HU had been preparing for the war which was imminent during 1971. We did regular night training and regular low level night flying. Days before the war was declared we were regularly taking army folks across the border also.

I am also very grateful to our engineers, who kept all the helicopters flying all the time during the war. They had very little resources and they were doing all kinds of maintenance in the field – with some support from our base. Sadly I don’t think anyone was recognized for their efforts.

And our pilots and flight engineers were all amazing, I was 30 then and every one else was younger, some of the pilots were not even 20, what a pleasure to have all these wonderful folks working with me.

Where ever we landed, the locals would turn up in large numbers to help. They also brought food for us and it was wonderful to see so many folks. We used to worry about folks going into tail rotor, and first day we tried to keep them away – without any success, so we decided not the bother, and we were lucky - we had no accident.

We were available 24/7. We slept an odd hour here and there and slept where ever we could find place – whenever there was lull in activity. We ate whenever there was food available. All the pilots were eager to fly, not one pilot refused a flight and I don’t remember anybody complaining of being hungry.

Nobody looked at the charts to see what we can carry, we just filled up the helicopter and coaxed it to get airborne, very fortunate we had no accidents. We were overloaded most of the time. I can tell you MI-4 never let us down – what a wonderful workhorse.

Where ever we landed – there were arms and ammunition lying around abandoned by Pakistan army. We used to pick up whatever we liked and almost every pilot had at least five or six hand grenades tucked to their belts. It dawned on me one day that this was very dangerous, so told our pilots and engineers to leave all the arms and ammo they were picking up on the ground.

For our protection we had a .38 revolver and a lungi – a piece of cloth the Bengalis wrap around their waists. If we were forced down we planned to pretend we were Bengalis! We didn’t know a word of Bengali!

Despite great difficulties experienced in admin facilities, all the men and aircrew worked extremely hard in keeping the helicopters flying and achieving all the tasks given to us, this is highly commendable.

I kept a diary of what we were doing and following info is from my diary and my log book.

3 Dec 71

Three helicopters were on detachment to Telimura and of the 5 available at base, 2 were dispersed to Aijal, 2 to Imphal and 1 was retained at base. Of the 3 aircraft at Teliamura, one was given the task of airlifting IV Corps Commander (communication duties) and remaining two were utilised for casualty evacuation.

4 Dec 71

2 more helicopters were flown to Teliamura owing to heavy communication of Army for purpose of recce and casualty evacuation. The causalities (total 57) were airlifted right from various battlefields and brought back to Agartala from where they were air lifted by Daks, Otters and Caribous to a military hospital set up in Guhati.

5th Dec 71

42 causalities were picked up by us on 5th Dec 71, from various battlefields,  brought back to Agartala from where they were sent to Guhati, or an advanced field dressing station (ADS) at Teliamora.

6 Dec 71              

I flew around between Sylhet, Kalaura and Kailashar – to familiarise myself with the lay of the land and enemy disposition to get ready for our operation the next day. I went to Sylhet twice that day. One bullet hit my helicopter in the morning and another hit me in my second flight to Sylhet. Our engineers were able to patch it up. Along with others who followed, we picked up 36 causalities on 6th Dec.

7th Dec 71

03map

At 0830, Gp Capt Chandan Singh instructed our CO[1] to take all helicopters to Kailashahar as fast as possible, as one battalion[2] was to be airlifted to Syhlet by 1200. Further briefing for the task was to be taken at Kailashahar.

110 HU positioned five Mi-4s at Kailashahar from morning 0900 + three from 105 HU (Total 8 Mi-4s), waiting for 4/5 GR troops to arrive.  … I did one more flight to Sylhet in the morning and we did few more flights for causality evacuation during the day.

Gp Capt Chandan Singh took Sqn Ldr Sandhu our CO for a recce of landing sights, ie departure helipad at Kalura and target helipad at Syhlet. They picked large paddy fields quite close to Sylhet railway station. Four goose necks were used at Kalura departure helipad at night, and two at target helipad at Syhlet.

Information about non-availability of fuel at Kailiashahar was passed on Gp Capt Chandan Singh. Fuel was airlifted to Kailashahar[3] and also sent later by means of trucks from Dharmanagar.

We were asked to move immediately to Kalaura to pick up the troops who we were told were waiting for us at about 1200. When we got to Kalaura we found that there were no troops[4] – aircrew waited in the open without food water or shelter.

The troops started arriving around 1445 and appended below is the flying we did as soon as the troops started arriving:

1st rotation: 1500 onwards           7 helicopters     

2nd rotation: 1540 onwards          7 helicopters

3rd rotation: 1620 onwards           8 helicopters (one more Mi-4 of 110 HU joined  us from Teliamora).                         

Total of 22 sorties were flown very cautiously in enemy held terrain in the above rotations and carried a total of 254 troops and 400 kg equipment. We took off at an interval of 3 to 4 minutes. By our second rotation Pak army had started firing at us and by third rotation they were firing like hell, we could see hundreds of tracer bullets coming towards us when we were coming into  land. During the third shuttle two helicopters were hit. One of these Z-337 flown by Fg Offr TS Chatwal had many bullet holes. Most of his instruments stopped functioning and he had total electrical failure. He showed great presence of mind and courage and brought the crippled helicopter back to base and landed safely. 

Flt Lt Singla and Gp Capt Chandan Singh were in the Alouette keeping an eye on us at a higher altitude[5].

Then we shut down back at Kailashahar, it was pitch dark by now. All the helicopters were refuelled. Engineers also checked every helicopter for bullet holes and patch repaired them. We were ready to restart the SHBO  at around 1800.

But Gp Capt Chandan Singh[6] said no flying during the night because it was too dark and dangerous and we would be sitting ducks to small arms fire. He had seen all those tracer bullets as well.

For the army, they had not really planned the movement to Sylhet in the sense there was no time to plan as to who would go first and who would go next and what equipment to send first etc. Vital signal equipment was not airlifted to Syhlet during the first wave. So there was no communication with troops we had dropped at Syhlet.

Now their aim was to get on with it and they assumed we would keep flying till everybody and all the equipment had been airlifted.

When everybody had landed back and helicopters were getting checked one of the engineers came and told me one helicopter had not returned. There was panic on and we called the helicopter on radio and discovered he had got lost, so we fired a flare for him, he saw it, he was in the next small valley and came over and landed. Don’t remember who the crew was. 

When Gp Capt said no flying at night - this really upset the Brigadier[7] and there was big debate between Gp Capt Chandan Singh and the Brigadier. It took them ages to agree that they would send one helicopter and if it came back they will send the rest. Gp Capt Chandan Singh asked me to get one crew ready and briefed me with the task. I came to the crew room and asked for volunteer to come with me. Every one of the pilots put their hand up. Wow.

8th Dec 71

I picked Fg Offr Kanth (BLK) Reddy and we got loaded with essential equipment and personal and got airborne around midnight. It was pitch dark, and all we had was a compass and 20 minutes of flying time to the destination. Luckily for us our army had an Air Force liaison officer (don’t know his name)[8] with them at Sylhet and when he heard the helicopter, he came up on the mobile radio he had and said ‘about time you guys came’ Of course they were worried because they didn’t have a lot of ammunition and no radios. 

I didn’t even know that Air force liaison officer (FAC) was with them when I got airborne - and he had a mobile radio. I was going to find the landing ground in pitch dark! Can you even imagine that!

I asked him what the situation was like on the ground and he said it was quite and that he would light a fire for us so we would know where to land. Can you imagine lighting a fire in the middle of the war zone? As soon as the fire was lit, hundreds of bullets were fired in the direction of the fire. The Gurkha who lit the fire was injured on this thumb. He was very lucky to be alive, our army was firing back and keeping the Pakistan army at bay. The Gurkha was told he would be evacuated with us, he didn’t want to come, he wanted to go and kill the swine who hit him!

When I saw the fire – I headed straight for it. My briefing to the troops in my helicopter was very simple, as soon as I touch down everybody to jump out with their equipment and I would be airborne in 30 seconds. We had removed our clam-shell doors for the duration of the war, made it much easier to load and unload the helicopter. Also meant that there was a big hole at the back of our cabin. When I was on finals, I saw tracer bullets coming towards me from all directions, I was sure we would have dozens of bullet holes.

We landed, dropped our load and got airborne within a minute, climbed very quickly and set course back to base. I asked my flight engineer to look for bullet holes, and few minutes later he came back with a big grin and said that there was not even one bullet hole. I was amazed!

I contacted our base and told them to get the rest of the helicopters ready. (It took time to prepare these aircraft and they were not ready for operations till I returned from my third trip) . We returned to base, picked up the next load, dropped them at Sylhet, came running back, again with no bullet holes, picked up our third load and went back to drop them.  

After dropping our third load, when I  got airborne from Sylhet, I noticed that our fuel gauge was showing zero fuel. The helicopter was still flying, so of course we had fuel. Three of us in our Mi-4 prayed to whoever was up there to get us back to Kalura safely. We got back without much ado, very fortunate. We also brought back three causalities.

When I landed and switched off, the engineers discovered a bullet had cut the cable to the fuel gauge. That was changed, we  refuelled, and once again joined others and the operation continued flying through the night.

05 agartala

The author, Flt Lt Pushp Vaid (on left) with Army personnel at Agartala - during the operations. The Officer on the right appears to be a Forward Air Controller. 

We did a total of 14 sorties with 5 helicopters between 0000 and 0500. We carried 124 troops and 2500 kg equipment. Between 0600 and 0830 we used three helicopters and did 5 sorties and carried 45 troops and 1999 kg equipment.

Two more of 110’s  helicopters from Aijal joined us at Kalura and fed into the ongoing SHBO. Between 0830 and 1000 we used 4 helicopters and they transported 4000 kgs of equipment and rations

One helicopter flown by Flt Lt PN Rao was hit by ground fire while he was attempting to land at Sylhet. The ground fire killed one soldier in the helicopter and injured one officer seriously. Flt Lt Rao immediately overshot and brought the injured back to base.

At about 1520, Z-632 flown by Fg Offr AK Oberoi was very badly hit by ground fire. His radiator oil cooler was also hit and oil started leaking out. His engine temperature started rising. He kept cool and flew the damaged helicopter back to Kaluala – where he had to force land, by then all the oil had leaked out.

At 1350 we used 2 helicopters to take 2100 kgs load and 7 troops to Sylhet

Between 1400 and 1630 we used 5 helicopters and 6 sorties and moved 1250 kgs load plus 64 troops

From 1630 to 1800 we used 3 helicopters and did three sorties carrying 2050 kg load and 17 troops

Gp Capt Chandan Singh was initially not convinced it was good idea to go at night - but because of that night flying we discovered the Pakistani army could not see us they could only hear us, so their firing at helicopters was not accurate and none of us got hit,  After that we carried on flying at night with no bother at all.   For my night flying that day and having volunteered to do a dangerous mission, Gp Capt had sent my name off for Vir Chakra, which I was awarded a few days later.

On 9Th Dec 71

At midnight four helicopters took off with artillery guns for Syhlet. On arrival at Syhlet the leader found that helipad was not lit and ACT reported heavy ground fire. This sortie was aborted.

However the same formation went in at 0400 hrs and delivered 27 troops and 1600 kgs of load.

Early morning, still dark we did two flights to Sylhet with 24 troops and 800 kgs load

Throughout the Syhlet SHBO all the pilot’s flew both by day and night. On most occasions aircrew went without food and very little rest. Inspite of the numerous hardships all the aircrew showed great enthusiasm and keenness.

I don’t remember being hungry or tired at any point throughout the operation.

After that 9th morning self with Awal flew from Kailashar to Tailaimura and then on to Agartala.

By 1100 hours all the MI-4’s had arrived at Agartala.

04map

Sometimes in the morning of 9th Dec, Gen Sagat, his ADC, my CO S/L Sandhu and self - went in an Alouette helicopter to recce the landing area around Raipur near Meghna river for our next SHBO. On the flight out the Alloutte climbed up to 5000 feet plus to stay away from small arms fire. After we had selected our landing area we returned and half way back Gen Sagat told the pilot that the area below was under Indian army control and that we can descends. When we were maybe 1000 feet, suddenly we heard –phut-phut -phut noise, and there were bullet holes in the Alouette – at least a dozen if not more. We were between Asugunj and Brahmanbaria. The Capt was hit by a bullet which had come through the instrument panel and went through his shoulder and got buried in back rest behind him, I was two feet behind the pilot’s back rest! Very close. The co-pilot took over and climbed very quickly and we returned to base. Wow we were very lucky, except for the Capt, who was flown to base hospital, non of us on board got hit.

I discovered later that there were 38 bullet holes in that helicopter! Wow - and only one person got injured – somebody up there was keeping an eye on us. Thank you.

Later on 9th Dec 71 – we used 10 helicopters – did 27 sorties - and ferried troops and their load from  Brahmanbaria to Raipura - In total we ferried 309 troops and 2200 kgs

10 Helicopters we used on the 9th Dec 71 – their registrations were –  110 HU – Z-589, Z-610, Z-613, Z-640, BZ-891, Z-336, BZ-894 & 105 HU- Z-349, BZ-892, Z-641

Then 9th night 10th morning we continued the airlift – we used 8 helicopters and ferried 347 troops and 6000 kgs of load –

Registration of 8 helicopters was –110 HU –Z-610, Z-640, Z-613, Z-337, BZ-894 & 105 HU -Z-349, Z-609, BZ-892

All the time we were picking up causalities – whenever Army sent us a message.

10th Dec 71

We used three helicopters for Cas Evac from Brahmanbaria to Agartala involving 9 sorties. We picked up 104 casualties.

When we landed at Brahmanbaria, and shut down, we saw hundred’s of dead bodies near the river side where we had landed, We asked the locals what had happened and they told us that the Pakistan army had rounded up all the people from the village and shot as many as they could, some folks escaped and lived to tell the tale, very sad sight.

For our SHBO – I split up the helicopters in two groups of four, and had picked two landing sites across the river about one kilometre apart – I was to go across the river, land and after take off from there - turn left to come back to take off site and my group of 4 helicopters was going to follow me 2/3 minutes apart. The other group was going to take off and land on the right helipad and after take off – go right and come back to take off site. The briefing was no over shooting, if the first helicopter was still on ground to slow down or land slightly to the side. All this was in pitch dark night time.

I was in the first helicopter on the left, got airborne, landed and dropped my troops and load and I was just going to pull up my collective, when my instinct told me to wait, then I saw the second helicopter overshoot right on top of me, If I had pulled up I would have gone straight into him. Very very lucky.

Very interesting incident happened around 3 am. “We had been flying for two hours, then one of the pilots radioed that there was no load for him, so I told all pilots to shut down and take a break. I spoke to the Commanding Officer of the Army unit, a Lieutenant Colonel – I was only a Flight Lieutenant. The Lt Col wanted all 8 helicopters to take his soldiers at once. I was annoyed – we had four helicopters with no load because he refused to load them. After some discussion, he understood that we would be back in five minutes to pick up his troops, as briefed. He started loading up, and we kept flying the whole night and finished the mission. And all my crews were amused that I had a go at the Lt Col and got away with it.”

All ten helicopters proceeded to Brahmabaria with ground crew on 10th evening and spent the night there, No accommodation was provided.  The crew managed to find an empty hall and all 60 of us, officers and airmen squeezed into it for the night. Most of us were hungry, but there were no complaints.

11 Dec 71

Two more helicopters joined us from 111 HU.

We started the biggest SHBO of the war. We refueled at Agartala and positioned at Brahmanbaria. Destination was Narsinghdi.

The task was to airlift two battalions and an artillery regiment involving 110 sorties.

First wave took off at 0530 and kept flying till 0720. We had ten helicopters and did three sorties each and we carried 321 troops and 7200 kgs of load to Narsinghdi.

We had little break plus refueled at Agartala and started our next rotation at 0915 till 1145. Again we had 10 helicopter.

We lifted 252 troops and 16700 kgs of load.

11th helicopter was doing Cas evac at Commila and Syhlet. They could not land at Syhlet because heavy ground fire.

Third rotation started after we had refueled at Agartala around 1330. Again we had 10 helicopters and we carried 190 troops and 24,500 kgs of load.

After filling up fuel at Agartala our fourth rotation must have started around 1730 – we had 9 helicopters and each did one sortie, this time and carried 54 troops and 8600 kgs of load.

So total for 11 Dec 71 was 815 troops and 65,200 kgs load and did 99 sorties.

12th Dec 71

We sent one helicopter to Syhlet for casuality evacuation. Crew Fg Offr BK Sharma and Fg Offr PVR Murthy did the evacuation at night because it was felt it safer to land at night. Both pilots showed great skill and courage and evacuated 30 casualties in two sorties inspite of heavy ground fire. They also flew in urgently required ammunition required by troops. Z349 helicopter came back with a number of bullet holes.

Another helicopter, Z613, on its way back to Kumbhigram for inspection had an engine fire enroute and had to force land. The helicopter was completely burnt after landing, but the crew managed to escape unhurt.

We continued our SHBO on the 12th Dec to Narsinghdi. First detail had 8 helicopters and they carried 138 troops and 13,820 kgs load.

Second detail we had 4 helicopters and lifted 96 troops and 5600 kgs of load.

A total of 35 sorties were done involving 35.15 hours flying and we carried 234 troops and 19,420 kgs of load.

Z613

Mi-4 Z-613 being used to evacuate a wounded soldier. Photo Courtesy: Late Maj Gen Ashok Kalyan Verma

13th Dec 71

We continued our troops movement to Narsinghdi. We did a total of 30 sorties involving 25 hours of flying. We had 10 helicopters and air lifted 282 troops and 14,850 kgs load.

In the evening one helicopter was sent to Khurat near Fenny and it brought out 10 very serious casualties.

A total of 1331 troops and 99,470 kgs load was carried to Narsingdi in 164 sorties – 141.45 hours of flying was done.

In the evening we planned our SHBO to Baidya Bazar for the 14 Dec 71. Recce in an Aloutte helicopter was carried out in the afternoon

14th Dec 71

We had 12 helicopters and we were positioned at Daudkandi at 0730 to take the troops and load to Baidya Bazar. No troops or load was available till 1030.

We made three groups of 4 helicopters each. The first group was called Black, second one was called Red and third one was called Green – no idea why we did that. Must have been a good idea at the time.

Between 1100 and 1630 we did a total of 79 sorties crossing the Meghna river and carried 810 troops and 22,650 kgs of load. Once again we had no food, but as I said before I don’t remember being hungry.

One helicopter was utilized for Cas Evac at Narsingdi and they evacuated 24 causalities.

15 Dec 71

We used 7 helicopters and continued our airlift to Baidya Bazar. According to my diary we did 43 sorties and carried 402 troops and 16,650 kgs of load.

We carried a total of 1212 troops and 89,300 kgs load to Baidya Bazar and did 122 sorties and flew a total of 62.20 hours.

One helicopter was utilized to carry vital equipment and ammunition to Narsingdi.

Another helicopter – Z640, on its way to Kumbhigram for servicing had a transmission failure just six miles short of Kumbhigram. The helicopter caught fire after forced landing. The crew escaped unhurt.

05map

16th Dec 71

We picked up 28 causalities during the morning.

Then we got ready for the Surrender ceremony. There were hundreds of reporters from all over the world at Agartala, wanting to go to Dacca.

Less than two weeks after the declaration of war the Pakistani army surrendering over 93,000 troops. The surrender was to be signed in Dhaka, and I was asked to fly in the VIPs and Indian and international correspondents. “I was told that pilots not needed for flying duties should be left behind”. However I ignored the instructions – I reasoned that after risking their lives and flying to their limit, my pilots and flight engineer’s deserved to see this once-in-a-lifetime surrender ceremony.

Therefore, close to 20 pilots and flight engineers were “smuggled” aboard the five Mi-4s in addition to the bonafide passengers with Dacca as the destination where a tumultuous reception awaited them.  Fg Offr S Krishnamurthy in his exuberance also managed to “photobomb” the famous photograph of Gen. AK Niazi signing the surrender document in presence of General Aurora and the who’s who of Indian military brass. He did this much to the chagrin of General JFR Jacobs over whose shoulder he was peering while holding onto his arm.

We took as many reporters as we could. There were, men and women reporters from so many different parts of the world. There was no restriction. We still had no clamp shell doors - can you imagine that?

When we landed at Dhaka, there were cars waiting to take us to the racecourse where the ceremony was taking place. These were civilian cars. Enroute there were thousands of Bangladeshis waving and smiling at us. It was like the movies, when the Americans drove into Paris at the end of WW2. It was wonderful feeling. There were so many people with guns firing in the air in excitement. My memory is a bit hazy, all I remember is that we had a great time and we all felt like VIPs.”

And the surrender ceremony was something to remember – wow. Plenty has been written about it.

For our efforts in two weeks war in our sector following gallantry awards were awarded:

Vir Chakra:

  1. Sqn Ldr C S Sandhu  5591 F(P)
  2. Flt Lt P K Vaid 6892 F(P)  

During the SHBO task undertaken by the MI-4s in the Eastern sector, the final tally stood as follows:

 December 7th to 15th 1971    
Sector  Troops Load
Kalaura to Sylhet  649 13,000
Brahmanbaria to Raipura  1,286 12,530
Brahmanbaria to Narsingdi 1,570 100,650
Dudhkandi to Baidyabazaar 2,408 73,230
TOTAL  5,913 199,410

Note: not sure about the exact figures                                  

After the war 110 HU was called upon to help the Indian Army in Bangladesh. On 17 Dec 71 I had taken one aircraft to Dacca and came back the same day.

On 22 Jan 1972, I took one aircraft to Dacca and stayed in Bangladesh till 3 Feb 1972. We flew all over between Dacca and Chittagong.

Highlight of our visit was meeting up with film stars of our time who had come to Bangladesh to entertaining the troops. We met the following stars

Sunil Dutt, Nargis, Wheeda Rehman and the famour singer Lata Mangeshkar.

While we were in Chittagong our Army had given us VW beetle for our transport. And I had the opportunity and pleasure to give a lift to Nargis and Wheeda Rehman in our VW Beatle….. Wow !!!.

The crews and aircraft for the flight for Dacca surrender were:

BZ-894 - Sandhu – Ali

Z-614 – Carriappa – Shridharan

Z-609 – Chabra – NL

Z-337 – Vaid – D’Souza

Z-349 – Jayaraman - Reddy

One of the Mi-4s ferrying in supplies into Dacca after surrender.  Photo via  Brig SS Kanbargimath

    

According to my diary we had the following pilots & engineers during the war in 1971:

110 HU                                                      105 HU                                Some flight engineers were 

  1. S/L C S Sandhu (CO)                     1. S/L Chabra (CO)           1.W.O. T Kossy
  2. F/L P K Vaid                                    2. Sharma                         2. Flt Sgt Bains
  3. F/L Jayaraman                                3. Gomes                          3. Flt Sgt Roy
  4. F/L Rao                                           4. R V Singh                     4. Sgt Bindra
  5. F/O Chatwal                                   5. Simos                           5. Flt Sgt Murlidharan
  6. F/O BLK Reddy                               6. Krishna                         6.  Sgt Thomas
  7. F/O Ali                                            7. Murthy
  8. F/O Chippy Desouza                      8. NL(not sure of full name)
  9. F/O R Singh                                                        
  10. F/O J Singh                                    111 HU
  11. A/O Awal                                        1. S/L Nanda Cariappa (CO)
  12. F/O Srinivasan                                2. Handa
  13. F/L Hundal                                      3. V Singh
  14. F/O Sampat                                    4. Raj (don’t have full name)
  15. F/O Shridharan                               5. F/O  PP Rajkumar
  16. F/O Mohan                                    Tech Officers 110 HU
  17. F/O Ramakrishna                            F/L A Shankaran
  18. F/O Chitnis                                     F/O SK Katyar
  19. F/O Krishnamurthy                         F/O P K Kamra
  20. F/O H S Sodhi                                F/O S Borikar

End Notes

[1]  Sqn Ldr Polo Sandhu.

[2]  5/4 Gorkha commanded by Col Holkar.  On the 2nd day of the Sylhet ops, Maj Ian Cordozo, on his arrival at Kalura, was rushed forward to Sylhet with another wave of 5/4 GR and it brought great rejoice and loud cheers from the troops right in the middle of an ongoing operation.  Later, on 17 Dec, while on a  visit to a BSF post, he stepped on an antipersonnel mine and lost his leg.

[3]  On orders from Gp Capt Chandan Singh, 200 ltr Aviation grade 100/120 Octane fuel drums  were immediately airlifted lifted by  Dak (Fg Offr Karandikar) and Otter (Flt Lt Gohal) of Kilo Flight, from Agartala to Kailashar (WW-II disused air strip) . Later, a railway rake attached to a stranded goods train was located at Dharma Nagar, carrying aviation fuel to Agartala. The fuel drums  were physically offloaded from the train, loaded on civilian trucks and brought to Kailashar ALG. 

[4]  4/5 GR had been involved in a fierce battle at Ghazipur for three days. They had suffered heavy causalities (officers and men) and had withdrawn to a position between Ghazipur and Kalura. Gen Sagat would not let them rest or recuperate, he now pitted them into the battle at Sylhet !!    ,

[5]  This was a Kilo Flight armed Chetak (rockets & a 20 mm gun). Locating the origin of tracers, they provided accurate air to ground fire to silence many gun positions, especially on the railway station, not far from the field being used for the SHBO. When they ran out of  ammo, they returned to Kailashahar, quickly rearmed and kept going back to provide close air support all night. 

[6]  Gp Capt Chandan Singh AVSM, VrC was Station Commander Jorhat prior to and during the 71 war. Around Jul-Aug 71 he was given armed Chetak and Otter of IAF and tasked to raise a private Air Force at Dhimapur using Bengladeshi pilots and technicians, refugees from West and East Pakistan.   

[7]   Brig Bunty Quinn Cdr 59 Mtn Bde, under Maj Gen Krishna Rao, GoC 8 Mtn Div. The  Mi-4s had manged to take only one Company of 4/5 GR across and they had three more waiting along with a huge pile of stores and ammo. Army’s consternation was well justified. It was feared that Pakis may counter attack and annihilate the Coy who had just been air lifted. Chan Singh’s hesitation too was well justified, he had watched from above the huge volume of fire from Paki gun positions. What became apparent afterwards was that Pakis were firing blind, on hearing but not seeing in the dark where the SHBO was taking place. 

[8]  Flg Offr Satish Chandra Sharma (later VrC)