The Sri Lankan Interlude

Under Fire..

My First Experience Under Fire

L N Subramanian
A first hand account by LT GP Singh extracted from the article of the same name from Combat Journal, April 1991.

I was commissioned as a 2nd Lt in June 1988 and was to join 5 Maratha LI. In July 1988, I learnt with consternation that the Battalion (Bn) was operating in Sri Lanka in the thick of battle with the LTTE. Thinking of all those stories, news items and video clips my imagi­nation ran riot with nervous anticipation on what was in store for me. Would I have the sublime pleasure of being a heroic leader of my platoon or have a hot web of the LTTE’s bullets around me? Would I be ambushed on arrival? I landed in the Bn with mixed feelings and varied thoughts. The situation on arrival was fairly peaceful with routine cordon and search operations interspersed with ambushes and vigorous patrolling.

I was learning faster than those exercises at Indian Military Academy (IMA) could teach. I had a vague idea of mines while in the IMA. We came across Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and land mines laid by the LTTE. Recovering them without mishap made it seem simple and easy. Then on 08 Sep 88 we lost Capt N Muralidharan and four Jawans while they were recovering mines. An officer and a JCO were injured in the same accident. The incident shook me and brought to focus the devastation that the mines and booby traps can cause. This made us more cautious and we became more alert and determined. Thereafter, the situation changed and the activity increased. A political leader of the LTTE named Shiva was killed, to be followed by regular skirmishes and encounters with the LTTE.

On 19th and 20th November 1988, the LTTE decided to shake us up a bit by firing simultaneously on all our posts. But it was all thunder. We were unable to trap them, as on being challenged they would melt away into the urban areas. When under fire, I remembered the controlled battle inoculations of the IMA where the bullets flew a mile above our heads and here; in contrast, the peppering of the LTTE AK 47s was a big change. Though I reacted at the sound of the fire, my excitement was yet on a low since the fire was not effective. Almost a year passed with routine operations. In Aug 1989, I got my chance to be baptized under effective live fire. My Coy along with another was to operate in the Vellivettithurai (VVT) area. On the strength of information, we established a cordon in VVT area on 1 Aug 1989. We remained in the area for the entire day as well as the night of 1/2 Aug. The area was new to us. At 10:00 hrs on 2 Aug the LTTE opened heavy fire on a section of the cordon from the outside. In excited anticipation I rushed to my Coy Commander for the next course of action. Since we were all employed on the cordon, we had inadequate reserve to deal with in the situation. The militants could not be encircled without regrouping I enquired from my Coy Cmdr if I should encircle the militants from a flank with my platoon or remain in position. My Coy Cmdr was positioned behind a compound wall and was trying to gain a position of advantage. He asked me to locate the militants’ position and then encircle it from the right.

Since I couldn't see above the high wall I decided to move outside through the gate in the wall. I pushed the gate and as I opened it, a long burst from the militants AK-47 hit the right side of the gate. I took cover in a split second and appreciated that the militants would be either on the roof of the house opposite or on the tree beside the house. I realized that they could observe us closely. The fire was quite effective. Meanwhile a bullet injured a jawan in the head. The Coy Cmdr left his cover and dashed to the site to bring the jawan to safety. A heavy volume of fire was immediately brought on him. The hail of fire angrily kicked up the dust around him missing him by a few inches. Fortunately he made it to a bund nearby. He then crawled back to safety. Meanwhile, after some more firing I was positive about the militants location but I couldn't see them physically. I informed the Coy Cmdr of their location. He took quick action in ordering the 84mm CG detachment to fire 2 rounds of 84mm. He ended the militants firing. Radio intercepts confirmed that the militants were wounded. While the 84mms were fired I tried to move to the right to capture them but found that they had withdrawn. We soon evacuated our injured to 17 Sikh position. I promised myself a better catch next time but was subsequently appointed MTO (mechanical transport officer).