Jaisalmer Diary – The story of 14 C&MU

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This is an account of the operations at 14 C&MU Jaisalmer.  The IAF’s victory at Longewala was achieved from Jaisalmer Air Force Base during the 1971 War under the leadership of then Wg Cdr M S Bawa (4494) F(P). This article provides a “War Diary” style narration of the day by day events as they unfolded. 

This is an account of the operations at 14 C&MU Jaisalmer.  The IAF’s victory at Longewala was achieved from Jaisalmer Air Force Base during the 1971 War under the leadership of then Wg Cdr M S Bawa (4494) F(P). This article provides a “War Diary” style narration of the day by day events as they unfolded. 


10 Sep 71 – WC Cdr MS BAWA, VM, assumed the charge of Base Commander 14 Care & Maintenance Unit, vice Flt Lt NK SHARMA. The unit still had many Installations under construction and Its offices and sections deployed on peace tame basis . This C&MU vas called upon to play the role of a MINI WING. The Base Commander who vas fully aware of the short—comings of the system started streamlining the new emerging Wing. The task vas none too easy as the sections had no Section Commanders. The first and the main objective was to gearup the Wing to the maximum required degree of operational preparedness. The most vital of all these were (a) Ground Defence (b) Air Defence (c) Communication, (d) Radio Aids and (e) the MT. The dynamic lead given by the Base Commander compelled the to forge ahead and soon it was humming with activity. The original strength of personnel which vas totally inadequate to accomplish the required task vas slowly being Inflated with officers and men of various branches and trades

Bawa-WgCdrThe men were to be replaced fortnightly to recoupe from the fatigue of this drab and dry town, which had little to offer other than abundance of sand and hot burning air. Faster than men were the stores to arrive. The wagons arrived in large numbers, but there were very few vehicles and personnel to unload them. It was a challenge which had to be met irrespective of the time involved. These essential stores added additional risk, as such had to be dispersed In a planned manner. The vital and vulnerable technical equipment had to be moved to underground complexes. Base Operations room, which had never functioned at this base had to be started from the scratch. The administrative set up and its allied sections had to be moved under tentage. The concealment of these posed a major problem as the terrain offered scanty shrubbery. Regular programe of camouflaging the stores, equipment and tentage was initiated and every morning one hour vas devoted to camouflaging, till satisfactory standards were reached. While the Radio and Navigational Aids rose to the occasion, the telephone communication with the rear base lagged far behind and remained unreliable for a long time. The phone call through civil could mature in a minute, while the service line did not respond for hours and days together. The Base Commander in one of the Station gatherings, in order the motivate his men, gave a fiery and belligerent speech, out-lining the purpose or their gathering at this Mini Wing. During his speech, he clearly stated that Gentlemen we are here to restore those ten Million people back to their homes , who have been rendered homeless , who are deprived of their self-respect, honour, wives ,chlldren, the near and the dear ones. If you do not react now, the coming generations will hold their heads in shame for lack of action on our part. We have come here to achieve this aim end whatever be the cost, we shall not return without it. I ask you all this, but offer you nothing In return. am more aware of your needs and the sub-standard facilties, but I assure you that I shall make every endeavour to provide you what I can, what cannot I shall not hesitate to project to higher authorities. To Infuse the spirit of dedication the Base Commander summed it up by giving a slogan :


(We have decided to lay down our lives In pursuit of our aim, now we have to see how much strength the enemy possesses to deny us our AIM. With this in the minds of every—one, there was no requirement for any one to be told as to what is to be done. People worked with a smile from morning to night without complaint) 

17 Sep 71 – The Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal PC LAL paid a visit, which vas only a week after the Base Cmdr’s arrival. He had little to point out, as far ag work done was concerned. He paid a visit to the TUBE WELL which was to be inaugurated by him. He expected the water to come up and greet him, but the soil was far from generous. Some more drilling remained to be done and finally the water struck at 905 feet. The Station hummed with activity for a fortnight and the Sections gradually found their places of work. The fortnightly rotation of manpower posed a problem to the Base Cdr as he had to infuse the same spirit in the new arrivals. There was no choice for him but to meet every—one who came new to the Station, to infuse the same spirit to maintain the tempo of work required. While the technical side was getting its due the administrative side was staggering and lagging behind, as there were no reinforcements there. Our dependence on Class IV civilians was never so greatly felt, as they were required co run the essential services such as sanitary and messes .

15 Oct 71 – The long awaited detachment of 122 5qn comprising of 2 Hunters arrived from AF Station, jamnagar.

The Ground Defence of the Air Field was the responsibility of 27 Madras Coy Commanded by Major jaitly.

16 Oct 71 – With-out prior intimation to the Base Cdr, 27 Madras Coy was asked to pull out and was replaced by 123 Inf Bn (TA) Coy Commanded by Capt KOCHAR. These sudden changes posed unnecessary and extra work for the Base Cdr.

19 Oct 71– 105 GL Section Type arrived from ATW and established Itself next to the operations Room.

20 Oct 71 -12 Air OP Flight vas added to the family of 14 Care and Maintenance Unit. GOC 12 Inf Div Maj. General Khambatta, In whose support the Wing was to function, landed at this Base on his way to his forward location.

21 Oct 71 — A troop Of 152 AD Regt (L/ 60 guns) headed by Lt ANSARI took complete control of Air Defence at this airfield

22 Oct 71 — The surveillance and Recovery Radar of 15 Wing (P 30 sets) vas received which vas required to become the eyes and ears of this Base. Its cargo was too large to be handled easily. The operational site for its deployment was already selected and without loosing much time the Radar was deployed. The change from BARELLY to jAISALMER was too much for anyone’s
liking, however FATE ACCOMPLI had to be accepted by every-one. The poor state of equipment forced the unit to remain non-operational for nine complete days. Besides the local market the resources of JODHPUR had to be taped to put this equipment on the air In quick time.

23 Oct 71 – The Chief Minister of Rajasthan paid his second visit to the area to apprise himself of the rapid build up of this forward base.

26 Oct 71 – The Chief of the Army Staff, General SFFJ MANTYSHAW paid a short and hurried visit to the area to address all Officers of 12 Inf Div.

31 Oct 71 – The surveillance and recovery Radar came on the air for the first time and maintained watch at scheduled hours. 

3 Nov 71 – ADDC at JODHPUR ordered Its first ever scramble after sundown at 1801+ hrs, without even ascertaining the night recovery fae111t1es existing at this base. The mission vas abandoned after a wild goose chase as the aircraft did not have night Interception capability and were merely asked to return to Base. The Base Commander vas aware of such contingencies and he wasted no time an rounding up personnel for a quick lighting up of the runway goose—necks, which were already in position and were being checked every day. To add excitement to the recovery of these aircraft the local Radar reported a hostile track following this mission at 600 Knots. The mission was immediately asked to carry out a hard turn by the Base Commander and maintain altitude (10,000 feet). The hostile track turned out to be spurious pick up by radar. The mission vas asked to descend to circuit height. On arrival of the mission the runway was lit, and switched off manually as the mission turned off the runway after landing. This quick and unscheduled lighting of the runway at short notice infused great confidence in the pilots at the Base.

The first joint Air Cooperation exercise “NON PLUS” was conducted.

8 Nov 71 – The Defence Minister Mr. JAGJIVAN accompanied by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan Mr. BARKATULLA KHAN visited the Station and addressed all ranks apprising them of the latest border situations and our operational commitments in the area. He reemphasised his earlier statement that “This time the battle will be fought on the enemy’s soil”  

18 Nov 71 – The second Joint Amy Air Cooperation exercise “SKY HAWK” was conducted, successfully.  

28 Nov 71 – The Prime Minister Shrimatl INDIRA GANDHI visited the area and had a brief chat with the Base Cdr.

On the heels of the Prime Minister arrived the Chief of the Air Staff. He also took the opportunity of addressing all ranks and apprised them of the latest situation. He exphasised that a high degree of preparedness vas to be maintained, as the enemy vas likely to resort to a pre-emptive strike at any time. The initiative lied with him, hov long and when he would resort to it, only the history would tell. However he minced no words to state that “He would like, If the war came, a short, crisp and a decisive battle.” He wished all, GOOD LUCK.

2 Dec 71 — Quite unmindful of the prevailing situation on our borders , arrived the Air Headquarters Team, headed by Air Cdre VM BHATNAGAR, to assess the requirements and make fresh recommendations for the establishment of a CARE AND MAINTENANCE UNIT. The Base Cdr in his opening address highlighted the role of these forward bases during operations and strongly recommended that these be turned into full time Mini Wings with full manpower, communication, MT and associated facilities. This he said, would yield dividends during operations. The Impressions gained after the conference were that this revision was more likely to be downwards than wards

3 Dec 71 – At about 1800 hrs besides the normal happenings of the day came the flash call from Air Cdr KANWAR SINGH AOC RAJASTHAN informing PAKISTAN’S pre-emptive strikes on our airfields , followed by a Command call and a Radio announcement. This Station vas already geared up and vas expecting such a pre-emptive strike to take place any time between the 2nd and with of December. All actions were initiated and available forces asked to standby and undertake offensive actions on receipt of word “SANSAR” 

The day light had already gild past when the word “SANSAR” was received. The receipt of the word vas promptly acknowledged. Total black out measures were already inforce for the last 15 days. The Ground Defence and the Air Defence were more than alert. The night vas spent in waiting but the enemy did not show up.

4 Dec 71 — The Station launched five command task missions (2 aircraft each) on targets such as JACOBABAD AIR FIELD, RAHIMYARKHAN SU and AIR FIELD. In addition close support sorties were carried out In the area where 12 Inf Div was supposed to launch an offensive enabling them to capture SAKHIREWALA and ISLAMGARH.

When 12 Inf Div was concentrating on their area of advance towards RAHIMYAR KHAN, the enemy sneaked in with one Regt of Armour and one Bde strength troops from GHABBAR Via BP 638 towards LAUNGEWALA. The leading column of tanks by—passed LAUNGEWALA post and was seen advancing towards RAMGARH, past midnight. This suspected movement, as identification was not possible, was passed by the Coy Cdr at LAUNGEWALA to the HQ. This did cause certain doubts in the Div HQ, but the same appeared to be discarded. The column of tanks decided to turn about a few k.m. short of RAMGARH, when they found their rear not catching up. This was the first fatal mistake committed by the enemy which subsequently changed the course of var. Had these tanks carried on, they would have easily over run RAMGARH, as there were no defences whatsoever. Return of these leading tanks towards LAUNGEWALA and the noise of more tanks rolling in compelled the Coy Cdr to apprise GOC 12 Inf Div again. On receipt of this message the GOC tried to get through to the Base Cdr, but to his surprise he found that the MUJAHIDS had already cut the telephone line at RAMGARH. This confirmed his doubts about the enemy Armour thrust at LAUNGEWAIA. The radio relay link was established between the GOC and Base Cdr in the early hours of 5 Dec 71 , wherein he described suspected Armour thrust at LAUNGL&IALA and wanted him to investigate. 

Total Sorties – 20

Claims made – Enemy Op and Bunkers hit ,

               130 Camels killed.

Ammunition expended — 30 MM HE 3000 Rds

                       Rocket 7-10-130.

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