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True Confessions – Velu’s Near-Goof-Up In 1971 War

By Gp Capt PM Velankar VM (Retd )

During 71 war I was in 22 Squadron and we were operating from Dumdum. The squadron had been operating detachments and had a major portion of the unit operating from Dumdum since September – October 1971.

Squadron aircraft crossed the international border to attack various ground targets or as an escort to Hunters for the first time on the 4th of December 71. A good number of sorties were carried out by almost all the pilots of the squadron. I did not cross the border that day but was detailed to carry out CAP sortie over Dumdum. I did three or four sorties of CAP with different No 2s. It was the same story the next day. Even after requesting the Flight Commander to let me go on ground attack sortie I was informed that the CO did not want to send me across the border. My relations with the CO were not the most cordial. He thought I was a good for nothing useless pilot. On my part the feeling was mutual! So  once again I did four CAP sorties. The same thing happened on the third day as well. Doing CAP sorties every day, for three days, had its effects ! Things had become so bad that even after flying was over for the day my head kept snapping and swivelling  from left to right as if still  looking around for the bogies ! It was OK so far as it went but caused lot of trouble in the evening when I could not put the glass to my lips as the head kept swivelling! For the first couple of sips I had to literally hold it still with my left hand and take a sip from the glass in the right hand. Things used to improve after a couple of drinks and and were back to normal by the time my normal quota was consumed!!!!

On the fourth day the sun did not rise from the west but I had a feeling that things would be different that day. The start was not too good. For the first sortie I was again detailed for a CAP! Boondi took four ac formation for a ground attack / attack on river borne targets at a place called Satkhira.

The time was around 1030 or 1100 when I was told that CO wanted me. He told me that, as I was keen to do a strike sortie , to take a two ac formation to Satkhria and to get air borne as soon as possible, Vinod Batheja was detailed as no 2, apparently Flt Cdr’s urgings had their effect!!! This being my FIRST EVER sortie in enemy territory and that too as a Leader, I was extremely excited and rushed to prepare the map and do the normal planning for the sortie. I Wanted desperately for every thing to go smoothly with no f***-ups !!! As usual when you are in a hurry things are just not found. Frantic search for the map, the pencils, protector, ruler was yielding slow results. In between people were telling me to hurry up as CO was enquiring whether I had got airborne or was still on ground and was being told that I was preparing the map !! Finally every thing was found and I had just drawn the line joining Dundum to Satkhira and measured the distance which appeared neither too little nor too much. Calculation of distances , timings and fuel consumption were next in line and still to be done , when I was told that if I was not airborne within 15 minutes some other targets were expected and then I could forget about the strike and keep swivelling my neck over Dumdum airfield. All this while Batheja was hovering around and like a good no 2 was neither a hindrance nor help. But now he pipes up and says “Velu, it is OK I have been to that place in the morning with Boondi and every thing was ok, no sweat.” To my enquiry if he was “sure”, he said, “Ya, absolutely sure every thing ok” I wanted to say “OK Bats kick the tyres, light the fires, briefing will be on D Delta”. Instead I just said, “OK Bats let us go, briefing as per the SOP” and we proceeded to the aircraft. Time elapsed between my being told to go for the sortie and we setting off for the aircraft less than 18 minutes!!!!
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