Hectic Days in Halwara-2: Getting My Ankles Wet

Standard

Groupie Gole had come down to the tarmac himself to pick me up.    The Otter pilot who had brought me from Palam was in a hurry to get away and reach Adampur before dark; he won’t even switch off his engine.     I stepped down the extended ladder, pulled my suitcase behind me and ran out of the cold slipstream to the Station Commander’s Jeep.   

 Groupie Gole was happy to see me.   We had never worked together except for that one evening in 1953 when his farewell from and my welcome into 1 Squadron were co-incident.  However, the Air Force was a very small place in our young days and we had met many times under varied circumstances.     Now however we were going to fight a war together.    We drove out of the   

Alan D'Costa 1954

 

tarmac and stopped for a cup of Chai with Alan D’Costa in his dispersed location.    Alan was now commanding 222 Squadron on Su7 aircraft.    Alan was from the 61st pilot’s course.    We had worked together briefly in 1954 when we were accepting HT2s from HAL for the Air Force.   

 After quick refreshments with the Tiger-Sharks we made our way in to the Station Commander’s office.    ‘Your first job is to become familiar with the war orders’.   Groupie Gole opened his classified locker and took out and placed the orders on the table.   I accepted his direction symbolically by placing my right hand on the orders, but I made no attempt to either pull it towards me or to open it.  ‘Yes Sir’, I said.  ‘But first I’d like to hear your summary of the current situation’.    Groupie Gole looked at me with his light grey/brown eyes and captured my gaze.      After a short silence he spoke very softly and deliberately; ‘There will be a war.    We shall not fire the first shots.  But, once it starts, we shall strike such a severe blow to the Pakistani war machine that they wont dare think of a war again for at least twenty-five to thirty years.’   When I think back to those moments now I wonder, how precise he was and in hind sight how prescient!   

 I was left alone in the office of the station commander as I delved into the orders.    The orders were very well written and were quite detailed.     As I read on, the over-all national perspective took shape in my mind.     We were not interested in capturing territory on the western front or seek a total capitulation of Pakistan.    We shall fight a defensive –offensive war protecting our territory and assets and destroy war assets of the enemy to the extent possible.  The aims and objectives on the Eastern Front were not recorded in the book I read, but I presumed that there a complete victory for us and a total capitulation for Pakistan would be our aim. After about eight in the evening some one brought food for me.   I ate a hurried dinner and got back into my research.   I had to have a very clear perspective of the forces allocated to the base and its relationship with the war tasks allotted.     I had to understand the defence plan, the offensive plan, the logistic plan, the security and counter-intelligence plan and the station’s routine administrative plan.    It was about two in the morning when I was done with my first read.   

 Just as I was about to close up the book in front of me, Groupie Gole arrived back into his office.    Was I done with the orders? Yes.   Was I tired or sleepy? No.  Well, he said, in that case let us sit down and do some planning.  I readjusted my chair and faced him.    His directives were crisp.   I was to be his number two and be ready to run the station if he was not there.   I should therefore familiarise my self with every activity of the station and the current instructions given to each section commander.   I should have no doubts what so ever about how he had planned to run the station at war-time and I should reach that state as soon as possible.   Do what ever needs to be done to get there.   I should take charge of base airspace control, base air defence, base Passive air defence, base ground defence, and base intelligence and counter intelligence.    The other jobs, especially offensive operations and special operations, base administration, base logistics, base maintenance, and base battle damage repair would be handled by him with his staff.   I was therefore to make myself knowledgeable about the resources and personnel allocated for my tasks immediately.  The tasks given were clear and concise, even if somewhat challenging.   I debated within myself whether I should consider the tasks to be ‘daunting’ and decided against it.   

 At the end of his directions, Groupie Gole got up and took me along to show me the base air defence communication centre as it had been laid out.    It was a fresh dug out in the wilderness of the airfield area, protected with embankments and covered from the top.   It was not very large.   It had three compartments arranged functionally.   The whole structure was well camouflaged.     A short distance away a similar dugout contained a standby power supply generator.   Also close by was an observation tower that looked like an ordinary perimeter watch tower.     The centre was the hub of all communication necessary for me to command and control the air defence assets.     A very neat arrangement of display concentrated all available information on a vertical board that presented the base airspace and air defence situation visually and instantly.   It was also directly connected to all AD offensive assets by multiple radio and landline voice channels.  The setup was neat and extremely functional.    It made me very happy.      Groupie Gole was also very proud of the centre.   It had come up under his direct supervision and contained many innovative ideas traceable directly to him.     We took about two hours to examine every part of the centre and understand the underlying concepts.     

 It was now about four in the morning.    Groupie Gole said ‘Let us go and get a little shut-eye’.   My bag was still lying in the station commander’s office.   We went back, picked it up and drove to the mess.    We were met by an alert staff,   I was led directly to a neat room labelled with my name, containing a clean bed and a jar of drinking water.   I was impressed by the effective administration without any fuss or delay.    It was a clear indication of a well run station.    I changed my clothes and fell asleep in seconds.    When I was awakened with a steaming cup of tea, it was 7 O’Clock on the misty dawn of 3rd December 1971.

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16 responses »

  1. Hi,

    I am enjoying your blog.. very good. keep it up.
    if possible could you include photos of people mentioned in the stories … will make it more enjoyable!!

    god bless
    manoj

  2. a few lines in your writeup got me thinking…

    I quote ..

    ” I was to be his number two and be ready to run the station if he was not there “..

    “I should take charge of base airspace control, base air defence, base Passive air defence, base ground defence, and base intelligence and counter intelligence. The other jobs, especially offensive operations and special operations, base administration, base logistics, base maintenance, and base battle damage repair would be handled by him with his staff. “..

    ” I was therefore to make myself knowledgeable about the resources and personnel allocated for my tasks immediately ” ..

    so u were concerned/ knowledgeable only with a subset of total activities at the base … So how could you be ready to run the base in case Gp Gole was not there ?

    • A very natural question Manoj. In positions of command, the 2i/c never carries out all the duties of the CO. The 2i/c has his own set of tasks. However, he is required to be knowledgeable about his boss’s plans and the real time situation of actions not being initiated by him so that if need be he can step in and carry on from where his boss left off. Believe it or not, essence of good commad is to create and run a good team with a 100 percent back up for all tasks.

      • yes, of course ..risk mitigation / contingency planning in modern mgmt jargon!! and thats why your lines got me thinking.

        So i assume, you were indeed devoting some of your time to be with the boss.

        How long for the war to start :-))

  3. Dear Sir,
    Thank you. Having witnessed both ’65 & ’71 as a teenager, your writing about the Air Force brings back wonderful memories and great pride in the people I grew up being influenced by. ’65 seemed chaotic but with a great deal of courage demonstrated by flight crews and their wives. I recall ’71 as a time when the flight commanders and squadron commanders were now in-charge of there stations and encouraged by P.C.Lal to prove to the PAF that ’65 had been their ‘swansong’. So it is great to read Uncle Chandu’s prediction, thanks. I hope that someone some day will write a comprehensive history of the Indian Air Force in 1971. But, thank you for so many names that ring true for me.
    Yours,
    Mark Wilson

  4. Dear Air Commodore Sen,

    I have greatly enjoyed reading your posts especially your detailed descriptions of ways of the IAF. A lot of it is familiar, my father served for 28 years – He was of the 95th pilots course and with 101 sqn during the ’71 ops. Stories of the Air Force will always continue to fascinate me!. Please keep up the good work and I eagerly await your next installment.

    With best Wishes

    Premjit Dass

  5. Sir,
    During difficult time leadership is very lonely at the top. If success it is shared by the team and failure attributed to the leader. The great learning of this story is art of delegation of responsibilities.Within few hours of your meeting groupe Gole delegated half of his responsibilities to you. Mutual trust were visibile. Trust comes from mutual respect . And respect comes from individual’s core competence, ability and integrity.
    He was precise in his explanation, to the point and inspirational.
    During that tense and hectic moment he ensured that you were served dinner at office.This is great leadership and an example of leading from the front.
    Regards

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