Hectic Days in Halwara – 11: The Fog of War Thickens?

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Start of the day on the 12th of December was rather slow.   For the first wave at sunrise there was only one request for close support that was grabbed by Chopra and Bapat.   It was actually getting to be quite difficult to pick crew for a strike mission.   Over the past two days the demands had shrunk and there was a scramble for every mission that came about.   Those not chosen were disappointed and crest fallen, but if targets are not found, can missions be mounted?

 Mypio, our star photo interpretation officer,  had found one more juicy gun position from one of the TACR films overnight.   Once again, this discovery was accidental.   This morning however our business was slow.   It was comparatively easy to get a mission order out from the concerned GL section.   Ganguly and Rishi were loaded up with rockets and despatched to take the guns out.   Two Mig 21s under Bharat Kumar went along as escort.   They had a turkey shoot on the target in the Haveli sector.   Between the two strike aircraft four gun pits were smashed.    The Archers remained mere spectators as no air opposition came about.

 By about ten the battle heated up somewhat.   By the end of the day 18 strike missions were mounted.   Most of the targets were supposedly tank hide-outs and artillery emplacements a few kilometres inside Pakistani territory.     There were strong intelligence inputs about Pakistan trying to build up a stock of POL and ammunition close to the border.  Through out the day, one name came up time and again; that of Changa Manga.    Directly west of Halwara indeed there was a small town of that name in Pakistan.    A little after two thirty in the afternoon, Alan D’Costa and Ceezee Sandhu went out for a photo recce of the area.   The area wa heavily wooded.   Visually, none of our pilots could spot any thing that would point to any activity at Changa Manga.   However, throughout the day intelligence kept on shouting blue murder over that spot.   Ultimately, we sent out the Green Berets loaded with 3 inch rockets to shower them over the Changa Manga woods.  It was at best a symbolic act that would harass the enemy; we did not expect any better effects.   The Command HQ was apparently taking the Changa Manga thing quite seriously.   Through out the night the Canberras and the AN12s kept on dumping bombs on that patch of woods.  

 Next morning the tempo of war saw a further upswing.   News from the neighbouring bases Adampur and Pathankot indicated a fresh flare-up of tank engagements along the northern battle zone.    Groupie KT Abraham’s observation now made some sense;   perhaps those slow-moving caps on the 10th were covering tanks moving north by the western route?   Our own load or the nature of our targets did not show much change.   However, for the first time in this war, one of our photo recce missions  met with air opposition.    Dada Deshmukh and RRJ Dass had gone for a photo cum visual recce sortie near Kasur over the Ichhoigal canal.   They were on their recce task  when a pair of F86 were spotted.   The Su7 mission was being escorted by a pair of Gnats.   The Gnats immediately engaged the Sabres.   The War Diary records the escort leaders report in these words.

 “I was detailed to escort Msn. No. 573 (S-22 A/C). M 573 was on the photo recce run when the SU warned us of bogies 8 miles at 11 o’clock. At this time a turn was thrown onto reciprocal. As I rolled out behind M 573, I saw a Sabre approx 8 o’clock. I immediately turned left for them and at the same time warned M 573. I maneuvered behind the Sabre in a turn and was closing in when I was warned by my No. 2 that another Sabre was closing in behind me. I pulled up to port and came behind my No. 2 who was closing in behind the second Sabre. He called gun stoppage and broke off. Then I closed in behind that Sabre and fired a approx 1 ½ sec burst. I continued behind the AC and pressed the trigger again but guns had stopped firing. Just as I was about to disengage, I saw the Sabre dropping its tanks. I feel that I have damaged the AC.” 

 So, the only chance of a kill that came about for the Wolf Pack slipped out of their hands because of the inherent problem of gun stoppage in the Gnat; what a pity.   Once the air opposition was taken care of, Dada and his wingman found a target on the junction of Ichhoigal and UpperBadi Doaab canals, off loaded their ordnance and came back home.

 While we were rolling along with our routine activities at Halwara by the evening of the 13th, other important events were taking place elsewhere.   In the east,   the air dropped battalion group was making rapid progress towards Dacca from the north by passing all prepared defences of the Pakistan Army.    The IV Corps Heli-bridge operation having gone well, they too were approaching Dacca from the east at a rapid pace.   Taking of Dacca, which was originally thought to be improbable, was looking increasingly possible, perhaps imminent.   The American 7th Fleet were approaching the Malacca Straights.    In the South, the Archers lost their CO, my dear friend Harsharan Gill, on a raid over Badin from Jamnagar.   For me personally this loss was a very personal one and it hurt.  General Bewoor, the commander of the southern army,  had just permitted Swai Bhawani Singh to take his 10 Para Commandos deep inside Sindh and take as much land as in his wisdom would be possible.   Bhawani had immediately set his goals high.     All these were of course fine.    Faint rumours of American intervention were disconcerting.   The Pakistan Air Force had more or less given up operations by night.   At Halwara we slept undisturbed that night.

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