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Friday, December 8, 2023

IPKF -12, The Curates Egg; The forgotten war


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The current intervention by Ukraine and the failing Sri Lankan economy have revised interest in this forgotten operation in Sri Lanka 35 years later. The valor and the courage of the soldiers in this operation is still spoken about, however the decision to intervene made by the political regime, remains questionable. No doubt there were strong reasons for India to intervene, but the manner in which the entire operation was managed, left much to be desired.  An accord was signed between then PM Rajiv Gandhi, and President J.R Jayewardene on 29 July 87, where Indian peace keeping forces were sent to Sri Lanka to eradicate Tamilians turned militants- LTTE operating in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. IPKF was required to oversee the situation and make the militant groups surrender their arms. Instead, other militant groups surrendered their arms, except LTTE, which led to widening conflict. Eventually, the Indian Peace Keeping Force, had to be inducted in order to take over Jaffna from LTTE.

Several incidents, battle field accounts and snippets have come to light, ever since the operation ended in 1990. Our brave men, fought at a time of great politico -military flux, without proper equipment, and even scarcer resources. Recently books, webinars have started to appear as more soldiers/veterans came out with their experiences in Sri Lanka, during Operation Pawan. Col RS Bhadaurias account was one such example. These brave men, fought a thankless war, and now seek proper national commemoration / tribute for their fellow 1300 soldiers, who made the supreme sacrifice. A veteran group with help of former VCOAS, Lt Gen Milan Naidu has taken up the cause of the IPKF veterans with the former Army Chief MM Naravane, who had promised a rightful place to the braves of this war.

To read all part of IPKF series:

Part 1https://goachronicle.com/the-indian-peace-keeping-force-in-sri-lanka-a-curates-egg/

Part 2https://goachronicle.com/the-curates-egg-ipkf-and-indo-sri-lanka-accord-of-29-july-1987-part-2/

Part 3https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-3-the-curates-egg-turn-of-the-tide-jaffna-medical-university-helidrop/

Part 4https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-curates-egg-part-4/

Part 5https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-5the-curates-egg-warriors-of-a-lesser-god/

Part 6https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-6-the-curates-egg-the-hurt-lockers/

Part 7https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-7-the-curates-egg-the-veer-naari/

Part 8https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-8-the-curates-egg-author-interview-valiant-deeds-undying-memories/

Part 9https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-9curates-egg-the-flaming-controversy/

Part 10https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-10-the-ukraine-russia-conflict-a-jaffna-redux/

Part 11https://goachronicle.com/ipkf-11-slava-ukraine/

“The Forced Awakening” -by Col RS Bhadauria, the opening chapter, extracted from the book Valiant Deeds, Undying Memories, by Veterans, Lt Col Atul Kochhar and Lt Col BR Nair is a recount of an important operation, which could not fully achieve all its aims. The event, a Heli landing, to seize key LTTE strongholds and destroy their top leadership took place on 12th October 1987 in Jaffna .Below is the extract of the Heli landing account. The operation was a wake-up call to the Indian establishment and military to recalibrate its response to the LTTE challenge. Read on…

IPKF -12, The Curates Egg; The forgotten war - #IPKF, LTTE, The Curates Egg, The forgotten war
A depiction of the heliborne landing, Painting courtesy Lt Col Onkar Bapat

Episode 1 -The Forced Awakening

 12th October 1987 at 2:15 a.m.

The time now was 2.15 a.m. and the medium machine gun (MMG) section of 13 Sikh LI opened up vigorously, to silence the enemy fire. I had by now switched on the night vision device and mounted it on my head. I got behind the LMG, when to my horror, I saw a group of militants rushing in as reinforcement from the left side of the building.  I spoke to my team commander, Major Rajiv Nair, (Georgian ex Dholpur) if I could move ahead and intercept the LTTE cadres. He, as it turned out, wisely declined permission, as taking own casualty at this stage would impede the main operation, even as we continued engaging them from our present location.

At 3.15 a.m. we had decided to move out of the landing area as no further helicopter sorties were planned. We asked Major Virendra Singh (13 Sikh LI) to accompany us, but he declined, saying he had orders from his CO, that as the distance was only four kms the latter would link up with them by first light(daybreak). These valiant men of 13 Sikh LI with Major Virendra Singh fought to the last man last round on that football ground, till 11.30 a.m. on 12 October.

Later, Sepoy Gora Singh was the only survivor, who was captured alive the next day, and repatriated when exchange of prisoners took place, and the Indian Army handed over “Kittu” their commander back to the LTTE. Gora Singh had an interesting tale to narrate. He was asked by LTTE to train them, in use of the dreaded and effective 84 mm rocket launcher (RL), however he was not familiar with the weapon, so he declined, for which he was beaten up. He then consented to show them how to fire the weapon. He loaded the weapon and fired with whatever skill he could muster. To the horror of the LTTE, the militant standing behind the RL, during the demonstration was blown off, and incinerated due to the back blast (well defined conical danger area in the rear of the RL, where the flame and escaping gases are emitted after a round is fired. Usually, this area is to be left clear of humans or objects, during the operation of the weapon)

IPKF -12, The Curates Egg; The forgotten war - #IPKF, LTTE, The Curates Egg, The forgotten war
Caption – Op Kokkuvil

Our team moved ahead in the night, like ghosts. As we crossed the Jaffna railway line, we came across a communication tower where the team halted for some rest. I was asked by the second in command to destroy the communication setup. I took along one commando Havildar Shayar Singh to cover my move and managed to place the charges, but the igniter would not light, as a strong breeze had started. At a distance of 200 meters with the night vision we could see some LTTE movement. However, with a little effort we managed to light the wick and sprinted away. A minute and a half later, there were two blasts in succession and the communication setup of the LTTE in that area was destroyed /broken.

As we moved further, it was daybreak, but by then Major Rajiv Nair had contacted a middle-aged civilian & persuaded him to give us some information. He stated that there was a LTTE camp close to 300 meters from there, which had an approximate strength of 200 plus LTTE. We moved ahead and by then time was 7.10 a.m. The quiet stillness of the morning, was broken by the volley of enemy automatic fire and all hell broke loose. The fire opened up on us from three directions. When fire comes on you and if it does not hit you, what you hear is the direction of gun fire and possible smoke by day and flash of the gun fire by night. But you will rarely see the man, as he will always be is in a well concealed position. The fire was coming from coconut tree tops, which were apparently nesting a well concealed sniper. We immediately brought down retaliatory automatic fire on them, and firing seemed to stop briefly.

IPKF -12, The Curates Egg; The forgotten war - #IPKF, LTTE, The Curates Egg, The forgotten war
Op Kokuvil, the layout

By now our advance had come to a halt. I moved ahead to see what had happened. One Havildar Bhanwar Lal had been hit on the thigh and was lying in pain. Identifying the hut from which the fire had come, barely 70 metres from behind, I directed my rocket launcher to fire a salvo. Sure, enough there was no further fire from that direction, but one could hear the cries of women and children in pain.

We were now in a posh colony of Kokkuvil with well-lined houses on both sides of the 20 feet lane. As we moved ahead, we were subject to heavy fire again from a house 20 metres ahead. Self and the second in command sprinted to the door, firing our weapons, our boys tailing us, with the latter unable to fire as we were ahead of them. We got into the house, even as a man rushed at us. The fire from the second in commands carbine hit him directly on the chest at a distance of three feet and a jet of blood rushed out which spilled over on me too (The bullet had hit the main artery). We crouched ahead, clearing one room and then moving to the other. Every man or woman in that house was brought to the ground by fire. I exited the house from the rear. Intense fire was raining on us from all directions, it was by then 7.45 a.m. I turned back, ordering our troops to take cover, as we too had taken a few casualties.

(At the end of Op Kokkuvil encounter post link up, the Team of 10 Para Commando had lost six paratroopers. A Memorial in Jaffna stands mute testimony to the valiant braves.10 SF would earn three Vr C s including one posthumous, in this particular operation. Colonel RS Bhadauria earned a Mention in dispatch .Prabhakaran had a narrow escape being close to the SF area of operations   )

IPKF -12, The Curates Egg; The forgotten war - #IPKF, LTTE, The Curates Egg, The forgotten war
Good Bye comrades,” Reverse Arms”

Full account can be read in the book: Valiant Deeds, Undying Memories: The Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, Op Pawan- https://www.amazon.in/Valiant-Deeds-Undying-Memories-Keeping/dp/1684946158

Written by veterans Lt Col Atul Kochhar & Lt Col BR Nair .Book is also available in e format.

[author title=”Shefali Kochhar,” image=”http://goachronicle.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Screenshot_20210321-160233_LinkedIn.jpg”]Journalist, Goa Chronicle .

I am an entrepreneur who has tried her hands on various ventures like Electric Vehicle Charging Station , Online Retail Store / Trading and few more ventures. I have done my entrepreneurship from Amity University Noida.

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Shefali Kochhar
Shefali Kochhar
From politics to startups 'Reflecting light on issues that go unspoken about'

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