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Friday, December 8, 2023

IPKF -13; The Curates Egg- My Style of Command


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In continuation with the series on the book “Valiant Deeds Undying Memories” co-authored by veterans Lieutenant Colonel Atul Kochhar and Lieutenant Colonel BR Nair, we bring to you the second extract, showcasing the unique personality of late Brig Manjit Singh, MVC who was instrumental in cracking Jaffna, with his brigade in Oct 87, when IPKF was bogged down in the face of unprecedented opposition against a cunning enemy.

 The book is available on Amazon and Flipkart as paperback and as an e- book.

Valiant Deeds, Undying Memories: The Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, Op Pawan









To read all parts of IPKF: Curates Egg series:


The Indian peace keeping force in Sri Lanka- A curate’s egg?


The Curates Egg: IPKF and Indo Sri Lanka Accord of 29 July 1987 (Part 2)


IPKF -3: The Curates Egg-Turn of the Tide (Jaffna Medical University Helidrop)

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IPKF curates egg – Part 4


IPKF 5,The Curates Egg; Warriors of a lesser God?


IPKF 6- The Curates Egg: The Hurt Locker(s)

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IPKF 7-The Curates Egg “The Veer Naari”


IPKF 8 -The Curate’s Egg-Author interview “Valiant Deeds Undying Memories.”


IPKF 9, Curates Egg  – The “Flaming” Controversy

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IPKF 10 -the Ukraine – Russia conflict, a Jaffna redux?


IPKF -11, Slava Ukraine!


IPKF -12, The Curates Egg; The forgotten war


IPKF -13; The Curates Egg- My Style of Command -

“Valiant were their Deeds,Undying be their Memories .” The Overall Force Commander ,Lt Gen AS Kalkat, offers tributes to the 1200 braves of this operation  at the National War Memorial on 29 Jul 21 .So far the veterans of Op Pawan, have been commemorating the braves of this war  privately  ,in the absence of formal recognition of Op Pawan ,unlike the  Kargil War and the 1971 War .These are the only two wars ,officially commemorated by the Indian establishment at the NWM annually.The Sri Lankan Govt had recognised the valour and contribution , of the IPKF by constructing a memorial way back in 2008 , near Colombo. much before Indian Army constructed a memorial in Bhopal in 2014.A request by veterans of the IPKF, to the former Army Chief ,Gen Naravane ,to annualy honour both the braves  of IPKF and the 1962 Indo China  War ,has gone largely unheeded, inspite of a commitment by the Army Chief  to address all aspects of the rightfully denied legacy of these two  operations.


Episode -2 (Chapter 3 of Book, contributed and narrated   by Brigadier BK Unnikrishnan)

“Did you see that eye? I trust that man to do it, but I wouldn’t want to serve under him” (Hitler sharing views on General Model with his staff officer, in the crucial stages in 1941 during Second WW, after hearing a sharp response and vehement assertion by Gen Model “Great firmness would be necessary to save the German army from destruction”)

Late Brigadier Manjit Singh exemplified this quality more than any other senior officer in Op Pawan.

IPKF -13; The Curates Egg- My Style of Command -

History is replete with examples of tough commanders who were respected by their men. In ancient times in fact, it was known fact that the effective soldier was one who was more scared of his own officers, rather than the enemy! Scores of anecdotes abound about the toughness of late Brigadier Manjit Singh, MVC. He had been handpicked and side stepped as Commander 41 Brigade, by the then Chief General Sunderji, to crack the LTTE, after the disastrous heli landing  on Jaffna University on  11 October 87.

Indeed, Brig Manjit was not one to suffer fools gladly. He would tick off anyone at will, if he felt he was not up to the mark. Colonel N Venugopal of 13 Sikh LI who served as his GSO 3 and officiating brigade major, recalled his pragmatism and his deep interest in routine administration and concern for the soldier. In operations, he asked the radio operator to put a slip in the battery, and keep a record of usage i.e. commencement and closure of use every day. One day in a week he asked the camp commandant to close the langar (cook house) to give rest to cooks. For 12 hours, we had to survive on emergency ration like “shakar para” (emergency improvised hard ration made of jaggery) his favourite. And if we tried to get the cooks to make anything, we got jacked big time. Kambalimath the camp commandant, would come every morning for his daily report wearing his helmet and sweating profusely down his chin straps. Another officer recalled:

“I had the opportunity of meeting Brigadier Manjit Singh in the thick of Op Pawan in hot spot Vavuniya at HQ 72 Inf Brigade HQ, where I was then posted as GSO3 (Intelligence). The overall environment was tense. We had moved to Vavuniya after initial reverses. We had lost our deputy commander, 13 Sikh LI had lost a platoon with their company commander, in the unsuccessful Jaffna University operation, 4/5 GR had lost their senior leadership including the CO. Despite being a first-time meeting and the adverse situation, he was spontaneous in his warmth and his regimental spirit was evident as we spent some time in discussion. During my tenure I interacted with many formation commanders and most of them avoided road travel beyond the confines of areas of responsibility. And when done, it was devoid of tell-tale star plates, car flags etc.”

“However, on conclusion of the operational interaction, Brigadier Manjit Singh drove back to his brigade HQ in Killinochi about 70 Kms away, in full uniform in his jonga with star plates and car flag fluttering, without any escort or road opening. I am sure that the LTTE was also surprised and taken aback! Op Pawan was a great eye opener of human nature, conduct of the unsung soldier, raw courage and real examples of going the extra mile, as well as glaring omissions. Indeed, an unforgettable experience. I can never forget the interaction with Brigadier Manjit Singh, for generations to come.”

The “Sparrow” (signal officers nick name) was Manjit’s favourite target. A call drop, and he had to come running to the office for an explanation.

Major General Anil Malik himself an Op Pawan veteran commented on Brig Manjit who was also his CO in 11 JAK LI earlier as under:

“Manjit had two distinct personalities. In office and out of it. The professional personality must use all instruments to run an effective organisation. He could not care one bit for rules and regulations. All because you could not point a finger at him for wrong doing financially. He was above board. When you are so, you have no reason to fear anyone. In one inspection, he saw no curtains in the unit. We placed a demand for flags. Authorised mainly to the artillery. But he knew how to do it. We got a huge quantity of cloth of various colours. Curtains were there now. He had a risk-taking profile that no one can dream of in today’s career-oriented Services. He held on to regimental funds like a snake. Explore every other way before asking for a sanction from him!”

Brig Unnikrishanan recalls various facets of this unique soldier- leader, whose brigade was instrumental in cracking Jaffna in the face of severe opposition by LTTE. He also relates the critical role of electronic warfare, which was emerging as a source of real time information, and occasionally augmenting the communication in pitched battles, when regular radio set communication failed.


A Tribute to Late Brigadier Manjit Singh, MVC a Unique Leader – Brigadier BK Unnikrishnan

I came to know Brig Manjit Singh, MVC initially when he was the deputy commander of an independent infantry brigade, and I was the OC Signal Company of the same brigade in Udhampur (1983-85) for one month. Later I got sidestepped, but remained in close touch with the brigade headquarters. I remember him as a lively person, and a good host with whom I could get along well.

A few years later, I was CO 12 Field Sub Group, a unit of an electronic warfare group located at Delhi. I got orders to move this unit in 48 hours to Sri Lanka (from Palam to Palaly) with the freedom to take whatever I wanted that could possibly fit into an IL-76. No one briefed me about the situation or tasks. Having reached Jaffna, I reported to the Colonel GS of 54 Infantry Division. He also couldn’t give any useful inputs, but he put me through to the Chief Signal Officer, Southern Command who asked me to go to Jaffna Fort and deploy there. The colonel GS arranged three vehicles and two guides from 9 Para Commando to take us to the fort that night.

1 Maratha LI welcomed us in the fort. During our interaction, the CO, Colonel TPS Brar (later Lieutenant General) gave me a small Japanese ICOM radio set that was unserviceable. My foreman repaired the device, and we started using it to intercept the LTTE radio communications. This device was best suited for our task and on my request, my group commander managed to procure and deliver the first consignment of five imported ICOMs within 4 days! I wish to highlight the fact that we were ill prepared to start with but we found innovative solutions day by day. Electronic Warfare is a cerebral exercise for the commander. I found Manjit willing to listen, discuss and experiment. And he could employ EW imaginatively. He was brilliant! I’ll come to that later.

I was in a signal intelligence unit, which used to share some valuable information with the brigade on LTTE activities and movements from time to time, formalised as dissemination of tactical signal intelligence to a local formation. Needless to say, Manjit and I had a fair amount of professional interaction those days.

Let me go back in time to our initial deployment in the fort. LTTE had developed an agile communication system, based on VHF and HF radio. As we started interception of LTTE communications, the heat of simmering hostility was evident. Our detachments in the fort were able to intercept LTTE communications, yielding substantial tactical signal intelligence and combat information. From sporadic incidents of violence, to sudden collapse of peace keeping, was a situation that IPKF was unprepared for. The fort came under fire and was isolated by the LTTE. It was an effective siege, and day by day the Tigers were gaining an upper hand. We had radio communication with Headquarters 54 Infantry Division, but no physical move to and fro by road or by air. It was a piquant situation that soon deteriorated to become embarrassing to the Indian Army, to say the least.

That’s the time, I got the information about the induction of 41 Infantry Brigade and the impending link up. I came to know about Brigadier Manjit Singh’s brigade facing stiff opposition during the advance from Palaly to the fort.

That brings me to the day Manjit linked up and my meeting with him in the operations room of 1 Maratha Light Infantry. The atmosphere was tense, officers talking in hushed tones while awaiting the commander. Manjit walked in looking left and right and moving forward slowly in a dazed state, his combat dress full of blood and sweat, Colonel TPS Brar smiled but did not introduce me. I stepped forward and wished Manjit, though he looked at me, but moved ahead without response even as I thought he recognised me, but felt it inappropriate to seek his attention. I stepped aside and kept watching what was going on. My 2iC, Major Shankar Murthy was also present. Soon we got to know about Manjit’s plight. Yes, he could link up with a handful of troops after suffering heavy casualties. Yes, it was a great feat but the commander had lost contact with the bulk of his brigade including the headquarters, which not only robbed the sheen of victory but also caused immense distress, loss of face and embarrassment. I could make out the impact of communication failure that screwed up command and control! I sensed an opportunity to step in and be of help. In the next few minutes, I got in touch with Captain Venugopal, GSO 3 Operations, who had been accompanying the Commander. His radio set was not functional, but he had the presence of mind and wisdom to share with me the frequencies of B1 (brigade) and battalion nets. I asked Shankar to rush to our electronic warfare command post, and search for the radio nets. I went to Brig Manjit and told him as much even as he listened. And his sharp response was to order the entire brigade to reach the fort. While I was talking to Manjit, I got a message from Shankar, that he could contact B1 (the radio net of a brigade HQ). I told Shankar to convey the commander’s orders to the brigade majors and COs. Brig Manjit was excited and asked me whether he could speak on the radio. I took him in my jeep to our radio detachment. On the way we stopped at my den for Brig Manjit to discard his combat dress, and wear my sports shorts and T-shirt. At the detachment, Shankar gave him the hand set and the tiger roared! He thundered his orders. He was visibly relieved, and quickly regained composure. He had tea with my boys in the electronic warfare command post and thanked everyone. He requested me to keep the communication going through the night and I accepted the challenge.

The brigade arrived in the fort next day morning. Sheer courage, dogged determination and unwavering pursuit of his objective despite strong opposition and devastating losses! Manjit arrived as a war hero!

Brigadier Manjit Singh passed away in January 2020, mourned by colleagues, seniors and subordinates, alike, who regarded his leadership with awe, in trying circumstances, for which he was awarded MVC, during Op Pawan.

[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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