By Lt. Col VC Khare (Retd.)
New Delhi. 13 April 2020. On 21 Oct 1962, I was watching a movie in Defence Cinema in Jullundur Cantt. Around 1930 hrs. The screening stopped with a cine slide ‘ALL MILTARY PERSONNEL REPORT TO YOUR UNITS IN UNIFORM IMMEDIATELY’
Those days EME Battalions were not formed. There was one CEME(Lt Col) XI Corps Troops and one ADEME(Lt Col) in HQ XI Corps.
I , Lt VC Khare, was then serving with 401 Inf Tps Workshop (XI Corps Tps), staying in the SOQ barracks at 11 The Mall Jullundur Cantt, also housing MINERVA ACADEMY, and owned a Lambretta Scooter. Went back and changed to report at the unit around 2000hrs. My OC, then Major MK Varam, too reached around the same time on his bicycle.
Workshop was allotted the task of lighting up Adampur airfield (Normally such tasks are performed by Engr Regiments which have 15 KVA Gensets authorized for lighting up Div Main and Rear) which did not have night landing facilities.
Our OI/C Ordnance Stores Section, then Lt PN Shukla, got two bins loaded in a Lorry 3 Ton 4×4 GS Ford, with all the bulbs (Head lamps, parking lights etc) in stock, holders and LT wire bundles. One 15 KVA LISTER genset was mounted in a trailer to be towed and two portable ONAM gensets, meant for workshop lorries were also loaded in the 3 Lorry Ton. All nine electricians, one JCO and a dedicated DR were placed under command. Wksp did’nt have any radio sets in its WE and no mobiles existed then.
Reached Adampur Air Field at about 2145 hrs to get a mouthful from Brig I/C Adm as to why arrived so late. 5 Inf Div, reportedly on the way and on- road, from Palampur to Adampur was to be airlifted to Tezpur.
Requirement was narrated to me by OI/C Air Traffic Control(ATC) to light up 1150 mtrs of runway with lamps, 6 mtrs apart, on both sides of LG. Electrical wire ( LT) availability in the bins was a 6 bundles (500mtrs) each, barely meeting the requirement.
No wire was to cross the LG. So scribbled request to the OC workshop to get another 15 KVA genset borrowed from adjoining 118 Inf Wksp Coy, then commanded by Major RS Attre, and sent it by the DR. Also requested removal of headelamp bulbs from 40 Nos first line vehicles in the MT yard, with holders, to be sent ASAP. Request was sent by DR to the unit in Jullundur Cantt..
I got down to wiring done from centre of runway running to ends on both sides. We ran short of insulation tapes; hence cuts and joints were hand twisted. One side of the airstrip was illuminated with bare bulbs about 10 ft from the tarmac. O/IC ATS approved the illumination on one side but said what about the other side ? He told me to keep the generator on but switch the lights off to be switched on when a siron is sounded. That is how requirement to illuminate airfield was to be communicated.
At 0130, my additional source requirement too had reached. My team got the airstrip illuminated using over 500 x12 Volt Headlamp bulbs powered by two 15 KVA gensets operating from both sides of the airstrips. Time by then was 0410.
I was feeling very happy patting my boys who had prepared some tea. Suddenly the siron rang at about 0505 hrs, we switched the lights on and I could see an aircraft approaching the LG.
The bird to land was Douglas C-124 Globemaster. It had landing lights on. As it touched down, catastrophy descended on our team. With the side thrust all my lose wiring got blown and the airstrip plunged into darkness. At that time there were another about six birds (Indian Airlines) circling to land.
And I got the juiciest abuses from GSO1 Ops.(Perhaps officers today will not tolerate that language).All landings had to be suspended till 0630, with first light at about 0600. We went about searching for bulbs with holders , some of which were scatterd over 50 mtrs from the tarmac edge.
Lighting system was restored by my boys by about 1000 hrs. This time by shallow burial of cables and bulbs in pits about 9 inches deep, dug by pick axe.
First aircraft with HQ 5 Inf Div took off by 0930 for same aircraft returning by 1500 hrs bringing back plane load of families from TEZPUR.
Management at the airport was a different story. (I was talking to the Captain of the Globemaster when ONE the ADC asked him if he could carry the commode for the General. The Captain without looking at him said ‘ I have hung a pendulum from the tail of the aircraft, which had nose wheel in front, the hold is open , I will carry troops and stores till the pendulum touches the ground and TWO he saw one NCO counting blankets in the cargo offloaded by the aircraft and asked to tell the NCO not to waste time since nothing would be found deficient in US dispatches….. I retorted by saying…he is doing his duty since material count is inherent in Indian store keeping )
For me, I had illuminated an operational airfield with 12 Volt battery headlamps. Operations continued for next four days, with about 40 aircrafts of different types taking off and landing every day, with my JUGAD and crude airfield night lighting facility airfield remained operational at night too..
Back in the unit after the mission, Officers and JCOs used to meet over tea at 1030 hrs every day. The experience was narrated by the JCO who worked with me to the group taking tea together. Second-in-Command, Capt MK Gopalakrishnan, then addressed me and said “your next task is to regularize 3500 mtrs of electrical cable being shown as loan by the Ordnance Stores Section” since moved out of their bin and received back in pieces as consumed. This was to ensure regularization in Audit since unit was on peace system of accounting. The JCO responded ‘ साब जी फिकर मत करो अगले दो महीने तक जो भी गाड़ी रिपेयर वास्ते औगी अस्सी 5-7 मीटर तार हर वर्क आर्डर विच बुक कर द्यांगे ‘ That material got liquidated in 2 months (Audit Requirement met). Mutilated wire pieces were back-loaded as scrap.
I was posted out in first week of Feb 1963. All craftsmen who worked on that task retired as JCOs including the DR. No citations used to be written in EME those days particularly at rank held by me then. There was no de-briefing at all. But that left me richer in experience which in my own mental rewind is matchless.
(Lt Col VC Khare (Retd.) is an Indian Army Veteran from the Corps of Electrical&Mechanical Engineers (EME). The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at [email protected])