Down the Memory Lane- My Vikrant Days
I do vaguely recall how we got into the frenzy of 1971 war. It was sometime in May 1971 when the Naval Squadrons INAS 300, SeaHawks and 310,Alizes returned to base in Goa after routine exercises in the Western Front. It was indeed at a short notice that we were directed to embark onboard INS Vikrant for a short spell, presumably for another Fleet Exercise. Hence I (like many of my squadron mates) took just a pair of uniform/dress and rushed back. After parking my newly purchased Ambassador car, outside 310 Squadron hangar, we got into the aircraft and took off, one after the other, least realising that we were in for the long haul.
Immediately after all aircraft of both Squadrons landed onboard , there was an announcement ‘Clear lower decks’. This meant that there was an important message to be passed down to one and all. The entire Ship's Company (which means all officers and sailors not on essential duties) were to assemble on the flight deck. While eagerly awaiting for the most important announcement, we observed a speck over the horizon, which turned out to be a helicopter approaching us.
After the helicopter landed on board, we saw Rear Admiral Kuruvila, then Flag Officer Commanding, Western Fleet, taking a brisk walk to the dais to make that historic announcement. If I recall, what he said with a poker-face, was somewhat like this (not verbatim), "Gentlemen, sorry to have called you back at such a short notice which was unavoidable due to political and military compulsions. War with Pakistan is inevitable and possibly imminent but at this juncture, I am not in a position to say anything more on that.But all that I can say now is just this that you are here to stay ( onboard INS Vikrant) till the war is over. When and how long, well, I leave to your imagination.” Wishing us 'Happy Hunting and Good Luck ', he left before a stunned audience could gather its composure. However, after the initial flurry of excitement , it was business as usual, day and night flying , planning and preparing for the 'D' day, which took six long months thereafter. Ultimately, when the war was over and we finally returned to Dabolim (Goa)our base in Jan 1972, after eight months at sea, to my dismay, I found my car,my proud possession, reduced to be a total wreck, being exposed to the vagaries of the torrential heavy rains of the South West Monsoon. It took a few months and all of my hard-earned savings to get her back on road, since insurance did not cover such an eventuality! However, in retrospect, no regrets at all, considering what we could achieve during those eventful days and being privileged to be part of a legendary victory , worthy to be etched in Golden letters in the annals of our maritime history. During this period of anxiety and uncertainty, despite being mentally and physically exhausted, I should say that no one complained or 'reported sick'. What more, no one felt insecure, thanks to Mother's care and concern. For us , INS Vikrant was not just a chunk of steel or just a shelter to live, but she had a 'soul' of her own, and in her we had always found a caring mother, anxiously awaiting for our safe return. A bond developed over the long periods of our association. Especially during war, when there were so much of restrictions, with total electronic silence imposed, after every gruelling mission, finding one's way back to Mother over the vast expanse of the sea with no beacon, radar, navigation aids (neither there were any deck lights & land-marks to guide us till the final call), itself was a demanding task. However, we had reposed full faith not only in the professional skill of each air crew chosen for the task, but also in the care and comfort we received,from our Logistic and tech support team, once back in her lap. It was such a huge sense of physical and emotional security we derived, the solace and soothing experience that words could seldom define.
It is all about emotions, pride, attachments, comradeship and selfless service. But that is what a soldier’s life is all about and what makes them stand out as a different lot.
R Adm Santosh Kumar Gupta, MVC