7 Nov 2014

‘The Garud Strikes’

Book Review

‘The Garud Strikes’ (By Mukul Deva)

I have just finished reading ‘The Garud Strikes’ by Mukul Deva.

 For those of you who like reading books, especially war stories, here is a book full of very scary arty fire on each page, blood, gore and testosterone. I strongly recommend that you read, and even make your grandchildren read this book. Afterwards sing ‘Laye Hain Toofan Se Kishti  Nikalke’. It is an ‘un-put-down-able’ story of 4 Guards, in 1971 liberation war, who inched their way nonstop from the mud and marsh beyond Agartala to Dacca in 16 days, fighting the Pakis at each step and each minute, in a full blooded war, often without food and water. Or taking a pee.

Mukul Deva is Ex NDA, Golf 59th from 14 Sikh Li. The book is promoted by Jane Himmeth Singh, the ‘Grand Dame’ of the regiment of Guards.

In my humble opinion, books on military history are usually served on a platter like a week old Butter Chicken, unpalatable. But Mukul has invented a different style, he is not the one who is narrating the story, he is simply the typist. He makes the protagonists tell the story, as it was, when the falcon, 4 Guards (Garud), flew  from Agartala, Akhaura, Arahand, Ujjainisar, Sultanpur, Brahmanbaria, Ashuganj, Raipur, Methikanda, Narsingdi, bypassing all Paki defences, all the way to ‘Adamjee Mill Complex’ on the banks of the Lakhiya river, at Nagar Kachpur, within 3” mortar range of Dacca. Mukul has neither taken the lime light, nor distorted factual account of that war, has he left it to the protagonists to tell it as it was. He has not tried to create history, he has simply typed out a very exciting story of blood sweat and tears, fears and follies in war, just as it happened. So who are the protagonists from 4 Guards who narrates this story in a funny, sad, virile but very modest manner ?

The story is told first hand by effervescent ‘Paunchy’ (then 28 yrs old), A-Coy Cdr & 2 i/c of 4 Guards, ‘Grandhi’ (then 24) B-Coy Cdr,  ‘Tuffy’ (then 27) D-Coy Cdr, ‘Glucose‘ (then 23) the Adjutant, and a horde of other legends in this drama, right down to the junior most Lance Nks, and ‘Sahayaks’, war widows, even hordes of locals from Mukti Bahini whom Mukul interviewed over a period of two years to  put this book together, goaded by Jane Himmeth Singh, whose late husband was ‘Tiger’ 4 Guards in 71 and remained a Tiger till he retired as Cmdt NDC. Himmeth (then 43) looms as a man with long shadows, omni present and omni potent, during the 16 days that they took to change the course of war from limited offensive to liberation and creation of a new country, ‘Bangla Desh’.

The protagonists, as well as Mukul, modestly hasten to add that 4 Guards did not win the Liberation war singlehandedly, that it was a collective effort of the Army, Navy & IAF. At a macro level the nation too viewed it that way, reason why Himmeth himself got only a ‘Mention In Despatches’. Even more incredulous is that the Corps Cdr Gen Sagat Singh who made the Liberation happen, with utter disregard to Nelson like limited vison of his peers and superiors, Sagat simply got a ‘Wound Medal’ !! However, the young men under the watchful eye of the Garud and Himmeth, they won two VrCs, two SMs and 4 ‘Mention-In-Despatches’ for their significant role in the Liberation War which killed many guardsmen, wounded many of their officers and men. It is the story of their fight with incredible valour, pure guts, even when the Paki tanks charged them. 4 Guards cannot be denied their rightful place in in Valhalla, even if the country did not give Garud his due.

These were the men who, when caught up in extraordinary circumstances, displayed exemplary courage and unfaltering devotion to duty’, Mukul says in his author’s note. ‘When the push came to shove, they unfailingly rose to the occasion, with complete disregard for life and limb’. The incident of how Himmeth’s ‘Sahayak’ snatched Himmeth’s hand away from an arty shell, in turn severely wounding his own hand, makes me agree with Mukul whole heartedly. How Himmeth be mourns the incident for years, speaks volumes about the camaraderie that exist between Officers & Men in the Indian army. ‘It is hard for someone who has not been in battle, who has not seen blood and mangled bones, not been assaulted by the stench of death, who has not had a comrade die in their arms, to understand what wars can do to a man’, Mukul says rightly, a soldier speaking from his heart, reason enough for everyone to read this book. The book tells you more.

For those who were too young to know about this war, I quote London’s Sunday Times dtd 12 Dec 1971 (from the book), four days before Paki surrender, ‘It has taken only 12 days for the Indian army to smash its way to Dacca, an achievement reminiscent of the German blitzkrieg across France in 1940. The strategy was the same; speed, ferocity and flexibility’. 4 Guards story perhaps is an indicator of the speed, ferocity and flexibility’, there was no stopping them. The Garud story is funny and makes you laugh, it is also sad and makes you cry, but it tickles your cockles and fills your chest with incredible pride. Makes you want to feel young again, makes you want to go out there and to crawl through the mud, swim through a hundred water obstacles, be beaten to death by artillery, crushed and mauled by tanks, go without food and water, all of it just to say, ‘I was part of the finest bunch of guardsmen created by God and Garud’.

For the Air Force, this is a must read, especially the yeoman service rendered by the FAC, just 19 and still a ‘Pitot Tube’. It gives an in-depth understanding of the importance of close air support, why or how the ‘boots on ground’ needs the unstinting support of Air Power. Jane doesn’t like the expression ‘boots on ground’, she prefers to call it the ‘bayonet end’, I quite agree after reading the book !!

The highlight of this story is the Meghna air lift, the largest heli-borne operations ever undertaken in war. The basic Paki defensive strategy was based on the belief that a threat from 4 Corps in the east was limited, due to major water obstacles, especially the wide swath and oxbow lakes of Meghna river, which made Dacca unassailable and safe. That perhaps was the perception of Indian army too, reason why 4 Corps and Gen Sagat Singh was initially given only a limited offensive role in 71 war and the major Indian thrust was from the North and West. But Sagat had a visible character trait that perhaps was not understood either by Pakis or the Indian army. Much like Guderian, Rommel and Patton, he was a General who had a track record of jabbing at the juggler, he was a ‘rapid manoeuvre and vertical envelopment man’ from the Paras.  Besides he had an incredible game changer; ten Mi-4s of 110 Helicopter Unit, based in Kumbhigram (Silchar).

In those years, any helicopter unit could barely have 50% fully operational machines, or pilots, to field for any operation. Their motto was ‘Apatstu Mitram’ and hence, by doctrine or training they were really not men of war, and not too eager for eye ball contact with the enemy. But Sagat had another game changer right beside him, then Gp Capt Chandan Singh, a man with the same ‘do or die’ bent of mind as Sagat. Though the Air HQ and Eastern Air Command had decreed before the commencement of hostilities that the helicopters of 110 could at best be used for causality evacuation or barely heli-lift a company strength in or out of non-hostile area, both Sagat and Chandan had other plans. Chandan waved his magic wand. Sqn Ldr Sandhu and his boys of 110 turned from pupa to butterfly, did a ‘Bulbo’ (getting all their 10 machines airborne simultaneously, a unique feat), and moved into enemy territory right alongside Sagat, leading 4 Corps. Two more Mi-4s from 105 joined them.

Wave after wave, in a nonstop 24 hours operation, 12 Mi-4s flew to and fro between Brahmanbaria stadium in East Pak, right across the oxbow lakes of Meghna, deep into enemy held territory, to an open cultivated field in Raipur, right adjacent to the enemy deployments in Methikanda, first inducting A-Coy to hold ground and then the entire battalion of 4 Guards. As 4 Guards over-ran Methikanda and Narsingdi, the heli-borne operations became bolder and the landing sites went further forward, towards Narsingdi, airlifting an armada of almost a Division.  What is really amazing is that the entire heli-borne operation was an impromptu improvisation in the heat of the battle, and not a well thought out or rehearsed military manoeuvre. Not at that time.

The Meghna heli-lift is what changed the course of war, by 9 Dec 71, just 9 days from the time 4 Guards crossed the border.  Dacca now became an achievable objective. The initial Indian war plan of limited objectives now changed to the total capture of East Pakistan, surprising every one including the Pakis. At the vanguard of this heli-borne armada was A Coy of  4 Guards, led by Paunchy. And the day Paunchy went across and set up harbour for the heli-borne armada at Raipur, way behind the Paki 14 Inf Div at Bhairab Bazar and the formidable fortress at Ashugunj, Pakis as good as lost the war. Paunchy is a Rimcolian and from NDA (F/24th). He won a VrC.

Rest is history, well told by the Guardsmen who fought that war.

I request that you don’t down load this story on Kindle, or buy the book online. Call, or write  a sweet note  to Jane  97998 26561 / garudstrikes@gmail.com,  and pay Rs 495 to ‘Lt Gen Himmeth Singh Trust, Acct No. 001201016930, ICICI Bank Ltd, Shreeji Towers, C-99, Subhash Marg, C-Scheme, Jaipur-302001, IFSC Code  :  ICIC0000012.

Why must you pay Jane Rs 495 when you could get this book cheaper on internet ? For that you have to read the heart wrenching stories of Kailashi who became a widow at 16, Pushpa Devi widowed at 13, a score of other such gallant guardswomen, at the end of  the book. The money will be benevolently spent by ‘Himmeth Singh Trust’ for the welfare of widows and those who need compassion and support. I bought not one, but five books, Rs 2475. I not only had the pleasure of reading an exciting war story, but also felt good that I did something for the disabled and war widows.  If we don’t look after our own kin, who do you think would ?