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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Military digest: First Indian officer paratrooper

Colonel Rangaraj was awarded a well-deserved Maha Vir Chakra for his leadership during Operation Tomahawk.

Written by Mandeep Singh Bajwa |
May 2, 2020 3:55:17 pm
Lieutenant Colonel AG Rangaraj, MVC in Korea Lieutenant Colonel AG Rangaraj, MVC in Korea

In July, Lieutenant Colonel AG Rangaraj will be honoured in South Korea as the Korean War (1950-53) Hero of the month. Born in 1916 and hailing from Tamil Nadu, he was an officer of the Indian Medical Service (incorporated in the Army Medical Corps when it was raised in 1943). Upon raising of the first Indian paratrooper unit, 152 Parachute Battalion he was posted as the unit’s medical officer and became the first Indian officer to qualify as a paratrooper.

In 1950 the government decided against sending combat troops to form part of the United Nations forces fighting in Korea. Instead, 60 Parachute Field Ambulance, an integral unit of 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade was sent to provide medical cover. In Korea they formed part of the 1st Commonwealth Division along with British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand troops. By all accounts their services were of the highest order.

Lieutenant AG Rangaraj about to take his first parachute jump, 1941

The highpoint of the unit’s tenure was when it provided medical cover to the US Army’s 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team during Operation Tomahawk in March 1951. It was intended to trap large numbers of Chinese and North Korean forces between the Han and Imjin Rivers north of Seoul. Twelve members of 60 Parachute Field Ambulance jumped along with American paratroopers. Two Maha Vir Chakras, one bar to Vir Chakra and six Vir Chakras were awarded to members of the unit.

The unit was also awarded citations from the US and South Korean Army Chiefs and commendations from their parent formation, 1st Commonwealth Division. The twelve unit personnel who participated in the airborne operation were presented with the American Parachutist Badge. On their return to India, 60 Para Field Ambulance was awarded the President’s Trophy by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 10th March 1955 at Agra, the first one of its kind and the only one to date. The troops of the unit were also awarded twenty-five Mentioned-in-Despatches.

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Colonel Rangaraj was awarded a well-deserved Maha Vir Chakra for his leadership during Operation Tomahawk. 60 Parachute Field Ambulance did the country proud with its performance treating over two lakh casualties during the war.

Air Marshal Randhir Singh, VrC wearing his uniform after retirement at an IAF function.

Randhir’s Air Force

In 1971, personnel of Adampur air base near Jalandhar took pride in calling themselves Randhir’s Air Force (RAF). Such was the impact of their tough, no-nonsense commander, Air Commodore Randhir Singh. A World War Two and 1947-48 Jammu & Kashmir War (when he won the Vir Chakra) veteran, Randhir brought a new energy and urgency to the station as he prepared it for war. Adampur was tasked with the air defence of Central Punjab and providing close air support in a wide swathe of territory stretching from Sialkot to Lahore. It was home to 26 and 101 Squadrons flying Sukhoi-7s and No. 1 Squadron with Mig-21FLs. SAM-2 missiles protected the base from marauders.

Besides paying attention to all aspects of operations, flying, training and preparation for war Randhir ensured the security of the base and made strenuous counter-intelligence efforts. All local representatives and opinion-makers in the areas surrounding the airfield were addressed by him and exhorted to report on suspicious persons in their villages. The vigilance paid off. In late October a Pakistani sleeper agent with a high-powered transmitter was apprehended.

Air Marshal Randhir Singh is pictured standing, second from right.

Air Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau now ran a carefully orchestrated sting operation to feed disinformation to the enemy. The strength of the air defences including surface-to-air missiles, L-70 guns and combat air patrols was magnified. Subtle but unmistakeable emphasis was laid on the formidable nature of the protective layers surrounding the base. The result was that Adampur was left alone by the enemy throughout the war. A very successful intelligence coup!

Moreover, the spy revealed that his instructions were to be relayed through the presence of certain words in the news bulletins of Radio Pakistan, Lahore. On 2nd December the code word for him to continuously man his wireless set for the next twenty-four hours was received. This meant that Pakistan was ready to launch an attack including a pre-emptive strike from the air. The warning was duly conveyed to Air Headquarters. Duly warned, the Air Force took adequate precautions to ensure that no aircraft were destroyed or damaged on the ground.

Randhir Singh ended his career as an Air Marshal commanding the Training Command in 1978.

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