Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Courage Under Fire - I

It was the 14th of December 1971, a little over 39 years ago. Many of my generation cannot forget that year however. A war was on.

At 8 am on that fateful day, the outlying OPs (observation posts) just outside the Srinagar airfield flashed a warning about an incoming air raid by Pakistani F-85 Sabre jets. A young Sikh Officer Nirmaljit, and his fellow fighter pilot Ghumman -both Gnat pilots,  were scrambled to intercept the incoming strike. Ten precious seconds were lost in getting ATC clearance which never came. Both pilots took off - four minutes after the first OP warning, and just when the first of the incoming Sabres was commencing its dive over the airfield.

Ghumman was the first to become airborne followed by Nirmaljit, who almost immediately was out of visual contact of the ATC, obscured by the dust and smoke thrown up by the exploding Pakistani bombs.

By now, Nirmaljit was overcome totally with raw courage. There were six sabres and he decided to take them on, while still alone. Ghumman tried in vain to assist him, but could not be vectored onto Nirmal's position due to bad visibility.

All along Nirmal kept the ATC abreast with the action. He got behing two Sabres, and before long let out a gunburst, shooting down one of the enemy aircraft.

Next he engaged two more aircraft starting a chase in a wide circle. Howeve, five Sabres were too much for a lone Gnat. For not one moment though, did Nirmal let that thought cross his mind, that he was completely overcome by sheer numbers.

The ATC heard a Gnat gun burst, followed by a short gun busrt from the Sabre, and again a very long Sabre gun burst.

'I think I've been hit' was Nirmal's last radio transmission from his Gnat.

His plane crashed soon after. Flying Offier Nirmaljit Singh lost his life valiantly fighting against overwhelming odds.

For his supreme valour in the face of the enemy, Flg Officer Sekhon was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, the only awarded ever, to an Air Force Officer.

Nimaljit Singh Sekhon was only 26 years old when he laid down his life for his Country. When he died, he and his wife Manjit Kaur had been married for only a few months.

On the 38th anniversary of the 1971 Bangladesh War, let us salute this brave young officer, and promise ourselves, never to forget the likes of him. 

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