Lifelong Golden Voyage of an Indian Naval Hero of 1971 Bangladesh liberation War
Sometimes one life is good enough to fulfill the dreams and success to be cherished for generations to come. One such life is with defense. Today we will have an in-depth question answer with Bangladesh MUKTI Yuddha veteran, Mr. Uttam Kumar Chakravarty. Rank-Petty Officer worked as a photographer during the war.
Posted during the 1971 war in INS. Hansa/551Sqdn.Dabolim Airport, Goa/INS. Circars(Naval Intelligence office, Eastern Command headquarters.
He retired in the year 1980 from INS. India/Directorate of Naval Aviation (Naval Head Quarters, New Delhi.)
On the occasion of Navy Day, Pratyusha Mukherjee talked to this distinguished man behind the triumph of the tricolor in the 1971 war.
Q.1. As an Indian Naval Officer, how much importance do you attach to Navy Day?
Ans.1. According to my view, celebrating Navy day every year has great significance. First, to make the citizens aware of their country’s Naval power and their performance during the war as well as in peace.
During peace, the Navy is engaged in various activities like helping civil administration in maintaining law and order, disaster management and relief works, and looking after the smooth operation of maritime activities.
To pass on the past activities of the Navy to the new generation of the naval personnel.
Q.2. You have a practical experience of fighting both the Indo- Pak war in 1965 and the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 in the Eastern Theatre. 50 years of ’71 war will be completed on the 16th December 2021. How do you feel about it? Do you remember any memorable incident during that war?
Ans.2.During the 1965 war, I was posted in a ship INS. Kistna in the Western fleet of Bombay. While sailing away from Bombay towards Karachi, we were transferred to a ship INS. Trishul was undergoing a major fitment in the Bombay dockyard. So, we didn’t have much role during the 1965 war.
During the 1971 war I was posted at the Eastern Naval Command HQ, in Naval Intelligence office under the Naval Intelligence Officer Lt. Cdr. Nirmal Kumar Mukherjee, as a leading Photographer.
On 4th December at about 0300hrs.I was awakened by a Naval Policeman and informed me that he had been sent to carry me to a patrolling ship INS. Abhay urgently as per instructions from NIO. He also told me to carry a camera, flashlight, and sufficient films. The ship was ready to cast off from the jetty and as soon as I stepped onboard; the ship set sail for the sea.
The Commanding Officer of the ship called me and briefed me about the operation search and rescue of PNS. Gazi which had been sunk by our ship INS Rajput. A team of Divers was also present there. The visibility was very poor due to fog. So, we were unable to trace any sign of a sunken submarine. After searching for about two hours, the day dawned and the visibility also improved a lot and after some time we could see some oil floating on the water surface near the entrance of the harbor. The divers were lowered into the sea for searching and after about an hour they could trace the sunken submarine, which was in three pieces. Then the second team of the divers was sent to retrieve some broken parts of the submarine, the divers also retrieved some documents like submarine’s logbook, route charts, etc. From the documents retrieved it was confirmed that the sunken submarine was PNS Gazi.
Later on 8 dead bodies were brought onboard our ship. The body of the Captain of the submarine was also brought on board and a pocket diary was found in his shirt’s pocket. In which he wrote a message in the form of a poem to his mehbooba (Darling) that he going on a mission to India to destroy the Indian Navy’s Aircraft carrier Vikrant, else he would die in the war. Few coaches’ receipts of marketing of some vegetables like tomato, onion, coriander leaves, etc. from Madras were also found in a folder along with some other papers.
We were all surprised to see the marketing receipts. I took the photographers of all the items retrieved from the sunken submarine. We returned to the jetty in the evening. Thank God that we all returned safely. Where there was every possibility of an explosion of some of the mines they laid on the sea bed or some of the torpedoes they had onboard the submarine. On returning to the base, I was asked to develop the films immediately and make prints out of the negatives, and hand over those to the NIO.
It was indeed a remarkable day in my life which I shall cherish forever.
Q.3. You were posted for a long period in Goa during your Defence tenure and you were a very good Football and Hockey player. Any interesting and funny incident of the field you want to share?
Ans.3. Your question reminded me of a sweet memory of 1975-76. Those days they posted me at Dabolim Airport Goa at Tiger Squadron of the Naval Aviation. I used to take part in many sports, though Master of none. I used to play as a goalkeeper in our Goa Naval team. But by default, I became a Hockey Goalkeeper of the Goa Naval team. Those days, the Indian Army and Navy jointly organized a hockey championship in Goa to popularise the game of hockey in Goa.
Just before the tournament started, our Navy hockey team goalkeeper, who was a Sardarji, went on leave to attend his ailing father at Ludhiana and the standby goalkeeper was injured in a practice match. The hockey team was in jeopardy without their goalkeeper. The coach was a Mizo chap, namely Gracial. He knew that I was a football goalkeeper. Our football ground and hockey ground was side by side. We were practicing in our ground. Gracial came running to me and requested me to help him. I was surprised and asked him what was the matter. Then he narrated everything. I told him that I have never played hockey in my life and how could I play such an important tournament. Then he told me that leave it to me, I will make you fit to play only if I co-operate with him. Moreover, he said that it’s his as well as the Indian Navy’s prestige is at stake and I should help him. I have agreed reluctantly. From that very moment, he took to their ground which was just adjacent to our football ground. He made me to wear pads and gloves.
Those days there was no helmet. He taught me the rules of the games and gave me practice until it was dark. I adapted the game quickly but often used to miss the hit by the stick. I was not satisfied myself and told him that how could I play if miss most of the hits. Then he convinced me that since my diving and clearing the hits by my hand is perfect, so there won’t be much problem for not clearing the ball by hitting with the stick. He told me that I may clear the ball by kicking and also by scooping the ball by the stick, which I mastered by rigorous practice.
There were four teams in the tournament:-1. Navy Goa area. 2. Army Goa area. 3. Goa state team and Indian Airlines. In those days, Indian Airlines was the best hockey team in India. They had 5 to six Olympians like Ashoke Kumar, the son of the great hockey player Dhyanchand,
Bhaskaran who was the Captain of Indian hockey team which won the 1980 Moscow Olympic hockey Gold medal, then there was Aslam Sher Khan who later became a Congress MP from Bhopal, Inam ur Rehman and Aanis ur Rehman the most skilful players of those time. We played against the Airlines team in the final at Vasco da Gama.
We were defeated by 5-0 by the Airlines team. On that evening a party was hosted by the Navy in the honour of all the teams. All the players were presented with a memento. We specially handed over a gift to Ashoke Kumar the son of Dhyanchandji for his father and also a poem written by one of our team member about Dhyanchandji.
A Golden memory I will always rejoice.
Q.4. How advance is the Indian Navy technologically, in the modern warfare ? What changes do you notice personally in Indian Naval Aviation system ?
Ans.4.There are vast technological improvements in the modern Navy compared to the twentieth century Indian Navy. Highly sophisticated ships, submarines and aircrafts are inducted for the three dimensional operation of the modern Navy. Conventional submarines have been replaced with nuclear submarines, new ships like Stealth type destroyer ships are added in the existing fleet to enhance the capabilities of striking power of the Navy and the most important factor is that these ships are built indigenously.
New version of Aircraft carrier Vikrant has also been built indigenously in Hindustan Shipyard Ltd. Kochi. Subsonic jet fighter planes like Sea hawk, Sea Harrier have been replaced by carrier-borne Supersonic jet fighter plane Mig29. Which has increased the striking capabilities of the Navy manifold. There is a vast technological improvement in the communication sector also. The Indian Navy is now the 4th strongest Navy in the world.
Q.5. What role does INS Netaji Subhas play in safeguarding the Eastern coasts of the country?
Ans.5. INS Netaji Subhas plays a vital role in the region to ensure smooth maritime activities in the Bay of Bengal. This, enhance the economic growth of the region. Kolkata Port has a vast hinterland and their need is catered by the Kolkata Port. So, it’s very important to keep the shipping passage clear of all destructive activities like sea piracy.
Q.6.Basically, you are from North East, and from there you came to the Indian Navy. Will you please share the experience of your long journey with us?
Ans.6. I have joined the Navy in 1965, January from the Shillong Recruiting office. I was sent to Cochin for basic training. It was a 5 day’s journey from Shillong to Cochin. Those days railway network in India and especially in the North East was not as good as today. I had to change my trains at 4 stations to reach my destination.
The climate of Cochin is very hot and humid. Whereas my home town Shillong is a chilly place. So, initially, I had a bit of a problem acclimatizing to the new place. The very next day after joining the training establishment INS. Venduruthy is the largest Naval Base in Asia. We were sent for a haircut and we were given a crew cut, which is even the fashion of the present day. But in those days, the hairstyle was to keep long hairs and whiskers. Some of our batch mates were in tears when their well-groomed long hair had been trimmed to almost zero sizes and the side-whiskers were totally shaved off.
Initially, they provided us with a pair of Navy blue shorts and Sandow banyan to wear and the P. T and parade classes till we received our full sets of uniforms, which consists of 10 different types to wear on different occasions. It was about a fortnight that we have to wear shorts and banyan only. By the time we received our full uniform, our bodies were tanned into a deep brown color and looked like as we have tattooed our bodies in the shape of the Sandow banyan.
The basic training was of 8 months and thereafter transferred to various ships. The training was really a tough one but for me, it was not that because I was an NCC cadet in my college and prior to that I was a member of Shakha Sanghatan of RSS. So, I was already a seasoned one. I was a sports person too. I used to play football and take part in athletics.
On serving for 2 years in various ships in Navigation and Direction department. Thereafter, I have switched over to the Naval Aviation branch after passing a competitive exam conducted by the Navy.
During my ship service, I have visited many foreign ports mainly in Asian countries on a goodwill mission and sometimes for joint exercises at sea among the Commonwealth Country’s Navy. The most memorable visit was a visit to Singapore for Commonwealth exercises. While going to Singapore, we have to cross the Equator. While crossing the Equator, we used to celebrate a ceremony known as crossing the line.
In that ceremony, we used to conduct a Court Marshall in which the Captain of the ship is the convict and the Judge used to be the Junior most sailor of the ship. The Court Marshall is conducted on the upper deck and the personnel, not on actual duty used to gather on the upper deck and watch the procedure of the court. Finally, the Juries and the Judge gave the verdict against the convict that is the Captain of the Ship by imposing some penalties. They ordered our captain to pay for 100 bottles of rum for the entire Ship’s company. Those days, Rum was costing only Rs. 2 per bottle. It was really a fun experience.
After joining Naval aviation, I was selected for the Air Photography department. Our job used to cover all types of photography and was almost like a photojournalist. But our main job was aerial and cine photography. Our aircraft are fitted with various cameras and our duty was to fit the cameras and brief the pilot on how to operate the camera on different occasions like the survey of enemy areas, their important installations like their Aerodromes Ports, Ammunition depot, Power projects, Nuclear plants etc. These all are done in peacetime. This we called a reconnaissance sortie.
After taking all the photos, we make a map and charts of the enemy countries to use during the war. Pilots are briefed about the targets to be destroyed, giving the latitude and longitude of the place. When the pilot fires on the target, the camera switch, which is synchronized with the gun buttons, starts taking the photo automatically till he stopped firing. In return, we remove the film, process it, and see the damage done to the enemy targets. Based on these films, the pilots were awarded gallantry awards during the war. So, a pilot cannot claim of his own that he had damaged so and so enemy targets. The cine films record the dogfighting of the aircraft during the war and the damage done to the enemy aircraft. We show the film by the projector in the briefing room in the presence of all the pilots and the leader of the mission and are briefed about their performance. If any fault is found they are instigated to rectify the same in the next mission. So, in peacetime, we continue these exercises to enable the pilots to get perfection in firing on the targets.
Onboard the Aircraft carrier, we have to record all the take-offs and landings of aircraft. In case of any accident occurred during take-offs or landings, we can find out who was at fault after that we brief the pilots on how to overcome the mistakes committed by them.
The Photographer’s platform is on the bridge of the ship, where the Captain and the Navigating Officers sit and give directions of sailing, such as the direction of the ship to be steered speed of the ship,.
One incident which I still remember while I was doing duty at the Photographer’s platform. On that day Lt. Cdr. Devraj who was flying in a Sea Hawk aircraft was immediately ditched into the sea after the takeoff. I was panning my cine camera, which is the norm of recording the aircraft till it rises above the horizon. It’s not pilot’s mistake because the aircraft had been catapulted and ditched immediately due to some mechanical fault.
During the flight operation, the ship normally sails at its optimum speed. The pilot is aware of the ship’s speed at that time and he kept his cool, counted the time the ship took to cross the site of the ditched aircraft, and also communicated with the air traffic control and once the ship crossed his aircraft which was sinking rapidly, ejected out of the aircraft and he was immediately picked up by the aircrew diver from the helicopter which always remains flying alongside the ship till the flying operation was completed. He was immediately taken to the Sickbay of the ship and was given treatment, specifically the trauma care treatment. Luckily he survived due to his presence of mind and the calmness he maintained throughout.
I love my Navy. I am proud to be a Naval person.
If there is any rebirth, I would like to join the Navy in my rebirth also. I miss the Navy very much.
Interviewed by Pratyusha Mukherjee, a BBC Broadcast Journalist, based in Kolkata.