Parade State

While commanding our Regiment – 125 Surveillance and Target Acquisition (SATA) Regiment, I attended office mostly on Friday afternoons.  That was when I signed those official documents which required the Commanding Officer’s (CO) signatures like the Daily Parade State.

I was a single parent CO with Marina having migrated to Canada. Bringing up our two primary school going children, feeding them, sending them to school, ensuring that they did their homework, making them take bath, etc – all fell on my shoulders.

For the uninitiated, Daily Parade State is a large table giving out details of soldiers and officers authorised and posted to the Regiment and their daily whereabouts. This report is compiled daily by the Regiment/ Battery Havildar (Sergeant) Major (RHM/ BHM) the previous evening, showing the whereabouts of the soldiers as of the next morning at 8 AM.

Daily Parade State in the Regiment and Batteries is compiled by the Detail Master. He is the understudy to the RHM/ BHM and is a soldier with good handwriting and skill at mental maths. He provides all secretarial help to the RHM/ BHM.  Battery Detail Masters prepare the Parade State of the Battery in the evening and hand it over to the Regimental Detail Master, who compiles the Regimental Parade State.

Our Regiment was then a cooperating unit with the School of Artillery, Devlali with a lot of station commitments and training commitments – called Range Detail.  Unlike at many Schools of Instructions of the Indian Army, at School of Artillery, the student officers/ soldiers do not draw the equipment or ammunition and they do not clean/ maintain the equipment.  It is the duty of the cooperating Regiments to provide the same.  The details of manpower and equipment to be provided along with administrative details like pitching of tents, preparation of the Observation Posts, etc are given out a week prior to the beginning of the month.  Thus, all soldiers are well aware of the commitments and duties.

We were always short of manpower as the soldiers had to avail their leave too. Our Section/ Platoon Commanders always managed the show – often with the radio operator or driver doubling up as radar operator or surveyor and so on.  Clerks were well utilised as radio operators and surveyors or to assist the chefs in the kitchen, so were the tradesmen. Even the Religious Teacher was not spared.

Failure or a short-fall of the Range Detail meant the CO being summoned by the General – the Commandant, School of Artillery.  Our RHM and BHMs ensured that all Range Details were executed well.  They had their own methodology to deal with shortcomings.  Whatever it was, I was never summoned by the General.

Every morning, the BHMs presented their Parade State to their Battery Commander while the RHM presented the same to the Adjutant and then to the Second-in-Command, finally to the CO. The Daily Parade state is an auditable document to account for ration drawn from the Supply Depot for the soldiers. Hence, it is mandatory for the CO to sign it.

Three months into command, RHM Kaptan Singh summoned all his courage and asked “Sir, how come you do not ask any question while you sign the Parade State?  You tell me to turn the pages and place my finger where you are to sign.  You do not even look at it.”

Why this question now?” I asked, knowing the answer well.

Your predecessor used to grill me for over ten minutes every morning about various figures in the Parade State like number of soldiers on leave, soldiers on various out-station duties, etc.  I know that you know about every soldier,” RHM Kaptan Singh explained.

Thank God!  You had to suffer this agony for only ten minutes; I had to over 30 minutes,’ I thought.

My mind raced back to my Battery Commander days.  Then also, I hardly paid any attention to the figures reflected on the Parade State, but our CO wasn’t so.  He believed that every figure reflected on the Parade State was the gospel truth.

He summoned each Battery Commander and questioned about the number of soldiers on leave or on out-station details, etc and I used to rattle out some numbers.  Then he summoned our BHM and asked the very same question.  What a pathetic example of command! 

Our BHM’s figures never tallied with mine and the 30-minute ordeal ended with our CO’s remark “You do not know what is happening in your Battery.”  This continued everyday, and my figures never matched our BHMs.  Other Battery Commanders matched their figures with their BHM’s in the morning prior to being summoned by our CO. Luckily for me, I moved out of the Regiment in two months for the Staff Course.

Now I had to justify my blind signing of the Parade State to RHM Kaptan Singh.

This document is a proverbial Elephant’s Teeth for show only. This Parade state was prepared by your Detail Master the previous evening giving out the likely state of all personnel of our Regiment including me the next morning.  He put in herculean efforts and with a lot of erasing and rewriting, managed to tally all the figures. If this is accurate, then your Detail Master must be a genius and hell of a Prediction Master.  Last evening, I did not know where I would be this morning.  Hence these figures can never be accurate. If it is accurate, then the Detail Master must be sitting on my chair. Do you want me to grill you on it now?”

RHM Kaptan Singh passed his characteristic smile, saluted, and walked away fully convinced.

Z – The Commanding Officer’s Jeep

Commanding Officers (CO) of all Artillery Regiments travel by a Jeep/ Gypsy  which is identified by the alphabet ‘Z‘ painted on all its sides.  Most other arms/ services have ‘COMMANDING OFFICER’ written in the front of the CO’s vehicle. Needless to say that it is the most decked up and mechanically fit vehicle of any unit, driven by the most competent and disciplined driver. It carries with it an air of sacred and infallible exclusivity.

Our unit was a cooperating unit of School of Artillery, Devlali.  We had to provide equipment and soldiers for smooth conduct of training of students of various courses. This was at a time when I was a single parent CO as Marina had migrated to Canada by then. The responsibility of bringing up our children now  rested solely on me.

My residence was about 400 m behind the unit with the Officers’ Mess in between.  Thus I could walk to the unit or Officers’ Mess at any time and hardly ever used the Z.

One day our daughter Nidhi, a grade 6 student, returning from school asked, “Dad, are you a CO?

Yes,” I replied “What ‘s the matter?

Everyone in my class tells me that you cannot be a CO,” she said.

But why?” I queried.

I was taken aback by her reason.  “They say that if I am a CO’s daughter, I would be dropped at school on a Z and not be cycling down to school.” She replied quite innocently.

OK. I am not a CO then.  You continue to cycle to school,” I justified.

One morning I received a call from a senior Staff Officer at the School of Artillery Headquarters.  His concern was that our Regimental officers travelled in jeeps while Colonels of Tactical and Field Wings – many approved as Brigadiers – were travelling on their scooters.  It was not that our officers were travelling on Jeeps, even their ladies used it.  Surely it was an eyesore for those Colonels who had commanded their regiments ‘well’; else they would not have been posted to School of Artillery.

I explained to this Staff Officer “When some of these Colonels were commanding their regiments, they had five Jeeps with them – one for the CO, one for his wife, one for his daughter, one for his son and one for his dog.  I have only one and the rest are shared by other officers.  It is my command and I will decide what to do with my jeeps and henceforth please keep away from my command functions.”

On a Saturday I was informed by our Adjutant  that the in-laws of  Captain Vikrant, who joined us just a week before, are in station.

Then let us have a get together in the evening at the Officers’ Mess.  Please invite them too,” I suggested. The CO’s mild suggestions are invariably directions to be implicitly followed.

During the evening get together I asked Captain Vikrant “What are you doing tomorrow? It’s a Sunday.”

My in-laws want to visit Shirdi,” he replied.

How are you going?” I enquired.

I have booked seats in the School of Artillery bus leaving from the Club tomorrow morning.

When our officer’s parents or in-laws visit Shirdi, they take the Z.  Havildar Suresh, my driver will report to you tomorrow morning.”

Hearing this our Quartermaster, Captain Subhash passed the customary instructions to Havildar Suresh to include carriage of adequate water, soft drinks, sandwiches and a spare jerrycan of petrol.

Sunday morning at five, I was quite rudely awoken by my telephone.  It hardly ever rang unless there was some very very important information to be conveyed to the CO, which was indeed a rarity.

It was Captain Vikrant at the other end. “Good Morning Sir.  Sorry to disturb you at this hour. Your vehicle is standing in front of my residence.”

It’s there to take you all to Shirdi,” I confirmed.

I thought you were not serious when you told  me that,” he said, embarrassed and apologetic.

I shot off a volley of choicest  profanities in my vocabulary ending with, “Now you take the vehicle to Shirdi and on Monday morning see me in my office.”

On Monday morning Major Suresh Babu, our Second-in-Command escorted Captain Vikrant to my office and said “Sir, please don’t get angry with him.  He is only a week old in the unit.  He is yet to know you.”

I looked at Captain Vikrant and he said “This is my second unit.  Before this I served only in a Field Regiment for five years.  There the Z was regarded as something holy, something of an institution. I have never travelled in a Z till now.  That is why I called you early in the morning to reconfirm.

I dismissed both with the words “The Z did not come as a dowry to me when I got married to the Regiment.

The Elusive Diamonds

IdliVada
Our Regiment was equipped with the Russian made 130 mm M46 Guns when I was commissioned to the Regiment in 1982.  130 mm Gun was manufactured in erstwhile Soviet Union in 1950 and entered service with the Indian Army in 1965.  The gun boasts of having achieved longest range of 27.5 km with conventional munitions.  It traces its origin back to its predecessors used in ships and coastal defence by Russians during World War II.  The gun was in the equipment list of many countries and some even produced their variants.  The gun saw action during many conflicts across the globe – from Vietnam War to the recent civil war in Syria and Iraq. 

To be fair to the Russians, it must be said that indeed the gun was good and extensively used in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak Wars. The problem however was with the accessories that came with the gun. When Indian Army procured the 130 mm Guns, a plethora of accessories were supplied by the Russians.  Most appeared to be tried, tested and failed – hence the Russians wanted to somehow palm them off to others.  India must have paid a hefty sum for these accessories.  Most of them found their due place in the technical stores of the regiments, and hardly ever used

The biggest of them was the PPL Periscope – the wooden box for storage of the periscope looked more like a coffin.  The periscope must have had its origin from the gun being used as a Naval Gun.  Thankfully, no one in the regiment appeared to have even unpacked them or set them up for training or operations.  No Observation Officer would have bothered to carry it to war as it needed at least six men to lift.   On a ship, the carriage problem would not have been there and a need for a high periscope to observe the horizon was the requirement for any Observation Officer deployed on a ship in the high-seas.

The next biggest was the Range Finder DS1.  From its looks and make, it also appeared to have its origin from the days of the gun being used in its naval version.  It seems that someone in the Indian Artillery hierarchy of the 60s took a liking for this cumbersome piece that a chapter for observing and engaging targets with this monster was incorporated in the Gunnery Technical Hand Book (fortunately it has been removed  from the recent editions).

The technique of employment was that the observation post officer measured the distance to the spot where a round fell and ordered the required correction in terms of ‘ Left/Right or Add/Drop’, having already made a similar measurement to the target, to make the round hit the target.  

For measuring the distance with the DS1, one needs to manipulate a knob and make five ‘diamonds’ that appeared on the viewfinder so as to position the center one on the object to which distance is to be measured  and two each equidistant in front and behind it. This needed a high degree of practice and skill.

Whenever I tried to operate the DS1, I could either see the object or the diamonds and never both, however hard I tried.  I requested our Technical Section Commander – Subedar Bidappa – for help and he excused himself from the task owing to his poor vision.  He suggested Havildar (Sergeant) Nahar Singh of the Survey Section as he had undergone a four-week long course at School of Artillery in operating the Range Finder.  Havildar Nahar Singh agreed to transfer some of his skills and the art of manipulating the diamonds. 

On the set day, I got the Range Finder set up at the training area next to the Survey Section and Havildar Nahar Singh commenced his lessons.  We got struck at the stage where the elusive diamonds are to be manipulated –  as usual  I could either see the diamonds or the object and not both.  Havildar Nahar Singh demonstrated his skill with the range Finder and measured distances to many objects around the training area.  He read out the distances nearest to a meter and to verify it, he read the distance to a telephone pole to be 376 meters and asked me to pace it.  Great! it was indeed about 375 meters.

I felt very small about my inability and kept trying to catch the elusive diamonds.  Now came a warning from Havildar Nahar Singh – in case one operates the DS1 for a long period, one’s eyesight will deteriorate.  He padded his comment with a line that soldiers operating the DS1 in the earlier days were authorised an extra egg in their rations to compensate for the struggle their eyes went through.

 Never to accept a failure in front of the soldiers, I tried with all my efforts to catch the elusive diamonds for the next two hours despite Havildar Nahar Singh’s warning.  Seeing my resolve Havildar Nahar Singh must have felt bad and he came to me and requested me to pack up the DS1.  He now gave me his piece of wisdom.

He said that he too had never seen the elusive diamonds ever in his life.  How the hell on earth did he measure the distances to various objects so accurately?  He disclosed the secret that in the training area he knew the distance to all the visible objects as he had been conducting training for his section there.  Whenever he measured the range to an object, he would focus the Range Finder on the object and set the distance on the scale. 

How did he manage it during the training at the School of Artillery?  There too all the students carried a small notebook with the accurate distances to various objects from various training areas.  He claimed that hardly any student ever caught the glimpse of the elusive diamonds.

Guruji and Bhagawan (God) Shoot follows.