FOOD AT FAR FLUNG FRONTIERS – EPISODE 5
HOW WE MANAGED A FOREGN TRIP WITHOUT PASSPORTS
In continuation of our exploits during the tenure of my battalion at the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, in this episode, I will elaborate on our fine relations with the senior sister service at the islands, the Indian Navy. We were functioning then under the FORTAN (Fortress Commander Andaman Nicobar), a Naval Commodore, who in turn reported to the FOC-in-C, Eastern Naval Command at Vizag.
Our operations role envisaged joint training with the navy in amphibious warfare, while enabling surveillance to maintain the sovereignty, safety and security of our Islands along with their territorial waters, Exclusive Economic Zone and maritime trade. This was achieved by joint training at the decks and docks, culminating in a series of tri-services amphibious exercises at command level. We had the fortune to train as landing parties on LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks), graduating to cruisers, destroyers and submarines. Our boys, being mostly coastal Marathas and Konkani-s, took to sea like fish and were at ease on board with the sailors. There was not much seasickness or sea legs as would have been expected.
In the next amphibious exercise, the FOCEF (Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet), Vice Admiral Nayyar, and the FOC-in-C, an old gunner and a sea dog, Vice Admiral Dawson, visited my Battalion HQ, to attend the Land Force Commanders’ Briefing and orders on a Sand and Sea Model. I still remember that they were in their in khakis, a tribute to the inter-services camaraderie. We put our best leg forward and I dare say the navy brass was thoroughly impressed with the actual landings and land operations that followed.
The successful culmination was celebrated with a Barakhana for all, wherein even our men were introduced to a buffet dinner and it was amusing to watch them with their plates of food in hand, mingling with all including the high and mighty. After much backslapping and bonhomie, we were back to the make and mend phase of the unit routine. The naval fleet under Vice Admiral Nayyar, was all set for an ensuing foreign cruise and friendly call at Singapore.
To my utter and pleasant surprise, I received a signal from the FOCEF himself (signals are the navy’s main means of communication at sea). I thought it would be the customary message of compliments after the good show. Indeed it was so, but in addition the FOCEF conveyed that he would be pleased to have the CO (me!) and a select group of all ranks accompanying his fleet on the ensuing foreign cruise. You can well imagine my reaction of disbelief and awe.
What a great honour for my Paltan! We were expected to board the flagship next evening and set sail later. Time was too short for me to obtain necessary clearance from my army superiors. I was new to such a situation and no one else in my unit knew any better, though they were all quite excited. The nearest army formation in the hierarchy was at Calcutta; too remote for an immediate approval.
I contemplated at one stage to send my thanks with a polite regret; but then that would have almost amounted to blasphemy! A senior’s desire, as they say, is always an order! But to accept that, at this instance, could land me in trouble sooner or later. Nevertheless as the adage goes “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”! I thought it best to sleep over it, and hey presto, at dawn I had the solution! I would nominate a group, but would not go myself, which should mitigate my offence if any. Thus, I nominated the junior most second lieutenant, who was also a submarine commando, with a cross section of JCOs and boys. They quickly packed up, perhaps the shortest imaginable preparation for a foreign tour by any group; the kitty pooled from the officers and their ladies. They did not require any passports; their ID Cards would suffice. I maintained radio silence until they returned after a week of ‘Phoren Tour’. They were full of stories and were considerate to bring some gifts for all. I did get a lukewarm rebuke for not going through the proper channel, but no charges were pressed!
Today, my Battalion is reminded of this memorable and exciting episode by the “Merlion Singapore Trophy” presented by me to commemorate this episode. It has a Singapore Lion Mermaid in Crystal with the base having the replica of the ship and names of that “Landing Party”.