The True Story Death AT 200 Meters by Col Lalit Chamola. 15th December 1987 is a day and date so deeply etched in my memory because, like Savitri brought back her husband from Yamraj, I brought back my team from the jaws of sure death. On 16th December when I reached the battalion headquarter(Mannar , Srilanka) ,the CO (Commanding Officer) Colonel Dhillon ran out of his tent and like a child hugged me, he had tears in his eyes and with chocking voice said, ” Lalit, I was very very worried for you yesterday night.” “Sir, why were you so worried, don’t you have confidence in me?” I said, looking straight into his eyes. Col Dhillon said, “No, not that”, “I have full confidence, but you were not in communication, and the CO of the Sri Lankan regiment gave me a call asking if any officer by the name Lalith( Srilankan way of saying Lalit) was out in the area of Nanadan .”
The True Story- Death AT 200 Meters by Col Lalit Chamola
Col Dhillon told him that his company commander Capt Lalit was out for an operation in the area but he inquired from him as to how had they known about it because there had been no communication with them on this matter. The CO of Sri Lankan regiment said,” We have picked up radio intercepts of LTTE( Liberation Tigers Of Tamil Eealam, a terrorist organisation )and they are saying that they have surrounded the party of Capt Lalith and in few minutes would kill all of them.”
Col Dhillon requested the Sri Lankans to get in touch with Lalit and warn him accordingly. The reply received at approximately 4 a.m. revealed that they were not able to get in touch with Lalith, as radio was silent but there had been a very heavy exchange of fire including mortar and machine gun fire in the area of Nanadan. The CO of Srilankan Regiment said that they would go and find out in the morning.
Col Dhillon not only had a restless and sleepless , but also a very very worrisome night. The reason for all this were the events which had taken place the previous night when we were out for a raid on a LTTE hideout.
“My experiences and learnings from the operations that I had conducted in Manipur , Nagaland in 1980 -81, and Punjab during 1985 , had taught me that it was extremely important to know every possible detail about the terrain, enemy’s training ,social behaviour and above all his basic tactics. I had been writing the details and record of all the happenings right from 29th July, 1987 when we had landed at Palali Airfield ( Jaffna)”.
“I had a chance meetings with Uma Maheshwaran the Chief of PLOTE( People Liberation of Tamil Eealam) in October 1987, in the jungles of Mannar and through him I had learnt about the ‘T’ inverted ‘C’, ‘L’ and ‘X’ type of ambushes that the LTTE fighters were adept at as per terrain conditions. He had also told me about the manner of raids conducted by the LTTE , as his organisation had been attacked by them many times before Indian Army came to Srilanka. I realised that their method of raids were vastly different from our training. During the months from July to September I had accordingly trained and practised various drills and procedures with my company”.
“On 15th December, 87 I set out to conduct raid on the hide out of the LTTE at Nanadan. I purposely took a very long route to deceive the informers. I took my team of 30 soldiers first by vehicles in an opposite direction and then turned on to the road towards Nanadan. The detailed study of map, terrain and my experiences from having conducted many raids and operations had helped me in developing my sixth sense. At approximately 6 p.m, we were near a track junction . I ordered the soldiers to dismount approximately 200 metres from the track junction and we all started walking in a ‘V’ formation away from the road. I told my LMG gunner mounted on top of the one ton vehicle( a small truck) to fire on the palmyra tree grove located on to the west of the track junction . The LMG burst hit the terrorist hiding on top of the trees in the grove and they started running away firing at us.
They however simultaneously activated the lED (lmprovised Explosive Device ) placed under a bridge. Since we all were spread out and not in the killing area of the explosive device hence we all escaped unhurt. The enemy had failed to trap us but possibly had been fore warned about our movement. We reorgagnised ourselves and started moving more cautiously towards our target.I had given strict instructions not to open the radio sets as LTTE were very good in interception. At approximately 7 p.m. we had reached the Vankalai village. It was one of the most prosperous villages in that area which was inhabited by the descendants of the Portuguese and the girls of the village were known for their beauty. While surveying the areas around, I suddenly noticed that on top of the roof of a house there was a young woman holding a small deer and continuously observing our movements. My sixth sense got activated and I suddenly remembered meeting V.Murugan(Saleem) the Area Commander of LTTE ,who had been invited on 15th August, 1987 to celebrate our lndependence Day. He during those friendly days had mentioned that his girlfriend had a pet deer and was from the Vankalai village. I now for sure could effectively make out that Saleem had set up the trap for us”.
“I changed the plan and reduced my party to twenty two soldiers, the balance of the soldiers with two vehicles were sent to the nearby Sri Lankan Army camp giving an indication that we were going back . I thought I had deceived them but the moment I reached outside Nanadan l saw a light which was being switched on and off from the top of a church. My stay at Madhu Church in August and interactions with the priests there had taught me the procedure followed by the churches in Sri Lanka and hence the bulb which was being switched on and off at 9 p.m. was out of context for a church service. There was a small Lagoon to be crossed to get into the area of Nanadan”.
“We crossed the Lagoon and after some distance encountered a huge pond approximately two hundred metres in length and hundred metres in width, which had to be crossed to get into the jungle, the location of the hideout. On my interception radio set I, was trying to listen to any conversation that the LTTE would make. Briefly I picked up a frequency in which they were saying that they were ready, and I could clearly hear my name i.e. Lalith being taken in the conversation in Tamil language. I,now for sure knew that LTTE had laid double ambush, one on the pond in an inverted ” C” on the edges of pond and the other an “L” type on the road. I estimated that there were approximately 15 to 20 terrorists waiting for my party. I did not tell my soldiers about my assessment to avoid panic and the situation which was developing but I was determined to get the people out of this ambush.
We were approximately 200 meters short of the ambush sites and I knew that they could open fire anytime if we entered their killing area. Keeping my cool and bringing all my experience and knowledge as also guts into play, I immediately planned to turn the table on the terrorists. Without making any noise I got every soldier into the pond hugging the side on which the ambush had been laid. I divided the party into three .I told the LMG and the two inch mortar team to go very silently to the other side of the pond hugging the edges. The pond was eight to ten feet deep, however it had only four feet of water, thus giving us depth and dry area of three to four feet which was in a deflated ( hidden from direct view and fire) position and hence could not be observed by the ambush party on this dark night.
The second party with the MMG( Medium Machine Gun) was kept at the start of the pond and, I led the third party to an area behind the position of the terrorists. I had ordered the parties that they would automatically open fire on hearing the fire from 84 MM rocket launcher fired by my party. I very quickly and silently led the party behind the terrorists and at approximately 3:30 a.m. fired the rocket launcher along with the light machine gun , rifles and grenade launcher from behind the terrorists. The MMG and two inch mortar parties opened fire causing total panic and chaos in the LTTE’s ambush parties. They were being fired upon from three directions and hence did not know what to do and where to escape. The depth of the pond was giving security to my party from the direct fire of the LTTE, which tried to retaliate but did not know which fire to counter. I found them running and retreating from the pond towards the jungle.
The radio communication was loud and clear and I could make out through the intercepts that many of them had been badly hit and were either dead or seriously injured. I decided not to pursue them into the jungle as I had achieved my aim of countering their ambush. I immediately went back to the pond area and took stock of the situation. I was extremely happy to find out that not a single soldier of my party had been hit or injured. l immediately moved out of the area and by 5:30 a.m. we were across the Lagoon into a safe zone. After sunrise at approximately 7:30 a.m.
I called for the vehicles and then we all came back to our base. I debriefed the entire party and then, I told them right from the time of the IED blast till the firing at the pond what all had happened and how our team of Delta company had turned the tables on the enemy. There were smiles and feeling of pride in all my soldiers having got out of such a difficult situation successfully and inflicting casualties on the enemy”.
“We had hunted the hunter”. One of the senior NCOs ( Non Commissioned officer)said, “साहब, आप हमारे साथ हैं तो दुश्मन हमारा कुछ भी नहीं बिगाड़ सकता।” (“sir if you are with us then the enemy can do nothing .”) It was a an exaggeration, but I loved the confidence my team had in me. The radio intercepts and the information from the Sri Lankan Army told us that LTTE had suffered four dead and many injured. I was happy that we had turned the tables on the LTTE but my ultimate joy was that I had brought everybody home from sure death waiting for us at a distance of 200 metres.
Jay Hind, Jay Bharat
Col Lalit chamola, SM (veteran)