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50 Independent Paratroop Brigade

The only airborne force projection capability that India has at present is that of the independent Parachute Brigade. The organisational structure of this brigade is more suitable for conventional operations. General K. Sundarji, former Chief of Army Staff, had often spoken of converting an existing infantry division to an air assault division by about the year 2000. Though the idea was certainly not ahead of its time, the shoestring budgets of the 1990s did not allow the army to proceed to practically implement the concept.

Airborne operations are conducted in hostile territory for executing an assault landing from the air. These may be conducted at the strategic or operational levels, either independently or in conjunction with other operations. With its inherent air mobility, an airborne force is an important means to achieve simultaneity of force application and gaining a foothold across obstacle systems in circumstances in which other forces would require considerably much more time to be effective. Airborne operations can be launched at any stage of a battle.

Due to their inherent flexibility, airborne forces are capable of being employed on various missions whether these are strategic or operational. Operational missions are generally in furtherance of land forces plans and involve close cooperation with them. Though launched independently into the depth areas of the enemy, a quick link-up by ground forces is essential for the success of an airborne operation.

During flight, the air transport force commander will be the overall commander; after landing, the ground force commander will regain command of the land forces component. The overall control of the air transport force will be with Air Headquarters, represented by the Air Command in the theatre which, in turn, will nominate a task force commander. During the execution phase, attention needs to be paid to creating a favorable air situation and taking appropriate air defence measures. Suitable deception measures and a rapid link-up are vital to the success of a mission.

The first airborne formation of the pre-Independence days, formed entirely from volunteers drawn from units in India, was the 50 Indian Parachute Brigade. It consisted of 151 Parachute Battalion (British) which was later withdrawn for service in the Middle-East, 152 Indian Parachute Battalion, 153 Gurkha Parachute Battalion, 411 Parachute Section and Indian Engineers. The first commander of the brigade was Brig WHG Gough. The first Indian officer to join the brigade was Lt AG Rangaraj of the Indian Medical Service who was posted to 152 Indian Parachute Battalion as medical officer. Incidentally, Lt Rangaraj was the first Indian to make a parachute jump in India.

During World War-II, 50 Para Brigade was permitted to move to Imphal to get some "live jungle training." The brigade, minus the 154 Gurkha Parachute Battalion, moved to Chakabama, 10 miles east of Kohima. Soon, the Japanese offensive towards Imphal necessitated a redeployment of the brigade to plug a gap in the defences in the east by taking up position at Shangshak, near Ukhrul. The Japanese 15 Army was bringing up two divisions in a flanking move from the east about which Headquarters IV Corps was unaware of. The 152 Para Battalion had no inkling of things to come when they reached Shangshak on March 14, 1944. Next day, they relieved 4/5 Maratha LI at Shangshak. On March 19, Point 7378 was attacked by a Japanese battalion. The company beat back successive attacks on March 19 and 20, suffering heavy casualties till it was finally overrun. As the Japanese built up to a regiment (equivalent to a brigade strength), it was decided to withdraw 152 Para Battalion and 4/5 Maratha LI to Shangshak on March 21/22.

Finally, 50 Para Brigade, with its 152 and 153 Para Battalions, held on stubbornly at Shangshak from March 21 to 26 at a great cost. During these battles, the brigade suffered heavy casualties: 29 officers, 11 VCOs, 4 BORs and 541 Indian ORs were amongst the casualties. But the delay caused to the Japanese proved critical, giving 14 Army time to move in reinforcements for the defence of Imphal. Lt Gen WJ Slim, GOC-in-C 14 Army, appreciated the role of the Parachute Brigade in his Army's victory over the Japanese in a special Order of the Day-a rare honor indeed, to be singled out from the nearly 26 infantry brigades which fought under Lt Gen Slim in the great battle for Imphal and Kohima.

Two airborne operations had been planned for 14 Army's campaign for the reconquest of Burma-one to take the Yeu-Shwebo plain and the other to take Rangoon. However, the pace of 14 Army's advance put the planning for an airborne operation on the backburner till such time that it came up against stiff Japanese resistance towards March end in 1945. Therefore, operation Dracula (capture of Rangoon by amphibious assault) in its modified form was launched. There was a need for the coastal defences on the west bank of Rangoon river to be neutralised so that 26 Indian Division's assault landing could proceed smoothly. Elephant Point was, therefore, to be seized by paralanding a battalion group a day before the main assault.

As the Para Brigade units were themselves under reorganisation at this point of time, an improvised battalion came forward for the operation under Maj GEC Newland of the 2 Battalion. Forty Dakotas of No 1 and No 2 Air Commandos (American) were used for the drop. The battalion accomplished its task by evening and the minesweepers could then safely begin their task. However, it was now realised that the Japanese had moved out of Rangoon itself, so the need for assault landings did not arise. Thus Rangoon was retaken without a bullet being fired on May 3 by 36 Infantry Brigade of 26 Division.

A An-32 with 40 paratroopers on board zoomed into the night on 17 May 2006 to commence 'Sanghe Shakti', the first major military exercise after 'Operation Parakram'. A total of two IL-76 and 10 AN-32 took off one after the other with men and equipment on board. These planes dropped a battalion of troops at Sidhwan Khas near Phillar in the plains of Punjab for one of the biggest military exercise. This is the biggest parachute drop in the last five years. The AN-32 aircrafts dropped an entire parachute battalion while the IL-76 dropped equipment in the dark flying in formation without lights. On the first AN-32 aircraft that took off with 40 troops, this first aircraft is called Path Finder, the first group of troops dropped by it will make a T-Point on the dropping zone,where other troops will land. With twin base concept and multi ingress and egress routes, operation will be conducted at ultra low level. The aim of the exercise was to draw out enemy reserves in the general area and to degrade the counter offensive capability of the enemy. Some 20,000 troops with nealy 2000 to 2500 vehicles, from 2 Corps, the Strike Corps, took part in the exercise.



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