Indo-Sri Lanka accord, to establish peace and normalcy in Sri Lanka was
signed on 29th July 1987. The first phase involved the supervision of the
surrender of arms by the various militant groups. This was to be followed by
the formation of the Interim Administrative Council with proportionate
representation from various groups. The
LTTE however wanted to dominate it.
This led to attacks by the LTTE on IPKF personnel.
A political decision was taken to disarm the LTTE if
necessary by force. Meanwhile on October 8th the LTTE carried out mortar and
machine gun attacks on IPKF patrols. Following a high level Defence Ministry
meeting on October 10th, the IPKF commenced its operation code-named
"Pawan" on the night of 11/12 October.
Jaffna University was the tactical
headquarters of the LTTE. The Indian military leadership planned a quick
commando raid to round up the leadership and thus cut short the Battle for
Jaffna. Jaffna University area was extremely built up. From the air the city
was packed with the red & green of tiled roofs and palm trees. There were
just two open patches, a football field and a smaller playground.
The plan was to land a company of 70
men from 10 Para Cdo. to secure the football field. A second wave was to
follow with a company of the 13th Sikh LI. If all went to plan the heliborne
troops would be linked with troops coming by land. But unknown to the IPKF,
the LTTE had intercepted IPKF radio communications and knew the plans. It
had sighted the the landing zone and was waiting. The first wave of Mi-8
flew in and began disgorging the Para Cdos. They immediately came under
heavy fire especially from 0.50 machine guns. The LTTE had the range and
Sepoy Lok Ram recounted, "We thought
everything was fine but as we were sliding out of the helicopter we came
under heavy fire from all sides. It was an impossible situation, as people
would come out of the houses fire at us and disappear right back. There were
gunmen on tree tops including coconut trees. Since we were ordered not to
use heavy weapons it was impossible to advance. We were fighting an enemy we
could not even see".
What followed is the most painful
story of the Battle of Jaffna. In the dark with heavy machine gun fire the
second wave of choppers brought in a platoon of Sikh LI and landed on the
other smaller playground. This was a few yards from the Jaffna University
but is separated by several lanes of booby trapped buildings. The Sikhs soon
realized something was wrong as they landed smack on the LTTE's battlements.
Bullets rained on them.
The three helicopters were hit
and pilots barely managed to nurse them back to Palaly. Their grim
assessment: The platoon was likely to be wiped out as would any
reinforcements. The commanders made the devil's choice: leave the platoon to
Fate was hopelessly cruel to the
young commander of the platoon, Major Birendra Singh. The first man to get
hit on landing was the radioman. This severed contact from Palaly. They
could reach the commandos on short range walkie talkies. The commandos asked
him to join them. But like a good infantryman he waited for the rest of his
company. Little did he know that it was not coming. And by the time he knew
he was encircled.
The first assault came at dawn. The
troops fought valiantly and repelled it. As more assaults were launched the
situation became grim. Each assault left them with less men and ammunition.
Finally at 11:30 AM on October 12, with the last bullet fired the troops led
a bayonet charge. They were cut down to the last man but one. That man,
Sepoy Gora Singh, was taken POW and later released. Sepoy Singh helped to
reconstruct one of the most poignant battles in the history of the Indian
For the LTTE this was a morale
booster. The Sikhs were stripped of their weapons, uniform and equipment.
Their bare bodies were displayed at the nearby Nagaraja Vihar temple and
then burnt with a barrel of oil. The battle field was littered with pieces
of Sikh LI's uniforms and equipment along with thousands of .50 MG shells.
Meanwhile the commandos were still
holding out. Their commander, Lt. Col. Dalbir Singh, led a rescue mission
with three T-72 tanks. The roads were hopelessly booby trapped. The
commander of the tank group, Major Anil Kaul, improvised brilliantly.
Knowing the rail tracks passed behind Jaffna University, he drove his tanks
on the Palaly-Jaffna rail line. Passing through the narrow lanes, an RPG-7
fired on him, hitting the turret. The explosion severed his wedding ring
finger. Splinters hit him in the eye and arm. His men put him on morphine
and they fought their way to the Para Cdos. A little later the 4/5 Gorkhas
and remainder of the 13 Sikh LI linked up.
The Para Cdos superior training saved
the day. They conserved ammo and even picked up all their dead and weapons.
For 18 hours they prayed and fought. The LTTE leadership came perilously
close to getting wiped out. It's Chief,
Prabhakaran, was injured in the foot. The 13 Sikh LI now holds a special
ardas and akhand path on October 12th every year to honour their 30 lonely
and gusty comrades on the brutal killing fields of Jaffna University.