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HindustanTimes Tue,23 Sep 2014

Three men and a tank

Mahavir S Jagdev   February 19, 2013
First Published: 09:22 IST(19/2/2013) | Last Updated: 09:23 IST(19/2/2013)

An army tank was a fascinating machine for a boy growing up in the cantonment in Patiala just before the Indo-Pak war in 1971. The sight of tanks racing on full throttle and the purring of powerful engines were enough to shoot up the adrenaline, while the sight of the rotating gun barrel was awesome.

This was why I asked my mother, an army doctor, to request the local army workshop commanding officer, attached to Hudson's Horse regiment, to allow me a few weeks training on the tanks during the summer vacation.

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On the first day of the break from college, I reported to the colonel in-charge of the workshop. He was a handsome gentleman with a towering personality and barrel-like moustaches. He assigned me to the tank repair workshop for a few weeks' training.

The first area I was taken to was the communications section. The subedar in-charge said, "The signals equipment is the most important part of the tank. Without the communication facility, the tank will be just another mobile artillery gun. So you must learn everything about it thoroughly. It is the only link you will have with the outer world during a war." The rest of the week was spent learning the intricacies of the wireless set and other signals equipment. I was indeed convinced that without the wireless set the tank was, but a mobile gun.

The next week, I moved on to the engine drive and transmission section. The transmission of power from the engine to the external drive chains of the tank is a complex mechanism.

Compared to the communications section's delicacy in handling the electronics equipment, the transmission and drive section involved sheer brute force for opening, lifting and assembling any part. To do so in battle conditions must be tough. A week well spent and I was convinced by the subedar in-charge that without the transmission and drive chains, the tank was just another stationary artillery gun attached to a wireless set.

I was finally deputed to the armaments section. The storage of gun shells, loading the charge into the barrel and aiming for the target was even more complex, more so in a moving tank with shifting targets. The tanks could get very hot inside. Under these trying conditions, the gunner had to perform the arduous task of decimating the enemy. All this was explained in detail by subedar Waryam Singh, the burly army man in-charge of this section. When I told him what the other section in-charges had told me about the most critical sections of the tank; Waryam Singh said, "Kakaji, go and tell them that without the gun, the tank is just a walkie-talkie." This put an end to all discussion and doubt.

As I stood outside the workshop on the final day of my training, I was reminded of the story of the three men and the elephant; no one saw the complete tank, though every section was individually vital and the subedars all competent. mahavirindia@yahoo.com

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