‘We were posted on a hill to protect the bridge. I was in-charge of a L-60 gun with a capacity to fire 120 rounds from 7,000 ft. It was quite early in the morning when I noticed a couple of fighter jets swooping down on the bridge.
I was trained to recognize aircraft and I knew they were Sabre Jets from their wide mouths. After getting the nod from my commanding officer, I aimed at the target and fired. I hit the target. The aircraft came down in a hail of smoke and fire and the pilot was killed’
Havildar Potha Raju remembers the day September 5, 1965 as it was just yesterday. Even at 77, his memory is crystal clear and remembers it all. Born in Nizampatnam in 1940, he was the fourth child in his family. Following his cousins , he joined the Army in 1958 and after training, was posted to 27 Air Defence Regiment. During the India-Pakistan War of 1965, he was commanding a detachment of 40mm L/60 AA Gun deployed at the Jammu Tawi bridge.
On September 5, the bridge was attacked by two Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabres. Potah Raju’s gun engaged the aircraft and shot down one F-86. This was the second Pakistani aircraft to be shot down by Indian AAA- the first was on September 3, also by 27 AD Regiment.
Potha Raju was awarded the Vir Chakra- the citation reads as follows-
On 5 September 1965, while commanding a detachment of an air defence battery guarding Tawi Bridge in Jammu. RHM Tata Pothu Raja displayed courage and initiative in directing the fire of his 40 MM gun in an accurate manner, resulting in the Shooting down of a Pakistani Sabre jet.
Gazette Notification: 131 Pres/65, 10.5.65
Potah Raju recounts the investiture ceremony during which he was personally given the Vir Chakra by Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the President of India –
“As my name was read out, I walked up the podium where the President stood. The President smiled at me. Later, a word was sent to me that the President wanted to see me. I developed cold feet and did not know what to do. Then Gen. J.N Chaudhury accompanied me to the President. Radhakrishnana spoke to me in Telugu and I recounted to him the action on the battlefront. Later, our general introduced me to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. As she said `namaste’, I saluted her and she shook hands with me,’’
Courtesy A War Hero Remembers, The Hindu, September 3, 2015
Photograph from personal collection of Havildar Potha Raju