Pistol Rocket Launching Schermuly: From Army Armament to Heroic River Rescue

Rajouri River Rescue: How an Old Army Gadget Became a Lifesaver.

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Lt. Col. M.A Siddiqui (Retd.)
Lt. Col. M.A Siddiqui (Retd.)
Lt. Col. M.A Siddiqui (Retd.) was commissioned in the Corps of Signals in December 1957. He participated in the Wars against China in 1962, against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. He was awarded 'Mention in Dispatch' in the Bangladesh Liberation War 1971. His contact details are: [email protected], Ph: 9818260900 * Views are personal.

Pistol Rocket Launching Schermully is the full name. Have you ever heard of the item? Signal officers of our vintage would remember as we were given a demonstration of its use during our YO (Young Officer) ‘s training in MCTE (earlier known as School of Signals, Mhow). It is a WW2 vintage item that was used to lay cable across an obstacle. Because of its nomenclature, it was treated as an armament and kept in the armoury (where weapons and ammunition are kept in Unit Quarter Guard, which is guarded around the clock) and not in the unit store. So was its ammunition, the rocket. All field Signals units had this in their WE (War Establishment), but it was rarely used.

The Quarter Guard is a prestigious building in an army unit or an institution. Generally situated at the entrance, this is where the arms and ammunition are kept and is guarded around the clock. Everything on display here is spick and span and in a highly presentable state. There is plenty of brassware on display in the form of spears or ancient guns and cannons, which are non-functional and only of ornamental value. Also located within the complex are a few cells with iron doors where the jawans undergoing punishment are housed. The punishment can be the detention or RI (Rigorous Imprisonment) of a specified period of up to 28 days or less, depending upon the nature of indiscipline. The regime of punishment that a culprit undergoes in both cases is the same, but in the case of RI, he loses the salary for the period of the punishment. This is, however, done in very rare cases, as in the latter case, the families would also bear the hardship of the punishment awarded to the jawan. The Quarter Guard is also the place where a visiting VIP is given a guard of honour, with the men being in their best crisp uniform. On special occasions, the men are dressed in the regimental ceremonial dress. 

One such VIP was a brigade commander who was visiting his own battalion, which had become a part of his brigade. When he was in the battalion, Nachhittar Singh was his sahayak. When Nachhittar got to know that his own sahab had come as the Brigade Commander, at his own request, he was made the guard commander to present the guard of honour. After the guard of honour ceremony was over, and the Brigadier came up to inspect the guard, he totally ignored the knowing look that the guard commander, a Havaldaar, gave him and thundered, “Naam?” The guard commander was completely taken aback by the question, as he was contemplating that the Brigadier would show some semblance of recognition. Like him saying, “Oh, Nachhittar! Good to see you as a havaldar“, or a word to that effect that would boost his morale. 

Disappointed, he nervously answered, “Nachhitar Singh, Sir”. The Brigadier’s next question completely floored him when he asked, “Dekho jawan, ham raat ko idhar aata aur tumhara gun le kar chala jata tum kya karta?” Nachhitar thought that surely his sahab would not ask such a silly question, and kept quiet. The Brigadier repeated the question in a typical Anglicized colonial Hindi tone, with a greater stress on the sound of the letter “t” (reminiscent of the colonial era). Again, there was no response. He then turned to the 2ic, who was a part of the retinue and said in an irritated tone, “Will you tell him what I asked?” The 2ic then stepped forward and explained the question in his local language. By now, the havaldar was in his element, and he thought that if the Brigadier was asking a question on his soldierly qualities, he must be given a befitting reply. Looking at the Brigadier, this is what the guard commander said:-

“Achha, tohaade kahen da matlab aiye si ga? Tussi laye kiddan jao geye, lamba na paa leanga mai ithey!” When translated into English, this is what the Guard Commander said: “Oh, I see! Is this what you really meant, Sir? How dare you touch my gun? I will flatten you in no time!”

The Brigadier was completely stumped by the subtle and emphatic response of the guard commander and quietly walked away, much to the amusement of the entourage that accompanied him!

I am reminded of an incident that occurred when I was the Adjutant of a Divisional Signal Regiment unit in Rajouri (J&K). The Quarter Guard area was my domain, and I used to visit it frequently. Whenever I went there, I saw the Pistol Rocket Launching Schermuly, prominently kept in a glass showcase mounted on the wall. 

It was in mid-1964, on a Sunday, that I was informed that a jawan of the Divisional HQ, who had gone for a bath in the Betar river close by, had got stranded in the middle as the water level in the river had suddenly gone up. This always happens in the hills. When it is bright and sunny where you are, it could be raining heavily in areas up the stream. 

Our unit was located right on the banks of the Betar River. By the time I went to the site, our men had set up PA equipment (loudspeaker) to communicate with the stranded jawan as the noise level at the riverbank was quite high. They kept talking to him and would play music to keep up his morale while his rescue plan was underway. They had got the toughest person to sling a rope with a heavyweight at the end to throw it across, but the rope end could not even reach halfway. They were contemplating asking for an AF helicopter from Jammu, but it being a Sunday, it would have taken a long time to arrive.

We needed to do something urgently, but what? Suddenly, I thought of the Pistol Rocket Launching Schermuly, which I had seen in the Quarter Guard.

I got the havaldar in charge of our Line Sec to get the Pistol Rocket and all the stuff that formed a part of this whole kit, including the thin rope coil, from the storehouse. 

The rocket had a noose at the end, to which the rope was to be tied. The rope itself had to be uncoiled and laid on the ground, clear of any obstruction in a particular manner, so that it propelled freely when the rocket was fired. All this must have taken about 30 minutes or so. A quick calculation was done to decide the angle at which the rocket should be fired so that it reaches close to the stranded jawan. On the loudspeaker, we gave out instructions on what our plan was, and he acknowledged it by raising his hand.

We counted “1, 2, 3… BANG!” and pressed the trigger. With a dull swishing sound, the rocket took off and with it went the coiled rope that was laid on the ground. The rope end landed within a few yards of the stranded jawan. A huge round of applause followed. They quickly tied a thicker rope to the thin one and asked the stranded jawan to pull it towards him. Once he got hold of the thicker rope, a big grin on his face said it all! In no time, he was pulled back to safety.

Sometimes, with quick thinking and presence of mind, we can always find a solution to a problem.


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