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Forgotten tales of courage and valour: The Bucket Brigade



By Col ( Dr) Divakaran Padma Kumar Pillay

“SIXTY” as the gallant paratroopers of this unit proudly call 60 Parachute Field Hospital, is the only airborne medical unit of the Indian Army. It represents with great pride the combat medical fraternity of the Armed Forces of this country. The unit has bestowed it’s glorious past on the present team which masts it’s flag with unflinching dedication and achievements galore.

60 Parachute Field Ambulance was raised as 60 Indian Field Ambulance on 10th August 1942 in Secunderabad and saw action in Burma as a part of the 2nd Indian Airborne Division. The performance of the Unit in these operations led to its selection for para duties. It was converted to Para Field Ambulance in 1945.



The unit embraces numerous palms to its name, speaking in volumes of the unsurmountable capabilities of the officers and troops of the unit. The traditions and ethos of Sixty, ingrained in the hearts and minds of the bearers of its flag has made the unit realise exemplary success in all the operations it has undertaken in varied terrains and environments. Rising to the need of a war-torn nation to dispensing humanitarian assistance for a disaster hit nation, this glorious fleet of ‘men apart’ has undyingly extended succour to those in need. These extraordinary men have etched the name “60 Parachute Field Hospital” akin to achievers in the history of elite Indian Armed Forces.



The unit has participated in 18 operations ranging from parachuted decent in Op Killer and Op Tomahawk in Korean War to non-parachuted role in Op Maitri and Op Samudra Maitri for providing relief to the earthquake hit countries of Nepal and Indonesia.



The unit’s gallant and selfless devotion towards duty in all fortes has been admired by one and all. 60 Parachute Field hospital is the only unit to be bestowed with the prestigious President’s Trophy and Citation on 10 March 1955, for it’s unparalleled feat in Korea, which stands tall in the Ante’ room of the Officers’ Mess of 60 Parachute Field hospital. The unit is a recipient of 08 unit citations including 06 foreign citations. The officers and men of the unit have won many recognitions throughout the impressive history of the unit. The unit holds 02 Maha Vir Chakras, 07 Vir Chakras and 26 M-in-D. They are also recipients of 04 Chungmu Distinguished Meritorious Service Award (third highest award of Korean military for distinguished services) and 04 US Bronze Stars.

The unit has admiringly been bestowed with many appellations for its role in the Korean War. Sixty has been titled as “Maroon Angels, Airborne Angels and Cherry Troopers”, quintessentially for dawning the Maroon and being healers for those in despair.


On 04 December 1950, 60 Para Field Ambulance commanded and led by Lt Col AG Rangaraj, supporting the 27 British Commonwealth Brigade had advanced north as far as the Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Thereafter, the communist forces launched an offensive against the UN forces. The units were ordered to withdraw from Pyongyang area to Seoul on their own, with no transport provided. The men of ‘SIXTY’ stumbled upon an ancient steam locomotive with few bogies. Since they were reluctant to abandon their medical equipment, two men with no first hand locomotive experience got the train running. Men filled the engine with water by means of buckets from a nearby river thus earning the sobriquet “The Bucket Brigade”. On 05 December 1950, they drove their small train over the last bridge over River Han hours before it was demolished and reached Seoul on 06 December 1950 with their equipment and stores intact.



Many firsts of Indian Army are held by this elite unit. It is the first unit of the Indian Army to have participated in a UN Mission. The unit sailed to Korea for the mission and had etched it’s name in the pages of history. This unit also holds the privilege of being the first unit to have a stamp and cover page released in it’s name, in the year 1982. The first Commanding Officer of this unit post-independence, Late Col AG Rangaraj also happens to be the ‘First Paratrooper’ of the Indian Army. Lt Col Farida Rehana of Sixty was the ‘First Lady Paratrooper’ of the Indian army. These firsts of sixty have paved the pathway and set examples for generations to follow.

It has been 66 years since the gallant troops of SIXTY returned to their homeland on 09 February 1954 after having served the longest tenure by any nation under the United Nations flag and endured in the far off lands, to bring cheer and hope to the victims of violence with their unstinted devotion to duty amidst toil, sweat and blood. They had performed nearly 2300 field surgeries and treated approximately 100,006 cases apart from civilian casualties, Chinese and North Korean PoWs.

SIXTY has had the esteemed privilege of having many distinguished delegations visit the unit from Republic of Korea annually and this reflects the acute remembrance by the Koreans for the indefatigable and yeomen service provided by Sixty in the Korean War starting from the Cold War dividing the country till the establishment of the DMZ at the 38th parallel.

Col ( Dr) Divakaran Padma Kumar Pillay, Shaurya Chakra, PhD is a Research Fellow, with the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. His twitter id is @dpkpillay12.


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