The intriguing tale of a train that went missing for 17 days reminded me of a similar mystery involving a tank that went missing many years ago at the Armoured Corps Centre and School, Ahmadnagar. The incident was narrated to me by the officer who was one of the dramatis personae.
The narrator was posted to the Automotive Regiment as Technical Officer, responsible for maintenance of the 300 odd tanks on charge of the Regiment, and detailing them for various training events. A few days after he had taken over the appointment, his Technical JCO reported that one of the tanks on their charge was ‘missing’. Thinking his ears were playing tricks, he asked the JCO to repeat himself, but there was no mistake. The JCO had made all possible enquiries before reporting to the officer, and there was no doubt that they were one tank short. The JCO could not provide any plausible explanation, and there was none that the officer could think of either. After all, a 40 tonne steel monster could hardly be spirited away, or hidden easily.
He sought the advice of another Regimental officer, an old hand at Nagar. “Have you reported the matter?” Was the old timers immediate concern. “Not yet, I wanted to be sure before ….” “Don’t! Whatever you do, don’t report it. If you do, you are as good as finished. Losing an Identity Card is punishable by six months loss of seniority – a tank will probably put you back by 20 years.” He said, only half in jest. “Just carry on as if nothing has happened – in all probability no one will ever come to know.”
The officer heeded to the voice of experience, and went about his business without reporting the missing tank. The Annual CEME inspection, when all equipment and vehicles are inspected and certified by the workshop, came and went. The resourceful JCO and a couple of bottles of rum ensured that the inspection form of the missing tank was filled up with the rest, and none was the wiser.
A few months had passed, and the issue of the missing tank was all but forgotten by the officer, when the JCO came rushing into his office excitedly. The missing tank had been found! The JCO, who had managed to piece together the amazing story of the missing tank after it’s discovery, related it.
Apparently the ill fated tank had been part of driver training for one of the courses. At the end of the training, the permanent driver of the tank parked it close to the washing point intending to wash it the next day. However, on reaching back to the lines, he learnt that he had received a telegram from home that his father had passed away. The sympathetic squadron commander had already sanctioned and signed his leave, and he caught the night train home. In all this, no one gave a thought to the tank on the drivers charge.
It remained parked at the washing point for a while, till one day the tank museum, which was just adjacent to the washing point, was being spruced up for a VIP visit. An Armoured Recovery Vehicle was detailed to straighten out the exhibit tanks, and the Vijayant at the washing point was mistaken for one of the museum tanks – possibly a Centurion. The ARV dragged it in line with the rest of the exhibits, and it received a fresh coat of paint along with the others. There it stood for the next few months. Meanwhile, while it’s driver was still on leave, his posting order back to his regiment was received. He rejoined from leave, took his movement order and left for his regiment, without a second thought to the tank that had been on his charge. He assumed that someone else would have been given charge of it on his sudden departure on leave.
Then, a couple of months later a recruit detailed to dust the museum tanks noticed that the cupola of one of the tanks was locked. He reported this to the JCO, who broke open the lock to find a fully functional Vijayant tank displayed as a Centurion. It didn’t take the JCO much time to realize that this was the missing tank from their own fleet.
Incredible as the story may sound, it’s claims of veracity would be plausible to anyone familiar with the laid back working environment that Nagar prided itself in. In fact, as a legend goes, a Russian delegation had once remarked that after visiting Nagar, they had started believing in God – for it was only by the grace of God could a place as laid back as this could continue to function.