Friday, September 17, 2010

AIR WAR OF 1965 REVISITED - 6th September 1965

Starfighter Strikes
By Wg Cdr Aftab Alam Khan, Pakistan Air Force (Retd):

The balloon went up on the morning of 6th September 1965. I got airborne with my wingman on a CAP mission. We climbed out under radar control, and were directed to the border near Kashmir. I was informed that the IAF had crossed the Pakistani border and were attacking ground positions approximately 80nm south of us. This meant that India had actually decided to start an all out war. We were immediately vectored to the area, and were soon over the site where the Indian aircraft were attacking. While dawn was breaking at 15,000 feet, it was still dark down below. I asked for permission to descend to ground level, but was denied. The reason given was that radio contact would be lost. I, however, decided to descend and leaving my wingman at 15,000 feet, to act as radio relay, I dove down and headed towards some flashes. As I reached the area, I was surprised to see that I was flying head-on into a formation of four IAF Mystere IV aircraft that were attacking ground targets. I was shocked more than I was surprised, as I felt a wave of anger leap through me. I had to shoot down these aircraft. I jettisoned my external fuel tanks and started to engage the Mysteres, as they turned into me. Maneuvering started at tree top level. I kept my eyes 'glued' on the target. I could feel the strain, under high 'G's', looking over the tail of the aircraft, keeping the enemy in sight, and skimming the trees at high speed. One mistake, and I would have hit the ground. If I had lost sight of the Mysteres, the fight would have been over. The F-104, with the afterburner blazing, at low altitude, was responding very well. I used the high speed take -off Flaps to improve the turning capability as required. The 'Stick Shaker' was a big help, in flying the aircraft to its limit.

The Mysteres would have no problem keeping the F-104 in sight because of its afterburner. After some hectic maneuvering, I was positioned behind two aircraft, but the other two were still not visible. I then spotted them, further ahead. Joy leapt through me; I armed my weapons, and decided to shoot the first two with missiles and the next two with guns. I fully realized that a confidential order prohibited me from using the missiles below 10, 000 ft. However, I was sure the missiles could be used effectively at any height, provided the targets could be discriminated from background heat sources. A distinct increase in missile tone ensured this. I set the wingspan of the Mystere IV, and started to recall the missile-firing checklist. 'Check Range', 'Check Tone', 'Check G's', 'Squeeze the trigger and hold'. I aimed the missile at the nearest aircraft, and heard the loud pitched missile tone. The sight indicated that I was in range. With all other requisite firing conditions met, I squeezed the trigger, and kept it pressed. I waited, only to note that the missile had not fired. As I looked towards the left missile, I saw a big flash, and the missile leaving the aircraft. The missile had taken, as stipulated in the manual, approx. 8/10ths of a second to fire after the trigger had been pressed but in combat, this seemed like an eternity. The flash of the missile blinded me for a few seconds. The radar controller who was also monitoring the radio of the Mystere's, immediately informed me that one Mystere had been shot down and that another had been damaged. I was then at once instructed to turn right and pick up visual contact with the other Mysteres, which were exiting. I turned as directed but could not see them.

On landing back, I was informed that the dog fight had taken place overhead the Rahwali Airfield where a low powered radar was located. The Mystere's wreckage had fallen close by; the other three had gotten away. It gave me great satisfaction and amusement to think the effect that would be created on the IAF when the tale of the encounter with, 'the F-104' was narrated by the pilots who got away. To quote Hussaini, the PAF's official aviation painter, 'Apart from being the first encounter to start the war in earnest, the engagement was also significant in other respects. It marked a new era in dogfighting at very low altitude. It was also the first combat kill by any Mach 2 aircraft and the first missile kill for the Pakistan Air Force'. Moreover, it was also proven that the F-104 and the Sidewinder missile were an effective weapon system at low altitude.

GT Road Disaster

At Peshawar Airbase, around more then two hundred miles away from Lahore, six F-86s of No 19 Squadron were ready to be airborne, armed with guns and rockets since September 5th as per specific instructions of Air Marshal Nur Khan. As soon as, a call was received from Air Headquarters of launching the first air strike by the No 19 Squadron under the command of Squadron Leader Sajjad Haider , the Sabres took off.

Sajjad recalls Though the sun was up in the morning of 6th September, the air was still bracingly cool at our airbase. The news of Indian military attacks against Lahore came as a thunderbolt to all of us and it worked up the fighter pilots into a vicious mood. Everyone was urged to go forward to safeguard his nation and country".

As we were ordered to launch air strike mission on the Indian Armour units advancing to wards Lahore along the Amritsar-Wagah GT Road, a jubilant mood prevailed among pilots for the first mission in the morning. Those who joined me on the mission were Flt Lt Arshad Sami, Mohammad Akbar, Khalid Latif, Dilawar Hussain and Ghani Akbar.”

“Our F-86s were armed with rockets in addition to the six guns. We took off and leveled off at the pre-planned height before heading towards, Wagah, Lahore.Shortly afterward we were over the target area and went in as far as Amritsar. Turning back we spotted enemy vehicles of all sorts moving along the road crossing Wagah border, covered by the Sherman tanks. I also saw the now famous Omni Bus parked at the Wagah Custom Post which the Indian Army later paraded that day in the streets of Amritsar as the war trophy from Lahore. For a while the enemy did not see us orbiting overhead. But when they did it was a sight to see the soldiers and drivers jumping out to take cover leaving vehicles to fate.”

“ All pilots check your firing switches; hot; target in sight.”

As the second dragged on the Haider formation reached the pull up point and the six F-86s climbed steeply into the sky like darts getting ready for attack.


“I had by now dived in for attack and let go my first burst of rockets. My formation followed. I all we made six attacks each, as our formation orbited over the targets at tree top level. By the time we had expended our guns and rockets and returning to our Airbase. We saw a litter of bonfires destroying dozens of Sherman tanks, cannons and army vehicles. “

It was an armour brigade task force group trying to cross the BRB Canal at Batapur bridge. The war diary of 10 Division defending Lahore led by Major General Sarfaraz Khan , recorded that “ at this crucial juncture appeared 6 PAF s’ F-86s and for 15-20 minutes wrought havac on enemy armour and infantry, who were advancing in the open road trying to cross the BRB canal.

Dawn of 6th September, 1965 saw a formation of 6 F-86s of No 19 Squadron fully loaded with 5 inch rockets (a last minute premonition the night before, by Air Marshal Nur Khan the C-in-C, which paid rich dividends) flying on “Hot Patrol’. The moment the Air Defence Commander learnt of Indian Army’s advance towards Lahore, the 19 Squadron formation was diverted to stop the advancing Indian armour columns at Wagah. In twenty minutes of action, the Grand Trunk Road was littered with scores of burning tanks, armoured and soft vehicles. The 5 inch rockets had a devastating effect on the enemy armour. The formation led by Squadron Leader Sajad Haider with Flight Lieutenants M Akbar, Dilawar Hussain, Ghani Akbar and Flying Officers Khalid Latif, and Arshad Chaudhry brought the Indian attack to a dead halt.
After landing at Sargodha for re-fuelling, the formation rushed back to Peshawar to prepare for the dusk strike on Pathankot air base.

In perfect flying weather and with no interference by the IAF, the PAF's contribution, though necessarily limited, was nonetheless effective and timely. Every mission in support of the army was a precious one and every involved pilot was imbued with the desire and determination to get the best value from his mission and make the Indians pay heavily for their transgression. The last ground support sortie of the day returned at 1545 hours.

PAF attacks Pathankot

There was some doubt in the minds of the PAF planning staff as to whether Pathankot would still be occupied by the IAF. But the force of 8 Sabres, escorted by 2 more F-86s carrying Sidewinders as top cover at 15,000 ft was fortunate. When the PAF pilots pulled up over Pathankot precisely on time at 1700 hours after a diversionary high-low approach, descending to tree-top height about 20 miles short of the border to avoid the Indian radar, they were delighted to see a large number of IAF aircraft parked around in protected dispersal pens. On the way in, with gun switches selected form 'safe' to 'fire' when crossing the frontier, the 8 Sabres in two sections of four had passed below a couple of IAF Gnats flying at about 5,000 ft without being detected.


At the 1530 hours briefing for the Pathankot strike, for which no airfield photographs were unfortunately available, the plan was for each pilot to make two attacks with his six 0.5 in Browning guns, and 1,800 rounds of API (armour-piercing and incendiary) ammunition per aircraft as the sole armament. With no enemy fighters in the vicinity, however, and 'fairly thin' ground fire, 'Nosey' set the ball rolling with four carefully positioned dives from about 1,500 ft, systematically selecting individual aircraft in protected pens on the airfield for his gun attacks. He was gratified to recognise the distinctive delta-winged Mig-21s, -India's latest fighter among the aircraft on the ground, and singled them out for special attention. As the rest of his pilots followed suit, Wing Commander Tawab flying one of the 2 top cover Sabres counted 14 fires burning on the airfield, and observed quite a bit of light flak.
Only one PAF aircraft was hit during this strike, with minor damage in the lower fuselage and wing. After their attacks, the Sabres hugged the ground for five minutes or so for their exit from the target, pulling up when clear to stretch their fuel for the return flight. Even though they had retained their drop tanks throughout the attack to get as much fuel from them as Possible most landed with less than 300 lbs left on board at the nearest airfield, which was Sargodha. This was enough for only two or three minutes of flight, and one of the Peshawar Sabres ran completely out of fuel just as it turned off the runway after landing. This sort of margin was clearly unacceptable, but on many occasions throughout the war, some Sabre pilots counted themselves fortunate if they were able to land with more than about 3-400 lbs of fuel on board. Certainly after about 80% of their wartime missions, the Sabres of 19 Squadron landed back with 300 lbs of fuel or less. Operating with this sort of margin was made possible only because of the excellent recovery procedures and instructions from the Sakesar SOC.
After debriefing and interrogation, the Pathankot strike element were credited with 7 Mig-21s, 5 Mysteres and 1 Fairchild C-119 destroyed on the ground, plus damage to the air traffic control building. Later assessments by the PAF Director of Plans and Operations were inclined to consider the number of Migs credited as slightly optimistic, while the Indians claimed they were not Mig-21s at all, but Mysteres. Officially, Indians accepted losing ten aircrafts during this strike including two Mig-21s. The IAF official history states that only nine Mig-21s were in service at this time, and India was prepared to show 8 at the end of the campaign. But whatever the precise type of destruction caused at Pathankot, it was an undisputed success in being inflicted without loss. Unfortunately it was the only one of the three strikes to prove successful.
IAF MiG-21 destroyed on ground
Air Marshal S Raghavendran states, "I also knew of Nur Khan, the Pakistani air chief, by reputation. He was an alumnus of my own school, the RIMC in Dehra Dun. He had been a 'killer' boxer and devout Muslim while at school. He had a plethora of professional role models from among older alumni of RIMC to base his conduct on, including Prem Bhagat, the first Indian Victoria Cross awardee in World War II. His predecessor as the air chief in Pakistan was Asghar Khan, also from the RIMC, who was another thorough professional. Between them, and with immense help from the USA,  they had built up a tradition of professionalism and one couldn't possibly expect them to let the Indian Air Force get away with it.

So I went to the Station Commander, Group Captain Roshan Suri, and asked him for permission to take up a four aircraft Combat Air Patrol over the airfield at 5:30 PM. He said he would think about it. I kept going to him, phoning him or intercepting him when he visited the squadrons during the day. At first he said he would let me know. Then he said that the ORP aircraft were not to be touched and so I must get eight aircraft on the line before he could authorize it. I had only about ten aircraft altogether, available in Pathankot at that time, but managed to get eight serviceable and went back to him in the afternoon. He said he would let me know.

I had in mind that the other three would be Johnny Greene, Trevor Keelor and "Ajax" (aka "Kala") Sandhu, all of whom had a very high rating as determined and capable combat pilots. I was pretty sure of myself too. And we were all supremely confident of the maneuverability of the Gnat aircraft and the punch of its two 30mm cannons.

When I went to the Station Commander around 4 PM, he floored me with a different plan. At this time the first MiG-21 squadron was just becoming operational, and two of their aircraft, with their Commanding Officer, Wing Commander MSD "Mally" Wollen, and his flight commander "Laddu" Sen had been allocated to Pathankot for operational duties. The plan was that they would get airborne around 6 PM, climb to 40,000 feet altitude and do supersonic runs in the vicinity. Obviously these tracks would be picked up by Pakistani radar. This was expected to put the fear of God into the Pak commanders, who would then not attack our airfield.

Those were the days when the MiG-21 was very new, and we had not learned to exploit it as we did later. It was strictly a high level interceptor and the pilots flew with the kind of gear meant for high altitude, including a helmet that resembled an astronaut's. It carried only two K-13 missiles and no guns.

The Mystere and Gnat squadron commanders, their flight commanders, and senior pilots were ordered to attend the briefing of the MiG formation, which we all did. After an impressive briefing the pilots picked up their space helmets, tucked them under their arms and walked out towards their aircraft, which had been pushed out of their blast pens for start-up and take-off. I am not sure of the exact time but I have a vague memory that it was just about 5:30 PM. 


THAT IS WHEN THE PAF STRUCK!!

There was pandemonium. Bullets were flying all around. We all rushed to the nearest trench and dived in, not sitting and crouching as we should have been but piling ourselves flat on top of each other!! We could hear and see the Pakistani Sabres going round and round, as though in range practice, and picking off all the possible aircraft, including the two MiG-21s, in spite of the anti-aircraft guns blazing away. The rest is history. We were told that four Sabres had attacked, but since they were going round and round we couldn't count them accurately whenever we put our head up in the trench.

There went our opportunity to score a historic success. And perhaps to secure more decorations than the squadron eventually received. Fortunately, Keelor had already been awarded his VrC, and Ajax Sandhu got his with a kill later during the war. I recommended Johnny Greene (who was on attachment to my squadron) for a VrC at the end of the war, for sustained leadership as a flight commander in my squadron during the war. Though I was told that the VrC is given only for individual acts of bravery, I had my way and it was awarded."
 
IAF Transport aircraft under attack


In an other account of this daring attack, the Indian Website 'Bharat Rakshak' states." Murdeshwar was now coming in to land in the opposite direction, he could see in a corner of the eye Jatar’s Mystere slowing down on the taxi track, then his attention was attracted by the sudden spurt of R/T transmissions. The ATC was frantically announcing, "Incoming Raid, Incoming Raid." Murdeshwar cursed himself on his fuel state. If he had enough fuel, he could have taken off and intercepted the incoming aircraft. By this time his aircraft had landed and he was taxiing into a blast pen.

Wg. Cdr. Kuriyan was just then driving into his garage at his house, when he heard the ack-ack guns booming. He looked towards the airfield to see four F-86 Sabres bore down the airfield at low level firing their machine guns, while two Starfighters kept high altitude cover. As the four Sabres pulled out, another four bore in. The Sabres strafed buildings, installations and aircraft on the ground. The A-A Guns had opened up onto targets in the sky, and the sounds of machine guns strafing the airfield was audible.

Fg. Off. Janak Kapur who had already landed had just then steered his Gnat into a Blast pen and climbed out of his Gnat, when a fellow officer yelled, "Sir, look up, they are attacking." Kapur looked up to see the Sabres pulling up for the attack. Murdeshwar's Gnat was noticed by the Sabres as it was making its way to the blast pen. A volley of bullets straddled the Gnat just as Murdeshwar jumped out of the aircraft and out of the blast pen. Within seconds the bullets destroyed the Gnat.

The air traffic control tower at that time was newly built at Pathankot. It still did not house the ATC Staff as yet. The Actual ATC was located in a trench covered by a tent on the opposite side of the tarmac, where the ATC Controllers operated using R/T sets. Wg. Cdr. M.S.D. Wollen was one of the pilots scheduled to take off that particular evening. Wollen dived into the ATC trench when the attack began and watched the entire attack from there. 

The Sabres surprisingly left the Jatar’s Mystere on the taxi track alone, probably in the assumption that it was a decoy and attacked the row of MiGs, Mysteres along the blast pens in the airfield. The CAP was not scrambled. The Gnats on the ORP too escaped damage. However, two of the MiG-21s which were being refueled after returning from an earlier flight, went up in flames.

At that time the only Indian aircraft in the air was a lone Mystere on a training flight. Fg. Off. McMohan was a rookie pilot on the training sortie in the Mystere. He hardly had about 50 flying hours to his credit. Luckily for him, the ATC Controller recognized the danger of the rookie pilot getting caught in the combat and instructed McMohan to head south and come back later. McMohan eventually landed back after the raid was over.

Some Mysteres on the ground bore the brunt of the raid, and were damaged. As were the two MiG-21s. Only the fact that the Sabre's 0.50 inch machine guns could fire ball ammunition instead of exploding cannon shells prevented further damage. The Sabres slipped off unscathed, as even the airfield defences were caught napping. For the PAF, this raid was a cakewalk, the next one was not going to be another. All in all, one C-119, four Mysteres, two Gnats and two MiG-21s were destroyed in this highly successful raid by the PAF."

Adampur Attack

At Sargodha, the 8 F-86s - 4 each assigned to Adampur and Halwara-started engines some 15-20 min late and, as in all fatefull sorties, 2 more Sabres, one from each formation, had to abort due to unserviceabilities. This meant that finally ony 3 Sabres of 11 Squadron skimmed low across the Punjab towards Adampur in the quickly gathering dusk. They soon heard warnings frorn Sakesar SOC that enemy fighters alerted by the Pathankot raid were on the prowl in their vicinity. When only 30 seconds short of their IP (Initial Point) at Taran Taran south of Amritsar, the Sabre section encountered four Hunters flying slightly above them at about 500 ft above ground and crossing at almost 90 degrees in close attack formation. Squadron Leader Alam, in the leading F-86, later recalled the encounter: 
PAF Sabres leaving for an offensive mission
"I remember thinking what very pretty aircraft these brand new Hunters were as I ordered my section to punch tanks. The Hunters also jettisoned their drop tanks, and we turned into each other for combat. The fight didn't last long. I got my sights on the No 4 Hunter, and after a brief burst, he flicked and went into the ground in a great ball of flame, although I am not certain whether I hit him or not. We were now evenly matched, numerically, although I never fought at such low altitudes again, nor often at such low speeds."

Twisting and turning at tree-top height, the 6 aircraft were being racked round in individual combat at less than 2.00 knots to try and get on each other's tails. Alam goes on:

"We continued tail chasing and I soon shot down my second quarry. We had started off by pulling about five g during the turns, but as the, speed fell off, we got down to perhaps less than two g. I had all the other 5 aircraft in sight, and I watched one Of my wingmen, Squadron Leader 'Butch' Ahmed score strikes on one of the Hunters in front of him. I think it was hit in the wings as white vapour was streaming from the fuel tanks. We had been in combat for five or six minutes within about forty miles Of Adampur, and I was getting worried that More Indian fighters might be sent to the scene, so I gave a call to all my flight members to return to base."

"As it happened the planned PAF strike on Amritsar radar had been aborted at this time, and there were IAF fighters returning from the area to their base at Halwara. Each one of us was exiting individually at very low level when I came across a couple of these Hunters. I turned into them and took a shot at the last man at long range. He turned into me, then took off his bank. I think I registered hits- I only saw smoke coming out, but no flames. As a wise man, I thought I should not turn back after him as I was low on fuel. So I crossed the border and climbed up to contact our GC1 and check my position. I was not sure what had happened to the rest of my flight, and I was relieved to hear that they were all in the vicinity of Sargodha, where I came back and landed. This was the first time we had encountered the Hunters and, any misgivings we had in our minds were resolved that day. In manoeuvrability, the Sabre are undoubtedly better than the Hunter."
F-86F Sabre over Indian territory
Both Squadron Leader Ahmed and Flight Lieutenant Hatmi, who had accompanied Alam, claimed a Hunter each as damaged during this engagement, despite troubles with their gunsights. These had to be used as fixed sights, without their computing facilities, but supporting evidence for the claims of the PAF pilots came on the following day. All-India Radio announced th at Flight Lieutenant Hussain (believed to be the son of the Indian Vice President Zakir Hussain), had been awarded the Vir Chakra for bringing back badly damaged Hunter after intercepting the enemy Sabres at about the time of the first engagement near Adampur. S/L A.K Rawelley, who was shot down by Alam was killed.

Mission Halwara
By Air Cdre. Kaiser Tufail, Pakistan Air Force (Retd):

With the launching of the Indian counter-stroke at Lahore-Kasur front on the morning of 6th September 1965, neutralisation of the PAF should have been a logical first step. Inexplicably, the PAF was allowed to operate with impunity, which ultimately led to the petering out of 15 Division’s thrust towards Lahore. The IAF, it seemed, was bewildered by its Army’s guarded response and it took a costly twenty-four hours to come to grips with the situation. If only the IAF had struck Sargodha where over half of PAF’s fighter assets were housed, the General Officer Commanding, Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad may well have been having a victory bash at Lahore Gymkhana that evening.

Strong on the heels of its air support to ground troops in Lahore, the PAF decided to follow up with pre-emptive strikes against Indian airfields and radars. The lynch pin of War Plan No 6 of June 1965, it called for neutralising vital elements of the IAF at the onset of hostilities. An ambitious plan that featured late afternoon (TOT 1700 hrs PST) strafing raids against four airfields and three radars was chalked out; it involved 46 aircraft from Peshawar, Mauripur and Sargodha. In the event, a host of factors militated against the plan; these included demands for air support to the Army, major air defence commitments and reduced aircraft availability due to battle damage and other unserviceabilities. Sargodha, which was to provide the bulk of the aircraft, had to have its fleet augmented with twelve Sabres and six T-33s from Mauripur. When they did arrive, it was too late for rectification of serious defects with some of the Sabres. Worse yet, the Sabres had been dispatched unarmed and, it had been left to the Maintenance Wing at Sargodha to speed-load over 21,000 rounds in the 72 guns! Despite all the efforts, Sargodha was able to produce only twelve Sabres to target Adampur and Halwara airfields and Amritsar radar.

The Station Commander Sargodha, Gp Capt Zafar Masud called up the C-in-C to inform him that only four aircraft each would be available for the three targets and suggested that the whole operation be delayed by 24 hours. This would allow preparation of the entire complement, besides giving a breather to the more experienced aircrew that had had a hectic day and were to lead again.

The exigency of wresting the initiative seemed to have become almost an obsession with the Air Staff. To a certain extent, the fear of IAF delivering the first blow was not totally unfounded and, it weighed heavily during the tense deliberations that afternoon. With the Peshawar Sabres all set to attack Pathankot, and Mauripur B-57s standing by to follow up with night strikes, the inclination to go ahead was further reinforced.

Gp Capt Masud was therefore ordered to proceed without any more discussion.

Exasperated but not wholly discouraged, Masud called up the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Operations), Air Cdre A Rahim Khan and urged that eight aircraft should be dispatched against a single airfield instead of being split between Adampur and Halwara. Alerted by the Pathankot strike that had taken off earlier, other airfields would have been swarming with interceptors; the meagre four-ship packages would thus have little chance of getting through. Rahim discussed the idea with the C-in-C who remained adamant about attacking both the airfields. Once again, an ostensibly reasonable suggestion was turned down. The strain of the day’s proceedings was quite evident in the fateful decision.
Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz Ahmad Raffiqui along with his pilots and F-86F Sabre
Tribulations seemed no end for PAF’s star-crossed strike plan. When the eight aircraft finally started up at Sargodha, one was found to be unserviceable and there were no reserves. The final unserviceability of yet another Sabre just before take-off, was good enough reason to have concentrated against a single airfield, but the die had been cast. 

Led by Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz A Rafiqui, with Flt Lt Cecil Choudhry as No 2 and Flt Lt Yunus Hussain as No 3, a formation of three Sabres hurtled across into enemy territory in fast fading light. Sqn Ldr M M Alam’s formation, also of three aircraft, which had taken-off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid on Adampur. Four Hunters, themselves proceeding on a mission against Pak Army formations, had bounced them. Rafiqui was warned by Alam’s section to watch out for Hunters in the area.
IAF Hunters at Halwara
At Halwara, IAF's No 7 Squadron equipped with Hunters had flown four strikes during the day. These were armed reconnaissance missions, which had had little success in finding worthwhile targets. The fourth and last strike for the day was on its way to the precincts of Lahore, when it had encountered Alam’s formation near Tarn Taran. In that engagement Sqn Ldr A K Rawlley’s Hunter impacted the ground while Alam fired at him from astern. The remaining three Hunters aborted the mission and were taxiing back after landing, when Rafiqui’s formation pulled up for the attack at 1753 hrs (PST).
Indian Hunter being shot down over Halwara
That evening, two pairs of Hunter CAPs were airborne from Halwara – one from No 7 Squadron with Flg Off P S Pingale and Flg Off A R Ghandhi and the other from No 27 Squadron with Flt Lt D N Rathore and Flg Off V K Neb. Pingale and Ghandhi were in a left-hand orbit over the airfield when Rafiqui broke off his attack and closed in on the nearest aircraft. Rafiqui’s guns, as usual, found their mark. Pingale, not sure what hit him, lost control of his Hunter and ejected. Next, Rafiqui deftly manoeuvred behind Ghandhi and fired at him, registering some hits. Just then, Cecil heard his Squadron Commander call over the radio, “Cecil, my guns have stopped firing, you have the lead.” Cecil promptly moved in to lead, with Rafiqui sliding back as wingman. Ghandhi did not let go of the momentary slack and manoeuvred behind Rafiqui who was readjusting in his new position.
Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Raffiqui disposing Pingale and adjusting behind Gandhi's Hunter
Ghandhi fired at Rafiqui’s Sabre, but couldn’t get him because of a careless aim. While Ghandhi followed the Sabre, Cecil bored in and shot him in turn, the bullets finding their mark on the left wing. Seeing his aircraft come apart, Ghandhi ejected near the airfield.
Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Raffiui's Sabre being shot down by an Indian Hunter
Running out of fuel as well as daylight, Rafiqui deemed it prudent to exit. Gathering his formation, he headed north-west, but with two more Hunters lurking around, a get away wasn’t easy. Happy on home ground, Rathore and Neb dived in to give chase. Rathore got behind Rafiqui who was on the right while Neb singled out Yunus on the left. Overtaking rapidly, Rathore fired from about 600 yards registering some hits. Closing in still further he fired again, this time mortally hitting Rafiqui’s Sabre. It banked sharply to the left and then dove into the ground near Heren village, some six miles from Halwara.

Meanwhile, Cecil looked around and noticing Yunus in trouble called a defensive break. Yunus responded, but for some incomprehensible reason pulled upwards, assisting Neb to catch up. Neb did not let go of the chance and fired a well-aimed volley, which Yunus did not survive. A puff of smoke rapidly turned into a sheet of flame as the Sabre disintegrated in mid air and fell to the ground. Left alone, Cecil fought his way out and dashed across after a nerve-racking encounter.
Sequence of Flt. Lt. Younis Hussain's Sabre being shot down
At Halwara, consternation was short-lived as Pingale and Ghandhi were back in the Ops Room within minutes of their downing, having been promptly picked up from the airfield vicinity. At Sargodha however, things remained confused for some time. Two pilots of the Adampur strike had landed at Risalewala due to shortage of fuel, but for anxious hours, were considered as missing. Then there were conflicting reports about Rafiqui; according to one, he had somehow managed to make it across and was in a military hospital in Lahore. Perhaps the rumour was churned out as a palliative to lessen the anguish over the loss of the highly popular Rafiqui.

Confirmation of Rafiqui and Yunus’s demise left Sargodha with a sentiment of culpability for having dispatched them for a dangerous mission. Cecil recounted later that Rafiqui had accepted the mission orders unflinchingly, despite the odds. “It is a one way trip, I am sure about that,” Rafiqui had tragically guessed while waiting at the flight lines as the aircraft were being readied for the mission. “Why don’t you discuss it with the authorities?” asked Cecil. It was obvious that the significance of the mission was not lost on Rafiqui, when he replied, “It is an order, I can’t do that.” The answer was reminiscent of Tennyson’s famous refrain:


Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die.

Bombers Unleashed

On 6th September 1965 at 4:30 p.m., a quick twenty minutes final briefing was conducted for the B-57 attack against Jamnagar to be carried out at 6:00 p.m., the same day. This was the second attack at Jamnagar which had earlier been attacked by six F-86 aircraft.
B-57s being unleashed
The six B-57 set out in two waves of three aircraft each, flying at 200 feet above ground level. Following the coast line, they soon crossed over into Indian territory, descending even lower to avoid radar detection. Mandvi lighthouse beacon shining brightly, helped the B-57s to fix their position for final approach at Jamnagar, now some four minutes away. A mile short of the target the aircraft pulled up and each was able to deliver its load of 4,000 lbs of bombs on to the target. All aircraft were carrying a full load of rockets as well, and for this reason only internal bombs had been taken. The last minute orders for the mission had not allowed time for the rocket to be replaced by external bombs. The leader, however, discharged his rockets at a hangar and set it ablaze. No fighter interceptors and anti-aircraft fire were encountered.
B-57 bombers over Indian territory
Thereafter a shuttle service to Jamnagar was kept up all night with single aircraft sorties. During these operations, one PAF aircraft lost which was attributed towards fatigue and bad weather. A photo intelligence report of Jamnagar after the war confirmed that a total of about fifteen bombs landed inside the airfield complex destroying two Indian Air Force Vampires on the technical area.

In another operation, four of B-57s aircraft from Mauripur were ordered to report at Peshawar. On landing at Peshawar, the leader of the formation was informed about his mission to strike Adampur at 5:30 p.m. The aircraft had left Mauripur with internal bombs only and were to have the external stations loaded at Peshawar. However, Peshawar that evening was crowded with aircraft and arrangements had not yet been made to meet the unforeseen commitments that had suddenly arisen for the base. While the maintenance staff struggled to refuel the aircraft, time was slipping by and in order not to delay their mission further, their leader decided to drop his demand for the external bombs. 

It was already dusk before they took off and pitch dark when the B-57 crossed into India flying at low level. The Initial Point, ten minutes from their target, was the bridge over the river Beas a darker streak on an already dark canvas; but they made no mistake about the attack. The anti-aircraft swung in action but the bombers repeated the attacks regardless of its hazard. Except for one aircraft, that had its left wing pierced by a 40 mm shell, no other damage was sustained. The formation landed back at Peshawar at 9:00 p.m. and was tasked for another mission against a bridge at 4:00 a.m. The formation, encouraged the success of the first mission, accept the task willingly and destroyed the target as required.

The non-stop nature of PAFs airfield offensive was indicated by the fact that, as the Adampur strike force was landing back at Peshawar, the other five B-57s were taking off for a follow up strike against Pathankot. The operational signal indicated four aircraft, but as five were available, so all took off. The discussed airfield at Pasrur was the IP (Initial Point) for run-in for the target. The new moon was giving a faint light and the visibility was fairly good. The Indian black out was quite good even in small villages.

There was no sign of any fire etc. of the previous F-86s attack. In fact there was a probability of missing the target. Thanks to an Indian who was kind enough to forget putting the airfield beacon off. It provided accurate pinpoint direction for the destruction of Pathankot. The enemy heard the attack and opened up with everything he had. It further assisted our pilots to see the airfield clearly. A large concentration of ground defences was reported at Pathankot. The PAF pilots were clear in their minds that once they were in an attack, they had to accomplish the mission. The enemy suffered a heavy loss. Next morning our troops intercepted an enemy radio message which said, Pathankot burning, immediate help needed. 

To conduct counter air offensive mission against enemy airfield, and to remain out of reach of their fighter aircraft, the PAF bomber wing remained elusive throughout the war. The pattern repeated was to take off from home base, strike inside Indian territory and recover at another airfield. The B-57 operations called for great skill, concentration, stamina and dedication. These qualities were found in abundance in the ever-eager crew of the wing and no task seemed impossible for them.

3 comments:

  1. Two comments: both the 6th missions were diversions at the very last moment from earlier assigned missions. The mission assigned n rehearsed was attack on Ambala airfield transiting through Lahore for refueling. Pathankot was surprise given at 1200 Hrs. On 6th morn. Wagha was diversion in the air.
    2. 5 inch rockets were not practiced ever. But pilots worked out firing peremeters as they were getting near our aircraft. they had always practiced with 2.75 inch HVAAR rockets. But Allah SWT guided them to success. (Source can be furnished on demand.)

    Sqn Ldr Salman Ali

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    1. Sorry I forgot one thing. (No.19 Squadron Missions on 6th)

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  2. I agree on both your points. These articles were posted way back in 2010-11 and needs to be updated with more authentic information. I have already updated them on my Facebook page i.e. https://www.facebook.com/combataviationhistoryofpakistan

    I will update them as soon as I complete the DESERT VIPERS project.

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