Friday, September 17, 2010

AIR WAR OF 1965 REVISITED - Classic Air Combat Part-I

Unfinished Business

On 14th September, two Gnats were scrambled on an interception mission to tackle the Sabres over Amritsar. Sqn. Ldr. N.K. Malik and Flt. Lt. A.N. Kale both were experienced pilots on this particular mission. Arriving over Amritsar, Kale observed two Sabres and went in a turn to bring the Gnats behind the two Sabres. However, two more Sabres bounced the Gnats. One of them getting a shot at Kale.

Kale who had been aiming for the Sabres ahead, broke off the attack and put the aircraft into a series of dives and turns to shake off his pursuer. In the process, he found his Gnat was another victim of the gremlin that plagued most of the diminutive fighters in the war. His cannons jammed. The Sabre hit his aircraft enough for the engine to flame out and Kale ejected near Ferozpur. The successful Pakistani pilot being, Flt. Lt. Yusuf Ali Khan. Yusuf earlier was forced to disengage in an aerial combat on 2nd September, when his aircraft was damaged by an IAF Gnat. He was amused when he heard that IAF had awarded that pilot with Vir Chakar for shooting his Sabre down, when in fact he had nursed his aircraft back to the base. He avenged this propaganda news by shooting down a Gnat while flying in the same F-86 Sabre aircraft, thus completing his unfinished business.

Fighter Sweep over Beas

Two days later, S/L Alam, accompanied by Flg Off M.L.Shaukat as his No.2, was flying a MiG-baiting CAP only about 10 miles from the Indian airfields of Halwara and Adampur at about 20,000ft. The IAF accepted the challenge by sending a couple of Hunters. Halwara did not saw air combat since the evening of September 6, but was destined to see some on this particular day. Flt. Lt. P.S. Pingale, the pilot who ejected in the Halwara air fight earlier was on the ORP along with Flg. Off. F.D. Bunsha. Originally belonging to No. 20 Squadron, Flf. Off. Bunsha was deputed to No.7 Squadron at the outbreak of the war. Both the pilots, who were on the ORP, were scrambled on reports of intruders in the sky approaching Halwara. They took off in their Hunters trying to locate these intruders. After being directed by Sakesar on this deep penetration S/L Alam called up the GCI station to check on his position since his wingman was young and inexperienced with a total of only about 300 hours flying, including 70-80 hours on the F-86.
Sakesar confirmed that Halwara was 10 miles to the left and instructed the Sabres to turn back through 180 degrees, at the same time warning the PAF pilots that IAF aircraft were climbing up for an interception. 'Do you want to fight?" asked Sakesar knowing that Alam had an inexperienced wingman with him. Alam's answer was resigned: 'Now we are here we have got to fight'.

It was Pingale who first spotted Alam's Sabre flying ahead of them at a lower altitude. He was about to get onto Alam's tail, when he observed another Sabre coming in from behind at about 4'o clock and about to open fire. Pingale radioed Bunsha to engage the Sabre ahead, while he turned around to engage the second Sabre.

A continuous commentary on the position of the IAF aircraft was passed by Sakesar to S/L Alam, who finally made visual contact with two Hunters closing in from a range of about 4-5.000ft. He recalls:

"They were flying very fast: we were doing about Mach 0.8, but they must have been diving at around Mach 0.95 or more. They couldn't stay in our turn so they zoomed up in a yo-yo manoeuvre. When I reversed back they both pulled through from there and we dived behind them until at about 13-14000ft they separated in a vertical break. One of the Hunters went on down while the other pulled up to about 20,000ft with me still behind him. I'm sure this Hunter must have pulled between 7-8g because I turned at about 61/2g to keep with him and my aircraft flicked. I thought my drop tanks must have stayed on when I jettisoned them. But when I looked the wings were clean. So I had simply been pulling too much g." 

Pingale headed for the second Sabre and put his aircraft into a half roll turn to get onto the tail of this second Sabre which was being flown by Shaukat. Shaukat then pulled up into the sun in an attempt to shake off Pingale but failed to do so. When this did not work, Shaukat ditched his drop tanks, pulled up steeply. Pingale stuck to Shaukat’s tail. Shaukat even opened up his leading edge slats, in an effort to lose speed and make Pingale overshoot him. However, Pingale too put his aircraft in a climb and stayed on Shaukat's tail. He was able to open fire at a range of 350 yards and hit the Sabre. Some more bursts and Shaukat's Sabre was in flames. The Pakistani pilot ejected.

Meanwhile, Bunsha tried to attack and bring down Alam's Sabre, but his skills were no way matched with Alam's. Alam was a veteran pilot with over 1700 hours of flying experience in the Sabre alone. Alam lured Bunsha into a scissors maneuver and got onto the tail of Bunsha. As Bunsha broke off in a vertical climb, Alam too pulled up to chase and fired at the Hunter and was scoring hits. This time, Pingale who had finished off Shaukat noticed Bunsha's predicament and went in to intervene. He was already too late.

Alam narrates the ensuing combat:

"I fired my first burst at the Hunter when I was pulling about 6g and although my gunsight was tracking him, I didn't hit him. As we were still climbing, however the g began to bleed off and the second time I fired at the Hunter I hit him. At the third burst, he became a ball of flame, so I turned back and looked for my wingman. He had not been able to stay with me, and had been engaged in combat by the other Hunter. Then I suddenly lost all radio contact with him although I could see him in the distance and I saw, the Hunter break away from him." 

Bunsha's Hunter had caught fire and was blazing with flames. The very moment the Hunter exploded, killing Bunsha, Alam noticed Pingale approaching and broke off from his burning target. Alam now flew head on in the direction of Pingale's Hunter and opened fire. The shells missed the Hunter and both Pingale and Alam crossed each other head-on.

Pingale noticed the Sabre roll into a vertical dive in an attempt to get behind him. He wrenched the Hunter into the dive following the Sabre. Pingale was already suffering from pain from the back injury sustained by the ejection on September 6th. Now this combined with the 8 Gs of force, blacked him out momentarily.

He had to pull out of the dive to regain consciousness, but had lost sight of Alam's Sabre. Alam had reversed to get back onto Pingale's tail and then fired his sidewinder at him but missile strayed off due to mechanical malfunction. He then fired his second missile, which scored a hit on Hunter's right wing root and plane began to smoke. Alam obviously did not see the Hunter crash, as he was getting low on fuel, he had to turn back but back at his airbase. Pingale however nursed his damaged plane back safely at Halwara.

Bunsha died in his Hunter. But Alam's No.2 Shaukat ejected near Tarn Tarn. As he was descending in his parachute, he was fired at by villagers, receiving a .303 bullet as well as shotgun pellets as a result. Handed over to the troops of the 4th Indian Division, he was shifted for medical care. Later at a field hospital, an Indian surgeon removed the bullets and pellets from his body. He spent the rest of the war in an Indian POW camp.

Shooting down of IAF Gnat over Sialkot Sector
By Group Captain (retd.) Saif-ul-Azam

The  Indo-Pak War in September '65 saw No, 32 Wing Commanded by Wing Commander Masood A. Sikander positioned in Sargodha designated as Strike Command for ground interdiction both defensive and offensive across the border into India. No. 32 Wing constituted of 16, 17 and 18 Squadrons from Mauripur. They were known as the "Mauripur Sabres" throughout the war. My posting at that point of time was with No.2 Squadron as an instructor. I was seconded to the 32 Wing and came to Sargodha on the 8th.

Around midday 19th September I was sitting in the alert tent listening to accomplishments of pilots who had flown missions the previous day against Indian convoys of trucks, tanks and equipment on trawlers, moving towards the Pakistan border in the Sialkot Sector.

I had also flown one such mission on 17th and wondered at their wisdom of sending such convoys without adequate air cover. The whole convoy was stretched along the road bumper to bumper. The spacing between vehicles was so small that one could destroy or damage up to 5-6 soft skin vehicles in a single pass. We flew several missions that day destroying or damaging many. Anti-aircraft fire was generally small arms fire, one could actually ignore it.

At about mid afternoon a flight of 4 x F-86s was scrambled from Sargodha to an urgent army call for ground support in the Chawinda sector of Sialkot. I was #4 of this element led by Sqn Ldr Azim Daudpota with Flt Lt Mujtaba Qureshi #2 and my flight commander Flt Lt SM Ahmed #3. On identifying the target we carried out if I recall correctly a total of six attacks, including two rocket attacks. As we were preparing to exit when 4 Gnats jumped us. I was still recovering from the dive of my last gun attack when I could make out calls from the leader to the formation members. The transmission was garbled and I could not make out what he said. A section of 2 Gnats had got behind #3 piloted by SM Ahmed. Just then I saw 2 Gnats coming from my left trying to position behind me. I gave a call “Leader from Four, I am breaking off to engage Gnats”. There was no response from anyone! I made a hard Chandelle type left turn to engage the Gnats. The height was around 1000 to 1500 feet. As I gained height and crossed over the Gnats, instead of reversing I instinctively converted my chandelle to a barrel roll, inverted I could keep them in sight. When I recovered from the barrel roll I was comfortably placed behind the #2 of the pair.

I reduced power and used intermittent airbrakes to remain inside the turn of the Gnat. I quickly adjusted the gun sight settings to the wingspan of a Gnat, (I had mistaken them for Hunters) laid the “pipper” on the aircraft and fired a very short burst, perhaps ¾ of a second and immediately observed hits on the aft section of the aircraft. I recall flashes and pieces flying off and saw the pilot gently pull up and mercifully eject.

As I pulled up, the combat had occurred around 500 feet, I unexpectedly found the first of the pair of Gnats bang in front of me, slightly to my left and closing alarmingly. The Gnat probably responding to calls from his wingman appears to have slowed down and was in a 20 degree bank. I was less than 500 feet and closing fast, the pilot had his head turned looking back and I “felt” our eyes meet. I recall he did not have his smoked visors down. All I had to do is the make slight adjustment of the controls and fire. At that point, I still cant figure out, even after 40 years, what came over me! I banked away without opening fire. Could it be “looking” into the eyes of a fellow hum being who appeared so helpless at that point, afraid of being hit by debris of an exploding aircraft or being fearfully low on fuel. Today, I am a very happy man, completely satisfied with my action on that day, although many friends chided me for this decision.

I headed towards Sargodha at 500 feet. I could hear my leader asking other members of the flight if they had seen me eject. He repeated the call and said “I hope Azam had ejected and is safe”. I was very moved by his concern for me and was desperate to inform him that not only was I safe but had also shot down an enemy aircraft. I heard #3 SM Ahmed’s call telling the leader that he was hit and had lost his pressure instruments but as the aircraft was controllable he was heading for Sargodha. I also heard #2 Mujtaba give an all well call.

Low on fuel I decided to slowly gain height. While climbing I took off my mask to check on the microphone connection, the plug had come off. As I reconnected the plug I had my transmitter functioning again. I joyfully informed my leader that I was fine and had shot down a Gnat. He was much relieved and directed us to land individually. At this point SM Ahmed requested me to give a chase up to the landing point, I declined politely, my fuel gauge was showing zero. I, however, had SM Ahmed on visual on his straight final. Suddenly I saw his left wing dip and the Sabre hit the ground short of the runway and explode in a ball of fire. I landed through the pall thick black smoke, parked the aircraft in the pen and declared to the ground crew that SM Ahmed was no more. Bad ending to a otherwise successful mission.

SM Ahmed had skilfully nursed a disabled aircraft only to crash a few hundred feet from the runway. I went to my tent without talking to anyone. In the evening I decided to go to the mess to and try to forget the SM Ahmed tragedy. As I approached the bar, I could not believe my eyes! The man, I thought had been killed in the crash was sitting on the bar stool nursing a broken wrist and a drink! It transpired that the ejection seat had somehow miraculously fired on impact and SM was thrown clear of the exploding aircraft.

The SM Ahmed incident had consolidated the belief in my faith that life and death is in the Hands of Allah and that death is predestined.

1 comment:

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