Friday, September 17, 2010

AIR WAR OF 1965 REVISITED - Missions against Amritsar Radar

Countering Fishoil

IAF master radar station was situated just across the border from Lahore at Amritsar. After the first abortive missions against Amritsar on 6 September, recounted earlier, the next move came on 7 September when attempts were made to locate Alfa radar by photographic reconnaissance. RT-33s of 20 Squadron were initially used for this task, operating unescorted at low level, and their results were sufficiently accurate for the site of 'Fishoil' - the call sign of Amritsar radar to be pinpointed.

The first attack as a result of this intelligence came on 9 September, when 4 F-86s from Sargodha hedge-hopped for fifteen minutes across the border to Amritsar in poor visibility, to drop napalm jellied petroleum bombs on the radar site. Despite the adverse weather conditions, the 4 Sabres came across part of the Amritsar complex after setting course from their Initial Point, and the accuracy of their navigation was confirmed by the heavy ack ack fire encountered in the target area. Leading the mission was Flight Lieutenant Bhatti, who delivered his napalm close to the site, although slightly to one side. His No 2, the ebullient Squadron Leader Munir, pulled up into a text book attack pattern over the site, but then lost visual contact with the target because of the thick haze. Further attempts to continue the attack were then abandoned following warnings from Sakesar of large numbers of IAF fighters racing towards the scene from the nearby airfields. After exiting at low level, the PAF Sabres dropped their remaining napalm loads harmlessly in Indian fields before returning to base. 

On the following day, 10 September, the PAF followed up with a further 2 missions against Amritsar radar by a total of 12 F-86s from Sargodha, escorted by 2 F-104s as top cover. For these attacks, first by 4 F-86s escorted by two F-104s, followed by another 4 F-86s with 4 more as top cover, primary armament comprised 2.75in rockets, but it was soon found that the dust, smoke and debris from delivery of the first aircraft's weapons restricted visibility to such an extent that it was impossible for subsequent pilots to achieve an accurate aim. Slight damage was caused to some parts of the installation but unfortunately for the PAF, 'Fishoil' was soon back on the air.

At least the location of site Alfa was now known, and the Sabres at Sargodha were detailed for yet another strike against Amritsar on 11 September. Having tried and rejected napalm and rockets, the Sabres this time were to use only their 0.5in machine guns against the radar installation, for optimum accuracy and adequate striking power. The use of bombs at this stage was vetoed by the C-in-C, since the radar site was very close to the town of Amritsar, with the possibility of civilian damage and casualties.

For the attack on 11 September, 4 Sabres plus a top cover of 2 F-104s were to be led by OC 33 Wing Commander Anwar Shamim with Flight Lietenant Bhatti as his No 3 and F/L Cecil Chawdery as No 4. Enquiries as to the whereabouts of the wing leader's No 2 were answered by Squadron Leader Munir, who arrived at the briefing in a freshly starched uniform, and announced that Flight Lieutenant Seraj had been kind enough to stand down so that the ops officer could come along in his place. Resignedly, Shamim completed the briefing, and the 4 Sabres set off at low level at 0800 hours on the half hour flight to Amritsar

Despite poor visibility from the usual dust haze Bhatti, who was responsible for the navigation of this mission, brought the 4 Sabres out at low level precisely on track to Amritsar. Some help in identifying the target was in fact received from the Indian ack ack fire, which began even before the Sabres started their pull-up to attack. As planned, Bhatti and Choudhry began climbing to about 7,000 ft as top cover to draw some of the ack ack fire, while the two F-104s, flown by Squadron Leader Jamal and Flight Lieutenant Amjad, orbited even higher to guard against interference from IAF fighters.

As the first pair of Sabres started their climb, Bhatti called on the radio "Target at 3 o'clock", and Shamim replied "Lead and No 2 pulling up".

As the first pair of Sabres started their climb, Bhatti called on the radio "Target at 3 o'clock", and Shamim replied "Lead and No 2 pulling up". By this time the target area was a veritable inferno of light and medium flak and within a few seconds there came another call, "Two is hit". Bhatti, when later describing the mission, recalled it in these words:

"No 2 of course, was Munir but his voice on the radio was calm and unhurried. As I looked down, however, I saw three balls of flame tumbling through the air where his Sabre had already exploded. He must have taken a direct hit from a heavy ack ack shell and never had a chance to eject. The flaming wreckage fell on the eastern outskirts of Amritsar town, and Munir was reported that evening by the Indians to have been found dead in the debris".

Wing Commander Shamim completed his strafing attack, firing long bursts into the radar aerials with his 6in machine guns. Bhatti called up and said, "How about me having a go", and the remaining 2 Sabres then came in to expend most of their ammunition on the radar installation before exiting, still at low level. Munir's loss on his ninth combat mission of the war was deeply felt at Sargodha and throughout the PAF, among whom he is remembered as a 'professional to the end'. 

Two days earlier, Munir had shot down a supersonic Gnat thus entering the list of those elite pilots which had their share in IAF fighters, and that too in air-to-air combat. Both his courage and inspiration were recognised by the posthumous award of the Sitara-i-Jurat. For the first time, Amritsar radar was put out of action for several hours, and it remained only intermittently effective for some time afterwards.

On 11 September, with an escort of 4 F-86s led by F/L Bhatti, and 2 F-104s from Sargodha flying top cover, the vulnerability of the 4 B-57 Bombers to effective enemy interception was considered acceptable, especially since the target was only just inside Indian territory. As an additional precaution the TOT was fixed at dusk, with a rendezvous time of 1715 hours over Bhagatanwala for the 10 aircraft involved.

On this occasion the attack went completely to plan. After a low level approach from Pakistan, the B-57 formation, led by Wing Commander Latif pulled up to their briefed attack height of around 7,000 ft, above the reach of light flak, to dive bomb the target. Each B-57 delivered its full load of 7,000 lbs of bombs in the target area, and all the PAF aircraft returned safely, despite heavy ack ack fire. This time 'Fishoil' really did go off the air, as a result of the heavy damage caused by 28,000 lbs of bombs, and photographic reconnaissance of the target the next day revealed that the site had been vacated.
For this recce flight, one of 9 Squadron's two unarmed two-seat F-104B Starfighter trainers was pressed into service, using a hand-held camera in the rear cockpit for oblique photography. Piloting the F-104 was Flight Lieutenant Aftab Alam, with Squadron Leader Middlecoat as cameraman. Flying at highspeed (around 600 knots) at about 3,000 ft, the F-104 evaded both ack ack fire as well as fighter interception, the only problem being that g forces resulting from the turn over the target made the heavy camera, which normally formed part of a fixed aircraft installation, almost impossible to lift. But the F-104 also managed to get some photographs of Adampur airfield in the same sortie, before returning safely to Sargodha.

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