Friday, September 17, 2010

AIR WAR OF 1965 REVISITED - PAF B-57/RB-57 Bombers

B-57s at war

When war came in 1965, PAF's Bomber aircrew were fully prepared. They carried out counter air operations against enemy airfields at Jamnagar and Jodhpur in the South and Ambala, Adampur, Halwara, Srinagar and Pathankot in the north. Undefended by fighters, and beyond the range of own radar to receive any support, these night intruders made a lasting contribution to PAF's total war effort. PAF's B-57 force remained committed to the night attack of Indian airfields as its principal task throughout the war. Its meagre force of 22 aircraft undertook a total of 195 missions delivering more than 600 tons of bombs as compared to an estimated 92 night bombing sorties against PAF targets by more than 60 IAF Canberras.

After the first hectic night's operations, when the B-57 crew were extended to their limit by flying upto 3 sorties during the hours of darkness, no more than two missions per night were allowed. This was a fairly frequent commitment, however, and the B-57 crew still had a very long tour of duty each day. For the first week of operations when most missions against the northern Indian airfields originated from Peshawar, the centralized spares and servicing organization for the B-57s at Mauripur necessitated the bomber crew returning to their Karachi base at the conclusion of each night's mission. The northern bases were also considered too vulnerable to IAF attacks during the day. 
To attack the close concentration of enemy airfields in the north, and to remain out of reach of the Indian fighter-bombers; the bomber wing remained on the hop throughout the war. The pattern often repeated was to set off from home base, strike inside Indian territory, recover to another base to rearm and refuel, and then to strike again before returning to base or to another safe airfield. This enabled them to be prepared to attack their targets night after night.
By arriving over their targets in a stream at intervals of about fifteen minutes, the B-57s certainly succeeded, disregarding even the actual damage they inflicted, in achieving a major disruption of the overall IAF effort, disabling their optimum attack capability the next morning. The effect on the morale of the IAF personnel was devastating. The effect of fatigue caused to them was most pronounced on their air and ground crew while they were forced to keep shuttling in and out of air raid shelters and trenches. This made the task of PAF fighter pilots that much easier to fight them in theair the next morning. 
Of its twenty-two B-57s, which fought the war, PAF lost three but out of these, only one due to enemy action. After the first strike on Jamnagar at 6 P.M. the bombing shuttle was maintained all night by single sorties. One such lone bomber flown by Squadron Leaders Shabbir Alam Siddiqui and Alam Qureshi, the navigator, was doing its third mission in less than nine hours. As an over-fatigued crew descended lower and lower to pin point its target, the bomber hit the ground and exploded with all its ordnance and the invaluable officers. The second bomber was lost as a result of enemy anti-aircraft fire on 14 September. On their thirteenth mission of the war, Flight Lieutenants Altaf Shaikh and his navigator Bashir Chaudhri ran the gauntlet of concentrated flak thrown up by 50 to 60 guns at Adampur airfield. Both officers ejected in enemy territory and were repatriated after war. The third B-57, piloted by Flight Lieutenants M A Butt and A S Z Khalid as navigator, was lost in the early hours of 17 September. While making an approach to land at Risalpur, the B-57 encountered adverse weather in the shape of strong wind sheer coupled with reduced flight visibility. Unable to maintain height, the aircraft crashed south of the runway, instantly killing both pilot and navigator. 
The PAF's B-57 campaign came to an end with a close support mission during the night of 22 September by four B-57s, which dropped 28,000 lbs. of bombs on enemy artillery and tank concentrations at Atari. Large enemy reinforcements had been seen that day moving towards Atari for a possible assault on the salient on the eastern bank of the BRB Canal. It was the task of the PAF to prevent these reinforcements from reaching their destination. The bombs from the B-57s dropped 'in train' engulfed the enemy armour and other vehicles concealed under the trees and in the bushes. Very few survived to reach Atari.

PAF s' No 24 Elint Squadron
A stealth unit of the PAF
By: Arshad Hussain

In addition, two General Dynamics/Martin-RB-57Fs ultra-high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft were also supplied to Pakistan Air Force in the early 1960s. The RB-57Fs was known as droopy because of enormous 122 ft wingspan and capable to fly at the cruising height of 80000 ft beyond the range of enemy interceptors and SAMs of that period. This was state of the art highly specialized aircraft for ECM/ESM missions.

The No 24 Squadron was formed in December 1962 to undertake specialized aerial missions from Peshawar air base. Primarily its crew were all drawn from No 31 Bomber Wing including CO Sqn Ldr M. Iqbal.

The No 24th Elint squadron operated the RB-57Fs along with two RB-57Bs for electronic counter; support measures missions and photographic surveillance missions against IAF during and after the war of 1965. These aircraft extensively overflew most of the IAF air bases up to Agra and Ambala at the height of 67000 ft or more to carry out monitoring/reconnaissance missions. The following missions were assigned to the No 24 Elint Squadron deployed at Peshawar air base:-

Operational Missions Profile:-

1. Low level homing on to enemy radars.

2. Monitoring of enemy radars for which daily surveillance was kept up to locate their grid reference as well as any change.

3. Monitoring & Jamming of enemy radio channels particularly for GCI transmissions. 

Ultra Secret Operational Missions behind the Enemy s'lines during 1965

When one of the PAF's C-130 piloted by Wing Commander M.Z.Butt SJ along with Air Marshal M.Bur Khan, C-in-C of the PAF on board took off from Chaklala air base on the dark night of 23 August, 1965 for ration and ammunition supply drop in held Kashmir for Gibraltar Force operating behind enemy lines in Kashmir. During the mission flight briefing at Chaklala, A.M. Nur Khan decided to join the mission to review the critical prospects of this ultra secret supply drop missions planned to be carried out by the PAF, a live example to command the Air Force from the front line!

An Elint RB-57F flown by Sqn Ldr M Iqbal was arranged to fly at 40,000 ft to monitor the IAF s’ radars. The Elint aircraft was also intended to act as a vital link in code with the PAF s’ radar network, since C-130 was out of direct VHF ( radio) range with the ground stations because of intervening high terrain in Kashmir.

As soon the C-130 escorted by RB-57s headed to the targeted area, the Elint aircraft timely triangulated the radar transmission of the enemy radar located at Jammu being switched on as both the aircraft crossed the Indo-Pak borders.

However, the dark night mission impossible behind the enemy s' line in held Kashmir got break through because of professional execellance and dedication of the aircrew as well on line monitoring by the RB-57 piloted by Sqn Ldr M Iqbal SJ.

During the 1965 Indo-Pak war, 24th squadron flew several operational missions to provide electronic support measures (ESM) for Air Force's air strikes plan. An F-86s strike mission against the IAF's RAdar network at Amritsar was also provided effective ESM by Sqn Ldr M Iqbal as pathfinder leader along with Sqn Ldr G A Khan.

Squadron Leader Muhammad Iqbal SJ was the first OC, who later embraced shahadat being Officer Commanding of No.24 Elint Squadron along with his navigator Saifullah Lodhi SJ during a bombing practice mission on a PAF's radar unit near Rahwali in the 1965 War.

Since the start of 1965 war the PAF F-86 Sabre Wing operating from Sargodha tried to neutralise the IAF Amritsar radar, but could not deliver accurate attacks due to difficulty experienced in triangulating the exact location of the radar system. Squadron Leader Iqbal floated a novel idea of locating the enemy radar by utilizing the electronic devices fitted RB-57 aircraft. He led in his electronic intelligence RB-57 as a pathfinder, a formation of four B-57s to Amritsar radar on a daylight bombing mission and did not seem to be satisfied with the practical results.

He therefore, decided to make some practice attacks on a PAF radar station deployed at Rahwali, near Gujranwala. Squadron Leader Muhammad Iqbal OC of No 24 Elint Squadron and his navigator Flt. Lt. Saifullah Lodhi were busy making low dive bombing practice on a radar station. The army ack ack unit deployed around the radar system opened fire on the diving B-57 and shot it down, killing both the pilot and the navigator. A first rate throrough proffessional, dedicated and lion hearted pioneer OC of No 24 Elint Squadron along with his outstanding professional navigator Saifullah Lodhi embraced shahadat during mid stream of the war. Both were awarded well deserved Sitara-e-Jurat posthumously. A very tragic loss of invaluable lives of pilot and navigator along with a specialized RB-57 aircrat and an incident that could been avoided through timely lason with Air Force and Army ack ack regiment.

If wing operation officer Squadron Leader Munir Ahmed SJ of F-86 Sabre wing would shed his blood for his noble air strike mission to destroy IAF radar station at Amritsar, Squadron Leader Muhammad Iqbal SJ OC of No 24 Elint Squadron and his navigator Flt.Lt.Saifullah Lodhi SJ were also there to shed their blood in the line of the duty. Then Sqn Ldr Rashid Mir took over as squadron commander.

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