Devayya's Encounter - 1965 War - 7 September 1965
In this painting I tried to recreate unmatched gallantry of a young Indian pilot who unfortunately did not return from a raid over Sargodha, Pakistan, on 6th September 1965. Squadron Leader A.B.Devayya was part of a large formation of Mysteres of No. 1 Squadron, attacking Sargodha at the crack of dawn. Owing to the extreme range of the target, only a single pass attack was possible. It was suicidal to even undertake such a mission as minor navigational error could result in entire formation running out of fuel in the enemy territory. Also, for most pilots it was their first mission deep inside enemy territory.
Defending the PAF airbase were few US made F-86 Sabres and F-104 Starfighters, both aircraft far superior to subsonic Mysteres that IAF had acquired from France in mid fifties.
Mysteres reached their target on time and as they pulled up for attack all hell turned loose with heavy anti aircraft fire opening up. Each pilot now concentrated to deliver his weapon accurately on the intended target. Lady luck seemed to favour them and they came out of the attack almost unscathed. As every member ducked to ultra low levels at full speed in the homebound course, Devayya joined in after his attack as the last aircraft in the trail.
Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain, the lone PAF pilot flying a Starfighter was vectored by the radar to intercept the Mysteres as they were getting away. He positioned behind the last Mystere for a missile attack which happened to be Devayya . What happened subsequently can only be pieced together by some contradictory accounts available from Pakistani source. None of the members of Devayya’s formation was aware of this attack developing on their tails.
From the accounts published in books and articles in Pakistan, IAF could reconstruct what now can be termed as an incredible act of heroism by an airman who decided to stand up and fight when this should have been the last option to exercise for a pilot who had barely enough fuel to land back home and was hundreds of miles inside the enemy territory.
It is now believed beyond doubt that Devayya after being shot at and his aircraft damaged by the lethal cannon fired from the Starfighter, turned around to challenge his adversary in a ‘fight to finish’ like a true gladiator. In the classic air battle that followed between the vintage Mystere and the state of the art, supersonic Starfighter, Devayya managed to turn the tables in his favour and hunter became the hunted. Devayya’s bullets tore into the Starfighter causing a control failure, forcing Amjad Hussein to eject from his aircraft. Amjad barely survived the ejection at low level. He was awarded the “Sitara-i-Jur’at”, Star of Courage, the third highest military award in Pakistan soon after the war. Devayya was put on the list of “Missing believed Killed” after the war. What lead to his actual death still remains a mystery. It was revealed much later by Pakistan that Devayya’s body was found almost intact by villagers not very far from Sargodha and buried. It is quite possible that Devayya’s Mystere finally went out of control forcing him to abandon it at low level.
Unfortunately, ejection seat fitted in a Mystere was not designed for safe operation at low levels.
Devayya’s act of gallantry would have gone unknown and unrecognised by his countrymen had it not been for the Pakistani account that acknowledged the extreme courage of this young Indian pilot. Some 23 years later Devayya was decorated by Indian Government with a Maha Vir Chakra posthumously, country’s second highest gallantry award.
Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail , a retired officer of PAF in his book, “Great Air Battles of Pakistan Air Force”, had summarised the encounter between Devayya and Amjad Hussain as below :-
For many decades the famous dogfight has confounded historians and air enthusiasts alike. The respective Air Forces cited both pilots for courage as well as their shooting skills. Flt Lt Amjad Hussain was awarded the Sitara-i-Jur’at soon after the war. Sqn Ldr Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra in April 1988, after a passage of 23 years. ......... it can be said that the medals are testimony to the dogged determination of two air knights, who gave their best in this truly classic duel.
John Fricker, an American defence analyst, in his book on air operations in Indo – Pak war of 1965, also mentions that ,
“..... shooting down in air combat of a Lockheed Starfighter of the PAF by and obsolescent Dassault Mystere IVA...is among the most creditable and least published achievements by IAF during the 1965 war..”