THE REPLY - AIR BATTLES OF SEPTEMBER 7TH


By the night of September 4th, there was no doubt that full scale war has erupted. The Indian Army's conflict has started September 6th, but the Indian Air Force did not have any inkling at all. The previous days raids on the air bases could not go unanswered, so orders flowed from the HQ, that the IAF is to retaliate by hitting the PAF bases at Sargodha.

Wg. Cdr. O.P. Taneja was the Commanding Officer of No. 1 Tigers Sqn. based at Adampur. Mysteres from the Tigers had already flown their first combat sorties the previous day, when they attacked a train at Gujranwala. Wg. Cdr. Taneja was informed by Gp. Capt. W.V.A. Lloyd, the base commander that No.1 and No.32 Squadrons will be doing the first raids of the day, followed by the Hunters.

During the night, aircraft technicians and armourers had begun preparing the Mysteres for the attack, when the air raid alarm had sounded. A PAF B-57 had come over and dropped its bomb load, without hitting any significant things. The ack-ack opened up without any effect either. Work resumed as usual as soon as the raid was over.

Wg. Cdr. Taneja got together his flight commanders & pilots together and briefed them. The Sargodha complex consisted of four airfields. There was Sargodha (Main) with a satellite airfield, Chota Sargodha to the west, Wagowal to the north and Bhagtanwala to the east. The entire network of airfields were situated across the river Chenab, with the Kirana Hills rising to 1500 ft. to the south-east. No.1 Sqn. was given Sargodha (Main) as the target. The ETA over the target being 0530 hrs on September 7th.

Sargodha being over 300km from the border, would be half an hour flying time from Adampur, the entire to and fro trip would take an estimated one hour. Wg. Cdr. Taneja had detailed twelve sorties for the first attack. He would lead the first wave of four aircraft followed by the next  two waves. Two reserve pilots will be on the stand by, in case any of the aircraft of the first wave encountered problems.

The Mysteres would have a tough time standing up to the Sabres, the latter being more maneuverable than the former. Heavily laden with ordnance and flying at the extreme range of their fuel limit, they would be dead meat for the defending fighters.

The first wave took off at 0500 hrs from Adampur, followed by the remaining two waves. From the outset of the mission there was trouble. The third wave aborted their mission after drifting off course. Two from the second wave developed snags. Thus a reserve Mystere was ordered to take off and take its place in the raid. Sqn. Ldr. A.B. Devayya was the reserve pilot. However, having no aircraft left in No.1 Sqn, he flew a Mystere borrowed from No.32 Sqn., which was also based at Adampur.

Wg. Cdr. Taneja led his aircraft at treetop height to gain the maximum effect of terrain masking. Five minutes before TOT, the six Mysteres were detected on the Pakistani radar. Sargodha went on the alert and the fighters on ORP were scrambled.

The Mysteres came roaring over even as the defending A-A guns started firing erratically. Sargodha was already attacked by IAF Canberras the previous night and they were expecting more raids. The Mysteres dropped bombs and fired their rockets on any visible installations and cleared off. A number of Sabres and Starfighters were strafed and hit and one Starfighter was observed burning furiously.

Just as the six Mysteres, from the first and second strike, pulled out the lone reserve Mystere, piloted by Devayya, went in for the attack. He was thus the last one out of Sargodha and was also the first target sighted by one of the Sargodha fighters scrambled earlier. Flt. Lt. Amjad Hussain was the pilot of the Starfighter, armed with two Sidewinders, he was looking for easy pickings. Obviously, the first target he saw was the straggler, Sqn. Ldr. Devayya's Mystere.

Sargodha as mentioned earlier was at the extreme range of the Mysteres. No allowance would be available for air combat maneuvers. There was no tactical routing to avoid hotspots, and even simple evasion maneuvers would guzzle up valuable fuel. Devayya faced an unenviable choice. He could face the Starfighter head on and fight it out, in which case even if he survived, he would have no fuel to fly back across the border, or just to fly on hoping to evade the pursuing Starfighter.

As pilots are told not to indulge in personal heroics and the priority is to save the aircraft and oneself, most pilots would have opted for the latter. But Devayya described as an unusual type of character, one of those second world war types, was not like most pilots.

The action was short and swift, Hussain got behind Devayya's Mystere and let loose both Sidewinders, but Devayya deftly evaded both the missiles. Dumbfounded, Hussain stuck fired his six-barreled Vulcan cannon and was delighted to see the shells hit the Mystere. Convinced that the stricken aircraft was doomed, Hussain broke off to search for the other Mysteres in the vicinity. But Devayya had in fact survived the attack, his aircraft was still flyable and there was every chance of flying back home or ejecting successfully.

Instead Devayya went after Hussain's Starfighter. Hussain noticed the Mystere coming in and thought it was another of the raiders and turned around to take it out. The Starfighter, even though it could fly like a rocket and out fly anything in the subcontinent, had the behavioral characteristics of a brick when dog fighting.

Devayya lost no time in getting the F-104 in his Mystere's sights and he fired cannon shells into the F-104. Flt. Lt. Amjad Hussain cursed himself as he punched out of the flaming Starfighter. He never had the idea of the pilot who had shot him down.

What happened to Devayya, not much is known. He is believed to have perished on that day when either his Mystere lost control and crashed or, an unsuccessful ejection at low level. The SNCASO ejection seat of the Mystere doesn't have the zero-zero capability of the Hunter's Martin Baker seat, and at a low level, the seat's chute would have failed to deploy.

It is a mystery that if Devayya was conscious enough to shoot down his enemy, why he did not survive? Was he wounded, or did the damaged Mystere lose control so fast that he could not react to it? No one knows. Flt. Lt. Amjad Hussain survived his ejection claimed one Mystere destroyed and reported he was shot down in combat with a second Mystere which was the version for years to come.

The remaining Mysteres flew on oblivious of the dogfight that had taken place & safely landed back at Adampur. Wg. Cdr. Taneja expected Devayya to return at any moment and headed for the debriefing room. No.1 Sqn had thought that he had gone to No.32 Sqn. to hand over their aircraft and were blissfully unaware of the action that had taken place.

Only later did it strike Taneja, that Devayya was missing as a victim of war. He was listed MIA and hope persisted that he must have bailed out and taken POW. Devayya's exceptional act of gallantry and fighting spirit lay unknown to the world. He was declared dead, as customary, in 1966. He was finally conferred the Maha Vir Chakra in April 1988 for his bravery.

At about the same time No.1 Sqn was attacking Sargodha airfield, No.8 Sqn was attacking Bhagtanwala airfield with eight aircraft. This raid was led by Sqn. Ldr. M.S. Jatar, an experienced pilot, who noticed Sabres being readied on the ORP. He led his section into the attack on the Sabres, strafing and firing rockets at his targets.

One of the Sabres was destroyed, while another was claimed damaged. PAF fighters were launched, but by that time IAF Mysteres disappeared from the base flying at an altitude of 100-200 feet. The Mysteres were lucky enough not to encounter any of the PAF fighters.

The next raid on Sargodha was originally planned for 0615 hrs. The PAF records the raid occurring at 0547 local time. About 10 minutes after the Mysteres have departed. The Hunters on this raid were from Halwara. Gp. Capt. G.K.K. John, Base Commander at Halwara too was assigned the Sargodha Complex as a target for his aircraft. Under his command were two Hunter squadrons. He had assigned No.27 Sqn under Wg. Cdr. Jog the task of attacking Chota Sargodha, after a gap of 45 minutes from the first raid by the Mysteres.

Even as preparations were going on for the attack, a B-57 came over Halwara AFB at 0430 to drop bombs, and little damage was done to either the runway or the dispersal area. Knowing that the air defence fighters would have been alerted by the first raid, it was decided to send four Hunters armed with rockets and bombs in ground attack configuration, escorted by two Hunters in a fighter escort role, which carried additional fuel in extra drop tanks to give additional endurance. But when the mission took off, one of the Hunters of the escort detail refused to start. It was too late to detail another aircraft and only one Hunter took off in the fighter role. This Hunter was flown by Flt. Lt. D.N. Rathore, who shot down one of the Sabres the previous day.

Wg. Cdr. Jog was leading the ground attack aircraft, with Sqn. Ldr. O.N. Kacker, Flt. Lt. T.K. Chaudhuri and Fg. Off. Parihar as his wingmen. Pulling up at their target, they arrived at an airfield, noticed aircraft as targets, flew on to find another airfield, this time with Sabres parked on the runway. Flt. Lt. Rathore in the escort Hunter dived in the first attack and opened up with his guns.

His approach was at high speed, Flt. Lt. Rathore misjudged his speed and the Hunter overshot the airfield, missing his target. Rathore cursed himself as he hauled his Hunter in a steep turn towards the airfield, where he found the others attacking a factory like installation. The A-A was already alerted and opened up on the attackers. Then a couple of Sabres on a CAP arrived on the scene and pounced on the Hunters.

A Sabre dived from above and came around Rathore's starboard side and opened fire on Chaudhuri's Hunter. Rathore turned towards the Sabre. The Sabre noticing this broke of the attack and turned into Rathore's path. Both the aircraft crossed each others path avoiding a collision in mid-air, by a hair's breadth. One of the Sabres latched onto Rathore's aircraft. Wg. Cdr. Jog's Hunter received hits from another Sabre. Then as suddenly as the air battle started, it ended. The Sabres had disappeared, and the Hunters found themselves alone in the sky.

Wg. Cdr. Jog was relieved to find all the four Hunters there. Flt. Lt. Rathore, meanwhile joined up after shaking off his pursuer. Rathore noticed that Kacker was losing speed. The other aircraft too reduced their speed to maintain formation with Kacker. His fuel tanks it seemed either suffered an engine flame-out or was hit by ack-ack resulting in loss of fuel. A glance at the fuel indicators told Kacker that there was no chance of making it over the border. Then the fuel ran out. The warning lights came on. The engine starved of fuel flamed out and Kacker knew he had to eject.

As the Hunter lost altitude, Kacker ejected. The other aircraft of the formation flew off. They knew that Kacker had ejected, albeit in enemy territory. Probably to become a POW. Then the four aircraft were jolted when five Hunters passed them at great velocity proceeding towards Sargodha.

Jog was alarmed. These Hunters were not from his squadron and they would fly straight into the enemy Sabres. He could not warn the Hunters as their radio was on a different frequency altogether. The four Hunters, from No.27 Sqn, landed back at base with very little fuel left. Flt. Lt. Chaudhuri had a narrow escape as his drop tanks were holed severely. Wg. Cdr. Jog's questions of the five Hunters which had passed them on the way out were answered, when he saw three Hunters come in to land.

The base commander planned a second attack by the Hunters right on the heels of No.27 Sqn. He had allocated this to No.7 Sqn, Wg. Cdr. Toric Zachariah led this mission, which consisted of Sqn. Ldr. M.M. Sinha, Sqn. Ldr.  A.S. Lamba as the strike component with the escort being provided by Sqn. Ldr. S.B. Bhagwat and Fg. Off. J.S. Brar.

Unfortunately they ran into the prowling Sabres stirred up by No.27's raid. The Hunters, fully laden with bombs and rockets were sitting ducks. According to operational instructions, the Hunters turned hard to port to climb towards the Sabres which were some 3000 feet higher. The Hunters jettisoned their stores and extra tanks even as the Sidewinder-armed Sabres pounced on them. Zachariah instructed the formation to split up and all the Hunters exited individually from the battle.

However, the escort section comprising of Bhagwat and Brar turned into the Sabres and a dogfight ensued. Both the pilots failed to return, shot down and killed, covering the escape of their squadron mates. The other Hunters had by then jettisoned their bombs and extricated themselves at tree top level with the Sabres in fast pursuit. But the remaining three pilots shook off the aircraft.

It was unwise of the base commander to send the second mission so soon after the first raid. One reason could be that they expected great results from the first raid, which did not happen. No.27 Sqn in fact seems to have attacked the wrong target. They hit Wagowal instead of Chota Sargodha, a fact confirmed by Rathore's PR pictures. The less said about No.7 Sqn, the better. Losing five aircraft and three pilots in a matter of 24 hours were too heavy a loss to bear.

The next raid on Sargodha Main came over 3 hours later. Six Mysteres of No.1 Sqn came screaming over at 0945 hrs, by which time, the CAP fighters were not in sight. Lot of damage was claimed in this raid which was led by Sqn. Ldr. Sudharshan Handa. A petroleum installation was bombed & set on fire. Then Sqn. Ldr. Handa noticing three Sabres on the ORP, pulled up to strafe them and succeeded in destroying one of them with cannon fire.

Flt. Lt. D.M.S. Kahai, his wing man had more success. His bombs found its mark on the rest of the Sabres and a Starfighter on the ORP. Then on their third run, Kahai noticed another two Sabres and a F-104. As he had expended all his bombs, he let loose with his DEFA cannon destroying all the three aircraft. Then all the six Mysteres reformed and flew back to their airbase leaving over seven aircraft burning or damaged on Sargodha. Both Handa and Kahai were decorated after the war.

The last sorties of the day were at 1540 hours when two Mysteres of No.1 Sqn. attacked again in the afternoon sun. The Mysteres were attacked by Sabres on patrol. The Mysteres quickly split up, however, Flt. Lt. U. Babul Guha was chased and shot down by a Sidewinder fired by Flt. Lt. A.H. Malik of the PAF.  Guha was listed missing and later believed to have been killed.

Thus came an end to the IAF offensive on Sargodha AFB. Overall 33 sorties were flown from dawn to dusk, losing in the process five aircraft and five pilots as missing, which represented an attrition rate of about 16%. Below is the IAF account of the attack on Sargodha AFB for September 7th;

Strike No. Time Sqn No. Aircraft Number Loss
1 0538 1 Mystere 7 1
2 0538 8 Mystere 8 -
3 0547 27 Hunter 5 1
4 0605 7 Hunter 5 2
5 0945 1 Mystere 6 -
6 1540 1 Mystere 2 1

These sorts of counter air offensive sorties were no doubt very expensive in terms of men & machines. The unsuitability of the machines for the mission was one factor, due to their small range, no allowance could be made for tactical routing and all the aircraft fell in air combat, not to the ground fire, which suggested the constraints which the aircraft suffered in the attacking role.

The IAF at that time claimed fantastic results, about 15 aircraft were claimed to have been destroyed on the ground in these sorties. Claims for three F-104s, two C-130s and half a dozen Sabres were made. PAF admits the loss of the Starfighter and one Sabre on the ground. A conservative estimate would be that it lost about six aircraft both in the air as well as on the ground.

One can see that the result does not justify the expenditure. The Indian Air Force initially claimed one of the Starfighters as damaged. Later during the war, someone corrected it as destroyed and it was added into the final tally.

Pakistan on the other hand claimed the destruction of 11 aircraft from these 33 Sorties.

Strike No. Time Aircraft Number Losses
1 0538 Mystere 6 4
2 0547 Hunter 6 No Contact
3 0605 Hunter 6 5
4 0945 Mystere 4 No Contact
5 1540 Mystere 2 1

(John Fricker, commissioned by the PAF to write a book on the 1965 air war, gives 11 losses. The official history gives 10 losses as shown above, while PAF 1988 claims only 9 losses)

The PAF claims 4 losses in the first strike, however there were two strikes, from two different squadrons - No.1 and No.8, which the PAF thought as one. In the third strike, the PAF claims to have shot down five Hunters, which were all supposedly shot down by Sqn. Ldr. M.M. Alam. This feat will be disputed in the next chapter. In the fourth strike, the PAF claims that there were four Mysteres attacking, when in fact there were six. In the fifth and final strike, the PAF and the IAF agree on the fact that one Mystere was lost - shot down by Flt. Lt. Malik.

In addition to the raids on Sargodha, there were other raids too. One Mystere mission by No.3 Sqn, on a Pakistani radar target at Gujranwala ended in disaster for Sqn. Ldr. Jasbir Singh, the leader of the raid. Jasbir Singh managed to shake off defending Sabres while coming down to attack the radar station, but either due to ground fire or a possible wire strike, his Mystere was observed going out of control and ploughed head long into the ground leaving no time for him to eject. However, the other aircraft in the formation destroyed the radar station.

The PAF too flew offensive raids on September 7th, mainly attacking targets of eastern and northern India. Attacking the main airbases at Halwara, Ambala, and Adampur was too risky a job. However its policy of attacking other airfields paid a rich dividend.

Amritsar was attacked in strength by the PAF for the first time. Amritsar was the base for the IAF's signals unit. Codenamed 'Fish Oil' by the PAF, this unit was showered by considerable attention, as it is believed that all IAF air operations were being directed from this location.

Amritsar being close to the border gave very little lead time in arranging the defences, and the PAF's Sabres and Starfighters attacked this site often. The anti-aircraft defences for the site consisted of the L-60 A-A guns, which were considerably effective.

SRINAGAR

One of the targets picked by the PAF was Srinagar airfield. Srinagar airfield supplemented Leh airfield acting as a transit base for flights to Leh. The next nearest base was Pathankot in Punjab. The IAF was not allowed to station any jet fighters at this part of Kashmir, as a part of a UN Ceasefire treaty of 1948.

Though a Gnat fighter carried out some trials in the previous year at Leh. The air defence of Srinagar airfield was entrusted totally to the ack-ack guns and there was little air early warning available. No radar coverage was available, which even if it was provided would have been of limited use in the mountainous terrain. The airfield was thus laid out bare for the attack.

The PAF put in four Sabres in the attack. As usual no warning was available to the defences until the Sabres were almost overhead. Two of the Sabres picked up a Dakota parked on the corner of the airfield and attacked it. The other two Sabres strafed a Caribou parked on the apron ahead of the terminal.

The ack-ack began firing back. The Caribou was thoroughly shot up. The Dakota on the other corner was also shot up and became unserviceable. One of the Sabres was hit by A-A. It was trailing flames as all the four Sabres disappeared over the mountains heading back for their territory.

The Dakota was badly damaged and the Caribou completely written off as it was damaged beyond repair. The Pakistani pilots mistook the Caribou as belonging to the IAF. It belonged to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) contingent to the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan.

The UNMOGIP Chief, Lt. Gen. R.H. Nimmo - an Australian, had flown into Srinagar in the Caribou in August 1965. Now with his transport aircraft destroyed, he was stranded in Kashmir for the rest of the war. On the credit side, the Sabre which was damaged, seemed most probable as not making it back to Chaklala, where they came from.

Though attacked without provocation, no fighters were moved to Srinagar for the rest of the war. In 1948, the airfield was the only supply line open year round, as the Banhilal pass is blocked during the winter. But in 1965, the Jawahar tunnel was already open and a continuously dependable road line was available even if the airfield was knocked out. No air support was given to the Indian Army in this sector, and no further attacks took place on Srinagar. Perhaps the Pakistani pilots saw for themselves that no fighters were based there and left it alone for the rest of the war.

Meanwhile I Corps, whose offensive in the Sialkot sector was supposed to start on September 8th, was building up in the Samba area. Armoured units & tanks were being transported along the GT road and soon attracted the attention of the Pakistanis. The PAF showered attention on the Beas bridge, whose destruction would delay the buildup of the forces. However the sorties were in vain and no damage was done to the bridge.

The IAF had lost six aircraft in the air, all but one in the attack on Sargodha, plus another aircraft was badly damaged in the raid by PAF Sabres on Srinagar. This rate of attrition was very costly and would not have been sustainable by the IAF. Thus ended September 7th, in the western sector. The Eastern Sector saw lot of air combat this particular day, but it is covered in another Chapter.


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