THE LULL - AIR OPERATIONS FROM SEPT 8th - 14th


THE GROUND WAR

September 8th bought around a virtual shift away from the previous week's strategy of confrontation by the IAF. The kind of losses suffered in counter air sorties versus the value got out of it was insignificant and its immediate result on the ground was nil.

The fighting on the ground had been fierce. The IX Corps offensive on the Lahore Sector had got bogged down. The 15 Inf. Div. under Maj. Gen. Niranjan Prasad, which on September 6th got onto the west bank of the Ichogil Canal, was thrown back. And by nightfall, was desperately fighting against the Pakistani counter-attack.

Major General Prasad himself was ambushed by a Pakistani Army patrol and he had to abandon his Attaché in the jeep, which fell into Pakistani hands. Prasad, who during the WW-II was attached to the Indian Air Force and flew Vultee Vengeance missions in the Arakan, is the only Indian Army General to wear the IAF's pilot wings. However due to his reverses coupled with the ambush, he was soon relieved of his command and was replaced by Major General Mohinder Singh.

The second prong attack on Burki took 9 Div. to the Ichogil Canal. They sat and fought it out with the other bank for the rest of the war. Incidentally, this advance to Burki, bought the Indian artillery guns within the range of Lahore International Airport, even though Lahore itself was too far off. When the Americans had to evacuate their citizens from Lahore, they requested Indian artillery to a temporary cease-fire for the evacuation flights. On both these divisional fronts, the IAF could do little to support or influence the ground war.

It was further south that the IAF was sorely missed. The 4th Mtn. Div., the famous Red Eagles, under Major General Gurbaksh Singh first advanced towards Kasur. A Pakistani Army counter-offensive at the Ichogil Canal threw the division back to its starting point and it almost broke up under the counter-attack, well, almost! The Pakistanis used an armoured division supported by a infantry division against the 4th Mountain Division.

By the evening of Sept 6th, the 4th Division was thrown back. The Pakistani Army sat idle for Sept 7th and resumed their offensive on September 8th. The battle that followed the next two days has been recounted many times. In spite of losing Khem Karan the truncated 4th Mtn. Division supported by an Independent Armoured Brigade, regrouped and massacred the Pakistani tanks. In the battle of Assal Uttar ("The True North" not "The Right Answer").

At the crucial moment on September 8th when it looked like the 4th Mtn. Division would crumble under the Pakistani offensive, the IAF was called out for help. There was plenty of armour to hit, in the Kasur sector and on the GT Road. The Pakistani supply lines were busy in supporting their Army units. And there would not be any dearth of targets.

The IAF did its bit in attacking the lines of supply, but missed out on having any influence on the tactical ground battle. In the end it was 4th Mtn. Division alone that fought with the Pakistanis in a battle that was fierce, with no quarter asked or given. If Khem Karan was the only battle that was being fought by the Army then the IAF might have been able to concentrate its effort, but as we shall see its not.

To the north of the GT Road, a little south of Jammu, lies on the Pakistani side, the city of Sialkot. This town was selected as the objective of an offensive by the Indian Army's I Strike Corps. Commanded by Lt. Gen. P.O. Dunn, I Corps had 3 Infantry/Mountain Divisions and India's premier formation - 1st Armoured Division under Major General Rajinder Singh.

With the 6th Mtn. Div. under Major General S.K. Korla, the 14th Inf. Div. under Majar General R.K.R. Singh and the 26th Inf. Div. under Major General M.L. Thapan, the Corps launched its offensive on the night of September 7/8th. It was to advance south and after capturing the towns of Chawinda and Phillora, it was to turn west and cut off the Sialkot-Gujranwala road thus cutting off Sialkot from Lahore.

The 26th Div., under Major General Thapan, was the one that managed to advance the most. The Pakistanis countered this attack by bringing in its 6th Armoured Division and between Sept 8th and 16th, some of the fiercest tank battles since World War-II were fought in this sector. Villages, towns, hills all changed hands frequently. Both sides slugged it out, achieved little, sacrificed much and imposed a great strain on their supporting infrastructure.

What was the IAF's part in the ground war? The IAF after suffering tiring losses from the previous two days of fighting changed its doctrine of counter-air to ground interdiction. The ground attack fighters were sent in to harass Pakistani supply lines. Mostly the railway system and the armoured formations. There were plenty of targets to choose from both sides and even the PAF did its part too.

SEPTEMBER 8th

The IAF sent in daily missions to attack tanks, convoys, artillery emplacements and opportunity targets like trains, bridges and ammunition dumps. Raiwind was a favourite target through out the war. It was situated north of Lahore and in north-east of Kasur. It is the link through which the only railway line to Kasur goes. The supplies and reinforcements coming in by rail to the Lahore front comes via this town.

It is no surprise that Raiwind was showered with special attention by the IAF. Moreover it was very easy to locate by air. The pilots have to cross the Ichogil canal till they hit the railway line and just follow it till they come to the Raiwind railway junction.

The high priority the Pakistanis gave the Khem-Karan offensive saw daily reinforcements and supplies come in great numbers by rail. The entire Kasur sector was bristling with targets. The raid by No.20 Squadron illustrates this point.

No.20 Lightnings Squadron, were originally based at Palam, its allocated task being the air defence of the capital. On the start of hostilities, two of its flights were sent to Halwara to share it with the No.7 & 27 Sqns. Till this day, none of the pilots from No.20 Sqn. had seen action. And their first missions of the war were planned as a ground attack mission.

Four of the Hunters were loaded up with rockets and cannon ammunition. Flt. Lt. C.K.K. Menon, the leader of the mission was briefed to carry out the offensive sweep in the Kasur area. If they were to encounter any PAF Sabres they were to engage the enemy aircraft accordingly. Flying with Menon, were Flt. Lt. Amarjit Singh Khullar, Flt. Lt. D.S. Negi and Sqn. Ldr. B.K. Bishnoi. Fully fuelled up and armed with 16 rockets apiece, the first Hunter took to the air at 1800 hours.

Flying at 580 knots, the four Hunters crossed the border at less than 500 feet of altitude. They crossed the Ichogil Canal at Burki, and flew on a little time and then turned 30º left to head southwest to approach Raiwind from the north. Just on passing over the railway station, they noticed a goods train pulling in.

Flt. Lt. Menon pulled up to start his attacking run, followed by Flt. Lt. Khullar, while Sqn. Ldr. Bishnoi and Flt. Lt. Negi flew in a wide circuit so that they could start their run once Menon's flight got out. Menon put his Hunter in a shallow dive. He aimed at the engine.

The anti-aircraft defences were already alerted and were ready. They let a fusillade of shells. Flt. Lt. Menon got the locomotive in his sights, fired his cannons to check his aim and fired off his first salvo of rockets. The rockets ran true to their aim and exploded on target lifting the 100-ton locomotive off the rails along with three of the wagons.

Flt. Lt. Khullar only yards behind, fired his rockets into more wagons. As both of them pulled up, the wagons started exploding, confirming that this particular train was carrying ammunition. Meanwhile Sqn. Ldr. Bishnoi started his attacking run and he along with Flt. Lt. Negi used all their rockets to finish off the untouched rear end of the train. The A-A fire was heavy all the time. The wagons were all exploding in a sequence of burst. Ripping apart both the train as well as the railway track.

The four Hunters reformed, headed south east towards Kasur. Here they expended their remaining ammo on the tanks and other soft skinned vehicles before flying back to their base. The only damage to the Hunters were small holes in their fuel tanks by the shrapnel. All the four pilots landed back safely.

The pilots were credited with the destruction of an ammunition train, carrying shells for Pakistani tanks at the Kasur-Khem Karan axis. According to the Air Chief, as deduced from the R/T intercepts, its destruction left each Pakistani tank in the sector with less than 30 shells each. Which became another factor in blunting the Pakistani offensive.

Also flying were Mysteres of No.1 and 8 Sqns, who were involved in attacking not only armoured and transport facilities but also other targets like communication setups and infrastructure. An unexplained claim of the IAF, was for a C-130 that had been shot down on a bombing mission to Delhi. It was never explained how a lumbering transport would embark on a foolhardy venture to bomb the Indian capital which was in the interiors of the nation. No citations or awards were given related to this kill which explains, perhaps the validity of such a kill.

However the effort put up on September 8th was entirely directed in support of the ground forces or in interdiction. No sorties were planned directly against enemy airbases, perhaps in view of the heavy losses suffered the earlier day. The PAF took this as a symbol of air supremacy, for they believed that they could not be challenged in the air. The truth was much further away.

Both the IAF and PAF just shied away from each other. They could neither stop the other from flying interdiction missions nor plan counter air sorties to take out the other party. No aircraft were lost on this day, nor did the PAF claim any encounters on this particular day. Which is surprising as the IAF was much in evidence in trying to provide support to the I Corps offensive in the Sialkot Sector. The PAF which flew 22 sorties as CAP, failed to encounter any IAF aircraft.

SEPTEMBER 9th

The Hunters put in a repeat performance the next day. The battle at Khem-Karan had started. Four Hunters were detailed for close support and interdiction. Sqn. Ldr. Bishnoi was the leader of the mission. His No.2 was Flt. Lt. Gurbux Singh Ahuja from No.27 Sqn. The second section consisted of Flt. Lt. S.K. Sharma and Fg. Off. Parulkar, also from No.27 Sqn.

The four Hunters arrived at Kasur to be greeted with black puffs of 40mm ack-ack fire. They identified some armour as targets and the lead section with Sqn. Ldr. Bishnoi and Flt. Lt. Ahuja attacked some of the enemy tanks and knocked out some of them, followed by the aircraft of the other section.

Between them they accounted for 7 tanks and several armoured personnel carriers as well as soft skinned vehicles. Both Flt. Lt. Sharma and Flt. Lt. Parulkar who were the last out of the battle area, were caught up in a murderous crossfire of enemy ack-ack fire.

Sharma noticed Parulkar's aircraft which was flying level at one moment, after a near miss lurched out of control, flicked over on its back into a roll and dived towards the ground. Parulkar's Hunter had a near miss and splinters from the shell broke through the perspex and hit Parulkar in his shoulder, the searing pain from which made him lose control.

However just in the nick of time, he regained control and leveled his aircraft. Parulkar's arm was bleeding profusely but he still maintained his cool and made it back.  It was only after landing that Parulkar's wounds seriousness came out. A bullet has hit his right upper arm and torn out flesh from it, that the bone itself was visible. His overalls were drenched in blood resulting from the wound. It took nine stitches to close the wound.

Success in getting Parulkar down safely was followed by tragedy. While waiting for their turn to land at Halwara, both Ahuja and Sharma's aircraft collided in mid air. Ahuja's Hunter lost a wing and crashed into the ground instantly killing him. Sharma managed to land his aircraft safely even though it was damaged. 

Among other missions of the day, Wg. Cdr. Goodman led Mysteres of No.31 on an attack on Raiwind. He was lucky enough to be presented with a target of a tank transporting train, which was promptly made a shambles of. Around 26 tanks were either destroyed or damaged in this particular raid. Mysteres of No.1 & 3 Sqns were much involved in the fighting in the Sialkot sector. Flt. Lt. Trilochan Singh distinguished himself by leading a very successful mission which destroyed eight tanks.

SEPTEMBER 10th

September 10th saw the fighting of one of the most crucial battles in India's military history - the battle of Assal Uttar in the Khem Karan Sector. The Pakistani Armoured Division after two days of dithering pressed forward for their final breakthrough.

The Pakistanis were overconfident for they had mistaken 4th Division's tactical withdrawal for a rout and attacked hoping to capitalise on that. The spearhead of two Patton regiments were lured into two sickle shaped formations of Centurion tanks which closed the trap and the severe fighting commenced.

Obscure places like Mahmudpura, Bhikiwind, Patti and Assal Uttar rose to national fame in the next following days due to the tenacity shown by the Indian Army. The first Param Vir Chakra, India's highest military honour, went to Company Quarter-Master Havildar Abdul Hamid from the Grenadiers Regiment for sacrificing his life in the fighting.

It is notable that the Pakistani Division Commander was ambushed and wounded, while his Artillery Commander Brigadier Shammi was killed. By the end of the day, half of the Pakistani tanks were in Indian hands. The bold Pakistani strategy of capturing the Beas Bridge and thus facilitating a stroll down the GT Road to Delhi failed.

At the time when the fighting had commenced, both sides were so placed and movements so complex, the situation on the ground had become fluid. It would have been pretty difficult to distinguish friend from foe. No bomb-line could be drawn, but even under these extremely difficult circumstances, the IAF gave a helping hand. Hunters from No. 27 Sqn did close support missions, while Mysteres from No.1 Sqn attacked tanks and APC's at Khem Karan.

A second attack at 1730 hrs followed. Heavy ack-ack fire hit one of the aircraft, but the pilot Flt. Lt. Verma handled the damaged aircraft with skill, and in spite of the auxiliary systems falling to zero, he made it back to base safely. Along with the Hunters, Mysteres flew with the Canberras which were for the first time used in the tactical role attacking armoured forces on the move. Further north, on the Lahore-Amritsar Road, No.32 Sqn's Mysteres made a concentrated attack on the enemy's forces.

Whether the effort from the Indian Air Force had any effect on the ground battle would be difficult to establish. However, it needs to be asserted that all the credit for the victory should go to the ground forces only, i.e. the Army which rightly deserved it.

The day on the western sector rightfully belonged to Fg. Off. D.P. Chinoy. He was a part of a four-ship Mystere formation that attacked ground targets in the Phillora sector. The interdiction mission led the 4 aircraft to attack targets of opportunity like convoys and tanks. East of Phillora, D.P. Chinoy's formation attacked a Pakistani army camp. The Mysteres let hell loose with their rockets and Chinoy himself was elated at his target disappearing in a blaze of debris and smoke.

But his elation was short lived, As he pulled out of his attacking dive, his aircraft was hit repeatedly. Chinoy got out of range of the guns and went flat out for the border. He was already separated from his wingman, who was much ahead of him. The Mystere was badly hit, but was still flyable. Chinoy nursed the damaged aircraft towards the border.

Just two minutes flying time from the border, the cockpit burst into flames from the damaged incurred by the AA guns. Chinoy knew it was time to eject. He would never last the two minutes to the border. He pulled the lever that jettisoned his canopy and ejected.

The air blast knocked him out for a second or two and he found himself hanging from the silken canopy, with the afternoon sun above and the corn fields of western Punjab below. The stricken Mystere had already crashed into the ground. It didn't take much time to deduce he was still in enemy territory.

From the sounds of the battle, Chinoy could judge that the frontline was maybe 20 miles away. Then suddenly he came under rifle fire. Exactly from where he did not know. He could only pray that none of the bullets carried his number on it. As soon as he hit the ground he detached his chute, threw away his flight helmet in disgust, maybe at the thought of becoming a POW, but gathering his wits, he quickly surveyed the situation around him.

There was nothing to suggest that anybody were looking for him or if the Pakistanis had sent any search parties. There was no sign of any of the troops. He quickly ran for cover. He hid in a grass patch and started crawling north-west and running when there was no cover.

Soon he became exhausted. He had no idea where he was. The map he had being using was useless as it was on 1:100000 scale. He took a breather and ripped off excess flying clothing, mainly the G-suit fittings and straps. Again he started moving from bush-to-bush and running from cover to cover.

Around 4 p.m. he nearly stumbled onto a local villager. On noticing him, Fg. Off. Chinoy dived into the nearby grass hoping he was not seen. Luckily for him, he was not. Then he decided to wait till dark to resume his trek. Chinoy hid in the grass till 1845 hrs and when the sun had gone down, he came out and stated walking in the direction in which he thought lay the border. Then he hit a road and he walked along some distance from it.

He marched for about five hours by which time his throat was parched and his legs were aching like hell. His back was already acting up from the shock of the ejection. Both thirst and lack of sleep were taking its toll. Then like an oasis, he saw a well. The tired pilot doubled over to it and drank the water by the bucketful. The water had revived him and he got back the drive of making it back.

Soon he noticed a convoy of vehicles approaching on the road. Chinoy was on alert, but identified the leader in the vehicle as a Sikh and identified the convoy as belonging to the Indian Army. He walked over to them and identified himself. Within hours he was back at his airbase and after a good spell of rest was fighting fit again.

SEPTEMBER 11th

September 11th opened up in a buoyant mood for the country. News of how a big Pakistani offensive at Khem Karan was smashed, trickled down to the papers and to the aircrew. The previous day, All India Radio (AIR) announced the first lot of gallantry awards to the nation.

Of the total gallantry awards, six Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) and eight Vir Chakra (VrC), were awarded to the IAF. Two MVCs were awarded to Wg. Cdr. W.M. Goodman and Wg. Cdr. P.P. Singh. Besides the pilots who scored kills in the air (Gandhi, Neb, Rathore, Cooke, Mamgain) Sqn. Ldrs. Handa and Jatar, who led the missions on Sargodha on September 7th along with Flt. Lt. Trilochan Singh got the Vir Chakra. By now the IAF got 10 VrC's including the awards to Sqn. Ldr. Keelor and Flt. Lt. Pathania which were announced earlier in the war on Sept 6th.

By the previous day, the IAF had claimed to have destroyed 36 PAF Aircraft. Considered that real fighting started only five days before, it seems a tall claim, however a closer look reveals that 18 of these were claimed destroyed on the ground at Sargodha. The break up of the 36 kills includes 18 Sabres, 4 Starfighters, 4 B-57s and 2 C-130s. And the balance being miscellaneous transport and AOP aircraft. air-to-air and ack-ack kills amounted to 18.

A wartime communiqué says that India lost only 13 aircraft by September 10th, which is clearly untrue. In fact, at the end of the first 10 days of conflict, the IAF had lost 15 aircraft in the air, both in air-to-air as well as due to ground fire, some 7-10 aircraft on the ground (not including the UN Caribou) and one Gnat which landed at Pasrur, thus suffering some 26 aircraft lost.

However Pakistan at the end of eight days, had already claimed 28 aircraft on the ground and 32 in air which were too exaggerated to be taken seriously. Some of the claims can be analysed as follows. Against the PAF claim of downing 32 aircraft in the air by September 8th, we find India lost only 14 aircraft in the air - a 43% accuracy in judging Indian losses.

Some of the claims and admissions can be assessed as below:

Date Location Pakistani Claims Indian Losses
1 September Chamb 4 Vampires 4 Vampires
6 September Tarn Tarn 2 Hunters 1 Hunter
6 September Rahwali 1 Mystere - No loss-
6 September Halwara 4 Hunters 2 Hunters
7 September Sargodha 5 Hunters

3 Hunters (1 to AA)

7 September Sargodha

6 Mysteres (4 to AA)

2 Mysteres ( 0 to AA)

- - 22 Aircraft 12 Aircraft

A same analysis of Indian claims in the air would be seen as follows

Date Location Indian Claims Pak Losses
3 September Chamb 1 Sabre -No Information-
4 September Chamb

2 Sabres (1 to AA)

1 Sabre (0 to AA)

6 September Halwara

4 Sabres (1 to AA)

3 Sabres (0 to AA)

7 September Sargodha 1 Starfighter 1 Starfighter
7 September Kalaikonda 2 Sabres 1 Sabre
- - 10 Aircraft 6 Aircraft

As can be seen from the table, the PAF suffers from over claiming of a ratio of more than a 100%. This of the aircraft in destroyed in the air, of which evidence would be much freely available than aircraft on the ground. It can be safely be assumed that this misjudgment in claims on ground are more, thus the claims of 28 destroyed on ground. One can expect a deviation of more than 50%.

Indian claims in the air are much more modest, and the Pakistani admissions to lend some credence to the claims. An interesting note here, is the air battle of Halwara. Four Sabres are claimed that day, three to the Hunters and one to the A-A fire. The wreckage of three were recovered the after the battle.

One Sabre pilot, whom now we know was Flt. Lt. Cecil Choudary, got back to base. But Pakistan still maintains only two Sabres were lost, even though we recovered wrecks of three. This proves to some extent that even Pakistani admissions about losses may not be the final figure.

The IAF had been fighting this air war alone. Unfortunately, the close support given to help the Army was neglected. Promised support missions never materialised. And when they did, there was a time gap of 4-6 hours before the sorties were undertaken.

The IAF was so caught up in its role of counter air and interdiction, that basic support to the Army was given lesser priority. The PAF too suffered from the same lacunae. It was too busy fighting for its own survival. But there were moments when it rose to the occasion.

September 11th would be remembered in the history of air warfare as the first encounter between Mach 2 fighters. A single F-104A, from the PAF, encountered two IAF MiG-21s from Halwara. The F-104 managed to escape by exiting the combat at treetop height and Mach 1.1, which the MiG-21s were unable to match. No blood was drawn during this encounter. It is said that a pilot is in a fuel emergency situation in a MiG-21 even before he takes off the runway.

The early MiG-21s suffered from a lack of endurance. IAF MiG-21s had K-13 missiles which were practically useless at that time. No details are available regarding the pilots involved in this encounter. The Indian Air Force never acknowledged this particular incident to have happened. Wg. Cdr. Wollen in an interview had stated that no such encounter had taken place.

Pakistan lost one Sabre to the A-A guns of Amritsar. Sqn. Ldr. Muniruddin Ahmed was in a formation of Sabres that attacked Amritsar and the Beas Bridge. A-A fire shot down the aircraft which crashed near Dhanpai village. A burnt identity card recovered from the scene of the crash identified the pilot.

Vampires of the No.220 Squadron. flew tactical reconnaissance missions over Gadra and Nayachor in view of the increased intensity of ground operations there. They encountered no resistance. The missions were repeated the next day too.

SEPTEMBER 12th

Sialkot sector , had the previous day, seen the renewal of the Indian Offensive to take Phillora town. In spite of the PAF's air attacks, Indian Army formations occupied Phillora by afternoon. This move spelt concern for the Pakistani High Command. This day on September 12th, tanks from the C Squadron of the 17 Poona (Horse) observed a Pakistani helicopter, a Bell OH-13, landing South of Phillora.

One of the tanks from 17 Horse fired a HE (High-Explosive) shell and knocked down the helicopter, a rare case of a tank using its primary armament to down an aircraft. Later, it became known that the GOC of Pak's 15 Inf. Div. was in that particular helicopter. He and his staff pilot had come to have a first hand assessment of the ground situation. He died in the encounter. The helicopter was recovered in it's damaged condition by No.1 Armd. Div.

The PAF outshone itself in the Khem Karan sector. Moves to take Khem Karan back by the Indian 4th Div. ran into obstacles. First one of the battalions - 4th Sikh - ran into an ambush and 129 of its men got captured as POWs. Another battalion, 2nd Mahar, was sent forward to relieve 4th Sikh when it ran into one of the worst ambushes from the air.

As the troops were marching to the battle zone, strung out in the open around 12 noon, the PAF Sabres struck, strafing the formation. 40 of the gallant Mahars died that day along with another 8 men of the 4th Grenadiers who were accompanying the Mahars, and an equal number wounded.

Air attacks also slowed down one of the battalions of J&K Rifles and a troop of Sherman tanks, from the 9th Deccan Horse, which managed to reach Khem Karan, was strafed from the air. The tanks subsequently fell in the enemies' hands, after getting bogged down during evasive maneuvers. All these attacks from the air helped frustrate our attempts to recapture Khem Karan. By the end of this planned raid, we lost 200 men in killed and captured and about 11 tanks were lost.

When Major General Sukhwant Singh wrote in his book, "There were occasions when the PAF single handedly repulsed attacks by the Army," he probably meant this day. The 4th Grenadiers lost a further 10 men to air attacks later in the war. There was no support from the IAF during this mission. No wonder the Khem Karan veterans are most bitter about the IAF's failure in close support.

SEPTEMBER 13th

A diesel oil train at the Gurdaspur railway station was attacked by Sabres. Anti-Aircraft fire hit and damaged a F-86 Sabre, the pilot of which ejected near the Border. Pakistan insists the pilot, Sqn. Ldr. A.U. Ahmed, bailed out, but only his dead body was recovered. He was possible injured severely by A-A fire and was dead by the time his chute landed on the ground.

Meanwhile the train at the Gurdaspur railway station had three of its wagons on fire. There was an immediate danger of the entire train catching fire and blowing up. A fireman at the railway station, Chaman Lal, took on the task off uncoupling the burning wagons from the train and save the rest of the wagons. The three wagons were detached and separated, but Chaman Lal died of burns. A grateful nation awarded him the Ashoka Chakra.

Gnats of the No.2 Squadron, took part in air combat for the first time in the war. As far back as 29th August, all pilots and personnel of the squadron were recalled from leave. And the aircraft were split up in two detachments based at Agra and Ambala. Accordingly, three pilots, Sqn. Ldr. Dhawan, Flt. Lt. A.N. Kale and Flt. Lt. A.K. Mazumdar went to Agra. The rest under Wg. Cdr. Bharat Singh, CO were based at Ambala. Later on the detachment from Agra was moved over to Halwara.

On this particular day, 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.

No other significant air actions took place during September 13th except for interdiction strikes by both sides in the Siakot sector. The Sabres also attacked the ATW Jamnagar and two airmen were killed due to bomb splinters. Two other airmen attached to the ATW were killed. The only significant action of the day happened in the night, when a group of six Canberras took off to raid Peshawar, the raid is described in the next section as it actually falls under September 14th time.

SEPTEMBER 14th

It was generally believed that the PAF had after the raids of September 7th had moved the bulk of its attack force to its airfields in the interiors. Most of the B-57 bombers were withdrawn to Peshawar, which was 600 km from the Indian border. It would have been suicidal to attack at such a distance. No Indian aircraft had the range and endurance to find a target like Peshawar and attack it. It would be a sitting duck if it tried in the daylight, and it would never find the target if it was night. So the Pakistanis thought.

As night fell on Peshawar on September 13th, six Canberra Bombers from No.5 Tuskers Sqn made an audacious raid on the Peshawar airfield. Sqn. Ldr. Verma, a senior flight commander with the Tuskers, was leading the raid. His navigator, Flt. Lt. P. Dastidar, had an unenviable job. Peshawar, being on the northern border of Pakistan was at the extreme flying range of the Canberras. Which meant that the payload was kept to a bare minimum. The fuel gave no allowances for tactical routing to avoid the Starfighters, which had the capability of night flying.

The Canberras had to fly through the heartland of Pakistan. Navigating by the starlight and whatever landmarks they could find, Verma flew his Canberra with instructions from his navigator. They then successfully identified the river to the north of Peshawar, and by fixing their position relative to the bend in the river, the bombers started their run.

As the bombers rendezvoused before their final pull up for the attack, Gautam radioed to inform the formation that the Peshawar ack-ack batteries had woken up. He reported A-A fire up to an altitude of 5000 feet and accordingly the Canberras adjusted their altitude.

Gautam was to be the pathfinder during the bombing run. He was responsible for dropping the Target Indicator Bomb (TIB), which served as a beacon for the others right at the beginning of the runway. Others would drop their bomb loads assessing their positions relative to the TIB. Gautam had did his job perfectly, by laying the TIB near the target. The remaining Canberras had a variety of targets to choose from, including a bulk petroleum installation, aircraft, PAF installations, etc.

Verma began his bombing run, judging his approach and making corrections as required. Then when the navigator gave his signal, he released his bomb load. As the 8000 lbs. of bombs left Verma's Canberra, the aircraft lurched upwards, rid of the weight under which it was tied down.

Verma turned hard port and headed north for the hills. The Canberras following Verma confirmed that the BPI had been hit and was burning furiously. Gautam managed to damage the runway with his payload. Verma was flying full throttle to the hills, when he heard the dreaded message he always feared. "Boss! Bandits on our tails."

A Starfighter had been launched prior to the attack has now started vectoring into the retreating bomber force. In daytime, it would have been a massacre, but at night, the darkness was the Canberra’s main ally. Flt. Lt. Gurdial Singh, one of the formation pilots, reported the Starfighter targeting his aircraft.

Verma called for Gurdial to shake off the Starfighter. Then Gautam saw a streak of flame appear in the pitch of the darkness, make its way towards the Canberra. The Starfighter had launched a Sidewinder missile. The other pilots of the formation saw a huge fireball as the Sidewinder exploded. As Verma put his thoughts later in an interview, "Poor Goody! It was curtains for him! So we thought!".

In fact the Sidewinder exploded prematurely, missing the target Canberra. A jubilant Gurdial announced over the R/T that the Pakistani pilot had missed his target. That was the last encounter with the F-104 that night. All the bombers flew back to their base at Agra. The raid was successful without any losses for our side. It was the first time in the war that Peshawar had been raided.

The runway and the petroleum installations had been damaged. Some aircraft hangers were claimed to have been hit too. As well as the PAF HQs building outside the airfield. Many Pakistani accounts recall how a lineup of B-57s and F-86s fully armed and fuelled up just missed being in the line of the falling bombs, receiving some splinters, but escaping critical damage.

It was pretty clear that had luck favored the Tuskers, they would have wiped out the strategic attack component of the Pakistani Air Force at one shot. It is interesting to note here that Sikand's Gnat, which landed at Pasrur on September 3rd, was flown to Peshawar the following day and was stationed at the airfield during the time of the attack.

The raid shook the PAF out of its complacency. No particular airfield or town was out of range of the Indian bombers. The significance of the raid was a symbolic gesture, less of material damage. No one in Pakistan had imagined that the IAF can attack a city like Peshawar at impunity, it was luck that the PAF got away with the mistake they made.

September 14th saw a small spurt in the air activities of both the sides. With quite a few incidents of air to air combat. The first one of them occurred over Lahore, a strike mission of Canberra bombers flying for some rail yard targets were scheduled to rendezvous with some Gnats of No.2 Sqn operating from Halwara as escort.

Arriving at the RV point, the leader of the Canberra’s noticed Sabres coming up from across the other side and starting their attacking run on the bombers. As one of the Sabres lined up a Canberra in its sights, they were pounced upon by the escorting Gnats.

Wg. Cdr. Bharat Singh, CO of the Gnat Squadron had infact seen the Sabres much in advance but was in doubt whether they were Mysteres or Sabres. The Sabres had pulled up and dived to attack the Canberras when Bharat Singh came in to disrupt the attack.

The Sabres broke off the attack on the Canberras and one of them was chased by Bharat Singh. The enemy pilot got down to the deck with the Gnat in hot pursuit. Bharat Singh stayed behind the Sabre through every evasive maneuver the hapless Pakistani pilot executed. Even though the Sabre managed to evade Bharat Singh's bullets, it proved his undoing. During the frantic maneuvers, the Sabre crashed into the ground. The Gnats had scored again without loss.

PAF B-57s, which were dispatched to attack the Indian targets, made their appearance over the Indian airfield of Adampur. The ack-ack barrage put up by the airfield defences was thick enough to hit and damage one of the attacking bombers. The bomber dropped its load on the airfield, flew for some distance and plunged into the ground near the village of Alwalpur. Both the pilot and the navigator ejected. The angry villagers of Madhar captured both the crew the next day.

Part of the wreckage of the B-57 shot down over Adampur on the night of September 14th. Wreck.jpg (27308 bytes)

Thus ended the second week of the air war. One significant factor is the fewer encounters of the opposing forces. Both the sides concentrated in attacking the ground troops of the other, and less flying against each other. Save for the raids by the Canberras of both sides, which flew by the night. No raids on Pakistani airfields were undertaken during the day, nor did Pakistan undertake any daylight raids, except for the Bagdogra attack, which is described in Chapter 9.


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