The Antonov 12 in the Bombing Role

 

The Initial Trials

The use of the An-12 in the bombing role was conceived by Gp Capt Surinder Singh (affectionately known as Susu) Director of Operations in the then Western Air Command. In May 1965 he asked for a pilot from 44 Squadron with bombing experience to do some trials at Tilpat.

Although there were pilots who had done bombing on Liberators they all found reasons not to go and sent me who had not done a single bomb drop. I flew to Palam on the 14th May and did a familiarisation fly over Tilpat range.

On the 20th May I did 2 drops of 8 x 500 lbs. bombs. The bombs were put on cast iron cradles specifically made to fit the four moving transporter rails on which loads were normally carried for supply drops. For normal supply drops, the axle which connected the four transporter rails to ensure that they moved together was removed, as it was found the axle slowed down the release of the load.

However for the first bombing trial they replaced axle on the transporters to ensure stability and the pin which defused the bomb was linked by a thin rope to wires which ran along the insides of the aircraft loading bay. The first briefing we were asked to do the drop from about 1Kms but our drops were usually carried out much lower. Gp Capt Surinder Singh agreed to the lower drop.

On the first drop the axle on the transporters were holding up the bombs and as I thought the bombs would overshoot the target. There was no way in which to abort the drop once it had commenced so I pulled up hard and the bombs fell out. I did a tight turn and looked down and there was a huge cloud of dust and I thought I had bombed Tilpat village. One can imagine the thoughts that raced through my mind at the time. I called up Surinder and asked if him if everything was all right and he replied that we would talk about it at the debriefing. At the debriefing he said the many of the bombs had overshot the target.

We decided to stop using the axle on the transporters and let the bombs roll out by gravity for the next drop which was uneventful. As dropping at Tilpat seemed to be dangerous I recommended that we do further drops in a more suitable range.

The 1965 War

In September 1965 the political situation had turned tense and all crews were asked to remain on 24 hours standby . I flew in ammunition and troops to Pathankot on the 1st. and 3rd of September from Kanpur and Nagpur. I was surprised to see a few families watching the take offs and landings from flying control the operations as a number of sorties were being flown to the sensitive areas on the border. I was anxious, as I had a 8 ton load of ammunition which was being unloaded and had there been a strike it would have been disastrous. After unloading we were then sent to Hindon and on the way the low fuel lights came on and as we landed just as a heavy shower of rain came in from the opposite direction. As Hindon was short of fuel in or rather they wanted to preserve what they had they gave us the minimum we needed to get back to Chandigarh.

On the evening 4th of September all An-12 aircraft based in Chandigarh were ordered to go south. I was sent ahead to report on the weather conditions as a weather front was over Central India. It was dark when we took off and I remember the excessive R/T natter between Pakistan Airlines aircraft and Palam flying control and here we were broadcasting to the world that a large number of aircraft were heading south. I flew through the weather front and for the first time and only time saw St.Elmo's fire dashing around the cockpit windshield. We were met at the airfield by Gp Capt Molokai who seemed to want to take over operations . The next morning we were sent to Poona and took more troops to Pathankot via Chandigarh. We then flew to Pathankot again and back to Chandigarh.

On landing back at Chandigarh I was then told that five crews had been selected to carry out a "special operation" and I and my "bombing crew " were one of them. We were to assemble in Kanpur and flew there that night. Before going I asked that the pilots seats in the aircraft be refitted with the armour piercing that was removed during day to day operations to increase the payload. I cannot remember the exact weight but they were extremely heavy. The captains selected for the "special task" were Wg Cdr Reggie Rufus1, Sqn Ldr Singha (who along with Flt Lt Dicky Raphael now a dentist in Perth was a guest of the Nagas for a number of years2) Sqn Ldr PK Datta and one whose name I cannot remember (possibly Sqn Ldr Desoares) I got the impression that the captains and crew selected were not exactly blue eyed boys in the scheme of things.

I could feel the unspoken of tension among the crews that were assembled in Kanpur. I was the only person who had ever dropped bombs and knew the drill and so had to hastily briefed the rest of the crews.

On the 6th evening we were ordered to go to Palam to load up for a bombing mission. After the first two aircraft took off they were sent back as Palam was under and air raid attack. They flew back and unfortunately or may be fortunately one aircraft taxied facing another and the taxi track was blocked. An-12 do not have reversible pitch propellers and so cannot reverse like the C-130s. This was about 7 or 8 p.m. and all the airmen on the base had returned to their billets. We called them and they came and pushed the aircraft so we were in a position to taxi out and take off for Palam.

We landed about midnight and they were to load our aircraft. Reggie Rufus was called for a briefing he and spoke to the AOC-in-C Western Air Command. (Air Marshal R Rajaram) When he returned we were told to head for Hakimpet. It is my impression that when he told them that we were untrained, they asked him if he was scared. I am not sure as to whether I had discussed with him that sending untrained crews was a great risk and possibly not worth the effort. I will admit it was an anxious time for me and one I would not like to go through again.

As we set off for Hakimpet I decided that we would go low level for practice but after flying for about 10 minutes my navigator told me he was "uncertain of his position." I am quoting the words written on the navigation room of No 1 Air Force Academy in Begumpet. "Man is never lost, he is only uncertain of his position".

We climbed and landed at Hakimpet in the early hours of the morning. The day after we landed in Hakimpet Reggie Rufus flew back to Palam for a briefing . He was briefed that we should start training immediately and standby to be called up. Security was tight in Hakimpet. We got off the aircrew bus and were heading for the aircraft when a sentry shouted "Halt who goes there? Password" My reply was not exactly polite Probably " 'Surinder Singh' off" .

During our training we called in the local artillery and asked them about the radar controlled anti aircraft L24s which Pakistan used. The officer replied that an An-12 shows up on the radar as a Squadron of Hunters.. It was evident then that the tactical method would be to go in low and at night.

My log book records that every night we did a low level cross country not above 500 feet for the next 7 nights and one day sortie of fighter affiliation. The first night we tried to go in formation at night !!! I will not forget that as we reached the first turning point I was almost looking inside Reggie Rufus cockpit. At the debriefing after landing his navigator, whose name I remember but shall remain nameless, said that he had changed course a bit so that he would be on the correct heading for the next leg. I resisted the urge to strangle him on the spot. We stopped training about the 17th September which must have been about the time that a cease fire came into force.

It was in May 1966 that we started using the bombing range at Poona. We did a joint exercise with the Canberras and I remember after we dropped the bombs the range was closed as we managed to blow out the target. Experience had taught me that if you line up a set of rivets on the nose of the aircraft as you run in to the Dropping Zone you do a good drop.

Post Script.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

I left the Air Force to migrate to Australia in 1968 and in a few years the Bangla Desh Operations started. I wrote to Air Chief Marshal P.C.Lal offering my "Experienced" services. I did this even though I was not on the reserve and had been denied "non-effective" benefits by some known but unnamed Under Secretary in Air Headquarters. ACM Lal sent me a letter which thanking me and also letting me know that they had the situation well in hand. I still have the letter which reminds me of the many happy memories I have of my days in the I.A.F.

There are a few memories which I was privileged to be a part of when flying the An-12s in 44 Squadron..

Seeing a meteorological mirage after take off and heading for a Rohtang Pass there were the mountains ahead of me and then a stratum of blue sky above which was another layer of mountains compressed as a broad band across the sky. and then the blue sky again. There is information on the internet as to how this occurs. I have seen Rohtang Pass from about 200 miles south and could identify it.This is how far astronauts see the earth from when orbiting so one can get that feeling.

Witnessing the full eclipse of the sun at Leh one day. An eerie sight , blue skies and darkness and the birds making a noise as if they are going to roost.

Watching the Dalai Lama come out of the An-12 (pilot Sqn Ldr PK Datta). I took in his party in the second aircraft and as I watched him coming out of the aircraft all the people who had come to welcome him lay flat on the ground and they started blowing those long trumpets (sometime seen in Switzerland) which made a strange noise. It gave me goose bumps.

Passing a flock of geese in the winter of Kar Tso at 7.3 Kms. almost had a bird strike. Buzzing the horses on the mountains in the snow near Kar Tso (Tso means lake) ) which was a bit naughty of me.

The dosas that they made when you landed at Leh among the best that I have tasted.

Moonlight drops at Stakna just before Leh.

Giving an army officer who had a bereavement in his family a seat on the aircraft as he would have missed the ceremonies if he could not get home in time.

Taking a large number of troops out on a flight from Leh. The aircraft staggered of the ground and when I landed I had the passengers line up on the tarmac and there were 120 or so of them.

Taking a tank out of Leh and being offered a case of whisky for the effort. Did this in the winter.

Beating up my parents house in Ranchi and watching them on the front lawn waving towels at me.(naughty- court martial offence)

I also went to Rohtang Pass to look for a possible DZ they needed to make the road to Leh. At the top of the pass there was a cha wallah but because of the height of the place they used pressure cookers to boil the water. The valley on the other side where we spent the night lends itself to transcendental meditation.

Thank you to the crews who flew with me and shared so many breakfasts on Ladakh Airlines (No 44) You needed to pick your crew to have a good breakfast.

Thank you to the ground crews who worked so hard to keep the aircraft flying. Master Warrant Officer Samuels hardly ever went home. He was an outstanding officer and I hope he got an award for services beyond the call of duty.

Notes:

1. Wg Cdr Reggie Rufus was the CO of No.25 Squadron at that time. He was earlier in 1960 awarded the Ashoka Chakra Cl.II (Now Kirti Chakra) for successfully forcelanding an Il-14 carrying the then Prime Minister Shri Jawahar Lal Nehru.

2. Sqn Ldr Singha was earlier the captain of a Dakota that was shot down during a supply drop at Purr post in Assam. He and his crew had to spend nearly an year as POWs in the hands of Naga Insurgents.

Wg Cdr RA Rufus has penned his comments on this article. They are presented in a seperate page at this link

Copyright © 2002 Squadron Leader (Retd) Douglas Augier. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Squadron Leader (Retd) Douglas Augier is prohibited.