Air Battle over Dacca

On the morning of 04 Dec 71, No 37 Squadron ‘the Black Panthers’ lovingly called the “Black Panties” by other IAF squadrons, launched their very first mission of the war, with four Hunters. This was the first Squadron to get the camera nose Hunter (FR Mk 10) and had already flown several recce missions in to East Pakistan since July '71.

The Hunters were configured with four 100 Gal long range tanks and only gun ammo. The mission was lead by the CO, Wg Cdr SP ‘Supi’ Kaul (later Chief of the Air staff) with Flt Lt SK ‘Billu’ Sangar as no 2 and Sqn Ldr AM Mascarenhas as no 3 and Fg Offr Harish ‘Khappe’( left handed) Masand as no 4. The mission was search and destroy targets of opportunity at Tezgaon airfield, which was at 181 NMs with a small detour for the IP- Rupsi, while the Range of Action of the Hunter at LO-LO was 167 NM in that configuration.

TOT was 0705 and a pair of MiG-21 FLs from 4 Sqn out of Guwahati was to RV overhead the target to tackle the CAP if any. A second mission by 17 Sqn Hunters was also to be in the area a few mins behind this force.

Mascarenhas’ aircraft did not start and the 3 aircraft were airborne on time at 0630 into a blue sky with limitless visibility. However, Masand’s undercarriage failed to retract, but he kept tagging along for nearly 30-40 NMs trying to raise it, finally managing to raise it with the emergency override.

2 mins after leaving the IP at low level, Masand on the left as a single aircraft, saw two silver Sabres (PAF 14 sqn ac out of Tezgaon, Dacca) swinging from their 3’0’ clock to 6 ‘o’clock at about 5 Nm. Having reported them the formation continued on course to target as they had no fuel to engage and kept trying to raise the MiG 21 CAP. The Sabres closed in to about 3000 yards by which time the form was at 480 Kts.

At this time the Sabre behind SP Kaul dropped his tanks, and Masand seeing the whoosh of the fuel thought it was a missile launch and ordered a hard turn to the right. Although this Sabre eased off he feared that there would be another Sabre behind his tail, and continued through 180 deg of turn so as to get cross cover from the other section. On rolling out he saw a Sabre shooting at Billu from around 500 yds.

Forgetting to punch his tanks Masand maneuvered behind the Sabre which continued to ignore him and closed to approx 150 yds. But by force of habit, he pressed the camera button rather than the trigger and had closed to less than 100yds by the time he dropped the trigger and fired. At this time the two were at approx 500-700 feet of the ground and the Sabre reversed left to evade, but at that close range, the four guns blew him up (on ground they found that Massand had fired only 2 rounds per gun a total of 8, he was that close).

Masand continued right calling for the form to roll out approx 350 and head home. By then the MiGs were overhead and reported seeing the chute of the Pakistani pilot on R/T (sadly the PAF pilot- Flt Lt Saeed Afzal Khan of 14 sqn PAF is said to have ejected safely but was lynched by Mukti Bahini guerilla fighters). Masand never caught up with the rest of the formation and climbed so as to save fuel, landing with only 100lbs a side.

On the ground he found that the formation that was being shot at was part of the 17 Squadron formation of Sqn Ldr Lele and Fg Offr ‘Buster’ Bains his course mate which had ended up ahead of time and in the same general area. Buster had 42 holes in his aircraft and was saved by the fact that the Sabres were using only ball ammo. Sqn Ldr Javed Afzal, the PAF formation leader has been incorrectly credited with this kill.

Masand
During the War - Flying Officer Harish Masand (Center) seen along with the AOC-in-C Air Marshal HC Dewan (left) and his CO Wg Cdr S K Kaul (Right) at Hasimara. Note the Black Panther's Profile painted on the nose of the  Hunter in the background

Masand was awarded a Vir Chakra for this action and became the youngest pilot to get an air to air kill in this war being 24 yrs and 8months at the time and hence also the last serving VrC from 1971 to retire. He later went on to command No 28 Sqn (the first supersonics) on the MiG 29 on which he became one of the greatest exponents of the low level aerobatic art. He finally retired as an Air Marshal in 2005.


Also visit : The Black Panty's Hunter model from the 1971 War


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