Training 1 with Ops Command
In 1961, when I handed over command of my squadron to Mally Wollen, I was posted to the Command Headquarters in Palam. Those days there was only one operational command and appropriately it was called The Operational Command, IAF. I was posted as Training 1, responsible for the Operational Training of the fighter squadrons. The AOC in C was Air Vice Marshal Erlic Pinto, the SASO was Air Commodore Padam Singh Gill and the Air I, my direct boss, was Group Captain Devasher. In the East, there was a Group Hq located in Calcutta, the only fighter force under it being the three Mystere Squadrons at Kalaikunda. In the Ops Command, we had Vampires, Toofanis, Hunters and Gnats. I was in that post till I left on deputation to Iraq in 1963.
It could have been a mundane job, analyzing the monthly training returns of the squadrons and in general having a fairly relaxed time. But I felt that I could try and solve some of the weaknesses that I had been aware of in the operational preparedness of our squadrons.
The operational preparedness of the squadrons was very subjective and somewhat like the notation on some documents like Personnel Occurrence Reports, ‘authority, officer’s own statement’. The squadron commanders would fly as per the laid down syllabi but what they put in to the sorties was left to them. They carried out armament range practices but the results were not looked at by anybody to asses whether they were fit to go to war. There was no way to assess whether there was focus to see that the pilots were progressed in an optimal manner from conversion to ‘fully ops’- how many productive sorties did they do per month, how long did they take to become ‘Fully Ops’ Etc. The emphasis was primarily on delivering ground attack weapons and very little on air combat. The delivery of ground attack weapons was from a set pattern range circuit and there was no way to assess how they would fare in a war scenario where you would approach at low level, pull up and deliver the weapons in one pass. Even the air combat sorties that were in the syllabus were seldom carried out in the aggressive way that they should have been. This became really my obsession after my Fighter Combat Leaders Course, in U.K., where I found myself, an experienced flight commander from the Indian Air Force, inexperienced and not knowledgeable enough about the intricacies and nuances of air combat.
The above is not a “Talking Down” and jaundiced view of the situation from a ‘holier than thou’ approach but to highlight that the IAF had evolved on those lines from a kind of vacuum at the end of WWII., and more so after Partition. It was unfortunate that the very people who should have raised the level of operational capabilities somehow did not. These were the people sent abroad for Fighter Leaders courses that came back and taught none of it in their units. I had been in a squadron commanded by a DFL and not one briefing, lecture or mission was carried out by him throughout his term as squadron commander, to train the pilots in fighter leadership and combat handling. The impression I get is that they considered the selection for such courses as a lollipop for their great qualities as fighter pilots, almost like a medal that you wore. There were exceptions, of course but they were just a couple. In this connection I must tell an anecdotal story about the selection of a person to be sent for the Fighter Leader’s course. In those days, it was really based on the impression that the senior officers we had in Air HQ It was well known that ‘Pop’ Bouche’ was an outstanding pilot and aggressive flier and the senior officer wanted to send him for the Fighter Leader course. He couldn’t remember Pop’s name for the moment and said ‘send that Anglo Indian guy’. The staff officer wasn’t sure who he meant and so blurted out the first Anglo-Indian name that came to his mind and said ‘You mean George King Sir’. The Senior Officer wasn’t sure yet and so said ‘Yes, I think so’. So, George King went, flunked the course and came back half way through the course!! I must confess that this selection process is strictly ‘Hearsay Evidence’. This is what most of us heard and sounds fairly credible!! I do know that George King flunked the course.
It was the opposite with our Pilot Attack Instructors, who were passionate about teaching weapon delivery to the squadron pilots. Names of people in that category of PAIs springs to ones mind such as Pop Bouche’, PVS Ram, ER Fernandez, Mally Wollen, Sudhakaran, Kapil Bhargava etc But not most of the DFLs. Johnney Greene underwent the DFL Course in the second half of 1957 and I was scheduled for the next one. He came back and announced that his course was the last one and the subsequent ones would be the Day Fighter Combat Leader’s Course, combining the DFL and PAI courses. He also said that the RAF had suspended further courses till they reconstituted the syllabi, staff etc. I was in a grand panic because it could be a slip between the cup and lip. There could be a new selection and somebody else may go. I think I prayed to all the deities that I knew and some that I didn’t. This was in the beginning of 1958 and it was announced that the course would be held from May of that year. I was the Flight Commander in No. 4 Squadron in Ambala, flying Toofanis. We had the three Hunter Squadrons of the IAF located there. The DFCL course was on Hunter aircraft. So the logic would have been that I would be attached/posted to one of the Hunter squadrons to get a good grounding on type. The previous three DFL selectees had been given just 6 hours of familiarization on Hunters in UK before they were put on the course. I can imagine their plight. But, with the usual unerring judgment and planning, Air HQ posted me to be the Flight Commander of No. 29 Sqn, to be formed in Halwara!! I was just stunned. I ran to my C.O., Sqn. Ldr ‘Chico’ Bose, who short circuited protocol and called up somebody in Air HQ and told him what he thought about their planning. The person at the other end apologized and said that they just didn’t have another qualified senior Toofani Flight Commander to undertake the conversion training of a new set of Toofani pilots. On further impolite words from ‘Chico’, he said that as soon the C.O., Sqn. Ldr Sukhjinder Singh, and La Fontaine, the other Flight Commander were converted, I would be brought back to Ambala and given a Hunter Conversion. I did eventually fly the Hunter enough to feel comfortable to undergo the course.
Johney Green, whom I called Jonathan and the name stuck, and I were very active in training our flights and, later on, our squadrons in air combat and more realistic operational ground attack missions. When I was commanding 23 Squadron, in 1959, I suggested to the staff at Operational Command that w should have Standard Operating Procedures for the squadrons for each type of aircraft.. At that time each squadron had its own operating procedures and certainly not standardized. This could lead to a lot of confusion and loss of time in briefing etc. I had brought the S.O.Ps for the Hunters, as used in the D.F.C.L. course and Johney and I wrote out the first set of S.O.Ps for the I.A.F., for Hunter squadrons. This was the model on which the S.O.Ps for other type squadrons were written up.
We also suggested that the I.A.F. should have its own Manual of Fighter Operations. There were just a couple of copies of the Royal Air Force ones, one of which we discovered in the library in Operational Command. Johney and I were both at Poona, with me commanding No 23 Sqn and Johney as the flight Commander in No. 17 Sqn. We were called to HQ Operational Command to discuss this and we flew there in a Hunter trainer. In the typical modus operandi of hierarchy, we were immediately given the task. Johney and I had a few meetings, and started writing. My squadron moved out to Palam and then to Ambala and converted on to Gnats – the first one. Johney promised to complete it but I don’t remember seeing it when I came to Operational Command as Training I in Nov ’61!!
People were sent to UK. for D.F.C.L. Courses sporadically, not more than one a year. They would spend a couple of yeas as flight commanders after that and a couple of years as squadron commanders and disappear from the scene. So, there was no way that we could have enough qualified Fighter Leaders to have one in every squadron. The most essential ingredient to train the squadron pilots to a really operational standard was missing. So, what we needed was a continuous stream of Fighter Leaders who would teach the squadron pilots air warfare, a manual which would lay all this down and training for and assessing weapons delivery under simulated combat conditions. We needed a system of inspecting the squadrons about their training and combat capabilities. We have it all now in DASI, TACDE, REALISTIC Gunnery Meets etc. But we didn’t have them then..
To start with, I thought that I would make out a detailed questionnaire cum check list to inspect the squadrons. I had read somewhere that the US Air Force had an Inspector General, whose teams went out and checked not only the flying and training capabilities of squadrons but also their maintenance competence etc. The teams could and did declare units non-operational till cleared subsequently. I wished we had some such thing. It took some concentrated brain work but I was able to compile a fairly comprehensive list, from checking the Blue Books, Training Charts, armament results to attending briefings and debriefings. The proof of the pudding would be in a few sorties to assess specific capabilities of the leaders in basic tactical formations and then air combat training.
It was a very delicate task because, by now the rank of the squadron commander had become that of a wing commander and I was still a squadron leader and it was unheard of that a ‘staff officer’ would dare assess squadrons and, by implication, squadron commanders. But, I had a number of things going for me. I had commanded flights in every type of fighter squadron in the Command, commanded a squadron and that too the first Gnat one. I was a DFCL and QFI. So, I took my list and visited the squadrons, after having sent out a letter from my boss, Group Capt Devasher that the Command had decided to do this! The job was interesting and at times hilarious. If possible, I would get hold of a Gnat when I ‘bounced’ formations led by the squadron commanders or flight commanders. I would creep up on them and literally formate on them (Tactical formation) because their eyes were not trained to spot the Gnat, especially the Hunter pilots used to spotting dark camouflaged Hunters twice the size of the Gnat. The silvery Gnat somehow merged with the background. I would then call to say ‘Red 1, if you look to your right, you will see that your section has three aircraft’. I would then hear hysterical calls ‘Red formation hard turn, break……etc’. I did this with David Bouche commanding 20 squadron in Palam, of AEB fame, and Arthur Berry of 27 Sqn, my ex commanding officer. I went through the blue books and really took them to task for sloppy report writing. I pointed out to Bouche that his Flight Commander (Nosey Parker) was doing formation take off when he had not done the prerequisite syllabus for it etc. I was able to visit only the Hunter and Gnat squadrons before I moved to Iraq. But by then the embryo of DASI was being formed as a flight of AEB, under Reggie Upot. I presented him with my check list/questionnaire. It was my prayers answered when years later the DASI was in full swing under people like Mally Wollen and other top class professionals checking out not only the squadrons but even the stations on their operational preparedness. And to cap it all, soon a maintenance aspect was added to DASI.
Birth of the Fighter Leader Course
My next project was to get the squadrons to train in a more realistic way for the operations. To do this, we totally changed the concept of the ‘Gunnery Meet’. We had had the first gunnery meet in ’59. It was called the Operational command Armament Meet. It consisted solely of marksmanship assessment of attacks doing a standard range circuit. While we continued with this aspect, we decided that there would be one low level approach, with no safety height runs, and delivery of weapons in a single pass for each type of weapon. We also laid down the minimum number of rounds to be fired for front gun attacks and single rocket and bomb for rocketry and bombing. We went one step further because most squadron pilots knew the landmarks around Tilpat range so well that they could position for a good attack. So we decided to give an unknown target in the country side of Punjab, which nobody would know. Since we couldn’t deliver live stores, it was to be a camera attack. In order to give a pinpoint target and for assessing the range and dive angle, in addition to accurate tracking, my deputy, Flt. Lt. ‘Kismet’ RV Singh was sent out and drew 50 yard circles with a pin in the center in three or four different places near some reasonably identifiable landmarks such as canal or railway crossings etc. He did a great job of convincing the local village sarpanch that it was in the National interest. The coordinates, on ½ million maps were given to the team leaders in a sealed envelope during the flight planning. The ½ million maps were somewhat outdated but we picked points that were still locatable near salient landmarks. They had to arrive _+ 15 seconds of TOT and within parameters of range, direction, angle of dive and release range. Such missions were for rockets and bombs..
For air to air, the designated nominee had to follow a target aircraft flown by an umpire in what was known in the DFCL course in UK as ‘the Chinese quarter attack’. From the word ‘go’ the target went into a high ‘g’ downward spiral and then pulled up in an upward high ‘g’ spiral lasting about 45 seconds. The attacker had to hold the ‘pipper’ steady for a minimum of 6 seconds within firing range. I went and demonstrated this to the target pilots in the appropriate trainer.
All in all, it was a very different kind of ‘armament meet’ and training for it made the entire orientation of the squadrons more operational. We had to give the meet a name that would make the participants feel some glory or identification with weapon delivery. We decided to give the name of an archer of fame in our epics. The choice was Arjuna or Ekalavya. My preference was for Ekalavya as even Guru Dhronacharya judged him to be better than Arjuna. Arjuna was universally known whereas Ekalavya was known only to the Mahabharata buff. So, we decided on Arjuna and that is how Arjuna-I was the first operationally oriented armament meet. We then followed with Arjuna-II. It is so strange that in subsequent years somebody changed the name of the Meet to Ekalavya, my preferred choice.
The imperative need was to run regular Day Fighter Combat Leader course and train sufficient combat leaders so that all the squadrons would always have at least one competent combat leader. But, getting the sanction for an expensive establishment for a Fighter Combat School was a long term project taking years of arguments with the Babu Log. So I convinced the Air I, Group Captain Devasher and the SASO, Air Commodore P.S. Gill, that we should run an ad hoc course while submitting a case for a permanent one. I suggested that we should run a better one than the one in UK, which was with one type of aircraft, the Hunter, and more oriented for air superiority fighting. But we had a large number of ground attack squadrons which also needed to be trained in survival while delivering their weapons. We came up with a great idea, which took a lot of selling to the ‘brass’. The idea was to run the course, within the sanctioned flying hours of two squadrons at Ambala. We had three Hunter squadrons there on which we could draw for resources. We also decided to move a Mystere squadron from Pathankot so that we could train leaders for that fleet also, primarily as combat leaders in dedicated ground attack squadrons. The Hunter fleet would be trained in both air superiority and ground attack roles. We attached Johnny Bhasin, Jim Goodman and Johney Greene, all trained fighter leaders, as instructors. A comprehensive syllabus was made out based on the UK one but improved on it to suit our needs. We selected suitable pilots from the Hunter and Mystere squadrons to undergo the course. If I remember correctly we detailed eight pilots but I can only remember Dolly Yadav’s name. Unfortunately we could not give them the appellation of Day Fighter Combat Leader because it was not a Government sanctioned course. Nor could we give them the qualification pay but we were contented that we now had a dramatically larger number of trained Fighter Leaders. It was agreed by air HQ that their names would be noted in the records as trained Day Fighter Leaders and they would be utilized accordingly.
We had planned to run another course a year or so later but, unfortunately (fortunately for me), I got posted out on deputation to Iraq and so there was only one ad hoc course ever run. And it was years before it was officially sanctioned and run in TACDE.
The Liberation of Goa
While all this was going on, I was called to liberate Goa and other Portuguese possessions!! Not really. This was in the end of 1961. The orders had been given by the Government to liberate these territories. It was to be a combined operation of the three services. The operation was really by the Army and the Air Force. A combined Head quarters was established in the MES Bungalow in Belgaum with Lt. Gen. Chowdhry and AVM Pinto in place. The AOC in C’s staff officer Sqn Ldr EPR Nair was unwell and so I was taken as the standby staff officer. I had officiated in this role earlier also when Nair had been unavailable. It was a great experience. Please remember that the following narrative is from a partially informed person, with memory loss, of an event that took place 47 years ago!! No claim is made to correctness, completeness or authenticity!!
We had a Vampire squadron moved to Belgaum. I believe it was No. 45 Sqn. under Mrigen Singh Grewal. They were giving support to the army as they advanced. The Portuguese forces were ordered to surrender but they stalled it for a few days. The Vampire Recce Squadron, under; ‘Ken’ Misra had a detachment there and took some very good pictures of the Portuguese Army in retreat and the bridges that were knocked down by 45 Squadron. In the meantime, we had a portable radar in place, a rather primitive one, I believe. It picked up some tracks flying at 1200 mph. It was scary because we knew that Portugal had some F 104 Starfighters and we wondered whether they could have moved some to Goa! It was debated whether we should move some Hunters or Gnats nearby though we had nothing to match the speed of the F-104. It was decided that a Hunter squadron would be available in Poona. In any case, as part of the operation, Canberras from Poona were supposed to be bombing the Dabolim Airport and it was felt that would prevent the F 104s from taking off. The Canberras did their bombing and we prayed that it would be enough. The vampire squadron full of very junior pilots, operating in an area they were unfamiliar with, from a very small civilian airfield with no navigational aids such as direction finding (homing) equipment and did a very good job. The only flying staff in the ‘Head quarters’ was the C in C and me!! I remember the C in C on tenterhooks as the vampires were doing some late missions and it was getting dark and I was keeping him company in biting nails!! I am not aware whether any awards were given to the pilots or C.O. of the squadron for the operations but they deserved it. Perhaps, some Vayu Sena medals would have been in order.
The war lasted for a few days. It was planned that Gen. Chowdhry would be there for the last push and personally capture the Town. But Gen Sagat Singh, leading the army formation there had other plans. He charged through and sent a message saying that he was in Goa and the Portuguese officials still left in town had offered to surrender!! There was understandable irritation in the Army HQ at this grabbing of the limelight but it had to be endured. It was decided that the General and AVM would go by helicopter, I think we only had a couple of Sikorsky ones at that time, and take the surrender.
We had a Mr. Gopal Handoo; I think he was the head of the I.B., also in the MES Bungalow. He was pretty full of his own self importance and gave the impression that he was the representative of the Government and expected to be prominently present at any surrender that took place. He had people coming and going claiming that they were bringing ‘Hot’ information from Goa but he couldn’t tell us anything that was happening at the Dabolim airfield. His comment that probably F 104s were there only put us under more tension. He had irritated Gen ‘Muchoo’ Chowdhry no end and so the two Commanders went off early the next morning and took the surrender and came back and announced it. Mr. Handoo, basically a nice person, was practically in tears and asked the General, ‘How could you do this to me’? There was no place in the helicopter for the staff officers of the commanders and so we were in the same plight as Mr. Handoo.
But the C in C flew into Dabolim airfield the next day, taking me, to look around. The damage to the runway was not as much as we had expected, with our bombing. Some portion of the beginning of the runway had been damaged and it was not a very long runway. We learned that the Portuguese Governor General, his family, some senior officials and all the valuables from the bank vaults etc had been flown off in a Super Constellation aircraft. In order to take off in the short distance, they had jettisoned all the extra seats and other unwanted equipment so that they could do a ‘short take-off’. We saw these lying around. Of course there were never any F 104s there. We were also taken to see some of the captured Portuguese soldiers and their weapons such as rifles and pistols etc as well as their army offices etc. I have never seen such a set of troops looking so misera+ble in my life. Short, not particularly well built and certainly very unsoldierlike. Just to think that these people actually ‘conquered’ us and controlled a portion of our land!!
The C in C returned to Delhi the next day but I got permission to stay back and visit Goa. The OC of the helicopter unit was an old squadron mate from my initial day in No.4 Squadron, Willy Liddle (Now in Australia). I got him to airlift me into Goa for a day and bunked in the Mess that had been set up by the Army. Goa was a shoppers’ delight as the shops were filled with imported goods at very cheap prices. Liquor and beer was cheap and there were roadside wine shops etc everywhere. The Indian Armed Forces were very well behaved and bought all that they wanted and paid the full price, though there were some report of some army units having ‘taking ways’. I bought my very first ‘Transistor’ and cine camera. That evening was very convivial and I remember a helicopter pilot, Tandon, and me walking along the beach and he decided that he was going into the ocean!! He was in a great mood and I think he mumbled something about being in love. I tried to stop him but he was half way there already. I ran behind him and asked him whether he could swim and he said, ‘No, but who cares’? At that stage I ordered him, as a senior officer, to desist and dragged him back to the mess. I came back the next day to Belgaum and got back to Delhi, having captured Goa single handedly!! As proof, I had brought a Portuguese flag and a rifle, both of which I presented to my Squadron, No 23, when I commanded it the second time.
The greatest beneficiary in the liberation of Goa was the Indian Navy. They didn’t fire a single shot. The Portuguese admiral surrendered with all his ships in the port, including the Albuquerque, the flag ship of the Portuguese navy, with its unbelievable stock of liquor!! Under an archaic law, all the captured vessels were the ‘War Booty’ of the Navy and they were allowed to sell them and keep the proceeds, which they did. The money would go to the equivalent of the ‘Regimental Funds’ of the Army and totally controlled by the Naval HQ with no interference by the Govt. The Army and Air Force didn’t even know anything about it till about 1980-81 when the information leaked out and the other services claimed a share. As a measure to buy peace the Navy dished out a very small portion of the ‘Booty’ to the other services then!! In addition the Dabolim airport was up for grabs and it was offered to the Air Force automatically but they didn’t need a base in the area as they already had Poona and there was no operational need for a base involving considerable outlay. Then the Navy stepped in and the rest is history.
In ’62, I was selected along with two other QFIs to go on deputation to Iraq but just as we had disposed of all our belongings and were ready to go, the Chinese attacked us and my mission went “Kaput”. That story is in another chapter.
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