The Day I (Almost) Missed Going To Iraq.

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On deputation to Iraq as a flying instructor.

Iraq beckons

I had been in HQ, Operational Command, as “Training-1”, for about a year and a half, in the middle of 1962, when the Govt. of Iraq requested for some Flying Instructors for their training institutions. They had wanted instructors for all stages including fighter training. But, the Indian Govt, in its usual approach to preserve its image of a non-violent country, said from the outset that we would send instructors for basic training and not ‘combat’ training. It was like a maiden protecting her virginity. But the Iraqis were really short. They had had a couple of our instructors a few years earlier, George Nallayya being one of them, and they had heard about our instructors capabilities in Egypt etc and accepted this condition. They had wanted about six instructors at least but we rationed it to three.

Three instructors were chosen – Stumpy Watts, one other and self. We were very excited. I had been abroad once, for the Day Fighter Combat Course, but the others had never been. Even more important, we would get higher salaries and would be able to have a ‘nest egg’ for our future. But, the babulog of the MEA put a big hurdle to that. They heard that the Iraqis were paying very high salaries to the British Instructors and they were willing to pay that kind of salaries to us. There was great envy and it was stipulated that we should not get more than an equivalent IFS officer in the embassy. So, the salary was pegged at a fairly low level by international standards. It didn’t strike them that this was a kind of once in a life time for us. The Iraqis wanted us for three years at least but our Govt. said that we would be sent only for two years. So, all in all, it wasn’t going to be the bonanza we thought it would be. But, something was better than nothing and so we looked forward to it.

We wanted to learn some Arabic but we were not in phase with the training offered by the MEA and so bought some low level English – Arabic tutorials and didn’t get far with it. We sold all our household goods, from precious ‘wee baby belling’ oven to the mixie and pressure cooker I had brought with me after the DFCL course. I had even sold the beautiful ‘Frigidaire’ refrigerator I had got in but the condition was that I would hand it over only on the day I was leaving!!

The 1962 Chinese Conflict

Then came the fateful day – the Chinese attacked India – the same Chinese for whom we shouted ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai‘. When Chou En Lai visited India in 1957, while they were busy building the road across Aksai Chin without our knowledge, he visited Ambala Air Force Station. In our naiveté we believed we were brothers and we had nothing to hide. In a most unmilitary fashion, we were ordered to line up the route and shout ‘Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai‘. It was very distasteful. Four years later we came to know of the perfidy!! The most notable fall out from the Chinese incursion for me was that all courses and deputations abroad were cancelled. In fact the few instructors we had in Egypt were recalled. Poor guys. Not only were they not sent to an operational unit, the Air Force itself was NOT allowed to participate in the war!!

At this stage, I would like to nail one canard. Even recently, when the Official History of the ’62 War was published by the Ministry of Defence, there was only a vague reference to say ‘It is not clear as to why the Indian Air Force did not participate in the war’. And an ace commentator took it upon himself to explain that the Indian Air Force was not keen. He went on to say that he had talked to a transport pilot in the headquarters in the East who said that the Air Force was not confident of operating effectively in the terrain there. This was far form the truth. Repeatedly the CAS, Air Marshal AM Engineer and the AOC-in-C Operational Command, Air Vice Marshal Erlic Pinto, begged the Govt. to be allowed to go into action. We were a very small bunch of officers in the Command Hq. My friend Sqn Ldr Niti Badhwar was the Intelligence I.

Daring missions were being flown by our Strategic Reconnaissance squadron at 300 feet over the Chinese army clustered in the open in the Northern sector, in their thousands. I remember seeing the pictures, including their fortifications. We had Canberra Bombers or better still our Canberra Intruders who could have routed them. Our Hunters were capable of reaching there and causing havoc with their 30 mm cannons and rockets. We had Toofani and Mystere squadrons in the East which could have gone into the valleys and blocked their advance or encampments. But the pleas of the CAS and the AOC-in-C were turned down because it was felt that if we used the Air Force the Chinese would attack Delhi by air and the Powers That Be were afraid of the political fall out.

Reassurances that the Chinese did not have the capability to mount raids from Tibet and any ‘Lone Rangers’ coming from mainland china could be easily taken care of by the Gnats and Hunters in the day time and by the night fighter vampires and Hunters at night were of no avail. Photographs were flown in piping hot straight from Agra and rushed to the Ministry or taken to the airfield by the AOC-in-C whenever the PM or DM would be leaving or returning from their travels and plea made to unleash the Air Force. We could have stopped them dead in their tracks. It would have been an honourable peace instead of a debacle.

Incidentally Jaggi Nath got a Maha Vir Chakra for his daring photo missions at 300 feet of the Chinese concentrations in the open in Ladakh sector. I remember seeing the pictures as well as pictures of their bunkers at various places. Names like Takla Khot etc jump up when I think of it.  I was the temporary Staff Officer to the AOC-in-C at this time and I remember him rushing to meet the PM or Def Min and the Photographs being rushed to Air HQ for the CAS to confront the hierarchy and get permission to launch strikes.

On to Iraq – this time for real.

Things settled down and in the middle of ’63 and the Iraqi Govt. made a request again and the IAF decided to send three instructors. I was one of them but unfortunately Stumpy and the other instructor got elbowed out by ‘Motte’ Dutt and Mukund Agtey. Motte and I were Sqn Ldrs and Mukund was a Wg Cdr but he was not given the title of ‘leader of the team’ for some reason. We were three individual operatives, it seemed. We had a ‘secretary’ in the Embassy, who was designated as in charge of military affairs also and he was supposed to oversee us. Weird. We learned later that he was not even from the IFS but a man from the Min. of Education who had got himself deputed there. He was an extraordinarily bumptious man who tried to lord over us.

The Iraqi Flying College was based on Rashid Air Base in Baghdad, separate from the civil airport. On arrival we were housed in the only hotel of repute, the Baghdad Hotel, though I would rate it about 3 or 4 star hotel of those days, while houses were found for us. We discovered soon that ‘vegetarianism’ was something unheard of in Iraq. My wife, two daughters and I went in to the restaurant and were delighted when we saw on the menu rice and a variety of vegetables and ordered a whole lot of them. Only when the food arrived we realized that it was understood that all items would have large chunks of meat!! It looked as though somehow they had even stuffed ‘ladies fingers’ with minced meat!! We explained to the waiter by sign language and action that we didn’t eat meat and wanted food without meat. He said ‘mekhalif’, which we learned later meant ‘never mind’ and took all the food away. But we could see from where we sat that he was laboriously taking the meat out from all the dishes by hand and then brought them all back!!

The Iraqi Flying College had only one course under training at that time and they were about to start on the advanced stage in two flights, one on Vampires and the other on Migs. The Vampire flight had the single seater and trainer versions and the Mig flight had the Mig 15 trainer and the Mig 17 single seater. They wanted all three of us to instruct on vampires but Agtey had never instructed on fighters and had just had done some sorties in Vampire trainers before he went on to Canberras. Luckily for him there was also a Transport Squadron on the base which was used as the Training Unit for transport pilots. So, he got absorbed there.

- 1963 Iraqi Air Force College. Rashid Air Base. Baghdad. Instructors in front of the Vampire Trainer

1963 Iraq Air force College. Rashid airfield. Baghdad. -

We had been very apprehensive about the proficiency of the trainees and even the Instructors in English but we told ourselves that, surely a modern Air Force like the Iraqi one and a front line Arab Nation must be very proficient in English. We were, unfortunately, wrong. Most of the instructors were a little proficient but very few of the trainees. There were only about six or seven non Indian instructors. Three Egyptian Instructors joined us a few months later. There was a big fall out for us. They gave us the students most proficient in English, who also turned out to be the most intelligent and smart ones. The result was that on each course, we had no failed student and invariably our students walked away with all the ground and flying trophies as well as the top all round trophy. Our students told us that there was great jockeying among the students to be the Indians’ pupils!!

In fact there were very few failures in flying. They were something like the ‘sardars’ in India, who were most probably born with a spanner and screw driver in their hands. Most Iraqis seemed to be natural fliers, at least upto basic levels. The way they caught on to aerobatics and formation flying was uncanny. Our own students, in spite of their inability to understand us too well on the ground and especially so in the air, did remarkably well in catching on. The big problem with them was that all of them thought that, once they had earned their ‘wings’, nobody could teach them anything!!

1964 Iraqi Air force College. Rashid air field. Raghavendran with his Iraqi pupils Bakr and Ali -

- 1964 Iraqi AF college Baghdad. Self with current pupils. Mouiad, Satha, Self, Sabah and Lutfi

The infrastructure in the ‘Flying Academy’ was very primitive. The Flight Office cum Instructors Crew Room was a small room in the annex of a small hangar, with some rickety chairs and a table. Briefing the pupils was done in any chosen spot in the hangar and there was one blackboard leaning against a crate on one side. I think I was the only one who ever used that blackboard!! What we saw of their class room was equally unprepossessing. But, life carried on and we turned out pilots. A practice that we found difficult to adjust was the serving of water after we came back from a training sortie. The ‘Jindi’ or batman would bring a jug of water and ONE glass. He would fill up the glass and give it to the nearest instructor, who would finish it partially and give it back to him. The Jindi would then ‘top up’ the glass and give it to the next one!! And so on!! We politely refused and from the next time onwards brought our own water bottles with water or juice.

We had to teach basic flying on the next course, six months later, and this was on the British Piston Provost aircraft. We were lucky in that the Vampire trainer in the previous course and the Piston Provost on this were side by side seating. When the pupil can’t comprehend what you are trying to teach him, it is easier t explain with sign language, expressions and in the extreme situation hit the hand of the pupil when he is reaching for the wrong lever or switch!!

Life in Iraq

I don’t know about ‘Motte’ but I think I prayed more diligently than I had in many years. This was because of the ‘Fear of God’ put into me by the maintenance crew. I always had the fear that the inspections and checks were far from the standards one expects and is used to. So, what went up may not come down in the normal fashion. And, talking about that, I wasn’t too confident that I would come down safely if I had to eject or bail out from their aircraft. Only God knew whether the seat or the parachute would work. We certainly earned the miserable pay that we got!!

I had one experience of it on a planned cross country flight in a Vampire trainer with a pupil. It was planned at 30,000 feet and it was planned to go over some of the places that have now become ‘famous’ during the Iraq War, like Mosul, Kirkuk etc. As we climbed through 15000 feet, I started feeling uncomfortable and by 20,000 feet, I was definitely feeling ‘woozy’. I analyzed that there must be an Oxygen problem, quickly lost height and returned to base. On inspection it was found that the connection on the side of the seat had not been made by the technician. What scared me even more was the very casual way the Engineering officer and the Squadron Commander/Commandant took of the incident.

Soon after our arrival, we were invited to a Welcome Party by the Commandant and Officers of the Academy. The three of us, accompanied by our spouses, turned up in all our fineries. When we walked in we found that there were no ladies in the hall. We thought that the ladies may be chatting in another room and glanced around. Then we realized that ours were the only ladies present!! Obviously, we had a lot to learn about the ‘Customs of the Iraqi Air Force’. Throughout our two year stay, we never met any wives of Iraqi Officers. The other practice we found somewhat outlandish was the community eating. The real delicacies, especially the one where there would be a baby camel stuffed with a sheep which would be stuffed with chicken which would be stuffed with eggs with Pilaf piled all over would be centrally placed and everybody would use their hands to take out the delicious pieces and eat it. We would try and pick at it. But the ultimate would be, if any of the Iraqis wanted to show you real affection, for them to pick a juicy morsel with their hand and feed you – just after they had stuffed their own mouth with a morsel!! One thing we were convinced about, whatever diseases they had, treatment would be easy because everybody would have them!! Actually, they all seemed a very healthy lot.

- 1963 Iraq Baghdad. Party in the Indian Embassy. Mr. Krishnaswamy, the first Secretary and the Raghavendans

We had two ‘Coups’ in the short time of one year that we were in Baghdad, one successful and the other not so. The first one was fairly uneventful as far as we were concerned. We were told to go home from the Academy as something was going on. We went home and our daughter came home from the school, the only international one very far away and we heard jets flying overhead and occasional gunfire etc. There was a great urge on the part of my wife and children to get under the dining table for security!! We were told not to come for work the next day. But the day after onwards everything seemed normal to us but we were told that the President had been changed. The second one was the one that prepared me for the ’65 war, when Pakistani Sabres attacked Pathankot, while I was there. We had just come back from the first training mission for the day at about 9 AM and I was debriefing my pupil, with the other three pupils standing around. The previous day the cream of Iraqi Air Force, six of their Mig 19s, had arrived and were parked on the other side of the airfield. I suddenly heard aircraft gunfire and my first reaction was to think ‘The crazy Iraqis are doing gunnery target practice on the airfield’. I turned around and saw some Hunter aircraft attacking the airfield!! We dived in to a nearby shallow drain available. I believe ‘Motte’ tore his over all in getting over a barbed wire fence to do so. It didn’t last long but it felt like eternity to us and there was only one strafing run on our side of the airfield. When we were sure that they were gone, we came out and saw that all the Mig 19s were on fire!! The rebellious lot had control of Habaniyah airfield, with Hunter aircraft there, and had attacked the airfield. We were told that when the coup failed, those pilots ran away to Jordan. We all rushed home. The town was in turmoil because the Presidential Palace had been attacked with rockets. We had no information on our children coming from the school and an immediate curfew had been clamped in the town and so we couldn’t go out!! There was nobody we could phone to find out about the children. Ultimately we managed to get one of our neighbors to call the school and all that we were told was that the children had been sent home long before. We called the embassy and they had nothing to offer or suggest. Fortunately, our children arrived late afternoon and recounted about how the school bus was stopped many times and diverted etc. We were back at work two days later. We were wondering what fall back plan we should have since this seemed a regular practice!!

The 25th Anniversary display

There was a major Flying Display planned – I believe it was for the 25th Anniversary of the Iraqi Air Force. We never realized how big it was till nearly the final day because they seemed to have hardly any rehearsals. The Commandant asked me if I could do a solo aerobatic display in a Vampire aircraft. I readily agreed and asked him as to what height he wanted this done and he vaguely said, ‘Oh may be 1000 or 1500 feet’. He said that one of the Iraqi Instructors would be performing in a Mig 17 aircraft. I had never done aerobatics at 1000′ in a Vampire or any other fighter aircraft and so went up and did a rehearsal over the airfield at that height, feeling very happy with myself at the loops, rolls off the top and the ‘clover leaf’ etc. Then I found the Iraqi doing all this at 500′!!

I was not going to let the image of the Indian Air Force down and so, with some trepidation went and did the same. So the Iraqi went and did this at 200′. Ultimately we were both doing aerobatics practically scraping the hangar on the airfield. But I was at a great disadvantage because the Mig 17 had ‘reheat’, which he was using very intelligently to make the maneuvers very safe for himself whereas I was flying at very marginal speeds to keep within the close proximity of the expected spectator location. I came back from each sortie sweating not only from the physical effort but also from the tension of flying at the edge of the manoeuvre envelope of the Vampire aircraft. But I had to do something to upstage the Iraqi Pilot and the Mig 17 aircraft. So, I decided to do something on the last day, which the Iraqi would not be able to do because he was scheduled before me. I decided to do a roll-off-the top just after take off. In my practice sorties, I had worked out that if I kept the aircraft low after take off, I could get 140 knots speed just past the end of the runway. I was going to try and do a roll off the top with that speed as opposed to the 320 knots recommended for the manoeuvre. I tried this out far away from the airfield at 1000 feet and wound up below 1000′ by the time I got full control of the aircraft. I didn’t want to keep trying it out lest I spin into the ground!

- 1964 Iraq Piston Provost aircraft fly past for passing out parade

On the final day, I offered up all my prayers and decided to try the roll off the top. I had had a lot of experience trying loops at low speeds, as low as 120 knots at 15000 ft height. In a loop at that height, once you got past the top vertical you can just wait for the aircraft to fall by itself and catch it as it neared the bottom vertical and had enough speed to pull out. All you needed to make sure was that you didn’t mishandle and get into a spin. One can’t do a loop just after a take off because one loses height to below what you started with, at such low speeds. In a roll of the top one is using the aileron below stalling speed and could induce a spin and had to nurse the aircraft around the roll and then hope one will get sufficient speed to control the aircraft before hitting the ground.

So, I did it – I wouldn’t be sitting and writing this other wise. I also decided to do the ‘Derry Turn’. This was a manoeuvre first done by the British Test Pilot John Derry at a Farnborough air display. It is really a flat figure of 8. The only difference is that when the first half of the figure is completed, instead of reversing the bank and going in the other direction, the aircraft is ‘rolled under’ and continued in the other direction. It is very impressive when you approach the spectators directly, do a tight turn to one side, roll under and do the other half. I believe the display was well received and the fair name of the Indian Air Force was kept aloft!!

Move to Basra

It was decided to move the Air Force Academy to Basra in the south in 1964. Of course all the aircraft had to be moved. There were only about a dozen of us instructors between the Vampire flight and the Mig flight and there were a dozen of each type, plus a dozen Piston Provosts to be ferried. Also, there were about a dozen Yak 18s to be ferried. This came out like a skeleton out of a cupboard. We knew there was one hangar full of Russian training aircraft and possibly even heard that they were the Yak 18s. We had never seen them fly or serviced!! We were told that they were all to be ferried and all the instructors would do it. We said that we had never flown them and so would they mind if we flew a sortie or two and then ferried them. The Iraqi instructors pooh poohed the idea and said, ‘It is just like any training plane – you know stick and throttle’!! When we protested they looked at us as though we were sissies!! So we got ourselves familiarized in the cockpit etc and found out the take off and stalling speeds approach and touch down speeds, Power settings for cruise etc. The aircraft was about the same category as the Harvard IIB/T6G that we had flown a lot in India, except it had a tricycle under carriage as opposed to the conventional one of the Harvard.

- 1963 Iraqi Air force College. Rashid Airfield. Instructors with the Commandant Major Khalid Hussein. A MiG-15UTI forming the background for the photograph.

Iraqi Air Force MiG15UTIs flying over Basra -

We were to go in formation of six aircraft each. When I got into the aircraft, I saw that the fuel gauge showed only half full. I called the technician and asked him (in sign language) as to what was going on. He shouted something above the noise of the engines running and gave me thumbs up. I wasn’t satisfied and so I asked him to call Captain Ideen, the engineering officer. He came and I showed him the problem. He asked the technician as to whether he had himself filled up the tank and saw it full and the technician confirmed emphatically that he did. So we took off and were merrily cruising at about 10,000 feet. The fuel gauge was inexorably winding down. I hoped that the fuel gauge knew what it was doing and that it was mistaken and that there was plenty of fuel in the tank. Soon after we had passed ‘the point of no return’, the fuel low level warning light came on!! There is no fooling that light. It comes on only when the fuel level is very low, about 15 minutes flying time at that height. But Basra was thirty minutes away!! I immediately called the leader of the formation, who didn’t understand me. So I flew next to ‘Motte’ Dutt and gave him the standard hand signal for low fuel – drinking from a beer mug action. He got the message and passed it on to the formation leader.

Most of Iraq is a desert. It is very fertile along the two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. I never realized there was so much desert anywhere!! All I could see was desert all round as far as the eye could see. No habitation or communication lines. Well, fifteen minutes later the engine made some spluttering noises and stopped. I was the proud pilot of a glider with a still propeller in front of me!! I shouted on the radio ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday’, and announced that my engine had stopped. Then I set about deciding what I should do. I could bail out but I wasn’t too confident about the parachute anyway!! I could do wheels up forced landing or I could do a wheels down forced landing. I realized that doing a wheels down landing was probably the more dangerous option in a sandy area as the wheels would dig in and the plane would do a forward somersault and come to rest upside down, with me underneath, with head in the sand, ostrich fashion. When I came down to about 5000 feet, I could discern that one particular area had a texture as though it was more firm and I decided to do what most pilots prefer to do, a wheels down landing. I got my speed as low as I could before touch down and landed in the selected area. It worked!! Allah be praised!! I hadn’t seen any habitation within miles but in about five minutes a Beduin turned up, in flowing brown robes!! In sign language he invited me to go with him to his tent, which I could make out now in the distance. It was the same colour as the sand and so I hadn’t been able to see it from aloft. He offered me some tea, Iraqi style, and gave me some bread that looked remarkably like our Paratha, with some sugar to go with it.

In the meantime the formation had gone on to Basra. In about 45 minutes, a Piston Provost came along, circled and landed near my Yak. Out climbed an Iraqi instructor, pulled out two jerry cans of fuel and a funnel from the pupil’s seat, where they had been strapped down. Between us we filled the tank in my Yak. He knew where the filler cap was!! I thanked my Beduin friend, climbed into my aircraft, took off and landed in Barjisiya, as the military airfield in Basra was known. From the general laughter and backslapping, I got the impression that the whole incident was the funniest thing my fellow Iraqi instructors had come across in years!! I wonder if any action was taken against the technician or the Engineering officer. I doubt it. It happened to be my father’s death anniversary and I am sure he must have been laughing too, wherever he was!!

Incidentally, we got a quick dual sortie in the Mig 15 and a solo in the Mig 17 and ferried some of the Mig 17s to Basra.

Ferrying Jet Provosts

It is difficult not to reminisce about the ferry we did for the Iraqi Air Force of the Jet Provosts they bought from UK. The Iraqi Air force decided to go to all Jet Training and bought some Jet Provosts, the intention being that the initial and advanced training would be on them and the pupils will then go on to vampires/Migs after that. It was decided to ferry them out, the plan being that each ferry would have one Indian and one Iraqi instructor and the formation would be led by a test pilot of the company, as he would take care of all the logistics of flight planning, international flight clearances, stay in hotels etc.

The first two to go were Major Ahmed Lawi and myself. Ahmed was a delightful soul, full of fun and laid back. On our way out to UK, we had the experience of losing our luggage. We had to change our flight at Zurich and those days they didn’t check your luggage through. When we landed and looked for our luggage at Zurich, we couldn’t find them. The Airline promised to send them on and we proceeded to London and went to the Air line office at the airport to kick up a big shindig but as we walked in we saw out luggage sitting there!! Must be the first case when the luggage arrived BEFORE the passengers.

We had two days in London to do our shopping etc and then on to Luton, the base of B.Ae. Ahmed had never been to UK before and his wife had told him that, since Raghu was an old hand at all this, he should go everywhere with me and buy whatever I bought. He religiously did this and every where would just say, ‘same for me’. This included buying night dress and lingerie for the wife!! Unfortunately his wife was twice the size of my wife. So, you can imagine the hell he got when he reached home!! He also got into an escapade. He decided to visit a bar and picked up a woman and brought her to his hotel room. After a while, he went to the bathroom and when he came out he found the girl and his wallet gone!! He frantically rushed out of the room and looked for her with no luck. The he frantically knocked on my door for help and all we could do was to go to the nearest police station to register a complaint. I was careful not to give my name etc lest we saw our names in the local tabloid the next morning!!

We bought so much in the two days that we had, we had a major problem fitting it into the Jet Provost. The only space available was the pupil’s seat and it was quite a job fitting it in a way that it wouldn’t interfere with the control column and throttle. But we managed somehow. Our first hop, out of about nine before reaching Baghdad was at Dijon in France and we nearly had an accident there. As we descended to land, we had to pass through some very heavy cloud starting at about 5000 feet and the cloud base was about 500 feet. As we entered the cloud, we found it was thicker than any encountered in my life and we were in a formation GCA let down. Both Ahmed and I lost sight of the leader. I went through the standard drill, turn away 30 degrees and then get back to the original heading. Ahmed had never done such things but with Iraqi luck managed some how. We came through, saw the air field ahead and landed.

On of our hops on the way was Malta, one of the genuinely ‘free ports’ of those days. Obviously we bought more things. I saw an amazing Singer Sewing Machine that did everything but talk to you. I had to buy it and I judged that I could fit it on top of the bundle sitting on the right hand seat without activating the ejection seat there. When we got to the airfield early next morning, I realized that my judgment was faulty. The sewing machine was too big. There was no time to return it and I couldn’t just leave it there as it cost about 200 pounds sterling – a lot of money!! So, I struggled and with the help of some RAF technician from Changi Airfield, strapped it in precariously on top of the pile. We were flying from Malta to Tobruk, of WWII fame, and since the hop was long, the test pilot decided to fly at 40,000 feet to get extra range. As we were flying over the Mediterranean, in an unpressurised aircraft at 40,000 feet, not quit sure whether the Oxygen supply was adequate and under adequate pressure, I looked down through the patchy clouds and saw there was a kind of storm raging below. I have seldom felt more stupid, thinking that if the sewing machine fell off or fouled the ejection seat handle, that would be the end of me and all my worldly savings(sitting in the other seat) and they wouldn’t even be able to find my body!! We landed at Tripoli, Benghazi, again of WWII fame, Cairo, Amman and then Baghdad. After a day at Baghdad, Ahmed and I took off for Basra.

After going quite a way, I got an indication that the fuel was not feeding from one wing tank. I calculated that if it was feeding till then, I had enough fuel to reach Basra. Unfortunately, the wing tank had not fed from the beginning and soon afterwards the fuel Low Level warning came on. Obviously there were some fuel Gremlins waiting to pounce on me every time I went from Baghdad to Basra!! I was pretty far from Basra and it would be absolutely touch and go, more likely only touch. I didn’t relish the idea of forced landing in the deserts of Iraq again!! I set my engine for range flying and put in some quick prayers to my favourite gods. We Hindus are so lucky we can pick our favourite and appropriate Gods who you can bank on!! After what seemed eternity, Basra was visible but the fuel gauge was at zero mark. By then the Military airfield was also in contact and I told both of them to keep their runways and airspace free and I would land on either one which I could reach; they were very near each other but the civil one was about two miles nearer. When I reached a position where I could do a direct landing at Barjisiya, I told them that I would land directly there, lowered my undercarriage at the last moment and landed. When they refueled the aircraft, the tanks seemed to be totally dry.

In July, ’65 our time was up. In the mean time three more instructors had joined us, Rajeshwar Singh, Nizamuddin and Jasjit Singh. The Iraqis wanted us to be allowed to stay for one more year but our government was adamant that we get back. And that is how I just walked into the ’65 War!! But that is another story.

Copyright © Air Marshal S Raghavendran . All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Air Marshal S Raghavendran is prohibited.


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