Thirty Seconds over Sargodha

>The action was swift. Squadron Leader Mohammed Mahmud Alam, commanding No.11 Sqn in the PAF, shot down five IAF Hunters over Sargodha in a matter of minutes – four of which he shot down in a mere thirty seconds! Or did he really? This suppositious feat by Squadron Leader M.M. Alam was – and still is – to stay as the jewel in the crown of Pakistan’s fictitious glory over the skies in 1965. After all the PAF had to stick up with President Ayub Khan’s claim of one Pakistani being equal to three Indians.

The action was swift. Squadron Leader Mohammed Mahmud Alam, commanding No.11 Sqn in the PAF, shot down five IAF Hunters over Sargodha in a matter of minutes – four of which he shot down in a mere thirty seconds! Or did he really? This suppositious feat by Squadron Leader M.M. Alam was – and still is – to stay as the jewel in the crown of Pakistan’s fictitious glory over the skies in 1965. After all the PAF had to stick up with President Ayub Khan’s claim of one Pakistani being equal to three Indians.

It all started on 07 September 1965, with the IAF’s attack on Sargodha – the principle airbase of the PAF. Over 50% of the PAF combat strength was located at this base and thus it had to be taken out at all costs. The IAF planned and executed six strikes against Sargodha at different times of day, hoping to neutralise the PAF on the ground. The table below lists the strikes for September 07th, with the PAF and IAF’s version of losses;

Strike No. TOT (PST) TOT (PST) Squadron No. Aircraft Used Losses as per PAF Actual Losses
1 0558 0538 1 7 Mysteres 2-4* / 6 1
2 0558 0538 8 8 Mysteres
3 0615 0547 27 5 Hunters 1 / 6 1
4 0633 0605 7 5 Hunters 5 / 6 2
5 1000 0945 1 4 Mysteres 0 / 4
6 1515 1540 1 2 Mysteres 1-2* / 4 1

NOTE: The initial versions of the PAF claimed four Mysteres downed in the first raid –> two to AA and two to the F-104 Starfighter. Later on this was revised to one each. The last raid was however upgraded from one combat kill to two kills. Either way the PAF claimed nothing less than ten kills on that day. Thus out of the six strikes and 26 sorties flown by the IAF as per the PAF records, the PAF claims the downing of ten IAF aircraft, reason enough to designate September 7th as Yaum-e-Fiza’ya (Day of the PAF), in the honour of the PAF giving the IAF a bloody nose.

Strikes No.1 and 2 occurred at 0538 hours and were appropriately logged by the IAF and the PAF. No.1 Squadron was assigned Sargodha (Main), while No.8 Squadron was assigned Bhagtanwala (East). However, since both attacked Sargodha simultaneously, but at two different complexes, the PAF thought Strike No.1 and No.2 to be a single strike. Thus there was confusion with the PAF’s recounting of events at the very start.

Strike No.1, from No.1 Squadron and led by W/C O.P. Taneja, had three waves of four Mysteres each. However the third wave lost it’s direction and two Mysteres from the second wave had engine trouble and had return to base. A reserve Mystere, piloted by S/L A.B. Devayya, was ordered to take off and join up with Strike No.1 bringing the total number of Mysteres to seven aircraft. In this strike, the IAF lost one Mystere while the PAF claims four Mysteres – two to anti-aircraft fire and two to a prowling F-104 Starfighter.

Strike No.2, from No.8 Squadron and led by S/L M.S. Jatar, consisted of two waves of four Mysteres each. This strike went smoothly and no Mysteres were lost to ground fire or enemy interceptors. The PAF however, claims the loss of no Hunters in Strike No.2 when in reality it was Mysteres which had participated! This confusion was caused because Strike No.3, which consisted of Hunters, was thought to be Strike No.2 by the PAF. Also eight Mysteres had attacked Sargodha in Strike No.2 and not six as shown in the PAF table.

Strike No.3, from No.27 Squadron, was at 0547 hours and was appropriately logged by the IAF. The PAF logs the same time, but as Strike No.2! This was the first Hunter formation of the day and it consisted of four aircraft, led by S/L D.S. Jog with S/L Onkar Nath Kacker, F/L T.K. Chaudhuri and F/L P.S. Parihar as his wingmen, and one Hunter escort, piloted by F/L D.N. Rathore. In this strike the IAF lost one Hunter, while the PAF claims no Hunters were lost.

Strike No.4, from No.7 Squadron, was at 0605 hours and was appropriately logged by the IAF. The PAF logs the same time, but as Strike No.3! This was the second and last Hunter formation of the day and had three strike aircraft, led by W/C A.T.R.H. Zachariah with S/L M.M. Sinha and S/L A.S. Lamba as his wingmen, and had two Hunter escorts, piloted by S/L S.B. Bhagwat and F/O J.S. Brar. In this strike, the IAF lost the two Hunter escorts, while the PAF claims five Hunters. According to the PAF, it was in this strike where S/L Alam shot down the five Hunters, killing four of the pilots. This will be disputed in detail later on, but now back to the last two strikes.

Strike No.5, from No.1 Squadron, was at 0945 hours and was appropriately logged by the IAF. The PAF logs the same time, but as Strike No.4! This was a four-ship Mystere formation and was led by S/L Sudharshan Handa with F/L D.S. Brar, F/L D.S. Khaki and F/L Philip Rajkumar as wingmen. This strike was the most successful of the day – it succeeded in both surprising the Pakistanis as well as in destroying worthwhile targets on the ground. The strike went smoothly and the IAF lost no Mysteres while the PAF too claims the loss of no IAF aircraft.

Strike No.6, again from No.1 Squadron, was at 1540 hrs and was appropriately logged by the IAF. The PAF logs the strike at the same time, but as Strike No.5! This was a two-ship Mystere formation and had S/L D.E. Satur with F/L U.B. Guha as his wingman. In this strike, the IAF lost one Mystere, while the PAF too claims the same loss. Later versions of the raid by the PAF claim a second Mystere to have been shot down by anti-aircraft fire. The PAF errs in again claiming that there were four Mysteres that were observed; Indian records mention only two Mysteres as having participated in this raid.

Thus ends the IAF strikes for September 7th. While the IAF states that six strikes occurred and five aircraft were lost, the PAF claims as many as ten aircraft to have been shot down.  For the PAF this was reason enough to celebrate the day as PAF day. But the loss of five aircraft in six raids on a heavily defended airfield is hardly reason for celebration on the part of the PAF. The PAF did not deal a crippling blow to the IAF as the Israelis did to the Arab Air Forces in 1967. The damage was miniscule compared to the overall size of the IAF. Yet the PAF built up the image that it had completely mauled the IAF over its skies. The aircraft involved on both sides were pitifully small. But the total losses of IAF over Sargodha were magnified and distorted out of proportion to justify the claim that the PAF was saving Pakistan itself!

However before we move any further, we first have to hear S/L Alam’s side of the story, which was published in Battle for Pakistan, a book written by John Fricker – an aviation journalist and an old & trustworthy friend of the PAF. He was appointed by the PAF to write their version of what happened in the skies in 1965 and he wrote what they had expected – a flattering account of the air war, in which the PAF won flaps down. Thus, here is S/L Alam’s version, taken from Battle for Pakistan, of what happened on that fateful day:

“As we were vectored back towards Sargodha, Akthar [his wingman] called, “Contact – four Hunters” and I saw the IAF aircraft diving to attack our airfield. I jettisoned my drops to dive through our own ack-ack after them. But in the meantime I saw two more Hunters about 1000 ft. to my rear, so I forgot the four in front and pulled up to go after the pair behind. The Hunters broke off their attempted attack on Sargodha, and the rear pair turned into me. I was flying much faster than they were at this stage – I must have been doing about 500 kts – so I pulled up to avoid overshooting them and then reversed to close in as they flew back towards India. I took the last man and dived behind him, getting very low in the process.

The Hunter can out-run the Sabre, it’s only about 50 knots faster, but has a much better acceleration, so it can pull away very rapidly. Since I was diving, I was going still faster, and as he was out of my gun range, I fired the first of my two GAR-8 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles at him. In this case, we were too low and I saw the missile hit the ground short of its target. This area east of Sargodha, however, has lots of high tension wires, some of them as high as 100-150 ft., and when I saw the two Hunters pull up to avoid one of these cables, I fired my second Sidewinder. The missile streaked ahead of me, but I didn’t see it strike.

The next thing I remember was that I was overshooting one of the Hunters and when I looked behind, the cockpit canopy was missing and there was no pilot in the aircraft. He had obviously pulled up and ejected and then I saw him coming down by parachute. This pilot [Sqn. Ldr. Onkar Nath Kakar, commander of an IAF squadron] was later taken prisoner. I lost sight of the other five Hunters, but I pressed on thinking maybe they would slow down. I had lots of fuel so I was prepared to fly 50 to 60 miles to catch up with them. We had just crossed the Chenab river when my wing man called out “Contact – Hunters 1 o’clock,” and I picked them up at the same time – five Hunters in absolutely immaculate battle formation.

They were flying at about 100 – 200 ft, at around 480 knots and when I was in gunfire range they saw me. They all broke in one direction, climbing and turning steeply to the left, which put them in loose line astern. This, of course, was their big mistake. If you are bounced, which means a close range approach by an enemy fighter to within less than about 3000 ft., the drill is to call a break. This is a panic maneuver to the limits of the aircraft’s performance, which splits the formation and both gets you out of the way of an attack and frees you to position yourself behind your opponent. But in the absence of one of the IAF sections initiating a break in the other direction to sandwich our attack, they all simply stayed in front of us.

It all happened very fast. We were all turning very tightly – in excess of 5g or just about on the limits of the Sabre’s very accurate A-4 radar ranging gun-sight. And I think before we had completed more than about 270º of the turn, at around 12º per second, all four Hunters had been shot down. In each case, I got the pipper of my sight around the canopy of the Hunter for virtually a full deflection shot. Almost all our shooting throughout the war was at very high angles off – seldom less than about 30º. Unlike some of the Korean combat films I had seen, nobody in our war was shot down flying straight and level.

My fifth victim of this sortie started spewing smoke and then rolled on to his back at about 1000 feet. I though he was going to do a barrel roll, which at low altitude is a very dangerous maneuver for the opponent if the man in front knows what he is doing. I went almost on my back and then I realised I might not be able to stay with him so I took off bank and pushed the nose down. The next time I fired was at very close range – about 600 ft. or so – and his aircraft virtually blew up in front of me. None of these four pilots ejected, and all of them were killed.”

According to Pushpinder Singh Chopra, Ravi Rikhye and Peter Steinemann in their book, Pakistan Fiza’ya: Psyche of the Pakistan Air Force, the PAF had released the names of the five pilots shot down by S/L Alam –> as S/L Kacker, S/L Devayya, S/L Bhagwat, F/L Guha and F/O Brar. But these names do not coincide with the names from Strike No.4, which PAF officials assume as Strike No.3, in which the PAF states that Alam shot down the five IAF Hunters. S/L Devayya was from Strike No.1, S/L Kacker from Strike No.3 and F/L Guha from Strike No.6. Only S/L Bhagwat and F/O Brar were from Strike No.4 – the sortie in which S/L Alam was flying CAP over Sargodha. Then how is it possible that S/L Alam shot down five Hunters down in a matter of minutes when the IAF pilots, the PAF had stated, were all from different strikes at different times of the day?

S/L Kacker, one of the five pilots claimed by the PAF to be supposedly shot down by S/L Alam, was from Strike No.3 and not Strike No.4. Then how can S/L Kacker be added to S/L Alam’s score of five IAF Hunters, since the difference in time between the two strikes is 18 minutes! The authors of Fiza’ya describe what actually happened to S/L Kacker and S/L Alam’s first clash with the two Hunters:

When Alam first went up, he encountered 2 Hunters. He specifically says he could not use his guns and so fired his Sidewinders. The first missed; the second he did not actually see striking, but on overshooting the victim saw a Hunter without canopy and pilot, and a pilot later identified as Kacker coming down by parachute. Kacker ejected near the border, which was 100km east of the main battle area, itself 50km east of Sargodha. So there is simply no manner in which Alam could have seen Kacker coming down. The first clash and its results are the product of Alam’s imagination.

Insofar as the two Hunters Alam first encountered were part of the five-plane third strike with whom Kacker was flying, Alam could have fired a missile at Kacker. But he did not strike him down, or anyone else on that first encounter. There is always the possibility that someone, say ground fire knicked Kacker causing him to eject many minutes later under the impression he had suffered a pure mechanical failure. Pilots usually have little idea of the damage they suffered and the hits they took till they return to base. Whatever maybe the reason, Kacker lost his Hunter, Alam had no part in it.

S/L Alam himself was not sure whether he shot down S/L Kacker, because the first Sidewinder he had fired missed the Hunter, while the second Sidewinder he fired did not see it strike. As Pushpinder Singh Chopra says, “The first clash and its results are a product of Alam’s imagination.” After ejecting over Pakistan, S/L Kacker was subsequently captured and returned to India after the war. The four IAF pilots who flew with S/L Kacker also stated that he had ejected, due to a mechanical failure in his Hunter. In his book, My Years with the IAF, Air Chief Marshal (retd.) P.C. Lal interviewed these IAF pilots, who said:

Homeward bound, Rathore fought a defensive battle. Suddenly he noticed Kacker in front losing speed. Jog reduced speed for the formation to stay together. But Kacker had a fuel problem. His Bingo Lights, the fuel warning lights, came on and finally the engine flamed out. He had to eject.”

Though the cause of S/L Kacker’s ejection may disputed, his wingmen testify to the absence of Sabres or Starfighters when he ejected.

S/L Devayya was one of the other pilots supposedly shot down by S/L Alam. However S/L Devayya was from Strike No.1 and flew a Mystere. The PAF again later corrected itself in saying that S/L Devayya was shot down by F/L Amjad Hussein, a F-104 pilot, just after the first strike had occurred. The claim of F/L Hussein itself is quite confusing as illustrated by the his report that he encountered a formation of two Mysteres, shot down one of them with cannon, shot down another but flew into the debris of the destroyed aircraft and had to eject.

To add to the confusion , Fricker has a different version to give. He said that F/L Hussein shot down one Mystere and was downed by another Mystere in air combat. Accordingly the PAF scaled down the claim to one Mystere downed by AA fire and another lost to the Starfighter. Fricker makes the claim of two Mysteres shot down again, and throws up more names to justify the claim. His account, after explaining how one Mystere was downed by AA fire and another shot down by F/L Hussein, goes on to say:

…The PAF later obtained the personal details of at least three IAF Mystere pilots who were killed in air combat over Pakistan on 7 September. From their ranks – two were Squadron Leaders (Jasbeer Singh and A.B. Devayya) and one a Flight Lieutenant (B Guha) – all were evidently officers of considerable experience….even if they had been junior personnel, a 50% mission loss rate could not be long endured by the IAF, or any other airforce for that matter.

Either Fricker was trying to mislead the reader, or he was misled by the PAF himself. Fricker mentions S/L Jasbeer Singh, who was lost in an entirely unrelated raid on Rahwali, and F/L Guha, who was shot down later in the day to imply that the IAF lost more than 50% of the aircraft from the first raid over Sargodha. The composition of the pilots of the first raid was well discussed in the previous chapters with S/L Jasbeer Singh not belonging to any unit remotely associated with the Sargodha raids.

F/L Guha, piloted a Mystere and was from Strike No.6. He was shot down by F/L A.H. Malik who flew a F-86.   The PAF later corrected its claim and now states that F/L Guha was indeed shot down by F/L Malik and not by S/L Alam.

The last two pilots – S/L Bhagwat and F/O Brar – were from Strike No.4. They acted as Hunter escorts, for the three-ship Hunter formation they were accompanying. The strike was led by W/C Zachariah with S/L Lamba and S/L Sinha. Strike No.4 was at 0605 hrs, the same time S/L Alam was flying CAP over Sargodha. However Sargodha’s defences were alerted from the previous strike and the Hunters from Strike No.4, laden with bombs and rockets, were sitting ducks for the PAF interceptors. Pushpinder Singh Chopra gives a more clearer picture of what happened to the second Hunter formation. The following is from his article in Vayu Aerospace Review, titled ‘Laying the Sargodha Ghost to Rest’:

Meanwhile, the second formation of Hunters, led by Wg. Cdr. Toric Zachariah, C.O. No.7 Squadron and comprising Sqn. Ldr. S.B. Bhagwat and Flg. Officer J.S. Brar as escorts, were heading towards Sargodha when they crossed the six Sabres, with two F-104s over-head, following the returning Hunters. According to strict operational instructions, which were to avoid air combat when weighed down by extra fuel tanks and rockets, the Hunters turned hard port to climb towards the Sabres which were some 3000 feet higher. Stores were jettisoned as the Sabres, diverted from the Hunters of No.27 Squadron, turned into the No.7 Squadron formation.

With the element of surprise lost and the PAF operating Sidewinder-equipped Sabres and F-104s ranged against them, the formation leader instructed the Hunters to return to base. The aircraft exited individually at low level but the escort section consisting of Bhagwat and Brar got into a scrap and was overwhelmed by superior numbers and Sidewinders and from which they did not return. The remaining three Hunters; flown by Zachariah, Lamba and Sinha saw a number of other patrolling Sabres, particularly in the vicinity of Chak Jhumra airfield, but returned safely to Halwara.

It is not known as to which PAF pilot actually shot down S/L Bhagwat and F/O Brar, but in the face of evidence S/L Alam is given the credit, since he was flying CAP over Sargodha at that time and he reached the area first . The latter was stated by Fricker himself in his book, Battle for Pakistan. Also no other PAF Sabre pilot claimed to have encountered air combat with Hunters that morning.

S/L Alam’s eyewitnesses have proved to be quite damaging, rather than helpful. Their version of the events, from how they saw it, were different from S/L Alam’s version. Take the example of W/C (retd.) M. Arif Iqbal – a F-104 pilot – who was providing CAP (Combat Air Patrol) on September 7th. In an article titled, “Eye-witness to M.M. Alam’s encounter with the IAF” he states:

“Like me, Alam had also spotted only four Hunters. He decided to engage the one on the extreme right first. It was then that he spotted a fifth Hunter further to the right. He changed his mind and switched his attack to this new find. Barely a couple of seconds must have lapsed before Alam six guns were spitting fire and fury at this Hunter and I saw a ball of fire hit the ground. Alam pulled his guns on to the next Hunter. A few seconds later, another ball of fire hit the ground. Then the Indians tried a half-hearted defensive manoeuvre. Alam was almost overshooting an enemy aircraft but by then he had destroyed it – a third ball of fire and the pilot of this Hunter managed to eject from his aircraft before it crashed. Alam was once again in a better position to tackle the two remaining Hunters. It was only a matter of moments before these two also turned into balls of fire and crashed into the ground.”

S/L Alam clearly states that he saw four Hunters attacking the airfield and another two 1000 feet to his rear. He then claims that he forgot about the other four and engaged the pair behind him. However Iqbal states that S/L Alam spotted only a fifth Hunter in addition to the earlier four. Or did Iqbal mistake two Hunters for one? In fact, Iqbal goes a step further and states the fifth Hunter S/L Alam spotted was to the right of the four-ship Hunter formation. Quite a contrast to S/L Alam’s claim of seeing two Hunters a 1000 ft. to his rear!S/L Alam also states that he used GAR-8 Sidewinders instead of his guns, when he attacked the two aircraft. According to Iqbal however, S/L Alam used only his guns and does not mention Alam using his Sidewinders. If Iqbal is referring to the second encounter, again discrepancies arise from his story. S/L Alam claims to have seen five IAF Hunters in immaculate battle formation and once he entered gunfire range, the IAF Hunters called a break. Iqbal however states that only after two Hunters were destroyed, did the remaining Hunters in the formation call the break. Obviously both versions are contradictory to each other, because it is very easy to determine three aircraft from five – especially when they are in the air.The third Hunter in the formation, according to Iqbal, also became a victim of S/L Alam’s guns but the pilot managed to eject before the aircraft crashed. S/L Alam states exactly the opposite of Iqbal and says, “None of these four pilots ejected, and all of them were killed.” S/L Alam had in fact claimed the pilot who ejected as his first kill. Iqbal concludes the air battle by saying that S/L Alam destroyed the remaining two Hunters in the formation, thus bringing his total kill rate in that sortie to five aircraft. S/L Alam also concurs with that figure. It appears that that is the only thing S/L Alam and Iqbal agree on, because everything else in Iqbal’s story is remarkably different from S/L Alam’s version. Iqbal proudly claims to have been an eyewitness to the S/L Alam encounter. The impression left is that of a deliberate attempt by Iqbal to support S/L Alam’s tally.

There are a few contradicting claims originating from Battle for Pakistan – a book which praised the PAF’s role in 1965 and put S/L Alam on a pedestal – in which Fricker states the following:

Many pilots have scored several air victories in one sortie, and have equalled or exceeded Alam’s claims of shooting down up to five enemy aircraft of superior performance within a few minutes. But few are likely to be able to match his record of destroying at least 3 opponents – Hawker Hunters of the Indian Air Force – within the space of somewhere around 30 seconds. Admittedly, confirmation of Alam’s claims has been difficult to obtain, despite close-range observation of his encounter by several PAF pilots, and some gun camera evidence. Nearest of these observers was his wingman, Fg. Off. Masood Akhtar, who, protecting his leader’s tail, clung like a leech throughout the action.

Another section of PAF Sabres, led by Flt. Lt. Bhatti, was attempting to engage the Hunters but Alam (at that time a Squadron Leader) got there first. Flying top cover in an F-104A Starfighter was Sqn. Ldr. Arif Iqbal who, with intense frustration, watched the brief combat with admiration. On this basis, Alam was originally credited with five IAF Hunters destroyed, although the wreckage of only two could be found in Pakistani territory, within 2 or 3 miles of Sangla Hill railway station. The bodies of the pilots – one Hindu and one Sikh – was burnt beyond recognition. The area of the main engagement, however, some 30 miles east of Sargodha airfield, was only about 55nm inside the Pakistani border – some seven or eight minutes at jet speed.

What is unusual about Fricker’s story is that he states “at least three Hunters in 30 seconds” when S/L Alam clearly stated in his account above, which is also from the same book, that he shot down four Hunters in that same time period. This clearly illustrates the fact that even Fricker found the PAF’s claims difficult to digest. Fricker also believes that evidence for Alam’s claim was “difficult to obtain“, even when eye witnesses and gun camera evidence were present. However the disparity in the story of M. Arif Iqbal and S/L Alam is very difficult to explain.

Arriving at the gun camera evidence, which is displayed every September 7th in Pakistan to commemorate PAF Day, it appears that a crucial factor is overlooked. Did the gun camera pictures come from that particular battle? There is enough evidence to suggest that all is not what it seems to be. As Pushpindar Singh Chopra in his Vayu Aerospace Review article, ‘Laying the Sargodha Ghost to Rest’ says:

Amongst earlier examples of clumsy propaganda was a photograph purporting to depict an Indian Hunter on fire but later identified as cut from a training film showing a Pakistani Sabre firing rockets against practice ground targets.

This indicates, that the gun camera evidence must have been most likely tampered with, to prove that S/L Alam had indeed shot down five Hunters! After all, gun camera evidence along with the names, would have sealed any doubts about the validity of S/L Alam’s claim. The PAF indeed go to great lengths to back their claims! Moreover, the legitimacy of gun camera shots becomes questionable when it is considered that it depends on the word of the claimant that the evidence was from that particular circumstance. There is no way to check the date, time or particulars of where those particular pictures were taken. One of the camera gunshots of a Hunter was captured at an almost impossible angle, something only achieved if the Sabre was flying sideways and downwards. Gun camera pictures become important in the absence of any other form of evidence, like wrecks and/or captured aircrew. As these kills were near Sargodha, the PAF should not have had any problem in producing evidence in terms of wreckage/pilots. But Pakistan had problems providing evidence in terms of wreckage and pilots recovered too.

Fricker also states “…only two could be found in Pakistani territory…” and if S/L Alam shot down five Hunters, then why is it that only two wreckages were found? Fricker said that the engagement took place “…only 55nm inside the Pakistani border…” and by that he suggested that the other aircraft might have crashed in Indian territory. However this is contradicted by S/L Alam’s version: “These aircraft virtually blew up in front of me. None of these four pilots ejected, and all of them were killed.” This meant that all aircraft either blew up or crashed in front of his eyes and therefore in Pakistani territory, for nowhere did Alam claim that the battle took him into India. How and when this version transformed into a story about the Hunters crashing in Indian territory is not known.

BA330.jpg (29639 bytes) This wreck of a Hunter that was shot down in Pakistan shows the serial number of the aircraft as BA-330. The pilot is not known.

It should be mentioned that S/L Alam’s story was first narrated to Fricker during 1967, and Fricker bought out an article on this ‘Ace in a Day’ in the Air Enthusiast magazine. The initial article did not have the names of the Indian pilots claimed shot down by S/L Alam. When Pushpindar Singh, a noted Indian aviation historian sent a letter to the magazine disputing S/L Alam’s claim, Fricker issued a rejoinder that amounted to shooting himself in the foot. Fricker stated that he had interviewed, separately and independently, three PAF pilots who witnessed the event in addition to Alam and their stories coincided almost precisely. Later, Fricker gave the names of five Indian pilots provided by the Pakistani sources that he claimed were victims of S/L Alam. The names given were S/L Kacker, S/L Devayya, S/L Bhagwat, F/L Guha and F/O Brar. Fricker’s sarcastic taunts were that the Indian government would disown their own personnel in order to prove him wrong! When the obvious was pointed out regarding the timings of the raids and the types flown by individual pilots, Fricker was chastised. Seven years later when Battle for Pakistan was published, a slightly reformed Fricker dispelled claims of S/L Devayya and F/L Guha being Hunter pilots, admitted that S/L Kacker was lost to engine failure and that only S/L Bhagwat and F/O Brar were possible victims of S/L Alam.

Fricker tries to build some ground behind the claim of S/L Alam’s Hunter by referring to the IAF’s list of casualties. Fricker states that the PAF has record of at least five IAF Hunter pilots who were killed on unspecified dates and circumstances. This was collated at the end of the war when the IAF released a list of officers killed in operations. The list contained the names of only those pilots who were killed over Indian territory. The IAF did not give any details on the dates and circumstances of how some of these officers were killed or from which unit they belonged to. The PAF identified certain names as those of Hunter pilots. The names of S/L A.K. Rawlley, F/O F.D. Bunsha, F/L T.K. Chaudhari and F/O G.S. Ahuja stood out prominently as they were known to be Hunter pilots. Though Fricker does not state this explicitly, he implies that among these five names are names of S/L Alam’s victims as well as other victims of the air combat over Halwara in which the PAF claimed five Hunters shot down and destroyed. Fricker would hardly know, nor did many Indians for that matter, the circumstances of the deaths of the above pilots. Only in the 1990s did details of how some of the pilots who were killed emerged. None of them could be attributed to the kills of S/L Alam, either over Halwara (India) or over Sargodha (Pakistan).

Being carried away with extravagant claims does not stop with PAF pilots. It was extended through out the day, especially to the gunners of Sargodha who had a part in downing four aircraft, all Mysteres. Curiously the PAF, which was so enthusiastic in putting forward the five names of the pilots, is nowhere in the picture when questioned as to who the pilots were of the Mysteres claimed by F/L Hussain and F/L Malik, or by the gunners of Sargodha. A similar response is encountered with the Pakistani failure to show evidence in terms of wreckage of the six Mysteres supposed to have been shot down, where only evidence for two exists. However, even if the PAF got three of the five names wrong, then the pilots who participated in Strike No.4 – W/C Zachariah, F/L Lamba and F/L Sinha – should have all been dead, since S/L Alam himself stated none of the four pilots had ejected and they were all killed. However, F/L Lamba and F/L Sinha later became Air Marshals of the IAF and Zachariah is settled in the United Kingdom. Surely the IAF does not promote deceased personnel and neither does a person settle in the United Kingdom or any other foreign nation after he is dead! It is thus impossible that S/L Alam could have shot them down either. Then which were the five Hunter pilots, S/L Alam had shot? Or how many did he really shoot?

There is an amusing story, in Air Chief Marshal (retd.) P.C. Lal’s book, My Years with the IAF, in which he states:

The personal account of M.M. Sinha who took part in the 1965 War shows how misleading some of these claims and counterclaims can be. In 1969, both India And Pakistan had sent officers to the Joint Services Staff College at Latimer in England. One evening at the bar, a Pakistani officer attending the course was speaking to another Pakistani officer visiting him. Talking of old times with great satisfaction, he was recounting what happened at Sargodha in Pakistan on 7 September. He was talking of the raid, by Hunters and five of them were shot down by Sqn. Ldr. Alam alone as recounted in John Fricker’s book. The Indian Officer on the course, M.M. Sinha, happened to overhear the statement. “It was as not so,” he said “you got only two.”

“Nonsense”, retorted the Pakistani Officer, “How do you know exactly what happened?”

“I should know” said Sinha, “I took part in that raid. We lost only two – Fg. Off. Brar and Sqn. Ldr. Bhagwat. Sqn. Ldr. Kacker had to eject because his engine developed some trouble and it flamed out due to fuel starvation. He became a POW.” There was an awkward silence. “The other members of that raid, or rather two raids, are all still alive. I can give you their addresses if you want to check. One of them Wg. Cdr. A.T.R.H. Zachariah, the former CO of No.7 Sqn has an English Wife and is right here in England.”

Lately, it seems that the list of the five pilots have been mysteriously changed from S/L Devayya to S/L Rawlley – popularly also known as Peter. S/L Devayya was a Mystere pilot, while S/L Rawlley was a Hunter pilot and it is understandable why the PAF changed the names to keep with the story of only Hunters being shot down by Alam on September 7th. However, in an attempt to keep this absurd claim alive, the PAF missed a very big point. Although S/L Rawlley did get into an air battle with S/L Alam, it occurred on September 6th, a day earlier, in Halwara – 200 miles away from Sargodha! Even Air Chief Marshal (retd.) P.C. Lal in his book – My Years in the IAF stated that S/L Rawlley was killed on September 6th. The most interesting source, however, comes from Pakistan itself. In a September 1998 issue of Defence Journal – a Pakistani defence magazine – an article titled, Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui, stated the following:

On the evening of 6th September 1965, an ill-fated formation of three aircraft took off from Sargodha for a raid on Halwara airfield, one of the three, that had been singled out for a pre-emptive strike. Led by Sqn. Ldr. Rafiqui, with Flt. Lt. Cecil Chaudhry as No.2 and Flt. Lt. Yunus Hussain as No.3, the formation hurtled across into enemy territory in fast fading light. Sqn. Ldr. M.M. Alam’s formation, also of three aircraft, which had taken-off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid on Adampur. They had been bounced by four Hunters, themselves proceeding on a mission against Pak Army formations. Rafiqui was warned by Alam’s section to watch out for Hunters in the area. At Halwara, IAF’s No.7 Squadron equipped with Hunters had flown four strikes during the day. These were armed reconnaissance missions, which had had little success in finding worthwhile targets. The fourth and last strike for the day was on its way to the precincts of Lahore, when it had encountered Alam’s formation near Taran Taran. In that engagement Sqn. Ldr. Peter Rawlley’s Hunter impacted the ground as he did a defensive break at very low level, with Alam firing at him from stern.

The authors of Fiza’ya further explain the September 6th incident:

Very oddly, though Alam is credited with two Hunters in the Adampur attack on September 6th, the previous day, he himself is exceptionally circumspect about the incident. He fired on one Hunter and saw him go into the ground in flames but says “…I am not certain whether I hit him or not,” indicating that one of his other pilots might be responsible. While exiting he took a long shot at a Hunter. “…I think I registered hits – I only saw smoke coming out, but no flames.” Here he is not even claiming certain damage, leave alone the aircraft.

While, the first Hunter, S/L Alam can claim to have destroyed, the second Hunter he assumes that he had shot it down. It is quite a mystery as to how the second kill on September 6th, could be added to S/L Alam’s score. 

S/L Alam’s last battle, according to the PAF, occurred on September 16th near Halwara AFB. In this air battle, S/L Alam claims to have shot down two Hunters and describes what happened. However, one of S/L Alam’s claimed victims – then F/L P.S. Pingale – narrates his side of the story as well. Jon Guttman, in a 1998 Aviation History article titled, ‘Pakistan’s Sabre Ace’ gives S/L Alam’s and F/L Pingale’s version of the events:

“They were flying very fast,” Alam reported afterward. “We were doing about Mach .8, but they must have been diving at around Mach .95 or more. They couldn’t stay in our turn, so they zoomed up in a yo-yo manoeuvre. When I reversed back they both pulled through from there, and we dived behind them until at 13-14,000 feet they separated in a vertical break.” Alam went after the climbing Hunter and engaged it at about 20,000 feet. His first burst of gunfire missed, but his second scored a hit. “At the third burst, he became a ball of flame,” Alam said, “so I turned back and looked for my wingman….Then suddenly I lost all radio contact with him, although I could see him in the distance and I saw the Hunter break away from him. “The Hunter saw me,” Alam continued, “and although he was close to his base, he didn’t want to accept combat. He turned away from me and rapidly accelerated rapidly in a dive, although I followed as closely as possible behind him. I knew we were approaching close to the airfield of Halwara and suspected a trap, but then he did a loose sort of a roll to clear his tail, so he had obviously lost me. I had dived a good 5-6000 feet below him, at about Mach .94-.95, and when I felt that he was slowing down, I fired a Sidewinder at him. There was something wrong with this missile, however as it turned, through about 90 degrees soon after its release.”

“I continued diving after him, however, and then released my second Sidewinder which scored a hit on his right wing root. As it began to smoke, I saw that we were just crossing the Halwara Canal and as I was well inside Indian territory and getting a bit short of fuel, I immediately half-rolled and dived down to treetop level. When I hit the border between India and Pakistan, I climbed up to conserve fuel, feeling very miserable at having lost my No.2.”

Although Alam had not seen the second Hunter crash, the PAF credited him with both planes, for his eighth and ninth victories of the war. As in the earlier cases, one of Alam’s victims survived to give his own description of the fight. When the PAF F-86s were reported, Flying Officers Prakash S. Pingale and F. Dara Bunsha of No.7 Squadron scrambled up from Halwara. Pingale reported that he got behind the first Sabre, which turned south, then spotted the second, “at about 4 o’clock at a range of 1,000 yards and about to fire on us.” He then told Bunsha to “go for Sabre No.1,” while he engaged the other. “Sabre No.2 attempted to shake me off by pulling up into the sun,” Pingale said. “He also jettisoned his external loads and pulled up steeply as a last-ditch maneuver to make me overshoot him, perhaps by the use of leading edge slats….I was able to open fire at about 3000-4000 yards. The aircraft literally exploded in front of me.” At that point, Pingale saw Bunsha engaging in scissors manoeuvres with Alam’s F-86. He radioed a warning to Bunsha that the Sabre held the advantage in such a fight. But Bunsha was going down in flames by the time he intervened.

“Seeing my coming towards him, Sabre No.1 left my No.2 and turned towards me,” Pingale continued. “As we crossed head-in, he opened fire on me,” Pingale continued. “As we crossed head-on, he opened fire on me….As I reversed to engage Sabre No.1 in 1-vs-1 combat, to my utter dismay I found that instead of fighting with me he had half-rolled and was speedily trying to get away in a vertical dive. I attempted to close in but lost contact with Sabre No.1 because I blacked out due to excessive g (around 8-10 as recorded by my g-meter).” As he returned to Halwara, Pingale could not recall seeing his Pakistani opponent ever fire a missile at him, but he later admitted that his perceptions were somewhat impaired by the pain of a slight back injury he had sustained after being hit by ground fire and bailing out a few days earlier, aggravated by the effects of his high-g turn.

Entirely two different stories arise from both men – S/L Alam and F/L Pingale. There is no doubt that F/O Farokh Dara Bunsha became a victim of S/L Alam’s guns, But whether F/L Pingale himself became a victim of S/L Alam’s guns is certainly debatable. S/L Alam claims that the first Sidewinder he fired malfunctioned, and the second hit F/L Pingale’s Hunter on the wing root. S/L Alam however did not stay for long to confirm his second kill, as he realised he was deep in Indian territory. F/L Pingale on the other hand, had returned safely to Halwara which might suggest that he landed back at base. What is of greater significance is that the PAF adds F/L Pingale’s kill to S/L Alam’s list, when no evidence of any kind – eyewitness, gun camera, etc. – was ever present.

The PAF claimed a total of nine confirmed kills for S/L Alam in the 1965 air war. They were respectively, according to the PAF, two on September 6th, five on September 7th and two more on September 16th. However with the damning evidence presented above, his claims stand no ground. Given the modesty of his claims for September 6th and the extravagance of his claims for September 7th, S/L Alam is certainly a complex personality. Surprisingly, the most contradicting claim comes from the PAF. The authors in Fiza’ya say, “Alam’s citation for the Sitara-e-Jurat and Bar, cites him as shooting down four Hunters on September 7th and two on September 6th.” Thus, even the PAF in 1965, did not claim five Hunters over Sargodha on September 7th! When and why the number changed to five, is not known. Also there is no mention of the September 16th incident in the citation! This it appears, was added later on.

Jon Guttman, in an Aviation History article titled, ‘Pakistan’s Sabre Ace’ states that Sqn. Ldr. Alam’s professional relationship with the Pakistan Air Force suffered after the 1965 war due to certain reasons. The following are excerpts from that article;

Alam commanded No.11 Squadron until April 1966. In November 1967, he was promoted to Wing Commander, given the command of No.5 Squadron and charged with overseeing the introduction of the newly imported Dassault Mirage IIIEP into that unit. At about that time, however, Alam began to have problems as a result of professional jealousies and personal resentments among fellow PAF officers. For one thing, there were some accusations that while Alam was a virtuoso pilot, his leadership qualities at the senior officer level left something much to be desired. As Pakistan’s first ace, much was expected of him after the war, and his more limited administrative abilities may have suffered further under the pressure of such expectations.

Alam was also reappraising his lifestyle, reaching the conclusion that the abandonment of traditional Islamic values by the PAF constituted a betrayal of the people it served. The most obvious symbol of that compromise of values was the consumption of alcohol. Alam not only quit drinking but also began trying to persuade his colleagues to banish alcohol from the officers’ mess. Inevitably, Alam’s growing zeal rubbed many PAF officers – a good many of whim were his superiors – the wrong way.

In 1969, Alam attended the staff college, but he was removed from the course in 1970 under the absurd pretext that he could not read and write. In May, he was relieved of command of No.5 Squadron – which was given to Wing Commander Hakimullah Khan – and played no active role in the Indo-Pak War of December 1971. Alam was given command of No.26 Squadron in January 1972 but lost it just two months later.

It must have been surely insulting for S/L Alam to have been removed from staff college in 1970 on the basis that he could not read or write! Even more damaging was his non-active role in 1971, when just six years earlier in 1965, he was on the top of the PAF. To be then removed from command of No.26 Squadron just two months after he got it in 1972, must have surely hurt his ego deeply. Alam retired as an Air Commodore in March 1982 and lives a secluded lifestyle in Karachi. He has become a devout Muslim, being often described as a mullah who spends his time praying and forecasting condemnation to hell for the PAF Officers who are less devout!

Now why the Pakistan Air Force concocted this incredible story is not known. As Pushpinder Singh Chopra in his Vayu Aerospace Review article, ‘Laying the Sargodha Ghost to Rest’ states, “The people of Pakistan had to be re-assured that their Air Force’s super image carefully cultivated over the years, was restored by examples of daring-do and glory.” In Fiza’ya, the authors state that while the PAF’s 1982 History accepts Alam’s story as told by Fricker, the PAF’s 1988 History is surprisingly silent about the names. In fact, the PAF 1988 History does not even list the names of the five IAF pilots. The truth lies with Senior Officers of the Pakistan Air Force and it would be really sorry if they believed their own myths.

The PAF and Pakistanis in general have led the world to believe that Alam did indeed shoot down five IAF Hunters on September 7th. However, if it wasn’t for the efforts of Pushpinder Singh Chopra and others, Alam’s nonsensical claim of being Pakistan’s top air ace would have crawled its way as an unprecedented feat into the annals of jet warfare. However, it is nothing more than one of the PAF’s numerous unsubstantiated claims!


This chapter would have never been possible without Pushpinder Singh Chopra’s various write-ups on this very controversial air battle. We owe him our deep felt gratitude for the permission to quote from his writings. We also owe special thanks to L.N. Subramanian, Dr. Subhash B. Bhagwat and Dr. Shivshankar Sastry for their valuable help.


“A fighter pilot’s sortie down memory lane” – Times of India, 07 September 2001.

Chopra, Pushpindar Singh. “Laying the Sargodha Ghost to rest.” Vayu Aerospace Review. November 1985.

Chopra, Pusphindar Singh, Ravi Rikhye, Peter Steinemann. Fiza’ya: Psyche of the Pakistan Air Force. Society for Aerospace Studies, New Delhi 1991. Distributed by Himalayan Books.

Fricker, John. Battle for Pakistan. Ian Allan, London 1978.

Guttman, Jon. “Pakistan’s Sabre Ace”. Air History. September 1998.

Lal, Pratap Chandra. My years with the IAF. Lancer International, New Delhi 1986.

M.A. Iqbal. “Eye-witness to M.M. Alam’s encounter with the IAF.” PIADS, 1999.

No.1 Squadron War Diary – Unpublished.

No.8 Squadron’s History – Official IAF Site.

No.27 Squadron’s History – Official IAF Site.

No.7 Squadron War Diary – Published as Battle Axes.

Tufail, Kaiser. “Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui” Defence Journal. September 1998

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