By Gp Capt Manna Murdeshwar (Retd)

On 4th Sept, 65 we were gung-ho! Our months of training had been tested and now we had faced our first air battle. Not only had we come out of it unscathed but we had a War Hero amongst us, to boot!

Pathankot was agog with excitement and we knew we had all hopes and eyes riveted on us as we taxi-ed out for yet another foray. The Gnat had proven its mettle and within just a day we’d began to acquire ‘an iconic status’. Enough indeed, to put the swagger into us!!

Our 23 Sqn. detachment of seven aircraft and seven pilots (the eighth was still ‘missing’!) were ordered to patrol the area and counter any enemy aircraft threatening our objectives.

Our leader was Johnny Greene. I was his No. 2, AJS No. 3 and Pat No. 4. We set course for the Chhaamb Jaurian Sector in a loose, low level tactical formation, which Johnny led, barely skimming the tree tops.

Mid-way to the battle area, while we were still trailing ‘clouds of glory’. I spotted Sabres on our left diabolically attacking our troops with devilish precision. They attacked singly, forming a left hand circuit pattern similar to the ones we adopted during practice at the firing ranges. They rained down fire and smoke on our tenuously entrenched troops and spotting their gleeful sport I conveyed their presence to Johnny on the R/t.

Since AJS and Pat were on our right and in a better position to get behind the Sabres, upon instructions they just rolled over us and trailed the malignant Sabre jets. Johnny and I followed suit. From my position, I could see that each of us was behind a Sabre! I had a position of vantage since I had done a high wing-over and rolled behind the Sabre that had just pulled up from a dastardly attack. My descending speed helped me to get within 400 yds of its tail. With my gun sight ‘ON’ and the ‘diamonds pipped’ I pulled the trigger!! “This was for real, Man!” This was no practice sortie!

Imagine my incredulous frustration when, after firing just one bullet, my gun ‘stopped’. “C’mon! C’mon baby, don’t give up on me now!” I coaxed. But it had done just that – it had ‘given up’.

Cursing my luck and scanning the sky for stray Sabres and vainglorious Gnats, I peeled off to base – valiant, vitiated, vulnerable, but not vanquished!

Once on ground, and subsequent to our debrief, I learnt that although Johnny and AJS had got behind their respective Sabres, their film revealed a high angle of attack which had afforded the Sabres a chance to escape!! Pat was the only one who had been fortunate enough to ‘get it Pat’, shoot down his targeted Sabre and win himself a VrC! My film was labeled ‘exemplary’ and I was told to ‘claim the kill’ since the Army had certified they had found a wreckage. “A kill, with only one bullet fired?” It seemed too preposterous even in these permissive booty-bestowing times and I reluctantly let my conscience forgo this ‘skull’ which I could have added to my belt. The imponderable gun stoppage had seemed, as if ordained by the Sabre pilot’s Fate and I was thwarted from an indiscreet chase that could have nailed this trophy on my wall.

Although the Gnat continued to prove to be redoubtable, ‘my Sabre’ had, inevitably and irrevocably got away!!


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