By Wg Cdr GM David (Retd)
It had been a quiet day. The daily raid had not taken place and the sun was low on the horizon. A dusk scramble was ordered and Sqn Ldr VS Pathania VrC and Flt Lt BN Bopaiyya got airborne to set up a CAP over head. Since it continued to be quiet and the sun was setting they were ordered to burn fuel and land. At this point four Sabres were spotted high over the field rolling in for a steep glide attack along RW31. Pathania who was over RW13 Dumbell tightened his turn into the attackers and established contact with the Nos I and 2 who were established in the dive. The L60 Guns who were ‘Tied’, opened fire on their own at all dry and sundry. Bopaiyya who was over RW 31 Dumbell was ordered into a hard turn by Pathania to keep his tail clear and was told that he would be picking up Nos 3 and 4 sliding into the bombing run below him. Pathania and Bopaiyya establishing contact, dived thru the exploding anti aircraft shells and went for their respective targets. Pathania dived through the Flak and got on the tail of the No 2 midway down the RW who promptly threw a hard turn to the left and ducked into the valley SW of the RW to keep his energy levels high. In the turn after about 270 Deg and facing us at the 31 ORP Pathania got into position less than 200 yds behind and he gave a Quarter sec burst of 30mm cannon. We saw puffs of smoke from the Sabre who further tightened his turn, jettisoned his Drop Tanks and went into an impossibly tight turn. Pathania did a Yo Yo got into position a second time and gave a second short burst. His guns jammed. Throughout all this, the L60s were firing away merrily at Pathania, Bopaiyya and the Sabres. Bopaiyya in the meantime who latched onto the No 4 attacker had dived throught the L60 fire and was last seen pursuing him towards the SW. Pathania coolly began to give a running commentry on RT. He said that his guns had jammed and that he would not allow the target to have the fuel to make it back to his base. The Sabre who was by now trailing smoke rolled out towards Pir Panjal to get away. Pathania slipped out from his 6 O’clock postion and slid out to his right. The Sabre promptly on spotting him through a hard turn into Pathania to dislodge him from his tail and rolled out towards the West. Pathania kept him doing hard turns for sometime till be himself began to run low on fuel. when he broke off Pathania reported that Sabre smoking heavily and he unable to maintain speed. Bopaiyya who was unable catch up with the receding Sabres also returned overhead low on fuel. The Army subsequently reported an aircraft crossing Pir Panjal smoking heavily. We are certain he must have ejcted after crossing into Pakistan.
One funny bit through all this was the No 4 Sabre who probably had his armament switch selection wrong dropped his Tanks instead of his Bombs. Realising his error on pull out he dropped his bombs in level flight. It was an amazing site as the bombs struck the RW too shallow and skipped. Having the same velocity as the mother aircraft we saw it lazily rise and begin to catch up with it. It curved up to about a 100 feet below the mother aircraft before starting a lazy descent. It lobbed outside the Aifield boundary and exploded. We dont think that guy ever realised how close his own bombs had come to him.
Now came the Mother of all recoveries. The two Gnats had to be recovered and the RW had been hit. Wg Cdr Raina our CO, cool as ever, inspected the RW, plotted the craters. He instructed the aircraft to land on the left lane, shift to the right lane 1200 yds up the RW and then Shift back to the left lane after 2000yds. It was dusk by now. There were no time to lay the goose necks. He just parked his jeep abeam the first crater and to indicate the begining the of the clear patch for touch down. He talked them down coolly on the mobile RT set to a safe touch down. Pathania and Bopaiyya both switched lanes as briefed and landed safely on a cratered RW in semi darkness without landing lights or RW lighting.
Hows That to bring the curtains down on the Srinagar Gnat Operations?