Recollections of a Communicator; On 50th anniversary of IAF’s first air war, its vital role

Oct 8, 4:44 pm

New Delhi, Oct.8 (ANI) The Indian Air Force (IAF) today is observing its 83rd Air Force Day, as also the fiftieth anniversary of its first air war. While the nation is aware of the various battles fought by the Indian Army, not much is known about the role played by the Indian Air Force in the war against Pakistan in 1965. The book by Air Marshal Bharat Kumar provides us the comprehensive details of the role played by the Indian Air Force during the war.

When Pakistan launched an attack in the Rann of Kutch, the Government of India restricted the response to the Army alone. However the Indian Air Force reconnaissance aircraft provided photographic evidence of American Patton tanks being deployed in the Rann of Kutch. A Vampire aircraft of the Indian Air Force took pictures of the Patton tanks which intruded into Indian territory between Biar Bet and Point 84 in the Rann of Kutch.

Soon, with the intervention of Harold Wilson of the United Kingdom, a cease fire came into being, but not for a long time.

Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar on August 5, and regular Pakistan Army officers and soldiers of the POK battalion, called Razakars , infiltrated into Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in his address at the Red Fort on August 15 told the nation that “resort to the sword with be met with the sword”. In the counter attack, the Indian Army captured Haji Pir, which was the main route for infiltration.

The Indian Air Force limited its support by providing helicopters for providing air evacuation facilities and airdropping of supplies.

When Operation Gibralter failed, Pakistan decided to attack in the Chhamb sector on September 1. Called Operation Grand Slam, it sought to cut Jammu and Kashmir from the rest of the country. The then Chief of the Army Staff, General J. N. Chaudhuri, who was in Kashmir on that day , rushed back to Delhi, met Air Marshal Arjan Singh and sought the deployment of the Air Force.

Air Marshal Arjan Singh agreed without hesitation to give the army air support

“The Defence Minister (Y.B. Chavan) agreed that the attack may go in forthwith”.

Twelve sorties of Vampire aircraft were followed by two formations of Mystere aircraft. Wing Commander Goodman is quoted, as saying “Our boys were in like a flash, and in no time, the whole place was ablaze with burning tanks and vehicles…. the enemy will never forget the Mystere”. The Indian Air Force lost four aircraft and three pilots.

The Pakistan Army attack was blunted and it could not proceed to capture Akhnoor. Air Marshal Bharat Kumar says: “As bridge enthusiasts would say-Pakistan had a Grand Slam and with the cards held in his hands, it was more than sure of making the contract. However, it had not visualized the vital card in defender’s (India’s) hand-the IAF. The Pakistan dream came tumbling down when its ace got ruffles in the second move itself and the Grand Slam got defeated.”

“Third September is a historical day for the Indian Air Force, as it was on this day that the first air to air kill in free India took place”, says Air Marshal Bharat Kumar

The Indian Air Force attack was launched by Mysteres and Gnats. They were opposed by F-86s and Sabres

Squadron Leader Trevor Keeler managed to shoot down Pakistani Sabre aircraft. Flying as a wingman to Trevor Keelor was S. Krishnaswamy , who late rose to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. In the next chapter, we have details of how we managed to shoot down the Sabres.

While the Indian Air Force achieved remarkable success in supporting the Army in Chhamb, that kind of support was not available to the Indian troops that attacked in the Lahore sector on September 6. The air attack by Sabres in that sector caused losses to the Indian Army, but also slowed down the Indian advance by an estimated two hours.

The Pakistan Air Force attacked Indian Air Force bases in Adampur, Pathankot and Halwara and caused substantial damage. The assessment was that if the IAF had conducted a pre- emptive attack, things would have been different.

The Indian Air Force also used Canberra bombers. The last bomber raid of the conflict was launched on the night of 21/22. It was launched by six aircraft on Sargodha. The Indian Air Force lost one of its bombers to a Starfighter.

The book also gives details of the attack by the Pakistani Air Force on our base at Kalaikunda in Orissa, in the eastern sector. The IAF aircraft from Kalaikunda had conducted a raid on Chittagong and returned. As debriefing was going on, the Pakistan Air Force conducted a raid on the airfield and destroyed two Canberra bombers and four Vampires on the ground.

Soon afterwards, they returned for a second round of attack, when the Indian Air Force Hunters piloted by Flt Lt Alfred Cooke and Fl Lt Mamgain were able to hit and bring down two aircraft. I had witnessed the air battle from Kharagpur station. As Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Defence, I secured an escort and took pictures of the crashed Pakistani aircraft and the pilot Flt. Lt. Afzal Khan.

There were minor attacks at other Air Force stations in the Eastern sector, at Barrackpore and Bagdogra too.

The cease fire was to come into effect on the morning of 23 September at 0330. On the eve of cease fire, the IAF carried out an attack by four Hunters from Halwara against armoured vehicles moving along the Kasuri Khem Karn road. They were supported by four Gnats. They were confronted by four Sabres. One Hunter caught fire, and the pilot was asked to abandon the aircraft. The pilot was Flight Lieutenant Nanda Cariappa,

The Hunter crashed, and fighter pilot Cariappa landed in Pakistan, and became a prisoner of war. One chapter gives details of the travails of the prisoners of war.

An authentic narrative of the air war of 1965, the book contains the details of “The Duels of the Himalayan Eagle”.

As Air Marshal Bharat Kumar points out the IAF suffered disproportionally higher losses most of them on the ground; but the IAF was able to set aside these losses and continue to prosecute the war with the same sustained effort, as prior to those losses on 6th and 7th September 1965. It just goes to show its resilience and determination.

Bharat Kumar concludes: Yes, mistakes were made, and in every war, mistakes are inevitable. The IAF learnt its lessons, tried to make up for its shortfalls to the extent possible and came out a much better force in 1971. ”

Air Marshal Bharat Kumar and IMR Media deserve to be complimented on the effort.

Book Review: The Duels of the Himalayan Eagle: The First Indo-Pak War. by Air Marshal Bharat Kumar IMR Pedi. pages 319. price Rs 1800/-

Mr. I. Ramamohan Rao is a former Principal Information Officer of the Government of India. He can be reached on his e-mail (ANI)