On 10 April 1959, an Indian Air Force photo reconnaissance Canberra bomber intruded into Pakistan air space and the air engagement which followed with Pakistan Air Force fighter interceptors resulted in the shooting down of the bomber. Such violations had occurred earlier but the intruding aircraft had managed to quickly slip back into their own air space before the PAF interceptors could close in; the intrusions were not deep enough.. The air defence system depended on vintage radars of WWII era.
10 April 1959 was Eid ul Fitr after the month long fasting of Ramadhan. It is presumed that the Indians expected the Pakistan Air Force to have a lower guard level as a result of the Eid festivities and the Indian aircraft could penetrate deeper inside Pakistan on its spying mission.
The pilots of 15 Squadron detailed on air defence alert sat on a couple of chairs sipping tea in the sunshine. They were bachelors, the married ones being spared for the Eid with their families. It was early morning and breakfast had not been served. The formation leader was Flight Lieutenant Naseer Butt with Flight Lieutenant Yunis as the second pilot on alert duty. Yunis held 400 hours total time with 100 hours on F-86.
The alarm sounded for scramble of two Sabres and both pilots were airborne in no time steering vector 150 degrees from Peshawar. The vector had been given by Pilot Officer Rab Nawaz, the air defence controller of 223 Squadron. The WWII type radar was deployed at Wegowal and was hooked up to the sector operations centre (SOC) in Sargodha cantonment. The duty operations officer, Flight Lieutenant A.M. Shahzada had given Peshawar the order to scramble. There was no height indication on the radar and the range scale varied up to 15 miles in target identification. Rab Nawaz succeeded in manoeuvring the Sabres to a visual with the target, also helped by jet exhaust of the Canberra and the telltale white contrails.
According to Yunis, they sighted the intruder from his contrails at 20,000 feet and assumed they were chasing two aircraft. The target was lost to the radar controller now but he managed on a curve of pursuit to vector the pursuers. At 41,000 feet the trail was identified as a single Canberra aircraft flying on a northerly heading and then over Gujrat in Punjab, oblivious of the pursuit, at an estimated altitude of 50,000 feet.
The pursuers dropped their external fuel tanks and asked for clearance for shoot down of the intruder. Rab Nawaz debated whether to follow procedure, and the delay in getting the permission would have resulted in the intruder getting away. He informed his immediate superior, the duty operation officer, and authorised the shoot down.
Naseer Butt launched into a series of climbs, burst of gunfire, and stalls in a sequence to get near the target which was flying higher than them and almost beyond the ceiling of the F-86, getting more desperate with each repetition. Yunis followed the leader in the rear and intuited that the Canberra would turn right for the border if it spotted them, so he came in between the Canberra and the border. Yunis had been given the go ahead by the leader and the Canberra now turned right. He sighted Yunis and immediately reversed and may have sighted Butt on other side. He tightened the left turn and lost speed and height as a result. The loss of height brought it in Yunis’s sight, who fired and got a hit on the right engine. He corrected his gun sight which had been set for the Hunter aircraft’s wingspan and fired again and kept firing till the guns stopped firing due to overheating. The Canberra went into a spiral and the impact with ground was watched by Yunis. The crew had ejected unknown to the two pilot pursuers.
Flight Lieutenant Yunis was awarded the Sitara e Jur’at. He retired Air Vice Marshal in 1990.
In April -May 1965, there was a skirmish between Indian and Pakistani troops in the Rann of Kutch area bordering the Arabian Sea. Following this mini war, an Indian Air Force Canberra again intruded into Pakistan air space coming in from the Sialkot area. PAF interceptors were airborne to intercept this aircraft but were recalled when Ayub Khan refused permission to shoot it down when requested by the Air Force Chief, Nur Khan. This incident came to light recently in the book, “Flight of the Falcon” by Air Commodore Sajad Haider. The book also mentions of a report being sent to the State Department in US by the US Air Attache in Islamabad.
There should be some distinction made in the award of Sitara e Jur’at to military pilots and a further demarcation between valour or the distinguished flying aspect of it.
The incident reported of Flight Lieutenant Yunis of 10 April 1959 leans more towards distinguished flying category in my opinion. In Britain, the distinction comes in the DSO and the DFC. The DSO is awarded for the conduct of operation in general. The DSO is the Distinguished Service Order and the DFC is the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui was awarded the Sitara e Jur’at and the Hilal e Jur’at for his conduct in the air battles on 1 September and 6 September 1965. In the first encounter (over Chamb in Kashmir) he shot down two IAF Vampire jets which were attacking our ground forces in their advance, and in the second encounter on a raid at Halwara, (Hilal e Jur’at) he was the leader of a three aircraft formation, and shot down a Hunter aircraft, but kept at station when he lost the aircraft guns due to a jammed condition, being shot down himself as a result. The Hilal e Jur’at would then be the equivalent British DSO, and the Sitara e Jur’at, the DFC.
The citation for valour and leadership cites both operations for the awards. He thus attained the status of a martyr according to Muslim tradition.
Further, I would ask the readers their opinion of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots of WWII, wilfully crashing their airplanes on the decks of American ships. Where would their action be placed? Responses are sought and likes are not enough – Mohammad Syed Husain, 23 March 2020.