SUCCESS TURNS TO FAILURE

The statistical data about the exact number of missions flown by Sargodha during the war is still not accessible as the records are secret. According to John Fricker’s semi official history of the PAF, on 6 September 1965, Sargodha launched 11 sorties on the Lahore Front to follow up the 19 Squadron mission. In addition, 4 sorties had been launched in the Jassar area. There is no mention of any CAPs before 1500 hours except the two F-104s which intercepted the Mysteres attacking our train at Gakkar. Perhaps some F-86 missions may have been flown for air defence but there is no mention in the official history coverage of 6 September. Two F-104s were sent in the afternoon to recce Adampur and Halwara, to check the presence of aircraft on these bases. This was to validate the purpose of the pre-emptive strikes.

ADAMPUR STRIKE

Air Commodore “Mitty” Masud, Station Commander Sargodha plus possibly the Air Defence Commander presumed that the late arrival of the Sargodha strikes would be met with scores of IAF interceptors buzzing all over the place. This over assessment of IAF command’s efficiency to have reacted so swiftly across the border as Pathankot was being attacked proved to be wrong and it was devastating for the pre-emptive magnum opus of the PAF. Resultantly, too many fighters were kept on Air Defence and #11 Squadron launched off late with just three F-86s for Adampur around 1710 hours. By then our attack on Pathankot was already raging. While recalling the Adampur mission, Squadron Leader M.M. Alam (formation leader) said that he saw four Hunters crossing over high near Tarn Taran. In recent and fairly credible research published by authors Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra in the “India-Pakistan Air War of 1965”, it is stated that the four Hunters that came across the PAF strike formation were actually returning to their base, Halwara, after an abortive CAS strike mission and were not prowling CAPs from Adampur under control of Amritsar Radar (Codenamed Fish-oil). Had these Hunters been scrambled by Fish-oil they would have been in the vicinity of their own airfield and not heading northeast, straight and level towards their base. There was no role played by Fish-oil in detecting the PAF raids heading for Adampur and Halwara.

The after-mission report and statement by the leader of the F-86 formation (Squadron Leader M.M. Alam) to John Fricker soon after the war raises some interesting questions purely from the point of view of basic tactics. The PAF strike formation was short of Tarn Taran, south of Amritsar, when they spotted four Hunters crossing on top at 90 degrees. It would seem that it was the PAF strike leader who chose to jettison the tanks and go after the Hunters, who then jettisoned their drop tanks and turned towards the Sabres and a brief air combat ensued. That means that the PAF strike force drew the Hunters into a fight and not the Hunters who started the combat. Then the strike leader states that they were fighting at tree-top level in scissor at very low speed. He claimed never to have fought at such low heights before and less than 200 knots. From here on, the accounts of historians from both sides tally to the extent that a dog-fight at very low level ensued.

Squadron Leader Peter Rawlley who was #3 in the formation executed a break into the Sabre behind him (most likely the leader of Sabre formation), misjudged his proximity to mother earth and cart wheeled into the ground (a combat accident). Even the F-86 formation leader did not claim shooting down Rawlley, but only taking a shot at him at high angle and not sure about registering a hit. Still, the benefit of doubt was given to him. That was fair enough because the enemy had lost an aircraft. He was awarded this as “destroyed” by the PAF as well as Indian historians. Ostensibly, this aircraft was the only one that was lost during this brief engagement; the other three Hunters with Wing Commander Zachariah, Flight Lieutenant Sinha and Squadron Leader Sharma disengaged, claiming to be low on fuel and returned to their base, Halwara. The Hunter aircraft enjoyed a clear edge over the F-86 in power and thus in speed. Consequently, unlike the Sabres, the Hunters had the choice to disengage when circumstances so demanded. No other Hunter was actually shot down in this encounter. Yet, this was proof of the grit and confidence of our fighter pilots to engage the adversary on their turf.

There has been some commentary on the Adampur air battle which is somewhat questionable.

Firstly, it is impossible for a fighter pilot to keep eye contact, as was claimed by Squadron Leader M.M. Alam, with seven aircraft dog-fighting at tree top level, pulling maximum “Gs” at 200 knots in combat over enemy territory.

Secondly, the PAF’s official history claiming that All India Radio had announced that Flight Lieutenant Hussain (believed to be the son of the Indian Vice President Zakir Hussain) had been awarded the “Vir Chakra” for bringing back a badly damaged Hunter after intercepting the enemy Sabres at about the time of the first engagement near Adampur”, was also not correctly perceived. The authors of the “India-Pakistan Air War of 1965” have confirmed to me that no pilot by the name of Flight Lieutenant Hussain (or the son of the Indian Vice President Zakir Hussain) was present any where in the area that day.

The official Indian history of losses during the 1965 War (which is essentially accurate) also confirms that no other IAF pilots were shot or lost, except Rawlley. They have recorded the loss of Squadron Leader Rawlley as lost after hitting the ground during combat. The last paragraph of the Adampur episode in the PAF History-1988 ends with an amazing end piece, “Although these Sabres had ben prevented from reaching their target, the PAF could feel reasonably well satisfied at the credit balance of two Hunters lost and three more damaged without loss.” This meant a claim of five Hunters destroyed and/or damaged, as recorded by our historians while there were only four Hunters in the only combat that took place! These claims were also not backed with any film, eye witness account or other valid evidence or proof. The Indians deny these claims as well as an alleged second encounter which presumably never took place. Even Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail in his well-researched book “Great Air Battles of Pakistan Air Force” has not alluded to the Adampur air battle at all, leave alone substantiating the claim of the shooting down of 3 aircraft by the leader of the formation.

HALWARA STRIKE

The inexplicable depletion of the strike force at Sargodha during that afternoon should have been questioned by the PAF leadership but to be told at 1700 hours (the time when the strikes were expected to be going in for the kill) that only 6 aircraft were available out of over 70 fighters held at Sargodha should have created an alarm.  The non-availability of aircraft, I am certain, must have been particularly demoralising for the fighter pilots who were impatiently waiting for aircraft allocation from base operations since 1600 hours to launch off by 1640 hours. Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui’s formation was delayed even further by several crucial minutes after the Adampur strike comprising just three F-86s had taken off.  His formation got airborne when daylight was fading fast in the target area as they crossed the border. The aborted Adampur strike was already returning and crossed Rafiqui’s formation near the border. This meant that Rafiqui had taken off at around 1720 hours or even minutes later, which was nothing short of courting disaster – doomed to become a suicidal mission.

Cecil Choudhry said that Rafique had sounded foreboding as they sat waiting for their aircraft when crucial minutes were slipping by. Rafiqui is alleged to have said that it was developing “into a one-way mission”. This was because the Pathankot strike was in the attack while they were still on the ground and they rightly felt that the IAF would react with massive CAP effort over the other bases to deal with further strikes. Butch Ahmed made contact with Rafiqui’s formation and warned him to look out for lots of Hunters for the reason that their formation had encountered enemy aircraft. Evidently, Rafiqui’s formation did not run into any Indian Hunters till they had arrived in the vicinity of Halwara and were reportedly circling to look for the airfield.

According to the narrative of Rafiqui’s wing man (#2), Cecil, the visibility had deteriorated owing to their late arrival and they could barely identify ground features even from 1500 feet (inexplicably though he states in the same sentence that their formation was flying at 150-200 feet AGL). What becomes evident from the narrative of the sole survivor, though not explicitly admitted by him, was that they missed the target and spent the next five minutes at 200 feet AGL trying to locate it. The narrative also does not mention that the formation had arrived on top of the airfield, because the visibility and light conditions had prevented the recognition of any ground features. However, from present historical renditions by Indian authors, it is reasonable to assume that Rafiqui’s formation did fly over Halwara airfield possibly without realising it. Just a couple of minutes before their arrival, 3 of the 4 Hunters (Squadron Leader Rawlley having crashed) led by Zachariah, who had mixed with Alam’s formation, had landed at Halwara.

The authors of “The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965” state that when the 3 Hunters were taxiing back to their pens, the ack-ack opened up, lacing the sky with tracers. If true, this had announced the arrival of Rafiqui’s formation overhead.  Quite possibly, unable to make out the targets on the ground, Rafiqui may well have been planning to exit safely. That was possibly the moment when he spotted enemy aircraft on CAP at the southern end of the runway. From here on, there are several versions of th famous air battle which ensued.

A reconstruction of events as evidenced by recent dissertations by credible authors from India and Pakistan may help elicit the most probable pattern of what really occurred before and after Rafiqui and Yunus were shot down. In the final analysis, there were only four Hunters over Halwara and not ten to twelve claimed as claimed by the #2, the only survivor from that fateful strike. Rafiqui shot the leader of the first two Hunters spotted by him and by Cecil’s own irrefutable admission, it was Yunus who had gone after the second Hunter flown by Flying Officer Gandhi. Gandhi did manage a pot shot at Cecil but was not able to get him. This distraction cost Gandhi dearly as Yunus, who was chasing Gandhi, eventually managed to shoot him down. The #2 admitted to me recently that he did not shoot the second Hunter from the first pair spotted by Rafiqui. He had earlier claimed shooting down the third Hunter which did not happen because only the first two Hunters had been shot down – the third and fourth Hunters had shot Sarfaraz Rafiqui and Yunus when the battle had ended.

The Indian pilots who had shot Rafiqui and Yunus confirmed that there were only two F-86s in the air battle and not three. Could that be construed to mean that the sole survivor, #2 was no longer in the area when Rafiqui and Yunus were shot down? Since there were no further dog fights and consequently no further loss of any Hunters, the air battle ended there with two Hunters downed by Rafiqui and Yunus as these consummate fighter pilots were themselves martyred within seconds and crashed six miles west of Halwara near the village of Haran. The Halwara dog fight had come tom a tragic end.

The rest of the story narrated by the surviving wing man about fighting with ten Hunters and shooting three more before deciding to disengage at will, can at best be assigned to the fog of war, at worst a flight of fancy. Both of these are possible during war, but need to be cleared up half a century later.

  • Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail
  • The authors of the India-Pakistan Air War of 1965
  • Recently released air combat losses of the Indian Air Force (IAF)

explicitly state that only four Hunters were involved in the fight over Halwara and two of them were shot down in the periphery of the airfield. Consequently, the story told by Sarfaraz Rafiui’s wing man is unsubstantiated, as is his claim of shooting down an Indian Canberra bomber at night. The story chronicled by the PAF’s Official history-1988 also cannot stand the test of veracity as none of the doubtful and controversial claims by Sargodha were put through incisive scrutiny, including Cecil’s account, at any stage. The PAF’s Official History needs to be corrected – PAF’s proud legacy should not be subjected to denigration by critics just because it would be embarrassing to admit exaggerations during the war (an understandable tendency at that time by both antagonists). These phantoms must be put to rest to retain the glory of the PAF.

A REQUIEM FOR GREAT HEROES
Sarfaraz Rafiqui and Yunus’s exemplary performance has become the stuff of legends. They should have earned the highest gallantry award, th Nishan-e-Haider. Besides the Government of Pakistan through the Defence and Air Attaché in New Delhi should have made concerted efforts to recover the bodies of all the pilots who may have been buried on Indian soil, especially Sarfaraz Rafiqui, whose body was found intact, and was buried with honour in a village called Haran, a few miles from Halwara airfield near Ludhiana. Sarfaraz Rafiqui more than anyone else deserved to be buried in Pakistan. He died heroically for his country, and people should be able to visit his grave and pay tributes to his courage. He should have become a symbol of leadership in its highest tradition. One of the living legends of the 1965 War told me sometime ago with a deep sense of remorse that in 2006 while visiting a fighter base he had commanded years ago, he was taken to the crew room of the Squadron. When he posed a question as to what the young fighters knew about the spectacular mission led by Sarfaraz Rafiqui, the response was blank. Sadly, we denigrate history and instead of eulogising true heroes accept rogues as national icons.

FAILURE OF PAF’s GRAND STRATEGY

The strikes against Adampur and Halwara airfields was delayed for extremely questionable reasons by Sargodha. There was no rationale for keeping more than eight F-104 Starfighters and the same number of F-86s with Sidewinder missiles and a similar number with guns only, for the defence of Sargodha in case the impossible happened and the IAF retaliated swiftly. These 16 aircraft could not have gotten off the ground in case of raids developing against Sargodha owing to a maximum of ten minutes warning available for Sargodha about any incoming raiders. All the aircraft on the ground were sitting ducks for the attackers. Sargodha also claims to have been sending F-104 escorts with non-specific CAS missions over Chhamb. How could the commanders justify their failure to use the F-104s as escorts for the all-important strike missions and also for a simple strafing attack if necessary? The F-104s should have been an integral part of the pre-emptive strike, in part to exploit its psychological deterrent effect on the IAF, and also to perform the composite role of escort and attack against aircraft on ground.

Such a composite force if launched at 1615 hours even with four F-86s and two F-104s against each target, would have wreaked havoc at the airfields of Adampur and Halwara (which were jam packed with aircraft collecting for a dawn strike the next morning). Strangely enough, he COC failed to question the decreasing availability of aircraft at 1615 hours when first reported. This got worse soon after, and only 6 aircraft were declared available by 1650 hours.

  • Why was the air staff at COC not relating to aircraft serviceability on their aircraft status display?
  • Why did the senior commanders at the COC fail to order PAF Sargodha to use all its resources for the strike, leaving no more than 4 CAPs and 8-10 aircraft on cockpit standby, till the raids landed back?

No questions were asked about their monumental negligence in treating the centre-fold of the PAF strategy so callously.

In the Adampur strike, the leader chose to jettison tanks and engage the Hunter formation lead by Zachariah who were returning to Halwara far north of Adampur. The question I had asked Sa’ad Hatmi, who had come to dine with me in the 90s was whether the Hunters had attacked them first? He had said “No”, they had gone after the Hunters as soon as they were spotted (hence the hard break by Squadron Leader Rawlley into his attacker who had to be behind him). It was this factor which compelled John Fricker to comment about the strikes: “The Sargodha formations did not press home their attacks.” True, that with the vantage of hindsight, but the question is: why would the mere sight of the enemy, which was not threatening your integrity, disrupt a cardinal mission? Perhaps the leader thought that a bird in hand was better than two in the bush. But that decision will remain a moot point – should one abandon a primary mission of such significance as was the Adampur Strike

 In the case of Halwara the sanctimonious conclusion by PAF historians that the “brighter side has always been recommended” is based on a completely incorrect kill ratio. The “six intercepted Sabres downed seven Hunters” perception was an incorrect conclusion drawn from unsubstantiated claims and not a tribute to PAF’s aces Sarfaraz Rafiqui, Yunus and Alam. The fact is that the loss of two PAF aces was not an unavoidable casualty; an inevitable factor in war. It was a senseless loss owing to poor judgement and dithering by Sargodha operations.

In actuality, two Hunters were shot down by Rafiqui and Yunus (one each) at Halwara later in the day and Squadron Leader Rawlley’s was the first Hunter lost during a defensive manoeuvre. Therefore, the IAF lost three Hunters against two F-86s of the PAF, lost at Halwara during the two failed strikes. This was not bad at all, and the PAF can rightly be proud of the pilots who achieved such results under the most unfavourable circumstances (launched too late, deep in enemy territory, outnumbered, and operating at deck level in poor visibility). The real problem was the high command was getting incorrect input and that impacted their plans for the next day’s counter air operations.

Having delved into an empirical analysis of the fate of the pre-emptive strike at Adampur and Halwara, it would be prudent to discuss the philosophy of accepting or rejecting claims of aerial kills by the IAF and the PAF, especially after a 40-year lapse. It would be sacrilege for a nation to hide the losses of its gallant fighting men who sacrificed their lives in defence of heir country. They deserve the highest honours given by their nation. The PAF did not hide its losses of martyrs, so why then should any one think that the IAF would do so?

By Courtesy of “Flight of the Falcon” by Air Commodore Sayed Sajad Haider SJ, Pakistan Air Force. Published by Vanguard Books Rawalpindi Pakistan

The strike led by Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui with wing man Flight Lieutenant Yunus and #3, Flight Lieutenant Cecil Choudhry, the lone survivor
Squadron Leader M.M. Alam led a formation of three F-86 aircraft to Adampur on 6 September. He did not attack the target but instead engaged a flight of Hunter aircraft. The Halwara raid led by Squadron Leader Rafiqui and including Yunus and Cecil taking off the last had difficulty in finding the target due poor light conditions due time of day. They finally spotted a flight of Hunters near target and engaged

One thought on “SUCCESS TURNS TO FAILURE

  1. A PAF strike from Sargodha and Peshawar took place (0900 hours from Peshawar) to engage the enemy forces heading for Lahore after crossing the International border at 0330 hours Pakistan Time. The Peshawar strike was led by Squadron Leader S. Sajjad Haider. Three strikes were planned for the afternoon of 6th September 1965 with take off approximately at 1640 hours. Two strikes from Sargodha (M.M. Alam and Rafiqui) and one from Peshawar. The Sargodha Base which started operations in the morning of 6th September did not have the required number of serviceable aircraft for these two raids to launch despite a pool of 70 fighter aircraft at the base. They could muster only six aircraft for the two raids in total. Rafiqui with two others along with was the last strike to depart around 1740 hours with Indian bases on full alert because of the Pathankot strike from Peshawar in progress and the first of the two strikes led by M.M. Alam for Adampur. Alam on seeing a flight of Hunter aircraft decided to engage them forgetting what the mission actually was, to strike Adampur Base and not engage random Hunters which hadn’t even seen his flight of aircraft. Due poor light conditions and the late hour of arrival over the target area, Rafiqui could not identify any landmarks on the ground, though he inadvertently flew over the target and the ack ack opened up, just as saw a flight of Hunters on combat air patrol over the southern end of the runway. Rafiqui and Yunus each got one Hunter from the flight of four Hunters but the other two shot down Yunus and himself. Yunus was covering the tail of Rafiqui and was downed but Rafiqui continued aggressive manouevres despite the aircraft’s guns jamming and unable to fire. His last transmission was on this subject. #3, Cecil Choudhry had scooted by then or before then for Pakistan.

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