By Wing Commander Agha MehrGul
The series of events that would eventually lead to an all out war between India and Pakistan started in April 1965, when the former ventured into Rann of Kutch looking for oil. A low intensity conflict began thereafter between Indian and Pakistani forces in that area. PAF was ready for any eventuality and its vigil resulted in keeping the lAF at bay till hostilities ended on 27 April 1965, giving a decisive advantage to Pakistan Army.
The victory in Rann of Kutch gave confidence to the Pakistani Government in general, and Army leadership in particular, who started to think that an action in Kashmir could be localized on the same lines. Since involving the PAF would escalate the situation a major operation was incepted without its participation. The situation perceived by the PAF when it learnt about the plan was quite different. PAF leadership believed that Indian defeat at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 and embarrassment suffered in Rann of Kutch may lead to an all out war.
On 1st September 1965, PAF aircraft kept vigil when the Pakistani troops of 12 Division crossed the CFL. lAF was sure to come to attack our troops and it did. As the lAF aircraft started interfering swiftly they were shot down one after the other. Squadron Leader SarfrazRafiqui and Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti shot four Vampires that day. As a result of this single engagement the lAF grounded all Vampire and Ouragan aircraft, reducing its combat strength by 35%.
On 3rd September, an lAF Gnat flown by Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh landed at Pasrur. Apparently, he was too scared of the F-104 (nicknamed Badmash by the lAF pilots) that flew past him. The pilot claimed aircraft problem as an excuse but everyone knew the reason. Such was the reputation and effect of the smaller PAF over its much bigger opponent. Addressing a press conference on 4th September, the C-in-C of the PAF said’ ‘Superiority in numbers does not decide air battles; better training, morale and above all fighting spirit in fact are the deciding factors’. What he said that day was about to come true soon.
The capture of Jaurian by Pak Army on the 5th of September made an all out war imminent. On the 6th of September at 0300 hours the Indian plan came into action. Indian Army’s XI Corps planned an offensive across the International border, Lahore being the imminent objective and main thrust line along the GT Road. The aim was to divert pressure from Akhnur (a vital road junction on the Western CFL). The border was crossed towards Kasur from Khem Karan. Incidentally the mines in that area had been lifted during the Rann of Kutch episode and the defensive positions were not occupied by the Pakistani troops, who were in the process of moving forward. The PAF Mobile Observer Unit (MOD) had been the first to report the Indian advance towards Wagah. AVM Nur Khan had received the news through the Lahore Station (now Base) Commander. He informed President Ayub Khan of the same with the historical words, This means war!’ In such a situation the Indian claim to have captured Lahore, even before firing the first bullet was unfounded. Even the reputed BBC World Service fervently shared the news of Lahore’s capture. Invitations had been dished out by General Chaudhry to his Staff Officers; toasts were to be raised that evening by them at Lahore Gymkhana. What lay between them and the Lahore was a mere company of 3 Baloch Regiment.
The story of that battle between Indian XI Corps and one Company of 3 Baloch is well known; but not many are aware that joining them in Lahore’s defence were the pilots of No 19 Squadron, PAF. Indian leading Brigade of 15 Division was struck hard by the Sherdils of 19 Squadron as they were being inducted in the bridgehead across BRB canal. Squadron Leader Sajjad ‘Nosey’ Haider’s formation of 6 x F-86s (with No 5 and 6 providing cover) was vectored to the area.
Crossing River Ravi they headed towards Wagah and after locating the enemy swiftly destroyed 10 x Tanks and 20 x Vehicles. The disruption and delay caused by this first formation served as a catalyst for Lahore’s defence. Subsequent PAF formations were sent from Sargodha to delay the Indian advance at Wagah enabling own 10 Division (at peace locations) to join the battle. It is pertinent to mention here that a single company of the 3 Baloch Regiment and few dauntless PAF pilots prevented General Chaudhri and his Staff officers from raising toasts at Lahore Gymkhana hat evening; instead they were served with a cocktail of 5-inch rockets and 1800 rounds from the 6 x 0.5 inch guns of our faithful Sabres.
The war diary of Pak Army’s 114 Brigade defending Wagah records that: ‘The enemy had achieved complete surprise on us. The advancing positions of 114 Brigade were outflanked by the enemy. Answering a critical call for air support at Wagah, where a life and death struggle was being enacted, 6 x Sabres arrived over the target at 0930 hours and destroyed Indian Armour.’ The war diary of Pakistan Army’s 10 Division also acknowledges PAF’s role in Lahore’s defence at Wagah in golden words: ‘At this critical juncture appeared 6 x PAF Sabres for 15-20 minutes, wrought havoc on the enemy armour and infantry trying to cross the BRB Canal. On 6th September Air Support continued for 10 Division as 18 more F-86s kept pounding enemy tanks and APCs trying to advance towards Lahore, Jassar and Kasur. Army-Air Cooperation had saved Lahore.’
President Ayub Khan made his historic speech on Radio Pakistan informing the Nation of the Indian offensive and the existence of a state of war. This was old news for the PAF whose aircraft had returned after striking the lAF airfields and radar sites. The newly acquired MiG-21 s (dubbed as the pride of the lAF) lay burning at Pathankot courtesy No 19 Squadron; no MiG-21 was ever seen in the war thereafter. Adampur, Halwara and Jamnagar were also struck in the West and Kalikunda in the East. The air battles that ensued were written in golden words. Even the lAF historical record acknowledges the valour and bravery of PAF pilots like Squadron Leader SarfrazRafiqui. The Nation can be proud of its air force which despite of its smaller size fought against all odds in defending the Motherland.
When retaliatory air strikes were launched by the lAF on 7th September, men like Squadron Leader M MAlam stood as sentinels. 5 enemy aircraft were shot in a single engagement in a span on 30 seconds, a record that stands to date. Thanks to the role played by PAF the skies of Pakistan were clear of enemy aircraft and lAF airfields lay ablaze. The PAF superiority over its four time larger adversary was established and duly acknowledged globally.
The Nation pays salute to our valiant air warriors who fought the battle for Pakistan, against all odds fulfilling the vision of Quaid-e-Azam of ‘being an Air Force Second to None’. As the bearers of their legacy, the present generation of air warriors stands firm to do just that. PAF is resolute in guarding the borders and concurrently fighting the menace of terrorism in synergy with our brothers in arms from the Army and Navy. Be it known to all internal and external enemies of Pakistan that the spirit of fighting against all odds lives on in the hearts of all PAF personnel today as we re-visit and celebrate 6th September this year.