English Electric Canberra and the Indian Air Force
The Indian Air Force (IAF) acquired the English Electric (EE) Canberra bomber starting in 1957. Three basic variants were operated: B(I).Mk.8, PR.Mk.7 and T.Mk.4, customized and purpose-built for the IAF as B(I).Mk.58, TT.Mk.418, PR.Mk.57 and PR.Mk.67. Additional aircraft were acquired from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and a smaller number from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). India eventually emerged as the biggest export customer for the type, and the 91 aircraft acquired were distributed between 7 different IAF squadrons over last 40 years. The IAF units flying Canberras are the No.5 Tuskers, No.6 Dragons, No.16 Rattlers, No.35 Rapiers, No.106 Lynxes Strategic Photo Reconnaissance (SPR) Squadron, the now-defunct Jet Bomber Conversion Unit (JBCU) and the No.2 Target Towing Unit, although there were never more than five units operating the type simultaneously.
Among the salient features of this bird were a large payload with the choice of mixing and matching a suitable configuration. A 20 mm gun pack with no less but 500 rounds could be fitted in the belly and the aircraft featured weapon rails on the wings. Its extremely high endurance and range could be fully exploited due to its ability to carry a two or even a three member crew. The Canberra was also the first combat aircraft in the IAF to feature an autopilot and hence considerably reduced pilot fatigue for long missions. On one occasion in Congo, when the pilot had to go forward to aid the navigator injured by ground fire – he could do so only after setting the aircraft on autopilot.
On the avionics front, a tail-facing radar-warning-receiver called ”Orange Putter” was mounted to provide early warning from chasing interceptors. This also proved to be helpful in actual combat since the pilot could undertake evasive maneouvers to avoid contact. The job of the navigator was far from easy and required excellent coordination between the crew: sitting behind a large plexiglas nose, exposed to the AAA and bird-hits, with no ejection seat, the navigator was extremely vulnerable and had to be completely confident about the pilot. Nevertheless, the Canberra was a very agile aircraft for its size. Its qualities added up nicely – and it is no surprise that the type holds the record for the longest serving aircraft type in the IAF.
In IAF service, Canberras have dropped weapon loads in four separate conflicts facing varying levels of complexity and quality of opposition. In the Kashmir War, 1965, the Canberra was also the only combat aircraft in the IAF inventory that could fight by night. The avionics, the payload, and the range enabled the IAF to launch bold strikes deep into the enemy airspace, including the PAF base in Peshawar. This involved flying across almost the entire breadth of Pakistan. In the post-1971 conflicts only recce missions have been flown. They have flown over Africa, India-Pakistan and Sri Lanka during war and peace keeping efforts by the Indian forces. Roles assigned to the Canberra crews included long-range reconnaissance, counter-interdiction, Electronic Warfare (EW), and as we will see later Suppression Of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD)…The Canberra is also a member of an elite club of three IAF types that have survived a direct missile hit (the other two being Su-7 and An-32). Reconnaissance versions are still flown not only by the IAF but also by the RAF even today, and the last used them actively over Iraq in March and April 2003.
|An IAF Canberra B(I).Mk.66, seen during refuelling in Sharyah, in 1968. Note the wingtip tanks and anti-glare paint on the nose. The cover over the cokpit is for protection of the instruments from the sun. (Tom Cooper collection)|
War in 1965
In 1965, Pakistan Army hatched a brilliant plan to wrest Jammu and Kashmir from India, by deploying hundreds of mercenary fighters across the Cease Fire Line (now known as the LoC - with some modifications) in civilian garb and cause an insurrection among the ”suppressed” people of Kashmir. The plan, code-named ”Operation Gibraltar”, was put into action in early August 1965. Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, the Kashmiri people refused to co-operate with the invaders, so the “Mujahids” went on to create arson, murder, rape and robbery in Kashmir and the Indian Army was called to save the people from the invaders. Desperate after the initial plan bust, the Pakistan Army then made a major armour-cum-infantry thrust into the Chhamb area and threatened the vital Akhnur bridge on the Jammu-Punch road, in turn causing the outbreak of the full-scale war.
In 1965, Pakistan was still composed of two entities separated by India: West Pakistan and East Pakistan (Bangladesh since 1971). For most of this war the action was to be concentrated to the border between West Pakistan and India, and there was only a very limited exchange between the two sides in the East. The Indian Air Force, at the time organized into the Western and Eastern Air Commands, had consequently to deploy its Canberra force over several widely separated airfields. The Squadrons No. 5, and 35, equipped mainly with Canberra B(I).Mk.58s were based at Ambala and Lohegaon AFS, and served – together with the Sqn No. 106, flying Canberra PR.Mk.57s from Agra AFS – with the Western Air Command. The Sqn No.16, equipped with Canberra B(I).Mk.58s, was based at Kalaikunda AFS, and subordinated to the Eastern Air Command.
Theoretically, the Canberra was grossly outdated by the time, especially as the PAF operated a squadron of F-104A Starfighter interceptors, the only type on both sides equipped with a radar. Besides the Pakistani Starfighters – around 30 F-86F Sabres were armed with AIM-9B Sidewinders. While belonging to an early generation of AAMs they were still far more reliable than the R-13, a Soviet copy of the AIM-9B, with which the few Indian MiG-21F-13s were equipped. The sole MiG-21 Sqn, which held just nine aircraft in its inventory, was still working up when war started, and hence played an inconsequential role in the conflict.
The IAF Canberras were difficult to operate by night due to poor light transmission of the wind screen, and hence flew bombing missions mostly by day. While there were considerable gaps in the Pakistani radar net, they were still vulnerable to all Pakistani fighters during the day and Starfighters by night. But perhaps due to the fact that the maximum fleet of the PAF was concentrated at PAF Sargodha, there was enough space for the IAF Canberra-fleet to play a significant role.
|IAF Canberra B.(I).Mk.58 "IF898" (originally built for RAF as XK959) of the No 5 Sqn IAF, "Tuskers", seen while staging through Khormaksar, in 1962. The aircraft belonged to the IAF detachment with the UN units in Congo - "Opération des Nations Unies au Congo" (ONUC). Note the belly gun pack and squadron crest. (Tom Cooper collection)|
16 Sqn Rattlers
Interestingly enough, the unit picked to fly the raid against the PAF radar station at Badin was the No. 16 Sqn, known as “The Rattlers”, a unit flying Canberras since 1958. The Rattlers had already seen some action during the fighting against the Portuguese for the liberation of Goa and two other Portuguese colonies in India. Their war in 1965, however, was to become the first serious test of the unit.
In 1965, the No. 16 Sqn was under command of Wing Commander (Wg. Cdr.) Peter M Wilson, and originally stationed at Kalaikunda AFS, in the eastern theatre. The war began for the No.16 Sqn with an order for a probe attack against the Chittagong airfield in the morning of 7 September, to neutralize any PAF aircraft on the ground. However, the intelligence turned out to be poor and the Canberras returned after attacking the airfield.
After few other Indian strikes against targets elsewhere in East Bangladesh, the Pakistanis were swift to retaliate: at 0630hrs of 7 September, four Sabres lead by PAF Sqn. Ldr. Syed, penetrated the Indian airspace and attacked Kalaikunda. Arriving over their target just minutes after Wilson and his wingman landed, they achieved complete surprise and destroyed two 16 Sqn Canberras. In another raid the same day two more were destroyed bringing the total 16 Sqn losses on the ground to four. There was very little combat in the Eastern theatre for the rest of the war.
The No. 16 Sqn was shifted to the West, to Bareli AFS, and from the early hours of 17 September it started flying operations against West Pakistan. The first targets – attacked along with the bombers from the No. 5 Sqn Tuskers – were PAF bases at Chak Jhumra, Akwal, and Sargodha. Five Canberras from the No.16 Sqn participated in the strike against Sargodha, where no enemy aircraft were sighted, following which all aircraft returned safely. After a single-ship recce mission, however, the unit was to get a far more important – but also complex and dangerous task: an attack against the Pakistani radar station at Badin.
|Port-side view of the IF898. The "Orange Putter" radar-warning-receiver of the IAF Canberras functioned excellently in the war 1965, and warned the crews several times of PAF interceptors, in turn enabling them to take evasive action. For a number of reasons, however, several IAF Canberra attacks during this war were not very successful: while the aircraft were relatively well-euqipped, their ordnance was obsolete, and many of the bombs failed to detonate. The heavy strike against the PAF radar station near Badin, however, was different in so far that all bombs detonated and caused considerable damage on secondary installations. (Artwork by Tom Cooper)|
Badin is located in south-western Pakistan, on a flat and sandy terrain typical of Sindh, where post- independence availability of irrigation allowed cultivation of land for agriculture. Badin was home to a very effective radar station, operated by the No. 408 Sqn PAF. This was not just another radar node, but one of the two Sector Operations Centres (SOCs) of the Pakistani Air Defence Ground Environment system (ADGE), the other similar station being at Sakesar. The facility consisted of FPS-6 radar(s) with a search range of around 350 Km with a peak power of 3.5 MW. The technology available to the PAF was unique to the subcontinent and was a result the military assistance given by the USA as required in the SEATO treaty. From Badin the PAF could monitor air activity over Indian air bases like Bhuj, Jamnagar, Uttarlai and Jaisalmer. The nearest important PAF air base was at Mauripur (known as PAF Masroor since 1967).
Modern AirForces, including the present IAF, operate autonomous missiles that can attack enemy locations such as Badin from standoff ranges. Even today, the so-called SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) missions are considered the most difficult of military air operations: at the time, however without any anti-radar missiles or sophisticated electronic countermeasures (ECM), attacking targets of this type so deep inside the enemy airspace was an extremely complicated task, especially as the high value assets like such long-range radars are always fiercely protected, with a matrix of ground-based air defences and manned interceptors deployed around them. Yet, in 1965 the IAF had to rely on simple weaponry that was not too different from those required in other, “safer”, missions.
The target-intel for the strike on the radar station in Badin was provided by a reconnaissance sortie flown by a single Canberra PR.Mk.57 of the No.106 Squadron, piloted by Sqn. Ldr. JM Nath, the CO of this unit. Before the 1965 war, Sqn Ldr JM Nath already had the honour of a Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), which he had earned in the 1962 Canberra operations against the Chinese. The photographs from this mission unveiled two large domes, mounted on towers 80ft high: the intelligence crews informed Wg. Cdr. Wilson that the azimuth antenna – which was considered the most important, and therefore assigned as a main target for the coming strike – was mounted on the top of the eastern tower. A decision was taken the strike to be lead by a single Canberra, which would be equipped with 68mm rockets and the gun-pack. Four other aircraft would carry free-fall bombs while one would act as decoy. All aircraft were to operate from Agra: although much closer to Badin than Bareli, the distance was still over 1,000 Km to the target. The aircraft were all to approach the target at a very low level. Then the leader would mark it with rockets for four bomb-armed aircraft that were to meanwhile climb and then bomb from a medium level. This was in accordance to the standard IAF tactics of the time that called for marking the target in order to increase the precision of medium-level bomb-attacks.
Wg. Cdr. Wilson, who flew this strike with his wartime navigator Sqn. Ldr. ON “Shanks” Shankaran, later recalled:
“The fourth and last mission flown by the squadron was against Badin on the 21st September and mounted from Agra. There were no staging airfields though the aircraft landed for fuel on the way back. The mission consisted of 6 aircraft and was mounted at 10:00 hrs. on target with no escorts of any description.
The aim of the mission was to destroy the eastern dome of the SU, which was wrongly thought to be the azimuth radar, and to damage supporting installations. Since level bombing was not accurate enough to destroy the dome, it was decided to use 68mm rockets, which had sufficient velocity to approach the accuracy of gun fire.
The plan of attack required one aircraft to climb to 10,000 feet - 80 miles short of target to act as a decoy in case of fighter pressure over target. This aircraft returned to base after a brief exposure.
Four aircraft at two-minute intervals approached at very low level and then climbed to 7000 ft. AGL for bomb runs. The first two aircraft carried 2 x 4000 lb bombs (World War II vintage) and the next two aircraft 6 x 1000 lb bombs each. The ballistics of the 4000 lbs. bombs were unknown and the first two bombs fell short, causing the crew to call for correction. The second aircraft was more accurate and the other two aircraft had no problem.
The rocket firing aircraft carrying 2 x 19/68 mm pods approached from the south at 30 feet AGL and fired upwards at the dome. Only one pod fired and the rockets were seen to splash the dome. The aircraft exited the area eastward.
There was considerable smoke on target and flak bursts were numerous. Since not a single 20mm round was fired, Badin village could only have been hit by fire from the Pakistani A-A guns."
|While starting from Bareli AB, the Canberras of the No.16 Sqn staged through Agra while underway to Badin, in order to refuel: the distance to the target was still over 1.000km - on a direct course, and it is certain that Wg.Cdr. Wilon took care to fly around the nearest radar stations in eastern Pakistan.|
Wilson’s original plan called for an attack after a direct approach from the east, and egress towards west. On the final approach, however, he misidentified another feature as his target and altered his course accordingly. Realizing his mistake only in the final moments he aborted and turned around for a second pass. Still at a very low level – some 30ft AGL – but now on a south-north axis, he acquired the target and rocketed it successfully. The eastern tower of the Badin radar station was completely obliterated by no less but 19 hits of 68mm rockets fired from his Canberra – and then additionally pulverized by 28.000lbs of high explosive bombs dropped from the five other bombers. At least one Pakistani NCO was killed on the ground: Leading Aircraftman Muhammad Anwar Hussain Khan reportedly died of his injuries sustained while attempting to extinguish fire.
The Pakistani AAA was heavy but ineffective, and the PAF also failed to scramble or vector any interceptors against neither the strike package nor the decoy - so the Pakistani claim that Gnat F.Mk.1 fighters escorted the Indian bombers, which were engaged by PAF Sabres lacked any basis. The Pakistanis also claimed that the IAF strafed the Badin village, however, Wg. Cdr. Wilson dismissed any such claims: during the mission only two bombers carried guns, one of which was his own – which did not fire even a single round - and the other was the decoy aircraft that never even approached the target area. Nevertheless, the claim for the Gnat escorts has ever since been repeated in quite a few books, including those published by John Fricker and Victor Bingham.
Except for Wg. Cdr. PM Wilson and his navigator, Sqn. Ldr. ON Shankaran, only two other names from the crews that participated in the Badin strike are known: “Kaddu” Rajput and PP “Pooky” Singh. Rest of the names and ranks remain unknown at this point, this should not imply, however, that they deserve lesser credit.
It was only after the war that the IAF was to learn about the dome on the destroyed eastern tower in Badin to have actually contained the antenna for the height finding and the GCI radars, and not the azimuth unit they expected there. This fact, however, could not diminish the success of the strike: quite on the contrary, the loss of the GCI-aperture and the supporting installations was a severe blow for the PAF.
Sqn. Ldr. JM Nath, CO of the 106 SPR Sqn flew many recce sorties over deep in hostile territory, generally single aircraft formations. Accordingly he was awarded with the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), becoming one of only five pilots awarded this medal during the whole war: thus earning the rare distinction of receiving this medal twice.
|JM Nath seen already with the rank of Wing Commander. When the Kashmir War began, in 1965, he already earned one MVC, for his feats during the 1962 campaign against China. (Jagan Pillariseti, via A. Gupta)|
For the daring daylight raid against Badin, Wg. Cdr. Wilson was awarded the Vir Chakra (VC), one of the highest Indian military decorations in war. During the 1971 War he was the Station Commander of Jamnagar AFS where the Armament Training Wing (ATW) was operating. Now with the rank of Group Captain, he put his combat-experience to a good use: for participating in the planning of daring strikes against the petroleum facilities in Karachi, Masroor, and Badin he was to receive the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM). He retired from the IAF as Air Commodore (Air Cmde).
|Gp Capt PM Wilson. As Group Captain he served as Base Commander of ATW, Jamnagar during the 1971 conflict. (Courtsey Jagan Pillarisetti)|
Despite a relatively poor start, the No. 16 Sqn IAF was to prove its worth and capability later during the fighting. The No.16 Sqn returned with Canberras to fly combat sorties over Pakistan in 1971, but today operates Jaguar IS fighter-bombers. The Canberra even today equips one flight of the 106 Sqn, and are expected to soldier on with the IAF for a few more years.
On the Pakistani side, Leading Aircraftman Khan was posthumously awarded the Tamgha-e-Juraat medal: he was buried near the Main Guard room of the Badin complex. The radars of the No. 408 Sqn PAF at Badin were later upgraded to the FPX-89/100 standard before being decommissioned at an unknown point in time, and replaced by the long-range, three-dimensional radars of the TPS-43G family.
Shocked by the devastation caused to Badin, the PAF made amendments by constructing numerous dummy sites in the area. During the 1971 war radar stations at both Badin and Sakesar were repeatedly attacked by the IAF: that, however, is a completely different story…
List of Indian gallantry awards in descending order of merit (wartime):
- Param Vir Chakra (PVC)
- Maha Vir Chakra (MVC)
- Vir Chakra (VC)
List of IAF/PAF Officer Ranks in descending order:
- Air Chief Marshal (ACM)
- Air Marshal (AM)
- Air Vice Marshal (AVM)
- Air Commodore (Air Cmde)
- Group Captain (Gp Capt)
- Wing Commander (Wg Cdr)
- Sqadron Leader (Sqn Ldr)
- Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt)
- Flying Officer (Fl Offr)
- Pilot Officer (Pt Offr)
List Of Abbreviations used in this article:
- AAM (Air to Air Missile)
- AFS (Air Force Station or AF Stn)
- AGL (Above Ground Level)
- CO (Commanding Officer)
- ECM (Electronic Counter Measures)
- EE (English Electric)
- GBAD (Ground Based Air Defences)
- SEAD (Suppression Of Enemy Air Defences) also known as DEAD
- SOC (Sector Operations Centre) also called ADCC (Air Defence Command Centre)
References and Credits
- E-mail correspondence with K Sree Kumar
- E-mail correspondence with Jagan Pillarisetti
- E-mail correspondence with Tom Cooper
- PM Wilson’s description of the raid – personal correspondence to Jagan Pillariseti
- ”The Canberra and the MiG-21 in 1965”
- Veterans: Air Cmde PM Wilson (retd)
- My Recollections of Pete Wilson By Wg Cdr Suresh (retd)
- 1965 Pakistan Air Force ORBAT
- Pakistan Air Force: Radar and SAM Squadrons
- PAF Badin
- Sree’s review of Folland Gnat: Sabre Slayer and Red Arrow posted at Bharat Rakshak Forum
- Program used to calculate distance between Agra and Badin:
- Co-ordinates used to calculate distances have been obtained from http://www.scramble.nl. Those for Badin are approximate and are available at http://www.wunderground.com.
- 1965 Air War Project:
- The Canberras in the Congo: 1960
- Liberation of Goa: 1961 (Air Operations)
- Pakistan Air Force: Radar and SAM Squadrons
© Copyright 2002-3 by ACIG.org
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|India - Pakistan War, 1971; Western Front, Part I|
|India - Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction|
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|The Kashmir War, 1965: Raid on Badin|
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