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India - Pakistan War, 1971; Western Front, Part I
By Tom Cooper, with Syed Shaiz Ali
Oct 29, 2003, 04:47

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Balance of Forces: IAF and PAF in the West

In the western theatre of operations, the IAF and the PAF deployed the following units during the 1971 War:

IAF
Western Air Command
Sector Kashmir and Chhamb
- No.1 Squadron, MiG-21FL, based at Adampur (CO Wg.Cdr. Upkar Singh)
- No.3 Squadron, Mystére IVA, based at Sirsa, then Hindon/Halwara (CO Wg.Cdr. Dogra)
- No.18 Squadron, Gnat F.Mk.1, based at Srinagar (CO Wg.Cdr. Raina)
- No.20 Squadron, Hunter F.Mk.56, based at Pathankot (CO Wg.Cdr. Parker)
- No.23 Squadron, Gnat F.Mk.1, based at Pathankot (CO Wg.Cdr. Mohan)
- No.26 Squadron, Su-7BMK, based at Adampur (CO Wg.Cdr. Batra)
- No.27 Squadron, Hunter F.Mk.56, based at Pathankot (CO Wg.Cdr. Mehta)
- No.31 Squadron, Mystére IVA, based at Hindon/Halwara (CO Wg.Cdr. Trehan)
- No.32 Squadron, Su-7BMK, based at Ambala (CO Wg.Cdr. Manget)
- No.45 Squadron, MiG-21FL, based at Chandigarh, then Pathankot, finally Nal (CO Wg.Cdr. Anand)
- No.101 Squadron, Su-7BMK, based at Adampur (CO Wg.Cdr. Khanna)
- No.108 Squadron, Su-7BMK, based at Halwara, then Chandigarh (CO Wg.Cdr. Deshmukh)
- No.120 Squadron, Mystére IVA, based at Nal (CO ?)
- No.222 Squadron, Su-7BMK, based at Halwara (CO Wg.Cdr. D’Costa)
- TACDE (one flight), MiG-21FL, based at Amritsar/Ambala (CO Wg.Cdr. Mukerjee)
- TACDE (one flight), Su-7BMK, based at Amritsar/Ambala (CO Wg.Cdr. Mukerjee)

Sector Naya Chor and Ramgarh Desert
- No.10 Squadron, 16 HF-24 Maruts & 2 Hunter T.Mk.66s, based at Uttarlai/Jodhpur (CO Wg.Cdr. Aggarwal)
- No.21 Squadron, Gnat F.Mk.1, based at Uttarlai/Ahmedabad (CO Wg.Cdr. Malik)
- No.29 Squadron, MiG-21FL, based at Hindon, det. at Uttarlai (CO Wg.Cdr. Swardekar)
- No.122 Operational Training Unit, 4 Hunter F.Mk.56 & T.Mk.66, based at Jaisalmer, (CO Wg.Cdr. D.M. Conquest)
- No.220 Squadron, HF-24 Marut, based at Uttarlai/Jodhpur (CO Wg.Cdr. Dhawan)

Sector Rann of Kutch and Gulf of Kutch
- No.6 Squadron, L-1049 Constellation, based at Poone
- No.35 Squadron, Canberra B.(I).Mk.58/B.Mk.66, based at Poone (CO Wg.Cdr. Badhwar)
- No.47 Squadron, MiG-21FL, based at Jamnagar/Halwara (CO Wg.Cdr. Gill)
- No.106 Squadron, Canberra PR.Mk.57, based at Agra (CO Wg.Cdr. Thakar)
- JBCU, Canberra (different marks), based at Agra (CO Wg.Cdr. S.Thakar)

Central Air Command
- No.5 Squadron, Canberra B(I).Mk.58/B.Mk.66, based at Agra (CO Wg.Cdr. Talwar)
- No.8 Squadron, MiG-21FL, based at Poone (CO Wg.Cdr. Sen)
- No.9 Squadron, Gnat F.Mk.1, based at Jamnagar, later Halwara (CO Wg.Cdr. Yadav)

PAF
- No.2 Squadron, 11 T-33A, ? T-6 Texans, based at Masroor (CO Wg.Cdr. A.A. Randhawa)
- No.5 Squadron, 17 Mirage IIIEP, 3 Mirage IIIRP, 3 Mirage IIIDP, based at Sargodha (CO Wg.Cdr. Hakimullah)
- No.6 Squadron, 9 C-130B/E Hercules, based at Masroor (CO Wg.Cdr. S. Nisar Yunus)
- No.7 Squadron, 18 B-57B, 1 B-57C, 1 RB-57F, with 8 B-57s at Mianwali and the ballance of the fleet at Masroor (CO Wg.Cdr. M. Yunis)
- No.9 Squadron, 5 F-104A, 2 F-104B, based at Sargodha, moved to Masroor on 6 December, then temporary detachment in Bhagtanwala (CO Wg.Cdr. Arif Iqbal)
- No.11 Squadron, 16 F-6A, based at Sargodha, detachment at Mianwali (CO Wg.Cdr. Sikander M. Khan)
- No.12 Squadron, 3 F.27 for VIP-transport, based at Chaklala (CO Wg.Cdr. M.M. Suhail)
- No.15 Squadron, 12 F-86F, based at Murid (CO Wg.Cdr. S. Nazir Jilani)
- No.16 Squadron, not active: all pilots to No.26 Squadron
- No.17 Squadron, 18 Sabre F.Mk.6, based at Rafiqui (CO Wg.Cdr. G. Mujtaba Qureshi)
- No.18 Squadron, 24 Sabre F.Mk.6, based at Sargodha, Detachment later to Chander (CO Wg.Cdr. A.I.Bukhari)
- No.19 Squadron, 16 Sabre F.Mk.6 (none equipped with AIM-9B), 8 F-86F (all AIM-9B-equipped), based at Masroor (CO Wg.Cdr. Sheikh M. Saleem)
- No.20 Squadron, 3 RT-33A, based in Masroor (CO Flt.Lt. Parvez Saeed)
- No.23 Squadron, 16 F-6A, based in Risalewala, detachment at Shorkot (CO Wg.Cdr. S.M.H. Hashimi)
- No.25 Squadron, 16 F-6A, based at Sargodha, detachment at Murid (CO Wg.Cdr. Sa’ad A. Hatmi)
- No.26 Squadron, 24 F-86F, based at Peshawar (CO Wg.Cdr. S.A. Changezi)
- No.83 Squadron (?), 8 (?) SA.316B, based at? (CO ?)




Pakistani Decision

Pakistan had very little – to nothing – to gain from a full-scale war with India. The UN was completely disinterested in East Pakistan’s plight as long as Pakistan kept the affair a domestic concern. Nevertheless, it was Yahya Khan who decided to launch an attack on India – code-named “Operation Chengiz Khan” - thus starting a war that ended in a catastrophe. After realizing that Pakistan’s strategy to prevent an Indian military intervention failed, and knowing East Pakistan was indefensible in the long run, he hoped to gain sufficient Indian territory in the West, which could be traded for East Pakistan territory in the post-war negotiations. For this purpose, he considered that it was in Pakistan’s interest to start the fighting at the time and in a manner of own choice.

It is often said that the Pakistani Air Force thought in terms of emulating the Israelis from 1967, that it was to surprise the IAF by attacking its forward airfields at a point in time this was the least expected, and neutralise these in order to obtain at least battlefield air superiority in the West. It appears illogical that the PAF commanders expected to achieve anything of this kind by deploying only 30% of the total fighting force for this attack.

Certainly, the PAF needed air superiority to operate effectively in the West and the memories of the Arab-Israeli War in 1967 were still fresh. It is also certain that the moment of surprise was important and attacking on Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, at 17:45hrs, when shifts in IAF control centres were changing, was a sound decision. But, the PAF knew it could not achieve any kind of similar effects with one, dramatic pre-emptive strike, nor shatter the IAF in any kind of an all-out offensive before providing close air support to Gen. Tikka Khan’s offensive – which was to pose sufficient threat to force India to divert her forces from the east.

The IDF/AF, the Israeli Air Force, was preparing for its onslaught against Arab airfields in 1967 for years, and Israel enjoyed direct and extensive support of the USA and France during preceding preparations. The IDF/AF was not only equipped with special weapons for destruction of runway, but had also built replicas of most important Arab airfields: a pre-emptive strike against Egyptian Air Force was the essence of all of its war plans. To the contrary, a better part of the PAF was almost immobilized before the USA supplied spare parts, in March 1971, and could not train any similar operations, while the Pakistani economy was in ruin and unable to support an appropriate development of its military. The Pakistani intelligence was insufficient and proper, in-depth planning of an all-out onslaught technically impossible: the PAF could not muster sufficient force to hit most important Indian airfields simultaneously with sufficient force, nor reach deep enough to obtain durable results. The Pakistani Air Force also lacked ammunition for runway denial: although these were available in France, the PAF could not afford them. Finally, the Pakistanis had to expect that PAF’s former Bangali personnel revealed its most important secrets to the Indians, and that the IAF was expecting a pre-emptive strike against its forward airfields. A large-scale offensive was therefore doomed to fail, likely to cause heavy losses and bring the PAF in a position where it could never seriously challenge IAF operations.

The PAF had, however, positive experiences from some of counter air strikes mounted in 1965, and – foremost – from night-attacks of its B-57s in that war. It could expect to obtain comparative results to some operations from 1965, forcing the IAF into defensive, or at least to keep itself back from flying more intensive counter air operations against Pakistan. For this purpose a two-wave dusk strike, followed by a series of night interdiction raid was deemed sufficient. It is also possible, that the actual purpose of the pre-emptive attack was an attempt to provoke international intervention in order to restrain India, while trying to ensure that as much of Pakistani military remained intact for political and diplomatic purposes after the end of hostilities. Surely enough, after the war demands appeared for an inquiry as to why PAF strength was persistently withheld from the battle...

The decision to launch a pre-emptive offensive was brought in a relatively unusual manner, during a meeting between the Pakistani President Gen. Yahya Khan, Chief of Staff Gen. Abdul Hammed Khan, and Chief of General Staff, Gen. Gul Hassan, on 30 November, with the D-Day being set for 3 December. To counter-balance the IAF’s numerical advantage, the PAF demanded the opportunity to attack Indian FOBs and attempt reducing the weight of expected counterattacks on own bases.

The final order for attack was issued by the Pakistani President Gen. Yahya Khan, at 17:30hrs local time, on 3 December 1971, who was at the PAF Command Centre. The assigned PAF units were ready, and barely ten minutes later the first formations began their roll for take off. Their targets: two airfields in Kashmir, five in Punjab and three to the south in the initial assault: apparently, the PAF expected that the IAF was already deployed well forward, near the border – something the Indians were actually only about to start doing!

The Pre-Emptive Strike

The first sign for Indians that something was about to happen was when at 17:39hrs two Mirages – obviously one IIIRP recce-bird, escorted by a single IIIEP – thundered at low level over Pathankot AB. The time was insufficient to scramble fighters before, two minutes later, six PAF F-86Fs, led by Wg.Cdr. Jilan, attacked Pathankot. Undisturbed except for AAA, the Sabres attacked with unguided rockets and dropped several 125kg bombs, causing some damage on runway, so that the ground crews needed several hours for repairs, during which the airfield was covered by interceptors from Adampur.

At 17:45hrs, four Mirages led by Wg.Cdr. Hakimullah attacked Amritsar AB dropping two 500kg bombs each, holing the first 300m of the runway and rendering it inoperational. The later was repaired in time for the airfield to receive a number of MiG-21s, already during the same night, followed by eight No.32 Squadron’s Su-7BMKs, arriving from Adampur and ordered to fly a counter-air strike against Shorkot/Rafiqui AB, on the next morning. During an attempt to pin-point and then attack the P-35-radar station at Amritsar by two F-104As, the well deployed Indian AAA claimed one Starfighter as shot down, but both Pakistanis not only evaded any damage, but also hit the radar, causing it to stop operations for at least one hour.

At 17:50hrs six F-86Fs led by Wg.Cdr. Changezi, attacked Srinagar – still fully lit up – with 250kg bombs, while six F-86Fs led by Wg.Cdr. Abdul Aziz attacked Awantipur. Neither formation achieved any special results (especially since no IAF aircraft were based at the later airfield) just like four Mirage IIIEPs led by Sqn.Ldr. Akhtar Rao (other sources cite that Sqn.Ldr. Khan led this formation), which attacked Pathankot with 500kg bombs. At 17:53hrs, two F-104As led by Wg.Cdr. Arif Iqbal, attacked the radar station at Faridkot, armed with cannon. The P-35 radar was damaged, and one light aircraft parked near the runway was hit and set afire as well.

In accordance with the pre-set strategy and tactics, the 32 PAF fighters deployed for these raids were limited to one pass at a relatively high level (pilots were ordered not to operate bellow a level of 300m): by compromising precision, the Pakistanis attempted to keep their aircraft safe from small arms fire and AAA. In return, not much was achieved, even if all planes returned safely. Although there was some confusion on the Indian side, overall, the IAF was well prepared to survive an attack of this kind, and after the Indian PM informed the nation of Pakistani attack per radio, the IAF continued preparations for the attack that was to follow the next morning, foremost by deploying additional aircraft to its forward airfields. These were to be disturbed only by the third wave of the PAF counter air strikes, involving 15 B-57s, four T-33s, and one C-130, which began arriving over their targets around 18:00hrs.

Two B-57s led by Wg.Cdr. Rais Rafi, hit Ambala with eight bombs, causing minor damage on runway. Agra, the most distant of all Indian airfields, was also hit by two B-57s, led by Wg.Cdr. Yunus, and suffered minor damage to the runway. Most successful were two B-57s led by Sqn.Ldr. Abdul Basit, which attacked Halwara with eight bombs, three of which landed on the runway making two large craters. The damage here was not repaired before early next morning.

Seven other raids were flown by single-ship B-57s: the bomber flown by Flt.Lt. Javed attacked Amritsar around 22:10hrs local time, hitting the runway again, but this bomber was shot down slightly later by AAA. Bikaner and Pathankot were attacked by Sqn.Ldr. Haq and Flt.Lt. Sultan Arshad, respectively, without any special results, while Sqn.Ldr. Alvi hit Sirsa, damaging the runway heavily enough to close it for the rest of the night – foremost because his weapons have had time-daly fuses and kept detonating the whole night. Finally, the C-130 commanded by Gp.Cpt. Qayyum, attacked Srinagar. Simultaneously, four T-33s from A-Flight No.2 Squadron, led by Sqn.Ldr. Qureshi, hit Uttarlai, causing damage to the runway. The later formation was not really expected to achieve many results, but its pilots were all qualified for night flying and were to continue flying such raids for the rest of the war, gaining the nick-name “Uttarlai Night Mail” for their operations.

In the south, Sqn.Ldr. Ishtak Qureshi’s bombs hit the underground power cable at Jaisalmer, cutting off the power supply and telephone connection for the next six hours. Jodhpur was attacked by two B-57s led by Sqn.Ldr. Sohail Mansur, while Jamnagar was hit by Flt.Lt. Ejaz Azam. Uttarlai was attacked by Wg.Cdr. Akhtar, whose bombs increased the damage caused by T-33As sufficiently for the runway to remain closed for the following six days, and the taxiway to be used instead.

In total, the PAF aircraft dropped 183 bombs, of which 120 were said to have scored hits on 12 runways. Clearly, this was still a minor effort, undertaken on narrow frontage and without depth, and nothing like a total and sustained offensive until the whole enemy strike force was destroyed. Achievements were correspondingly minimal. Except in few cases, however, the PAF was unable to confirm these results. The hits at Amritsar, Pathankot, Avantipur and Srinagar were photographed by strike-cameras carried by aircraft. But, otherwise there was no serious ability for post-strike reconnaissance then out of three available Mirage IIIRPs only one remained operational after the other two suffered bird strikes during earlier operations.

Worst yet, the Pakistani attack was a perfect excuse for an Indian response – something the Indians were looking forward for and the IAF now had a whole night to prepare for the coming battle.

The IAF fleet of Canberra bombers were bombed up already by 21:00hrs and readied for their forays deep over Pakistan. The IAF launched a total of 23 combat sorties, sending Canberras of the No.35 Squadron (from Pune) and No.106 Squadron, as well as No.5 and No.16 squadron to target Murid, Mianwali, Sargodha, Chander, Risalewala, Shorkot/Rafiqui, and Masroor. Little is known about the results of these strikes, except that heavy damage was caused at Sargodha and Masroor, where runways were cratered. The PAF units stationed on these airfields had to operate from taxiways for the following two days.

In return, and despite most of IAF bombers ingressing at a very low level, several of Canberras were intercepted by PAF Mirages, and some of Indian bombers were forced to take evasive actions. Most of such engagements occurred near the Indo-Pakistani border, when Canberras were climbing on egress. While other bombers came away, the Canberra B(I).Mk.58 from JBCU IAF, flown by Flt.Lt. M. Sasoon and R.M. Advani, was caught by Sqn.Ldr. N. Atta at a higher level and shot down by one Matra R.530 air-to-air missile.

Although the Mirages of No.5 Squadron PAF were to fire no less but 16 Matras by the end of the war, all the other missiles of this type missed, resulting in a considerable disappointment with this weapon. Nevertheless, their activities in pursuit of Canberras often brought them well inside the Indian airspace, in turn forcing the IAF to react by mounting night-time CAPs, using MiG-21s. This, in turn, resulted in at least one “blue-on-blue” engagement between Indian fighters during that war. More about this later.

Battle for Airfields

Although the purpose of the war was to enforce decision in East Pakistan, the IAF concluded that Western Theatre was the area of decision. Nevertheless, the list of priority objectives, based on experiences from 1965, was the same on both sides: defence of own bases, support of the Army and Navy including gaining and maintaining of battlefield air superiority, counter air operations against enemy airfields and radar stations and interdicting targets of strategic value for Pakistan’s capability to sustain the war, providing air transport to own forces and providing maritime air support.

The IAF also planned to take the offensive right from the begin, foremost by mounting relentless attacks on PAF airfields and radar installations, thus forcing the PAF to deploy own forces for defence, in turn giving the IAF a free hand to concentrate on its other tasks. Exactly such an action was the worst nightmare of the PAF, something that should have been prevented by the strikes of 3 December; then, with first light of the following day, one IAF formation after the other took off and turned west, penetrating deep into Pakistan at very low level, well bellow the Pakistani radar coverage. The PAF ground control could only order its interceptors to take off and bring them in position over routes which were most likely to be used by Indian fighters. For the PAF it was a battle for naked survival.

As the Su-7s of No.32 Squadron arrived in Amritsar, very early in the morning, and the whole formation was rolling along the taxiway to their blast pens, two PAF F-6s appeared without any previous warning and attacked. As in a miracle, the Pakistanis narrowly missed destroying the whole Indian unit. While there is no Pakistani source confirming such an attack, it should be mentioned here that the PAF flew additional counter air strikes on the morning of 4 December. For example, the No.9 Squadron launched a total of three missions, including six F-104A-sorties. The first mission was flown against the IAF radar station near Banila: the Starfighters used their 20mm guns only, but with unknown results. The other two missions were undertaken against the IAF radar station near Amritsar, but more about them later.

The IAF counter air operations were spearheaded by two No.27 Squadron Hunters. These were borrowed by CO No.20 Squadron, Wg.Cdr. C.V. Parker, for flying a dawn strike against Peshawar, which resulted with two decoys destroyed on the ground. While returning, the Indian formation was intercepted by the F-86Fs from No.26 Squadron, flown by Wg.Cdr. S.A. Changezi and Flt.Lt. Amjad Andarabi. The Pakistanis claimed two Hunters as shot down, but actually only scored a number of 12,7mm hits on both aircraft, causing no sufficient damage to shot them down (technicians later counted 22 bullet holes in Parker’s Hunter “A485”). Although short on fuel, Parker and his No.2, Flt.Lt. C.S. Dhilon, were finally forced to turn back and engage: two Sabres went after Parker, and one after Dhilon. Dhilon outmanoeuvred his opponent and reached Pathankot safely. Parker meanwhile forced one F-86 to overshoot and claimed it as shot; in fact, both Sabres returned safely to their base.

"A485" was the Hunter F.Mk.56A flown by Wg.Cdr. Parker during the morning strike against Peshawar, on 4 December 1971. The plane originally belonged to the No.27 Squadron (see the unit insignia on the nose), while Parker was CO No.20 Squadron, but he borrowed this fighter for the mission - and returned it with 22 bullet holes in the fin and rear fuselage, as well a claim for one Sabre kill to credit! (All Artworks by Tom Cooper)


Four Su-7s attacked Mianwali around 06:30hrs. They were detected too late for the PAF fighters to prevent them from reaching their target, but once over the target the Sukhois were jumped by F-6s of the No.25 Squadron and Flt.Lt. Irfan claimed one as shot down by an AIM-9B: actually, all the Indian aircraft came away undamaged at low level in the morning mist.

The first main wave of IAF fighter-bombers reached their targets – PAF airfields in northern and central Pakistan – around 10:30hrs. Four No.20 Squadron Hunters, led by Sqn.Ldrs. Bajpai And Muralidharan, attacked Peshawar. The Hunters carried out one strafing run against two F-86s on the ground, and hit an oil depot. Shortly after they were intercepted by two Sabres, flown by Flt.Lts. Khalid Razzak and Salim Baig Mirza. Razzak attacked the Indian leader, while Mirza approached the rear Hunter: the four fighters formed a chain of aircraft, firing at each other while manoeuvring at high speed and very low level. Warning Razzak to break, Mirza finally hit the Hunter (“A462”) in front of his Sabre, causing it to crash immediately. Muralidharan was killed. Bajpai’s Hunter was also damaged, but he made a safe emergency landing at the newly-constructed Jammu airfield.

Su-7s of No.32 Squadron and from No.26 Squadron attacked Sargodha, one after the other, around 10:30hrs. The formation from later unit arrived over its target right at the time as two F-104s took off. Pakistani Squadron Leader Bhatti claimed one Su-7 as shot down, using AIM-9B. In fact, his missile damaged the Sukhoi flown by Wg.Cdr. Mangat, but the Indian pilot landed safely.

Some 15 minutes later, around 10:45hr, eight Su-7s from No.32 Squadron, led by Sqn.Ldr. Bhatia, attacked Shorkot/Rafiqui AB, using unguided rockets. They spotted two aircraft described as B-57s being refuelled on the tarmac and a Sabre in one of the blast pens and attacked them before turning for the next run. The Pakistanis at Shorkot were obviously caught by surprise and the Indians encountered no AAA at all: all eight aircraft recovered safely at Amritsar around noon (local time), their pilots claiming one B-57 and three F-86s as destroyed on the ground. The PAF denied to have suffered any losses: no PAF B-57s ever landed at Shorkot during the 1971 War while the destroyed Sabres should have been decoys. Namely, the Indian gun camera films showed something going up in flames near one of attacked PAF Sabres; the Sabre in question, however, can be seen to be painted “silver-grey” overall, while Sabre F.Mk.6s based at Shorkot were all camouflaged in dark sea grey and green. The claims that IAF Su-7s equipped for reconnaissance later on photographed a destroyed B-57 in Shorkot cannot be confirmed. Nevertheless, the PAF did suffer a loss during this attack, when the Sabre F.Mk.6 “1689”, flown by Flt.Lt. Nayyar Iqbal, suffered an engine flame-out during the take off, and crashed.

Eight Su-7BMKs from No.32 Squadron IAF, led by Sqn.Ldr. Bhatia, attacked Shorkot/Rafiqui AB, at 10:45hrs on 4 December 1971. Bhatia and other members of his formation claimed destruction of between one and two B-57s and up to three Sabres on the ground. All Indian fighters returned safely to Amritsar. For a mission against such a distant target, the No.32 Squadron's Su-7s were equipped with two 600-litre drop tanks under the fuselage, and armed with two UV-57-16 rocket pods under each wing.


Other PAF airfields were hit as well, with different results, albeit at as of yet unknown times. Two No.20 Squadron Hunters, flown by Flt.Lt. Prakash and Flt.Lt. Kurumbya, attacked Chaklala. Despite heavy AAA, they claimed to have hit one C-130B that was about to take off, setting it afire. The Hunters then disappeared back to India at low level before PAF fighters could attempt an interception. The PAF denied this loss as well, and it is possible that indeed no C-130B was destroyed: one of surviving PAF Bristol Freighters could have been shot up as well.

Meanwhile, No.20 Squadron Hunters, flown by Sqn.Ldr. Mistry and Sqn.Ldr. Bajpai, attacked Murid, causing lots of damage: they claimed destruction of no less but six F-86Fs of the No.15 Squadron PAF and causing much damage to installations. In fact, only one F-86F, “1187” was destroyed. Another IAF formation, led by Sqn.Ldr. Rosario, attacked Murid destroying one F-86F in the first attack. Member of this formation, Sqn.Ldr. Kailey, claimed destruction of another PAF aircraft during this attack, which could not be exactly identified, but was reportedly either a Mirage III or an F-104.

No.101 Squadron Su-7s were active as well, attacking Pasrur airfield. After finding no PAF aircraft on the ground, they unleashed their rockets on local installations instead.

No.222 Squadron Su-7s attacked Risalewala, but were intercepted by two F-6s from No.23 Squadron in the process. The Sukhois attempted to disengage at high speed and low level, but Flt.Lt. Latif shot down the Su-7 “B-849”, flown by Flt.Lt. H. Singh, while two other Sukhois were claimed as damaged.

No.23 Squadron PAF was - together with No.25 Squadron - one of the first PAF units to re-equip with Shenyang F-6 fighters, supplied from China. It was also one of the first units to score a kill in the war with India while flying this type: on the morning of 4 December, Flt.Lt. Latif intercepted a formation of No.222 Squadron IAF's Su-7 while this was attacking Risalewala, and shot down the plane flown by Flt.Lt. Singh.


The greatest success achieved a wave of 12 Indian fighters sent to attack targets in the Karachi area in southern Pakistan. The PAF never expected any kind of daylight attacks to be flown by Indians against targets in this area, and its readiness was low: consequently, the IAF air raids came as a complete surprise. Four Hunters of No.122 Squadron’s detachment based in Jamnagar (this unit was organized from aircraft and pilots drawn from Armament Training Wing, and had another detachment based at Jaisalmer) evaded detection by Pakistani radars before reaching Masroor, and then attacked using unguided rockets to claim destruction of eight F-86s and several B-57s on the ground. It seems that this strike also hit decoys, then the Pakistanis fiercely deny to have suffered any losses. Nevertheless, Masroor was extensively strafed and this is usually described as the “most successful” Indian air raid of 4 December. The PAF Sabres mounted an interception, attempting to catch the Indian fighters that were thundering at such a low level, that their jetstream was rising huge dust clouds and eyewitnesses recalled that bullets fired by both sides hit the ground near local houses. Eventually, Sqn.Ldr. Sajid, flying an F-86F of the No.19 Squadron, claimed one Hunter as shot down by AIM-9B, but all Indian fighter-bombers returned safely.

The chaos at Masroor was exploited by two other IAF sections. Four Hunters hit the oil storage depot of the Kemri Oil, in Karachi, achieving a complete success. Meanwhile, four HF-24 Maruts of the No. Sqn attacked the Hyderabad-Sind airfield, hitting the control tower and several hangars. These strikes, especially the one that set the Kemri Oil depot afire, caused immense economic damage to Pakistan.

Around this time two F-104s, led by Sqn.Ldr. Imtiaz, were underway to attack the IAF radar station at Amritsar. The results of their strike remain unknown, but the Starfighters subsequently clashed with IAF Gnats, and Imtiaz is known to have claimed a kill, using an AIM-9B. The IAF, however, suffered no losses. The other Pakistani formation of two F-104As, this time led by Sqn.Ldr. Ammanullah, was to hit Amritsar shortly after. It is known to have reached its target and attacked, but not with what success. After rolling out from their strafing runs to a course of 360°, Ammanullah noticed a formation of Su-7BMKs from No.108 Squadron IAF, and attacked them, somewhere between Halwara and Amritsar. Using an AIM-9B, Ammanullah hit the Sukhoi flown by Flt.Lt. D.R. Nathu.

The engagements fought by these two PAF formations caused some confusion for most of Pakistani observers, with most of them claiming that Ammanullah shot down a Gnat that was escorting one of IAF Su-7-formations that attacked Sargodha. Most of Indian sources are not clear in this regards either, then they usually credit the loss of this Su-7 to AAA – albeit in the Halwara area, in India. The account above comes from a former No.9 Squadron PAF pilot, and is considered as the closest to reality by the authors.

Additional Indian counter air strikes followed in the afternoon. The No.32 Squadron Su-7s, led by the unit CO, attacked Sargodha again. As the Sukhois were about to deliver their attack, the No.2 was damaged by AAA, and the plane flown by Flt.Lt. “Gauri” Gourishankar (No.3) had been hit by an AIM-9B Sidewinder, fired by Sqn.Ldr. Rashid, flying an F-86 of No.17 Squadron. The missile blew away a better part of the fin and both breaking chutes of Gourishankar’s Sukhoi. Although his aircraft already suffered combat damage as well, Flt.Lt. Pritam “Pat” Singh then turned into the two Sabres, firing his unguided rockets at them and forcing them to disengage.

No.32 Squadron attacked Shorkot/Rafiqui AB again at dusk, sending four Su-7s led by Sqn.Ldr. Bhatia. This time the Pakistani AAA-gunners were alerted in time and the Indians encountered fierce resistance, losing the No.4 of their formation (Flt.Lt. Grewal ejected and became PoW) even if claiming two Sabres destroyed on the ground, and the Sabre of Flt.Lt. Iqbal, caught in the open while rolling for take off. In fact, Iqbal’s Sabre was only damaged and later repaired. On the flight back to Amritsar, the formation was intercepted by two PAF F-86s: Sqn.Ldr. Wamiq fired two AIM-9Bs, both of which missed, but the Pakistani still claimed one of Sukhois as shot down.

Later during the war, the Su-7BMK flown by Sqn.Ldr. Bhatia during two strikes against Shorkot AB, on 4 December 1971, was seen wearin this hastily applied camouflage - exact colours of which remain unknown, and are rather a guess based on the colours used on most of the other IAF Su-7s and MiG-21s during that war. Note the traces of heavy use around the cannons, and two FAB-250 M-62 bombs under the centreline.


The No.27 Squadron Hunters attacked Mianwali at 16:30hrs, but were intercepted by two No.15 Squadron PAF F-86s, led by Flt.Lt. Mujahid Salik, who were on a CAP. Flg.Off Sudhir Tyagi claimed one Sabre as shot down, but the Pakistanis suffered no losses: in return, Tyagi’s Hunter “A490” was actually shot down by Flt.Lt. Salik.

Almost simultaneously, another Indian formation was about to attack the PAF radar station at Sakesar, when it was intercepted by two F-6s: after another high-speed pursuit, Flt.Lt. Qazi Javed shot down the Hunter “A459”, flown by Flg.Off. Chatti, over Lake Khabbaki. Chati was captured. Seconds afterwards, Javed attacked the other Hunter and claimed it as shot down by 30mm cannons, but all the other IAF fighters disengaged safely.

The IAF launched a total of 118 counter-air sorties on 4 December 1971, claiming destruction of at least 13 PAF aircraft on the ground, including seven F-86s, two F-6s, one Mirage, two B-57s, and one C-130s. In return, the Indians admitted a loss of three Hunters and a single Su-7 to PAF interceptors, two Su-7s to ground fire, and another Sukhoi in a take off accident at Adampur (the pilot was killed). The PAF claimed ten IAF fighters shot down and four damaged in air combat, as well as four shot down by AAA, while losing only one F-86 on ground (at Murid).

(To be continued…)





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