|Indo-Pakistani Aerial War of 1965|
|Part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965|
|Commanders and leaders|
|ACM Arjan Singh||AM Noor Khan|
|Indian Air Force||Pakistan Air Force|
|Casualties and losses|
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 saw the Indian and Pakistani Air Forces engaged in large-scale aerial combat against each other for the first time since the Partition of India in 1947. The war took place during the course of September 1965 and saw both air forces conduct defensive and offensive operations over Indian and Pakistani airspace. The aerial war saw both sides conducting thousands of sorties in a single month. Both sides claimed victory in the air war; Pakistan claimed to have destroyed 104 enemy aircraft against its own losses of 19, while India claimed to have destroyed 73 enemy aircraft and lost 35 of its own. Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate.
The war began in early August 1965 and initially the fighting was confined mainly to the ground. Later, however, as the war progressed, the war took on another dimension as the two sides began air operations against each other. Although the two forces had previously taken part in the First Kashmir War which had occurred shortly after the Partition of India in 1947, that engagement had been limited in scale compared to the 1965 conflict and the air operations that both sides had undertaken were limited and largely confined to interdiction and other strategic purposes such as re-supply and troop transport operations. Although there had been one incident where Indian fighter aircraft intercepted a Pakistani transport, there had been no significant air-to-air combat. During the 1965 conflict, however, the PAF flew a total 2,364 sorties while the IAF flew 3,937 sorties.
The aerial phase of the war began on 1 September 1965 when the Indian Air Force (IAF) responded to an urgent call for air strikes against the Pakistani Army, which had launched an attack known as Operation Grand Slam. In response to an SOS from the Indian Army, IAF hastily launched 26 aeroplanes (12 Vampires and 14 Mysteres) to blunt the Pakistan Army’s offensive in Chhamb. The IAF's 45 Sqn was tasked to carry out Close air Support missions in support of Indian troops. The squadron had recently been moved from Pune to Pathankot, after a merger of No 220 Sqn into it, under the command of Sqn. Ldr. S.K. "Marshal" Dhar. Gp Capt Roshan Suri, the station commander painted a grim situation of Indian army's position at Akhnoor and the Pakistan Army armour's thrust at Chhamb on the river Tawi (near Jammu). Twenty six aircraft (12 Vampires and 16 Mysteres) were tasked, with the first planes taking off at 1719 hours. These 26 planes flying in Finger-four formation strafed Pakistani positions and attacked Pakistani tanks and ground targets, though a lot of damage from "friendly fire" was also reported later on. When these Indian aircraft were sighted, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) scrambled two F-86 Sabres, flown by S/L Sarfraz Rafiqui of No 5 Sqn and F/L Imtiaz Bhatti of No 15 Sqn to intercept. In the ensuing dogfight over Chhamb where S/L Sarfraz Rafiqui took on flight leader and wingman and F/L Imtiaz Bhatti went after element leader and element wingman India lost four aeroplanes, all 4 IAF Vampires, flown by Squadron Leader Aspi Kekobad Bhagwagar (flight leader), Flight Lieutenant Vijay Madhav Joshi (element leader), Flight Lieutenant Satish Bharadwaj (element wingman) and Flight Lieutenant (later Group Captain) Shrikrishna Vishnu Phatak (wingman) with both Pakistani pilots claiming two aircraft kills each. This swift action forced the IAF to immediately withdrew about 130 Vampires, together with over 50 Ouragons, from front-line service. Though IAF’s use of fixed winged Vampires invited criticism later on, eight of the 12 Vampires successfully completed their tasks, 14 Mysteres also returned unscathed and IAF claimed success in greatly reducing Pakistan Army’s momentum.
On 2 September, both sides flew in support of their ground forces, however no major aerial engagement was observed.
The appearance of the Sabres necessitated a move by the IAF to send the Folland Gnat fighters to the forward base of Pathankot. IAF used Mysteres flying at slow speed as bait to lure Sabres to attack where the waiting Gnats would take them on. Two Sabres were scrambled but one had to turn back without entering the fight when the pilot could not jettison the fuel tanks. The other one flown by Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan, spotted the IAF planes and tried positioning himself behind them before attacking. Just as he got his cross-hairs on them he felt thuds on his own jet, as he was surrounded in a cloud of Gnats repeatedly being attacked. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter lurking in the area was pointed to the dog fight by base control along with scrambling another one from base. The first Starfighter crossed through the dog fight at super sonic speed. The Gnats after scoring a kill started egressing. IAF's Squadron Leader Trevor J. Keelor of No. 23 Squadron claimed to have shot down the F-86 Sabre on that day (September 3), claiming the first air combat victory for the IAF of the war and subsequently received the Vir Chakra and the title of 'Sabre Slayer'. However the sabre he 'shot down' was somehow flown in badly damaged condition and rough landed back at the base. The Sabre pilot, Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan, was given Sitara-e-Jurat for surviving dog fight alone (while his wingman was ordered to leave since he couldn't jettison his fuel tanks) with six Gnats and bringing the damaged Sabre back home. In the same incident, an IAF Gnat pilot was overheard warning others of the incoming Starfighter.  Also, a Gnat piloted by Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh Sikand, mistakingly landed at an abandoned airstrip in Pasrur, when he thought he had safely crossed the border. On realising his mistake, his subsequent takeoff attempt was aborted due to presence of a Pakistan army jeep on the runway. He was taken POW and later handed over to PAF. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter flown by Flt Lt Hakimullah Khan chasing in at super sonic speed was also credited with forcing the Gnat down. This Gnat is displayed as a war trophy in the Pakistan Air Force Museum, Karachi. after it was flown from Pasrur by Sqn Ldr Saad Hatmi who flew the captured aircraft back to Sargodha, and later tested and evaluated its flight performance, was of the personal view that Gnat was no 'Sabre Slayer' when it came to dog fighting.
On 4 September, an F-86 Sabre was lost. The PAF claimed the cause to be friendly ground fire while the IAF claimed to have shot it down by Flight Lieutenant Pathania.
Rafiqui was shot down over Halwara on 6 September, while Bhatti ended the war with 34 combat missions to his credit, the maximum combat missions flown by any pilot during the war. During the conflict, the Pakistani F-86 Sabre Flying Ace, Muhammad Mahmood Alam shot down seven Indian aircraft including claims of two as 'probable'. Five Hawker Hunter aircraft were brought down in one minute, of which he claimed victories over four in 30 seconds. Wreckage of three planes, with one pilot bailing out and taken POW and two dead bodies were found.
On September 6, the Indian Army crossed the border at Lahore to relieve pressure on the Chamb Jaurian sector. On the evening of the same day, the PAF responded with preemptive attacks on Indian airfields at Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. The attack on Pathankot was great success, as the IAF lost almost ten aircraft on the ground at Pathankot, while the attacks on Adampur and Halwara were failures. The Adampur strike led by Sqn Ldr M. M. Alam turned back before even reaching Adampur while the even later Halwara strike led by Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Rafiqi somehow evaded all IAF aeroplanes and managed to reach Halwara airfield at night where preemptive bombing couldn’t be carried out due to CAP flown by IAF. Though heavily outnumbered, deep in enemy territory two of the three attacking raiders were shot down for the confirmed loss of two Indian Hunters in air combat. As per IAF, both the Indian pilots survived as they ejected over their base, whereas both the intruding Pakistani pilots were killed in action. This included Flt Lt Yunus and Pakistani flying ace Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui who couldn’t survive low level ejection. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui had earlier shot down two Vampires on 1 September, before being shot down, Sqn Ldr Rafiqui is credited with shooting down first of the Hunters, bringing his total kills to three. He was later posthumously awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for the Chamb action and the Hilal-i-Jurat for the Halwara action. Only Flt Lt Cecil Chaudhry somehow managed to come back alive from this suicidal pursuit.
On 7 September 1965, the PAF parachuted 135 Special Services Group (SSG) para commandos at three Indian airfields (Halwara, Pathankot and Adampur). The daring attempt proved to be an "unmitigated disaster". Only ten commandos were able to return to Pakistan, the rest were taken as prisoners of war (including one of the Commanders of the operations, Major Khalid Butt). At Halwara and Adampur these troops landed in residential areas where the villagers caught and handed them over to police.
Also on 7 September, the IAF mounted 33 sorties against the heavily guarded PAF airfield complex at Sargodha. The IAF lost two Mysteres and three Hunters due to the defence mounted by the PAF's local squadrons. One of the Indian Hunter pilots, who ejected near Sargodha, was made POW and released after the war. One of the crippled Mysteres flying solo got involved in a dogfight with an F-104 Starfighter and each somehow shot the other down; the Pakistani pilot safely ejected, while the Indian pilot, Squadron Leader Ajamada B. Devayya, was killed. Squadron Leader Devayya was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery 23 years later, after his feat was revealed by an author appointed by the PAF to write its official history of the 1965 war.
The seventh of September also marked the day when the PAF attacked IAF airfields in the Eastern Sector. During the PAF's raid on Kalaikunda, Indian pilot Flight Lieutenant A T Cooke engaged 3 PAF Sabres, shooting down one and badly damaging the second sabre, by this time, Cooke had no ammunition left but he successfully chased away the third sabre. His wingman engaged the remaining one sabre and shoot it down.
The war lessened in intensity after 8 September, with occasional clashes between the IAF and the PAF. Both air forces now changed their doctrine from air interdictions to ground attack and concentrated their efforts on knocking out soft skin targets and supply lines, such as wagons carrying ammunition; and armoured vehicles. During the conflict IAF English Electric Canberras raided a few of the Pakistani bases.
On 10 September there was another air battle involving eight aeroplanes over River Beas. It involved two PAF F-86 Sabres flown by Sqn Ldr Muniruddin Ahmad and Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti and six IAF planes involving four Mystere and two Gnats loaded with two 30 mm Aden cannons led by Flt Lt V Kapila and Flt Lt Harry Sidhu, where both IAF pilots claimed gun stopping during combat with Sabres with Gnats behind Sabres. Both PAF pilots claimed victories of shooting and damaging 1 IAF aeroplane each. Same day IAF records acknowledge losing one Mystere with the pilot Flying Officer D P Chinoy safely ejecting over Pakistan side of the border during evening and walking back to safety at night.
On 13 September another encounter happened between PAF Sabres from Sargodha and IAF Gnats from No. 2 Squadron, an Indian Gnat was shot down by a PAF F-86 Sabre flown by Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan although the Indian pilot managed to eject safely. The other Gnat was engaged and damaged in air combat by Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti. The experienced pilot somehow managed to return to base, where according to All India Radio the Gnat's pilot later died of wounds sustained during the combat. He was said to have brought his damaged aircraft back to base and to have died during landing. His funeral was attended by the Indian President. Yusaf Ali Khan was credited with a kill whereas, Imtiaz Bhatti was credited with damaging the IAF Gnat despite the later confirmation that the pilot died of wounds and the Gnat crashed during its landing attempt. Later in the night of 13/14 September, Indian Canberras undertook the deepest penetration of Pakistani airspace of the war, attacking Pakistani bases around Peshawar and Kohat. Rather than bombing the Peshawer runway, however, IAF bombers mistook the mall road in Peshawer as the runway and dropped their bombs there instead. The Canberras were intercepted by a Pakistani F-104 near Lahore but they managed to evade the Starfighter and return home safely. They also had an encounter with F-86 Sabres, one of which fired at the Canberras, which sustained some damage. A Pakistani F-86 Sabre crashed while conducting an evasive maneuver in an attempt to escape pursuit, from an escorting Gnat as it tried to defend the Canberra bombers; the PAF pilot was killed. The Gnat pilot, W/C Singh, was later credited with an aerial victory for this incident near Amritsar. Pakistan acknowledges losing one PAF F-86 Sabre downed and the pilot Sqn Ldr Allaudin “Butch” Ahmad killed in action while leading four aeroplanes attacking ammunition train near Gurdaspur, Amritsar.
On 14 September, one Pakistani B-57 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Adampur, although both of its crew managed to eject safely and remained POWs.
On 15 September, the PAF employed a number of its Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft as bombers, which proved unsuccessful; two of them were shot down by the IAF. The following day, one IAF Hunter and a PAF F-86 Sabre were shot down over Halwara. The IAF pilot was killed in the encounter, although the Pakistani pilot ejected and spent the rest of the war as a POW. A Pakistani Cessna was also shot down that day, as well as an Auster observation aircraft.
On 18 September a Sabre was shot down by a Gnat over Amritsar; the matter was reported by the Collector, who had witnessed the entire dogfight. The same day a Pakistani Sabre shot down a civilian Indian aircraft even after the civilian plane indicated its identity, the PAF pilot assuming it to be a reconnaissance mission. Years later, the PAF pilot wrote a letter to the Indian pilot's daughter to apologize for shooting down the aircraft. The aircraft had been carrying the then Gujarat Chief Minister Balwant Rai and his family.
On 19 September, a Gnat and two Sabres were downed over Chawinda. One of the Sabres that were shot down was credited to Squadron Leader Denzil Keelor, the brother of Trevor Keelor, who was credited with the first Indian aerial victory of the war. The following day, another two Hunters and an F-86 Sabre were lost over Kasur, Pakistan.
The F-86 was vulnerable to the diminutive Folland Gnat, nicknamed "Sabre Slayer." The Gnat is credited by many independent and Indian sources as having shot down seven Pakistani Canadair Sabres[a] in the 1965 war. while two Gnats were downed by PAF fighters.
On 21 September, IAF Canberras carried out a daring daylight strike into Pakistan against the radar complex in Badin. The raid proved to be successful. Under the command of Wing Commander Peter Wilson, six Canberras from No. 16 Squadron took off from Agra, over 1,000 km from Badin and proceeded towards the radar complex at low level. About 80 miles (130��km) short of the target, one Canberra climbed to an altitude of 10,000 feet in order to act as a decoy, before returning to base. The other five Canberras continued on towards the target. The flight then separated and four of the aircraft approached the target in two sections, each two minutes apart, at low level; before climbing to 7,000 feet from where they carried out bombing runs, dropping approximately 10,000 lbs of explosives. Wilson then approached from the south at an altitude of just 30 feet firing a salvo of 68mm rockets at the radar dome.
On the same day a PAF F-104 intercepted a Canberra bomber on its way back from Sargodha and shot it down, while one Hunter pilot Flight Lieutenant (later Air Marshal) K. C. Cariappa who was son of Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa, the first Indian Army Commander-in-Chief was shot down by anti-aircraft fire; he ejected and was taken POW. On realizing the identity of the wounded soldier at Kargil, Radio Pakistan immediately announced the capture of the younger Cariappa. General Ayub Khan himself contacted General Cariappa, who was living a retired life at Mercara, his hometown, with information about his son's safety. When Ayub Khan offered to release his son immediately, Cariappa is reported to have scoffed at the idea and told him to give his son no better treatment than any other POW. Singh recounts that Cariappa replied, "He is my son no longer. He is the child of this country, a soldier fighting for his motherland like a true patriot. My many thanks for your kind gesture, but I request you to release all or release none. Give him no special treatment."
Indian sources also claim that in terms of aircraft lost to sorties flown, the Indian Air Force's attrition rate (1.5%) was lower than the Pakistani attrition rate (1.82%).
Another factor which makes it difficult to determine the outcome of the 1965 air war is the issue of aircraft lost in the air in air-to-air combat or to ground fire as opposed to aircraft lost on the ground due to bombing. A large number of Indian aircraft losses occurred on the ground during the attacks on Kalaikkunda and Pathankot—up to 60 per cent by some accounts. —while most of the Pakistani losses were in aerial combat.
India's air chief marshal Arjan Singh claimed that despite having been qualitatively inferior, his air force achieved air superiority in three days. According to Kenneth Werrell, the Pakistan Air Force "did well in the conflict and probably had the edge". When hostilities broke out, the Pakistan Air Force with around 100 F-86s faced an enemy with five times as many combat aircraft; the Indians were also equipped with comparatively modern aircraft inventory. Despite this, Werrell credits the PAF as having the advantage of a "decade's experience with the Sabre" and pilots with long flight hours experience.
Effect on future wars
The lessons of the 1965 war led India to refine its tactics which proved decisive in the 1971 war. Pakistani forces failed to take account of the extent to which they had relied on two factors which the IAF could not take for granted – complete ground-based defensive radar coverage and an adequate supply of air-to-air missiles. Much effort was expended in India to remedy these deficiencies before 1971.
With Soviet aid, India established a modern early warning radar system, including the recently introduced 'Fansong-E' low-level radar, linked with SA-2 'Guideline' surface-to-air missiles and a large number of AA guns. By December 1971 the IAF comprised a total of 36 squadrons (of which 10 were deployed in the Bengal sector) with some 650 combat aircraft.
Moreover, the 1965 war resulted in the USA imposing a 10-year arms embargo on both sides. This had no effect on India, which had always looked to Britain, France and even Russia for arms, but was disastrous for Pakistan, which was forced to acquire 90 obsolete second hand Sabres via Iran, 28 Mirage IIIs from France and 74 maintenance intensive Shenyang F-6s. It was unable to replace losses among its (already weak) force of B-57s, or to acquire a modern interceptor in realistic numbers.
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