Flying Start PAF opens its account in 1965
Operation Grand Slam was launched across the CFL in the Chamb sector of Kashmir, towards Jaurian and Akhnur, at first light on 01 September, 1965 by Pak Army's 12 Division under its GOC Major General Akhtar Malik. By early afternoon, they had advanced more than 10-15 miles. PAF maintained continuous Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) comprising pairs of F-86s supported by single F-104A Starfighters, keeping about 10 miles away from the border to avoid provocation, but ready to deal immediately with any attempt at IAF intervention in the land battle. The plan was to withdraw the CAP by 1700 hours if the IAF had not reacted by then. The IAF however, remained conspicuously absent till afternoon which was enigmatic and added to the tension. That's when Nur Khan, the PAF C-in-C decided to obtain assessments of the battle area from personal observation. He took off in an Army L-19 aircraft from Gujrat. On landing back from the reconnaissance flight, the Air Marshal decided to extend the CAP beyond 1700 hours. His observation was that Pakistani troops, tanks, guns and vehicles were too temptingly exposed for the IAF to ignore for long. At 1720 hours, Army reported that IAF was indeed attacking the advancing Pakistani forces in the Chamb sector. Within minutes, Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui, Officer Commanding No 5 Squadron and Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti, Flight Commander No. 15 Squadron were scrambled and their F-86 Sabres were directed towards the enemy. The rest is narrated by Bhatti: " ... Rafiqui and I were told to proceed to Chamb area where the enemy aircraft were attacking our advancing troops. Rafiqui's radio had packed up for a while on the way up. Over the area we descended fast, looking all round and below us for the enemy aircraft. At about this time we also learnt that the C-in-C was flying around the area in an L-19. We did not see him but later on discovered that he had left the area a little while earlier. "Our search succeeded and I spotted two enemy aircraft. They were crossing underneath us and I informed Rafiqui about it. He immediately acknowledged ... 'contact'! Rafiqui said he was going for them. While covering his tail, I spotted two Canberra's 9 O'clock from me at 5-6,000 feet. Then I spotted another two Vampires trying to get behind Rafiqui. I instinctively broke off and positioned myself behind these two. In the meantime Rafiqui had knocked down one of his two targets and was chasing the other. About now I had my sights on one of my own and was holding my fire. I was anxiously waiting for my leader to bring down his second and clear out of my way. When the Vampire I had targeted, closed in on Rafiqui too dangerously, I called out to him to break left. Within the next moment, Rafiqui shot down his second, reacting to my call and broke left. Simultaneously, I pressed my trigger and hit one of them. Having disposed of one I shifted my sight on the other and fired at him. In the chase I had gone as low as 200 feet off the ground when I shot my second prey, he ducked and went into the trees. We had bagged four in our first engagement with the Indians..." More than thirty years after the 1965 War, the Indian version of the engagement is available in an article by Jagan Mohan, 'Air Attack - September 1st to September 6th', on the Indian Air Force section of the Internet web site, www.bharat-rakshak.com. Whereas the account admits the loss of four IAF Vampires over Chamb on 1st September, some interesting revelations are made. Portions of which are quoted here: "On September 01, the Pakistani artillery started shelling the Indian forward positions, starting 0330 hours, the shelling was exceptionally heavy and continued till 0630 hours. At which time a Pakistani Army force of two Infantry Brigades and two Armoured regiments started their attack on the Indian positions. 3rd Mahar was the forward most battalion and it bore the brunt of the attack along with a solitary squadron of AMX-13 tanks of 20th Lancers. Inspite of their heroic defence the sheer strength of the enemy made its presence felt. No artillery support was given as the Pak shelling had put the guns out of action. "Faced with this critical situation, Commander, 191 Infantry Brigade asked for air support at 1100 hours ... by the time the Defence Minister okayed the request, five hours had elapsed." (This explains the absence of IAF from the battle area till late afternoon) "Pathankot was the nearest airbase available to the zone of conflict. Situated near the border between Jammu and Punjab, Pathankot was a mere 30 seconds flying time from the border ... It had two Mystere Squadrons No. 3 and 31 and No. 45 Squadron flying Vampire fighters ... The Vampires had been ready and armed sitting on the tarmac and on receipt of the CAS's orders, the first wave of four Vampires took off at 1719 hours ... Three missions were to be flown. The second one at 1730 and the third at 1740 hours ... The arrival of the Vampires over the battlefield was greeted with relief. But relief turned to horror as the aircraft made a strafing run on the 3 Mahar positions ... they then turned their attention towards the Pakistani tanks ... Ground fire hit one of the Vampires flown by Flying Officer S. V. Pathak ... The PAF was called up and soon a pair of Sidewinder - armed F-86s were over the area...." The article then recounts Bhatti's account verbatim and then comments on some aspects: "However, Bhatti is inaccurate in identifying Canberras in the vicinity, as no Canberra's were flying that day. He had also missed another fact, that one Vampire escaped the wrath of the Sabres. Flight Lieutenant Sondhi managed to escape. Of the four Vampires claimed by the Pakistanis, Rafiqui was credited with two of the kills, with Bhatti getting the credit for the Sabres. There was only one survivor, Flying Officer S. V. Pathak from the first formation who managed to bale out (after his Vampire was hit by ground fire). Flight Lieutenants A. K. Bhagwagar, V. M. Joshi and S. Bharadwaj, all from the second formation were killed. The solitary Vampire that escaped was from the second formation. A very shaken Flight Lieutenant Sondhi explained how the Sabres made mince meat of his formation... All in all the Vampires had received a bad mauling from the Pakistan Air Defences." Air Marshal Nur Khan, returning from his visit to the battle front, landed at Sargodha where he received the news of the PAF opening its account and the decisive initial victory achieved over the IAF. He was able to congratulate in person the two PAF officers responsible for drawing first blood. This overwhelming victory had several profound effects on the military situation. One of them, unknown then to PAF, after losing an entire formation of four Vampires in the opening round, IAF ordered the immediate withdrawal of its entire fleet of 132 Vampires and 56 Dassault Ouragons (Toofani) from its operational inventory. This single engagement resulted in the effective reduction of IAF Combat Strength by about 35%. The entire air battle had taken place in broad view of the Pakistan Army whose morale was raised pitch high at the prompt dispatch of its tormentors. Brigadier Amjad Chaudhry, the Artillery Commander of No. 4 Corps wrote in a letter to the C-in-C, 'Your very first action in Chamb left no doubt in our minds that we did not have to worry much about the enemy air. The pattern was set there and then. We will never forget that spectacle - it lifted our spirits and gave us a flying start.'
First Air Combat Contact with the SOC, who had yet to give the final clearance for any shooting to take place, had been temporarily lost, but Squadron Leader Rafiqui had little doubt about what needed to be done: the gloves were off - and he went unhesitatingly into the attack in masterly fashion. Bhatti covered while Rafiqui's deadly marksmanship accounted for both the Vampires. In the pursuit Bhatti saw 2 other Vampires cutting into threatan his leader. He manoeuvred into a position where he could pick up the fighters but withheld his fire on his first victim as there was a danger of hitting Rafiqui's aircraft. The enemy fighters were now close and Bhatti warned his leader of the danger, which was to go unheeded for the time being as Rafiqui was downing his second Vampire. Bhatti called out to Rafiqui then to break hard to the left, which he did, and in that instant Bhatti fired and claimed his first Vampire. He then turned on the second, firing while Rafiqui covered him, and in a low level chase the fourth Vampire was last seen crashing into the trees below. The pair then looked around for the Canberras which were nowhere to be seen and presumed that they had slipped away while the fight was in progress. On landing back they were to receive in person the warm congratulations of the C-in-C himself. Thanks to this valiant pair, the PAF had got off to a good start. This was to be the last time that the old Vampires would be tried out in combat, as it dawned on the Indians that the PAF was now in deadly earnest. The brief engagament between the Sabres and the Vampires had occurred in full view of Pak troops and was to have an exhilarating effect. Brigadier Amjad Ali Khan Chowdhry, Commander Artillery of 4 Corps writing from the front said in a letter to the C-in-C: "Your very first action in Chamb left no doubt in our minds that we did not have to worry much about the enemy air. The pattern was set there and then. We will never forget that spectacle-it lifted our spirits and gave us a flying start." Interestingly Indian side reported that Vampire strike was followed by the Mystere IV-A. According to an Indian source: "The Mystere IV-A followed up in the wake of the Vampires. No one can tell why the Mysteres were not sent earlier in the first place instead of the Vampires. Even though the Mystere was no match for the Sabre, it had a fighting chance as it was slightly faster than the Sabre. Maybe it was assumed that the PAF would not intervene, or it may have been that the Vampires could be in the air faster than the Mysteres, for the situation was desperate enough to warrant sending the Vampires first. Be that as it may, following the 12 Vampire sorties came 16 more by the Mysteres. Nos. 3 and 31 Sqns. flew the 16 sorties in 45 minutes. IAF Mysteres in flights of 4, managed to do lot of damage on ground, sometimes making as many as six runs over the battlefield. To quote Wg. Cdr. W.M. Goodman, "Our boys were in like a flash and in no time the whole place was ablaze with burning tanks and Vehicles, the enemy will never forget the Mystere." The last Mystere sorties were at 1905 hrs. By that time, the IAF had claimed 13 tanks, 2 guns, and 62 soft-skinned vehicles as destroyed. This assesment was released by the IAF but was never confirmed by the Army. Recent research by a retired Army Officer came up with some startling facts. Army officers in the Chamb sector had told him in the interviews that the IAF strafing and rocket attacks had destroyed three of our own AMX-13 tanks, a dozen truckloads of artillery ammunition and one truck carrying tank ammunition. The destruction of the latter resulted in the shortage of tank ammunition for the armoured squadron." (Jagan's 1965 war homepage) Against light opposition the Pak Army waded across the narrow width of the Tawi early the next morning, and established a bridgehead on the eastern bank of the river. The tanks and vehicles of the infantry battalions had some minor problems while crossing the obstacle, the depth of which was about 3 feet at its deepest, but all managed to get across eventually. In this situation, Pak Army units were again very vulnerable to air attack, and it was surprising that the IAF missed the opportunity. Despite the relative tranquillity that prevailed in the air on 2 September the PAF did,not let down its guard and from dawn to dusk a CAP was maintained in the Jhelum-Muzaffarabad area. No less than 18 F-86 and 6 F-104 missions were flown, with the F-86s operating in pairs except one when 4 aircraft were used. A few enemy tracks appeared at irregular intervals on the radar screen at Sakesar, and fighters were directed towards them, but no contact was established, in which case invariably the fighters were withdrawn to avoid wasteful flying The PAF had, however, acceded to an Army request for close support in the Akhnur sector, where opposition to Pak ground forces was relatively stiff. Squadron Leader Alam in command of 11 Squadron at Sargodha was assigned the mission, the targets being gun positions and troop concentrations near Jaurian, the next Indian stronghold after Chamb. The morning at 0530 hours on 2 September was clear, with a slight mist hugging the ground as the first flight of 4 F-86s, led by the squadron commander, winged their way at low level towards jaurian, to be followed five minutes later by a second flight of 3 F-86s, one having ,been forced to drop out owing to last minute unserviceability. Fifteen minutes flying brought the leading 4 to the target area where, pulling up, they spent the best part of ten minutes circling around to see some signs of enemy activity. Nothing was visible in the early morning light and the leader was almost in despair at the thought of returning home with ammunition intact when he sensed where a hidden enemy might conceivably be as he spotted an orchard occupying an area of some 300 square yards. He directed his flight of 4 to attack it with rockets. The action was rewarded when a startled enemy was seen to break cover in an effort to get away from the area under attack. Military vehicles of various descriptions were seen emerging and Alam's formation was then able to empty out their guns on more lucrative targets and with visible results. An RT-33 aircraft escorted by 2 Sabres later carried out a reconnaissance in this area and photographs revealed that there were some buildings amongst the trees, presumably a tent house being used as an Indian Army Formation HQ. Flight Lieutenant Yusaf's formation arriving on the scene shortly after Alam's foursome, having fruitlessly searched the ground upto now, spotted a long convoy of vehicles including tanks on the road to Jaurian. After the first rocket attack the tanks drove off the road to take cover as best as they could. About two more attacks by each of the 3 Sabres were made and estimations are that about 5 tanks were hit.
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