PAKISTAN AIR FORCE Second to none
Back at the Pathankot Airbase, the Station Commander, Gp. Capt. Roshan Suri had just then returned from a meeting of Station Commanders from Western Air Command. Suri then briefed the Squadron Commanders of the impending Army move to cross the international border and also told his eager subordinates that the operational orders issued prevented counter air missions against Pakistani Airbases. Several Officers raised objections at this announcement, and for most this did not go down too well.
Evening was approaching Pathankot, when a phone call to Pathankot Airbase was made by Sqn. Ldr. Dandapani from the Amritsar ADC. He called up Pathankot and spoke to Wg. Cdr. Kuriyan. Dandapani told Kuriyan that they had several Sabres, take off from Sargodha and go "off the scope" as they went below the radar horizon. This had all the tell tale signs of an incoming raid. Kuriyan informed Suri about the suspicion of a raid and asked for permission to scramble the CAP. Suri refused to order the CAP to go off and ordered Kuriyan to go off the shift.
About the same time, Flt. Lt. Trilochan Singh of No.3 Sqn was leading his formation of four Mysteres in a strike against ground targets at Chamb. The strike had been put up on receipt of information that the Pakistani forces were being withdrawn from Chamb to reinforce defenses elsewhere. An earlier strike had passed on information about Pakistani tanks & trucks being transported back along a road near the Chamb sector. And the strike was executed.
Fg. Off. M.R. Murdeshwar and Fg. Off. Janak Kapur of No.23 were flying top cover for this formation in two Gnats. The endurance of this mission was limited only by the flight endurance of the Gnat Escort. For once the Gnat reached its maximum limit at which it had to turn back, the Mysteres too would have to go back as they would be deviod of air cover. In this case, Murdeshwar, had observed the limit approaching the aircraft for this mission. He informed the Mysteres leader, Trilochan Singh about it.
Trilochan Singh replied back "Manna, One more round, lets finish them off," Murdeshwar said OK. And the Mysteres went in for another run. About this time Gnat No.2 Janak Kapur, called over the radio, "Backbay Leader, Bingo, fuel limit reached," Murdeshwar called out to the Mystere formation to finish off their run and make for base.
The attack run over, the Mysteres turned for home cruising along at a speed of 500 knots. Soon the Mysteres outpaced the Gnats by a considerable distance as the Gnat cruised at a much slower optimum speed of around 400 knots. But the number three in the Mystere formation started straggling behind. It turned out that the pilot Fg. Off. Dinky Jatar observed his undercarriage lights have come up and he could not fly more than 250 knots airspeed under the conditions. Murdeshwar decided to cut down on his speed to escort the straggler. He instructed Janak Kapur to carry on, as he was having lesser amount of fuel and could not afford to fly at lower speeds.
Soon the Mystere formation and Janak's Gnat were out of sight. Only Murdeshwar's Gnat and the straggling Mystere of Jatar's were in the sky. Jatar radioed that the slow airspeed is burning up his fuel and he would require a direct approach to Pathankot. Murdeshwar still had some reserve left and agreed to let Jatar make a direct approach to the runway.
Jatar was on his last throes of fuel reserves, when the runway came into his sight. He landed the aircraft on the runway, accompanied by Murdeshwar in the downward leg. Murdeshwar then just flew on to make a dog leg to try and land in the opposite direction. Jatar took the Mystere to the end of the runway and started taxing back on the parallel taxi track when his engine flamed out, starved out of fuel. The Mystere rolled to a halt.
Murdeshwar was now coming in to land in the opposite direction, he could see in a corner of the eye JatarÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s Mystere slowing down on the taxi track, then his attention was attracted by the sudden spurt of R/T transmissions. The ATC was frantically announcing, "Incoming Raid, Incoming Raid." Murdeshwar cursed himself on his fuel state. If he had enough fuel, he could have taken off and intercepted the incoming aircraft. By this time his aircraft had landed and he was taxiing into a blast pen.
Wg. Cdr. Kuriyan was just then driving into his garage at his house, when he heard the ack-ack guns booming. He looked towards the airfield to see four F-86 Sabres bore down the airfield at low level firing their machine guns, while two Starfighters kept high altitude cover. As the four Sabres pulled out, another four bore in. The Sabres strafed buildings, installations and aircraft on the ground. The A-A Guns had opened up onto targets in the sky, and the sounds of machine guns strafing the airfield was audible.
Fg. Off. Janak Kapur who had already landed had just then steered his Gnat into a Blast pen and climbed out of his Gnat, when a fellow officer yelled, "Sir, look up, they are attacking." Kapur looked up to see the Sabres pulling up for the attack. Murdeshwar's Gnat was noticed by the Sabres as it was making its way to the blast pen. A volley of bullets straddled the Gnat just as Murdeshwar jumped out of the aircraft and out of the blast pen. Within seconds the bullets destroyed the Gnat.
The air traffic control tower at that time was newly built at Pathankot. It still did not house the ATC Staff as yet. The Actual ATC was located in a trench covered by a tent on the opposite side of the tarmac, where the ATC Controllers operated using R/T sets. Wg. Cdr. M.S.D. Wollen was one of the pilots scheduled to take off that particular evening. Wollen dived into the ATC trench when the attack began and watched the entire attack from there.
Gp. Cpt. 'Nosey' Haider, the PAF pilot who led the successful Pathankot raid.
The Sabres surprisingly left the JatarÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¾Ã‚Â¢s Mystere on the taxi track alone, probably in the assumption that it was a decoy and attacked the row of MiGs, Mysteres along the blast pens in the airfield. The CAP was not scrambled. The Gnats on the ORP too escaped damage. However, two of the MiG-21s which were being refueled after returning from an earlier flight, went up in flames.
At that time the only Indian aircraft in the air was a lone Mystere on a training flight. Fg. Off. McMohan was a rookie pilot on the training sortie in the Mystere. He hardly had about 50 flying hours to his credit. Luckily for him, the ATC Controller recognized the danger of the rookie pilot getting caught in the combat and instructed McMohan to head south and come back later. McMohan eventually landed back after the raid was over.
Some Mysteres on the ground bore the brunt of the raid, and were damaged. As were the two MiG-21s. Only the fact that the Sabre's 0.50 inch machine guns could fire ball ammunition instead of exploding cannon shells prevented further damage. The Sabres slipped off unscathed, as even the airfield defences were caught napping. For the PAF, this raid was a cakewalk, the next one was not going to be another. All in all, one C-119, four Mysteres, two Gnats and two MiG-21s were destroyed in this highly successful raid by the PAF.