PAKISTAN AIR FORCE Second to none
C-130 as B-130
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Pakistan 4 India 0
Bye Bye Pathankot
Sargodha 7th Sep 1965
Gurdas Pur Train Blast
Pakistani Commando Attack
SSG Operations When, on 6 September, it was decided that the PAF would go all-out in counter air operations, a Para-drop simultaneously over 3 forward Indian airfields-Halwara, Pathankot and Adampur was also decided to be launched. Each strike team was to consist of 60 Commandos, and the intention was to drop them near the selected targets under cover of darkness, allowing enough night time for them to accomplish their missions. After dropping into enemy territory, each party was to assemble and proceed as a team to attack their respective target airfields. They were expected to destroy aircraft, damage communications, blow up fuel dumps and storm other vulnerable points. After their raids, the teams were to infiltrate by land in small groups or individually. The 3 C-130s needed for the Para-drops were positioned at Peshawar at 2000 hours ready to go. The TOTs were planned for midnight, and for three hours all B-57 strikes against the target airfields would be suspended to enable the commandos to accomplish their mission. Then, however, followed a series of developments and discoveries that are hard to believe. Firstly, claiming that they had had inadequate notice, the SSG troops were late in coming to Peshawar airfield from their base nearby, and the time of take off had twice to be postponed. On their arrival at Peshawar, it was also discovered that their briefing for the missions, far from being perfect, which such an operation required, was sketchy at best and did not cover most of the essentials. The maps and photographs supplied to them were found to be out of date and useless-in fact, one of the groups only saw for the first time, just before take off, a picture of the airfield they were to attack. The troops were also without Indian currency, which the C-130 aircrew, appreciating their greater need, readily surrendered to them from part of their own quota, which everyone going into operations carried. This astonishing state of affairs arose, it appears, from the fact that the army, to meet their requirements for the Mujahid action in Kashmir, had drawn both freely and indiscrirninately from amongst the members of the SSG, denuding that force of most of the personnel who had been specially trained and briefed for the specific Para-commando action against the Indian airfields. This short sightedness was doubtless facilitated by the hush hush manner in which everything relating to the SSG was treated, coupled with an inexcusable failure of liaison between the DAI and the commander of the SSG. When orders were received to launch the SSG Para-drop operation, hurried arrangements had to be made at the last minute to make up the numbers by drawing on personnel who were unprepared for this special assignment. Several personnel, some of whom were key figures, had not yet reported back from leave, and this had reduced further the numbers of those who were competent to undertake this task.
Do or Die All this was either not known, or not mentioned, or considered irrelevant, at the four-hour briefing session which had been held earlier that day between Group Captain Dogar, the DAI, Group Captain Hall, the Station Commander, Chaklaia, and Colonel Mateen of the SSG. The decision to go ahead had been taken in a spirit of do or die-and to be fair, this was the spirit that animated everyone and infused every mission on that hectic and fateful 6th day of September. At the airfield, by the time things had been sorted out, it was almost midnight, and the TOT was now fixed at 0210 hours-leaving the troops two critical hours of darkness less in which to accomplish their mission. Even now, had cool judgment prevailed, the missions could have been called off for the next day and many valuable lives saved; but "the survival of Pakistan was at stake", and so unhappily, the operations were allowed to proceed regardless. In the face of it all, the troops themselves displayed a morale and a cool courage which is deserving of the very highest praise. The C-130s flew out at low level and dropped the troops over their respective drop zones, about 2 miles from their targets. The drops were successful, but after touchdown the commandos ran into unforeseen difficulties. Only at Adampur was the team able to regroup fully though with only half an hour left till first light. The Pathankot team found themselves unexpectedly in the middle of a multiple canal obstacle and had great difficulty in even orientating themselves. Pathankot and Halwara the teams remained splintered into small groups, as they were unable to get together. Indian security measures were efficient; Pakistani intelligence had not given any idea of how well the Indian airfields were defended on the ground - both by personnel as well as by tall barbed wire fencing with armoured cars patrolling the perimeter. This, added to the physical obstacles of the water channels, high crops, and the presence of a dense civil population all around, reduced drastically any chances of success. The surprise which the groups needed for both success and safety was lost because of the civil population amidst which they had landed. It was not long before the entire countryside had been alerted, and as dawn was about to break the helpless commandos dispersed into the countryside, to hide up for the day and wait for a more favourable opportunity the following night. The entire region had however, sprung to life. Villagers armed with shot guns, lances and kirpans, civil police, troops, dogs, light aircraft, jeeps and armoured cars started the hunt for the paratroopers. Their capture was inevitable, but no one was lightly taken. They fought till they fell, or till their ammunition was exhausted. Many were bayoneted, some were taken prisoner. Those who remained undiscovered attempted the impossible the following night; but all had to abandon their mission and try, somehow to get back to Pakistan. Some managed to do this, while a few remained hidden for as long as ten days, living on sugarcane, maize and even grass, before they were caught. Thus ended an operation which on the face of it was an unmitigated disaster. Certainly the cost in lives of the heroic Para-commandos, who embarked on their perilous mission with a memorably cheerful calm, was difficult to justify. Nevertheless, ill-conceived, ill-planned, badly executed and based on faulty intelligence though these raids were, they caused a considerable diversion of Indian military efforts.
As night fell on, both sides began planning for the next days operations. IAF Canberras were already in the air on counterstrikes, likewise the PAF B-57s too were on the job. If our officers thought the Pakistanis had played all their cards then they were far from being right. That night the Pakistanis had planned to drop more than just bombs on the Indian Airfields.
Just a little while after the B-57s crossed the Indian Border, three C-130 Hercules transport aircraft took off for the same targets. Instead of bombs they carried some 60 paratroopers each of the elite Special Services Group (SSG). After Independence, Pakistan had chosen to form special compact commando forces trained in sabotage and disruptive activities behind enemy lines and they had thought of putting this force to test.
The C-130s were to drop the paratroopers near the Indian airbases, the paratroopers would then regroup, and try to capture the airfields, destroy the aircraft and thus disrupt the entire air effort and then ex-filtrate back to Pakistan, following the numerous rivulets and streams that flow from Punjab back to their home territory. The plan was bold and imaginative on paper, but when put to practice, went haywire.
Pathankot, Halwara and Adampur airbases were the chosen targets. And each of the C-130 Hercules dropped it's load of paratroopers on the airfield designated to it. At Pathankot, right from the moment the Pakistanis, under the command of Major Khalid Butt, landed on the ground things went wrong. It was about 2:00 a.m. and in the pitch dark of the night the paratroopers failed to rendezvous quickly. Their movement was hampered by the crises-crossing network of irrigation canals, streams and boggy fields. By daybreak the paratroopers were still a confused lot. And the Army and the police already alerted started rounding them up and most of them, including Major Butt, were prisoners by the next two days.
At Halwara, a B-57 had raided the airfield and left when the Hercules came over and dropped its stick of the commandos. Some of them landed inside the airfield perimeter in the residential area. Before they could recover from the shock of the landing, they found themselves as Prisoners of War. The remaining Paratroopers too were rounded up soon after. However the detachment commander, Major Hazur Hasnain, and one of his men captured a Jeep and escaped back to Pakistani Lines.
The Adampur detachment too suffered the same fate of that at Pathankot. Dropped too far from the airfield and unable to assemble, they took refuge in the cornfields at daybreak. The farmers and the civilians formed hunting groups and rounded them up. Some of the Pakistanis were lynched and killed by the enraged Punjabis. This detachment commander, Captain Durrani, too was captured soon after.
The Pakistani plan to neutralize the airbases through unconventional methods thus failed. Of the 180+ commandos dropped, 136 were taken prisoners. and 22 were killed in encounters with the army, police or the civilians and the rest managed to escape to Pakistan. The number that managed to slip through was about 22-25. Most of them from the detachment dropped near Pathankot - which was only 10 miles from the border.
Little did the Pakistanis realise that for the mission to succeed the Paras had to be dropped close to their targets. They need to have a good knowledge of the terrain at the DZ and they had to rendezvous quickly. 60 men was too large a group to do so quickly and to avoid detection and too small to hold out for themselves if they were cornered.
The objective of the raid can be compared to the British raid on Pebble island during the Falklands war. There were about 45 men dropped by helicopters inside the airfields who succeeded in destroying many of the Argentinean Pucara aircraft before the defenders were alerted. The Pakistanis had learnt their lessons the hard way, though no such operations were mounted by us, we did learn from our enemy's mistakes and put it to good use later in the '71 Indo-Pak War.
From the IAF point of view, it seemed a stupid and pointless exercise. As Air Chief Marshal Lal put it, "It's difficult to see what they could have achieved. What this operation aimed to achieve is difficult to understand." All they achieved was to stir up the Punjabis to form lynch mobs who went about cutting the crops to hunt down the Paras and beating many a poor beggar, on suspicion of being a disguised raider.