Devastation of Pathankot
Gp Capt SULTAN M HALI writes about the PAF’s air strike on PATHANKOT in
air strike on 6th September, 1965 on the Indian Air Force base of
Pathankot has been rated by historians and defence analysts of both Indian
and Pakistan as one of the most successful air raids of contemporary
history. Not only did the PAF pilots achieve complete surprise but they
also executed the attack with text-book precision. Its details make
airfield strike plan for the dusk of day one of the war in 1965 comprised
Time Over Target (TOT) for the strike was set at 1705 hours. This was to
be followed by night bombing raids by B-57 bombers.
19 Squadron which was based at Peshawar, had been given the Indian
airfield at Pathankot as its first target. This target had been allotted
in mid-1965 when the Rann of Katch crisis was at its peak. Pathankot was
the only large Indian Air Force (IAF) airfield within fighter reach of
Peshawar, and even this distance of 200 miles or so was marginal for the
Sabre, with two 200-gallon drop tanks in addition to full internal fuel,
if sufficient reserve was to be kept in hand for a fighting exit. This
would limit the weapons to only the 1800 rounds of the six. 50 Browning
guns of the Sabres.
Leader Sajad Haider, affectionately known as ‘Nosey Haider’, the
Squadron Commander of No 19 Squadron had prepared his squadron pilots well
and planned the strikes very thoroughly using a High-lo-High profile. This
involved getting airborne from Peshawar and climbing high in the opposite
direction then dipping to tree-top level below radar cover, turning
simultaneously towards the target. The Squadron had in fact carried out
identical and simulated strikes to practice for attacks on its primary and
of 6th September, 1965 saw a formation of 6 F-86s of No 19 Squadron fully
loaded with 5 inch rockets (a last minute premonition the night before, by
Air Marshal Nur Khan the C-in-C, which paid rich dividends) flying on
“Hot Patrol’. The moment the Air Defence Commander learnt of Indian
Army’s advance towards Lahore, the 19 Squadron formation was diverted to
stop the advancing Indian armour columns at Wagah. In twenty minutes of
action, the Grand Trunk Road was littered with scores of burning tanks,
armoured and soft vehicles. The 5 inch rockets had a devastating effect on
the enemy armour. The formation led by Squadron Leader Sajad Haider with
Flight Lieutenants M Akbar, Dilawar Hussain, Ghani Akbar and Flying
Officers Khalid Latif, and Arshad Chaudhry brought the Indian attack to a
landing at Sargodha for re-fuelling, the formation rushed back to Peshawar
to prepare for the strike on Pathankot.
rested a while the pilots were assembled for a final briefing at 1600 hrs.
The formation comprised:-
a thorough briefing and going over the already well rehearsed strike plan,
Squadron Leader Sajad Haider surprised his pilots by asking for a fire
bucket filled with fresh water. He pulled out a bottle of No 4711
Eau-de-Cologne from his coverall pocket and emptied it in the bucket. He
took small white towellettes, dipped them in the water and after wringing
them out, handed over one each to his pilots. “This could be a one-way
mission and if we meet our Maker, we should be smelling nice”, Sajad
Haider wryly remarked.1 Every pilot complied, his resolve emboldened and
his faith reinvigorated.
proceeded according to the plan and the formation got airborne at 1630
hours, climbed in battle formation up to about 11,000 metres and then
dived down to tree top level and set course for the I P (initial point)
for the target.
planning staff was not certain whether Pathankot would still be occupied
by IAF aircraft after the outbreak of hostilities. But the formation of
eight Sabres, escorted by two more sidewinders equipped
acting as top cover at 6,000 metres were fortunate.
glimpse of the other side of the story is also presented from website
at the IAF Air Base at Pathankot, the Station Commander, Group Captain
Roshan Suri had just returned from a meeting of Station Commanders from
Western Air Command. Suri briefed his Squadron Commanders of the impending
Army move to cross the international border....
evening approached, Pathankot Airbase received an urgent phone call from
Squadron Leader Dandapani at Amritsar Air Defence Centre. He spoke to Wing
Commander Kuriyan and informed him that several Sabres had been observed
taking off and then go ‘Off the Scope’ as they all went below the
radar horizon. This had all the tell-tale signs of an incoming raid.
Kuriyan informed Suri about the suspicions of a raid and asked for
permission to scramble the CAP (Combat Air Patrol). (This is where the
Pathankot Base Commander made a vital mistake for which IAF paid dearly)
Suri refused to order the CAP to go off and ordered Kuriyan to go off the
PAF aircraft reached Pathankot precisely on time at 1705 hours and
discovered a large number of IAF aircraft parked around in protected
dispersal pens. With no enemy fighters in the vicinity and fairly thin
ground fire, ‘Nosey’ set the ball rolling with four
carefully-positioned dives from about 500 metres, systematically selecting
individual aircraft in protected pens on the airfield for his fixed-gun
attacks. He was gratified to recognize the distinctive delta-winged
MiG-21s- India’s latest fighter - among the aircraft on the ground, and
singled them out for special attention.
rest of the pilots followed suit. Each pilot had been briefed to make only
two passes but the lucrative targets and limited opposition enabled them
to make multiple passes. Wing Commander Tawab, flying top cover, counted
at least 14 fires burning on the airfield.
Commander 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 ‘F-104 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....
Sabres attacked the row of MiGs and Mysteres along the blast pens in the
airfield. The CAP was not scrambled. Two of the MiGs, which were being
refuelled after returning from an earlier flight, went up in flames.
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. All in
all one C-119, four Mysteres, two Gnats and two MiG-21s were destroyed in
this highly successful raid by the Pakistan Air Force.” 3
de-briefing and interrogation, this text book operation against Pathankot
was credited with seven MiG-21s, five Mysteres and one Fairchild C-119
destroyed on the ground, plus damage to the Air Traffic Control building -
IAF admits to the loss of only two MiG-21s but it goes to the credit of
PAF that after the fateful strike on Pathankot, Indian MiG-21s were not
seen in the air for the remaining duration of the 1965 War.
are they now?
of the pilots on the devastating raid on Pathankot including both pilots
flying Top Cover, Squadron Leader Sajad Haider, Flight Lieutenants M Akbar,
Dilawar Hussain, Ghani Akbar and Arshad Sami and Wing Commander M G Tawab
were decorated with the Sitara-e-Jurat.
Leader Sajad Haider later commanded the Flying wing at Sargodha during the
1971 War. He served as Air Attache at Washington D.C. and retired as Air
Commodore in 1983.
Lieutenant M Akbar rose to the rank of Air Commodore, commanded the
Pakistan Armed Forces Mission at Riyadh and retired in September, 1991.
Lieutenant Dilawar saw action during the 1971 War and shot down an IAF
Hunter over Dhaka on 04 December, 1971. He went on to become an Air
Marshal and retired from the post of Director General Pakistan
Aeronautical Complex, Kamra.
Officer Abbas Khattak also saw action in the 1971 War. He rose to the rank
of Air Chief Marshal and commanded Pakistan Air Force from 1994-97. He is
now leading a retired life.
Officer Arshad Chaudhry rose to the rank of Air Marshal and retired from
the post of Vice Chief of the Air Staff in 1997.
Lieutenant Mazhar Abbas retired in the rank of Air Commodore.
Officer Khalid Latif retired in the rank of Group Captain.
Lieutenant Ghani Akbar left the airforce as a Squadron Leader and started
flying for PIA. He is now retired.
Lieutenant Arshad Sami Khan left the Air Force in the rank of Squadron
Leader and joined Foreign Service. Currently he is an Ambassador.
Commander M G Tawab left Pakistan Air Force in the rank of Group Captain.
He later became an Air Vice Marshal and commanded the fledgling Bangladesh
Air Force. After his retirement, he settled in Germany, where he breathed
his last in 1998 after a brief illness. His demise was mourned by friends
and admirers all over.
Narrated from Air Cdre Sajad Haider’s TV programme telecast on Defence
of Pakistan Day 1997.
Down loaded from the Internet “Air Attack — Outbreak of the War
(September-1965)” website Bharat Rakhshak.
Fricker, John, Battle for Pakistan: The Air War of 1965, published by Ian
Allan Ltd, Surrey, 1979.
The Story of the Pakistan Air Force, published by the Shaheen Foundation,