PAF’s First Shaheeds
Gp Capt SULTAN M HALI writes about the first brave PAF
the Pakistan-India conflict of 1965, the first 48 hours established the
superiority of Pakistan Air Force over its much larger adversary. The major successes which contributed towards the PAF getting
the better of IAF are its lightning action on the Grand Trunk Road by
F-86s of No 19 Squadron, when on 06 September, Indian Army was prevented
from crossing the last defence before Lahore, the BRB Canal just in time
as the lead brigade of Indian 15 Infantry Division was about to throw a
bridgehead across the BRB Canal when it was attacked by the F-86s that
strafed it and other elements of the Division up and down the Grand Trunk
Road, throwing the Indians into confusion, delaying the advance, and thus
allowing Pakistan’s 10 Division to assume its forward positions, which
ended the Indian hope of a quick victory.
other missions which deserve special credit along with PAF’s successful
defence of Sargodha on 07 September are the attacks on Kalaikunda, where
No 14 Squadron F-86s from Dhaka destroyed numerous Canberras lined up on
the tarmac; No 19 Squadron’s famous raid on Pathankot in which IAF
MiG-21s, Gnats and Mysteres were caught off guard on the ground; and No 5
Squadron’s ill-fated strike over Halwara, which ended in tragedy but had
far reaching consequences is described in some detail here.
set off to a flying start by destroying two IAF Vampires and enabling the
destruction of another two on 01 September, Squadron Leader Sarfraz
Rafiqui, the plucky and outstanding Officer Commanding of No 5 Squadron
had set very high standards. On
06 September, when Indian Army launched its three-pronged offensive, like
the other squadrons at Sargodha, Rafiqui’s pilots too were kept busy in
ground support sorties to stop the Indian onslaught.
1300 hours, tasking orders were received for the implementation of the
pre-designated strike plan. For
a Time Over Target (TOT) of 1705 hours, Squadron Leaders M M Alam and
Rafiqui were to attack Adampur and Halwara with F-86s from Sargodha while
from Peshawar, Squadron Leader Sajad Haider’s squadron was to strike
Pathankot with 8 F-86s and two as armed escorts.
All the three squadrons got busy in preparing for the strikes.
Rafiqui learnt that only four Sabres would be available for the strike on
Halwara, he detailed himself as Leader with Flight Lieutenant Cecil
Chaudhry as No 2, his Flight Commander Flight Lieutenant Yunus, another
outstanding pilot as No 3 and Flight Lieutenant Saleem as No 4.
Rafiqui reached the Flight Lines along with his pilots at 1600
hours to get airborne at 1615 for attacking Halwara at 1705 but to his
surprise, he discovered that none of the allocated aircraft was ready. The
morning’s defence of Lahore had taken its toll and there were minor
unserviceabilities or the aircraft had landed late and were yet to be
turned around. He informed
the Station Commander of the delay and was advised to make good whatever
TOT was possible. The same
was the case with M M Alam as his aircraft were not ready on time either.
Meanwhile, Squadron Leader Sajad Haider struck Pathankot exactly on
time and achieving complete surprise, carried out textbook pattern attacks
and devastated his target.
formation got ready before Rafiqui’s and he took off with Flight
Lieutenants Hatmi, “Butch” Ahmad and Murtaza to attack Adampur.
As Rafiqui approached the aircraft to start up at 1715 hours, his
heart was full of remorse. He
was not concerned about himself but realizing the suicidal nature of his
mission, he was thinking of his other pilots.
Yunus, who had been blessed with a second son the previous week but
had not been able to go home to see him;
Cecil, who had been recently married.
With grief in his eyes but determination on his face, he tapped
them on the shoulders and wishing them luck, boarded the aircraft.
During taxy, No 4’s generator packed up and Saleem was ordered by
Rafiqui to abort the mission.
to only three aircraft, the formation pressed on in the fading light.
As they were crossing the international border, they saw Alam’s
formation returning. ‘Butch’
Ahmad called them on the RT and informed them that the formation could not
reach Adampur as there was stiff opposition by the Indian Air Force, who
were alerted by the raid on Pathankot. Alam’s formation was returning
after destroying one Hunter.
formation reached Halwara at 1800 hours.
By then visibility had reduced considerably and they were having
difficulty in locating the target. As
they were positioning themselves to execute the attack, they spotted two
Hunters flying in front of them, Cecil and Yunus who were criss crossing
behind their leader to keep them clear of the enemy threat from the rear,
saw the Hunters as soon as Rafiqui called contact with them. Rafiqui positioned himself behind them, and called to Cecil
to take the Hunter on the left while he would take the one on the right.
Since Yunus was in a better position and Cecil had lagged slightly
behind, Yunus suggested that the leader should take the one on the left
and he could take the one on the right.
Rafiqui agreed and while Cecil cleared the tails of both the Leader
and No 3, Rafiqui’s guns found their mark.
Its pilot was seen ejecting before Yunus could shoot, his target
broke viciously to the right. Yunus followed him in the turn just then two more Hunters
appeared from the right. Both
Cecil and Rafiqui spotted them and as Rafiqui manoeuvred to position
himself for the kill, Cecil took up defensive position behind him. Cecil was wondering why the Leader hadn’t commenced firing,
when Rafiqui’s calm and confident voice called out that his guns had
jammed and Cecil should take over lead.
At that time they were heading west and could have easily
disengaged from the combat taking advantage of the fading light heading
into the setting sun. This
would have meant abandoning Yunus, whom they had lost in the melee while
he was chasing his target.
overshot from the left, throttling forward.
As he positioned himself behind the trailing Hunter, he saw the
Hunter Leader pull away but by then he had opened fire and to his
satisfaction he saw the enemy aircraft streaming smoke and the pilot
eject. Cecil suddenly became aware
of the eerie silence surrounding him.
He looked around for his Leader and called him on the RT but
received no response. The next instant he observed an F-86 in a classic
scissors manoeuvre with a Hunter and thought it was Rafiqui but when he
saw its guns blazing, he realized it must be Yunus since Rafiqui’s guns
had jammed. Before Yunus
could get his target, another Hunter pounced on him and Yunus was shot
down. Left alone and running
short of fuel, Cecil bravely fought his way out and managed to reach Base
to narrate the details of the courage and determination displayed by
Rafiqui and Yunus. It is
worthwhile to examine the Indian version of this epic encounter as
narrated on the website Bharat Rakhshak:
was situated Southwest of the Industrial township of Ludhiana, Punjab.
It was not far from the border and was surrounded by numerous
agricultural fields. In this
Airbase were two Hunter Squadrons, Nos 7 and 27.
No 7 Squadron had moved to Halwara from Ambala in August.
The war was expected to come, so from the second half of August,
the airfield was flying Combat Air Patrols (CAP) regularly.
the time of the attack on Pathankot, four Hunters
from No 7 Squadron were on patrol near Taran Taran.
This formation code-named ‘GREY’ was led by the Squadron’s
CO, Wing Commander A.T.R.H. Zachariah, and consisted of Squadron Leaders
A. K. Rawlley and M. M. Sinha and Flight Lieutenant S.K. Sharma.
The patrol reached Taran Taran when they spotted four Sabres coming
in at low level. The Sabres
were led by Squadron Leader M M Alam on a raid to Adampur.
The Sabres on spotting the Hunters shed their drop tanks and
started gaining height, while the Hunters did the same.
In the fight that followed, Rawlley was shot down and killed by
Alam. Alam then aborted the
attack and extricated his aircraft from the fight.
Alam’s Sabre formation exiting out of the area crossed another
Sabre formation led by Squadron Leader S A Rafiqui on a strike to Halwara
Airbase. Alam had warned Rafiqui’s formation about the presence of the
Hunters. Rafiqui carried on
with his strike mission. The Hunters being low on fuel left the Sabres and started
making it back to the base. Zachariah
reported the loss to the base and the two Hunters on the Operational
Readiness Platform were ordered to take off.
that time on ORP were Flying Officer A. R. Gandhi and Flying Officer P.S.
Pingale of No 7 Squadron, Gandhi who joined No 7 Squadron in May 1965 was
flying his fourth sortie of the day and Pingale was on his first. The two Hunters took off for their CAP over Halwara.
Ten minutes later, Halwara Air Control informed them that they were
under attack by F’86s. The Hunters arrived over the airfield and they couldn’t
figure out anything in the confusion.
The first indication they had that something was wrong was when
bullets fired out of nowhere slammed into Pingale’s Hunter.
The Sabres had jumped the Hunters.
Pingale suffered systems failure and loss of engine power.
He ejected from his stricken aircraft safely and was picked up
later. Meanwhile, the Sabre
that had shot down Pingale attacked Gandhi’s aircraft and overshot him.
Presented with a nice target, Gandhi manoeuvred behind it and started
firing his cannon. Even though he did not take good aim, the 54 foot
spread of the Hunter’s four 30 mm cannon shells took care of the Sabre.
Gandhi could see the Sabre was streaming smoke and was at 150 feet,
when the cockpit canopy flew off. The Pakistani pilot had pulled his
ejection lever and, before the ejection sequence began, the Sabre
nose-dived into the ground and blew up. Flying Officer Gandhi had got the first kill for the
he could revel in his triumph, the remaining three Sabres made a beeline
for his aircraft. His right
wing got hit repeatedly. The Hunter lazily rolled to the right and entered
into a spin. Gandhi ejected and landed on the outskirts of Halwara.
see-saw battle was not over yet. The
airfield’s ack-ack guns shot down one of the F-86’s which dived
headlong into the ground near the airfield.
The last two Sabres were continuing their strafing, when No 27
Squadron came to the rescue. Two
Hunters flown by Flight Lieutenant D.N. Rathore and Flying Officer V.K.
Neb were returning from a sortie and were directed towards the Sabres.
Rathore, the flight leader latched onto one of the Sabres and it
went into a strafing run and sent it down in a sheet of flame some six
miles from the field. The
other remaining aircraft abandoned its attack and pulled up steeply to
gain height. Flying Officer
Neb lost no time in aiming and firing.
The Sabre’s left wing shredded in an instant and it blew up.
Even as the pieces were falling onto the ground, both the Hunters
formed up and flew back to Base. Two
of the PAF pilots who were killed in this battle were Squadron Leader S
Rafiqui, who earlier claimed the Vampires over Chamb and Flight Lieutenant
Yunus, No 2 to Rafiqui. Pakistan
claims that only these two were lost in combat.
The third pilot Flight Lieutenant Cecil Choudhry reportedly made it
back to Base.”
is difficult to assess how many Indian aircraft were in the air to defend
Halwara when Rafiqui’s strike formation arrived.
It is beyond comprehension that after being alerted by the
successful PAF attack with ten F-86s on IAF Base at Pathankot they would
have only two in the air and later divert two more.
Rafiqui’s formation shot down two and lost only two and not three
as claimed by the Indians.
Rafiqui’s determination to lead the attack on Halwara, deep inside enemy
territory, being heavily outnumbered and having lost the element of
surprise speaks volumes for his sense of duty and courage. Although he would have been perfectly justified to leave the
battle area but his decision to continue the engagement with the enemy
despite his guns being jammed is in the highest traditions of chivalry.
For him the end was never in doubt but his dedication and selfless
devotion even beyond the call of duty has blazed such a trail of glory
that it continues to inspire us generation after generation.
gallantry of Rafiqui is acknowledged by Indians themselves.
Pushpindar Singh and Ravi Rikhye write in Fizaya : Psyche of the
Pakistan Air Force on p.39:
“It was on September 6 that PAF lost Squadron Leader Rafiqui over
Halwara, when his guns jammed as he attempted to protect one of his flight
in trouble when the PAF Sabres were bounced by IAF Hunters.
He was given
Pakistan’s highest leadership award, the Hilal-e-Jurat, also awarded to
the PAF’s chief, Air Marshal Nur Khan.
One Hunter was credited to him.
Later, the PAF base at Shorkot Road was named after him, a fitting
tribute to a brave and dedicated young Pakistani.”
the Indians to suffer the ignominy of being shot down over their home base
in front of their own officers and men was the ultimate humiliation and
must have shattered their confidence and morale. The supreme sacrifice
made by PAF’s first Shaheeds, Rafiqui and Yunus, culminated in Pakistan
Air Force getting the better of its vastly superior adversary.
three participants of the ill-fated Halwara Strike were awarded
Sitara-e-Jurat while Sarfraz Rafiqui Shaheed was also awarded the
Hilal-e-Jurat for his outstanding qualities of Leadership and solidarity.
The Government awarded 77 acres of prime agricultural land as
recompense with the awards of HJ & SJ which was most generously
bequeathed by Rafiqui’s parents to the Sarfraz Rafiqui Welfare Trust
administered by the PAF to benefit widows, orphans and the needy.
Yunus Hussain Shaheed’s widow brought up her sons Sajjad and
Fawad who are now both serving in senior positions in PAF.
the Indian side, Flying Officers Gandhi and Pingale were awarded the Vir
Chakra and rose to the rank of Air Marshal.
As narrated by Cecil, he met Gandhi many years after the 1965 War
in Iraq where both were on deputation. Gandhi duly acknowledged Cecil as
the victor and introduced him as such to his wife.
Base Shorkot was named after Rafiqui as a tribute to his bravery and
rekindle the spirit of his chivalry.