Columnist Gp Capt SM HALI writes about the forgotten HALIFAX bombers of the Royal Pakistan Air Force

The HP-57 Halifax was built by Handley Page Company. It was fitted with four Roll-Royce Merlin engines and the designated loaded weight for the Halifax was 55000 pounds, with a maximum speed of 280 mph. The prototype Halifax first flew in October, 1939. It entered operational service with RAF in March, 1941. Royal Pakistan Air Force (the prefix Royal was dropped in 1956) acquired two of these aircraft in 1948. In 1949 the RPAF bought six additional ex-RAF Halifax B-VIs from UK to equip No 12 Squadron which was raised in March, 1950 as RPAF's first Heavy Bomber Squadron.

The first two Halifaxes were used in a rather different operational role. During the 1948 Kashmir Operations, they proved extremely useful during vital supply drop missions at night in the northern areas of Pakistan, especially at Skardu. These night missions were indispensable to the Kashmir War because this area was within range of Indian fighters, which precluded day operations. It is noteworthy that the aircrew, besides being exposed to enemy action also braved other problems: for instance, while operating in one of the most hostile flying territories of the world and that too at night, flying in the old and battle-weary aircraft, the tail gunner usually froze in the sub-zero temperatures in the vicinity of Nanga Parbat Peak (26,662 feet), and some of the other peaks because by the time the 'hot' air in the heating ducts reached his position, it was as cold as the outside air!

Initially an American Commercial Pilot, Randy Knowlton was hired to convert some of the PAF pilots on the first two aircraft. After acquisition of the six additional Halifaxes from the UK, more aircrew were converted. Practice Bombing was carried out on specific bombing ranges periodically in the initial stages. Air Headquarters, however, soon realized that a heavy bomber unit not only demanded a great deal of maintenance effort in manpower and material, which the RPAF could ill afford in its formative years; it also needed a variety of comprehensive training courses for pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, flight engineers and gunners who would man the various battle stations. Finally, there was the basic requirement of various types of bombs and associated hardware. All this led the RPAF to have second thoughts about trying to make the Halifaxes into a truly operational force.

The Halifaxes were then reduced in status and it was decided that they would be maintained as operational reserve for improvised uses in emergencies. A few pilots, navigators, and flight engineers trained on the type maintained their currency. The Halifaxes, now were used mainly to show off the RPAF's 'strategic might' at Independence Day flypasts. In September, 1953, No 12 Squadron was converted into a Composite Squadron comprising four flights, only one of which was equipped with the Halifaxes. Later on, in 1954 the aircraft were transferred to long-term storage, from where they were disposed of as salvage. It's a pity that when Pakistan Air Force inaugurated its Museum at Karachi, not a single component of the Halifax bomber was available for display or record.