DEFENCE NOTES

PAF'S FIRST
SITARA-E-JURAT

Group captain SM HALI writes a fascinating account of PAF's first major decoration for bravery

November 04, 1948 is a red letter day for Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Fifty years ago this very day, faced with its first test in the face of the enemy, our fledgling airforce set the pace for future generations of air warriors. Flying Officer Mukhtar Ahmed Dogar, operating a defenceless Dakota in the valleys of Kashmir was attacked by two Indian Air Force (IAF) Tempest fighter aircraft and ordered to surrender and land at Srinagar. Though unarmed and unable to retaliate, the undaunted pilot refused to capitulate. Before describing this thrilling episode of the opening round, a brief mention of the events leading up to it must be made.

Accession of Kashmir

The Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir declared accession of his Muslim majority state to India on 26 October, 1947 in total disregard of the principles enunciated in the documents concerning partition. At his signal, the Indian Armed Forces moved in to crush the Muslim uprising in the valley. The Indian Air Force also moved into action.

Pakistan faced a serious handicap in those formative years. Its military stores were stuck up in Indian warehouses. Its Air Force had only a handful of Tempest fighters as compared to its adversary. Moreover, the Pakistan government had prohibited the employment of its fighter aircraft to avoid a full scale air war. The only way to respond to the SOS calls for help from the besieged people of Gilgit and Skardu and the Azad Kashmir forces was through supply drops by its Dakota aircraft.

The Valley Operations

The four month old airforce had only two war-worn Dakotas when the first call for help came in December '47. There was little or no maintenance support available and its pilots had no experience in supply dropping. Flying through the serpentine valleys to reach the drop zones of Bunji and Skardu entailed operating through some of the most hazardous terrain in the world; turning and twisting through narrow valleys and gorges flanked by some of the highest peaks in the world; where weather was highly changeable and no forecasting facility was available, required not only a high level of professionalism but also a great deal of pluck. These handicaps did not deter our aircrew who accepted the challenge with exemplary courage and launched their mercy missions without delay.

The operations involved yet another hazard - the Indian Air Force. Stung by the reverses suffered by their land forces, the Indian Air Force increased its air patrolling over the area. Its aircraft lurked around, harassing civilian population or Azad Kashmir forces, unchallenged because PAF fighters had been asked to stay away.

 

The events of 4 November, 1948 are best described by Flying Officer Mukhtar Ahmed Dogar, who retired in the rank of Air Commodore in 1968 after a long and meritorious service. I recently traced him out in Faisalabad since earlier inquiries reported that he was away on 'Tableeghi Tours'. Despite his advanced age, Air Commodore Dogar vividly recalls every intricate detail:-

'I took off in the early morning of 4 November, 1948. The weather was fine and our spirits were high. Winding my way through the now familiar Indus valley, I para-dropped my load over a sandy bed near Skardu. Pleased with yet another successful mission, I had given the controls over to Flying Officer Jagjivan on the way back so that I could relax a little. We were somewhere over Chilas when we sighted 2 Tempests above us and I first took them for our own aircraft. In the drop area I had had no visual warning from our army posts about the presence of enemy aircraft and our own Tempests did occasionally sneak over to cavort in the bracing neighbourhood of Nanga Parbat. It was only when these fighters came close that I discovered their true identity and quickly took over the controls; the Indians seemed to grudge me the momentary relaxation which I thought I had earned.

The valley at Chilas is about 4 to 5 miles wide permitting easy manoeuvring of an aircraft, and I weaved along in the direction of Risalpur. On the radio the Tempests ordered me to go to the nearest Indian airfield but I took no notice of this. The order was repeated three times but I did not respond. At this point the Indians threatened to shoot me down if I did not comply, and they fired a free burst to show that they were armed. I pressed on regardless, at full throttle, my main concern being to get to the narrow portion of the valley as quickly as possible.

The army personnel on board were feeling rather queasy by now with all my evasive manoeuvring and, ignorant of the situation outside, requested me to ease off; they appeared to be under the impression that I was trying to impress them with my skill! A fateful realisation came over them when they learnt that I was fighting not only for my own life but for theirs too, and they quickly returned to their seats. Flying Officer Jagjivan and Naik Mohammad Din, however, stood watching from the open doorway of the aircraft, blissfully unaware of what was to come to them a minute later.

You'll Never Get Me!

At this time, one of the Indians broke off, gained a little height and came in to attack. He obviously meant business now and fired a full burst of 20mm at us, fatally wounding Naik Mohammad Din and knocking Jagjivan unconscious with a profusely bleeding arm. By now, I had got to the narrow neck of the valley and had asked Air Signaller Mohsin to stand up in the astrohatch and kick me every time he saw the fighters coming in for a kill. Thrice I was kicked and thrice, with quick half throttle, full flaps and left rudder I successfully eluded death. I had come down to deck level now, scraping almost along the river's surface but well out of the fighters' reach. A feeling of relative security sometimes inspires defiant talk and I found myself calling out to the Indians: if you haven't got me so far you will never get me! They seemed to agree and pushed off.

The encounter had lasted twenty to twenty five minutes. Earlier, when the Indian pilots had asked me to go to the nearest Indian airfield they had felt too sure of having air-arrested me. But for me it was a question not only of 'to be or not to be' but also one of Pakistan's prestige. Looking back I can only say that we were lucky, unarmed as we were, to reach home base at all.'

Flying Officer Alfred Jagjivan, who had received six shrapnels of the 20mm cannons fired by the attacking Tempest that fateful day, survives to tell his tale. The son of a preacher is a veteran pilot of the second world war and was commissioned in 1942. Having flown the Vultee Vengeance dive bomber on the Burma front, after partition he opted for Pakistan and because of the shortage of transport aircrew he was posted as Navigator.

Having traced him out in his house at Wah Cantt, it was a pleasant surprise to meet him fifty years after the November 4, episode. I found him confined to bed with his left arm and side paralyzed and both his legs numb and lifeless. He was touched that PAF thought it befitting to call on him. He insisted that he be picked up and placed on a chair. He wanted to talk to a PAF officer sitting up with rapt attention. He explained that with advancing age, his bullet wounds were taking their toll and the death of his 27 years old son from leukemia broke his back and he suffered a stroke. Alfred Jagjivan's spirit, however, is not broken. With a sparkle in his eyes he narrated the incident how he had volunteered to board the supply drop mission. He recalled that when the Indian Tempests wanted to air arrest them, he shouted to Dogar, ̉Do not give in, we will live for Pakistan and die for Pakistan,' Jagjivan insisted that I must convey to the Air Chief that if the nation required his services, he would come and fly again.

My heart swelled with pride at having met Air Commodore Dogar and Flight Lieutenant Jagjivan in person. These are the pioneers who helped build Pakistan Air Force into the fine institution it is today. They set the example of grit and indomitable courage right when PAF was at an incipient stage. The Nation beckoned to them and they responded resolutely. PAF's valley operations set the traditions of mental equation and the will to fight in complete harmony with its sister services and pave the way for Air Power to provide the shield the surface forces need.

Post Script:- Air Commodore Dogar was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for his daring handling of the belligerant Indian Air Force Fighters on 04 November, 1948. His Sitara-e-Jurat is the first for Pakistan Air Force.

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