COVER STORY - AIR FORCE SPECIAL
Operation Gibralter

In early August, a large number of Mujahideen had been infiltrated across the UN ceasefire line (CFL) to help liberate the Indian occupied Kashmir. Before long, the Mujahideen ran into problems as they faced a shortage of arms, ammunition, supplies and provisions. Once again it was the air transport wing of PAF that came to the rescue. The stakes this time were very high. Flying 75-ton aircraft under normal conditions down to within a couple of hundred feet of dropping zones surrounded by mountains down to within a couple of hundred feet of dropping zones surrounded by mountains towering up to more than 8,000 metres is hazardous enough, what with weather, turbulence and terrain avoidance problems. With the added complications of enemy air and ground defences against these lumbering unarmed transports, if supplies were to be dropped across the CFL, the task clearly became out of the question by day time - and to attempt such operations at night among some of the highest peaks in the world appeared equally impossible.

‘Impossible’ does not exist in the vocabulary of PAF’s resolute transport aircrew. Under the command of their Officer Commanding, Wing, Commander Zahid Butt, Co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Asif and Navigator Flight Lieutenant Rizwan, the undaunted crew got airborne on a starry night on 23 August, 1965 to drop 28,000 lbs of guns rations, ammunition and other supplies. So dangerous was the mission that the then PAF Commander-in-Chief, Air Vice Marshal Nur Khan decided to accompany them. Such an example of leadership from the cockpit on a mission into enemy territory has few parallels in air warfare. The daring mission was successfully achieved despite a raging blizzard and a pitch black night intermittently lit by flashes of lightning. It was later confirmed by reliable intelligence sources that an accuracy of about half-a-kilometre had been achieved, which was remarkable for a blind drop. For his courage and skill, Wing Commander Butt and his Navigator Flight Lieutenant Rizwan were awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat. Similar clandestine operations were successfully carried out subsequently. These audacious and undaunting missions by the PAF’s transport aircrew set the tone of PAF operations for the war which was to follow.

Indo-Pak War 1965

The five Lockheed C-130s of No 6 Squadron, which had already played a vital support role with their supply-dropping sorties in Kashmir, were to undertake even more dramatic offensive operations besides their normal logistic support missions in the 1965 War.

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The Commando Assault

The airfield strike plan of 6th September included an air assault against the advanced enemy air based at Adampur, Halwara and Pathankot as targets. On the night of 6/7 September, three C-130s were airborne from Peshawar. Each dropped a strike team comprising 60 para commandos tasked to destroy aircraft, kill enemy personnel, blow up fuel pumps and storm other valuable points. All the three C-130s executed successful drops and returned safely.

The Use of C-130s Heavy Bomber

One of the most enterprising demonstrations of the PAF’s genius for improvisation related to the night bombing campaign. The immense load-carrying capabilities of the C-130s, coupled with the frequently demonstrated ability of No 6 Squadron’s crew to drop supplies in all types of weather conditions into drop zones in the mountains as small as 1-1500 metres across, gave the Station Commander of the transport base at Chaklala Group Captain Eric Hall the idea of using these big transports as bombers. Some modifications had to be carried out to carry the bombs. A greater hurdle was the limit of flying at a maximum speed of 150 knots because of the open ramp and door. This low speed increased the giant aircraft’s vulnerability to ground fire or interception. The matter was resolved by flying without the rear ramp door which enabled the pilot to maintain a speed of 280 knots during bomb release.

Target : Kathua Bridge

On the night of 11/12 September, the first bombing mission was undertaken by Wing Commander Zahid Butt against the target of Kathua Bridge 16 Kms East of Pathankot. This bridge formed a vital link for the supply line to Indian ground troops. Gauging the dangerous nature of the mission, Chaklala’s Station Commander Group Captain Eric Hall also went along on the mission. Flight Lieutenant Rizwan was the navigator. They reached the target safely and during the bombing run, they were attacked by an enemy fighter. Wing Commander Zahid Butt took evasive action only after the bombs had been released. On successful return to the base, they discovered a 1 cm bullet hole in the port wing tip.

Bombing in Ramgarh - Sialkot Sector

After the Kathua bombing raid, the next target for the C-130 bombers was a concentration of enemy tanks and guns, three miles north of Ramgarh in the Sialkot Sector. Two C-130s dropped nine tons of bombs each on the night of 15 September and played a major role in shattering the enemy forces moving up for the battle of Chawinda. On the following night, a single C-130 strike was repeated against Ramgarh destroying enemy tanks and guns as well as ammunition and fuel dumps.

Rurki and Pagowal Under Attack

On the night of 19th September, two successful C-130s sorties were made against Indian Army concentrations in the vicinity of Rurki and Pagowal, and apart from the resulting material damage, the effect on enemy morale was believed to be devastated.

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Saving Lahore

In the closing stages of the 1965 War, the Indians had amassed their heavy guns close to the BRB canal to concentrate their heavy artillery fire on Lahore. On 21st September a single C-130 dropped ten tons of bombs on the heavy artillery four miles south-east of Jallo. Another C-130 dropped nine tons of bombs on Indian artillery concentration at Valtoha. On 22nd September bad weather hampered PAF strike action against the assembled Indian artillery but the inclement weather did not deter three C-130s taking off that night to find the enemy target and drop their bombs by radar. The target at Atari included an Indian AA Regiment with 72 guns, located in a strip about one mile long running parallel with and close to the BRB canal. The Army was reluctant in giving clearance to the C-130s for fear of breaching the BRB or worse still, the bombs landing on our own troops this side of the canal. Permission was finally granted and the C-130s conducted a highly accurate drop of more than 30 tons of TNT which devastated the Indian artillery. Many independent observers believe this last action by PAF set the Indians clamouring for a ceasefire. Seven officers of the Transport Wing were awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat and 2 JCOSs the Tamgha-e-Jurat.

1971 War

The role of the small but effective Air Transport fleet during the entire year of 1971 deserves special credit. After the closure of overflight route through the Indian territory following the Indian Airline’s F-27 hijacking drama, PAF C-130s had to route via Sri Lanka entailing sorties of exhausting length as well as the risk of interception by Indian fighter aircraft to reach East Pakistan, nevertheless PAF C-130s maintained the vital link, transporting troops, ammunition and supplies from the West.

Realising the gravity of the law and order situation in East Pakistan, two C-130s were permanently deployed at Dhaka. They remained there till the December War broke out. These versatile aircraft were employed in nearly all possible roles they were designed for and ingeniously eked out, and served as the backbone of the operations there. They were used for crucially needed tactical airlift, airborne assault, evacuation of casualties and even the fuel tanker role. Some of the most daring and hazardous missions included the recapture of Lal Munir Hat and Sylhet airfields after the Mukti Bahini assumed their control following Shaikh Mujibur Rahman’s declaration of independence on 25th March 1971. Both airfields were captured through air landed assault by Pakistan Army’s elite SSG Commandos conveyed by 2 C-130s approaching at low level over the hostile territory. These aircraft also took extensive part in evacuation of troops and civilians from enemy occupied areas. On 18th April a record number of 365 people were lifted from Sylhet to Dhaka in one C-130 sortie. PAF C-130s flew more than 125 missions in support of the ground troops between April and October 1971 logging over 300 hours of flying under the most hazardous and strenuous conditions, without losing a single aircraft.

War-Time Offensive Missions

The successful and enterprising employment of the C-130s for carpet bombing role in the 1965 Indo-Pak War encouraged PAF to use these vulnerable but highly effective aircraft as heavy bombers again in the 1971 War. A total of nine successful bombing missions were launched by the C-130s. The most accomplished being the attack on Jaisalmer on the night of 5/6 December, led by Flight Lieutenant Mir Alam, along with his navigator Flight Lieutenant Wajid Saleem and Co-pilot Flying Officer Riffat Jameel who inflicted heavy damage upon the IAF’s technical complex there. All the three were awarded Sitara-e-Jurat for their valour. Successful bombing was also carried out in the Srinagar Valley and against battlefield targets.

Battle Honours

On 29th April, 1972, Number Six Squadron was the first PAF Squadron to receive a Squadron Colour and battle honours for ‘Kashmir 1948’ and ‘Kashmir 1965’. The battle honours for 1965 and 1971 War were added later

A Third Transport Squadron is Formed

In August, 1985, No 41 Light Communication Flight was upgraded to a full fledged Squadron and thus became the third Squadron of PAF’s Transport Command. It started with a Beech Baron, an Aero Commander and two Cessnas. Today the squadron strength boasts of Y-12s, Piper Seneca, Beech Baron, Cessnas and Mushshaks.

Conclusion

There has been no addition to its fleet of C-130s but one cargo version of Boeing 727 was added to increase its airlift capability. For short hops, two Chinese Y-12s have also been added to the Air Transport inventory. PAF Air Transport Command continues to toil day and night: lifting cargo, ammunition and supply wherever needed. It serves as a force multiplier, transporting troops and entire Squadrons from one theatre of war to another. In every calamity, whether it was floods in Bangladesh, earthquake in Guatemala or devastation through war in Somalia and Afghanistan. It has proudly flown the national colour to more than 125 countries of the world. In every war that Pakistan faced, the undaunted transport aircrew have fought alongside the fighter and bomber commands delivering their loads of supplies, troops or bombs deep inside the enemy territory; unescorted and unarmed and yet never having lost a single aircraft during war. An enviable record, indeed!

They have received the call:

Airfarer, dear,
Keep up the quest
For still greater glory,
Allah is by your side.

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