COVER STORY - AIR FORCE SPECIAL

Boy ...We-ll Sort
Them Out

That evening, two pairs of Hunter CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) were airborne, one from No 7 Squadron with Flg Off Adi Gandhi and Flg Off P S Pingale and the other from No 27 Squadron with Flt Lt D N Rathore and Flg Off V K Neb. Gandhi and Pingale were in a left-hand orbit over the airfield when Rafiqui broke off his attack and closed in on the nearest aircraft (Pingale). Rafiqui-s guns, as usual, found their mark. Pingale, not sure what hit him, lost control of his Hunter and ejected. In the melee that followed, Yunus broke off chasing Gandhi-s Hunter, while Rafiqui manoeuvred behind yet another Hunter (possibly Rathore or Neb who had plunged into the fray). ‘Boy, keep my tail clear, we-ll sort them out’, called Rafiqui, who had been cautioned by Cecil about the new entrants8. As Rafiqui fired, the improbable happened - his guns jammed. Cecil heard his Squadron Commander call over the radio, ‘Cecil my guns have stopped firing, take over the lead’. Cecil promptly moved in to lead, with Rafiqui sliding back as wingman. This courageous act - the captain staying on with the imperiled ship - is what made Rafiqui immortal.

The ensuing fight is difficult to reconstruct as three aircraft on each side were engaged in a fierce tail-chase. In the free-for-all, Gandhi re-emerged to get behind a helpless Rafiqui who was engrossed in clearing Cecil-s tail and, eventually shot him with his four 30mm guns9 . While Gandhi followed the stricken Sabre till it hit the ground, Cecil bored in and shot him in turn, the bullets finding their mark on the left wing. Gandhi, seeing his aircraft come apart, ejected near the airfield10. Cecil, not sure about Rafiqui-s position, called up on the radio but got no response. He then looked around and seeing Yunus engaged offensively with Rathore and Neb, moved in to support him. Both sides rolled and racked their machines around, firing each time an adversary crossed their gunsights. Running out of fuel as well as daylight, Cecil and Yunus decided to make an exit. As they were gathering themselves in line-abreast formation, Rathore and Neb happy on home ground, dived in to give chase. Cecil called a defensive break but Yunus, for some incomprehensible reason pulled upwards, assisting Neb to catch up. Neb did not let go of the chance and fired a well-aimed volley, which Yunus did not survive. Left alone, Cecil bravely fought his way out and dashed across after a nerve-racking encounter .

The mission was unsuccessful, in large measure, because the exigency of wresting the initiative from the IAF had become almost an obsession with the Air Staff. The original plan had envisaged an eight-aircraft package, but unserviceabilities and delays led to a fatally flawed decision to go ahead any way. Three aircraft were too few for attacking a bustling airfield complex, as Station Commander Sargodha had repeatedly pleaded with Air Headquarters. Besides, raids on the selected airfields were being launched as and when the aircraft were becoming available, with complete disregard of a coordinated border crossing. No wonder that the well-alerted IAF was ready to pick them off, one by one. The final outcome at Halwara was not a satisfying prospect either, because unlike IAF losses, PAF-s were fatalities suffered by a none too strong force12. But in all this, the silver lining is that all three PAF pilots fought most gallantly. There is some measure of consolation that the IAF losses were inflicted right over their home base - a most humiliating possibility for any fighter pilot13.

rafiqui7.jpg (26812 bytes)

Greatest Contribution
to the 1965 Air War

In this epic encounter, Rafiqui was at his leadership best. Of course he had scored a confirmed kill a third time. He had also not lost sight of the significance of the mission and, despite heavy odds, did his best to get the formation to put in the attack. But when the ultimate test came after his guns jammed during the dogfight, he stayed on. Though he got shot before long, it was the spirit of solidarity, that very brave gesture to stay with the team, which is remembered to this day. As a Squadron Commander, his act demonstrably inspired other Squadron Commanders and pilots to lead fearlessly. This may well have been Rafiqui-s greatest contribution to the 1965 air war. His selfless devotion to duty was acknowledged by the award of a Sitara-e-Jurat (along with Cecil and Yunus), as well as a Hilal-e-Jurat. PAF Base, Rafiqui (Shorkot), named after him, rekindles the spirit of his chivalry. (Sarfaraz Rafiqui Welfare Trust, based on 77 acres of prime agricultural land in Faisalabad Division, continues to benefit the poor and the needy. The land, given by the Government of Pakistan as recompense with the awards of HJ & SJ, was most generously bequeathed by Sarfaraz-s parents for the Trust, which is administered by the PAF).

‘... Any further news about him will be conveyed immediately. Letter follows,’ finished the telegram, addressed to Mr B A Rafiqui. The fate of Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz Rafiqui was officially known only after the war, when dreadfully, he was not amongst the POWs being exchanged. He has lain in some unmarked spot in Halwara for many decades. Fate denied Sarfaraz a last homecoming - to the country for which he once eagerly flew the flag as a little boy, in a far-away land. But his soul lives on in the homeland, serving as a beacon for the youth of today and tomorrow.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Group Captain Kaiser Tufail was commissioned in 1975. He has flown virtually all types of combat aircraft in PAF including thr F-16. He commanded a Mirage Squadron and later a Flying Wing. A graduate of Air War College, he has also been on its faculty. He holds a Master-s degree in Strategic Studies. For his meritorious services he has been awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Military) by the Government of Pakistan.

Acknowledgements

  • To Gp Capt S M Hussaini, for his paintings, ‘Death of Four Vampires’ and ‘Rafiqui in Action over Halwara’.
  • To Gp Capt Sultan M Hali (Director Public Relations) for providing access to taped interviews of Rafiqui-s course-mates and colleagues, whose recollections provided useful material for this article.
  • To Wg Cdr Farooq Azam (Deputy Director, Records, AHQ) for providing access to the Personal Records of Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz A Rafiqui, HJ.

A MAN OF CHARACTER IN PEACE IS A MAN OF COURAGE IN WAR
Lord Moran - Anatomy of Courage

REFERENCES

1Based on published account by late Mr Iqbal Shehzad, fellow scout at jamboree.
2Remarks by Mr A L Shaikh, Principal, DJ Sind Science College, 1951.
3Remarks by Lt Col Gul Mawaz Khan, Commandant JSPCTS, Quetta, 1951.
4Remarks by Sqn Ldr L W Phipps, OC, No 19 Squadron, RAF, 1961.
5Incident narrated by Gp Capt Cecil Choudhry (Retd), SJ.
6Chamb encounter based on accounts from:
(a) Death of Four Vampires by Sqn Ldr Imtiaz Bhatti, SJ - Shaheen (Winter 1968 issue).
(b) Battle for Pakistan by John Fricker.
(c) Fiza-ya - Psyche of The Pakistan Air Force by Pushpindar Singh, Ravi Rikhye & Peter Steinemann.
(d) Air Attack: Outbreak of the War (Sep 1st-6th) on Bharat Rakshak Forum (Internet).
7No 7 Squadron, considered IAF-s most elite unit, was at the receiving end of PAF-s onslaught, losing eight Hunters and five pilots during the war; today it is equipped with Mirage-2000.
8As quoted by Cecil in Target Halwara - Shaheen (Winter 1969 issue).
9Gandhi is quoted as having seen the Sabre-s canopy fly off just before it hit the ground, possibly an unsuccessful ejection attempt - in The Famous Halwara Encounter on Bharat Rakshak Forum (Internet).
10Many years later, Gandhi met Cecil in Iraq where both were on deputation. Gandhi duly acknowledged Cecil as the victor and introduced him as such to his wife! (As told by Cecil.)
11Reconstruction of Halwara encounter based on portions of accounts having common ground, from:
(a) Flt Lt Cecil Choudhry-s statement to Court of Inquiry constituted on 24-9-65.
(b) Target Halwara by Flt Lt Cecil Choudhry, SJ Shaheen (Winter 1969 issue).
(c) The Battle Axes No 7 Squadron IAF 1942-1992 by Pushpindar Singh.
(d) The Famous Halwara Encounter on Bharat Rakshak Forum (Internet).
12Final outcome presupposes veracity of losses acknowledged by IAF.
13All four IAF pilots of the Halwara encounter were awarded the Vir Chakra (equivalent to Sitara-e-Jurat) - History of Indian Air Force by Air Marshal M S Chaturvedi. l

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