Wednesday, February 16, 2011

david vs goliath

Squadron Leader Najeeb A.Khan OC No 7th Squadron recalls his first bombing mission for Adampur air base at the outset of the Indo-Pak war of 1965.

Squadron Leader Najeeb A.Khan had brought a formation of 4 B-57s to Peshawar air base and on landing was informed of his first bombing mission. He was tasked to undertake the first night bombing mission, leading a formation of four B-57 bombers to Adampur on the night of 6th September 1965, one of the heavily defended air base of the Indian Air Force located near Jullundur.

Najeeb narrates: ”It was the first hot mission of my career. The time had come for which I had joined Air Force and had been trained day and night for over 13 years in the PAF. Myself, Flt. Lt.Bashar, Flt. Lt.Osman, Flt. Lt.Mazhar were the pilots of four B-57 bombers with Flt.Lt. Irfan, Flt. Lt. Rashid, Flt.Lt.Harney and Flt.Lt.Ghorey as the respective navigators. At the time of take-off from the Peshawar air base Flt.Lt. Osman was delayed a little. Flt Lt Bashar and I took off first and a couple of minutes later Osman and Mazhar joined us.”

“The formation flew at tree top level to evade enemy radar detection and As we settled down on course, Bashar s' aircraft flying about a mile abreast began to fade from sight with the descending darkness. To keep contact I asked him to move closer to me as the visibility worsened. He moved closer but even at 600 ft away he could not maintain visual contact with me. For fear of losing him I had to take the risk of switching on the navigation lights and thus we plodded on towards the enemy territory.”

“As I crossed into India a mixed feeling of anxiety and excitement came over me. Pitch darkness had by then engulfed us making navigation a challenge to our professional skill.“

“In the midst of its hearing Osman s' occasional call of “No contact” was disturbing There was also a vague anticipation of hazards associated with a hostile mission. However this seemingly overwhelming gloom was dispelled with the prospect of licking a treacherous enemy who did not believe in any ethics of war.. So forward we went, racing against time, try to prove ourselves worthy of the Nations s' trust.”

“Soon we could see the grey ribbon of meandering River Beas. We were in the enemy territory; I switched off the navigation lights and settled down firmly on our course. The target was still some distance away.”

“We were flying low; and as we approached Adampur air base we pulled up. Pull-up in a low-level mission is crucial and decides the success or failure of an attack”.

“The whole air base was presenting a lovely sight. It was all lit up, 2 to 3 miles at 10 o' clock from us. We had achieved complete surprise.”

“I rolled in for dive aiming at the beginning of the runway where I could see enemy aircraft parked invitingly. I pressed the bomb switch but nothing happened. No bomb released! I was up set and pulled out of the dive.”

“Flt Lt. Bashar followed me dropping his bombs right at the operational readiness platform (O.R.P.). Suddenly the lights at the air base went off and a heavy barrage of ack ack guns greeted us. The Indian got ready to give us a fight. Bashar s' bombs had lit up fires and the whole air base could be seen as sunny day.”

“I veered for the second attack when Osman called out ; “Leader, suggest, you do not make another dive: the ack ack fire is very heavy.”

“Never mind, I could not bear the thought of having to go back with out delivering my cargo.”

“I re-positioned the switches to try the alternative method of bomb release and rolled into a dive pointing the sight slightly ahead of the blaze along the runway. Four bombs dropped. I rolled out and banked again for another run. The ack-ack was murderous now. The sky was lit up with shell bursts and tracers. Osman s' B-57 was hit by a 40 mm shell and he left for home after delivering his bombs.”

“On the third run I made an attempt for the technical area of the air base. Two bombs found the fuel dump which caught fire sending flames high up into the sky. I had two more bombs left. I checked up fuel gauge; it was all right. I divided in to the fourth time and released my bombs over the dispersal area. Before leaving for home I got above the ack-ack range and had a good look to survey the carnage below. A few aircraft looking like Mysteres, were burning on the O.R.P. and the fuel dump was sending flames hundreds of feet in the air.”

“We headed home after successful completion of our first bombing mission. Osman landed safely; the shell had pierced through bomber port wing punching a neat hole and surprisingly causing no other damage or fire. This near miss did much to dispel our fear of ack-ack.”

“As we landed back the Peshawar air base was humming with intense air activities despite the black out. There was a continuous roar of incoming and outgoing aircraft. In the midst of that rush the devoted ground crew didn't lose any time to re-arm and re-fuel our aircraft for our next mission for River Beas Bridge. They even managed to plug the hole in the wing of Flt. Lt. Osman s' aircraft.”

“The news was soul stirring. For a moment I wondered if we fliers ever fully appreciated the devoted efforts of those working quietly behind the scene to keep us flying. “

“My hat off to those remarkable men. !”

An ailing Eagle joined the battle:

Before the outbreak of hostilities in the first week of September 1965. Flt. Lt. Syed Shamsuddin Ahmed was sick and deeply worried about his deteriorating health condition. He was afraid of being grounded at a time when clouds of war had thickening on the Indo-Pak horizon. He was a B-57 bomber pilot; and he did not wish to have the feeling that he could not honour the pledge he had given to his country and nation in the hour of trial. The real time of trial had come for the Air Force had trained him.

Shams had not wait for long, In the early hours of 6th September. The Indian Army launched its multiple ground attacks on Lahore and The Indo-Pak war was declared.

With lines of pain written on his face, Shams walked into the operations room of the air base. He was taking a great risk which might cost him his life, his navigator s' and a valuable bomber B-57. In a jet bomber aircraft during night bombing mission a late split second decision or weakness can hurl it into the oblivion of No Return.

“What if I crash! Would Almighty God forgive me for taking the life of an innocent young man , my navigator, “ he thought.

With faith in Divine help and in his own destiny he curbed his fears. However, he could not afford to inform his commanding officer about his ailing condition;

he would straight away been ordered to report to the hospital and ultimately grounded from flying duties. He looked round and in a corner of the room he saw the demure looking Sqn. Ldr. Shoaib A. Khan, a navigator. Who had escaped from the boredom of a staff duty at Air Headquarters in search of combat thrill at an operational air base.

With much reluctance Shams approached him. After salutation he quietly whispered his ailing condition to Shoaib and with a grin, pleaded if he would like to accompany him as his navigator.

“It s' O.K. I will fly with you,” firmly replied Shoaib who had felt in this young man the steel and √©lan of a fighter pilot. His sincerity inspired him.“ Where would I get a pilot of such guts to fly with,” he thought. The reply had taken Shams by surprise who was fearing that no body would like to accompany an ailing pilot with whom it could have proved a suicidal bombing mission.

It was different Shams now. His whole countenance changed. Jubilant with joy and eagerness the Eagle seemed to have forgotten his ailing conditions. Outside the operation room it was complete black out and not a single light could be seen. The soft cool radiance of the moon had brought in a seemingly peaceful atmosphere belying the inner cauldron of war.

From then on till the end of the war the two valiant flyers flew night after night bombing missions against enemy air bases, braving intense enemy ack ack fire and destroying a number of targets. Never afterwards did Shams, complained of the grueling kidney pain which he suffered during the hours he had to wait for his next night bombing mission.

During one of his attacks on Halwara air base located near Indian city Ludhiana , Flt. Lt. Shams was going to start on his bombing run when felt a killing pain in his kidney. It was a critical moment. Enemy ack ack batteries had opened up and the sky was lit with tracers and shell bursts. Shams hesitated and groaned for a brief moment. He prayed and then intoning (Allah ho Noor us sama waat) A Quranic Verse he had been told by his comrades, he yanked the controls and dived steeply in for the bombing run. Shells burst all around and streams of bullets whizzed past but the bomber flew on nose down , into the devastating deadly focus of fire. The whole aircraft rocked to the blast of too near miss from enemy ack ack firing. His kidney pain had vanished.

The silhouettes of ground installations at enemy air base, one of the biggest in northern India, were getting nearer as the B-57 bomber roared on through the pulverizing deadly fire.

Suddenly Shams pressed the button and eight 1000 lbs bombs went down hurling towards the dark structure below. One of the bombs scored a wonderful, blinding, bursting hit, bang on a fuel dump sending a huge plume of fire which could in a short while be seen from 60 miles away. The mission accomplished, the aircraft pulled up and Sqn Ldr. Shoaib , the navigator ,set course for own air base. The tension and heat of the attack had gone and Flt. Lt. Shams again started feeling relaxed. However, the gallant eagle landed back safely.

In the words of his navigator, Sqn. Ldr. Shoaib A. Khan; ”Flt. Lt. Shams used to come to the aircraft groaning with kidney pain; but once in the cockpit he was relaxed man. He flew like a cool headed seasoned bomber pilot making low-level precision attack after attack on enemy air bases. Never once did he falter in his judgement.”

Soon after the cease fire, Flt Lt. Shams was admitted in a hospital where as many as 28 stones were found in his lacerated kidney which had to be removed. He would not be able to fly his faithful B-57 bomber again but now he got relaxed, because A pledge was honoured !

Squadron Leader Najeeb A.Khan OC No 7th Squadron recalls his deadly mission for Ambala air base.

Squadron Leader Najeeb was leading a flight of two B-57 bombers to Ambala on the night of 18th September, one of the heavily defended air base of the Indian Air Force. The target was located deep inside enemy territory. The radio transmission was kept suspended during flight to the target, to achieve secrecy and surprise for this dangerous mission and without any visible land mark the bombing mission was an acid test for a navigator s' training and professional efficiency!

The B-57s pair took off from Peshawar air base, was flying very low to avoid radar detection by the enemy air force. An East Pakistani Flt.Lt. William D Harney while sitting on navigator s' controls was meticulously guiding the Bombers to the ultimate prime target from where the IAF was conducting a major portion of its air operations in West Pakistan. Behind the leading B-57 was roaring another B-57 bomber piloted by highly experienced Wing Commander Nazir Latif and Sqn. Ldr. Auranzeb Khan as his navigator.

“On reaching the identification point (I.P.), we descended and headed for target. The moon had come up due to haze the visibility was extremely poor and we missed a check point. However I continued the course.”

“The time on target (T.O.T) was selected one hour past midnight. As we entered the hostile territory the yellow light of the waning moon had emerged out of the horizon giving an eerie look to the black shadows floating down below.”

“Nothing was visible; and the Indian cities, villages and other ground features seemed to be all covered under a black pall revealing occasional grayish patches of rivers and ponds which reflected dim light from the star spangled sky and the moon.”

Suddenly my intercom came alive and I heard the tense voice of my navigator Flt.Lt Harney: ”Target” 11 o'clock, approaching.”

“These words sent a tingling sensation down my spine as I carried out the bombing checks, removed safety switches and all that remained was to open the bomb doors and press the firing button.”

“A lot of horrible tales had been going round about Ambala air base and its massive anti aircraft defence system including batteries of medium and heavy ack ack guns and SAM-II missiles. However opening the bomb door, I got my self ready for the ordeal and went in for a run. I was flying extremely low, about two hundred feet above ground level. Everything at the enemy base was covered under a pall of darkness and I could not make out anything.”

“Suddenly the sky around me lit with barrage of tracers and shell bursts. The devastating fire had filled the whole place around me. My hands moved to the controls, lashed by the flak I flew on into the devastating, deadly focus of fire. The ack ack played tattoo at the fuselage and wings of my aircraft and it rocked to the blast of too near miss from the concentrated shell bursts. Racked and rocked my B-57 roared on!”

“The enemy ack ack fire rose to new climax. I had taken part in night bombing missions against various IAF air bases including Jodhpur, Adampur, Halwara and Jamnagar and had faced quite impressive ack ack firing but here it was deadly different. The tracers were so solid that it looked like a fishing net woven of fiery cords. I thought that the flight was over for us.”

“However, invoking Divine help, I pressed on. As I was about to touch this web of death and destruction it seemed to have parted and fell away. Through this appalling concentration of fire I flew on; and down at the enemy air base I could visualize aircraft hangars silhouetted against the dim moon light. I pressed the bomb release switch on the control column and four thousand pounds bombs jerked out of the bay and tumbled down into the darkness below.”

“I came out of the fiery hell quite shaken but all in one piece. Four bombs were still hanging in the bay and I banked for the second run.”

“By now the base seemed to have lit up with the explosion of my bombs and I could visualize various buildings and the dispersal area with shadows of parked aircraft. With all the fire works around it was a nerve wrecking and giddy experience. I pressed the throttles and went in for another run. The web of criss-cross fire again parted and the bombs landed directly into the dispersal area setting off new blazes.”

“ We had a long way to go back and fuel was running low. However, I had two more bombs left and decided to make another final run. By now I had shed all my fears and pressed the attack once again. It was again the dispersal area.

By the time I turned for the journey home the myriad fires at the Ambala air base presented quite an impressive spectacle.” In the meantime, the second B-57 bomber piloted by Wing Commander Nazir Latif had also successfully delivered its lethal cargo of bombs on the targets and followed the home journey with flying colours.

Foreign Media Acknowledgement:-

By: Everett G. Martine, General Editor, ”Newsweek” September 20, 1965.

“One point particularly noted by military observers is that in their first advances The Indian did not use Air power effectively to support their troops. By contrast, The Pakistanis, with sophisticated timing, swooped in on Ambala airfield and destroyed some 25 Indian planes just after they had landed and were sitting on the ground out of fuel and powerless to escape.”

“By the end of the week, in fact it was clear that The Pakistanis were more than holding their own.”

By: Peter Preston, Correspondent “The Guardian” London September 24, 1965

“One thing I am convinced of is that Pakistan morally and even physically won the Air Battle against immense odds.

“Although the Air Force gladly gives most credit to the Army, this perhaps over generous. India, with rougly five times greater air power, expected an easy air superiority. Her total failure to attain it may be seen retrospectively as a vital, possibly the the most vital , factor of the whole conflict.

Air Marshal Nur Khan, Commander in Chief, Pakistan Air Force is an alert, incisive man of 41, who seems even less. For six years until July 1965 he was on secondement and responsible for running Pakistan civil airline, which in a country where “ Now” means sometime and “Sometime” means never, is a model of efficiency. He talks without the jargan of a Press Relation Officer. He does not quibble about figures. Immediately one has confidence in what he says.

“ His estimates, proffered difficulty but with as much photographic evidence as possible, speak for themselves. Indian and Pakistanis lossess, he thinks, are in something like the ratio of ten to one.”

“ Yet the quality of the equipment, Nur Khan insists, is less important than flying ability and determination. The Indian had no sense of purpose. The Pakistanis were defending their own country and willingly taking greater risks. “

“The average B-57 bomber crew flew 15-20 sorties daily. My difficulty was restraining them, not pushing them on.”

“ This is more than nationlistic pride. Talk to the pilots themselves and you get the same intense story.”

Air Marshal M. Nur Khan, Commander –in-Chief, Pakistan Air Force, in an address after the war.

“One may ask, how is that such remarkable results were achieved at the cost of so few? The answer surely is that fortified, as they were by the conviction in the righteouness of our National Cause and firm faith in divine help,death held no terror for them. When faced with overwhelming odds, an enemy much larger in number and better equiped, our many Rafiquis, Munirs & Iqbals showed No hestation, No fear, No doubts; simply an urge to Attack. This was the spirit which enabled us to do more than our military honour required and which made us attempt the impossible.”source

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