Battle of Boyra
|Battle of Boyra|
|Part of Bangladesh liberation war|
India (Formally Joined the war on 3 December 1971)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Flt. Lt. Roy Andrew Massey||Wing Commander Afzal Chaudhry.|
|4x HAL Folland Gnats||3x Canadair Sabre Mk6's.|
|Casualties and losses|
|None.||2 PAF Canadair Sabre shot downs shot down.
One Sabre damaged, but recovered to base at Dacca. 2 PAF pilots PoW.
The Battle of Boyra, on 22 November 1971, was an aerial interception fought between the Indian Airforce and intruding Pakistani Air Force jets that inadvertently crossed into Indian Airspace while performing a close air support mission against the Mukti Bahini, the Bengali Guerrilla freedom fighters, and a Battalion size detachment of the Indian Army which were fighting in the Battle of Garibpur against the Pakistani Armed Forces as part of the Bangladesh Liberation War.
This battle is significant as it was the first engagement between the Air Forces of India and Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. It is seen as a culmination of the Battle of Garibpur in which the Mitro Bahini (The alliance of Mukti Bahini and Indian Armed Forces was named as Mitro Bahini meaning Allied Forces in Bengali) at Battalion strength successfully defended the area around Garibpur against a Brigade strength Combined Arms thrust by Pakistani Armed Forces and inflicted heavy casulties on them in the process.
The Battle of Boyra is named after the Boyra Salient, a feature which dominates the Garibpur area, and technically it is the Battle Over Boyra since it was an aerial battle.
After months of internal tensions in East Pakistan (current day Bangladesh) leading up to the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, and a clampdown on Bengali nationalists, many independence fighters had organised themselves into a guerilla army. Called the Mukti Bahini, these rebels were aided by India in their struggle. After initial success over Pakistani troops there had been some relative calm in the region and further Indian assistance was sought to turn the tide. Economically burdened by close to 10 Million Bangladeshi refugees, India thus started to involve itself deeper into the conflict brewing in the east and stationed its troops near the border.
The Boyra Salient located inside the North West part of East Pakistan consisting of Garibpur village was at an important crossroads for both nations. Its control was thus vital as it included a highway to Jessore from India.
On 21 November, the 14 Punjab Battalion - supported by a squadron of 14 PT-76 tanks from 45 Cavalry moved in to capture the areas around Garibpur inside Pakistani territory. The move was supposed to be a surprise, but following a skirmish with patrol troops of both armies the previous day, Pakistan was alerted to this impending attack. Pakistan immediately responded in numbers when its 107 Infantry Brigade - supported by 3rd Independent Armoured Squadron, equipped with M24 Chaffee light tanks was launched. Possessing vast numerical superiority, Pakistan troops were in position to decimate the Indian intrusion. But the Punjab Battalion, known for its long history of valor, dug in and poised themselves for a counterattack. Retaining the Infantry and the Recoilless rifles in a defensive position, the tanks were sent forward to ambush the oncoming Pakistani charge. In the next couple of hours Indian troops pounded the Pakistani attack who couldn't pinpoint the source of attacks due to poor visibility on account of fog. Undeterred, Pakistan tanks and infantry were thrown into an offensive against Indian defensive positions in a Frontal Assault. The resulting battle is now famous as the Battle of Garibpur.
Facing increasing casualties even with numerical superiority, as is usually the case when frontally attacking an entrenched enemy, and unable to dislodge the Mitro Bahini, the Pakistani Army called in artillery and close air support. The Pakistani Air Force Contingent in Dhakka responded by launching several sorties of Canadair Sabre Mk6s beginning on the morning of 22 November 1971. This set the stage for the Battle of Boyra.
The PAF unit involved was No 14. Squadron Tail-choppers, which had on strength 20 Canadair Sabre Mk6s. These were the Canadair built versions of the F-86 Sabre which were upgraded with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles and powered by the more powerful Orenda engine. These Sabres were smuggled into Pakistan through a clandestine deal organized between Germany and Iran This Squadron was commanded by Flight Lieutenant Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi who later rose to become the CAS a role in which he was famous for his forthright and straight-faced dealings where he looked after the interests of the PAF 
The reason why the relatively junior Flight Lieutenant Qureshi was appointed to command a squadron (usually commanded by a Squadron Leader) is unknown. But as it was common for Bengalis in the Pakistani Armed Forces to defect and join the Mukti Bahini or to be grounded or removed from positions of authority during the 71' war due to suspected loyalty, it is a likely possibility that this was the reason.
The Indian Airforce unit involved was No. 22 Squadron IAF Swifts which was equipped with the diminutive Folland Gnat which came to earn the name Sabre Slayer. This squadron was based in Kalaikunda Air Force Station and tasked with the Air Defence of the Calcutta Sector. A detachment was stationed at Dum Dum Airfield in Calcutta. The unit was under the command of Wing Commander BS Srikand (who later rose to the rank of Air Marshal), who himself was a POW in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.
Although the Canadair Sabre Mk 6 was widely regarded as the best dogfighter of its era., Tactics called for Gnats taking on the Sabres in the vertical arena, where the Sabres were at a disadvantage. Moreover, because the Gnat was lightweight and compact in shape, it was hard to see, especially at the low levels where most of the dogfights took place.
As the PAF Sabres were attacking a border region there were air space violations over Indian territory. The first intrusion of four Sabres were picked up in the Jessore area on Indian radar at 0811 hours. No.22 Squadron scrambled four Gnats from Dum Dum. However the Sabres had flown back to their territory by the time the Gnats could make it to Boyra. A second raid by the Pakistanis followed at 1028 hours. An interception again could not be carried out in time and the Sabres were able to escape to safety.
At around 1448 hours, the radar picked up the four Sabres as they pulled up in a north westerly direction to about 2,000 ft (610 m) above ground level. Within a minute, the ORP at Dum Dum was scrambled. Four Gnats took off by 1451 hours led by the formation leader Flt Lt Roy Andrew Massey. It was less than three minutes from the time the Sabres were detected by the radar.
The Fighter controller in the sector was Flying Officer KB Bagchi who vectored the gnats to the sabres and directed the interception. The Sabres already having carried out several attack runs in the eight minutes it took the Gnats to reach the Boyra Sailent, were commencing to start another dive - they were at about 1,800 feet (550 m) altitude and diving down to 500 feet (150 m) in an attack run.
The four Gnats separated into two sections and dived into the attack to bounce the Sabres. The first section of Gnats was of Massey and Fg Offr SF Soarez as his wingman. The second section consisted of Flt Lt M A Ganapathy and Fg Offr D Lazarus. As the Gnats dived in, a section of two Sabres pulled out of the attack and placed themselves in an awkward position, just in front of Ganapathy and Lazarus. Ganapathy called out on the R/T the Brevity code"Murder Murder Murder". Both the pilots opened fire with 20mm Cannon fire, and both the Sabres were badly damaged. The Pakistani pilots Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi and Khaleel Ahmed ejected over Boyra and parachuted down safely but were taken POW. The wreckage of the abandoned Sabres fell near the village of Bongaon in India.
Simultaneously Massey pulled up over Ganapathy and Lazarus to latch onto another Sabre. The Sabre pilot, Wg. Cdr Chaudhury- in a skillful dogfighting move- broke into Massey's attack forcing him to take a high angle-off burst which missed his target. After maneuvering back into firing position and taking aim, Massey let off another burst at 700 yards (640 m) and hit him in the port wing. By that time, Massey's starboard cannon had stopped firing, but the Sabre streaked back into Pakistani territory billowing smoke and fire. Massey realizing that he was well over East Pakistani airspace in his chase, turned around and regrouped with the rest of his formation which then proceeded back to base. Early on it was thought that the badly damaged sabre must have crashed soon after but after the war reports confirmed that Massey's victim, Wg. Cdr Chaudhury, showing considerable courage, had managed to fly his badly damaged Sabre back to Tezgaon Airfield outside Dhaka. Chaudhury himself claimed to have shot down one of the Gnats, which was later proved false as all 4 Gnats landed safely.
This action which took place in front of thousands of people became one of the most enduring moments of the Bangladesh Liberation War and made all four Indian Pilots instant celebrities in India and Bangladesh overnight. Their pictures, Gun camera Images (see external images) of the flaming sabres and those of the PAF pow's being widely circulated by the media the world over.
This engagement marked the first time in 6 years that aircraft were shot down in air combat in the Indian Subcontinent and the state of increased hostilities in the region which culminated in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and the creation of the Country of Bangaladesh less than a month later.
- The Indian pilots were each awarded the Vir Chakra. The Fighter Controller Fg Offr KB Bagchi was awarded Vayusena Medal. Wg. Cdr. Sikand was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM).
- Roy Andrew Massey would later command No. 224 Squadron of the IAF which operated MiG-23MF he died in a Mig-23 Crash due to bird hit in Nov 1983 almost exactly 12 years later.
- Donald Lazarus went on to become the commanding officer of the No. 102 Squadron of the IAF- The Trisonics- which operated India's top secret Mig-25s Mach 3 Reconnaissance aircraft. He attained the final rank of Group Captain (colonel) He later gave up his career and opted for early retirement to answer the call of God and served as a Councillor and later director of Christian Mission Service (CMS), based in Coonoor, which mainly cares for destitute and orphaned children.
- MA Ganapathy died in service—beset with personal family problems, he committed suicide.
- Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi would later go on to be the CAS of PAF a role in which he was famous for his forthright and straight-faced dealings he looked after the interests of the PAF. As CoAS of the PAF he prevented the PAF from getting drawn into the Kargil War according to the wishes of Gen.Pervez Musharraf and thus prevented that conflict from escalating, which may have resulted in Nuclear War.
- Tezgaon airfield was subjected to a severe Offensive campaign by the Indian Airforce and was rendered inoperable by the third day after the formal declaration of war on 3 December 1971.
- PAF No.14 Squadron defied orders to destroy their aircraft at the time of surrender on 14 December. These were captured by the Indian Army Mitrobahini and donated to the nascent Bangladesh Air Force.
The Last Encounter
In 1996, Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi was appointed as the Chief of Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force. When the news was reported in India, Donald Lazarus who shot him down wrote a letter congratulating Qureshi for his achievement in becoming CAS and mentioned that Qureshi may not recall his earlier meeting with Lazarus which was in the air. Perhaps Lazarus did not expect a reply to the letter, but it seemed the right thing to do to wish someone well whom he had met in battle a couple of decades back.
Don Lazarus received a surprise, when a letter came signed by the Pakistani CAS himself. Air Chief Marshal Qureshi expressed his thanks to Lazarus for his wishes and complimented on the 'fight' shown by the Indian Pilots on the occasion. Group Captain Lazarus still preserves the letter quite carefully, which serves as a reminder that despite the hostility left behind by the war, chivalry is still alive among fighter pilots and as a testament to the characters of both men.
Notes and references
- http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/Army/History/1971War/PDF/ Official War History of 1971, History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, published at Bharat Rakshak
- http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_326.shtml India - Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction, by Tom Cooper, with Khan Syed Shaiz Ali, 23 October 2003, Air Combat Information Group (ACIG)
- "East Pakistan: Even the Skies Weep". Time. 25 October 1971. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
- U.S. Consulate (Dacca) Cable, Sitrep: Army Terror Campaign Continues in Dacca; Evidence Military Faces Some Difficulties Elsewhere, 31 March 1971, Confidential, 3 pp
- "India: Easy Victory, Uneasy Peace". Time. 27 December 1971. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
- Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report
- Islam, Rafiqul, A Tale of Millions, p315
- Online journal of the Pakistan Institute for Air Defence Studies. Accessed on 13 August 2006.
- Cooper T, with Khan Syed Shaiz Ali. Air Combat Information Group. Indian-Subcontinent Database India - Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction. 29 October 2003. "Lacking numbers to match Indian numerical superiority, the residue F-86s were complemented by 90 Canadair F.Mk.6 Sabres. These were bought in 1967, by Iran - via a Swiss intermediary - from Germany, without a US end-user certificate (but possibly with the knowledge of the U.S. government). The reported price of the total package was $10 million. Upon their arrival in Iran, the Imperial Iranian Air Force - which operated only a handful of US-supplied F-86s at the time - claimed they were unable to maintain and to overhaul them. As a result, all the German Sabres were sent to Pakistan and they never came back. Instead, they were integrated into three PAF units, and by 3 December 1971 at least 88 remained intact, of which 74 were operational. A total of 48 of these were wired for Sidewinders: the PAF thus had a fleet of exactly 72 72 Sidewinder-compatible F-86F/Sabre F.Mk.6s." http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_326.shtml URL Accessed on 13 August 2006
- Tufail, PAF, Brigadier Kaisar (28 January 2009). "Himalayan Showdown". Air Forces Monthly (UK). Retrieved 18 May 2012.
- "Canadair CL-13 Sabre." rcaf.com. Retrieved: 4 November 2010.
- Spick, Mike. Illustrated Directory of Fighters. Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7603-1343-1., p. 161.
- My Years with the Iaf , Air Chief Marshal Pc Lal, Publisher: Lancer Publishers; 1 edition (1 May 1986), ISBN 8170620082 , ISBN 978-8170620082
- Indian Air Force in Wars Author Air Vice Marshal Arun Kumar Tiwary , Publisher Lancer Publishers LLC, 2013 , ISBN 1935501798, ISBN 9781935501794
- Official War History of 1971, History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, published at Bharat Rakshak.
- Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, Pakistan
- India - Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction, by Tom Cooper, with Khan Syed Shaiz Ali, 23 October 2003, Air Combat Information Group (ACIG)
- THE INDIAN AIR FORCE IN THE LIBERATION WAR: 1971 collection of first hand accounts with pictures
- Official History of the 1971 India Pakistan War, History Division, Ministry of Defence, Government of India.