Indo-Pakistani Air War of 1965
|Indo-Pakistani Aerial War of 1965|
|Part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965|
|Commanders and leaders|
|ACM Arjan Singh|| AM Noor Khan
|Casualties and losses|
|75 aircraft lost (Indian claim)
110 aircraft lost (Pakistani claim)
|18 aircraft lost (Pakistani claim)
43 aircraft lost (Indian claim)
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 saw the Indian and Pakistani Air Forces engaged in large-scale aerial combat against each other for the first time since the Partition in 1947. The war took place during the course of September 1965 and saw both air forces conduct defensive and offensive operations over Indian and Pakistani airspace. Both countries made contradictory claims regarding the number of losses that they suffered and the number of planes that they claimed to have shot down. Indian losses have been placed at between 59 and 110, while Pakistani losses were between 18 and 43.
The war began in early August 1965 and initially the fighting was confined mainly to the ground. Later, however, as the war progressed, the war took on another dimension as the two sides began air operations against each other. Although the two forces had previously taken part in the First Kashmir War which had occurred shortly after Partition, that engagement had been limited in scale compared to the 1965 conflict and the air operations that both sides had undertaken were limited and largely confined to interdiction and other strategic purposes such as re-supply and troop transport operations. Although there had been one incident where Indian fighter aircraft intercepted a Pakistani transport, there had been no significant air-to-air combat. During the 1965 conflict, however, the PAF flew a total 2,364 sorties while the IAF flew 3,937 sorties.
All out War erupted between India and Pakistan, and during the vicious 17 day conflict PAF flew defensive CAPs over its own bases, offensive counter air missions against Indian airfields, and close - support and interdiction sorties, to which the Indians responded in kind.
The aerial phase of the war began on September 1, 1965 when the Indian Air Force responded to an urgent call for air strikes against the Pakistani Army, which had launched an attack known as Operation Grand Slam. The IAF scrambled 28 aeroplanes which included 12 Vampire FB Mk 52s and 16 Dassault Mystère IV As from Pathankot in 1 hour 45 minutes (1720-1905 hours IST) in waves of four. These 28 aeroplanes strafed Pakistani positions and attacked Pakistani tanks and ground targets. The PAF in response scrambled two F-86 Sabres from Sargodha, they were flown by S/L Sarfraz Rafiqui and F/L Imtiaz Bhatti, though outnumbered 2:28 they entered the airspace and engaged Indian airplanes. In the ensuing dogfight four Vampires were lost / shot down by the Sabres, when the Sabres cleared out after the dog fight, 16 Mysteres were also in the area attacking ground targets. Back at Pathankot, the excited ground crew was anxiously awaiting the return of 12 Vampires and 16 Mysteres. 4 Vampires landed first, followed by another 4 and then the 16 Mysteres came into land with the last one landing at 1905 hours. Some of the auxiliary pilots who approached the pilots were shocked to find that the formation led by Bhagwagar and his colleagues were missing. A very shaken Flt. Lt. Sondhi explained how Sabres had made mincemeat of one formation. It was at that moment then the reality of war sunk in, that 4 Vampire planes had been lost forever. Then came the news that Pathak had managed to bale out safely, but the remaining three pilots were not that lucky. This incidence as confirmed by Air Marshal Trilochan Singh, PVSM, AVSM, Vr.C., V.M. (Retd) in Tank Busting In The Chamb in his word is "The feeling on the home leg was that of exhilaration. What an easy turkey shoot! The only thing I could not explain to myself were some black spots whizzing past the cockpit in the dive. Only after landing did I realize that they were machine gun tracers being fired from the tanks at the aircraft. Some of the light ammo caused minor damage to the aircraft skin. I was in high spirits after what I considered had been a fruitful mission and proceeded straight to the wing ops room for the mission debrief along with the C.O. along with other formation members. On reaching we found the mood somber with general sadness in the air only then did the cause for it become clear. We had lost 4 Vampires out of the 12 launched, one from the first formation and three from the second, shot down by PAF Sabres". This single engagement resulted in a windfall of strategic dimensions for the PAF as the shocked and demoralised IAF immediately withdrew about 130 Vampires, together with over 50 Ouragons, from front-line service. The IAF was effectively reduced in combat strength by nearly 35% in one stroke, thanks to marksmanship of Sarfraz Rafiqui and Imtiaz Bhatti. Rafiqui was shot down over Halwara on 6 September while Bhatti ended the war with 34 combat missions to his credit, the maximum combat missions flown by any pilot during the war.
The appearance of the Sabres necessitated a move by the IAF to send the Folland Gnat fighters to the forward base of Pathankot. IAF used Mysteres flying at slow speed as bait to lure Sabres to attack where the waiting Gnats will take them on. Two sabres were scrambled but one had to turn back without entering the fight when the pilot couldn't jettison the fuel tanks. The other one flown by Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan, spotted the IAF planes and tried positioning himself behind them before attacking. Just as he got his cross-hairs on them he felt thuds on his own jet, as he was surrounded in a cloud of Gnats repeatedly being attacked. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter lurking in the area was pointed to the dog fight by base control along with scrambling another one from base. The first Starfighter crossed through the dog fight at super sonic speed. The Gnats after scoring a kill started egressing. IAF's Squadron Leader Trevor J. Keelor of No. 23 Squadron claimed to have shot down the F-86 Sabre on that day (September 3), claiming the first air combat victory for the IAF of the war and subsequently received the Vir Chakra and the title of 'Sabre Slayer'. However the sabre he 'shot down' was flown in badly damaged condition and somehow rough landed back at the base. The Sabre pilot, Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan, was given Sitara-e-Jurat for surviving dog fight with six Gnats (while his wingman was ordered to leave since he couldn't jettison his fuel tanks) and bringing the damaged Sabre back home. In the same incident, an IAF Gnat pilot was overheard warning others of the incoming Starfighter. [unreliable source?] Also, a Gnat piloted by Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh Sikand, mistakingly landed at an abandoned airstrip in Pasrur, when he thought he had safely crossed the border. His takeoff attempt was aborted due to presene of a Pakistan army jeep on the runway. He was taken POW and later handed over to PAF. A Lockheed F-104 Starfighter flown by Flt Lt Hakimullah Khan chasing in at super sonic speed was also credited with forcing the Gnat down. [unreliable source?] This Gnat is displayed as a war trophy in the Pakistan Air Force Museum, Karachi. after it was flown from Pasrur by Sqn Ldr Saad Hatmi who flew the captured aircraft back to Sargodha, and later tested and evaluated its flight performance, was of the personal view that Gnat was no 'Sabre Slayer' when it came to dog fighting.
During the conflict, the Pakistani F-86 Sabre Flying Ace, Muhammad Mahmood Alam shot down seven Indian aircraft including claims of two as 'probable'. Five of Hawker Hunter aircraft were shot down in one minute with four being in 30 seconds.[unreliable source?]
On September 6, the Indian Army crossed the border at Lahore to relieve pressure off the Chamb Jaurian sector. On the evening of the same day, the PAF responded with attacks on Indian airfields at Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. The attack on Pathankot was successful, while the attacks on Adampur and Halwara were failure. IAF lost nearly 10 aircraft on the ground at Pathankot. The Adampur strike turned back before even reaching Adampur while at Halwara two of the three attacking raiders were shot down for the loss of two Indian Hunters in air combat. Both the Indian pilots, Pingale and Gandhi survived as they ejected over their base, whereas the intruding Pakistani pilots were killed in action. This included the ace Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui who had shot down two Vampires on September 1 while the other was Flight Lieutenant Yunus Ahmed. Before being shot down, Rafiqui is credited with shooting down first of the Hunters. He was later posthumously awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat for Chamb action and the Hilal-i-Jurat for Halwara action. 
On September 7, 1965 PAF parachuted 135 Special Services Group (SSG) para commandos at three Indian airfields (Halwara, Pathankot and Adampur). The daring attempt proved to be an "unmitigated disaster". Only 10 commandos were able to returned to Pakistan, and rest of them were taken as prisoners of war (including one of the Commanders of the operations, Major Khalid Butt), at Halwara and Adampur these troops landed in residential areas where the villagers caught and handed them over to police.
Also on September 7, the IAF mounted 33 sorties against the heavily guarded PAF airfield complex at Sargodha.[unreliable source?] The IAF lost two Mysteres and three Hunters due to the defence mounted by the Pakistan Air Force's local squadrons. One of the Indian Hunter pilot ejected near Sargodha was made POW and released after the war. One of the crippled Mysteres flying solo got involved in a dogfight with an F-104 Starfighter and somehow shot each other down, Pakistani pilot safely ejected, while the Indian pilot Squadron Leader Ajamada B. Devayya, was not that lucky.  The Indian pilot Squadron Leader Devayya was later awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his bravery.  23 years later after his feat was revealed by an author appointed by PAF to write their story on 1965 war.
September 7 also marked the day when the PAF attacked IAF airfields in the Eastern Sector. During the PAF's raid on Kalaikunda Indian pilot, Flight Lieutenant A T Cooke, engaged four Pakistani Sabres, shooting down one[unreliable source?] while flying at tree-top height and making another a write off in the process.
The war lessened in intensity after September 8 and there were occasional clashes between the IAF and the PAF. Both air forces now changed their doctrine from air interdictions to ground attack and concentrated their efforts on knocking out soft skin targets and supply lines like wagons carrying ammunitions and armoured vehicles. During the conflict IAF Canberras raided a few of the Pakistani bases. On September 10, one Mystere was downed by anti-aircraft fire in Pakistan but the pilot ejected safely.[unreliable source?]
On September 13 one PAF F-86 Sabre was downed while attacking a train near Gurdaspur and the pilot Sqn Ldr 'Butch' Allaudin was killed. In another encounter the same day between PAF Sabres from Sargodha and IAF Gnats from No. 2 Squadron, an Indian Gnat flown by Flt Lt A.N. Kale was shot down by PAF F-86 Sabre, flown by Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan although the Indian pilot Flt Lt Kale managed to eject safely. The other Gnat flown by Sqn Ldr Narinder Kumar was engaged and damaged in air combat by Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti. The experienced pilot Sqn Ldr N.K.Malik some how managed to reach near its base, where according to All India Radio the Gnat's pilot later died of wounds sustained during the combat. He was said to have brought his damaged aircraft back to base and to have died during landing. His funeral was attended by the Indian President. Flt Lt Yusaf Ali Khan was credited with a kill whereas, Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti was credited with damaging the IAF Gnat despite the later confirmation that the pilot died of wounds and the Gnat crashed into ground during egress. Later in the night of September 13 and 14, Indian Canberras undertook the deepest penetration of Pakistani airspace of the war, attacking Pakistani bases around Peshawar and Kohat. Rather than bombing the Peshawer airstrip, however, IAF bombers mistook the mall road in Peshawer as the runway and dropped there bombs there by accident. The PAF admits that the IAF came very close to annihilating its entire fleet of B-57 bombers. As per Wing Commander Bharat Singh, the Gnat escort commander of the Canberras they were intercepted by a Pakistani F-104 near Lahore but they managed to evade the Starfighter and return home safely. They also had an encounter with F-86 Sabres, one of which flown by Flt Lt Cecil Chaudhry took shots at the Canberras and according to Wing Commander Singh the Canberra had bullet holes and marks when it landed back at base. A Pakistani F-86 Sabre piloted by a Sqn Ldr also crashed, killing the pilot while conducting an evasive maneuvere in an attempt to escape pursuit from Wing Commander Singh, as he tried to defend the Canberra bombers. W/C Singh was later credited with an aerial victory for this incident near Amritsar. Later, one Pakistani B-57 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Adampur, although both of its crew managed to eject safely and remained POWs.
On September 15, the PAF employed a number of its C-130s transport aircraft as bombers which proved unsuccessful and two of them were shot by IAF. The following day, one Hunter and an F-86 Sabre were shot down over Halwara. The IAF pilot was killed in the encounter, although the Pakistani pilot ejected and spent the rest of the war as a POW. A Pakistani Cessna was also shot down that day, as well as an Auster observation aircraft. On September 18, one Sabre was shot down by a Gnat over Amritsar, the matter was reported by the Collector, who had witness the entire dogfight. The same day a Pakistani Sabre shot down a civilian Indian aircraft even after the civilian plane indicated its identity assuming it to be a reconnaissance mission. It became even more notable when after 60 years, the PAF pilot wrote a letter to apologize for shooting the aircraft to its Pilot's daughter. The aircraft had been carrying the then Gujarat Chief Minister Balwant Rai and his family.[unreliable source?]
On September 19, one Gnat and two Sabres were downed over Chawinda. One of the Sabres that were shot down was credited to Squadron Leader Denzil Keelor, the brother of Trevor Keelor, who was credited with the first Indian aerial victory of the war. The following day, another two Hunters and an F-86 Sabre were lost over Kasur, Pakistan.
On September 21, IAF Canberras carried out a daring daylight strike into Pakistan at the radar complex in Badin. The raid proved to be successful. Under the command of Wing Commander Peter Wilson, six Canberras from No. 16 Squadron took off from Agra, over a 1,000 km from Bladin and proceeded towards the radar complex at low level. About 80 miles short of the target, one Canberra climbed to an altitude of 10,000 feet in order to act as a decoy before returning to base. The other five Canberras continued on towards the target. The flight then separated and four of the aircraft approached the target in two sections, each two minutes apart, at low level before climbing to 7,000 feet from where they carried out bombing runs, dropping approximately 10,000 lbs of explosives. Wilson then approached from the south at an altitude of just 30 feet firing a salvo of 68mm rockets at the radar dome.
On the same day a PAF F-104 intercepted a Canberra bomber on its way back from Sargodha and shot it down, while one Hunter pilot who was the son of Chief of the Indian Army was shot down by anti-aircraft fire, he ejected and was taken POW. The ceasefire was declared on the night of September 22, 1965.
There are conflicting claims by either side on this issue. Pakistani sources suggest that Indian losses were in the range of 59–110 and Pakistani losses were around 18–43. Recent works have, however, attempted to move beyond the raw statistics of the number of losses each side incurred, arguing that in terms of aircraft lost to sorties flown, the Indian Air Force's attrition rate (1.5%) was lower than the Pakistani attrition rate (1.82%). Arguably this indicates that had the war continued, the PAF would have found it increasingly difficult to sustain operations at the same level. Nevertheless, a similar argument can be made about the IAF also, although it did have a significant size advantage that might have proved telling if the war had been prolonged.
Another factor which makes it difficult to determine the outcome of the 1965 air war is the issue of aircraft lost in the air in air-to-air combat or to ground fire as opposed to aircraft lost on the ground due to bombing. Indian sources claimed that a large number of Indian aircraft losses occurred on the ground during the attacks on Kalaikkunda and Pathankot—up to 60 per cent by some accounts
Results of Air Combat: Indian sources have claimed that India lost 24 aircraft in air-to-air combat and ground-to-air fire, while PAF lost 37 aircraft in air-to-air combat. Air Commodore Jasjit Singh of India claimed that Pakistan ended the war having depleted 17 percent of its front line strength, while India's losses amounted to less than 10 percent. Moreover, the loss rate had begun to even out, and it has been estimated that another three week's fighting would have seen the Pakistani losses rising to 33 percent and India's losses totalling 15 percent.
Learning the lessons
Much of the lessons of the 1965 war lead India to refine tactics which proved decisive in the 1971 war. Pakistani forces failed to take account of the extent to which they had relied on two factors which the IAF could not take for granted - complete ground based defensive radar coverage and an adequate supply of air-to-air missiles. Much effort was expended in India to remedy these deficiencies before 1971.
With Soviet aid, India established a modern early warning radar system, including the recently introduced 'Fansong-E' low-level radar, linked with SA-2 'Guideline' surface-to-air missiles and a large number of AA guns. By December 1971 the IAF comprised a total of 36 squadrons (of which 10 were deployed in the Bengal sector) with some 650 combat aircraft.
Moreover, the 1965 war resulted in the USA imposing a 10 year arms embargo on both sides. This had no effect, on India, which had always looked to Britain, France and even Russia for arms, but was disastrous for Pakistan, which was forced to acquire 90 obsolete second hand Sabre via Iran, a mere 28 Mirage IIIs from France and 74 maintenance intensive Shenyang F-6s. It was unable to replace losses among its (already weak) force of B-57s, or to acquire a modern interceptor in realistic numbers. 
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