Operation Chengiz Khan
|Operation Chengiz Khan|
|Part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Air Chief Marshal Pratap Chandra Lal||Air Marshal Abdul Rahim Khan|
|36 aircraft in first two waves;
15 aircraft in a third wave.
|Casualties and losses|
|*Widespread damage to all of India's western airfields and radar installations.||None|
Operation Chengiz Khan was the code name assigned to the pre-emptive strikes carried out by the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) on the forward airbases and radar installations of the Indian Air Force (IAF) on the evening of 3 December 1971, and marked the formal initiation of hostilities of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The operation targeted 11 of India's airfields and there were artillery strikes on Indian positions in Kashmir. The air attacks failed as India had moved all aircraft to reinforced bunkers in anticipation of pre-emptive action by Pakistan due to India's support of the Mukti Bahini.
In an address to the nation on radio that same evening, the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held the air strikes to be a declaration of war against India and the Indian Air Force responded with initial air strikes the same night, which were expanded to massive retaliatory air strikes the next morning. Statements released by both nations the next day confirmed the "existence of a state of war between the two countries", although neither government formally issued a declaration of war.
In March 1971, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) declared independence from Pakistan, starting the Bangladesh Liberation War following rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan and the brutal suppressive force from West Pakistan in response (see Operation Searchlight and 1971 Bangladesh atrocities).
Pakistan came under increasing criticism from India, the Soviet Union, Japan, and Europe as the plight of the refugees and their impact on the Indian economy were highlighted by Indira Gandhi in the UN and on a number of global tours. However, the United States and China showed little interest in the situation and actively opposed aid, intervention or support to the Mukti Bahini (possibly fearing advancement of Soviet influence deep into South Asia). India's aid to the Mukti Bahini continued unabated, and fighting between the Mukti Bahini and the Pakistani forces grew increasingly vicious. On 9 August 1971, India signed a twenty-year co-operation treaty with the Soviet Union which promised military support to either nation should she be attacked. This provided India cover against any possible Chinese or American intervention in aid of Pakistan if it went to war with India. To the Pakistani leadership, it became clear that armed Indian intervention and secession of East Pakistan was becoming inevitable.
The strategy of pre-emption
By October 1971, the Mukti Bahini had started launching massive raids deep into East Pakistan with active support of the Indian Army troops. The situation had detoriorated to a state of active undeclared war in the East by the end of November, when Indian and Mukti Bahini forces launched offensives on both the eastern and western borders of East Pakistan. Regular Indian army troops engaged and mauled Pakistani armour at Garibpur while offensive manouvres were launched in Atgram against Pakistani border posts and communications centres along the eastern border. The Mukti Bahini also launched an offensive on Jessore at this time. It was clear to Islamabad by this time that open conflict was inevitable, and that East Pakistan was indefensible in the long run. Yahya Khan chose at this point to try to protect Pakistan's integrity and to hold India by Ayub Khan's strategy – "The defence of East Pakistan lies in the West".
This policy made the assumptions that an open conflict with India would not last long due to international pressure, and since East Pakistan was undefendable, the war-effort should be concentrated on occupying as large an area of Indian territory as possible as a bargaining tool at the negotiating table. To this end, Gen. Tikka Khan had proposed an offensive into India, and the PAF's overriding priority was to give maximum support to this offensive. The initial plans for the offensive called for at least a temporary cover of air dominance by the PAF under which Khan's troops could conduct a lightning campaign deep into Western India before digging in and consolidating their positions. In order to achieve air dominance, Pakistan decided to launch an offensive counter air strike codenamed Operation Chengiz Khan on Indian airbases.
A second objective for the PAF was to conduct air interdiction against the supply routes for the Indian troops opposing Khan's proposed offensive, but these were accorded as secondary targets to be engaged after the operation started.
The PAF's strikes were based on the same strategy of pre-emptive neutralization of enemy air capability used by the Israeli Air Force against Egyptian and Arab air forces in Operation Focus during the Six-Day War of 1967.
The decision to hit India with a pre-emptive air strike was taken on 30 November 1971 during a meeting among the Pakistani President, Gen. Yahya Khan, Chief of Staff Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan, and the Chief of General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gul Hassan Khan.
The objectives of the strike were:
- To surprise the IAF by attacking its forward airfields when it was least expected.
- To neutralize these in order to obtain at least temporary battlefield air superiority in the West.
- To counter-balance the Indian numerical advantage by hitting the forward operating bases of the Indian Air Force as a measure reducing the weight of expected counterattacks on PAF's own bases.
To achieve surprise, the decision was made to strike on a Friday, the day of the jumu'ah (Muslim Sabbath), at 17:45 hrs when shifts in IAF control centers were changing. Emulating its operations' experience in battle against the Indian Air Force during the Indo-Pakistani Conflict of 1965, the decision was made to hit the Indian bases in a two-wave dusk strike followed by a number of night-interdiction missions through the night. The plans for the strike also anticipated the Indians securing their aircraft in blast pens. Also, anticipating difficulty in target acquisition for camouflaged targets such as fuel tanks, ammunition dumps and command centers, the primary objectives set for the operation were the runways and air defense radars.
The first strikes
The final orders for the strike were issued at 17:30 hrs. The first formations were in air and heading for their targets by 17:40 hrs. Officially, it was announced via government channels that the airstrikes were launched in response to attacks along the western border on Pakistan Rangers' outposts by regular troops of the Indian army, which the Indian Air Force was providing support to. The Indians would later deny any engagement on the Western Front. However, the Indian air defence radars failed to detect the approaching formations. The first indications for the Indians of the impending assault was the roar of the strike aircraft over their airfields, while in Delhi, the air-raid sirens were the first indications for newsmen, gathered for the daily brief of the East-Pakistan situation, that something was going on.
The first two waves deployed 32 aircraft. Of these, 24 were F-86F Sabres equipped with bombs, 8 Mirage IIIs armed with bombs, and 4 F-104s armed with cannons. The raids were limited to one pass at a relatively high level with the pilots ordered not to operate below 300m AGL as defence against ground fire.
- Pathankot — The first of the strikes were mounted against Pathankot AB. Led by a flight of two Mirage IIIs (a reconnaissance craft and a strike escort) a six ship mission of F-86Fs flying from Murid and led by Wing Commander S N Jilani hit Pathankot with unguided rockets and dropped several 125 kg bombs. The main target of this strike was the runway, which was damaged and took the Indian ground crew several hours to repair. These missions went unopposed since the IAF had not scrambled any interception, and faced only AA. Pathankot was covered by interceptors from Adampur following this first strike during the time it took the ground crew to repair its runway.
- Amritsar — At 17:45 hrs, four Mirages flying from Sargodha and led by Wing Commander Hakimullah attacked Amritsar AB. Hakimullah's flight was armed with two 500 kg bombs each, which the strike used efficiently hitting the first 300m of the runway and cratering it enough to leave it nonoperational for several hours. However, the Amritsar runway was repaired within the same night to receive detachments of Mig 21s and Su-7 that flew against Rafiqui AB the next morning. A second strike of two F-104 Starfighters, led by Wing Commander Amjad H Khan hit the P-35 radar station at Amritsar, rendering it inoperational for nearly an hour. On one remaining serviceable lane of runway, two sukhois took off moments before it got bombed by a passing B-57.
- Srinagar — Srinagar was hit at 17:50 hrs by a flight of six F-86Fs led by Wing Commander Changezi. Flying from Peshawar, the strike hit a fully lit up Srinagar airport with 250 kg bombs. However, this strike failed to cause any significant damage. Srinagar was to be attacked a second time, during the followup strikes later in the evening, by a C-130 commanded by Group Captain Qayyum. However Srinagar largely escaped unscathed.
- Awantipur — Awantipur was hit at the same time as Srinagar, at approximately 17:50 hrs by a flight of F-86 Sabres led by Wing Commander Abdul Aziz. Awantipur, at this time did not have any IAF aircraft based there. The strike therefore did not achieve any significant results.
- Faridkot — At 17:53 hrs, a two ship mission of F-104As flying from Masroor and led by Wing Commander Arif Iqbal hit the Faridkot radar station with cannon fire. This strike damaged the P-35 radar significantly. One of the pilots found it hard to resist the sight of a light aircraft parked near the runway and made an extra attack to destroy it.
All the Pakistani aircraft deployed in this first wave were recovered safely. However, the orders to make relatively high level passes also compromised the effectiveness of these strikes, with the result that IAF ground personnel were able to complete the repair to whatever damage was caused within the same night, hindered only by the follow-up waves.
Within forty-five minutes of these strikes, Pakistani troops had shelled India's western frontier and were reported to have crossed the border at Punch in the state of Jammu.
Followup counter-air strikes
The third wave of the PAF counter air strikes were directed to strike Ambala, Agra and Halwara around 18:00 hrs and continued in single or two ship formations through the evening until at least 22:30 hrs. These strikes involved fifteen B-57 Canberras, four T-33s, and one C-130. The B-57s flew seven single ship sorties. These caused significant damage, especially in Uttarlai, and Halwara and impeded IAF's preparation for retaliation.
- Ambala — Ambala was a hit by a two ship B-57 formation led by Wg. Cdr. Rais Rafi. The flight hit the runway with eight bombs, causing minor damage.
- Agra — Like Ambala, Agra, which lay deepest among the PAF's targets that evening, was struck by a two ship mission of B-57 led by Wg. Cdr. Yunus and followed by Flight Lieutenant Mazhar Bukhari. The bombs dropped by Yunus didn't explode. Rais Rafi explained the old age of the bombs as the reason for their ineffectiveness as these were supposed to be used in Second World War. The first Indian Counter strikes launched that very night included the Canberras of No.5 Sqn were based at Agra.
- Halwara — Halwara was struck twice on the night of the 3rd. The first of these was by a two ship flight of B-57s led by Sqn. Ldr. Abdul Basit. This flight struck the runway with eight bombs, three of which landed on target and significantly damaged it. Halwara was attacked a second time by a single B-57 bomber just before midnight. The arrival of the aircraft was detected by radar and the anti aircraft defences were ready. The aircraft dropped some bombs on the runway and airfield. One of the bombs dropped by the aircraft was equipped with a delayed fuse. It exploded while being examined and killed a navigator from the missile squadron. Halwara was not repaired before early the next morning.
- Amritsar and Bikaner — Amritsar was attacked a second time at around 22:10 hrs by the flight of Flt. Bikaner was attacked by Sqn. Ldr. Haq while Pathankot was struck by Flt. Lt. Sultan Arshad. Neither of these caused any significant damage.
- Sirsa — Sirsa was hit by Sqn. Ldr. Alvi with bombs equipped with time-delayed fuses, damaging the runway heavily and forcing the runway to be closed for the rest of the night.
- Bhuj — Was accurately bombed and IAF commanding officer found it difficult to get enough labour to repair it.
- Uttarlai — Four T-33s from A-Flight No.2 Squadron, led by Sqn. Ldr. Qureshi, hit Uttarlai, causing damage to the runway. These were launched at the same time as the second strike over Srinagar. Uttarlai was attacked a second time later that night by Wg. Cdr. Akhtar. The net damage to the runway was significant enough to keep the runway closed for six days and for the taxiway to be used instead.
- Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Jamnagar — In the south, Sqn. Ldr. Ishtak Qureshi's bombs hit the underground power cable at Jaisalmer, cutting off the power supply and telephone connection for six hours. At the same time, Jodhpur was hit by two B-57s led by Sqn. Ldr. Sohail Mansur while Jamnagar was hit by Flt. Lt. Ejaz Azam.
The later flights were not expected to achieve any significant objectives which they miraculously did, and also aided to hamper any counter-strike by the IAF. The pilots were all qualified for night flying and were to continue flying such raids for the rest of the war, gaining the nickname "Uttarlai Night Mail".
The Indian retaliation
As Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressed the nation on radio shortly after midnight informing about the Pakistani attack, the Indian Air Force struck back. By 21:00hrs, the Canberras of the No.35 Squadron and No.106 Squadron, as well as No.5 and No.16 squadron were armed and ready for their foray deep into Pakistan. These flew against eight Western Pakistani airfields of Murid, Mianwali, Sargodha, Chander, Risalewala, Rafiqui, and Masroor. In total, 23 combat sorties were launched that night, inflicting heavy damage to Sargodha and Masroor. The PAF units stationed on these airfields had to operate from taxiways for the following two days.
Through the night the IAF also struck the main East Pakistani airfields of Tejgaon, and later Kurmitolla. At the same time, the IAF was deploying additional aircraft to its forward airfields for the strikes that were to follow the next morning. Within two days, the Indian Air Force was to achieve complete air supremacy in the East Pakistan.
In total, the Pakistani Air Force dropped 183 bombs over 12 target runways and 120 hits were reported by the pilots. However, of its stated objectives, the PAF was unable to neutralize the Indian Air Force in the west although it certainly achieved surprise besides damaging a few aircraft. The Indian Air Force was unable to offer any resistance to the first waves other than ground fire. The damage to the facilities, albeit limited, also meant that the third wave went unchallenged in the air.
Just as importantly, only a limited section of the PAF's strike capability was employed during Operation Chengiz Khan. Also, compared to the Israeli Air Force's preparation for airstrikes against Egyptians (the Israeli pilots had flown against replicas of the most important Arab airfields) and the use of specific armaments, the PAF had been limited by servicability before the USA supplied spare parts in March of the year and training was limited if any. Constraints of the fledgling Pakistani economy also meant the development of its military could not be supported. The Pakistani Air Force thus lacked ammunition for effective runway denial. East Pakistani personnel of the PAF who defected may have revealed some of the plans, and it appears that IAF was expecting a pre-emptive strike against its forward airfields. A large-scale offensive was therefore doomed to fail, likely to cause heavy losses and bring the PAF in a position where it could never seriously challenge IAF operations.
References and notes
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Every Great Power must follow the principle that it should not directly or indirectly allow any other nation to use force or armed aggression against one of its neighbors.
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