Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Memories of the 1971 War.....

1. Flight Lt. Vijay Kumar Wahi - 10144 F(P)
 
Vikram Wahi was my class mate in Class V, in 1971. When the Indo-Pak war broke out in December 1971, our Class V final examinations were on. Many 'fauji' families had to grapple with the stress of these exams, with the war as a backdrop. There were two papers each day, and between them, during the break, I remember seeing the Air Force's fighers landing close by at Palam, after a Combat Air Patrol sortie...
On the 7th of December, 1971, we - all 10 year olds were busy writing whatever we had crammed, in our answer sheets, when all of a sudden, we noticed some commotion at the back of the classroom. We saw Vikram Wahi, breaking down, and sobbing away inconsolably.
We ten year olds did not quite comprehend the problem, and got back to our answer sheets. That was the last we saw of Vikram Wahi. Till this day, I do not know where Vikram went, and where he is.
On the 6th of December, Vikram's family received the news that Vikram's elder brother, Flt. Lt. Vijay Wahi, had been killed in action, when his Sukhoi - 7, was presumably shot down by Pakistani F-86 Sbre jets, when he was returning from a sortie after destroying ground targets in Pakistan.
 
2. Flight Lt. T.S. Dandass - 8160 F(P)
 
Mrs. Dandass was our Arts teacher in Mt. St. Mary's School, during the 1971 war. Being a part of the fauji world (her husband being an Army Doctor), she let her only child, her son, fulfill his life's ambition, and pursue his passion - of becoming a figher pilot in the Indian Air Force.
On 16th December 1971, barely a few housr before cease fire was declared, Flt Lt. Dandass was on a sortie in his Sukhoi - 7, bombarding targets at the Narowal Railway Station, in Pakistan. The story goes that his aircraft was hit by ground fire, and Flt Lt. Dandass was killed.
This was the official version. For many years later, another story that found credibility was the Flt. Lt. Dandass was amongst the 50 odd POWs that languished in Pakistani jails till many decades after the war ended. Pakistan denied hoding any such POWs, and the families of those 50 odd officers and men continue to fight their battle not only with the Pakistan, but also with their own Indian Government, who for all those years offered mere lip service ....
Mrs. Dandass never really believed her son had been killed. And it was this mystery - this suspense that got the better of her mental balance and state of mind. She never could reconcile to the fact the her only child was no more, simply because she never beleived he had died.
Life came to a standstill for Mrs. Dandass, after 16.12.71. She continued to serve the School as an Arts teacher for some years, before she left. I am now given to understand that Mrs. Dandass is no more.
Both these stories are so close to one's heart, as they involved the next of kin of those brave pilots, who were either our 'buddies' in School, or our teachers. Their loss was indeed ours, and today we salute both these pilots.

A remarkable story of courage and sacrifice...

It was November 4, 1977. A TU 124 passenger jet, of the Indian Air Force's elite communication squadron took off from Palan airport at 5.00 pm. The communications squadron better known as the VIP squadron, is tasked with carrying VIPS from one destination to another. Obvioulsy, the squadron consists of the 'cream' of the IAF, as far as both - 'men' and 'machines are concerned.
The passengers on board this flight were non other than Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister of India, his son - Kantibhai Desai, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh - Mr. PK Thungon, and the Chief of the Intelligence Bureau - Mr. John Lobo.
The crew of the flight consisted of Wing Commanders Clarence D'Lima and Joginder Singh, Squadron Leaders Mathew Cyriac, VVS Shankar and OP Arora, five in all.
Around the time when the flight reached Jorhat, it developed engine trouble, and lost considerable height. At this point the pilots reached the conclusion that crash landing the plane was imminent and the only hope to save the VIP passengers. With total disregard to their own safety, and demonstrating devotion to duty of the highest order, the pilots decided to crash land the aircraft on its nose. Before that, all the VIP passengers were hurdled out to the rear of the aircraft.
The TU 124, crashed about two and a half hours after it had taken off from Palam Airport. As planned, the nose part of the aircraft was totally destroyed, whereas the rear of the aircraft remained intact.
All VIPs survived, without even minor injuries. Sadly, all the crew members died. Because the plane was deliberately made to nose dive during the crash landing, the crew - by giving up their lives through this courageous and suicidal decision, made sure that the VIP remained unharmed.
As I write this, my memory goes back 25 years ago, when I was in Class XI in School. Wing Commander Clarence D'LIma's wife was a teacher in the School I studied in, and his son, a class mate of my younger brother.
Till sometime after this tragedy, Mrs. D"Lima continued to come to School, on her "Luna" moped as she usually did, till one day she stopped coming....
The sacrifice made by the five officers and fine pilots of the Indian Air Force is exemplary. Its never too late to salute these brave men.
As for the politicians, while Morarji Desai personally owed his own life as well as that of his son, to the five brave pilots, he did not bother to pay a visit to the bereaved familiies, nor did he bother to attend any funeral. A wreath was placed on his behalf, on the coffins carrying the mortal remains of the five brave men.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Lies and Truth about the World's greatest Fighter Ace - Squadron Leader MM Alam (SJ and bar), Pakistan Air Force

Pakistan attacked in India in 1965, the second time after independence, with Kashmir as the objective. The fighting initially was confined mainly to the ground. But as the war progessed, the two Countries began air operations against each other. Pakistan was confident of its air superiority, the Air Force havind equipped itlself with the then 'state of art' fighters like the F-86 Sabre and the F-104 Starfighter. By contrast, the Indian Air Force, had mostly old and aging aircraft in its fleet - like the Vampires (the first jet fighter ever, in the IAF's fleet, was still on active duty in 1965), Orugans (renamed 'Toofanis'), Mysteres and some part of the fleet comprising of relatively modern planes like the Gnat and the Hunter.
At the end of the war, both India and Paksitan made claims and counter claims as to which Air Force had won. The Pakistani's claimed between 60 - 100 Indian aircraft destructions, whereas India claimed a lower attirtion rate (losses as a percentage to sorties flown).
Interspersed between all these statistics, is one of the most controversial stories and a claim by a Pakistani Air Force pilot - Squadron Leader MM Alam, who supposedly created history - by shooting down 5 Indian Hunter aircraft in combat in a matter of just 30 seconds. If true this feat would make Alam the greatest ace in not only modern jet warfare history, but in all of air warfare history of the World ! Because while one could find a case or two of some Word War II pilot having shot down 5 enemy planes in a single sortie, there probably is no known story - other than Alam's claim, of 5 kills in a matter of 3 seconds !
The story relates to September 7, 1965. On that day, the Indian Air Force targeted to bombard Pakistan's Sargodha Air base, where Pakistan had based more than 50% of its main strike force. The IAF reportedly flew about 35 sorties during course of the day. It must be admitted that this mission to destroy Sargodha was a failure - for a combination of reasons - a wide dispersion of the aircraft over the complex of the air base, excellent camoflaging, and maybe - sheer bad luck for the Indians.
It was on this day, that Alam was flying a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) mission, when, according to his own account, he came across a formation of 4 hunter aircraft with a fifth 'straggler' - arriving to attack Sargodha. Alam claims to have fired one Sidewainder missile that missed, he fired a seond one that destroyed the straggler aircraft, and then proceeded to use his aircraft's guns to fire at and destroy the 4 Hunters - all in a matter of 30 seconds.
'Kill's claimed by a pilot are authenticated by identifying the downed pilots on basis of information available along with their mortal remains. The names of the Indian pilots downed, as claimed by Alam, were - Sqdn Leaders Devayya, Kacker, Bhagwat, and Flight Lts. Brar and Guha. From here on, the actual facts begin to point to an absolutely ridiculous and bizzre picture painted by Alam, and corroborated by John Fricker, an author invited by Pakistan to write the air war history of 1965, from the Pakistani side. All five pilots named by the Pakistan Air Force as having been shot down by Alam, belonged to different strike missions that attacked Sargodha at different times of the day ! Here are the facts to counter the lies:
1. Squadron Leader Devayya one of the 5 Hunters that Alam claimed to have shot down, was actually flying a Mystere and NOT a Hunter. The two aircrat are distinct in appearance and a good figher pilot would easily differentiate on from another. Further, Devayya was part of the very first strike of the day at Sargodha, consisting of 7 Mysteres, at a time much earlier than when Alam took to the air. Pakistan later corrected their claim to say Devayya was shot down by Flt Lt. Amjad Hussain.
2. Squadron Leader Onkar Nath Kacker - Kacker was returning from an earlier Hunter strike and on way to India, and by his own account (He was taken POW and released to India after the war) his aircraft booster pump failed leading to an engine had a flame out, and he had to eject. The relevant detail here is, that he crashed about 50 kms east of Sargodha and was nowhere near Alam, when the latter took to the air. In fact Kacker's air strike was a good 18 minutes earlier ! According to Alam himself - when he went up, he encountered two Hunters. He fired two Sidewinder missiles the first of which clearly missed the target and exploded on the ground. He did not see the second missile hitting any Indian aircraft.
3. Flight Lt. Guha - Guha was part of a Mystere formation that sstruck Sargodha sometime after 3 pm on September 7, 1965. Alam's claim pertained to an air battle early morning, where he downed Hunters ! Flt Lt. Guha was shot down indeed. But by Flt Lt. AH Mailk. The Pakistan Air Force corrected this record later.
4. Squadron Leader Bhagwat and Flying Officer Brar - these two pilots were part of the second Hunter strike formation. While flying towards Sargodha, they encountered a formation of Hunters - part of a preceding mission, returning to India and being chased by F-86 Sabres and F-104s. The second Hunter formation decided to turn back to base being in a tactically disadvantageous situation. During this maneuvere, Bhawat and Brar got themselves stuck with the larger enemy numbers, and paid the price. The other three returned safely. It was not known which Pakistani pilot actually shot down Bhawat and Brar, but Alam was given the credit more for want of any other pilot claiming the kills.

5. The icing on the cake is this - Alam by his own account shot down five Hunters, and saw each one 'turn into a ball of flame' He also stated that all pilots were killed and he saw no one bail out. If this were true, all five wreckages would have been found in Pakistan. The fact is - only two wreckages were found - presuably those of Bhagwat and Brar. The other three pilots including the Commanding Officer - Wing Commander Zachariah and Flight Lts. Sinha and Lamba safely returned home. Zachariah is settled in the UK, and the other two officers rose to become Air Marshals.
Devayya and Guha were shot down by Flt Lt Hussain and Malik respectively. Zachariah, Sinha and Lamba came home. Kakcer had to bail out due to engine flame out. So which 5 Hunters did Alam claim? Or did he actually shoot down only two - Bhagwat and Brar? Or not even these?

Alam's lies were perpetuated by John Fricker, a friend of Pakistan, and who was invited by the Pakistan Government to write the 1965 air war history. Fricker largely went by the lies fed to him by Alam, without getting into facts and details.

Alam is still regarded as a hero in Pakistan, largely due to the propaganda spread about him. He was credited with nine kills. The surprising thing is he did not even claim the two, acredited to him pertaining to September 6.

Why the Pakistan Air Force concocted this incredible story is not known. While the PAF's 1982 History accepts Alam's story as told by Fricker, the PAF's 1988 History is surprisingly silent about the names. In fact, the PAF 1988 History does not even list the names of the five IAF pilots.

Psot the 1965 war, Alam, now on top of the PAF, and celebrated as the World's best 'ace' was given commands of successive squadrons from 1966 onwards. Very soon - his leadership qualities at senior levels became suspect. By now he had also become somewhat a religious 'bigot' openly flaying abadonment of traditional Islamic values by the Air Force, especially with regard to consumption of alcohol. In the process, he rubbed many seniors the wrong way.
Alam attended the Staff College course in 1969, but was thrown out half way - on a strange pretext - that he did not know how to read or write ! His next command lasted 2 months. Alam was on top of the PAF in 1965, yet did not even fly in the 1971 war. He retired in 1982 as Air Commodore. He has become a devout Muslim, being often described as a mullah who spends his time praying and forecasting condemnation to hell for the PAF Officers who are less devout !
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With help from :
1. "30 SECONDS OVER SARGODHA - THE MAKING OF A MYTH" - Rakesh Koshy (www.bharat-rakshak.com)
2. Fiza'Ya - The Psyche of the Pakistan Air Force - Pushpinder Singh/Ravi Rikhye / Peter Steinemann