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 !
With help from :
2. Fiza'Ya - The Psyche of the Pakistan Air Force - Pushpinder Singh/Ravi Rikhye / Peter Steinemann