How to redeem yourself in Style…
On 6th September 1965, Indian Army crossed the International border in the Lahore-Sialkot sector, to release the pressure it was facing on the LOC in kashmir. IAF wanted approval for preemptive strikes on PAF bases and assets to gain air dominance over the War zone, but it was denied by the political leadership. unfortunately, no such constraint was faced by the PAF which promptly attacked major IAF bases on evening of the 6th. It scored big at Pathankot where it got a haul of 14 aircraft destroyed or damaged on the ground…including two brand new Mig-21s. IAF now got a go ahead to do what it deemed necessary.
On the morning of 7th September two strike groups with a total of 12 aircraft from Adampur base, attacked Sargodha Main….the citadel of PAF. It was a collection of multiple airfields around the city of Sargodha. First group of six aircraft achieved the element of surprise and attacked airfield installations and hangars…despite it being very dark, as the sun was still below the horizon. Strike leader, Wg Cdr Omi Taneja saw three aircrafts parked at the end of the runway on ORP (Operational readiness Platform- interceptors- armed and fueled up…ready for take-off ASAP)…but had overshot them before he could react…his formation couldn’t notice the aircraft and missed a golden opportunity to settle scores. All this while the second strike formation of six aircraft under Sqdrn Ldr S (Handu) Handa, lost direction and simply returned back with fuel running low and weapons load, intact.
First strike destroyed multiple ground assets and it was this battle where AB Devayya shot down a PAF Starfighter. Once both strike forces landed back at Adampur, OP Taneja gave Handa a good dressing down and told him that their performance was not acceptable and that they should go back and attack Sargodha Main in broad daylight. It was a borderline suicidal mission with high chance of getting intercepted or shot down by ack-ack fire. But orders were orders…you had to follow them. One of the pilots in the second strike team noted in his diary “while waiting to go to our aircrafts, I had butterflies in my stomach because I was just 24 years old and did not want to DIE!”
Sq Ldr Handa’s strike team of six aircrafts took off at 0945 and reached Sargodha within half an hour. It seems the PAF was not expecting someone in the IAF to be crazy enough to attack in broad daylight, esp. when enemy had been alerted by an earlier raid. The three aircrafts which were parked on the runway and were missed by first strike team in the morning, were still in their place…Handa saw them and dived in for strafing…one of the Sabre-jets blew up while other were damaged. Before the PAF could vector all their interceptors toward the attacking formation, the second strike team was back in Indian airspace, flying lower than 100 AGL (100 feet above ground level) at 900 kmph. As the pilots sat down for a cup of tea…their hands were still shaking due to the 90 minute adrenalin rush. But that’s one hell of a way to redeem yourself.
Ref. The Duels of the Himalayan Eagle by Air Marshal Bharat Kumar.
IAF Mystere launching rockets on a ground target.
Sargodha Main Airfield with two intersecting runways.
Aircraft on ORP. Armed- Fueled- Ready for the scramble.