Stories Of Valor Series: 2 Hunters and 6 Sabres (not an Ice-age story) 1965 Air war- Eastern Sector
The 65 air war had many instances when, initially after being punched on the nose by the PAF, the Indian air force got back up, brushed off the dust and with a few swinging upper-cuts, knocked down the enemy hard. This time I will talk about the Eastern sector…. PAF’s sweet-sour raid on Air Force Base at Kalaikunda (WB)
Sep 7, 1965. Eastern Air Command and Central Air command were supposed to counter the threat from East Pakistan and China(if need be). Although the central govt. decided not to initiate any action on the ground or in the air, in the eastern sector, the orders came through late to the respective Commands/Units. So, on 6th Sep evening, Eastern Command started operationalising the strike plans it already had devised and practiced. One such strike plan included a sortie by two Canberra jet bombers, attacking Chittagong Air base and was to be executed by the squadron based out of Kalaikunda. The dawn raid went on smoothly without any resistance. The canberras dropped their load and landed back unscathed. That’s when the mayhem started. It seems a group of Sabres (4 aircrafts) was doing a CAP over Dacca (CAP is combat air patrol which basically means keeping a few interceptors flying over the air base during most probable times of enemy attack- dawn and dusk). These sabres stealthily followed the canberras back to Kalaikunda and unleashed a massive ground attack. They destroyed the two Canberras…then went on to destroy four fully fueled and armed Vampire bombers. The most shocking aspect was the absence of any resistance from the Indian side. Anti-aircraft crews were not ready and couldn’t fire a single shot while the Pakistanis picked targets with leisure and blew them up. The raid ended when all the sabres ran out of ammunition and flew back to Dacca.
Indians now came out of their trenches, regrouped and made an important assumption…with the negligible resistance that was shown to the Pakistanis..they shall most probably refuel, re-arm and come back to take out rest of the aircrafts…they even guessed the timing of the next raid…and lo and behold…the Pakistanis came ten minute early.
But this time, not known to the Pakistanis, Indian Radar had caught them and alerted a CAP of Hunter (Fighter-Bomber) over Dum-Dum, to intercept the attacking sabres. Mind it, there were six PAF sabres and two IAF Hunters in the equation. While flying in to Kalaikunda, one of Hunter pilots became scared for his life. We must remember…these are also simple human beings like us and have emotions…attachments…sentiments…the lead pilot of other hunter tried to help out his wingman ‘They are attacking our home…we need to get these bas!@#’ The scared pilot composed himself and got ready for the fight. When they arrived at the scene, the sabres were doing attacks in a classic racecourse circuit…each of the hunters decided to take on 3 sabres…Alfred Cooke in the lead hunter had an amazing dog-fight with a sabre. They flew so low that the Hunter’s wing had tree branches embedded in it, when it landed. The whole dog-fight was witnessed in full panorama, by most of the crew at Kalaikunda base from their trenches. The two fighters trying to out-turn each other so as to get in a firing position. And the more amazing fact, Cooke’s Hunter has practice ammunition and not the regular cannon ammo. So, even though he was able to hit the sabre with his ball ammo, he could see them bounce off the sabres armor…the two pilots got so close that they could see each other’s faces…finally from just 100 yards (a cricket pitch is 22 yards) Cook’s ball ammunition became fatal and the sabre blew-up into a massive ball of fire…killing the PAF pilot. After getting his kill, Cooke didn’t leave the warzone, he got behind another Sabre and both the planes went into a dive…while pulling out of which Cooke accidently pressed on the trigger and spent all of his remaining ammo. But the other Sabre disengaged and flew back east. All this while the other Hunter flown by Flg officer Mamgain also managed to damage a Sabre which was reported to have crashed after crossing back into Bangladesh. During those maneuvers one of the sabres got behind Mamgain’s Hunter and was about to take him out, when Cooke came to his wingman’s rescue. Although Cooke didn’t have any ammo, he was still able to scare away the PAF pilot who broke off and headed east. Within a space of 3-4 minutes, the two hunters were able to challenge and maul the attacking sabre formation which ran back towards East Pakistan. After this blow, PAF couldn’t dare to attack Kalaikunda through rest of the war which lasted 16 more days.
This is pure, unadulterated guts and glory…two against six…still coming out on top…in style.
Ref. The Duels of the Himalayan Eagle by Air Marshal Bharat Kumar.
Alfred Cooke with his Hawker Hunter fighter
A PAF pilot with his Sabre jet