Pakistan Air Force Day is celebrated on the 7th September as a tribute.
Pakistan and India encountered each other using all the available military resources and assets in September of 1965. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) celebrates September 7 as its day of achieving air superiority over 5-times bigger Indian Air Force.
Also Read: Indo Pak War of ’65 – A Pictorial Memorial
September 2 and 3
No major aerial engagement observed on September 2. However, India sent Gnats to the forward base of Pathankot. IAF used Mysteres flying at slow speed as bait to lure Sabres to attack where the waiting Gnats will take them on. On September 3, 1965, two Pakistan Air Force sabres were scrambled but one had to turn back without entering the fight when the pilot couldn’t jettison the fuel tanks. The other one flown by Yusaf Ali Khan was under attack by Gnats. Thus a sabre was hit by Indian Gnats. However, it was flown back to the base and made to land safely. The Sabre pilot was given Sitara i Jurat for surviving dog fight with six Gnats and bringing the damaged Sabre back home. Interesting enough Indian pilot Trevor J Keelor claimed to have shot down that Sabre and was awarded Vir Chakra and the title of ‘Sabre Slayer’.
It is claimed that a Gnat landed at Pakistan airbase Pasrur by mistake although it was forced to land by by Hakimullah Khan who was flying F-104. The pilot was taken prisoner and the plane though damaged was flown to Sargodha and then to Karachi as an exhibit in Pakistan Air Force Museum; Saad Hatmi had the rare distinction of flying a captured Indian plane.
During the conflict, the Pakistani F-86 flying ace Muhammad Mahmmod Alam (MM Alam) shot down seven Indian aircraft including claims of two as ‘probable’. Five Hawker Hunters were shot down in one minute, of which four were brought down in 30 seconds.
Following Indian attack on Lahore, Pakistan Air Force responded with attacks on Indian airfields at Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. The attack on Pathankot was successful, while the attacks on Adampur and Halwara were failures. The IAF lost almost ten aircraft on the ground at Pathankot. The Adampur strike turned back before even reaching Adampur while at Halwara two of the three attacking raiders were shot down for the loss of two Indian Hunters in air combat. Both the Indian pilots survived as they ejected over their base, whereas the intruding Pakistani pilots were killed in action, including Sarfaraz Rafiqui who had shot down two Vampires on the 1st September. Before being shot down, Rafiqui is credited with shooting down the first of the Hunters. He was posthumously awarded the Sitara i Jurat for the Chamb action and the Hilal e Jurat for the Halwara action.
Also Read: Indo Pak War of 1965 – A Brief Recollection
The IAF mounted 33 sorties against the heavily guarded Pakistan Air Force airfield complex Sargodha. The IAF lost 2 Mysteres and 3 Hunters. One of the Indian Hunter pilots was made prisoner of war and released at its conclusion. One of the crippled Mysteres flying solo got involved in a dogfight with an F-104 and both got hit. Pakistani pilot safely ejected, while the Indian pilot was killed and awarded Maha Vir Chakra 23 years after the incident when his feat was revealed by PAF.
Pakistan Air Force attacked IAF airfields in the Eastern Sector and reported to have lost 3 sabres. The war lessened in intensity after 8 September, with occasional clashes between the IAF and the PAF.
One Indian Mystere was downed by anti-aircraft fire in Pakistan but the pilot ejected safely.
One Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabre was downed while attacking a train near Gurdaspur and the pilot was killed. An Indian Gnat was shot down by a PAF F-86 Sabre flown by Yusuf Ali Khan. Another Gnat was engaged and damaged in air combat by Imtiaz Bhatti; both Indian pilots were killed
A Pakistani F-86 Sabre also crashed while conducting an evasive maneuverer in an attempt to escape pursuit, from an escorting Gnat as it tried to defend the Canberra bombers; the Pakistan Air Force pilot was killed.
Later, one Pakistani B-57 was shot down by anti-aircraft fire over Adampur, although both of its crew managed to eject safely and remained POWs.
Pakistan Air Force employed a number of its C-130 as bombers, which proved unsuccessful; two of them were shot down by the IAF.
One IAF Hunter and a Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabre were shot down over Halwara. The IAF pilot was killed in the encounter; Pakistani pilot ejected and spent the rest of the war as a POW.
A Pakistani Cessna and an Auster were also shot down that day,
A Sabre was shot down by a Gnat over Amritsar. The same day a Pakistani Sabre shot down a civilian Indian aircraft assuming it to be on a reconnaissance mission. Years later, the Pakistan Air Force pilot wrote a letter to the Indian pilot’s daughter to apologize for shooting down the aircraft.
A Gnat and two Sabres were downed over Chawinda.
The following day, 2 Hunters and a Sabre were lost over Kasur, Pakistan.
On the same day a PAF F-104 Starfighter intercepted a Canberra bomber on its way back from Sargodha and shot it down. Another Hunter flown by the son of Chief of the Indian Army was shot down by anti-aircraft fire; he ejected and was taken POW.
September 22 – The Outcome
There are conflicting claims by either side on this issue. Pakistani sources suggest that Indian losses were in the range of 59–110 and Pakistani losses were around 18–43. India claimed that a large number of Indian aircraft losses occurred on the ground during the attacks on Kalaikkunda and Pathankot, while most of the Pakistani losses were in aerial combat.
As per the information above, a total of 36 Indian and 18 Pakistani planes are reported destroyed. Pakistan claims to have destroyed 104 Indian planes compared to losing its 19. India admits losing 51-59 planes and destroying 43 Pakistan Air Force planes, neutral reports suggest 20 Pakistani and 60-75 Indian planes being destroyed. One might say it is evident as to which side received greater damage.
Irrespective of how one looks at the number game, it is generally agreed that Pakistan Air Force surprised the Indian Air Force especially in strike missions where it destroyed numerous IAF aircraft. Pakistan attained unchallenged air superiority from the onset allowing Pakistani ground forces to operate without danger of enemy air threat.
An interesting article claims that IAF defeated PAF. Following are a few excerpts from said article:
- After few sorties by the IAF against East Pakistan on 7 Sept a political embargo was imposed on further attacks in the East. It is not clear why the IAF decided to withhold nearly half of its air force against possible Chinese attack
- The performance of Pakistan Army did not match that of the Pakistan Air Force mainly because the leadership was not as professional. The Army had planned the Operation Gibralter (infiltration into J&K) for self-glory rather than in the national interest (may be true, ZA Bhutto is blamed to be responsible for this misadventure)
- Because of intense propaganda, PAF made everyone believe that PAF defeated IAF
- It appears that PAF’s well-crafted propaganda unfortunately impacted on the perception of even the best analysts leading them to fall prey to PAF’s misinformation
- Air superiority was never contested since air power was largely restricted to ground support and the air war came to an early halt as a result of shortage of spares and weapons imposed by international embargo
- On 6th Sept Pakistan Air Force launched pre-emptive attack against four IAF air bases and three radar stations, i.e. Pathankot, Adhampur, Halwara, Jamnagar airfields and radar stations at Amritsar, Firozpur and Jamnagar. PAF’s attack over Pathankot met with great success. PAF claimed to have destroyed 14 planes. These aircraft were destroyed because they were not sufficiently dispersed and camouflaged
- One may like to explain it away as an unkind hand of fate. In the East, PAF attacked Kalaikunda air base and 22 aircraft. This happened because Kalaikunda did not have any dispersal facilities
- On the morning of 7 Sept, IAF launched a total of 33 sorties spread for this all important battle of air superiority. This attack was surprisingly small and lightly pressed. The superiority of the IAF in the West was further diluted because the PAF aircraft had greater fighting capability especially the sidewinder missile capability of Sabres and Star fighters. Though, it was known that only 25 percent Sabres were missile capable, but to every IAF pilot who would have seen a Sabre in air, it would have been prudent to consider it Sidewinder capable
- Pushpinder Singh (an Indian military historian) stated that PAF had lost 12 percent of its strength by 8 Sept and, hence, went on defensive
- On the Indian side MiG-21s (74 in number) had recently been inducted and were not yet night capable for interception. Night flying of Gnat aircraft was limited due to poor cockpit lighting. The night fighter Vampires were already obsolete.
- At Lahore, on the critical day of 6th Sept where Indian Army had launched an offensive PAF had an upper hand
- Of course IAF lost more number of aircrafts, a result of its larger number of offensive sorties over enemy territory (contrary to claims that more planes were destroyed on ground i.e. 53 compared to 14 in air combat)
- Of the total air to air losses, IAF’s losses were 18 aircraft in strike role and 4 in air defence role. This is indicative of greater offensive forays by the IAF compared to the PAF (what a contradiction within the write)
- PAF seemed to have better intelligence of our deployments, and redeployments. They also seemed to know, the time of our aircraft getting airborne from various bases. This enabled the numerically inferior PAF to utilise its resources far better. In our case, lack of accurate intelligence entailed flying that many more sorties for similar effect. There were instances of attack on airfields devoid of PAF deployment resulting in wastage of strike potential. PAF’s humane intelligence capability was significant
- A very daring and innovative idea of the PAF with regard to use of commandos to destroy IAF’s aircraft on ground, where fighter aircraft are always most vulnerable. It was definitely a maverick idea full of surprise
- Fortunately for India, the commando action failed due to insufficient planning, training and lack of last minute coordination between the PAF and the commandos (above Pakistan intelligence has been lauded – contradiction)
- Nevertheless this action had an adverse impact on IAF’s operation and did reduce its potential and out of fear of more such actions India resorted to relocate the planes on daily basis (fear factor?). This daily relocation apart from creating administrative problems reduced the potential of the sorties generated. On one occasion, Adhampur even witnessed its own Mysteres strafing the grassy area within the airfield, presuming that the commandos were hiding there
- Despite above factors, overall IAF had a better control of air. Thus it is IAF and not PAF which won the battle of air superiority in 1965 Indo-Pak war (great conclusion)