The Magnificent Bomber
A Bomber Pilot reminisces about PAF operations during the 1965 war
A country without a strong Air Force is at the mercy of any aggressor. Pakistan must build up her Air Force as quickly as possible. It must be an efficient Air Force, second to none”. This advice by the Father of the Nation, the Quaid-e-Azam has been the principle for those who have built the PAF into what it is today and continues to inspire the young generations which follow.
It was an arduous task to build a strong and potent air force made more difficult in the case of Pakistan due to its political, technological and, above all, economic constraints at the time of its birth. Pakistan Air Force since its first day; had to, therefore, strive hard and long to develop into a modern and effective air force. The ability of our airmen was amply tested in two major wars and today we can say, with reasonable confidence, that we are in a position to meet any challenge that may come our way. But, it must be understood that in this day and age of fast-changing technological environment, the struggle ahead may be even harder, more uphill than what was faced by our predecessors.
In 1965 war, the world has seen some historic bombing operations by PAF pilots against different enemy locations. The B-57 bomber wing which was located at Mauripur Base contributed in the war by performing classical bombing operations at Jamnagar, Adampur and Pathankot. All these operations were mostly carried out at night, and required a great deal of concentration and high precision. The sole aim of these operations was to deny the enemy, the use of its airpower, by destroying the airfields from which they were supposed to takeoff.
On 6th September 1965 at 4:30 p.m., a quick twenty minutes final briefing was conducted for the B-57 attack against Jamnagar to be carried out at 6:00 p.m., the same day. This was the second attack at Jamnagar which had earlier been attacked by six F-86 aircraft.
The six B-57 set out in two waves of three aircraft each, flying at 200 feet above ground level. Following the coast line, they soon crossed over into Indian territory, descending even lower to avoid radar detection. Mandvi lighthouse beacon shining brightly, helped the B-57s to fix their position for final approach at Jamnagar, now some four minutes away. A mile short of the target the aircraft pulled up and each was able to deliver its load of 4,000 lbs of bombs on to the target. All aircraft were carrying a full load of rockets as well, and for this reason only internal bombs had been taken. The last minute orders for the mission had not allowed time for the rocket to be replaced by external bombs. The leader, however, discharged his rockets at a hangar and set it ablaze. No fighter interceptors and anti-aircraft fire were encountered.
Thereafter a ‘shuttle service’ to Jamnagar was kept up all night with single aircraft sorties. During these operations, one PAF aircraft was lost which was attributed towards fatigue and bad weather. A photo intelligence report of Jamnagar after the war confirmed that a total of about fifteen bombs landed inside the airfield complex destroying two Indian Air Force Vampires on the technical area.
In another operation, four of B-57s aircraft from Mauripur were ordered to report at Peshawar. On landing at Peshawar, the leader of the formation was informed about his mission to strike Adampur at 5:30 p.m.. The aircraft had left Mauripur with internal bombs only and were to have the external stations loaded at Peshawar. However, Peshawar that evening was crowded with aircraft and arrangements had not yet been made to meet the unforeseen commitments that had suddenly arisen for the base. While the maintenance staff struggled to refuel the aircraft, time was slipping by and in order not to delay their mission further, their leader decided to drop his demand for the external bombs.
It was already dusk before they took off and pitch dark when the B-57 crossed into India flying at low level. The Initial Point, ten minutes from their target, was the bridge over the river Beas — a darker streak on an already dark canvas; but they made no mistake about the attack. The anti-aircraft swung in action but the bombers repeated the attacks regardless of its hazard. Except for one aircraft, that had its left wing pierced by a 40 mm shell, no other damage was sustained. The formation landed back at Peshawar at 9:00 p.m. and was tasked for another mission against a bridge at 4:00 a.m. The formation, encouraged the success of the first mission, accept the task willingly and destroyed the target as required.
The non-stop nature of PAF’s airfield offensive was indicated by the fact that, as the Adampur strike force was landing back at Peshawar, the other five B-57s were taking off for a follow up strike against Pathankot. The operational signal indicated four aircraft, but as five were available, so all took off. The discussed airfield at Pasrur was the IP (Initial Point) for run-in for the target. The new moon was giving a faint light and the visibility was fairly good. The Indian black out was quite good even in small villages.
There was no sign of any fire etc. of the previous F-86s attack. In fact there was a probability of missing the target. Thanks to an Indian who was kind enough to forget putting the airfield beacon off. It provided accurate pinpoint direction for the destruction of Pathankot. The enemy heard the attack and opened up with everything he had. It further assisted our pilots to see the airfield clearly. A large concentration of ground defences was reported at Pathankot. The PAF pilots were clear in their minds that once they were in an attack, they had to accomplish the mission. The enemy suffered a heavy loss. Next morning our troops intercepted an enemy radio message which said, “Pathankot burning, immediate help needed”.
To conduct counter air offensive mission against enemy airfield, and to remain out of reach of their fighter aircraft, the PAF bomber wing remained elusive throughout the war. The pattern repeated was to take off from home base, strike inside Indian territory and recover at another airfield. The B-57 operations called for great skill, concentration, stamina and dedication. These qualities were found in abundance in the ever-eager crew of the wing and no task seemed impossible for them.