1965: Allah (SWT), artillery and the Pakistan Air Force
In Pakistan’s 68 years of independence there have been incidences where its people have risen as a nation. May it be a long perilous migration in 1947, a World Cup final between England and Pakistan or setting the record of largest number of individuals singing the national anthem, the Pakistani nation has never failed to surprise and amaze the world with its determination, patriotism and national fervour.
Despite the fact that Pakistan is home to 182 million citizens with diverse cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds, these people have risen above their differences and have united against great odds, proving that indeed no power on earth can undo Pakistan.
It is said that the true spirit of a nation is tested when it has to fight a war for its existence. The immense pressure, mounting tensions, the constant reminder of annihilation in battle tests, and the mettle of a person gauges the patriotism and devotion of a nation. The Indo-Pak war of 1965 was indeed a situation where Pakistan was fighting a war for its existence.
Because of my profession, my study of the Indo-Pak 1965 war had always been through the lenses of tactics and strategy. But before I studied about Khem Karan, the battle of Asal Uttar and MM Alam, also known as ‘Little Dragon’s marvellous dog fight’, I was familiar with the 1965 war from a layman’s perspective. My source was not a book, but a man who had seen and told me so many things in vivid detail which many history books had left out. He made me assess the war not in terms of numbers and military hardware, but in terms of valour, spirit and patriotism.
His stories would go like this.
“I was sitting in my bunker one morning, going through my morning rituals of shaving and changing into my fresh uniform when my runner, Sepoy Zahoor came in and asked if he should turn on the radio. Being on the frontlines, our sources of information were limited. We could only get to know about the wellbeing of our villages and our loved ones through telegrams or by listening to the news on radio Pakistan. I nodded in approval and Zahoor turned on the radio.
The news broadcaster came on air and said,
‘Before we start with today’s news, we have an important announcement to make. All the patriotic Pakistanis who are listening to our voice, we humbly request that we, as well as your proud valiant armed forces, respect your courage and your enthusiasm to do your part in the war. But we request that the people living in cities and especially Lahore to please refrain from aerial firing while a dog fight is in progress. You are requested to follow the instructions of Razakars and take cover in the trenches made for you and observe black out as strictly as possible’.
The newscaster would then continue with the rest of the khabarnama (news).
Turned out that last evening, there was an air raid on Lahore. The Indian hunters wanted to target some textile factory. Air raid sirens went off all over the city, but instead of going into trenches and taking cover, the people went up to their roofs to see the Indian hunters being chased and hunted down by Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabers.
As the trusted old Sabers spewed their bullets over the bugging out hunters, the crowds down below cheered, clapped and raised slogans. Words like, ‘uth oye shera’ (get up tiger), ‘jaa, jaa nas jaa, murd ke na ayeen dobara’(go away and don’t come back) and ‘Nara-e-Takbeer’, could easily be heard.
The tactics adopted by the Indian hunters were that they used to enter the Pakistani air space at a very low altitude, known as the tree top altitude. Its advantage was that the Pakistani grown radars couldn’t pick an airborne target flying so low. Most of the times, when the Pakistani fighters were scrambled, the Pakistani aircrafts on Combat Air Patrol (CAP) were already engaged in a dog fight with the intruders.
The air combat would then take place at the same altitude because the Pakistani F-86 Sabres were too old and too slow to match the speed and manoeuvrability of India’s more advanced fighter aircrafts and the Indians used it to their advantage. Many a times, when the Pakistan Air Force aircrafts had returned from a combat mission, the under carriage of the aircraft was found green instead of grey because of the brushing with the tree tops.
The Pakistani pilots had to push the old Sabres to their limits. At such low altitude with the Sabre flying with everything it had, the slightest mistake or malfunction could instantly prove fatal for the old aircraft and its pilot.
Coming back to the incident, as the first Indian hunter bit the dust, the crowds on the roof tops cheered and waved to the pilot who had just scored a kill. As the second hunter who was probably the wingman of the first one, flew past over the houses, one excited man raised his shotgun and aimed at the Indian hunter. The poor soul was going to help his valiant fighter pilot get the darned bugger. As the hunter pulled up trying to escape the F-86’s cross-hairs, the man on the roof top pulled the trigger. A volley of pellets flew in the air and missed both the hunter and the Sabre.
The second hunter was ultimately shot down while trying to out manoeuvre the Sabre. Later on, when the Pakistani pilots reached their base, the Base commander was informed about the incident and thus the announcement was made on the radio.”
Another story that he told me was of his dear friend and course mate, Major Khadim Hussain Bangash. I met his grandson some years back and told him that I had the honour of hearing a first-hand account of his grandfather’s valour.
“Major Bangash was a squadron commander in the 24 Cavalry, one of the most decorated regiments of Pakistan Armoured Corps. The unit was part of first Armoured Division of Pakistan Army and took part in the operations across Rohi Nullah in the Kasur Sector. The regiment had moved to its designated location where they were to wait for further orders.
As most of the military hardware with Pakistan Army at that time was very old and dated back to World War II, the tanks of the regiment required frequent maintenance to remain in battle-worthy condition. As the unit was to be employed in active battle any time, the squadron commanders and the regiment commandant were doing all they could to keep the old beasts up and ready.
One fateful day, Major Bangash was informed by his Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) that one of the tanks undergoing maintenance in the peace location was ready to be transported to the front. Without wasting any time, Major Bangash left along with his runner and his driver to collect the tank. As they were driving along a dirt road that went through the Pakistani defences, Major Bangash saw three Indian tanks approaching the forward defended localities. Suddenly, his driver pointed to a Pakistani anti-tank recoilless rifle (RR) that was crewless. Major Bangash ordered his driver to stop the jeep and ran to the RR only to find the crew of the gun, three men in total, already dead.
Major Bangash was not part of the unit to which that RR belonged to, neither was he tasked to man that weapon. If he would have left, he would never have been questioned for it. In short, he could have easily left and escaped the three Indian tanks, but fortunately for us, and unfortunately for the Indians, pathans are known for their bravery and their courage. Major Bangash ordered his runner to load a high explosives round in the RR while he himself took control of the gun and aimed at the first tank.
Boom! The RR fired and the first Indian tank went up in flames. Normally, as soon as an RR fires, it is very difficult for it to engage another tank from the same location because the moment it fires, the dust it kicks, the loud noise and the flame from the barrel gives away its location. The tanks being able to manoeuver quickly can then easily engage and neutralise the RR if it stays at the same location.
The ideal tactics for tank-hunting with RRs is shoot and scoot. For those who have never seen an RR, let me tell you that it weighs around 109 kilograms and is transported on a jeep, while its ammunition is transported in another jeep. As soon as the first Indian tank got hit, the remaining two started jockeying, a tactical manoeuver done in such situations in order to pinpoint the location of the RR.
Major Bangash ordered his runner to reload the weapon and aimed at the second tank. Bang! The RR fired and the second Indian tank and its crew breathed their last. But by now, the third tank had spotted the RR and was now charging towards it. It fired a round from its main gun that narrowly missed the RR, but Major Bangash remained steadfast and ordered his runner to load the third round. Hitting a second tank was difficult but what Major Bangash was now trying to do was next to impossible; there was no way he could engage the tank at a safe distance or not get hit by the charging beast.
The runner stood by his squadron commander and loaded the third round in the gun, locked the breach and signalled ‘ready to fire’ to his commander. Major Bangash started tracking the tank through his RR aiming sight but the tank was too fast and was moving closer every passing minute. The runner standing next to him told Major Bangash that the target was too close to engage and that they should leave and run, but Major Bangash, without removing his eye from the aiming sight replied,
‘Laley, hamare peechey aur koi nahi hai jo isko rok sakey, ye hamen hi rokna hai.’
(Buddy, there is no one behind us who will stop this tank; it is now up to us to stop it.)
The tank pin pointed the RR’s location and charged at it at break neck speed, and as the tank rolled over the RR and its firer, Major Bangash fired the gun, finishing off the third tank along with him and the RR making sure that no Indian soldier crossed and entered into Pakistan under his watch.”
Misty eyed and with a trembling voice, my grandfather would tell me these stories. I once asked him, why he cried? He replied,
“I don’t cry because I am sad, what is there to be sad about? That Lahori firing his gun at the fighter jets? I cry because I feel proud and my emotions get the best of me. I feel proud of how me and my mates fought and defended our country, our homeland. How each and every one of us had put our country first. How Khadim Hussain Bangash never turned away and ran, even when death charged at him. Being crushed under a tank is extremely painful, but pulling the trigger while you are being crushed? That requires God’s help.
And finally, my son, the most important thing that makes me the happiest is when I remember how my countrymen gave us the send-off when we were moving to the border, how they honoured us and owned us.
Do you remember how I told you about that little girl we saw when my company and I were moving to the front?”
I would nod, saying that I remember but he would start telling me the story anyway:
“My convoy was the first one in the morning to leave Lahore for the front when the war broke out. As life in Lahore goes, people all around were busy buying halwa puri, the conventional breakfast of Lahore, but once they spotted the convoy, they started running along the vehicles handing over the halwa and puris, the poor halwai who had set up the stall picked up the thaal (pot) of the halwa and handed it over to the troops sitting in the trucks.
It was their way of showing their love for their boys. There, at the curb of the road, a girl, not more than five or six-years-old stood clutching her little doll, maybe her only doll, watching as everyone gave whatever they could to the men clad in khaki.
As the people came in front of the vehicles and the convoy had to be stopped, the little girl ran up to the jeep in which the convoy commander was sitting, a young major from Army Signal’s Corps. Unable to understand what was actually happening, but going with the spirit of the moment, the little girl stretched her arm to the window, but she could hardly reach it. The officer, seeing the doll looked down and saw the little girl, probably some fruit vendor’s child holding a doll out to him and saying,
‘Guddi le so, guddi le so.’
(Take the doll, take the doll.)”
My grandfather would further go on to tell me that whenever there was an air raid siren in Lahore and the Pakistani jets appeared on the horizon to send the Indian hunters back with their tails between their legs, the crowd cheered as it was a son of each household down below who was flying that beaten down Sabre.
It was never a Pakistani fighter pilot against an Indian fighter pilot; it was the Indian fighter pilot against the Pakistani fighter pilot with the complete city of Lahore cheering behind him and fighting that dog fight.
As I recall his words, I can’t help getting all mushy myself. It is widely said and believed in the military circles that Pakistan won the war of 1965 because of the three A’s – Allah (SWT), Artillery and the Air Force. I personally believe it was only Allah (SWT) and this nation’s love that made its sons fight with such valour.
There are quoted instances from the pilots of those worn down F-86 Sabres in which they said on record that when they flew at low altitudes, there were instances when they lost control of the aircraft. The speed was too much for the aircrafts to handle and with no controls, the aircraft would turn into a ball of flames in seconds. The pilots had witnessed that without the controls and the aircraft shaking as if it’s going to break apart, they would continue tailing the Indian jet and when they would look around their canopy, they would see figures, clad in green, holding the aircraft’s wing, steadying it, controlling the aircraft until the pilot regained control of his machine.
The Indian pilots have quoted on record that they would target a specific bridge for bombing and would release the bombs as accurately as possible but some figures in green would catch the bombs in mid-air and throw them in the water, saving the bridge.
These things are beyond the comprehension of a logical thinking mind. I used to ask my grandfather how could he believe such things, and he always gave me the same answer that I give to my questioning mind. He said,
“Son, when the nation owns its protectors like their own sons, God accepts the prayers of the nation for its defenders like He accepts the prayers of a mother for her child.”
This Defence Day, I salute the nation who has fought along us in our every war. I salute the Pakistani nation that has given us sons like Air Commodore MM Alam and Major Khadim Hussain Bangash Shaheed. And I salute this nation for giving us the love, respect and honour, without which we couldn’t have fought our wars for existence and have emerged victorious.
I salute you, with all my heart, honour and respect.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.