Saving the Golden Temple to save oneself – the Amritsar Radar Saga

The role of the Pakistan Air Force in the 1965 war was pivotal in keeping the Indian Air Force at bay and allowing both PAF and Pakistan army freedom of movement in the air and ground. Wing Commander Aman ullah (SJ) was a F86 pilot who’s dedication and flying ability in almost 30 sorties during the war helped the PAF gain and retain air superiority. He talked to the Nation about his experience and impressions of September 65 in a candid talk which is reproduced below.

In September our squadron was posted at Mauripur in Karachi, and as war clouds loomed on the horizon, we moved to Sargodha, which was our war base on 1st September.

The squadron went into action on the 2 Sept over Jammu, to carry out a reconnaissance mission to locate enemy positions, we did this and passed on information to the Army. On 3rd and 4th we flew army ground support missions in the Jammu/Akhnur area, most of them in the Indian Territory.

On 6th September when we returned from a combat air patrol, we learned that India had attacked across the international border at Lahore. Our squadron flew a mission, this time one squadron from Peshawar under Sqn ldr Sajjad Haider (Nosey) stuck the Indians along Budhana road in Jammu area. We had a second sortie on 6th and hit the enemy tanks facing the Pakistan troops. Later we got information that the enemy was withdrawing from the area.

After that our squadron made forays into Indian Territory and we hit Amritsar and Ferozepur Radars which made it difficult for the Indians to monitor PAF flights over the area. Based on intelligence a formation of four F 86 aircraft took off and attacked a train which was carrying ammunition from Pathankot to Amritsar, the formation was led by Sqn Ldr Allaudin Butch Ahmed who embraced Shahadat later and was awarded Sitara e Jurat, number two was Flt Lt Salim, I was number three, I can’t recollect the name of number four but he was from erstwhile East Pakistan. The four of us decided to go to Gurdaspur and head towards Pathankot and intercept the train en-route which we were able to do, apart from ammunition the train was also carting fuel tankers.

After the first strike, which hit the locomotive, he went in for a second strike, followed by number two, while we two flew cover over them to tackle any enemy aircraft if they came to take us on.

After the strike Butch and Salim peeled off and I and number four went in to strike the remaining carriages of the train. When Butch was short of the Pakistan border he called to report fire in the cockpit, we went thru the emergency procedures with him but them we lost contact. We circled the area and also informed Sargodha air base who sent other aircraft to search, and we exited as we were low on fuel. We have no idea if he had ejected, hit the ground, or exploded in midair but we had lost him!

We flew sorties rom Sargodha to Lahore, Kasur, to Narowal, till Shakargarh. The best part was that the Indian Air force literally chickened out after the Pathankot operation, and MM Alam’s feat of shooting down five Indian aircraft in one go, they did not engage the PAK, so we ran the roost as far as the air superiority was concerned.

During this time the army ground support missions continued, and some search and destroy sorties were also assigned which we carried out satisfactorily. During search and destroy missions we had no difficulty to identify the enemy tanks and vehicles due to two things, one they had painted yellow roundels on their vehicles so they could be seen and identify from the air, and second, the turret numbers of the tanks were in English. Our tanks and vehicles did not have the roundels and the numbers were in Urdu, so there was a distinct difference. Also since we used to fly practically at tree top height, we could be sure of the identity of the rank, vehicle or troops on ground. After a few casualties the Indians started to mud plaster the roundels or cover the vehicle with branches, even these tactics made it easy for us to locate the Indian equipment.

We got information that the Indians had deployed heavy and medium artillery along the border, the heavy artillery was deployed along the Wagha border and the medium guns about a mile or a mile and a half inside Pakistan territory. We were tasked to strike these guns, and two formations took off to do the task. I was leader of one and the other formation was led by (later) Air Marshal Azim Daudpota (who died recently) and we successfully hit the target. Later on we found that the Indians had pulled out their artillery under cover of darkness.

When we got over the target area, it was all smoke and smog, making visibility very poor, I went to low level pass and identified the area where the heavy guns were, and told my formation that I would take a firing pass and they should follow in the same line. The maneuver was successful and we took out some guns; later we learned the Indians had pulled back the guns during the night.

Later that night we got a message from the Army commander at Lahore to the effect, that Lahore should thank the PAF for saving them from a big disaster which the Indians had planned and moved the guns to carry out the shelling of Lahore; my formation including Hashmi and the others had the honor of flying the very last mission of the 1965 war, before the cease fire was announced. We learnt over the Radio that the Indian Army was asked to withdraw behind River Beas, however one Sikh commander refused to do so and we were told to fly a ground support mission.

When we reached the target area, there was a pitched battle raging on the ground. Since it was not possible to identify the aircraft overhead we came under fire probably from own as well as enemy ground forces. We stayed over the area, but Flying Officer Qais Hussains aircraft was hit and his left wing was on fire, and had to exit the area and fly to Lahore; however Qais wanted to attempt to go back to Sargodha, and I escorted him till close to Sargodha, and returned to the battle area and I took on a convoy of trucks. As I said this was the evening of cease fire and this was the last mission of the 1965 war.

During the time I flew 29 or 30 sorties during the war and did my job to the best of my abilities.

An interesting episode of the war was the attack on the Amritsar radar. The radar was located a short distance from the city and the Sikh Golden Temple was very close to it. When we were tasked to take out the Radar, Air Marshal Nur Khan the C-in-C told us that under no circumstances was the Golden Temple to be hit, and in an aside he said if anyone does drop his ordnance on the temple I’ll shoot him on the runway on landing! We all laughed and took off, luckily the Chief did not have to carry out his threat!

Umaima Ahmed is a member  of staff

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