POW-Future PAF Chief! 22 Nov 71

1. I was the Adjutant of 4 SIKH(Saragarhi 1897) in 1971.We had commenced operations on 11 Nov 71.We advanced North from the Boyra Salient and secured an area around Village Makapur 6km inside East Pak.

2. We had some patrol clashes but no worthwhile engagement took place.We were strafed by Sabres flying from Dacca but no damage took place.Some probing attacks were launched by Pak troops who thought we were Mukti Bahini.The main defences of Pak 107 Inf Brigade were in a compact arc around Jessore 30 km to the East.There was a large upheld area between us and them.Since Pak troops were not offering battle it was decided to advance deep into East Pak on 20 Nov.On 19 Nov a Sqn of brand new T55 tanks of 63 CAV joined us.There was excitement in the air.On 20 Nov 4 Sikh led by Sqn Armr of 63 CAV commenced a classic Xcountry advance.One coy was mounted on the tanks and other Coys moved behind them on the trot.We were engaged by forward elements of Pak 107 Inf Bde.These were quickly scattered by tank and artillery fire.Our boys were full of Josh and cheered by the locals who shouted Joi Bangla.Cries of Jo Bole So Nihal the battle cry of 4 Sikh also rant the air.Dust plumes were going high up in the air due to tank movement.The scene was reminiscent of the 2WW movies like the Battle of the Bulge!

3. By evening we had advanced 20 km in NE direction and hit the Kabadak River at a place called Chaugacha.

20121123-170959.jpg
Our tanks and D Coy tried to rush the bridge but it was blown up by Pakis in our face.One of our tanks got struck in the loose mud at West end of the bridge.Heavy fire was coming from entrenched enemy positions located on the high ground East of the River.We firmed in on the West Bank and planning commenced for attacking across the River.

4. The same night 14 Punjab along with a Sqn of PT76 tanks had crossed the Kabadak River to the East of Boyra Salient and taken up defences around Garibpur village.This position was 10km SW of us.At night artillery and mortar duels continued.Pak 107 Inf Bde got very alarmed and attacked 14 Punjab early in the morning on 21 Nov71.A fierce battle ensued.Pakis used 6 Punjab and a Sqn of Chaffee tanks.We were hearing the noises of the battle which lasted approximately 2 hours.Paki attack failed.8 Chaffee tanks lay smouldering at loss of our 3.3 Tanks were abandoned by Pakis.Maj Narang our Sqn Cdr of 45 CAV was martyred.His 2IC Capt Teji Sidhu had a tank shell pass through his legs.Badly injured but lived.These Offrs along with those of 14 Punjab led from the front.As soon as the winter fog lifted the PAF was on us.During the day of 21 Nov about 16 Sorties were flown primarily against the positions of 4 Sikh.The visible target for the Sabres was our stranded tank on the demolished bridge.We repeatedly requested for own air cover but no clearance was given as the war had not been declared.

5. On 22 Nov strafing by enemy Sabres continued.About 12 sorties were utilised.Since IAF was not allowed to operate we engaged the aircraft with LMG and MG fire.At mid day I had gone 4 Km to the rear to check on our B Echlon.I was coming back in a jeep at about 1530 hours when I saw 3 Sabres coming for the last sortie before sunset.The Sabres homed on to our positions and were doing high dive attacks like the Stukas one saw in the 2WW movies.Suddenly I saw a mission of 4 aircraft fly over me at tree top level.My jeep swayed due low flying of the air craft.First I thought that the PAF had thrown its entire 14 Sqn into battle to deter our impending attack on Chaugacha.I was also hearing the chatter of our MG/LMG fire engaging the aircraft.Suddenly I saw the 4 fighters peel out of formation and head for the Sabres which were oblivious to their presence and continuing with the dive attacks.I realised and recognised that our Gnats have joined battle.I stopped the jeep and stood watching wonder struck.Three Gnats chose one aircraft each and closed in.There was the chatter of cannons of the Gnats and I saw flames erupting from all(3) Sabres and they plunged towards the ground.Having done their job the Gnats gave wing salute to us on the ground and headed back to Klaikunda.

6. Now to the most interesting part of the story.As we saw the aircraft smoking and flaming before hitting the ground,two parachutes opened up.One drifted back to Paki held area and one came towards our defences.Our boys rushed out of the trenches towards the descending parachutes.Sensing that in the heat of the moment our Jawans might kill the pilot,I also ran as fast as I could.When I was 50 yards away two our Jawans had knocked the pilot down and were hitting him with rifle butts.I shouted at them to stop.In the mean time more Jawans joined the fray.I had physically move them away and shielded the pilot by standing in front of him.I calmed down the Jawans and told the pilot that he was safe.A tall fit man,shaken up but put up a brave face.We walked to the Bn HQ and we dressed a small cut he had sustained on his forehead.I ordered a cup of tea for him and commenced his interrogation.His name was Flt Lt Pervez Quereshi Mehdi and he was the Sqn Cdr of 14 Sqn PAF located at Dacca.He was a Sword of Honour from the PAF Academy.His wife’s photo was in his pocket.I made a list of all his items which included his watch,9 MM pistol,20-30 rounds of ammunition and his survival kit.By this time he was relaxed as he realised that he was safe.I told him that he was now a POW and will be treated as per Geneva Conventions.Surprisingly he had not seen the Gnats and neither had our troops or other officers as they had all ducked into trenches.Flt Lt P Q Mehdi said that some fire hit him from below.Actually he was climbing for the dive when the Gnat got him.Our officers and Jawans claimed that our MG fire had brought the Sabre down.I was told to prepare an immediate citation for an award to the Machine Gunner.I whispered in my CO’s ear that It was our Gnats and that I had seen the dog fight or the Gnat Pounce!He was taken aback but insisted on the citation.I packed away Flt Lt P Q Mehdi to our Bde HQs.He did not say anything before going but looked at me and his eyes said ” thank you”!His conduct despite the shock of being shot down and taken POW was dignified!

7. Our Machine Gunner got a SM!Our Gnat pilots were deservedly decorated!Flt Lt Pervez Querishi Mehdi was POW for one year and had a illustrious subsequent career to become an Air Chief Martial and Chief of PAF 1997-2000.His cockpit seat,his parachute and some parts of his Sabre are still held by 4 SIkh!Capt HS Panag then a month short of 23 rose to become an Army Commander!Incidentally Flt Lt P Q Mehdi was the first POW of the war!

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40 thoughts on “POW-Future PAF Chief! 22 Nov 71

  1. Satisfying. But the article could be made more interesting by giving the then (n even new) photos of two main officers of the times, n also by writing in last but one line “Capt HS Panag, the writer of this article…Of course a non-army man’s view

      • Panag Sir,

        Very vivid descrption. I have always seen you as an honourable man; I agree with you, “yes soldiers must respect time tested Geneva Convention”. Thanks for sharing this story – remember Deepak Sharma of Jodhpur?

  2. The Sabres were actually strafing the Krupmann pontoon bridge at Boyra to disable it. We (Engrs) had to dissemble the brigade and spread out the pontoons in the daytime & re-assemble the bridge after dark. We were in trenches when the strafing took place but a young jaw an from Sikh LI got up to have a look at the planes & was killed.

    • May be other sorties.I was right under them at Chaugacha at1530 hrs on 22 Nov.Chaugacha is almost 15 km due NE from the Kruppman Bridge East of Boyra.I know where the Bridge was.Constructed by 102 Engineer Regiment.The pilot could not have landed amongst us.As I said that there may have been other sorties too.To that end u may be right.Flt Lt PQ Mehdi confirmed that he was going in for the stranded Tank on the destroyed bridge at Chaugacha!

  3. Woah! From POW to Air Chief!
    Btw. It will be highly appreciated if the appropriate demonym i.e. Pakistani is used instead of the slang ‘Pakis’.

  4. To day feeling really lucky n proud to know a Gen like Gen H.S.Panag whom I hve “known” (thru news) since hs posting as Army Cdr @ Lko n hs ‘reasoning out” wd d DM. Jai Hind, Sir, wishing U good health n happiness :-))

  5. INTERESTING MEMOIRS. FAUJIS SERVING and RETIRED WOULD EXPECT MORE? @LtGen_SampathK @tksapru

  6. There are stories and there are stories …. So we must hear as many as we can ….. Bahut khoob General Sahib …. Jai Hind !

  7. @paramjitgarewal 24/11/2012
    Vivid Narration-made me feel I was walking Thro. Bravo Our Northern Army Commander Holds PAF Chief Hostage for 1 Yr–Look Foward to more !

  8. Pingback: Read the top picks from Indian bloggers this weekend. Amazing posts!

  9. Sir,
    It was a real pleasure reading this blog. I would request you to pen down a little about Saragarhi too when time permits. Thank you so much…
    Best wishes

  10. I am really very Happy & Thankful Sir,Gen, for penning your memoirs of the Day,the 1st kill of 1971 War happened with PAF fighter by our Gnat (& rightly written)from Kalaikunda.With this we have so many Sr Officers of Our IA,remembering the Day ie 22nd Nov1971.
    This Day is also Known as BATTLE OF BOYRA on 22/11/1971.
    (Excerpt from Wikipedia)
    The Battle of Boyra, on 22 November 1971, was the first engagement between the Air Forces of India and Pakistan of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. It is seen as a culmination of the Battle of Garibpur where the Indian Air Force successfully engaged and destroyed strike elements of the Pakistan Air Force.
    The battle took place between a four ship formation of the No. 22 squadron of the Indian Air Force equipped with HAL built Gnats, against a four ship formation of Canadair Sabres of the PAF No. 14 Squadron.

    No. 22 squadron, based in Kalaikunda AFB, was tasked with the air defence of Calcutta sector. The Squadron was formed in October 1966 at Bareilly and had been equipped with the HAL built Ajeets immediately. It was part of 5 Wing at Kalaikunda from September 1968 onwards. The unit started operating a detachment under the command of Wing Commander BS Sikand from the Dum Dum airfield in Calcutta which was activated from 22 September 1971.

  11. 1. THE PICK UP

    At around 1448 hours, the radar picked up the four Sabres as they pulled up in a north westerly direction to about 2,000 ft (610 m) above ground level. Within a minute, the ORP at Dum Dum was scrambled. Four Gnats took off by 1451 hours led by the formation leader Flt Lt Roy Andrew Massey. It was less than three minutes from the time the Sabres were detected by the radar.

    The Fighter controller in the sector was Fg Offr KB Bagchi. His voice went over the radio “One O’Clock, 10 Nautical Miles”. Massey Replied “Contact, I can see them pull up”. The Sabres seemed to have already carried out several passes in the eight minutes it took the Gnats to reach the Boyra Sailent. The Sabres were commencing to start another dive – they were at about 1,800 feet (550 m) altitude and diving down to 500′ in an attack run.

    “Right wing over attack”. shouted Bagchi, “half twelve, thousand yards”.
    “Contact” replied Massey.
    “Request type”, was Bagchi’s query.
    “Sabres”
    “Shoot” was the command from the Fighter Controller.
    It was 1459 hours.

  12. 2. THE AERIAL ENGAGEMENT

    The four Gnats separated into two sections and dived into the attack to bounce the Sabres. The first section of Gnats was of Massey and Fg Offr SF Soarez as his No.2. The second section consisted of Flt Lt MA Ganapathy and Fg Offr D Lazarus. As the Gnats dived in, a section of two Sabres pulled out of the attack and placed themselves in an awkward position, just in front of Ganapathy and Lazarus. Ganapathy called out on the R/T “Murder Murder Murder”. Both the pilots did not waste time on this perfect opportunity. Cannon shells slammed into the pair of Sabres and both the Sabres were badly damaged. The Pakistani pilots Parvez Mehdi Qureshi and Khaleel Ahmed had only one option- to eject. They drifted down to Boyra by parachute. The wreckage of the abandoned Sabres fell near the village of Bongaon. Massey, in the meantime, pulled up over Ganapathy and Lazarus to latch onto another Sabre. The Sabre pilot, Wg. Cdr Chaudhury- in a skillful dogfighting move- broke into Massey’s attack forcing him to take a high angle-off burst. He missed his target. Taking aim, Massey let off another burst at 700 yards (640 m) and hit him in the port wing. By that time, Massey’s starboard cannon had stopped firing, but the Sabre streaked back into Pakistani territory billowing smoke and fire. Massey himself realised that he was well over East Pakistani airspace in his chase. He turned around and regrouped with the rest of his formation. Later reports confirmed that Massey’s victim, Wg. Cdr Chaudhury, showing considerable courage, had managed to fly his badly damaged Sabre back to Tezgaon Airfield just outside Dhaka. Chaudhury himself claimed to have shot down one of the Gnats.

  13. The Last para
    3.THE AFTERMATH

    The Indian pilots were each awarded the Vir Chakra. The Fighter Controller Fg Offr KB Bagchi was awarded Vayu Sena Medal. Wg. Cdr. Sikand was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM).
    Massey would later command No. 224 Squadron of the IAF which operated MiG-23MF.
    Donald Lazarus went on to become a Flight commander on No. 102 Squadron of the IAF- The Trisonics- which operated India’s top secret Mig-25s.
    Parvez Qureshi would later go on to be the CAS of PAF.
    Some dubious reports and analysis later suggest that the Pakistani Pilots were under orders not to fire back. However, what is beyond doubt is that at least Qureshi and Ahmed would not have had the opportunity to do so had the orders been given.
    Tezgaon airfield was subjected to a nihilistic offensive campaign by the Indian Airforce and was rendered inoperable by the third day after the formal declaration of war on 3 December 1971.
    PAF No.14 Squadron defied orders to destroy their aircraft at the time of surrender on 14 December. These were captured by the Indian Army Mitrobahini and donated to the nascent Bangladesh Air Force.

  14. NOTES AND REF

    1.^ http://www.pafcombat.com PAF Combat
    2.^ Cooper T, with Khan Syed Shaiz Ali. Air Combat Information Group. Indian-Subcontinent Database India – Pakistan War, 1971; Introduction. 29 October 2003. Lacking numbers to match Indian numerical superiority, the residue F-86s were complemented by 90 Canadair F.Mk.6 Sabres. These were bought in 1967, by Iran – via a Swiss intermediary – from Germany, without a US end-user certificate (but possibly with the knowledge of the U.S. government). The reported price of the total package was $10 million. Upon their arrival in Iran, the Imperial Iranian Air Force – which operated only a handful of US-supplied F-86s at the time – claimed they were unable to maintain and to overhaul them. As a result, all the German Sabres were sent to Pakistan and they never came back. Instead, they were integrated into three PAF units, and by 3 December 1971 at least 88 remained intact, of which 74 were operational. A total of 48 of these were wired for Sidewinders: the PAF thus had a fleet of exactly 72 72 Sidewinder-compatible F-86F/Sabre F.Mk.6s. http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_326.shtml URL Accessed on 13 August 06
    3.^ The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare Edited by Chris Bishop (amber publishing 1997, republished 2004 pages 384-387 ISBN 1-904687-26-1)

    • Thanks for enriching the Blog.I am well aware of the Air Action.Seeing it live was a thrilling experience.The Gnats were flying out of the low setting sun ie West to East.Sabres were busy in high dive ground attack.Surprise was complete.All over in 3-4 mins!

  15. Thoroughly enjoyed this story Gen Panag. I agree with Samarjeet that more defence officers shared their memoirs like this.

    I remember, there used be a column in the Week called The Colonel. I loved those anecdotes of the Gorkha regiment officer.

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful story. I shall remember it for a long, long time.

  16. Very interesting n informative 1st hand narration. Hats off to Faujis !!!

  17. Nice to see this piece and incidentally I was also there as a Gun Position officer when the Pakistani sabres attacked over our regiment gun positions and then released their payload ahead of us on the bridge. I saw the dog fight over us -earlier the sabres screamed over us at tree top level-could see the pilot and then our gnats emerged like champions. Both Pervez Mehdi and the other pilot Kahlil Ahmed passed through our gun area and asked for tea which we gave-they were injured.They requested that they NOT be given to the Mukt Bahini. My regt guns were supporting the SIKH Bn and the story is accurate because we were behind the SIKHS and saw the entire show SB Puri has a point because the Engr bridges and gun positions were lucrative targets also
    Ajit Apte

      • Thanks,that corborates from 4 points,Gen Panag was there,have forgotten name,Maor..1971 he also tweeted that he was on a certain bridge & saw the pilots coming down.GOI’s official corborates,our plane few from Kalaikund & were controlled by barrackpore for enemy fighter position & subsequent gun fight.This I had dug up on occassion 50th Yr Victory on East pakistan.’samarjeet Narayan’

  18. Thanks yes it was a great moment for us truly blooded into battle -battle innoculation because the next day we that is our gun position was shelled heavily but lucky that the shelling was between the gun area and one hit the logistics area. My cousin was a fighter pilot -Flt Lt and was shot down and captured over Dhoronarao on the Western front. He was not taken POW but killed and this was the first counter air strike by IAF. That is war

  19. Very inspiring Sir! The 2nd decade of the 21st century is proving to be challenging.The blood & glory achieved in defence of the nation will undoubtedly inspire Youth of India. It would be great if these tales of courage could be preserved with interviews of great officers & soldiers on Youtube channels.Is anybody willing to take up this project?g

    • Sir , whatever we say one thing i believe and even u will agree , no officer deserves a fate of being locked up for the remaining part of his youth , he is after all fighting for his country , chances of air force fighter pilots being more prone to becoming POW is high as they fly alone or with their wing man and in case there shot down , they are left totally on the mercy of the country in which they bail out and i am talking in a very general manner which includes all the major air forces and naval aviation , take for example the case american air force , navy ..fighter pilots short in down in Vietnam , or in 1950 Korean war never returned home same is the case of Indian air force pilots who had to bail out over west Pakistan , and could not return home . every once a month we get to hear this POW plight story of there families.
      Sir , u have been a part of military establishment , your olive green uniform has been your blood and bread to you , don`t you feel that especially bailed out pilots status should be made clear to the family so that ” his young wife can start her life again and not keep looking at the door of her house hoping that someday her husband might return ” . In war there no guarantee that the person who is fighting the war will come back alive , but in case if death happens and how he died then that status should made clear to the families , so that never a doubt is raised and those same families feel very proud in sending more sons to armed forces.
      Sir , neither i belong to any of these families nor any of my relatives is in defense , i am just an individual for whom human relations are important

  20. Sir , whatever we say one thing i believe and even u will agree , no officer deserves a fate of being locked up for the remaining part of his youth , he is after all fighting for his country , chances of air force fighter pilots being more prone to becoming POW is high as they fly alone or with their wing man and in case there shot down , they are left totally on the mercy of the country in which they bail out and i am talking in a very general manner which includes all the major air forces and naval aviation , take for example the case american air force , navy ..fighter pilots short in down in Vietnam , or in 1950 Korean war never returned home same is the case of Indian air force pilots who had to bail out over west Pakistan , and could not return home . every once a month we get to hear this POW plight story of there families.
    Sir , u have been a part of military establishment , your olive green uniform has been your blood and bread to you , don`t you feel that especially bailed out pilots status should be made clear to the family so that ” his young wife can start her life again and not keep looking at the door of her house hoping that someday her husband might return ” . In war there no guarantee that the person who is fighting the war will come back alive , but in case if death happens and how he died then that status should made clear to the families , so that never a doubt is raised and those same families feel very proud in sending more sons to armed forces.
    Sir , neither i belong to any of these families nor any of my relatives is in defense , i am just an individual for whom human relations are important

    Reply ↓

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