NDTV Exclusive: Reopen Files On IAF's 1971 Attack On Pak Airbase, Say 2 Military Legends

As NDTV reported yesterday, never have more enemy jets been destroyed in a single IAF raid on a Pakistani airbase -- a fact that found mention in Pakistani records but has never been adequately recognised by the Indian Air Force

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NDTV Exclusive: Reopen Files On IAF's 1971 Attack On Pak Airbase, Say 2 Military Legends

20 Squadron "Tribe twenty" led by Wing Commander Cecil Parker during the 1971 war.

New Delhi: 

Highlights

  1. Mission could be single-most successful IAF's counter-air operation
  2. Two veterans believe Air Headquarters needs to re-open its file
  3. The IAF struck Murid in Pakistan during the 1971 war
After new details emerged of one of the most successful ground attack missions in the history of the Indian Air Force, two distinguished veterans, both legends in their own right, believe that the Air Headquarters needs to re-open its file on the IAF strike mission to Murid in Pakistan during the 1971 war and credit some of the pilots who have never been recognised for their role.

In his new book, "In The Ring and On Its Feet - Pakistan Air Force in the 1971 Indo-Pak War", Pakistan's leading military aviation historian Air Commodore M Kaiser Tufail (Retd.) has stated that IAF Hunter fighter jets belonging to 20 Squadron, 'The Lightnings' of the IAF destroyed 5 PAF F-86 Sabres on the ground in Murid on December 8, 1971.

He goes on to list the identifying tail-numbers of these jets.  This would make this mission the single-most successful counter-air operation in the IAF's history, meant to target enemy aircraft while they are on the ground.

As NDTV reported yesterday, never have more enemy jets been destroyed in a single IAF raid on a Pakistani airbase -- a fact that found mention in Pakistani records but has never been adequately recognised by the Indian Air Force.

Responding to the details in Tufail's book, the then Commanding Officer of the Pathankot-based 20 Squadron during the 1971 war, Air Vice Marshal Cecil Parker (Retd.) says: "In view of the admission of the loss of five Sabre aircraft (with tail numbers given) of the PAF in Murid on  December 8, 1971, they must be credited to Mission 113 and be included in No 20 Squadron total toll in any official history of the IAF."

Parker is no ordinary IAF officer.  Awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest military decoration in India, Parker shot down an enemy Sabre fighter, heavily damaged another one and attacked the Pakistani oil refinery at Attock in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire while leading 20 Squadron during the '71 war.

According to Parker, "My own opinion is that the Awards Committee at Air headquarters felt that too many awards were going to a single unit, ie No 20 Squadron. I may add that two-thirds of my recommendations were accepted but the one-third that wasn't, included my recommendations for Dhillon, Murlidharan and Heble."
 
hawker hunter

IAF Hawker Hunter in 1971 often called "God's Own Aeroplane" by 20 Squadron, IAF

One of the officers Parker refers to is Flying Officer VK Heble, who along with Squadron Leader RN Bharadwaj, Flying Officer BC Karambaya and Flight Lieutenant AL Deoskar, flew the British-made Hunters to Murid on that fateful day. Heble, who quit the IAF as a Flight Lieutenant after 1971, was tragically killed in an Indian Airlines crash near Mumbai a few years later.  According to BC Karambaya, "Heble claimed he fired his guns at a 'pointed nose' aircraft" when the Hunters were strafing Murid airbase.

'Pointed nose' fighters in service with the PAF at the time included the French-made Mirage 3 and the US made F-104 Starfighter, arguably the most advanced fighter in the world in 1971, which Pakistan received in limited numbers from the US and Jordan 1961 onwards.

Since the Pakistani accounts do not mention the loss of either of these two types in Murid on December 8, it is quite possible that Heble had in fact struck one of the 5 F-86 Sabres which were destroyed on the ground that day.  In any event, Heble never received a gallantry award for his role in 1971.     

Backing Parker's belief that the IAF needs to re-open its files on the Murid operation of December 8, 1971, is former Navy Chief Admiral Arun Prakash, who was deputed to 20 Squadron during the 1971 war.

Prakash, who was awarded a Vir Chakra for gallantry during 1971, had attacked Murid a day earlier in another daring raid by 20 Squadron Hunters.  Tasked with maintaining the squadron's diary, an account of day-to-day operations of the Lightnings, Admiral Prakash says, "I feel sorry that I could not notch up the five Sabres that Tufail has, so kindly granted to us 47 years on."

The IAF has not been averse to taking a re-look at the role of some of its pilots during 1971.

In 1988, 23 years after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the IAF posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra to Squadron Leader AB Devayya after an account published in John Fricker's book "Battle for Pakistan". Devayya had been engaged by a Pak F-104 Starfighter in a dogfight, but managed to hold his own despite flying an older and significantly inferior Mystere fighter.  Despite being mortally wounded, Devayya managed to strike the Starfighter repeatedly with his cannon, causing it to be abandoned.
 

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