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The India Pakistan Air War of 1965

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Authors Note:

The India-Pakistan 1965 Air War is a book that that aims to fill in
the gaps regarding a military conflict that took place almost four
decades ago. Why is a book about an air war that took place four
decades ago being written now? An answer is perhaps best made
indirectly. In 1999, a military conflict broke out in Kashmir. The
world read about a war that threatened to attain nuclear flashpoint.
The world read about wars having been fought before for the same
region. In this book we describe the air component of a war that was
triggered by the issue of Kashmir in 1965; we believe that it is the
air war that has not been documented adequately. While the Pakistani
side of the story has been told, the Indian story has not.
Our book begins with a brief historical background to the Indian Air
Force (IAF) and provides a look at the events that drove the IAF's
developments in the years leading up to the war. These chapters enable
some appreciation of the challenges that faced the IAF as it strove to
develop the aviation component of its military. The political
circumstances of India and Pakistan drove their purchasing policies:
American aces from the Korean War had trained the Pakistan Air Force
(PAF) whose main strike force consisted of F-86 Sabres - the stars of
the Korean War - and B-57 Canberras; the Indian Air Force flew a
mixture of British, Russian and French jets. We examine with some
brief technical detail the orders of battle in 1965. India was often
using untried and untested aircraft beyond their designated
performance profiles. India persisted in attempting self-reliance in
military matters – a process that continues to this day as can be
witnessed in its manufacture of nuclear weapons and the development of
an indigenous aviation and space program.

After a brief look at the events that eventually triggered the war in
September 1965 - the battles in the disputed Rann of Kutch territory
and the Pakistani intrusion into Kashmir by Operation Gibraltar - we
move on to a day by day recounting of the war, from the Pakistani
attack in Jammu to the Indian retaliation across the Punjab border to
a blow by blow account of the escalation of the air war on the western
front. It makes sobering reading to realize that the Kargil conflict
in 1999 began in almost exactly the same fashion. We also provide a
detailed description of events in the Eastern Sector i.e., on the
border between India and the erstwhile East Pakistan, something that
no book on the conflict has ever attempted. Our account is unique in
providing Indian eyewitness accounts of the major actions of the air
war. We describe in subsequent chapters, the air component of the
three-week long inconclusive slugging battle on the ground that
employed tanks and artillery and that was only brought to a halt after
intense international pressure for a ceasefire involving all the major
superpowers (the US, the USSR and China) and the United Nations. We
conclude with an evaluation of the performance of the respective Air
Forces and an epilogue on the men who fought the war.

Our main source of information on the book has been interviews with
Indian Air Force personnel that fought in the war. We also procured
war diaries of squadrons, material made available from both Indian and
Pakistani sources, including magazine articles, fictionalized accounts
and other books – mainly by Army personnel on both sides of the border
– that chiefly addressed the conflict on the ground. As a result of
conducting interviews - in the USA, the United Kingdom, Australia and
India - we were able to get a unique perspective on the war. We faced
challenges: some IAF personnel could simply not be located - some had
migrated and left the country to become members of the Indian
diaspora, some were reluctant to talk about a subject that could often
evoke painful memories; some had passed away before we began the book,
and others sadly left us as the book was being written. Lastly, the
Indian Air Force itself has not made public its records of the war.
Still, our contact with ex-IAF personnel provided us with unique
information: pilot's logbook scans, never before published photographs
(close to 100) including gun camera photos and personal details on the
men who fought the war. We also conducted interviews via email by
sending questionnaires to the veterans involved. We used the Indian
Government's Official History of the 1965 War to crosscheck details
and verify claims. We did not however, have access to the Indian Air
Force's history cell. We have received no funding from the Indian
Government or the Indian Air Force. We did receive support from
serving IAF officers in an unofficial capacity.

The book is of value in understanding the deployment of airpower of
the 20th century. Furthermore, the 1965 war represents a turning point
in Indo-Pakistan relations. India had already realized its military
vulnerability after the 1962 war with China. This war took it further
down the path of military modernization and re-equipment. Its air
force was rapidly undergoing an expansion program in the mid-sixties;
it took the lessons from this war into its next campaign: the highly
successful war to liberate East Pakistan in 1971. The lessons learned
from the 1965 war still drive military aviation in India, which has
embarked on the Light Combat Aircraft project and recently inducted
the Sukhoi-30MKI, the most advanced jet aircraft in the world today in
active service. Understanding this war will help dispel some notions
the West has about the countries that find themselves still locked in
battle over Kashmir. One of these is the misconception that the
countries are not militarily sophisticated. On the contrary, as this
book will show, the two have had practice in developing military
tactics over a period of time that are unique to the theaters that
they will fight in. The two countries have fought fiercely, with no
quarter given and certainly none asked for. The armoured battles in
the Sialkot sector in 1965 were the most intense since the Second
World War – rivaled only by Israeli-Egyptian battles in the Sinai in
1973, and the air battles often took place at low-altitudes in high
performance aircraft.

Each country appointed heroes; here we tell some of the Indian
stories. We tell for the first time the story of Alfred Cooke, the
Indian pilot who tangled with four PAF Sabres and shot down two of
them. Cooke is peacefully retired in Australia – this is the first
time his story has been recorded. Some legendary raids that have made
their way into the aviation lore of the Indian subcontinent are
described for the first time in print such as Pete Wilson's raid on
Badin, the Pakistani pilot admiringly dubbed '8-Pass Charlie' by
Indian pilots and the story of the daring clandestine reconnaissance
missions flown by Jaggi Nath in broad daylight at low level over
Pakistan - prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

The war had a unique edge to it: men fought in the war that prior to
the creation of India and Pakistan had served in air academies
together. The Air Chiefs in the war - Arjan Singh and Nur Khan - were
friends before the war and remain friends to this day. Indian pilots
flew across the border and over the villages that their grandparents
and parents had lived in. More than one Indian pilot was to comment on
the incongruity of fighting against men who might have been his
squadron mates had the history of the subcontinent been even
marginally different.

With the publication of this book, the history of the 1965 war will be
complete. We do not spend much time on political details, commentary
or historical background that is non-aviation related. Much has
already been written on these matters. For the interested reader we
provide a bibliography of further reading that will provide adequate
background on the land war and on the politics of Indo-Pakistan
relations in 1965. We started this project with a certain boyish
enthusiasm and have used that as a balance to the seriousness of the
project. Still, in writing this book, we strive to do justice to the
facts, to present history with respect for its players and with the
fervent hope that the future history of the subcontinent will not
require the kind of cost that appears to be imminent in these grim



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