The 1965 War An Air Force Story

An inspiring story of the 1965 war, is narrated by a modest IAF Vir Chakra winner

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 12 March 2005

Many claim that AVM Lamba was a very good pilot. The story he tells depicts the fog of war, and the 1965 war lasted just 15 days and the confusion that took place as it erupted is retold. It is on record that a Joint Secretary in MOD wrote a letter to the then soft spoken Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Bhaskar Soman, that the Navy was not to operate above the 22nd parallel. One reason was that the IAF was flying the MR Liberators from Pune and they just could not recognise a merchantmen or differentiate one from a warship faulty reports had sent Naval ships scouring the Arabian Sea on several wild goose chases. Navy navigators including one from IDC were deputed to fly in the Liberators to identify ships and later the Navy fought a bitter battle to take over the MR Super Constellations and MR tasks from the IAF. A similar battle is raging now between the IAF and the Army over who will take control of attack helicopters.

In 1965 CNS asked to see the Defence Minister and PM, who did not give him time and the war ended with many asking what the Navy had contributed? Later in 1971, Admiral S M Nanda made sure that the Navy was not a bystander.

In 1965 the Army also did not achieve much and some Kargil peaks went into Pakistani hands while some salients (Haji Pir) were bartered away at Tashkent, when PM Lal Bahadur Shastri negotiated and some say he died there brokenhearted . We feel the lessons and reasons why our amazing Armed Forces did not achieve much in 1965 was because after the Kutch dispute earlier in 1965 followed by a cease fire, Pakistan turned it into a full scale war in September and our intelligence failed us.

In peacetime, the Government needs to lay down the Rules of Engagement and the Armed Forces must ensure that the PM and RM are presented various war scenarios that may emerge, so that when the balloon goes up the Government responds with a clear cut Aim.

Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat wrote an interesting piece on wars of today, in the 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs. He alluded to the botched Op Parakarma when Gen Padmanabhan, Chairman COS Committee could not get the Government to give the Army a clear cut aim of the exercise. There are lessons to be learned here.

India's Armed Forces are one of the best in the world but the Government has to get the best out of them with clear directions, indication of aims and unambiguous Rules of Engagement.

How I Too Nearly Missed The 1965 War!

By Air Vice Marshal Ajit Lamba VrC

(*This article is inspired by Air Marshal Raghavendran's article with a similar title.)

I was in No. 7 Squadron, equipped with Hunters and based at Halwara, during the 1965 War with Pakistan. When the hostilities started in the first week of September, the air activity was confined to the Chhamb Sector in the J & K, where only the Gnats and Mysteres were participating. On the 3rd or 4th of September, I got a telephone call from then Wing Commander Mally Wollen (I do not recollect what his designation was). He asked me if I would like to join the Gnat detachment as they were short of qualified pilots. I told him that I had very limited experience on the Gnats.

My total flying consisted of about 7 hours after an abridged conversion by Mally and Ashok during my PAI days at Jamnagar, when the latter had brought their Handling Flight there. Mally said the choice was mine and the limited flight time was no problem. Like many others in our squadron, I too thought that we would miss air action at Halwara. So I spoke to our squadron commander, Wg Cdr Zachariah. I told him about Mally's telephonic call and requested him to let me go and fly with the Gnat squadron. He agreed and I was asked to report to Ambala on the 6th September.

I packed my bags on the 5th evening and loaded my Standard Herald car. That night, I was duty officer in the Base Operations Room. I couldn't believe my eyes when I received one of the messages asking the base to mount air strike missions the next morning! I was now in a dilemma. Having agreed to join the Gnats, the best I could do was to get a taste of action with the Hunters as well. I immediately drove upto Zach's place, told him about the secret message and requested him to let me fly as many missions as possible the next day before I left for Ambala.

I was part of the first strike on 6th morning. The mission was to fly just inside Pak border, search and destroy targets of opportunity! This mission later came to be known as the "Tonga Strike", because that's what we hit apart from letting go salvos of 68mm rockets into some thick mango groves etc. I flew two more missions that day. Late afternoon, I set out from the Officers Mess in my car, cursing my choice to go to Ambala. I had covered less than a couple of hundred yards when I heard the air raid sirens sound and ack ack guns opened up. I decided to route via the base ops room to find out what was going on.

The whole place was full of excitement. Adi Gandhi and Pingo were there in their flying overalls, having just ejected over the airfield, their aircraft being shot down by the Sabre strike. Two Sabres too, were shot down by our boys. I also learnt that Peter Rawlley had not returned from the air strike near Lahore. Zach was there and took me along to see Ramola Rawlley. That's when I decided to stay put and told Zach accordingly. My place was in Halwara and so it would remain.

Pilots from No. 7 Squadron (Battle Axes) at their Hunters dispersal at Halwara AFS.

From L to R: Fg Off CG Pandiya (Tech), Doc, Fg Off Kondiah (Tech) , Sqn Ldr M M 'Rusty' Sinha , Sqn Ldr SS 'Chacha' Malik , Wg Cdr Toric Zachariah , Unidentified, Sqn Ldr G G Daniels, Unidentified, Sqn Ldr Ajit Lamba , Unidentified, Unidentified

The rest is history and many of my colleagues have written about the short-lived war. In fact, Jagan spent half a day with me some years back, recounting my Halwara days. It was a very satisfying experience for me personally, although, I feel that we could have conducted the operations in a much better way.

(Copyright Air Vice Marshal Ajit Lamba (Retd).

All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Air Vice Marshal Ajit Lamba (Retd) is prohibited.)

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