Aerial warfare in 1965 India Pakistan War

Aerial warfare in 1965 India Pakistan War

On September 1 1965, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 war erupted between the Republic of India and Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The war saw the Indian Air Force and the Pakistani Air Force engaged in full scale combat for the first time since independence. Though the two forces had previously faced off in the First Kashmir War during the late 1940s, that engagement was limited in scale compared to the 1965 conflict.

First Week

The Indian Air Force's Number 45 squadron quickly responded to the urgent call for air strikes against the Pakistani army and 4 IAF Vampire FB Mk 52s were successful in slowing the Pakistani invasion,however the PAF sent 2 F-86 Sabres armed with air to air missiles to the battlefield & in the ensuing dogfight, the outdated Vampires of Indian Air Force did not match with the superior F 86 sabres of PAF, with losses; one Vampire been shot down by ground fire and three Vampires shot down by PAF F-86 Sabres. The Vampires were followed in quick succession by Mysteres of Nos 3 and 31 Squadron from Pathankot.-86 Sabres] .

The appearance of the Sabres necessiated a move by the IAF to send the Folland Gnat fighters to the forward base of Pathankot. The move succeeded - within two days the IAF shot down two aircraft. Sqn Ldr Trevor J. Keelor of No. 23 Squadron shot down a F-86 Sabre on September 3, marking the first air combat victory to the IAF since WW2. The very next day Flt Lt V S Pathania repeated the feat - by shooting down Fg Offr NM Butt's Sabre of the PAF.

On September 6, the Indian Army crossed the border at Lahore to relieve pressure off the Chamb Jaurian sector. On the evening of the same day, the PAF responded with attacks on Indian airfields at Pathankot and Halwara. The attack on Pathankot was successful and the IAF lost nearly 10 aircraft on the ground. The attack on Halwara was unsuccessful; two of the attacking raiders were shot down for the loss of two Indian Hunters. The Indian pilots ejected and survived while both PAF pilots were killed.

The next day, September 7, the IAF mounted over 33 sorties against the PAF airfield complex at Sargodha; about half a dozen aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The IAF lost two Mysteres and three Hunters due to various causes. One of the Mysteres was involved in an air combat with an F-104 Starfighter and shot it down before it crashed. The pilot, Sqn Ldr Ajjamada Boppaya Devayya, was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra 23 years later. His feat was not known till it was revealed in a Pakistani Publication.

September 7 also marked the day when the PAF attacked IAF airfields in the Eastern Sector. The raid on Kalaikunda was successful and the IAF lost 8 aircraft in two raids. However the IAF shot down two PAF planes by IAF Hunters. One Indian pilot Flt Lt A T Cooke engaged four Sabres singlehandedly, with one confirmed shot down and claimed another as probable. This second "probable" Sabre flew back to Dacca but was declared a write off by the PAF.

Later Conflict

The war lessened in intensity after September 8th and there were occasional clashes between the IAF and the PAF. During the conflict IAF Canberras raided several Pakistani bases including Sargodha and Chakala. On September 14, Canberras undertook the deepest strike in the war on the Pakistani bases of Peshawar and Kohat. The PAF admitted that the IAF came very close to eliminating the PAF B-57 Canberra fleet if not for a near miss by a Canberra on that raid.

At one stage the IAF was operating 200 air missions simultaneously. IAF Folland Gnat's of Nos 9 and 23 squadrons played a significant role in major air battles and helped to push back after the initial Pakistani thrust.

In addition to counter air sorties, the Indian Air Force also launched massive offences on the invading Pakistani army. The IAF also went deep within Pakistani territory and targeted Pakistan's airfields and missile launch centres.

During these missions, sporadic air combat occurred between IAF and PAF fighters. One Gnat was shot down on September 12, followed by a Sabre on September 14. One Hunter and a Sabre were shot down in aircombat on September 16, and three Sabres were downed by Gnats on September 18 - 19. The last air combat of the war happened on September 20, when two Hunters were shot down in exchange for one PAF Sabre. On the same day a F-104 intercepted a Canberra bomber on its way back from Sargodha and shot it down.

On Sept 21st, IAF Canberras carried out a deep strike daylight sortie into Pakistan and destroyed the PAF Radar at Badin using rockets. The Ceasefire was declared on the night of September 22.


Both countries hold highly contradictory claims on combat losses during the war and hardly any neutral sources have thoroughly verified the claims of both countries'. The Pakistan Air Force claimed it had shot down 104 Indian Air Force planes, losing only 19 in the process. India meanwhile officially stated that 35 IAF planes were lost while shooting down 73 PAF aircraft. According to Indian figures, the overall attrition rate was 2.16% for Pakistan Air Force and 1.49% for IAF. [ [ Book Review] ] India also pointed that despite PAF claims of losing only a squadron of combat craft, Pakistan had been seeking urgent help from Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and China, for additional aircraft within 10 days of the war. [ [ IAF Combat Kills] B. Harry]

Pakistan's main strike force comprised the U.S. made F-86 Sabre jets, which claimed a fair share of Indian planes, though remaining vulnerable to the dimunitive Folland Gnat, nicknamed "Sabre Slayer". The F-104 Starfighter of the PAF was by far the fastest fighter plane operating on the subcontinent at that time. On the other hand, the Indian Air Force relied largely on the Hawker Hunter for attacks. Unlike the PAF whose planes largely consisted of American craft, the IAF flew an assortment of planes from Vampires to Mysteres, many of which were outdated in comparison to PAF planes, with even the Hunters and Gnats being outmatched by the Sabres and Starfighters. [ [ Operation Gibraltar revisited By Kamal Matinuddin] The News International Pakistan] Some of the fiercest dogfights occurred over Sargodha which was the PAF's main base, housing the bulk of its planes; IAF planes attacked the base but the PAF was able to repulse the attacks. The Pakistan Air Force responded by attacking Indian bases with some success, especially in air to ground attacks but were soon forced to back off to provide cover for its ground troops elsewhere. In one incident, the Gujarat Chief Minister's, Balawant Rai Mehta, civilian plane was shot down by PAF Sabres inside Indian territory, killing him and the crew.

"For the PAF, the 1965 war was as climatic as the Israeli victory over the Arabs in 1967. A further similarity was that Indian air power had an approximately 5:1 numerical superiority at the start of the conflict. Unlike the Middle East conflict, the Pakistani air victory was achieved to a large degree by air-to-air combat rather than on the ground. But it was as absolute as that attained by Israel." USA - Aviation week & space technology.However as compared to the Arab-Israel War,Pakistan Air Force was able to achieve air superiority right from the start of the conflict mainly because of the superior battle skill and training of the Pakistan Air Force, "India and the United States estranged democracies", 1941-1991, ISBN 1-4289-8189-6, DIANE Publishing, pp 235, 238] [ [ Pakistan's Defence Journal] ]


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