Battle of Amritsar Radar 1965

On September 6, 1965, Pakistan put into effects its War Plan No 6 with the aim of targeting Indian Air Force bases and installations. Launched at 17:40 hours, Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabres attacked Pathankot air base, destroying ten Indian aircraft on ground and damaging three more. This was followed by raids on Halwara and Adampur but these two were a failure as Pakistan Air Force could not do any damage and even lost two F-86 Sabres in the air.

Included at the top of the list of installations to be targeted by Pakistan Air Force was the radar at Amritsar. The P-30(M) radar of Soviet origin was operated by 230 Signal unit and was the most important radar of Indian Air Force deployed in Punjab, its location near to the International Border(IB) giving it the ability to look deep inside Pakistan and provide the much need early warning to the frontline Indian Air Forces bases including Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara. Designated as ‘Target Alpha’ by Pakistan Air Force, its call sign was Fish Oil. The Signal Unit was commanded by Wing Commander Krishna Dandapani, a fighter pilot and providing air defence to the radar was a battery of 45 Air Defence Regiment equipped with World War II vintage 40mm L/60 AA Guns. In addition, a troop of 19 Air Defence Regiment equipped with the more modern radar-controlled 40mm L/70 AA Guns was also earmarked for the defence of the radar. 19 Air Defence Regiment was still in the process of conversion to the new 40mm L/70 AA Guns when the war had broken out and only about a Battery worth had converted to the new guns

Pakistan Air Force had earmarked six F-86 Sabres for the planned attack on the radar but as Sargodha, the launch pad for the raid against Amritsar did not have the requisite number of F-86 Sabres, Pakistan Air Force had moved additional twelve F-86s from Mauripur. Unfortunately for them, the move of F-86s from Mauripur not only got delayed but four of the twelve Sabres developed technical snags, as  a result of which only four F-86 Sabres could be  earmarked for the attack on Amritsar radar.

At  dusk, the  four F-86Fs led by Wing Commander Mohammad Shamim took off from Sargodha, accompanied by an RB-57B flown by Squadron Leader Rashid.  As it was important to have the pin-point location of the radar for an accurate attack, Pakistan Air Force had decided to use one of its two RB-57B Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) aircraft to home on to the radar and lead the Sabres.

A word about the RB-57Bs. USA had for long operated from Peshawar to carry out surveillance missions over Soviet Union but had stopped them when the U-2 piloted by Gary Powers had been shot down in 1962. This ceasation of high-altitude flights had led to an intelligence gap for the USA – and it was urgently to be filled up, sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile US Navy mission operating out of Peshawar to monitor Soviet missile test ranges, especially the Kapustin Yar range, had been evicted by Pakistan Government after repeated US Navy violations of Indian and Afghan airspace. This had also left a critical US intelligence void. It was in this context that US Air Force (USAF) approached General Dynamics in March 1962 with a contract to study and develop a re-configured B-57 for high-altitude missions. As the new configuration aircraft was being developed, Pakistan agreed to resumption of  surveillance flights on the conditions that the flights would be flown by Pakistan Air Force crew with aircraft provided by USA and that aircraft be similar to or identical to one of the aircrafts in Pakistan Air Force inventory. It was for this reason that B-57 was selected for the mission code named Little Cloudand Pakistan Air Force received two RB-57B to continue with the surveillance mission.  These aircraft were based at Peshawar and were operated by No 24 Squadron, PAF.

Coming back to the raid. As the Sabres F-86s rendevouzed with the RB-57B and approached the IB, the onboard electronic equipment of the RB-57B developed technical snag and the mission had to be aborted.  The second RB-57B was, luckily for PAF, airborne at that time and it was decided to use this second RB-57B instead for the strike mission. The F-86F’s, low on fuel, refuelled at Sargodha and rendezvoused now with the ELINT aircraft. The RB-57B led the F-86’s to the radar and it overflew the site, the AA guns opened up, filling the sky with lethal fire. The intense AA fire found its mark, hitting the RB-57B and damaged one of its engines. The stricken ELINT aircraft had to turn back  and as Squadron Leader Iqbal nursed back his aircraft to Peshawar, the Sabres were forced to abort the mission as they were  unable to locate the radar without the ELINT aircraft even though the fire of AA guns gave them the general location of their target.

The first PAF raid to neutralize the radar had been a failure and though the RB-57B managed to get back to its base, it was so badly damaged that it was not used for the rest of the duration of the war.

Frustrated by their failure, PAF now decided to use its RT-33 Shooting Staraircraft to try and locate the radar. Squadron leader Mubraiz-ud-Din  of No 20 Squadron, PAF carried out the Photo Reconnaissance (PR) sortie son the 7thand base on its results, PAF was now confident that it had  ‘workable intelligence’ to plan the next raid. It came soon enough, as PAF F-104 Starfighter and F-86 Sabres attacked at 09:10 on September 7. The results were bad enough for Pakistan as the Air Defence gunners once again rose to the challenge. Notable amongst them was Havildar Athanikal Basil Jesudasan of 45 Air Defence Regiment who continued engaging the strafing aircraft, hitting a F-86 Sabre and foiling Pakistani attempt of destroying the radar.

PAF made two more attempts on September 8 and 9 but without any success. In fact, it used napalm bombs on September 9 but in face of intense AA fire, the PAF aircraft could not deliver the payload accurately and all it could manage to damage was a 40-pounder tent. The Sabres even attempted to directly attack the AA guns but the undaunted gunners foiled every attempt to neutralise the radar.

The next day, September 10, PAF followed up with two more missions against Amritsar radar by a total of 12 F-86s from Sargodha, escorted by 2 F-104s as top cover.Having failed to cause any damage to the radar in their earlier attempts, PAF had now decided to use 2.75 inch rockets.  The first attack went in and the Sabresmanaged to hit the IFF antenna, damaging it. The spare generator set of the radar was also damaged but the damages were soon repaired and the radar was back in operation after a short interval. The second raid of the day was by four Sabres with four more as top cover. It was but another failed attempt by PAF.

Having tried and failed with napalm and rockets, PAF decided to use only the Sabre’s  0.5in machine guns against the radar installation, for optimum accuracy and adequate striking power for the next attack on September 11.  The four Sabres plus a top cover of two F-104s were to be led by OC 33 Wing Commander Anwar Shamim with Flight Lieutenant Bhatti as his No 3 and F/L Cecil Chawdery as No 4. Squadron Leader Munir who had earlier carried out the raids against the radar was the No 2. The four Sabres set off at low level at 0800 hours on the half hour flight to Amritsar. On reaching the target area, Bhatti and Choudhry began climbing to about 7,000 feet as top cover, while the two F-104s, orbited even higher. As the second pair of Sabres, piloted by Shamim and Munir, started their climb, the AA gunners found their mark- hitting Munir’s Sabre. The aircraft having taken a direct hit, exploded and fell down as a ball of fire. Munir had no change to eject and went down with the Sabre, the wreckage falling on the eastern outskirts of Amritsar town.

Wing Commander Shamim meanwhile completed his strafing attack, firing long bursts into the radar aerials with his 6 inch machine guns.  In spite of the loss of the F-86 Sabres, this was the most successful of all PAF attacks as the radar was off the air for some time but even then the post-strike assessment was that damage caused was indecisive.

September 12 saw the PAF Sabres returning for another round but they failed to locate the radar and returned without any success.

The next round was to be by the B-57 Martin bombers which came in on September 12. Four B-57s escorted by four F-86 and two F-104s  attacked the Amritsar radar at dusk. Though all four managed to deliver their bomb load and return back without any loss, that was the only success they could achieve- return back without any loss, as the radar remained unharmed.

After this raid, Pakistan Air Force gave up trying to neutralise the Amritsar radar. In all, PAF carried out twenty nine missions against the radar but thanks to the gallant Air defence Gunners, the radar remained operational throughout.

Besides Jesudasan who was awarded the Vir Chakra, 2ndLieutenant Ajit Chavan, the troop Commander of 19 Air Defence was awarded ‘Mention in Despatches’ and two of his gunners  were awarded the Sena Medal(Gallantry).

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