At 3:30 hours on 1 September, 1965, Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam, with the objective of capturing the vital town of Akhnoor in Jammu and sever communications and cut off supply routes to Kashmir. The Akhnoor sector was lightly defended by four Indian infantry battalions and a squadron of tanks.
Attacking with an overwhelming ratio of troops and technically superior tanks, Pakistan made gains against Indian forces as the defenders were caught unprepared and suffered heavy losses. Facing heavy odds, Commander of 191 Infantry Brigade requested for close air support at 11:00 hours but the request reached Air Headquarters only at about 16:00 hours. Yashwant Chavan, the Raksha Mantri (RM) when apprised of the situation gave the go ahead without referring the matter to the Cabinet due to the criticality of the request and the paucity of time. Within an hour of the orders being issued, the first aircraft, four Vampires of No 45 Squadron, had taken off. As the IAF aircraft started their run over the Pak tanks, the AA guns of 111 LAA Battery/29 LAA Regiment opened up, knocking off the Vampire flown by Flt. Lt. S.V. Pathak. IAF had suffered its first loss in the very first engagement.
Pakistan nine AD Regiments and had a varied equipment profile as the AD weapons included 40mm L/60 guns, M24 Twin 40mm Track Mounted AA Gun ‘Duster’ and 20mm Quad AA guns. It had only one LAA Regiment deployed in East Pakistan.
After the intense air activity on the first day, there was a lull on September 2 with both Air Forces stepping up their air activity on 3 September. With Pakistani offensive gaining traction, the situation was critical for India as Pakistani forces were just six miles from Akhnoor on September 5. At this critical stage, India decided to open a new front in Punjab, to relieve the pressure off Akhnur. On September 6, Indian Army crossed the border in the Lahore-Kasur sector with XI Corps being launched on three thrust lines. This was followed by I Corps being launched in Sialkot Sector. While it was the IAF which should have hit the PAF air bases in order to keep it at bay, it was PAF which hit the Indian air bases and hit them hard.
IAF responded on 7 September in strength with raids on PAF airbases including Sargodha. There had been no missions across the IB till now and the Pakistani AAA had not been tested except for its elements with the field army.
According to one source, Sargodha had 64 AA guns deployed while Pakistani accounts mention five LAA Batteries deployed at the airbase with some LAA guns manned by PAF personnel as well. During the raids, IAF lost five aircraft from 31 sorties at Sargodha, one of which was to AAA. The LAA guns of PAF had also hit and damaged one of the IAF aircraft in their very first engagement. A couple of IAF losses, shown as ‘technical loss’ or an accident were in fact due to Pak AAA. These were the loss of Flt Lt Kacker’s Hunter at Sargodha and Sqaudron Leader Jasbeer Singh’s Mystere at Gujranwala. AAA had hit Kacker’s fuel tanks, resulting in serious loss of fuel. On the way back the engine, starved of fuel, flamed out and Kacker had to eject17. In Jasbeer’s case, as he made the approach, the Mystere was hit by AAA making it go out of control and plough head long into the ground leaving no time for him to eject.
As the two Air Forces shifted focus on close support to the armies, PAF lost a F-86 Sabre to friendly fire when Flight Lieutenant Sadruddin’s aircraft as hit by Pak AA fire in Sialkot sector.
By the morning of September 9, the battle at Khem Karan had started. One of the first close support missions was carried out by four Hunters of No 7 Squadron over Kasur of which one aircraft (Flying Officer M V Singh) was shot down and one (Wing Commander Zacharia) was damaged.
Two more Hunters were severely damaged during interdiction missions during the day. Though they manged to reach back, one of the aircraft were damaged beyond repair and was a write-off while a second plunged to the ground as the pilot tried landing. It was however listed as a technical loss only.
IAF continued to suffer losses to Pak AAA while carrying out CAS missions in Khem Karan sector, losing two aircraft in two days.
In a major loss, PAF’s RB-57 was shot down by Pak AAA at Rahwali. The RB-57 was carrying out a practice run but as the information of the same was not passed on to the AAA, it was taken as hostile and shot down.
In a repeat, four Canberras of No 5 Squadron IAF raided Sargodha on night 20/21 September. They reached the airfield without interception and as one of the Canberras, piloted by Flight lieutenant Manmohan Lowe, turned away after delivering the ordnance, it was hit by AAA fire. The Canberra started losing fuel due to the hit. It was at about 1,000 feet at that time. Lowe decided to gain height to 13,000 feet to save fuel but as it was gaining height, a F-104 Starfighter piloted by Wing Commander Jamal Ahmad Khan picked it up. Locking on to the target, Khan fired an AIM-9B Sidewinder missile that hit the Starboard Avon engine of the Canberra and exploded. This was the first confirmed kill by a F-104 using the Sidewinder missile.
By the time the war ended, with the ceasefire coming in effect on the morning of 23 September 1965, IAF had lost 59 aircraft of which 24 were in air and 35 on ground due to enemy action. Of the 24, Pakistan AAA claimed 10.
Indian Aircraft Losses to AAA
Date Aircraft Place Pilot Sqn
Sep 1 Mystere Chhamb Fg Offr SV Pathak 220
Sep 8 Hunter Kasur Fg Offr MV Singh 7
Sep 9 Mystere Lahore Fg Offr IF Hussain
Sep 10 Mystere Chawinda Fg Offr DP Chinoy 31
Sep 11 Mystere Lahore Sqn Ldr RK Uppal 1
Sep 13 Mystere Pasrur Flt Lt TS Sethi 31
Sep 13 Mystere Kasur Flt Lt L Sadarangani 8
Sep 22 Hunter Lahore FLt Lt KC Cariappa 20
Losses due to AAA but Not Attributed
Sep 7 Hunter Sargodha Sqn Ldr ON Kacker 27
Sep 7 Mystere Rahwali Sqn Ldr Jasbeer Singh 3