Baptism Under Fire


Anti Aircraft Artillery in India Pakistan War 1965

The commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the 1965 War against Pakistan drew a wide range of comments, for the most part appreciative, from across the country. There were some voices questioning the whole exercise in celebrating the victory but the overall mood seemed celebratory. In this, what could have been an excellent opportunity to learn some valuable lessons appears to have been lost. Also, the re-writing of history to paint a stalemate as a grand victory has its own pitfalls. Hopefully that will not be the case. The mood was not restricted to the Indian side of the fence. Even Pakistan which celebrates September 6 as the Defence of Pakistan Day suffers from the same malady.  As the Noted Pakistani historian, K. K. Aziz, in his “Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan” (1998) observed many moons earlier:

“In Pakistani schools and colleges what is being taught as history is really national mythology, and the subjects of Social Studies and Pakistan Studies are nothing but vehicles of political indoctrination. Our children don’t learn history. They are ordered to read a carefully selected collection of falsehoods, fairy tales and plain lies.”

The myth and mystery around the 1965 War is no exception. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to create more myths which only add to obfuscating the truth. One example is the popular belief that IAF defeated the PAF during the 22 day war in September 1965 though Shekahr Gupta is nearer to the truth when he wrote in an article for NDTV (The War Pakistan Lost and India Didn’t Win can be accessed at that  ‘Pakistan lost the War, but we(India) did not win it’.

In this, the narrative of AAA is quite interesting, intertwined as it is with the narratives of both the Air Forces and the Armies. And neglected and overlooked by both the Air Force and the Army, for they both feel AAA does not belong to them. For the Air Force, AAA is most of the times just some people shooting wildly in the dark and more of a nuisance than a necessity while the Army believes Air Defence is something to with Air Force and not them. As a result, the AAA’s narrative is missed out by both. But numbers tell quite a tale.

22 days. 21 Indian AD Regiments. 26 PAF Kills. Four Vir Chakras. IAF on its part got 17 kills in air to air combat and all the  IAF pilots who shot down PAF aircraft were awarded gallantry awards.

The first IAF aircraft lost in combat on September 1 was to AAA. As was the last. Of the 25 IAF aircraft losses in the air( less accidents), 11 were due to Pak AAA while the balance 14 were lost in air to air combat to PAF.

While there are enough narratives of the gallant dog fights, there are hardly any narratives of IAF action against targets defended by Pakistan AAA. The AAA is not discussed though its impact was felt in all missions – not only in the planning and execution of the missions but the outcome or success of any missions was deeply influenced by AAA. Similarly, the presence, and more importantly its absence was felt whenever air came on to the battlefield. In this, Indian Army felt the absence of integral AAA more, PAF being more active in providing close air support to Pakistan Army.

Viewed chronologically, the first loss of an aircraft by either of the two Air Forces was when PAF shot down an IAF Canberra in 1959.  Six years later, Pakistan lost a F-86, during the Kutch episode to a technical failure. Hardly anybody remembers that the failure was caused as the F-86 had been hit by Indian AAA in a previous sortie the same day.  There were numerous instances during the war, when AAA on both sides inflicted heavy damage on the opposing side and its presence, or absence, was a key factor in deciding the success or failure of a mission. It was not only true for air missions but also for Army operations as can be seen in the case of 3 JAT losing its RCL guns in a PAF raid and not being able to hold on to the bridgehead they made on the Icchogil canal.

As regards the claims of enemy aircraft having been shot down, AAA claimed a number of ‘kills’ but some of them have been questioned ( Jagan and Chopra in their book on the India Pakistan Air War  do not give credence to the claim of Naik Madlai Muthu of shooting down a F-86 on September 7, 1965). There is thus a need to document and record the actual ‘kills’ from the claims for a better understanding of the performance of AAA during the war. This is also important because in a number of instances, the Air Force(s) downplayed the effect of AAA – even to the extent of glossing over losses due to AAA.

Surprisingly, there is no account of the AAA available today. None of the published books o the 1965 India Pakistan War give any account of the participation and contributions of the AAA except in a cursory manner.

This work aims to correct this and fill the void for a better understanding of the contributions made by AAA during the war and its impact on the conduct of operations.

The book has been published by Vij Publishers, New Delhi and is available on Amazon.

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