Hectic Days in Halwara-7: The Battle is Joined

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TeeOH and Suzie Apte landed back at 0950.   Their attack on Walton was successful.   They were able to locate their targets camouflaged and hidden in blast pens.   They found no ack-ack  and no air opposition.    They were able to press home three attacks each.     Alan D’Costa’s formation came back right behind TeeOH.   They had gone to Risalwala.   There they found very little ground fire and no air opposition.   All three aircraft were able to put in their planned attacks.   By 1015, AB Lamba and his formation came back after hitting Risalwala soon after Alan’s formation.   They too did not encounter anything other that light ground fire.  Finally at 1035 Bipin Raje came back alone.   He too had gone to Risalwala  and he had HV Singh with him.   They were able to complete their strike unhindered.    However, on their way back they were intercepted by a pair of MiG19.   HV was last seen pulling up to offer battle, but Bipin had lost contact with him thereafter.    This Air to Air loss saddened all of us.

 While the first wave of counter air strikes were being recovered after their missions, demands from the army for immediate close support were being received in numbers.   From the very beginning of the operations, we had earmarked a fair proportion of air assets for immediate close-support to the army.   The first demand came in for a time on target of 1152 against enemy tanks near Dera Baba Nanak and a second one for a time on target of 1237 two kilometres NW of Wagah.   Saxena and Rao went for the first mission and was able to hit one tank with rockets.   Sandhu and Mathula took on the strike near Wagah, but by the time they were over the target, the tanks had gone into hiding.

As  the day progressed, army intelligence focussed on enemy movements west of Fazilka on an axis running from Pakpattan to Haveli to Sulaimanke to Sodhanwali, and also along the railway lines passing through the area.   All available aircraft not earmarked for the second wave of counter air strikes were made available for tactical recce and strike of this area.   The first probe in this area was mounted by Dada Deshmukh and Chibber.    They got airborne at 14:15 and came back after destroying one military goods train.  Phillipose and Rao   went out at 1550 and were back by 1639 after destroying another goods train.

 Parallel to these sorties in support of the land battle, the second wave of pre-planned  counter air strikes were launched.   At 1330 Alan D’Costa along with Kuruvilla  Pinto and BS Rao went out to pound Chander airfield.   They were followed closely by AB Lamba and Mitroo, also bound for the same target.   Pakistanis however had vacated Chander and had hidden their aircraft in airfields further inland.    Not finding any worth-while target, Alan withheld his attack and went to his secondary target that happened to be a railway bridge over the canal nearby.    AB Lamba found some dispersed ground support facilities on the airfield and attacked them.   His wingman Mitroo took on his secondary target, a cement factory outside the airfield.    Around five O’clock TeeOH and Suzie Apte revisited Walton and finished off whatever was left of the radar station there.   They did such a thorough job that the next mission on that target flown by Manek Madon and Palekar had nothing left to fire upon.   They returned with their weapons unspent as they had not been allotted with a secondary target.

 By the evening, the ground battle had heated up considerably.   By about five O’clock in the evening, all available Su7 aircraft were let loose in the area of interest between Pakpattan , Sulaimanke, Haveli and McLoedgunj.    Four Gnats from the Wolf Packs and two MiG21s from the Archers went as top cover with the attacking Su7s.    Saxena and Rao, elated by their outing near DBN in the morning, went on to take out a rail bridge north of Pakpattan.  The target was defended with AA.   The pair was able to hit the bridge, but Saxena sustained heavy small arms fire and had to eject over enemy territory.   Chakladar and Bapat went on a Tactical Recce and Strike (TACR Strike) to Haveli,    They found an AA Arty Nest and smashed them.    Ganguli and Mitroo found a cluster of army vehicles in the same area and took them out.   Williams and Natu found a focus of activity very close to the Sulaimanke head works that straddles the Indo-Pak border.   It was obviously something important; it was heavily defended with AA and small arms.    The pair pressed home their attack successfully, but Natu collected an overdose of small arms fire and had to eject; fortunately in own territory.     Pope Pais was all set to lead a similar TACR mission but his wingman’s aircraft was not serviceable.   In a quick shuffle just before take off, the MiG21 pair of top cover flown by Bharat Kumar and Sukhi singh was asked to tag along with Pope.    The threesome went to Larawala and found a troop of tanks.   Pope promptly took out one of the five tanks spotted and dispersed the rest.   By 1800 hrs, all my pilots barring Saxena and Natu were back home.    Natu had been picked up by our army and he was under medical care.  We were however without any definite news about Saxena causing us some worry.

 As the sun set on  4 December  1971,  Halwara was fully in battle gear and was performing well.

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