September 1965 – V: The Balance Sheet.

The Official History (OH) of the air war  is given from page 249 onwards. What has been generally accepted is that the losses were 59 for the IAF as against 43 of the PAF. Based on this Ajai Shukla has concluded that the IAF suffered a resounding defeat. I pointed out to him on Twitter that amongst other factors, one also needed to consider how much flying was done by both sides. His rejoinder was direct and to the point “IAF lost more aircraft than PAF, which was 1/3 its size. I’d call that a stinging defeat“. I tried  to explain that, as per the Official History (OH) their attrition rate was higher and needed to be considered. Also tried to explain that since the IAF flew almost 4000 sorties as against 2300 odd of the PAF, it was but natural the IAF would lose more. Again this was summarily dismissed – “Surely you are intelligent enough to see through this staistical jugglery?”

He even seemed to imply that the OH was wrong about the IAF having done almost 4000 sorties. Asking that if that were so, why didn’t the IAF shoot down more aircraft? Frankly, this was when my jaw dropped open.

In WW II, the Allies lost a whole heap more aircraft than the Axis powers. Should we then declare that the USAF and the RAF suffered a defeat at the hands of the Luftwaffe?  A quick search showed that the Allies lost about 90,000 aircraft as against 70,000 between Germny and Japan. If one goes by figures on Wikipedia the difference is even more skewed in favour of the Axis powers. Who won the war between the Air Forces?

Chapter XI of the Official History at page 320 mentions Indian casualties during the war were 2,862 killed. The Pak Def Minister announced on 05 Dec 65 that 1065 of their personnel died in the war.  Our Def Minister in a statement in Parliament on 23 Nov 1966 put the figure of Pak fatalities as 5,800.

More interestingly – A few years ago the Pak Army inadvertently uploaded casualty figures on to its site. The Indian Express immediately did a small story on this about Kargil.  Our friends at Bharat Rakshak downloaded it. The Indian Express did another story from this list. The moment that happened – it was removed! The figures, as analysed by Jagan, were as follows:

47-48 Kashmir Ops – 2400 killed (more than us)

65 War – 1997 killed (less than ours which was around 3K)

71 war – 5054 killed (more than us and it includes their insurgency period in East Pak)

Kargil – 538 killed

Their war on terror 2009 – 763 killed.

According to sources in Bharat Rakshak, these appear reliable with between 10 to 20% under reporting.

Suppose someone quoting these figures and applying the same logic, claimed that the Indian Army lost the war in ’65 because Pakistan lost less army personnel than us? He would probably be languishing in some asylum by now!

The IAF flew around 4000 sorties. As against this, late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, in an excerpt from his book reproduced in the Tribune, mentions that the PAF flew 2300 odd sorties.

He has also worked out the corresponding attrition rates in the conventional manner. The rates have been calculated separately using total losses and also only battlefield losses – either due to air combat or ground fire. In both cases the IAF fares better. In one case marginally -1.5% for the IAF as against 1.8% for the PAF. Taking only battlefield losses the IAF fares substantially better .

The OH, on the other hand has taken the attrition rate as a percentage  based on total number of aircraft. Obviously that is skewed greatly in favour of the IAF – 12% as against 18% for the PAF (page 271).

Of the 4,000 odd sorties the OH gives the breakdown on page 269:

Fighter sorties ……………………………………………………         1076
Close Support sorties Fighter bombers and bombers…                  729
Others (CAO and interdiction)………………………………….        839
CAP sorties over 4 bases………………………………………….       1352

  • The large chunk of effort allocated to CAP missions was necessitated because of the heavy casualties suffered during the initial raids on 06 and 07 Sep.
  • The CAP obviously did prevent day time raids and also helped preserve ground attack aircraft for offensive roles.
  • As against the army support effort, the damage inflicted on ground forces was estimated at 123 tanks, 56 guns and 280 odd vehicles (page 269)

As far as aircraft losses are concerned the figures as given in the OH are as follows:

  • Of the 59 – as many as 35 were lost to enemy raids and of these 35 a staggering 18 were at just 2 airbases, Pathankot and Kalaikunda.
  • The remaining 24 were lost in air combat or enemy ground fire. Last para page 270.
 Ajai Shukla in his tweets mentioned ‘IAF lost 24 to air battles to PAF’s just 18‘. There is a significant difference between “air battles” and ‘air combat or ground fire’. A little statistical jugglery?
  • The PAF lost 43 aircraft of which just one or perhaps two were admittedly due to IAF raids.
    • Thus PAF losses to either air combat or ground fire were 43 as against 24 for the IAF.
    • There must be some basis for “… PAF got the better of the IAF in raid after raid, dogfight after dogfight.” Must confess, I am unable to grasp it.

With that we come back to where we started from “Why is the Indian Air Force announcing a year-long celebration of the 1965 war–which everyone accepts that it lost“.

  • Again as mentioned earlier, there are issues in the article which could have been discussed and debated rationally, without rancour. Unfortunately it went ballistic and ended up being dramatic and way over the top .
  • The idea of defeat and victory in war is based on aims. The Pakistani aim was clear – Op Gibraltar, to create disruption and chaos in Jammu & Kashmir and incite the people against the government. Op Grand Slam – to cut off J&K from the rest of India.
  • They achieved neither.
  • Most of the credit for defeating Pakistani aims must, should and does go to the Indian Army. The IAF however did not operate in isolation.  It did assist the army in achieving our own aim and deserves some credit. We were and are two limbs of the same body. The fact remains, we fought under one flag, not under individual emblems and insignia.
  • That being said, it is natural to make comparisons between opposing individual forces. Even there, facts are available in plenty to show both Air Forces played significant roles without one dominating the other. Unlike as to what  happened in 1971.
  • The OH as well Air Cmde Jasjit Singh say the same thing.

The question, therefore, is – who won the war? Was Pakistan successful in achieving its aim?

That is all that matters.

Let readers make up their own minds

Your Version, My Version And The Truth

While trying to evaluate performances,  accurate data is a pre-requisite. When it boils down to India – Pakistan, this seems an almost impossible task. I wonder if we will ever get it right? Emotion, false notions of patriotism, of national morale, loss of face and the like, lead to too many knee jerk reactions. Far too many claims are made, in far too much of a hurry, in the heat of battle and often based on hope and hype. Sooner or later the media joins in the frenzy. The only casualty is the truth. Almost 50 years later, there are still disputed claims and counter claims. Any performance evaluation is at best done with crossed fingers, in the hope that what is projected is either fact or at least close to it. In the ultimate analysis we don’t believe anybody, not even ourselves. With tongue in cheek  – we tune in to the BBC!!

In trying to make sense of claims, from either side, regarding the six attacks on the Sarghoda complex, for example, there is much ambiguity. On the Indian side out of 33 sorties flown, we lost 5 aircraft – 2 Mysteres and 3 Hunters.  On the other side, according to Fricker the count was 11(this includes the mythical 5 Hunters in 30 secs over Sarghoda by Sqn Ldr MM Alam), the PAF Official History made it 10 and then in 1988 revised it to 9.

The Business Standard article ‘The day nothing happened” by Ajai Shukla has accused the IAF of setting off on another myth making journey. I wonder what the journalist thinks of the ’30 seconds Over Sarghoda’ myth initiated by the pilot and followed up  by Fricker? When I first brought it to his notice, his reply was emphatic – ‘And can you cit where Fricker wrote that? He didn’t!”   I then provided him the link to Chapter 3 of Fricker’s book! Makes you wonder….

There is no point in going through the whole episode now as most readers are probably already familiar with this satire. For those who are still unfamiliar with this story, details are available in an article by Mr Rakesh Koshy where he unveils the many contradictions, claims, counter claims and counter – counter claims.The names of the pilots are also given – fairy-story like – mixing up pilots from one raid with the next and even including 2 Mystere pilots – Sqn Ldr Devayya and Fg Offr Guha,  in the original list of five Hunter pilots!  He then provides gun camera evidence, some of which is questionable.

Credit must also go to Mr Pushpindar Singh who played a stellar role in initially challenging Fricker and then compiling the whole puzzle in an article in Vayu  Aerospace – “Laying the Sarghoda Ghost to rest” The amount of flip flops is simply mind boggling.

A fair depiction of this entire episode is available at Kaiser Tufail’s blog. Alam did get his 5 kills, during the war, as given at note 7 of the blog. One on 06 Sep, three on 07 Sep and one more on 16 Sep.

As to damage inflicted by IAF attacks, initial claims pointed to about 15 aircraft and damage to other airfield installations. The PAF admits to one Sabre and a Starfighter damaged. PAF veteran Kaiser Tufail in his blog has stated that the damage was mainly to decoys while six Sabres on the ORP were lucky to have been unharmed. He also confirms that the raid by Sqn Ldr Handa, the one recounted by Air Mshl Philip Rajkumar, did write off a Sabre and cause damage to installations.

One Startfighter and one Mystere were certainly downed in the Sqn Ldr Devayya – Fl Lt Amjad Hussain Khan dog fight. This must be one of the great air battles of the sub-continent along with Alfred Cooke’s encounter with the Sabres at Kalaikunda. Amjad lived to tell the tale. He bounced the Mystere, let fly his missiles which struck the ground, fired with his guns and presumed he had got a kill. He was then shocked to find another Mystere coming for him. It was in fact Sqn Ldr Devayya, who with no hope or fuel left of ever getting home, returned to fight it out. End result – the 104 slammed the Mystere while overtaking. Another version says the Mystere shot the Starfighter. Both aircraft went into the ground. Amjad ejected, Sqn Ldr Devayya perished. Mr Fricker again comes in to the act, to confuse events. A very gripping insight into the whole battle  and some comments on Fricker and Sqn Ldr MM Alam – the pilot at the centre of the 30 second controversy – on Kaiser Tufail’s blog. The Koshy article also talks about how Fricker again got it wrong in the case of Sqn Ldr Devayya when he claimed that the Mystere shot down an F-104.

During our inter-action on twitter, Ajai Shukla parried a question with ” I certainly won’t respond without verification… from (a) Fricker’s book and (b) the Indian official history’s version” … comment.

Besides aircraft losses, including figures given in the official history, there is equal confusion regarding Pak tanks destroyed by air action – ranging from about 120 in the OH to about 60 or so as given by the army. Pak Army sources confirm that in Chhamb on the first day itself,  they lost about 25% of their armour, two regiments were involved. The Indian Army claims they destroyed 10 tanks that day, (OH page 116). The IAF claimed 10 tanks too (page 247).

There will always be some variations, but at least on our own side, we can reconcile figures and come out with an official one that is genuine. All it needs is a stringent system to cross check all claims. Kills, awards and results of ground attack sorties should be declared only after fool proof evidence. Why are we always in such a hurry to jump the gun, shout out from the roof tops at the drop of a hat and then spend years subsequently trying to make sense of all the conflicting claims?

In the long run we will gain tremendous credibility. Surely such a system is not all that difficult to put into place?

Note: Those who wish to, please feel free to comment. The first time a person comments, it will be held up for approval, which may take a few hours. Thereafter subsequent comments by that individual will get posted directly. Rules here are very simple on this blog – please don’t get personal and respect others in your comment. Disrespect to anyone will not be permitted.


One Response to September 1965 – V: The Balance Sheet.

  1. Parry Bindra says:

    In war , victory or defeat can not be determined purely on the basis of statistical data pertaining to casualties and equipment losses . 1965 Indo- Pak War was initiated by Pakistan with a certain aim and short as well as long term objectives . They failed to achieve any of these . We did make crucial territorial gains , which we unfortunately frittered away , courtesy an ill-conceived Tashkent Agreement . On balance , the War may be declared a draw ; but ultimate moral victory lies with Indian Armed Forces . IAF , undoubtedly , played a crucial role in this victory .

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