Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book Review: PAF Bomber Operations in the 1965 and 1971 Wars

This book has been described elsewhere as "a Lively first person account of B-57 operations by a PAF officer" and I tend to agree with that statement.

First about the scope of this book - Contrary to the title, which tends to raise expectations among history buffs like me, the book is about the personal experiences of Air Cmde Rais Rafi (Retd-PAF). who has been in the thick of action in both wars flying missions in B-57 bombers. Rais Rafi was one of the two Squadron Commanders from the 65 war, the other being Air Commodore Najib Khan. Being the Squadron CO, Rafi is in a good position to give a blow by blow account of the operations that he was involved in.

Expectedly, the book provides a very in-depth minute by minute coverage of the missions flown by him and his compatriots. While most of the major events are covered, a few of the events from the perspective of his compatriots are missed out. Since Rafi was based at Mauripur at the start of the 65 war, the focus is on ops from Mauripur which are well covered. there is not enough info on the initial and later ops of the B-57s from Peshawar. Especially the effective raids on Adampur on the evening of Sept 6th.

The coverage of the war improves towards the latter days. The narration is interspersed with profiles of notable B-57 pilots in the PAF, along with their photographs and the details of the actions. There are several snippets of information related to the B-57 tactics that one finds useful. In no particular order

1. The B-57s used their RB1A all weather radar to map the terrain. key features like bridges clearly showed up on the radar screen . This explains their relative effectiveness as compared to the Indian Canberras in 65.

2. The B-57s used skip bombing techniques at Ambala during 65, one of which resulted in the bomb bouncing off and hitting the Cathedral near the airfield.

3. The ac used the wing mounted guns liberally.. i.e use them to strafe airfields once in a while - not just drop bombs.

4. bomb dropping is done by 'punching a clock' - reference to some bombing computer? on most occasions it appears the pilot would release the bombs manually, but the calculations are done by this onboard computer.

5. Nice insight is given into the B-57 shot down over Adampur on Sept 14 . It appears that the crew (Altaf Sheikh and Bashir Choudhary) pushed their luck by making multiple attacks on the airfield on the same sortie - the guns finding their mark on the fourth pass. Though nothing is mentioned about the travails of both the airmen on the ground - they were nearly lynched by the Punjab farmers - a very nice anecdote is given on their repatriation and the stark contrast on how they were received in Pakistan versus the reception Indian POWs got on their repatriation in India.

The three PAF POWs look on as the Indian POWs get a grand reception in Delhi on their repatriation

The book draft was probably finalised in 1989, but it could have benefited from some updating. For example, the author believes that the B-57 lost at Jamnagar crashed into the Sea due to disorientation of the pilot - Rafi was exiting out of the Jamnagar flying area when the ill-fated B-57 was coming in. This information of it crashing in sea could easily have been corrected as enough evidence existed even in 65 that it crashed on land. Several artifacts were salvaged from the crash site by the Indian government - most notably a page from the diary of the pilot.

The B-57 force was somewhat reduced by the time of the 71 war and it now comprised only one Squadron (No.8 PAF). They operated initially out of Mauripur and later moved up north. As with the 65 War narration, the coverage of Rafi's personal sorties are covered in great depth. He describes in good detail the launch of attacks on Ambala and Agra on the first day. Amritsar on the second day etc. However the details of many other important B-57 missions are missing - including the mission details on which B57 losses have occurred. Most get only a cursory mention - eg ' a B-57 was lost in the south today'. It is slightly disappointing to note that after describing the 65 losses in great detail, he is unable to do the same about 71.

Rafi's last Sorties were done on 8 Dec so not much is written about other operations till the rest of the war. Absolutely very little info exist on the operations in the southern sector. Details of Mauripur's B57 force do not get any space here - but that is expected because this is a personal account.

Other interesting facts that come out of the book -

-Rafi confirms the presence of atleast one B-57 at Rafiqui on the morning of Dec 4th. This was a mystery before as Air Marshal VK "Jimmy" Bhatia's article mentions seeing a B-57 at Rafiqui, while the Pakistani contention was always that B-57s were not based at Rafiqui. The book gives in details the a B57 ended up at Rafqiui on that day. and says it was flown out the next morning. - A nice description of the aftermath of the "Steel Tripod" attack done by Wg Cdr Gautam of No.16 Squadron on Mianwali. The raid was a surprise to the Pakistanis - it created no damage but was of some nuisance. The date however appears to be wrong (Night of Dec 3/4 instead of Dec 4/5)

-Rafi talks about the destruction of a B-57 on the ground at Mianwali - and attributes it to a Hunter attack. Previously the PAF had mentioned that this aircraft was lost on the ground during a servicing accident in which it caught fire. This is a revelation. Rafi also claims that the Hunter that attacked the airfield and caused the damage was shot down by Flt Lt Qazi Ahmed Javed. however this claim is not present for this date in the PAF list but is actually on Dec 4. Did he mix up some dates and places? This definitely needs further research. And having seen the number of things that Rafi actually got wrong, I wouldnt pin much hopes of him being correct on this front either.

With the scale down of operations after 8th December and the subsequent 'march to surrender' - Rafi writes considerably about the anguish felt by him and his fellow pilots. Till the very last moment they felt they could make a difference - perhaps 'secure a ceasefire on more honoroble terms'. But as we know they never got that opportunity to try.

The copy I have seems to have the quality of a good photocopy. In fact it looks like a "second edition" that was made up of binding photocopies. The book has no ISBN, which would mean its market is limited - major stores many not carry it. I got my copy via seller ehjaz786 on . He just might have more copies with him. If your focus is air wars of the subcontinent, your library should have this interesting addition!

Post Script: This review was done months ago - based on one of my posts at ACIG/Warbirds Forum, but posted only now. The Author Air Cmde Rafi passed away early this year in Pakistan.

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