Air Aces

Pilots of the warring nations in WWII who are acknowledged as aces, i.e., they have shot down opponent aircraft in a number which accords them the title.



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  • Wing Commander Peter Brothers, RAF, 15 victories
  • Wing Commander Douglas Ian Benham, RAF, 11+ victories
  • Wing Commander Roland Beam, RAF, 10 victories
  • Squadron Leader Andrew McKenzie, RAF, 8+ victories
  • Wing Commander Geoffrey Page, RAF, 5 victories







  • Lt. Col. Francis “Gabby” Gabreski, USAAF, 28 victories
  • Capt. Joe Foss, USMC, 26 victories
  • Major Walker “Bud” Mahurin, USAAF, 24+ victories
  • Capt. Donald Gentile, USAAF, 21+ victories
  • Capt. Ken Walsh, US Marine Corps, 21 victories
  • Major Walter Beckam, USAAF, 18 victories
  • Lt. Col. John Mitchell, USAAF, 16 victories
  • Major James Goodson,USAAF, 15 victories
  • Capt. Jack Ilfrey, USAAF, 8 victories
  • Capt. Butch Varis, US Navy, 7+ victories
  • Capt. Clayton Gross, USAAF, 6 victories




Georges Guynemere

Pierre Clostermann

While serving with No. 341 Squadron RAF (right)

Pierre Henri Clostermann ((28 February 1921 – 22 March 2006) was a French flying ace, author, engineer, politician, and sporting fisherman. Over his flying career he was awarded the Grand-Croix of the French Légion d’Honneur, French Croix de Guerre, DSO, DFC and bar (United Kingdom), Distinguished Service Cross (USA), Silver Star (USA), and the Air Medal (USA).

Early life

Clostermann was born in Curitiba, Brazil, into a French diplomatic family. He was the only son of Madeleine Carlier from Lorraine and Jacques Clostermann from Alsace. After receiving flying tuition from German pilot Karl Benitz (died in 1943, Russia), he completed his secondary education in France and gained his private pilot’s licence in 1937.

Wartime service

On the outbreak of war, the French authorities refused his application for service, so he travelled to Los Angeles to become a commercial pilot, studying at the California Institute of Technology. Clostermann joined the Free French Air Force in Britain in March 1942.

After training at RAF Cranwell and 61 OTU, Clostermann, a sergeant pilot, was posted in January 1943 to No. 341 Squadron RAF (known to the Free French as Groupe de Chasse n° 3/2 “Alsace”), flying the Supermarine Spitfire.

Spitfires 1943–44

He scored his first two victories on 27 July 1943, destroying two Focke-Wulf Fw 190s over France. With 33 recorded victories to his name, he received at only 24 years of age, a Commendation by General Charles de Gaulle, who called him

“France’s First Fighter”.

While serving in Lincolnshire, Pierre met and married Lydia Jeanne Starbuck at St Denys Church in Sleaford.

In October 1943, Clostermann was commissioned and assigned to No. 602 Squadron RAF, remaining with the unit for the next ten months. He flew a variety of missions including fighter sweeps, bomber escorts, high-altitude interdiction over the Royal Navy’s Scapa Flow base, and strafing or dive-bombing attacks on V-1 launch sites on the French coast. Clostermann served through D-Day and was one of the first Free French pilots to land on French soil, at temporary airstrip B-11, near Longues-sur-Mer, Normandy on 18 June 1944, touching French soil for the first time in more than four years. Clostermann was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross shortly afterwards, after which he was reassigned to French Air Force Headquarters.

Tempests 1945

In December 1944, Clostermann returned to the front line on secondment to the RAF as a supernumerary flight lieutenant. Clostermann joined No. 274 Squadron RAF flying the new Hawker Tempest Mk V. In an aircraft which he dubbed Le Grand Charles, Clostermann flew an intensive and highly successful round of fighter sweeps, airfield attacks, “rat scramble” interceptions of Messerschmitt 262 jet fighters, and rail interdiction missions over northern Germany over the next two months.

In March 1945, Clostermann briefly served with No. 56 Squadron before a transfer to No. 3 Squadron. On 24 March 1945, he was wounded in the leg by German flak and after belly-landing his badly damaged aircraft, he was hospitalized for a week. From 8  April he was commander of “A” Flight, No. 3 Squadron RAF. Clostermann was awarded a bar to his DFC for his successful tour of duty. He had to bail out for the first time on 12 May 1945, when during a victory fly-past, another Tempest collided with his aircraft, and because of this horrific collision the four planes of his flight went down, with three pilots dying. Clostermann’s parachute opened just a few yards above the ground. Clostermann continued operations with No. 122 Wing RAF until he left the military altogether on 27 July 1945 with the rank of wing commander.

In his 432 sorties, Clostermann was credited officially with 33 victories (19 solo, 14 shared, most of them against fighters) and five “probables”, with eight more “damaged”. He also claimed 225 motor vehicles destroyed, 72 locomotives, five tanks, and two E-boats (fast torpedo boats). Many references credit him with 29 to 33 victories, although these probably include his “ground” kills of enemy aircraft. Recent, more detailed analysis of his combat reports and squadron accounts indicate that his true score was 11 destroyed, with possibly another seven, for a total of 15–18 victories.


Clostermann wrote a very successful book, The Big Show (Le Grand Cirque), on his experiences in the war. One of the very first post-war fighter pilot memoirs, its various editions have sold over two and a half million copies. William Faulkner commented that this is the finest aviation book to come out of World War II. The book was reprinted, in expanded form, in both paperback and hardcover editions in 2004. He also wrote Flames in the Sky (Feu du Ciel) (1957), a collection of heroic air combat exploits from both Allied and Axis sides.

After the war, Clostermann continued his career as an engineer, participating in the creation of Reims Aviation, supporting the Max Holste Broussard prototype, acting as a representative for Cessna, and working for Renault. In parallel, Clostermann had a successful political career, serving eight terms as a député (Member of Parliament) in the French National Assembly between 1946 and 1969.

He also briefly re-enlisted in the Armée de l’Air in 1956–57 to fly ground attack missions during the Algerian War. He subsequently wrote a novel based on his experiences there, entitled “Leo 25 Airborne”.

During the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and the UK, Clostermann praised Argentine pilots for their courage. Because of this perceived “betrayal” of the RAF, Clostermann attracted hostility from parts of the English press. He also attracted controversy in France for his vehement anti-war stance in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War.

Tributes and honours: on 6 June 2004, a road in Longues-sur-Mer, near temporary airstrip B-11, was named after Clostermann.

French decorations

Grand Croix de la Légion d’Honneur; Compagnon de l’Ordre de la Libération – 21 January 1946; Médaille Militaire; Croix de Guerre 1939-45, with 19 citations including 17 to the level of the army (palms) and 2 stars; Croix de la Valeur Militaire with 2 citations; Médaille de la Résistance with rosette; Médaille de l’Aéronautique; Médaille Commémorative des Opérations de Sécurité et de Maintien de l’Ordre; Insigne des blessés militaires; Médaille commémorative des services volontaires dans la France libre; Médaille commémorative de la guerre 1939–1945; 

Foreign orders and decorations

 Grand Officer of the Nichan Iftikhar (Tunisia); Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite (Morocco); Knight of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (Vatican); Croix de guerre (Belgium); Distinguished Service Order or DSO (United Kingdom); Distinguished Flying Cross or DFC (United Kingdom) with bar (United Kingdom) – Well known as DFC and bar; Distinguished Service Cross (USA)Silver Star (USA)Air Medal (USA)Santos-Dumont Merit Medal (Brazil)



René Mouchotte and Sqn Ldr “Jack” Charles at RAF Biggin Hill in May 1943

Commandant René Mouchotte DFC (21 August 1914 – 27 August 1943) was a World War II pilot of the French Air Force, who escaped from Vichy French–controlled Oran to join the Free French forces. Serving with RAF Fighter Command, he rose to command a fighter wing before being shot down and killed on 27 August 1943.

Born into a wealthy family on 21 August 1914 in Paris, Mouchotte began his military service in October 1935 with the French Air Force at Istres, where he was promoted to corporal (April 1936), master corporal (March 1937) and sergeant (April 1937); he qualified as a pilot in February 1937. In January 1939, he transferred to the reserve and resumed civilian life. Recalled in September 1939, he was posted to training establishments at Salon-de-Provence and Avord as a flying instructor. Despite several requests to join a fighter squadron, he was transferred to Oran in May 1940 for a conversion course to twin-engined aircraft. After the Armistice, the pilots on the base were ordered not to escape to join the Free French and the aircraft were placed under armed guard. Despite this, Mouchotte and five comrades (including Henry Lafont) escaped in a twin-engined Caudron Goéland aircraft, only to find that the controls for the variable-pitch propellers had been disabled, making the take-off hazardous. However they did manage to land in Gibraltar and later transferred to the Free French armed trawler, Président Houduce and sailed to England.

In Britain

Hurricanes of 615 Squadron land at RAF Northolt in November 1940

After arriving in Britain Mouchotte trained at RAF Old Sarum and RAF Sutton Bridge on Hawker Hurricanes, before being posted to No. 615 Squadron RAF at RAF Northolt in northwest London. He carried out his first operational sortie on 11 October 1940. The squadron moved to RAF Kenley in December 1940 and in August 1941 Mouchotte participated in the shooting-down of a Junkers 88. In November 1941 he transferred to RAF Turnhouse, where the Free French No. 340 Squadron RAF was training on Spitfires; he became a flight commander in February 1942 and subsequently squadron commander of No. 65 Squadron RAF, the first RAF squadron to be commanded by a non-Commonwealth officer. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 1 September 1942.

Finally he took command of No. 341 Squadron RAF (Groupe de Chasse n° 3/2 “Alsace”) with the Biggin Hill Wing. On 15 May 1943, S/L ‘Jack’ Charles (611 squadron) and Mouchotte both destroyed a Fw 190 of I./JG 2, as the Biggin Hill Wing’s 999th and 1,000th kill claim.

He was shot down and killed in combat with Fw 190s of JG 2 during Ramrod S.8, escorting Flying Fortresses on the first daylight raid to Blockhaus d’Éperlecques in the Pas de Calais on 27 August 1943. His body was later washed ashore on 3 September and was buried in Middelkerke, Belgium. After the War in 1949, his body was exhumed, repatriated and buried in the family tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris on 3 November after a memorial service with full military honours conducted at Les Invalides in Paris.

He had accumulated some 1,748 flying hours, including 408 operational hours flying 382 war sorties. He had claimed two aircraft destroyed (with a further one “shared”), one “probable” and one damaged.



  • Major Erich Hartmann, 352 victories
  • Major Gunther Rall,  275 victories
  • Col. Johannes “Mackie” Steinhoff 176 victories
  • Lt. Col. Dietrich Hrabak, 125 victories
  • Major Walter Krupinski, 107 victories
  • General Major Adolf Galland, 104 victories
  • Major Wolfgang Spate, 99 victories
  • Lt. Col. Hans-Joachim Jabs, 50 victories
  • Major Fritz Losigkeit


Walter Nowotny


Walter Nowotny 
  • Born  7 December 1920, Gmünd, Austria
  • Died  8 November 1944 (aged 23), Hesepe, Nazi Germany
  • Buried: Zentralfriedhof Vienna
  • Allegiance: Nazi Germany
  • Service/branch: Luftwaffe
  • Years of service: 1939–44
  • Rank Major
  • Service number NSDAP 6,382,781
  • Unit   JG 54, JG 101 and Kommando Nowotny

Commands held: /JG 54, JG 101, Kommando Nowotny


  • World War II
  • Operation Barbarossa
  • Eastern Front
  • Defense of the Reich

Awards: Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds

 Walter Nowotny (7 December 1920 – 8 November 1944) was an Austrian-born fighter ace of the Luftwaffe in World War II. He is credited with 258 aerial victories—that is, 258 aerial combat encounters resulting in the destruction of the enemy aircraft—in 442 combat missions. Nowotny achieved 255 of these victories on the Eastern Front and three while flying one of the first jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me 262, in the Defense of the Reich. He scored most of his victories in the Focke-Wulf  Fw 190, and approximately 50 in the Messerschmitt Bf 109.[1]

Nowotny joined the Luftwaffe in 1939 and completed his fighter pilot training in 1941, after which he was posted to Jagdgeschwader 54 “Grünherz” (JG 54) on the Eastern Front. Nowotny was the first pilot to achieve 250 victories – 194 in 1943 alone – earning him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds) on 19 October 1943. For propaganda reasons, he was ordered to cease operational flying.

Reinstated to front-line service in September 1944, Nowotny tested and developed tactics for the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter. He was credited with three victories in this aircraft type before being killed in a crash following combat with United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) fighters on 8 November 1944. After his death, the first operational jet fighter wing, Jagdgeschwader 7“Nowotny”, was named in his honour.

Luftwaffe career

Nowotny’s military basic training began at the 2. Flieger-Ausbildungsregiment 62 in Quedlinburg (1 October 1939 – 15 November 1939) and continued at the Luftkriegschule 5 in Breslau-Schöngarten (16 November 1939 – 30 June 1940). He was promoted to FahnenjunkerGefreiten on 1 March 1940 and shortly afterwards, on 1 April 1940, to Fahnenjunker-Unteroffizier. On 1 July 1940, Notwotny was promoted again, to the rank of Fähnrich. He completed his pilot training and received the Pilot Badge on 19 August 1940. Nowotny also trained as a fighter pilot at the Jagdfliegerschule 5 in Wien-Schwechat (1 August 1940 – 15 November 1940), the same school that Hans-Joachim Marseille had attended one year earlier. One of his teachers at the Jagdfliegerschule 5 was the Austro-Hungarian World War I ace Julius Arigi. Here Nowotny befriended Karl Schnörrer and Paul Galland, the younger brother of General der Jagdflieger Adolf Galland. After graduation from the Jagdfliegerschule 5, Nowotny was transferred to the I./Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe Merseburg on 16 November 1940, flying fighter cover for the Leuna industrial works.

 With Jagdgeschwader 54

Focke-Wulf Fw 190A-4 JG 54

Nowotny was posted to the Ergänzungsstaffel (Training/Supplement Squadron) of Jagdgeschwader 54 (JG 54) on 1 December 1940. JG 54 at the time was under the command of Major Hannes Trautloft. Nowotny was transferred again, this time to the 9th Staffel of JG 54 (9./JG 54), the so-called Teufelsstaffel (Devils’ Squadron) where he was further trained by veterans from the front line (23 February 1941 – 25 March 1941). From 25 March 1941 to 10 March 1942, Notwotny flew with the Stabsstaffel of the Ergänzungs-Jagdgruppe JG 54 where he was promoted to Leutnant on 1 April 1941, effective as of 1 February 1941.

Nowotny flew a Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-7 “White 2” on his 24th operational mission on 19 July 1941 and claimed his first two enemy aircraft, both Polikarpov I-153 biplanes of Voenno-Vozdushnye Sily (VVS—Military Air Forces) KBF’s 12 OIAE/61 BAB, over Saaremaa. He was shot down in the same engagement by Aleksandr Avdeyev, also in a Polikarpov I-153. According to Soviet archives, no Soviet aircraft was lost in the engagement. Nowotny spent three days in a dinghy in the Gulf of Riga – on one occasion almost being run down by a Soviet destroyer – until finally being washed ashore on the Latvian coast.

Nowotny quickly recovered from his ordeal and on 31 July claimed a Beriev MBR-2 flying boat north-west of Saaremaa and an Ilyushin DB-3 bomber south of the island. For the rest of his combat career, Nowotny always wore the trousers (German: Abschußhose roughly “shoot down pants” sometimes also referred to as “victory pants”) that he had worn during those three days in the Gulf of Riga – with one exception, his last sortie, at Achmer on 8 November 1944, when he was killed flying the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter.

In 1942, Nowotny increased his tally of victories and claimed his 30th and 31st kills on 11 July over the Wolchow bridgehead, which earned him the Luftwaffe Honor Goblet on 14 July 1942. Nowotny shot down a further five aircraft on a single day (32nd – 36th victories) on 20 July and seven (48th – 54th victories) on 2 August. After having downed three enemy aircraft on 11 August, Leutnant Nowotny carried out three victory passes over the airfield, despite having sustained combat damage to his own Bf 109 “Black 1”. In the subsequent landing, his aircraft somersaulted and he sustained moderate injuries. Walter Nowotny was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 4 September, after 56 aerial victories. The Knight’s Cross earned him a home leave to Vienna. Here, the brothers Hubert and Walter met for the last time before Hubert was killed at Stalingrad.[3][16] LeutnantNowotny was made Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 54 on 25 October, replacing Oberleutnant Heinz Lange.

In January 1943, JG 54 started converting to the agile Focke-Wulf 190 fighter. With the new aircraft, Nowotny scored at an unprecedented “kill” rate, often averaging more than two planes a day for weeks on end. As of 1 February 1943, Nowotny, Karl Schnörrer, – Nowotny’s wingman since late 1942 – Anton Döbele and Rudolf Rademacher, formed a team known as the “chain of devils” (Teufelskette) or the Nowotny Schwarm, which during the course of the war was credited with 524 combined kills, making them the most successful team in the Luftwaffe.

Nowotny scored his 69th to 72nd victory on 16 March. He reached the century mark on 5 June 1943, on his 344th combat mission. He was the 42nd Luftwaffe pilot to achieve the century mark. By 24 June, he would accumulate a further 24 victories increasing his total to 124. On 21 August, Nowotny was made Gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 54. In August alone, he shot down 49 aircraft – a number matched exactly by Jagdgeschwader 52‘s (JG 52) Erich Hartmann – bringing Nowotny’s total to 161  victories. On 1 September, he scored ten victories in two sorties, which took his tally to 183. Seventy-two hours later, that number had risen to 189, earning him the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves on 8 September. The award was to be personally presented by the FührerAdolf Hitler, on 22 September 1943. However, by this date Nowotny had claimed his double century (200) on 8 September, and, on 15 September, his 215th victory, making him the highest-scoring pilot in the Luftwaffe to that time. Two Lavochkin La-5s and a Yakovlev Yak-9 on 17 September brought his score to 218 victories, earning him Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords on 22 September 1943. The planned “Oakleaves” (Eichenlaub) presentation thus became a Swords (Schwerter) ceremony.[25]


Nowotny was promoted to Hauptmann on 21 September 1943, effective as of 1 October, following his 225th victory. On 14 October 1943, he became the first pilot to reach 250 victories, following his 442 combat missions. Nowotny was celebrating this feat in the Ria Bar in Vilna when he received a phone call from Hitler himself, announcing that he had been awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds, making him the eighth of 27 men to be so honored.

The Brillanten (Diamonds) were presented by Hitler at the Wolfsschanze, near Kętrzyn (German: Rastenburg) on 19 October 1943. Nowotny immediately went on a short vacation to Vienna before returning to his front-line unit. On 29 October 1943, Nowotny presented the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross to Oberfeldwebel Otto Kittel. In the days following, Nowotny flew as wingman to Karl Schnörrer, helping him accumulate further victories. On 11 November, Anton Döbele was killed when he rammed an Il-2 Sturmovik. The next day, 12 November 1943, Schnörrer was severely injured after bailing out at low altitude. Schnörrer was replaced as Nowotny’s wingman by Unteroffizier Ernst Richter. With Richter, Nowotny claimed his final two aerial victories on the Eastern Front on 15 November 1943. In total, Nowotny had claimed 255 confirmed kills plus a further 50 unconfirmed, before he was taken off combat duty.

Nowotny was sent on a propaganda tour in Germany, which included the presentation of the Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross to the railroad engineer August Kindervater on 7 December 1943 – Nowotny’s 23rd birthday. Shortly before Christmas, he visited the Focke-Wulf production site at Bad Eilsen, where he was met by Professor Kurt Tank. The mayor of Vienna, Dipl.-Ing. Hanns Blaschke awarded Nowotny the city’s ring of honor on 11 January 1944, the presentation taking place a week later. It was a token that Nowotny accepted reluctantly, feeling that he did not deserve it. His next official visit was the Büromaschinenfabrik (office machinery factory) at Zella-Mehlis, before he briefly returned to Jagdgeschwader 54. Nowotny was made Geschwaderkommodore of Jagdgeschwader 101 (JG 101) and commander of the Jagdfliegerschule 1, a Luftwaffe fighter pilot training school at Pau in southern France, in April 1944.

 Kommando Nowotny and death

Me 262 A, 25 April 1945

In September 1944, Nowotny was made commander of a specialist unit dubbed Kommando Nowotny, flying the newly developed Messerschmitt Me 262 out of airfields near Osnabrück. The unit not only had to contend with the enemy, but also with working through the ‘teething’ phase of the Me 262 and developing the tactics appropriate for a jet unit. On 7 October, Nowotny downed a B-24 Liberator bomber, his first aerial victory on the Western Front.

Generals Alfred Keller and Adolf Galland had scheduled an inspection at Achmer for the afternoon of 7 November 1944. Galland had already visited Kommando Nowotny several times and was deeply concerned over the high attrition rate and meager success achieved by the Me 262. After inspecting the two airfields at Achmer and Hesepe, he stayed in the Penterknapp barracks discussing the problems of the past few weeks. Several pilots openly expressed their doubts as to the readiness of the Me 262 for combat operations.

The next morning, 8 November 1944, the Generals arrived again at Nowotny’s command post and Keller declared that the aces of the past years had become cowards and that the Luftwaffe had lost its fighting spirit. Shortly after, news reached the command post of a large bomber formation approaching.

Two Rotten of Me 262 were prepared for take-off, Erich Büttner and Franz Schall at Hesepe, and Nowotny and Günther Wegmann at Achmer. At first only Schall and Wegmann managed to take off because Büttner had a punctured tire during taxiing and Nowotny’s turbines initially refused to start. With some delay, Nowotny took off and engaged the enemy on his own, Schall and Wegmann having since retired from the action after sustaining battle damage. Nowotny radioed that he had downed a B-24 Liberator and a P-51 Mustang before he reported one engine failing and made one final garbled transmission containing the word “burning”. Helmut Lennartz recalled:

“I remember Nowotny’s crash very well. Feldwebel Gossler, a radio operator with our unit, had set up a radio on the airfield. Over this set I and many others listened to the radio communications with Nowotny’s aircraft. His last words were, “I’m on fire” or “it’s on fire”. The words were slightly garbled.

It remains unclear whether Nowotny was killed due to engine failure or whether he was shot down by United States Army Air Forces(USAAF) Captain Ernest Fiebelkorn (20th Fighter Group) and 1st Lieutenant Edward “Buddy” Haydon (357th Fighter Group) east of Hesepe. In recent years, United States military historians proposed that Nowotny’s victor may have been P-51D pilot Lieutenant Richard W. Stevens of the 364th Fighter Group. Many witnesses observed Nowotny’s Me 262 A-1a Werk Nummer 110 400 (factory number) “White 8” dive vertically out of the clouds and crash at Epe, 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) east of Hesepe. The Wehrmacht announced his death on 9 November 1944 in the daily Wehrmachtbericht.








Courtesy of for some photographa

A Tribute to a Pakistan Hero

Soldiers of Pakistan; men of honour; defenders of the motherland: they are aplenty, as are their stories. Each story unique, each man precious, each one a hero. But some of them stand out even among the multitude of heroes.

Middlecoat with Nur Khan C-in-C

Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat was one such hero — a martyr. a patriot, a non-Muslim defender of the land of the pure. It is almost symbolic how this story begins. The war hero Mervyn Lesley Middlecoat was born aboard a train as it stopped in Ludhiana while travelling to Lahore from Delhi on a warm July morning in 1940. This was to be his destiny: to move from one point in time to another; to shuttle between one expedition and another. The fourth child of Percy and Daisy Middlecoat, he never had the chance to know his father, an Anglo-Indian railway officer, who passed away when little Mervyn was only two years old.

Lahore was Mervyn’s home now, and he received his early education at St. Anthony’s High School and joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after graduation. Very early on, he started to shine bright among his contemporaries. As he passed out of his 16th General Duty Pilot (GDP) Course in 1954, he won the Best Performance Trophy in ground subjects — an honour for any cadet.

An officer and a gentleman, Mervyn also set the bar high when it came to moral standards. He was a fearless warrior but was soft spoken when it came to personal interactions, and had good conversational abilities. Milestones were to follow. On September 27, 1957, young Mervyn married Jane, the daughter of a Christian Anglo-Indian family from Karachi. The couple was popular and happening, known for being attractive, cultured and well-liked throughout the PAF. They were often chosen as hosts, alongside the Air Chief, for the official guests of the Air Force. An addition to this storybook family came when, on October 21, 1959, a daughter named Leslie Ann Middlecoat was born to the couple.

Six short years later, war broke out. The 1965 war was a difficult time for the young nation. It not only brought us face to face with our greatest fears, but it also brought to the surface the palpable presence of heroes whom Madam Noor Jehan dubbed “humaray watan ke sajeelay jawano” in her morale-boosting songs. Mervyn, then Flight Lieutenant (better known as Commander Lesley), was deployed at Masroor Base, Karachi at the onset of the hostilities. It didn’t take long for the war to come home. When the Indian Air Force attacked Karachi, the PAF sent F-86 Sabre aircrafts to defend the skies. True to form, Mervyn was flying one of those aircrafts. In the dogfight that followed, Mervyn shot down two enemy aircrafts, a feat for which he came to be known as the ‘Defender of Karachi’. He was then deployed at Mushaf Air Base, Lahore, where he was given the command of Squadron 9. During the three-week war, he kept his squadron’s spirits high with the firm conviction of a commander who leads from the front. He performed an impressive series of seventeen ‘Air Sorties’ and three ‘Photo Reconnaissance’ missions. At the end of the war, he was awarded the richly deserved “Sitara-e-Jurat” for his bravery and professional leadership.

But bias and bigotry does not spare even heroes and patriots. In 1967, while Mervyn was deployed at Sargodha Air Base, his 8-year-old daughter Leslie was rehearsing for a debate competition in her school about ‘Love for the Country’. As she spoke, another child stood up and said:

“This country is ours, not yours!”

These six words struck little Leslie like a bombshell.  Ours?  Yours? Didn’t Pakistan belong to all those who loved her? She slapped the child hard.

“How dare you say this is not my country?”

she shouted at the boy who had interrupted her so rudely. As a child born to fierce patriots, she had always heard her parents expressing their love for the country. Once, Jane had suggested to Mervyn that they move abroad, saying:

“All your siblings and my family have emigrated, and we are alone in this country. Maybe we should also think about this.”

To this, Mervyn had replied firmly:

“Listen, this is my country; I was born here; my ancestors are buried here. I have spent my life defending my country; perhaps I will sacrifice my life for this country one day as well. I am not going anywhere.”

No wonder then that when Leslie heard that child, it shocked her into tears of rage that continued to fall even as she returned home. “This is my country,” were the words she kept repeating like a mantra. In the afternoon when Mervyn got back home from work, his wife told him about Leslie’s traumatic day. He tried consoling his 8-year-old daughter as best as he could:

“Listen my child, don’t quarrel with such people; rather forgive them and make your own morals and character so high that their voice does not disturb you, and that your energy does not get consumed in these petty matters. Secondly, this is our country. Look at the flag of Pakistan — this green part belongs to your friend, who was beaten by you, and that white part is yours, which is connected with the pole through which this flag is hoisted. Therefore, we should continue to hold on to this white part firmly, so that the green part would continue to remain hoisted in free air.”

There was never a dull moment in the life of this war hero. Prior to the 1971 war, Mervyn was the Commanding Officer of the 26 Squadron, deployed at Peshawar Base before going on a deputation to Jordan. When war broke out once again, he left this attractive post and returned to Pakistan to fight alongside his comrades.

Early in the war, the PAF high command devised a plan to take out the Indian Air Force’s radar capability by attacking the heavily defended Jamnagar airbase. Of the six pilots selected for this near-impossible mission, one was Mervyn, who now held the rank of Wing Commander. On 12 December 1971, a day after he returned to Pakistan, Operation: Amritsar Radar was launched. When Mervyn, together with his colleagues, was busy strafing aircrafts of the Indian Air Force at the base, they were set upon by IAF MiGs. Forced to abort the mission, Mervyn narrowly avoided two incoming missiles by lowering his altitude and increasing his speed. But when his aircraft was near the Gulf of Kutch, a third missile hit him. According to Flight Lieutenant Bharat Bhoshan Soni, the pilot who shot him down, Mervyn managed to eject from the aircraft and fell into the sea below. Soni radioed for a rescue team, but by the time they got there, Commander Lesley was nowhere to be found and was declared ‘Missing in Action’.

Upon his martyrdom, he was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat  for the second time. His widow also received a personal letter from King Hussain of Jordan, praising Mervyn for his heroic services. He wrote,

“Sister, the passing away of the Shaheed is not only the loss of you and Pakistan, but also mine. It is my wish that when he is buried, his body will be wrapped up in Pakistan’s flag, but the flag of my country Jordan must be placed below his head.”

His daughter, the indomitable Leslie, still has this letter in her possession, guarding it like a precious treasure.

For five long years, this martyr’s wife and daughter waited for him at 57/II, Khyber Road, the home they shared with Mervyn at the Peshawar base, in hope and anticipation of his miraculous return. They would make sure that his clothes were ironed and his slipper was placed in front of the bathroom — as if he would walk through the door any minute. But he did not return, and after years of fruitless waiting, his loyal wife passed away on June 27, 2011. Their daughter Leslie recalls that whenever her relatives would call and insist that she move abroad with her daughter, her reply would always be the same: “This is my country.” As for Leslie, she has never forgotten the words her father spoke to her when she was eight.

“I cannot leave my country,” she says to this day. “I must uphold the pole which hoists the white part of Pakistan’s flag, so that the green part can continue to remain high in free air till the end of time.”
Born July 1940
Died 12 December 1971 near Okha India
Buried at Remains not found
Allegiance Pakistan
Service Branch Pakistan Air Force
Years of service 1954-1971
Rank Wing Commander (Lt. Colonel)
Service # PAF 3550
Unit #9 Squadron Griffins
Commands Held #9 Squadron Griffins
Wars/Battles India-Pakistan 1965

Arab Israeli War 1968

India-Pakistan 1971

Operation on Amritsar Radar

Awards Sitara-e-Jurat (1965)
Sitara-e-Jurat (1971)
Sitara-i-Basalat (1971)


  • The Express Tribune
  • Pakistan Air Force Wall Paper




Great Airmen Administrators


  1. Air Marshal Malik Nur Khan (1923-2011) by Jagan Pillarisetti , Flight Lieutenant with 4 Squadron, 1945
  2. Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding Commander-in-Chief. Fighter Command Royal Air Force


“Much has been written about Air Marshal Malik Nur Khan, who recently passed away in Pakistan on the 15th of December 2011. Pages and pages of tributes have been written about his days as the Chief of Pakistan Air Force during the 1965 War with India — and rightly so. It is to Nur Khan’s credit (and to his predecessor) that the Pakistani Air Force did well in that war, managing to hold its own against a larger adversary. But very little has been written about Nur Khan from his early days when he was part of the undivided Indian Air Force — and about his time after retirement from the Pakistan Air Force and as the Governor of West Pakistan.

Nur Khan was a highly respected and regarded officer within the IAF before partition. Originally a product of the Royal Indian Military College (now Rashtriya Indian Military College), he was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 6 Jan 1941. Those were still the days when entrants were given commission on the date they reported to the IAF. He belonged to the 6th Pilots Course (PC). 6 PC was unique in that it had other Muslim officers who later formed the backbone of the new PAF. There was Pilot Officer Asghar Khan, who due to his Army service had seniority, and there was M Akhtar and M.M. A. Cheema, all of who would rise to senior positions in the PAF.

After training at the Initial Training Wing at Lahore till May 41, Nur Khan reported for flying training at the Flying Training School in Ambala, completing his flying syllabus by late November 1941. During this time he was flying types like the Westland Wapiti, Hawker Hart and Hawker Audax biplane aircraft.

His first posting after training was to No.3 Squadron at Kohat in December 1941, then equipped with Hawker Audaxes. Over the following year, he would fly proscription sorties in the Miranshah area, dropping leaflets, flying road opening sorties, occasionally undertaking punitive bombing against villages. In October 1942, he was promoted to Flying Officer, along with Asghar, Cheema and Akhtar who happened to be with the same Squadron as well. Nur Khan stayed with 3 Squadron till mid 1943 at which point he may have been posted for Vengeance Conversion at the Operational Training Unit in Peshawar.

With Flt Cdr Henry Runganadhan: On 8th May 1944, he reported to No.7 Squadron which was at that time operating the Vultee Vengeance Dive bomber under Sqn Ldr Hem Chaudhary. Nur Khan was put in ‘B’ Flight then under the command of Flt Lt Erlic Pinto. (As a matter of interest – the other flight commander in the Squadron was none other than P C Lal, who would go on to command the IAF in 1971). Nur Khan flew his first dive bombing sorties two days later on the 10th. Over the next month Nur Khan flew several missions. However his time on the Burma Front lasted just about a month when the movement orders for 7 Squadron came through. By 12th June 1944, the Squadron found itself relocated to Charra. During this time Nur Khan took over the role of the Squadron Sports Officer. In November 1944, the Squadron converted to the Hurricane fighter bomber. Towards the end of January 1945, Nur Khan was posted to No.9 Squadron, which was then on Hurricanes on the Burma Front.

It was here that Nur Khan honed his flying skills and soon made himself quite famous, sometimes bordering on being a reckless showoff! Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif, who served in 9 Squadron, remembers that Nur Khan would show off landing approaches in a Hurricane – while inverted! This involved approaching the runway for landing in inverted position, then at the right moment lower the undercarriage (which in this case would open upwards) and then do a last minute roll before flare out and touch down. Handling a Hurricane in such a regime required utmost confidence and handling skills. One can easily deduce that Nur Khan was a flying “hog”, never losing an opportunity to fly a new type of aircraft. Even in his last years in the PAF, he ensured that he was upto speed on all new aircraft being inducted, flying such types as the F-6 and the Mirage III.

After less than six months with 9 Squadron, Nur Khan earned his promotion to Flt Lt Rank and was posted to No 4 Squadron RIAF in June 1945. No.4 Squadron was at Yelahanka flying the Spitfire VIII under the command of Sqn Ldr Boyd-Berry. No.4 soon moved to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in early 1946. In one of the first display flights over Japan, Nur Khan led a formation of Ten Spitfires in the shape of a “4”. His stint as a Flight Commander lasted about 18 months and in November 1946, Nur Khan transferred to the HQ BCAIR (The Air component of the BCOF) as a Staff Officer in the rank of Sqn Ldr. When the Indian component of BCOF wound up in Japan, Independence was around the corner. It was a natural decision for Nur Khan to opt for the Pakistan Air Force.

The rest of his career with the PAF and his long stint with the PIA had been well chronicled, as is his role as PAF chief during the 1965 war with India. Some points however are worth recounting.

When Nur Khan took over command of the PAF in July 1965, he had but two weeks’ notice about the launch of Operation Gibraltar. He would say later that his staff reacted with disbelief and he was himself perturbed and shocked hearing about the plan from the Army Chief. But he went about “doing as he was told”. He got himself immersed in the business of fighting a war which had flared up as Nur Khan expected. The PAF did well in the war, enough to actually save the Pakistani Army from disaster many times. But the writing was on the wall: Pakistan was ill-equipped to fight a long term war, and Ayub Khan very wisely accepted the ceasefire when it was offered.

The relatively good performance of the PAF masked the actual truth about how close the Pakistan Army had come to running out of gas while fighting. Subsequent chest thumping and propaganda completely overshadowed any effort to take an unbiased and impartial look into how the war was conducted. Nur Khan himself would lament later that an opportunity was lost by not conducting an impartial study. He opined that many things that went wrong later on would have been avoided if there had been a serious study conducted by the Pakistanis.

Nur Khan remained PAF chief well into 1968, and would have served more if not for the transfer of power to General Yahya Khan of the Pakistan Army. Yahya imposed Martial Law and offered Nur Khan the Governorship of West Pakistan. Nur Khan bought into the theory that military rule and martial law was good for the country and took up the offer as the Deputy Martial Law Administrator. Since he could not hold two offices at the same time, Nur Khan resigned his post as the Chief of the PAF and went on to serve six months as the Governor of West Pakistan before resigning in early 1970. If it hadn’t been for the Martial law and the offer of Governorship, he may well have been the air chief during the 71 war (Going by the fact his predecessor served six years at the helm). More importantly he may have had given some sane advice that would have prevented the Pakistani Army from self imploding in 1971.

But from another perspective, it was better for Nur Khan to have retired earlier as he left public service with his stock and reputation still intact. The debacle of 1971 rendered quite a a battering to his successor Air Marshal Rahim Khan.

Perhaps the results of the 1971 war had reshaped Nur Khan’s views on the earlier conflicts. He had come to arrive at the belief that the Pakistani Army chiefs were the root of the problems that Pakistan had faced throughout. He became a strong proponent of the fact that it was Pakistan which instigated the 1965 war and India was merely defending itself (which runs contrary to the thought process of many Pakistanis). In an interview, when prodded if the conflict of 65 was a

“decisive class of arms between Hinduism and Islam”,

Nur Khan shot down the idea with a curt

“I do not believe there were any ideological compulsions behind the war”.

His recent interviews with Dawn TV (available on YouTube) re-iterate these viewpoints again and again. One could not but wish that Nur Khan’s views percolate down to the history lessons that common Pakistani students study, which would result in less hostility between the two nations.

While I never knew Nur Khan directly, several IAF officers have expressed high opinions about him over time. Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif’s comment on his flying skills has been mentioned earlier in this column. Another officer Air Marshal S Raghavendran, who retired as Vice Chief, recently wrote that Nur Khan was one of the two of the greatest pilots & commanders of the undivided Indian Air Force that they lost to partition. The other being Asghar Khan who was also well regarded by the veterans of that time. Such respect from officers of the opposing air force does not come easy.”

Jagan Pillarisetti is a historian of the Indian Air Force.  He is a well-known voice on military aviation and its history, is the co-author of The India Pakistan Air War Of 1965, a seminal work for which he was awarded a Commendation by the Chief of Air Staff in 2007. Jagan is based in the United States. He wrote this obituary exclusively for Livefist on request.


Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding C. in C. Fighter Command Royal Air Force



“Taedat caeli convexa tueri” (It becomes dispiriting constantly to watch the arch of heavens) Virgil, Aenid, Book IV

“A difficult man, a self-opinionated man, a most determined man, and a man who knew more than anybody, about all aspects of aerial warfare.’
Gen. Sir Frederick Pile G.C.B., D.S.O., M.C. (G.O.C. in C. Anti Aircraft Command 1939-45) of Dowding

As the eldest child of the school’s headmaster, Hugh Dowding was expected to set an example of duty, manners, patriotism and industry. Like his father, he went to Winchester, a public school reputed to produce inscrutable intellectuals. In 1899 he entered the Royal Military Academy, but in response to the crisis of the Boer War, the course was shortened to one year. Hugh Dowding went to Woolwich but failed to get the exam results necessary for a commission in the Royal Engineers. He had to be content with gunnery. Second Lieutenant Dowding of the Garrison Artillery graduated but never fought the Boers. Instead he served in Gibraltar, Ceylon, Hong Kong and with the Mountain Artillery in India.

Although Dowding’s concern for the fighter pilots was central to every decision he made, he seldom met them or talked with them, believing that the presence of the C. would merely provide an extra burden for them. But in an attractive aspect of the reserved man’s character that his staunchest supporters should be low-ranking subordinates who worked at his HQ, including his personal assistants, and his office staff.

He was to confront Churchill in such a way that he made an enemy of him, and so was deprived of Churchill’s aid at a time when he desperately needed it. The freedom Dowding gave his commanders, and the high morale of his pilots, were the two greatest contributions to victory. Ironically it was the same two factors that brought Dowding’s downfall. Dowding was an enigmatic man. His inability to make intimate friends will probably keep him so and if he remains so there can be little doubt that that is exactly what he wished.

But Dowding was no paragon. Too often he resorted to caustic comments when a kind word of advice would have produced the same or better results. Dowding was indifferent to the boardroom politics of higher office, impatient and abrasive to men who failed to understand his reasoning. He delegated authority readily and seldom interfered with subordinates he trusted. Not unreasonably—but unrealistically—he expected the same treatment by the men in the Ministry.

One of worst set-backs suffered by the pre-war RAF was the repeated refusal of Mackenzie King, the Canadian Prime Minister—from 1935 onwards—even to discuss the Empire Air training Scheme. By denying the British Government a chance even to submit their proposals, he was able to claim later that no peacetime training scheme was ever suggested to him. Australia and New Zealand responded warmly.

The Battle of Britain, although small in scale compared with the later fighting, was nevertheless one of the decisive battles of the Second World War. It converted American opinion to a belief that the British, given help, might win. In military terms, the battle proved that Britain was a secure base, from which the USA could fight Germany. More importantly, but less accurately, it convinced America that air-power was the decisive weapon with which to do it. The US Ambassador in London—Joe Kennedy, the father of the man who became President—had little faith in Britain’s ability to survive, and he didn’t’ mind who knew it.  The British Foreign Office heard that Kennedy had summoned neutral journalists to a press conference in order to tell them that Hitler would be in London by August 15. Such behavior infuriated the Foreign Office officials—but there was little they could do about him. To get a second opinion, Roosevelt sent another Irish American to Britain. “Wild Bill” Donovan was ostensibly in England to study the extent of German espionage and the nature of British counter-measures. In fact, he was to report to Roosevelt Britain’s chance of survival.”

By courtesy of Wikipedia. org


Mohammad Asghar Khan


Air Marshall Mohammad Asghar Khan (1921- ) First Pakistani Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Air Force (1957-65 )

Asghar Khan was born on January 17, 1921. He is Pakistan’s veteran aviation historian, peace activist, and retired military figure; a three star air marshal who served as the first non-white commander in chief of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) from 1957 until resigning in 1965,  prior to the start of the air operations of the PAF during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

Early life and World War II

Mohammad Asghar Khan was born in JammuKashmir and Jammu (princely state) in British Indian Empire on 17 January 1921. His father was Brigadier Thakur Rahmatullah Khan, an officer of the Jammu & Kashmir State Forces. He and all his brothers, except one, later joined the armed forces of Pakistan.

After attending the Aitchison College at Lahore, he obtained a place at the Prince of Wales’s Royal Indian Military College in 1933, and joined the Indian Military Academy in 1939. Initially, Asghar Khan was commissioned into the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant, starting his active duty from the Royal Deccan Horse in December 1940. However this was short-lived, as he was attached to the newly established Indian Air Force in 1940, joining the No. 9 Squadron of the Indian Air Force. In 1944, Asghar Khan assumed the command his unit and commanded the aerial missions of No. 9 Squadron in Burma. He took active participation in Burma Campaign 1944–1945, directing and commanding aerial operations against the Imperial Japan.

After World War II, he was sent to United Kingdom where he joined the RAF Staff College at Bracknell, and completed a staff course. Later, he joined the Joint Service Defence College where he gained B.Sc. in military ethics after submitting his thesis on actions involving the Joint Services. He conducted his post-graduate research and studies from Imperial Defence College where he was awarded M.Sc. in Military administration by the college faculty.

Upon his return, Asghar Khan was most-senior officer in the Royal Indian Air Force. He was also the first Royal Indian Air Force officer to fly a jet fighter aircraft—a Gloster Meteor— whilst doing a fighter leader’s course in UK in 1946

  • He became first commandant of Pakistan Air Force Academy in 1947
  • First to head the Directorate-General for Air Operations (DGAO) in 1950.
  • In 1957, he became the youngest to-date and first non-white Air Force commander-in-chief of PAF.

His tenure as air chief saw the extensive modernization of the PAF, in both technical and military equipment, and after resigning in 1965, he was not consulted by President Ayub Khan prior to launch of Operation Gibraltar. On retirement from the air force, Asghar Khan became president of the civilian national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) which he led until 1968.


C-in-C Asghar Khan awarding Gliding wings to Safi Mustafa* 356 Tempest House, PAF Public School Sargodha 1961(?)

*Flight Lt. Syed Safi Mustafa, (martyred), Sitara Jurat, East Pakistan,1971

 Personal life: Asghar Khan was married to Ms. Amina Shamsie in 1946 and they had five children, Nasreen, Shereen, Saira, Omar (deceased) and Ali Asghar Khan. He has also authored 13 books, among them:

 Selected books-English

  • (1969) Khan, Asghar. Pakistan at the Cross Roads. Karachi: Ferozsons. OCLC 116825.
  • (1979). The First Round, Indo-Pakistan War 1965. Sahibabad: Vikas. ISBN 0-7069-0978-X.
  •  (1983). Generals in Politics. New Delhi: Vikas. ISBN 0-7069-2215-8.
  •  (1985). The Lighter side of the Power Game. Lahore: Jang Publishers. OCLC 15107608.
  •  (2005). We’ve Learnt Nothing from History. Karachi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-597883-8.
  •  (2008). My Political Struggle. Karachi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-547620-0.
  •  (2009). Milestones in a Political Journey. Islamabad: Dost Publications. ISBN 978-9694963556.

Selected Books-Urdu

  • Khan, Ashghar (1985). Sada-i-Hosh (in Urdu). Lahore: Jang Publishers. OCLC 14214332.
  • (1998). Chehray nahi Nizam ko Badlo (in Urdu). Islamabad: Dost Publications. ISBN 978-9694960401.
  • (1999). Islam – Jamhooriat aur Pakistan (in Urdu). Islamabad: Dost Publications. ISBN 978-9694960852.
  • (1999). Ye Batain Hakim Logon Ki (in Urdu). Islamabad: Dost Publications. ISBN 978-9694960876.

Founding Independence Movement: after leaving the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Asghar Khan criticized and blamed President Ayub Khan and Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for the 1965 war with India, and later, he turned the criticism towards General Yahya Khan for the 1971 debacle, which resulted in the breakup of Pakistan; Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League had won the election, but had not been allowed to form the government.  In protest in January 1969, Asghar Khan relinquished awards of ‘Hilal-i-Pakistan’ and ‘Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam’ against repressive policies of Field Marshal Ayub Khan.

During the Bangladesh war of secession, Asghar Khan did support East-Pakistanis (Bengalis) morally, alleging that West-Pakistan under Bhutto had deprived them from their political and economic rights. He also demanded power to be handed over to the people of East Pakistan. In 1972, after Bhutto was made president, Asghar Khan accused Bhutto for the break-up, later noting that:

“We are living virtually under one party state…. The outstanding feature is suppression.

In 1970, Asghar Khan founded the Tehrik-e-Istiqlal, initially a centrist secular party. He criticized Bhutto on numerous occasions, holding him responsible for tyranny during the 1970 elections. However, he, and his party failed to score any big hits during the 1970 parliamentary elections, failing to secure any seats in the parliament.

 Peace activism: Besides political activism, Asghar Khan has been engaged in peace activism. On various occasion, he called for normalization of Indo-Pakistan relations.  He also renounced the nuclear tests operations conducted by Pakistan, targeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif move for making that move. In 2011 he maintained that:

In the last over 60 years, India has never attacked Pakistan, as it cannot afford it. Indians know well, if Pakistan is destroyed, they will be the next target… It was made our problem that one day India would invade us. But we did so four times and the first attack was on Kashmir, where Maharaja was not prepared to accede to India for he wanted to join Pakistan and waited for this for 21 days. Indian forces came to East-Pakistan when people were being slaughtered there. Moreover, again at Kargil, Indian never mounted an assault…

Asghar Khan also blamed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for Balochistan conflict and the East-Pakistan war, terming it: “inflexible attitude” of Bhutto. Commenting of his political collapse, Asghar Khan accused the civil society for his failure, and marked that: “the majority in Pakistan voted for the (corrupt) politicians, as they also wanted their job done by “hook or by crook.”

He was designated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, and conferred with the Gold Medal by the Human Rights Commission and Jinnah Award by the Jinnah Society for the cause of democracy. After years of founding the Independence Movement, Asghar Khan merged his party with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, in January 2012.

Activism in national politics–Tehrik-e-Istiqlal: During Bhutto’s rule from 1971 to 1977, Air Marshal Asghar Khan played a major role in opposition to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. During the 1977 elections, he allied his party, the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal with the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against the People’s Party. It was during this period that he and his party faced frequent attacks by Pakistan People’s Party supporters and from the brutal paramilitary Federal Security Force. He was imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat and Sahiwal prisons from March to June 1977.

He contested two seats, one from Karachi and the other from Abbottabad; despite alleged rigging by the PPP, Asghar Khan was elected by a huge margin from both seats. The PNA rejected the election results as rigged and launched a nationwide agitation against them (results). Asghar Khan resigned from both National Assembly seats as a mark of protest against massive rigging in the elections.

Supporting martial law: While imprisoned, Asghar Khan wrote a much-criticized letter to the leadership of Defence Forces, asking them to renounce their support for the “illegal regime of Bhutto”, and asked the military leadership to “differentiate between a “lawful and an unlawful” command… and save Pakistan”. This letter is considered by the historians as instrumental in encouraging the advent of the far-right Zia regime. However in a television show, Asghar Khan strongly defended his letter. According to him “nowhere in the letter had he asked for the military to take over”, and he had written it in response to a news story that he had read in which a army major had shot a civilian showing him the “V sign”. After the overthrow of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government by the military in the summer of 1977, Asghar Khan was offered a cabinet post by General Zia-ul-Haq, which he refused to join, and withdrew from the PNA after a growing split between the various parties.

 Political activism: After successfully calling for Bhutto’s “judicial murder”, Asghar Khan decided to take on the far-right regime of General Zia-ul-Haq who had announced general elections in 1979. The Tehrik-e-Istiqlal became the most favorite party and benefited with large number of high-profile civilian political figures, including:

  • Nawaz Sharif
  • Khurshid Kasuri
  • Aitzaz Ahsan
  • Rashid Ahmad
  • Javed Hashmi
  • Akbar Bugti
  • Mushahid Hussain
  • Nadir Pervez
  • Gohar Ayub Khan
  • Zafar Ali Shah
  • Ahmed Raza Kasuri
  • Sher Afgan Niazi
  • Manzoor Wattoo
  • Syeda Abida Hussain
  • Syed Fakhar Imam

and many others. These members left Asghar Khan under Nawaz Sharif who founded the largest conservative party, the Pakistan Muslim League (N). However, at the last moment, General Zia-ul-Haq indefinitely postponed the elections, ordering the arrests of Asghar Khan who remained under house arrest for more than five years.

In 1983, Asghar Khan decided to join the left-wing alliance, the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) led by Benazir Bhutto but was detained by the government. He was kept under house arrest at his Abbotabad residence from 16/10/1979 to 2/10/1984, and was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. With decline in public approval in 1986, Asghar Khan left the MRD, as a result of which many of the Tehrik’s members resigned in protest. He boycotted the non-partisan elections held in 1985. However, Asghar Khan and his party took full part in 1988 parliamentary elections. But this time, he was accused by Pakistan Peoples Party for having called for Bhutto’s death sentence and the martial law, which Asghar Khan failed to justify.

His party members disintegrated and allied with conservative Nawaz Sharif, a major setback for his career. His public rating plummeted and he faced complete annihilation in 1988 elections. He conceded defeat but again contested in the 1990 parliamentary elections from Lahore. He was once again defeated. Briefly retiring from active politics in the late 1990s, his party faced another one of its many splits. Since 1990, Asghar Khan has not held a significant position in politics.

 Collapse and merging with Pakistan Movement for Justice: As he grew older, he handed over his small party to his equally capable son Omar Asghar Khan, who had for a while joined the military government of General Pervaiz Musharraf, and became minister of Ministry of Environment. After his son’s resignation from the cabinet, he (son Omer) took over Tehrik-e-Istiqlal and subsequently merged it with assorted other non-governmental organization and formed a new party called National Democratic Party, an event which caused another split in the party. Both Independence Movement and National Democratic Party suffered major shock and setback when Omar Asghar Khan was murdered in Karachi on 25/6/2001 prior to the elections. An inquiry into his death was ordered b y the Sindh High Court and despite repeated requests, it was never started.

In a historic press conference on 12/12/2011, Asghar Khan announced his full support to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Imran Khan.  He praised Imran Khan for his struggle and endorsed him as the only hope left for the survival of Pakistan. This endorsement came at a crucial time for Imran Khan, when many tainted politicians were joining his party. After announcing his party’s support for PTI, Asghar Khan resigned as President of Tehreek-e-Istiqlal and left the future of his party in the hands of his workers. Contrary to many media reports, Asghar Khan never joined PTI.

Asghar Khan اصغر خان

Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force In office: 23 July 1957 – 22 July 1965
Presidents Iskander Mirza; Ayub Khan
Preceded by AVM Arthur McDonald
Succeeded by Air Marshal Nur Khan
President of Pakistan International Airlines In office: 20 August 1965 – 31 November 1968

Chairman of the Tehrik-e-Istiqlal

In office: 29 June 1970 – 12 December 2011; merged with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Imran Khan
Personal details
Born Mohammad Asghar Khan
17 January 1921 (age 95) JammuKashmirBritish Indian Empire
Citizenship British Subject (1921-1947)
Pakistan (1947-)
Political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Other political
Children Nasreen Asghar Khan
Shereen Asghar Khan Omar Asghar Khan

Ali Asghar Khan

Residence Abbottabad
Alma mater Royal Air Force College
Indian Military Academy
Occupation Administrator; Politician
Profession Fighter pilot
Religion Islam
Military service
Nickname(s) Night Flyer
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Air Force
Pakistan Air Force
Years of service 1940-1965
Rank Air Marshal (Lieutenant-General
Unit No. 9 Squadron Griffins
Commands Pakistan Air Force Academy
No. 1 Stryker GroupPeshawar AFB Directorate-General for the Air Operations (DGAO)

Precision Engineering Complex

Assistant Chief of Air Staff

Battles/Wars World War IIBritish War in BurmaIndo-Pakistani War of 1947
 Courtesy of



Pakistan Eight Zero Five


Please read the account of PIA’s flight PK 805 where the Captain was refused landing at Karachi Airport by the order of the Director General Civil Aviation Authority  Pakistan. What has intrigued me:

The decision to apprise the VVIP travelling on board by the captain about the refusal of landing rights at Karachi Airport. By this act, the pilot lost all rights as a captain and was following orders of his peers on board the aircraft.

The complete lack of attention given to the resources available to the aircraft in the air.

Two of Pakistan’s major Air Force bases are situated in the Karachi area, Faisal and Masroor. Why did the pilot not go there in this dire emergency?

A possible explanation could be the army directive of those on board. The Air Force and the Army were not on the same page regarding the government of the prime minister; the Air Force Chief had been picked by the prime minister. The Air Force had not taken part in the Kargil operation where the army was slaughtered while vacating the occupied areas by the pounding of Indian artillery and the deployment of the Indian Air Force.

This question was asked of a PIA pilot by me and he replied that most probably it never occurred to the captain that these bases were available to him.

While I was a Fokker F-27 copilot, I prevailed upon Captain Teherani to divert to Masroor as a thunderstorm was active at Karachi Airport and the landing could have dangerous consequences. He complied and we landed at the Air Force base and later departed with no problem


One Hundred Minutes to Touchdown

Participants on Transcript

  2. YOUSAF ABBAS COO (In charge for airfield closure)
  8. ANWAR (FOO)
  11. ANWAR
  16. ARMY HQ

The following is the transcript of Pakistan International Airline’s flight, PK 805,  in which former President Musharraf was travelling from Sri Lanka to Karachi on October 12, 1999. An unlawful attempt was made to prevent it from landing at Karachi Airport, in fact at all airports in Pakistan. I have tried to make the radio telephony (R/T) clearer for the common man. This is one of the darkest chapters in the history of civil aviation in Pakistan. The DG CAA should have walked away from his job instead of participating in this criminal activity. I have included pertinent excerpts from General Musharraf’s book, “In the Line of Fire” about this aerial piracy.

A commercial jet airliner operates on an instrument flight plan which mandates a fuel requirement of roughly destination + 2 hours. But in the transcript we are informed by the pilots that they have fuel for destination + 1 1/2 hour, which includes holding fuel. They have taken Nawabshah as the alternate airfield in the filed flight plan at Colombo with an enroute stopover at Male (Maldives).Nawabshah is only 104 nm from Karachi Airport as the crow flies. It is not necessary to descend and divert to alternate in case the destination is below weather minimums as an airliner loses a lot of fuel in climbing to altitude again after the diversion. This has to be avoided if fuel has to be conserved. An alternate may not even be required if the destination has the weather parameters permitting this, but in this case the pilots will take destination + 2 hours of fuel at a minimum. At MARVI position this aircraft had about an hour of fuel left which would have exhausted by 2000 PST. It landed at 1950PST.

People have floated the story that the COAS in the aircraft was waiting for confirmation of the coup and if it had not succeeded then they would have sought asylum somewhere. The answer is where was the fuel going to come to go anywhere?

It has also been suggested in the media that Karachi has two air force airfields. One of them is at Faisal (Drigh Road) Air Base, adjacent  to Karachi International Airport (Jinnah International). The other is Masroor (Mauripur) Air Base about 14 miles away from Jinnah International. Obviously these two airfields would have been blocked as we are similarly informed about Nawabshah.

I am convinced as a former commercial pilot with PIA that this aircraft was placed in a grave situation by this act out. The events unfolded in this manner:

The DG ISI had been away to the US for three weeks to consult with CIA on the war on terror and drugs, returning on Oct 8. The same evening he briefed the PM on his visit to the US and Rome and the stopover in London to meet Kashmiri leaders. He also mentioned that he was due to retire in 3 months time and requested the PM to release him as a good job was waiting in the civilian sector to be filled. He added that he had informed the COAS who had agreed.

  • Oct 9 was a Saturday where he (DG ISI) caught up with backlog of work at the ISI. He also learnt of a meeting at the PM’s Secretariat in the afternoon for Oct 12 which he was supposed to attend to discuss the law and order situation. The chief minister of Punjab would also attend.
  • Oct 10 was spent at the funeral of Gen.Gul Hassan, a former COAS in 1971.
  • Oct 11 was the visit with the PM to the UAE. He accompanied the PM on his request (DG ISI) to continue the briefing of his visit abroad,  on the flight. The PMs party returned the same evening on Oct 11 from UAE.

The Prime Minister acted in haste on a tip off that a coup had been set in motion while he was at a political event in Shujabad, near Multan. He returned to Islamabad immediately, and appointed Gen.Ziauddin Khawaja, the DG ISI as the new COAS. The ex-DG ISI (now) was a PM man, and not to the liking of Gen. Musharraf. .

I cannot understand why the government could not wait for the aircraft to land on Oct 12 at Karachi in which the COAS Gen. Musharraf was travelling and then do whatever had to be done. The only scheming is evident in Islamabad and not with the COAS who was away in Sri Lanka. The DG ISI brought the retirement issue on Oct 8 as a pressure on the PM, and had earlier informed him that Musharraf would topple him for the Kargil lapse. I leave it to the readers to reach their conclusions but the smoking gun is clear to me.

Timings below are in GMT & Pakistan Standard Time (PST)

It was 1740 in Karachi when the Karachi Corps Commander Lieutenant General Muzaffar Usmani was called by Lieutenant General Aziz Khan and told to secure the airport and receive the chief when he landed there. Things started moving very fast after that as Usmani issued rapid-fire instructions. He ordered Brigadier Tariq Fateh, the Director of Karachi Airport to take over air traffic control and coordinate his actions with Brigadier Naveed Nasar, the commander of airport security. It will remain my abiding regret that all Tariq Fateh did was to go to the airport and sit inert in the office of the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority. This was a man whom I had helped considerably to get ahead in his career, but when the time came for him to stand up and be counted, he remained seated, waiting to see which side of the fence I would fall on–the winning side or the losing side.

At the beginning of the newscast at 1800 the prime minister had panicked. My plane would land in Karachi in less than an hour, and the army would have its leader back. Any chance of defeating the counter coup would evaporate. I think it was at this point that Nawaz Sharif came to the conclusion that I must be prevented from landing in Pakistan. He telephoned his adviser for Sindh, Ghous Ali Shah who was stationed in Karachi. The prime minister instructed Shah to go to the airport immediately with a heavy police contingent to ensure that my plane did not land there. And in case its landing could not be prevented, the aircraft was to be parked in an isolated place-a “dumble”, as it is called–and refueled immediately and sent out of the country.

Ghous Ali Shah was the de facto chief minister of the province. He had replaced the elected chief minister. He left for the airport accompanied by a strong police party and some of the provincial ministers and officials. 

Next the prime minister telephoned the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority in Karachi with the same instructions: don’t let Pervez Musharraf’s plane land anywhere in Pakistan at any cost. Force it go somewhere, anywhere, as long as it goes out of the country.

Five minutes late the prime minister repeated the same instructions to the chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), telling him to order his pilot to leave Pakistan. The chairman of PIA heard the instructions but remained neutral. As they were talking my flight established initial contact with air traffic control at Karachi and informed the controllers that our ETA was 1855.

Director General: Which international flights do you have coming in at this time?
Nadeem: There is none on the board right now
Director General: Is there any coming in from Colombo?
Nadeem: Colombo? Hold on for a minute, I’ll check.
Director General: You check everything. Don’t put the phone down.
1810-PK-805: Any station in contact with Karachi on 126.5. This is PK-805 for relay.
Radar: PK-805 do you read Karachi control?
PK-805: Affirmative Sir. Loud and clear, from Male to Karachi 290 (flight level), and we are east of SAPNA at time 1330 (18:30 PST). MINAR next, arrive Inshallah 55 (18:55 PST).
Radar: Confirm ETA [expected time of arrival] 55, PK-805 cleared (MINAR-2 Arrival) for ILS 25 Right (Instrument Landing System Approach Runway 25 Right), maintain level 290 report position SAPNA.

At 1810 the Karachi Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Usmani ordered Major General Malik Iftikhar Ali Khan, the person who spoke with me in the plane from air traffic control tower to send the Immediate Reaction Group to Karachi Airport to ensure that my flight would be able to land there.

Farooq: Find out from someone what the position of PK-805 is on the ground.
Nadeem: It is coming from Male. The ETA is 1850 (6.50 PM)
Farooq: Where is it right now? If you don’t see it on the radar then check with India on the land line.
Nadeem: I’ll call back.
Farooq: No, I will hold.
Nadeem: It is south of Karachi.
Farooq: OK tell me. How to declare the airfield closed. What is the procedure?
Nadeem: Procedure Our COO closes the airfield.
Farooq: Do you give the diversion to the pilot or he does it himself?
Nadeem: If all the airfields are closed, then all aircraft are informed. Accordingly, it is aircraft responsibility whether they decide what to do.
Farooq: Where does PIA normally divert?
Nadeem: PIA? Dubai, Lahore, Islamabad.
Farooq: The plane that is coming is a 747?
Nadeem: It is an Airbus 300.
Farooq: Then it won’t go to Dubai?
Nadeem: It can go to Dubai also or it can be diverted to Lahore.
Farooq: No. It cannot go to Lahore. You keep giving me its update. Do not give him landing till you get a message from DG CAA.
Nadeem: OK fine.
1816-Radar: PK-805 squawk 7245 (transponder code for radar identification)
PK-805: 7245 Roger Sir.
1818–Radar: PK-805 radar contact position, 77 nautical miles south of SAPNA, from SAPNA, proceed direct MARVI.
PK-805: Read back (PK 805 reads back the clearance)
1819–Radar: Confirm type of aircraft Airbus 300?
PK-805: Affirmative.
1822–Radar: PK-805 radar contact position 45 miles south of SAPNA (aircraft identified by radar)
PK-805: Roger and confirm are we cleared direct MARVI?
Radar: Standby, confirm you have coordinated your descent with Bombay?
PK-805: We are (have) relayed by (to) Bombay, and I was informed by you that after SAPNA, direct MARVI. Direct MARVI not approved?
1823-Radar: PK-805, request your alternate and endurance?
PK-805: Endurance standby.
Radar: PK-805, from SAPNA cleared on MINAR-2 Arrival (STAR)
PK-805: That is affirmative sir. Already acknowledged MINAR-2 Arrival from SAPNA.

Yousaf: Did you get any instruction?
Sarfraz: No instructions. DG called. He said to standby for the instructions. He was asking about some international flight. There was no ETA till then. Now the international ETA has come
Yousaf: What is it?
Sarfraz: After 20 minutes, PK-805.
Yousaf: Where is it coming from?
Sarfraz: Coming from Male.
Yousaf: OK. Call Anwar Sahib to the Tower.
1825-Radar: PK-805 standing by for your alternate and fuel endurance and souls on board.
PK-805: Souls are 198. We are east Karachi at 1358 (18:58 PST), and correction 1355(18:55 PST), because SAPNA is now 27 so Karachi will be now 55, standby for endurance. If we have to hold over MARVI at 3,000 feet, we have endurance (fuel remaining) of one hour and 20 minutes.
Radar: Reads back, and request your alternate.
PK-805: Our alternate field is initially Nawabshah and standby Nawabshah.

Farooq: You got the message?
Asif: About airfield closure sir? Yes. The supervisor has received it, sir.
Farooq: OK. Have you announced it?
Asif: Yes sir. Announcing it, sir.
Farooq: Do it quickly. Confirm it to me on 1012
1827-Radar: Your first alternate Nawabshah and what about your second alternate?
PK-805: At the moment Nawabshah is the only alternate. We don’t have any other alternate field.
Radar: Alright according to your endurance, I think you cannot proceed except Nawabshah.
PK-805: Affirmative, because we have full commercial load on board so we are trying (flying) on required fuel only and Nawabshah was the only alternate field, and if we have to go to Nawabshah then endurance reduce at MARVI down to 45 minutes only.
Radar: Copied.
1828-PK-805: Approach (Radar) we are 14 miles from SAPNA and requesting descent from 290.
1828: Radar: Standby for descent.

Asif: Runway is closed; airfield is also closed since time 29 as per instructions by DG CAA. And runway is not available.
Manzoor: Runway is closed 18:29. What reason has been given?
Asif: No reason has been given.

1828–AQEEL to ASIF
Aqeel: Aqeel speaking. Unable to contact the shift supervisor right now. Have you received any instructions?
Asif: Yes. Farooq sahib sent a message for airfield closure.
Aqeel: OK, you close it immediately.
Aqeel: Divert Pakistani flights to their fields and hold the international. Anyone who wants to go out, can go.
1829–Radar: PK-805 we cleared flight level 100.
PK-805: Reads back, leaving 290.

Farooq: Nadeem, Farooq speaking. What was the announcement?
Nadeem: Sir, what?
Farooq: The airfield that has been closed. What announcement has been made about it?
Nadeem: Sir, we have told the aircraft from the tower that it is temporarily closed. We don’t know the reason for the closure yet.
Farooq: No reason has been announced yet?
Nadeem: No reason has been announced yet. Flight hasn’t been told.
Farooq: Operational reason is to be given. Has Yousaf Abbas arrived?
Nadeem: Yes sir, he has arrived.

Yousaf: Yes sir, I’m here aslamalaikum.
Director General: You are on the tower?
Yousaf: Yes sir.
Director General: Now you stay here till I tell you to go back.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: The thing is that the pilot should not know anything what the reason is.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: Otherwise, he will try to land somewhere.
Yousaf: Yes sir.
Director General: The second thing is that I have closed the rest also. Divert it. It will either go to Abu Dhabi or Muscat. So has he been told about the diversion yet or not?
Yousaf: I will just find out. OK, Dubai or Muscat.
Director General: That’s right. No, not Dubai.
Yousaf: Sir, OK, Muscat or Abu Dhabi.
Director General: Yes.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: Don’t give him the reason.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: Because I have alerted the other airports also.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: OK. Thank you and you remain there.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: I’m in my office. Thank you.
1833-PK-805: Sir, we were monitoring your transmission to the other flights. Advice we have COAS (Chief of Army Staff) with us and like to know what is the status of airfield.
Radar: PK-805 change over to approach on 125.5 (radio frequency) for further instructions.

PK-805: Karachi Approach this is PK-805 Asalamalaikum. We are out of 180 for 100 MINAR-2 Arrival.
Controller: Asalamalaikum. PK-805 radar contact on hand over (from) Approach, 50 miles East South East of the air field, follow MINAR-2 Arrival descend level 100, proceed MARVI, hold over MARVI level 100
PK-805: Reads back ( the clearance is read back to avoid mistakes in hearing)
Controller: PK-805 affirmative. Go ahead with your remaining fuel endurance and persons on board.
PK-805: We have 198 souls on board and we do have COAS with us, and overhead MARVI. Keeping Nawabshah as alternate, we will be able to hold for about 40 minutes.
Controller: Reads back and confirm your alternate as Nawabshah.
PK-805: That is affirmative.
Controller: Report overhead MARVI and stand by for further instructions.

OP: Are you speaking from ATC. Who’s speaking?
Nadeem: Nadeem speaking.
OP: Wanted to find out about the flight coming from Sri Lanka. What time is it landing?
Nadeem: Who is calling?
OP: Operator of General Iftikhar speaking from Malir.
Nadeem: Yes.
PA to General Iftikhar: Nadeem bhai, the delay in the flight or when is it coming is not confirmed?
Nadeem: No. Don’t know the time. Yes, there is some delay. Find out after some time.
PA: Hold for a minute. General Iftikhar Sahib will speak to you.

Anwar: OK don’t give him any reason. Don’t let any international flight land. There is no arrival at this time, is there?
Manzoor: Just this one, PK-805
Anwar: Yes. No airport in Pakistan.
Manzoor: Not allowed landing on any airport in Pakistan.
Anwar: All international flights.

Gen. Iftikhar: Hello, hello. Yes, who’s speaking?
Nadeem: Yes? Nadeem.
Gen. Iftikhar: Son, I’m General Iftikhar speaking.
Nadeem: Yes sir?
Gen. Iftikhar: What time is the Sri Lanka flight coming?
Nadeem: The thing is sir, that it is delayed for some time.
Gen. Iftikhar: How much?
Nadeem: I am not sure. I really can’t say right now correctly.
Gen. Iftikhar: Did the pilot contact?
Nadeem: The pilot is in contact. It might divert to some place. But it is right now we can’t say.
Gen. Iftikhar: Son, do this.
Nadeem: Yes?
Gen. Iftikhar: It must not be diverted.
Nadeem: Uh!
Gen. Iftikhar: It must not be diverted.
Nadeem: May I know who is speaking?
Gen. Iftikhar: General Iftikhar
Nadeem: Just, just hold on a second, sir.
Nadeem: Hello, hello?
Gen. Iftikhar: Yes.
Nadeem: You do this. The number is 1612

Gen. Iftikhar: No, no … 1612? …I will do it. No.
Nadeem: Yes. Wing Commander Farooq Sahib is there. He has given us instructions. right now he is complete authority.
Gen. Iftikhar: Yes.
Nadeem: You talk to him, whatever it is. Whatever it is.
Gen. Iftikhar: 1, 2?
Nadeem: 1612.
Gen. Iftikhar: OK.
Nadeem: OK.
1840–Controller: PK-805 report remaining fuel endurance now.
PK-805: Standby sir. We are in contact with our company and the problem is that we have definite holding at MARVI. We can easily hold for 30-35 minutes but after that we must proceed to Nawabshah.
Controller: Roger, it means that you have only remaining fuel up to one hour.
PK-805: Affirmative, little more than one hour and trying to keep a little reserve for the approach to Nawabshah.
1843-Controller: PK-805 if your alternate is Nawabshah then Nawabshah airfield is also closed.
PK-805: OK, sir we understand the situation very, very clearly now, standby one, fuel for any other place except Nawabshah at this moment at 10,000 feet. I will get back to you when joining the hold (Hold at MARVI). Give me a moment please.
Controller: Roger.

General Iftikhar smelled a rat and immediately issued orders to his Brigadier Abdul Jabbar Bhatti to go to Karachi Airport and take over the air traffic control tower. Tariq Fateh was also told to get to Karachi Airport immediately and use force if necessary to ensure safe landing of PK 805. But as I said, Tariq Fateh did nothing.

Yousaf: Yes Farooq. He has some fuel, for around an hour or so.
Farooq: Yes. Then tell him to divert from here.
Yousaf: We can tell him that, to divert. He has just been told that the airfield is closed.
Farooq: Tell him that Nawabshah is also closed.
Yousaf: OK. OK.
Farooq: Tell him that if Nawabshah is the alternate, it is also closed and it is also not available.
Farooq: Indefinitely. This is OK. Turn off this frequency. Close the airfield.
Yousaf: OK. That’s all right Farooq sahib. OK I will let you know.
1847-Controller: PK-805 overhead MARVI holding now, go ahead remaining fuel endurance now.
PK-805: OK, sir, if we have Nawabshah for landing we can hold from now for another half hour, then we have to go to Nawabshah. If we do not plan to go to Nawabshah and land at Karachi I have one hour and 10 minutes.
Controller: Confirm now total fuel endurance one hour 10 minutes.
PK-805: That is affirmative, sir.

Islamabad: After the scuffle on the prime minister’s porch, Lt. Col. Shahid Ali and some of his soldiers entered the house and went to the private area, which is called the family wing. In his living room there, he saw Nawaz Sharif sitting with Ziauddin, Akram, Nawaz Sharif’s son Hussain (who had gone with him to Abu Dhabi and Multan), Saeed Mehdi and Saifur Rahman–the dreaded chairman of the Accountability Bureau, who had hounded many opponents of Nawaz Sharif and used to strut around like a latter-day Robespierre. In the gallery Shahid Ali saw someone rushing forward wit a message from the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority that the aircraft was short of fuel, could not be diverted out of Pakistan, and might crash if not permitted to land. Later, it was discovered that this was the third such message that went unheeded.

Shahid Ali entered the room and placed everyone under arrest. “Has martial law been declared?” asked Nawaz Sharif plaintively. Shahid Ali said that he did  not know. Saifur Rahman started crying. Nawaz Sharif looked dazed.

The prime minister’s brother Shahbaz Sharif was nowhere to be found. Shahid Ali was told that he was in the bathroom. He asked Shahbaz to come out. Shahbaz shouted his acquiescence but did not come out for an inordinate amount of time. So Shahid Ali forced the door open to find Shahbaz Sharif standing in front of the toilet, flushing down the speech that Nawaz Sharif was to deliver after his coup had succeeded. Shahbaz was, in turn flushed out of the bathroom. He insists to this day that he knew nothing of the coup plan. The prime minister’s speech writer, on the other hand, insists that Nawaz Sharif took no important action without first consulting his brother. God alone knows the truth. 

While all this had been going on at the prime minister’s house, many things started happening together in Karachi. Lt. Gen. Usmani along with his personal escort and military police reached Karachi Airport. 5 minutes later, troops from Karachi’s Malir Garrison also arrived. It was precisely at this time that air traffic control informed our pilot that Nawabshah Airport like all the airports in Pakistan–was closed to our aircraft. And it was after this that the pilot called my military secretary, Nadeem Taj, into the cockpit to tell him about the unbelievable situation.

“Sir, the pilot wants you in the cockpit,” my military secretary Nadeem Taj said to me in a hushed tone. It was October 12, 1999. The time 1845. The flight was PK 805. The plane was an Airbus. There were 198 passengers on board, many of them school children. We were due to land in ten minutes. “Sir, the pilot wants you in the cockpit,” repeated my military secretary, his voice now even more insistent. There was definitely something strange going on. He motioned me to the front of the aircraft and told me the news: the pilot informed him that our plane was not being allowed to land at any airfield in Pakistan and was being ordered to get out of Pakistan’s airspace immediately. Only one hour and ten minutes of fuel remained. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It seemed preposterous.

When our pilot informed air traffic control at about 1848 that he could not go to Muscat owing to his critically low fuel, the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority asked his air traffic controller an amazing question: could my plane go to Bombay? I have seen idiots and more idiots, but this question was beyond belief. The controller replied in the negative.

What happened next remains one of the mysteries of that day. An air traffic controller elsewhere in Karachi, at Faisal Air Base run by PAF asked the controllers at Karachi Airport about the ETA of an air force B737 VIP flight inbound from Islamabad. The controllers at Karachi Airport could not confirm the flight’s arrival. I wonder what that was all about. Who was to come on that flight? Or was it sent to take me somewhere in case I landed in Karachi despite the best efforts to keep me away?

Yousaf: Hello Farooq? There is one hour 10 minutes endurance. He can’t proceed to Muscat in any case.
Farooq: OK.
Yousaf: He has to either go to Nawabshah and that is all.
Farooq: Can’t he go to Bombay?
Yousaf: No.
Yousaf: There is 504 (PK 504) from Turbat also. They have Nawabshah as alternate.
Farooq: Send them to Nawabshah. Do it after changing the frequency.
Yousaf: Farooq, if the frequency is changed, they will also monitor it. What frequency should we use? Now everyone is monitoring.
Farooq: How many planes are there right now?
Yousaf: There is 592, just a minute. 805, 554, 592 (PK 805, PK 554, PK 592)
Farooq: Hello sir. The DG (DG CAA) is saying tell him you cannot land in Pakistan.
Yousaf: OK fine.
Farooq: You have to go somewhere, find out the place and go.
Yousaf: OK. OK.
Farooq: Give him the directive and then let me know.
Yousaf: Farooq, I’ve told him. We have told him. Exact time 1353. But you see, [he is] probably gaining time.
Farooq: He should not.
Yousaf: That’s it. We have told him. But we cannot force him to do something else.
Farooq: If it crashes, then?
Yousaf: We cannot take the blame if it crashes.

Asif: OK. Ask PK-805, can he proceed to Bombay?
Manzoor: If there isn’t enough fuel, how can I ask?
Asif: Don’t ask, don’t ask.
Manzoor: Bombay, Muscat, they can’t get anywhere in one hour 10 minutes.
1851-Controller: PK-805 you cannot land in Pakistan at any airport.
PK-805: Standby one. That is not possible. We only have fuel for Karachi or Nawabshah and now we cannot standby. I will come back to you later. Standby one.
Controller: Roger.
1853-Controller: PK-805 go ahead your intentions now.
PK-805: We are talking with the company and we allow the higher authorities to take a decision at this moment. We are keeping our options open. I may stay over Karachi for one hour or I can divert to Nawabshah and please standby one. The decision has to be taken at another level.
Controller: Roger.

Yousaf: Nadeem? Alright, DG Sahib (DG CAA) is saying you tell them. Airfields of Nawabshah and Karachi are closed for operational reasons. It is not possible to accommodate. So whatever you have to decide, [decide] it at your own risk … you transmit it.
1856–PK-805: Karachi, this is PK-805, info from our company that we are allowed to proceed to Nawabshah and land. So is that OK with you?
Controller: PK-805 negative. This is not OK with us. Message just received Nawabshah airfield is also closed for you and decide on your own risk, advise.
PK-805: OK sir, then we has no other option. Either we hold over Karachi and declare an emergency and land or we take a direct route to any closer airfield in or out.
Controller: PK-805 standby.

Director General : Make it clear to him that for certain operational reasons, the airports at Karachi and Nawabshah are closed. He can seek his orders from his own persons. We cannot tell him anything. Or just make it absolutely clear that he is doing it at his own risk and that the airports are closed for operational reasons, whatever the reasons are. What can we do now?
Yousaf: Yes sir.
Director General: OK.
1859-Controller: PK-805, it is up to you. You have to decide what you have to do. Proceed as per your decision.
PK-805: We understand that, Karachi, very well. The point is we have limited fuel either we run out of fuel or that’s the end of the story or you allow us to land and then we can decide. The problem is that we are running out of fuel at this altitude very fast and no airfield except Nawabshah is available to us at the moment.
Controller: PK-805, you cannot land at any airport in Pakistan and you can proceed outside Pakistan.
PK-805: OK sir, standby one.
1900-Controller: PK-805, climb flight level 200.
PK-805: Reads back.

Yousaf: Yes Farooq? You see, time is being wasted this way … We have to have a decision, yaar (friend).
Farooq: We are waiting actually. Have to talk to chairman PIA. He is talking to somebody.
Yousaf: OK then, after this, he will not go. He will declare an emergency and [if] he wants to land then we cannot stop him.
1905-Controller: PK-805 climb flight level 280.
PK-805: We will like to maintain 210 at the moment, standby.
Controller: Maintain 210.
1907-PK-805: Karachi can you advise the authorities that this aircraft is on bare minimum fuel. We have lost lot of fuel during climb to level 21,000 feet. We have to land at an airfield, otherwise we have 198 souls at risk.
Controller: Roger, what is your remaining fuel endurance now?
PK-805: We have 45 minutes fuel.
Controller: Read back standby.
1908-Controller: PK-805 can you divert to Nawabshah now?
PK-805: Affirmative.
Controller: Standby.

Farooq: Put me through to Abbas Sahib, Farooq speaking.
Yousaf: He has just come on [saying] that [I have] got only 45 minutes of fuel left and there [are] 198 souls on risk. I have [to] land at this airfield.
Farooq: Can’t you send him to Nawabshah?
1910-Controller: PK-805, now proceed direct to Nawabshah.
PK-805: Thank you very much, we are 210 maintain (maintaining). We are proceeding direct to Nawabshah. We have 95 DME to run (Nawabshah is 104 NM from Karachi Airport).
Controller: That is correct, standing by for you ETA (expected time of arrival) Nawabshah. Your position is now 93 miles south of Nawabshah with me.
PK-805: That is affirmative.
1911-Controller: PK-805 when ready descend to flight level 160 initially.
PK-805: Thank you, will call you leaving 210 for 160.

Brig. Jabbar: Who’s speaking?
Aqeel: Aqeel speaking.
Brig. Jabbar: What is your appointment?
Aqeel: GMATS (GM Air Traffic Services)
Brig. Jabbar: This flight that is coming from Sri Lanka, it has to be brought back here.
Aqeel: Where are you calling from?
Brig. Jabbar: I am calling from the tower here.
Aqeel: Should return to Karachi?
Brig. Jabbar: Yes.
Aqeel: Now heading for Nawabshah.
Brig. Jabbar: No, no. You call him. Send a message, call it back. Ask if there is any doubt.
1914-Controller: PK-805, descend to flight level 100.
PK-805: Read back.

Farooq: Where is Abbas sahib? Yousaf sahib, talk to DG sahib.
Director General: Do it like this…
Yousaf: Sir.
Director General: He has enough fuel. Send him halfway and then call him back to Karachi. Let him land and park at the dumbbell, right at the end.
Yousaf: OK sir.
Director General: Airport is not to be opened. What will be the precautionary measures that we will take here? You understand?
Yousaf: Yes sir.
Director General: And it has to be refueled with the bowser right at the end.
Yousaf: Yes sir.

Director General: And ask him to take off again. No passenger is to be disembarked. Send him to Sharjah.
Yousaf: Sir
Director General : Or Sharjah to wherever.
Yousaf: Brigadier Jabbar sahib and his team are here.
Director General: Yes.
Yousaf: And they have said to bring it back to Karachi.
Director General: Uh, OK
Yousaf: Yes sir.
Director General: I see, if they are saying this … And I am going to say that he has to be offloaded also, that man.
Yousaf: So far they have asked for its landing.
Director General: OK, OK. I see. Then you let it land, yes.
Yousaf: OK sir, OK sir.

Yousaf: Yes sir, you call it back.
Aqeel: Call it back?
Yousaf: Yes sir.
1915-Controller: PK-805, position 44 miles East North East of the airfield, now turn left heading 250, vectoring for ILS runway 25 right Karachi International.
Controller: Left heading 250 initially, vectoring for ILS runway 25 Right.
PK-805: Reads back.
Controller: Position 46 miles East North East of the airfield and continue descent to 3000 feet on QNH 1008 HPA.
PK-805: Acknowledged.
1916-Controller: PK-805 continue left heading 235.
PK-805: Reads back.
Controller: Approx 50 miles to go, confirm if OK for your descent?
PK-805: Affirmative, sir we are already out of 135.
1917-Controller: PK-805, confirm your ETA Karachi is 33?
PK-805: Affirmative.
Controller: Roger, then on heading (on this heading) intercept localizer, cleared for ILS approach runway 25 Right, report established, no speed restrictions.
PK-805: Reads back.

Farooq: This is Farooq speaking. Put me through to Abbas sahib.
Yousaf: Yes.
Farooq: Sir, what is the position?
Yousaf: Yes. He is coming back to land.
Farooq: OK. Don’t talk, just keep listening. Do you have somebody with you?
Yousaf: Yes.
Farooq: They have taken over.
Yousaf: Yes, yes.
Farooq: OK, so, they are indicating that he will get off board.
Yousaf: Yes.
Farooq: And that means there is something beyond this. OK.
Yousaf: Bay 24
Farooq: We are in the office.
Yousaf: Bay 24
Farooq: OK. We are in the office. DG has gone home.
Yousaf: OK.
Farooq: Keep me informed.
Yousaf: OK. OK.
1921-Controller: PK-805. What is your heading now?
PK-805: Standby we are turning 130 now. We are in contact with our company (PIA). They are advising us.
Controller: PK-805 you are unreadable, request your intentions and heading now.
PK-805: Standby.
1924-Controller: PK-805, you are climbing again and heading towards north. Request, reason and intentions.
PK-805: We are trying to save fuel. We are just climbing to 10,000 feet. We [are] saving fuel, sir, I have to speak to company also, standby one. We let you know.

Gen. Iftikhar: Who’s speaking?
Aqeel: Aqeel speaking.
Gen. Iftikhar: I’m General Iftikhar speaking. Put the plane [PK-805] directly through to ATC Karachi.
Aqeel: OK. Who should it contact?
Gen. Iftikhar: Tell the aircraft he will [be] guided by ATC Karachi.
Aqeel: But sir, he is saying he is climbing and he will let you know.
Gen. Iftikhar: Just tell the pilot to get directly in touch with the Karachi ATC.
1926–Controller: PK-805 I am getting you out 120 climbing. Request intention.
PK-805: Sir, at low level we are burning fuel very, very fast. We are climbing higher to save fuel. We need some time over here to decide with the company.
Controller: PK-805 turn left heading 240 vectoring for Karachi for landing.
PK-805: Standby, sir.
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): PK-805, this is Karachi ATC, over.
PK-805: Go ahead, over.
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): This is General Iftikhar, you are hereby directed to please land at Karachi airport. The Karachi control tower will guide you. There is no need to divert anywhere. Is that clear? Over.
PK-805: Standby.

Brig. Jabbar: Hello, see, listen to me. Just spoke to you. I am Brigadier Jabbar speaking. Our men have reached everywhere now. We will blow you up. You have to get that plane to land. Send it a direct message. Do whatever. It must not be diverted anywhere else. And our men are standing on your head. They will not let you go. I am telling you that you tell
Aqeel: We’re telling him.
1927-Controller: PK-805 please contact Karachi tower 118.3 for an important message.
PK-805: Standby, Karachi control tower, this is PK-805 go ahead
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): PK-805, this is General Iftikhar. Please approach Karachi airport and land at Karachi airport. Karachi airport is clear for you and Karachi control will direct you in. Is that clear?
1928-PK-805: I have been asked to confirm where the corps commander is, General Iftikhar?
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): The corps commander is with me. I am speaking on his behalf. Please land at Karachi without any further argument, over.
PK-805: That is affirmative sir, we have received instructions. We are coming back to
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): Good, well done, Karachi control tower will direct you in, over to him.
Controller: PK-805, establish on the ILS report leaving 3000 feet on the glide slope.
PK-805: OK sir. We are now turning left for standard ILS approach into Karachi.
1930-PK-805: I have been directed by the chief, that, corps commander should come on line.
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): Please convey to the chief this is General Iftikhar, I would like to speak to him.
PK-805: Standby, we will get the general. (COAS) ‘Iftikhar this is Pervez .Where is Usmani?’
Controller: PK-805, go ahead.
PK-805 (COAS): This is Pervez, message for Iftikhar. General Iftikhar, where is Usmani?
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): Sir, Iftikhar is on the set. General Usmani is in the VIP lounge. He is waiting at the gate for you. I am here in the control tower.
PK-805 (COAS): Where is Iftikhar now? Is that Iftikhar speaking?
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): Affirmative.
1932-PK-805 (COAS): Iftikhar, what is the problem?
Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): I am sure you would not know. About two hours back your retirement was announced and you were to be replaced by Zia. The army has taken over and, they were trying to divert your plane, so that it does not land here. We have taken over the airport and you are coming in now.
PK-805 (COAS): Iftikhar thank you. Tell Mehmood and Aziz nobody will leave the country.
1932-Controller (Gen. Iftikhar): Right sir, we are waiting for you sir.
Controller: PK-805 report position.
PK-805: We are 42 on the DME and descending slowly, out of 116 for 5,000 feet, crossing radial 045 and will be intercepting the localizer.
Controller: Report when established localizer.
1933-Controller: PK-805 switch on your landing lights.
PK-805: Acknowledge.
1935-Controller: PK-805 confirm established on the localizer?
PK-805: We will call you when established on the localizer, we are 33 on the DME.
Controller: Roger, surface wind is light and variable and you are clear to land runway 25 Right (25R)
1937-Controller: PK-805 report distance from Karachi.
PK-805: 26 on the DME and out of 5,000 feet.

Nadeem: Sir, I’m Nadeem speaking.
Yousaf: Yes.
Nadeem: Landing?
Yousaf: Landed.
Nadeem: Landing up final.
Yousaf: After these people go, OK.
Nadeem: Yes?
Yousaf: Then call me at my office.
Nadeem: OK.
Yousaf: All right.
1946-Controller: PK-805 landed at 48, taxi at the end to stand 64.
PK-805: Acknowledged

Nadeem: Get the VIP lounge opened. It’s an emergency.
Anwar: VIP lounge? That is open.
Nadeem: That’s alright then, sir.
Anwar: Who is the VIP coming?
Nadeem: It is an emergency, sort of. Right sir, thank you.
1948-Controller: PK-805, please make sure nobody else disembark (s) except General Pervez and keep the doors closed after his disembarkation.
PK-805: Acknowledged

Controller: Asalamalaikum.
Army HQ: Walaikumasalam. Bhai jaan, I’m calling from Army HQ.
Controller: Yes.
Army HQ: Need to know if PK-805 has landed.
Controller: Yes.
Army HQ: Need to know if PK-805 has landed.
Controller: Yes, it has landed.
Army HQ: How long?
Controller: Just now, three minutes ago.
Army HQ: Three minutes ago?
Controller: Yes.

Courtesy: Including excerpts from: In the Line of Fire by Pervez Musharraf, Free Press, NY 2006

Straight shooting on the 1965 war

As we honour the men who fought against all odds in 1965, we must also acknowledge the miscalculations of the army’s high command. Air Commodore Retd. Sajjad Haider sets the record straight.

Come September, Pakistanis are told how the gallant Pakistan Armed forces fought and thwarted the Indian Juggernaut which invaded Pakistan in a surprise move on September 6 ‘without any provocation’. For 49 years, the nation has been regaled by the stories of valor and ‘victory over the evil enemy’. These stories are true, but the whole truth has not been told.

Seldom has any attempt been made to tell the nation that the fighting elements of the armed forces achieved this spectacular success not because, but in spite of the vision-less leadership which had perpetrated this senseless war on a flimsy, unprofessional and immature hypothesis. A soldier’s duty is to obey commands; theirs’ is not to question why. So it was for 99 per cent of the Pakistani armed forces, professional fighting men who obeyed orders, often paying the ultimate price, while the one per cent issued orders from their safe bunkers and palaces, far from the discordant sound of guns, planes and the rattle of tanks. These knights in shining armour gave their lives so that their leaders, wearing suits of rusted mail, could cover themselves in glory.


A scene inside a field air ops room during the Indo-Pak War 1965. Squadron Leader M M Alam is seen in the centre

In India, there is now a clear and coordinated attempt to paint the 1965 war as a great victory. Encouraged by the Modi government, which seeks to reverse historical humiliations by rewriting history, the Indian armed forces, top media outlets like the Indian Express and India Today, along with even renowned writers like Kuldip Nayyar are going all out to ‘prove’ that India came out on top in the ’65 war. This is an uphill task, given that even histories recorded by renowned Indian scholars say the opposite. Ignored is the defeat of the Indian 31 brigade at Kanjarkot, the Indian losses in the Kutch skirmish, the capitulation of its fighters to PAF interceptors in May 1965. The hopeless performance of the IAF in both the East and West, and the strident drubbing it received at the hands of a PAF that was one-third its size in particular stands out when you consider that our air force inflicted several times the attrition caused by the IAF.


The Pathankot team of Sherdils

The official IAF losses are chronicled in an award-winning air war history by military historian P.V.S Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra, which details the 66 IAF operational aircraft lost to PAF action and the nine aircraft lost to accidents. By contrast, PAF attrition was 12 aircraft destroyed due to enemy action and five lost to accidents. This means that an air force 3.5 times the size of the PAF suffered an attrition ratio of 5:1 in favour of the PAF. Thus, the ‘Big Picture’ that sections of the Indian media is trying to project vis-à-vis the ’65 war is in fact an ‘unreal picture.’ One can understand their frustration and the need for Indian Prime Minister Modi to rewrite history, but such fabrications cannot stand in the face of facts.

But let’s leave India aside and focus on the facts about the war that we have not been told in Pakistan. After all, the first step in learning from your mistakes is to acknowledge those mistakes in the first place, and that is something we have not done. Having been in a key operational command in both 1965 and 1971, I say with full confidence that irrespective of which branch of the armed forces they served in, the fearless spirit and valor of our fighting men was exemplary. Sadly, the laurels of victory in Pakistan were placed largely on undeserving heads, while the real achievers and heroes still remain deprived of their due accolades. This was done due to the efforts and the pervasive propaganda unleashed by those at the highest echelons of the army and all the ‘King’s Men’ who, immediately after the cease fire, set out to successfully create a massive cover-up to bury deep the blunders that cost thousands of lives even before September 6. This may come as a surprise to many because the secret of those martyrs sent on Operation: Gibraltar, a one way mission to capture Kashmir, does not find mention during the celebration ceremonies.

Who was it who thought that an operation to capture Kashmir would not invite ferocious Indian action? It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who, with Aziz Ahmed in tow, propounded

“The plan to create an Algerian type revolution in the vale”,

a plan that field marshal-turned-president Ayub Khan and his selected Commander in Chief (C-in-C) Musa Khan swallowed hook, line and sinker. Thus, 8,000 or so men (mostly non-soldiers) were thrown into the fray without a thought as to the consequences of this action. These men were recruited largely from the Muzaffarabad area with the guidance of a single regular Azad Kashmir battalion and were interspersed with a smattering of highly trained commandoes. It was a folly reminiscent of Field Marshall Raglan’s ordering the light brigade to charge into the Russian guns during the Crimean War.


A PAF squadron ready to take on an adversary thrice its size

The C-in-C at the time writes in his memoirs that the Azad Kashmiri irregulars were trained for six to eight weeks at Rawalpindi in the art of guerilla warfare. Let that sink in for a moment: six to eight weeks only. Ho-chi Minh, Chou en Li, Ben Bella and Che Guevara must have turned in their graves at this. And so it was that, without a modicum of strategic vision or proper contingency planning or preparation; without any known networking with local elements or even their sympathy, Operation Gibraltar was launched.

Three Pakistani officers pose for a picture in front of the imposing structure of the ancient Rajasthan Fort at Gotaro. This was one of the chain of forts and other fortifications captured by Pakistan’s Desert Force during September 1965


In the last brief at Kharian, I think in late July, the President had asked for a brief on Operation Gibraltar. Two most significant things happened in this briefing, as I learnt from General Gul Hassan as well as General Akhtar Malik separately much after the war. The President asked General Akhtar Malik why he does not go for Akhnur, the sole entry point and the jugular vein of the valley known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’, and block off India from the Vale. Akhtar Malik replied that he could take Akhnur provided he is given a task force. According to history, the 12 Div. was then allocated additional forces for Operation: Grand Slam. Resultantly, the capture of Akhnur through Operation Grand Slam came on the menu only at that time.

The second point would surprise many:

General Sarfraz, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 10 Division, meant for the defense of Lahore, implored the C-in-C to allow them to take full defensive measures in case of an inevitable escalation. He was curtly told ‘No, do not provoke the enemy; do not escalate a local operation (meaning the occupation of Kashmir)’.



The panic which prevailed amongst the Indian troops while fleeing from Chhamb can be seen from this picture. It shows an Indian Army Truck, a jeep with a trailer and AMX tank abandoned in the middle of the river Tawi. The gun of the tank is facing to Pakistan side ready to fight. But the tank crew along with other occupants of the truck and the jeep would rather choose to run for their life than fire their guns

General Gul Hassan told me years later at my home that he had instructions from the C-in-C that every signal to operational units must end with “Do Not Provoke, Do Not   Escalate”. Thus a disaster foretold ominously was made reality by the national leadership and army high command. They thought in their limited ‘barrack to battalion’ knowledge of military strategy that India will lose Kashmir without a whimper, and will not dare to escalate the war. They believed that this resulting victory would then cement the insecure president’s position and ensure a bright future for all his courtiers.

How ironic that despite all the blunders and the lives lost to their callous incompetence and utter stupidity, yet these men flourished and remained unaccountable. In shameful contrast, the martyrs of Op Gibraltar who were sent on a one way mission were removed from the radar in perpetuity. What about their kith and kin? Should they not deserve the acknowledgement of their martyrdom? Indubitably, the Indian invasion was not unprovoked; it was the  direct consequence of the failed Operation: Gibraltar and the imminent threat posed by Operation Grand Slam to Akhnur, the sole entry and the jugular of the valley known as the ‘Chicken’s Neck’.

General Akhtar Hussain Malik almost achieved that herculean task. In his war diaries, general officer commanding-in-chief (GOC-in-C) of the western front, General Joginder Singh writes:

“General Akhtar Malik had steam rolled over Chamb and was heading for Akhnur with tremendous velocity; Akhnur lay like a ripe plum and undoubtedly he would head for Jammu after securing Akhnur; even today we hang our heads in shame that the officers and men of the 161 artillery regiment, stationed for the main defense of Akhnur had defected after hearing the news of Akhtar Malik’s onslaught on Chamb and heading for Akhnur. But suddenly there was eerie quiet and we wondered what Gen Malik was planning. A whole day passed and Providence came to our help as we heard the news that General Malik had been replaced.”

This has been a heart breaking event which my fingers quiver to write about even today. History would have been very different had the high palace intrigue not deprived the brave General Malik of his red letter day. Brigadier Amjad Hussain, Commander Artillery describes vividly the shock and rage at the removal of  General  Akhtar Hussain Malik and the turning of a victory foretold into a tragedy in perpetuity.


The F-86 Sabre served as the main workhorse for the Pakistan Air Force and virtually ruled the skies during the war

Yahya Khan, in a high intrigue drama was given command. In Yahya’s own words, spoken at the Quetta Staff College when he was the President and questioned by an irate chief instructor on why he did not take Akhnur on Sept 1, he replied curtly,

“Because I was ordered not to do it”.

That day, we lost Kashmir forever, not due to the enemy’s strong riposte but due to the deceit and incompetence of our own leadership. It was not the high command, but the courage and resolute will of the fighting elements of the armed forces that saved the country. As the Indian blitz on the 6th of Sept was developing against the city of Lahore, the heart and soul of Pakistan, it was met with the indomitable spirit, resolve and blood of a handful of soldiers (officers and men) who stood like the rock of Gibraltar to defend the their homeland with their blood, looking death in the eye.

Numerically, India had 4:1 superiority on land and 3.5:1 in the air. Besides, it had great geographical depth and a huge resource fountain. But what the enemy did not know was the fact that they had an unknown advantage accruing from Pakistan’s leadership. It would be instructive to understand the disadvantage our forces had suffered owing to the same failure of leadership and mindset. When Operation Gibraltar was launched, 25 per cent of the army personnel were on home leave. The Divisional Commanders at Lahore, Kasur and Sialkot were not permitted to place defensive mines and other measures for the defense of the border; nor allowed full deployment on the border. The idea being not to provoke the Indians to avoid escalation, as the occupation of Kashmir was in progress. Another colossal mishap requires attention: the president, in his infinite wisdom, along with his army chief decided not to bring PAF leader Air Marshall Asghar Khan, the father of a force he had trained to be amongst the best in the world, into the Kashmir misadventure loop.


Army Chief Gen Musa visiting infantry elements in their trenches during one of his inspection visits

Ayub Khan’s information czar, Altaf Gauhar, writes that the reason was that Ayub knew that Asghar Khan would give meaning and content to the war and make it decisive. I have these comments if anyone is interested.

It was on the fateful day that Asghar Khan was completing his eight years of service on July 23, 1965, and handing the PAF command to Air Marshal Nur Khan, a brave and great fighter himself, but one who had been away for eight years winning laurels for his successes and who only took command when war was imminent. But national security was apparently an idea which had to be the exclusive domain of the supreme commander; everyone in crucial positions had to be amenable to the President. Luckily, Air Marshall Nur Khan inherited a formidable fighting machine.
As opposed to the depleted operational readiness status enforced by the design of the army leadership, the PAF had been kept on Phase 1 Operational Alert since the Rann of Kutch episode and it was buzzing with operational vibrancy. I often felt sorry for our gallant and professional army, where I knew lots and lots of great officers, who were not lucky enough to have leaders like the PAF had since its inception. The PAF doctrine for war had been the master-mind of the visionary Air Marshall Asghar Khan and the operational strategy the work of a team working under the guidance of Air Marshall Rahim Khan, Chief of Operations. We, as young squadron commanders had been summoned to Air Headquarters along with Officers commanding, Wings and Base commanders on June 6, 1965 and given a comprehensive brief into the concept of air operations as the C-in-C opined that he saw war clouds on the horizon. Air Marshall Asghar Khan had no inkling about the Kashmir Committee plan to de-freeze Kashmir.

Finally, each commander present was allocated his war missions. The tactical aspects of mission accomplishment were left to each squadron commander; such was the confidence level of the PAF high command in the junior commanders. This is leadership and the loyalty it evokes in the hearts of fighting elements to do and die for the country. After the air battle over Kashmir, where the IAF lost five fighters, the next air action of the 1965 war came on September 6, at 9.30am. It was the first mission of war assigned to No. 19 Sherdil Squadron, which I had the honour to command. The target assigned was an enemy artillery regiment across the Jassar Bridge in the Sialkot-Shakargarh bulge. The squadron had been custom trained to be second to none. Each pilot wore this dedication to excellence on his sleeve and understood well that excellence was not an option but an instinct in mission accomplishment.

The narrative will prove what I mean here: five minutes away from the target area, the radio crackled and the voice of our Air Defence Commander was discernible. He instructed us that our primary mission is cancelled and that we were to proceed to village Attari area and destroy enemy forces about to enter Lahore. He may as well have transmitted a million watts electric shock to us with the word ‘Lahore’. Here it would be prudent to mention that the Indian Express in its 23rd issue carries an irresponsible and highly manipulative article based on twisted facts which needs a strong riposte. It reads,

“In Punjab, the army reached close to the outskirts of Lahore but did not press on.”

This is yet another fabrication, and a very condescending and flimsy one at that. I don’t want to dwell too much on my own role in a war where so many gave their all, but I was at the scene leading 6 Falcons of 19 Squadron as we were diverted to the GT road. Why would the Indian General Chaudhary risk invading the heart of Pakistan and then circumvent it for some odd reason?


Armour on the move in Chhamb Sector during 1965 war

On the contrary, General Chaudhary had held a conference late at night in which several foreign correspondents, including Mark Tully of the BBC, were invited to the Lahore Gymkhana for a victory drink. What really happened is best described in an account about our air action at Wagah by none less than General Lachhman Singh, Gen Sukhwant Singh and award winning historians Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra, quoted here in parts:

“No.19 Sqdn. From Peshawar, led by (my name), flew a six aircraft strike mission at 0930 hours against the leading elements of Indian army thrust towards Lahore. The leading battalion of the division, 3 Jat, led by Col. Desmond Hyde had its columns strafed and rocketed by PAF Sabres. The unit lost all its Guns and Sherman Tanks … (Lachhman) …. It was about 9.30 am and the enemy aircraft shot up every vehicle for about 15 minutes undeterred by fire from our troops.”

I also read that after the drubbing at the hands of PAF there was a rout in the leading echelons of the Indian Strike force. Quoting General Sukhwant Singh,

“the C.O. of the battalion ran back with just one sock and one shoe, deserting the battalion. His 2nd in command followed suit and escaped on a bicycle and took refuge in Amritsar.” 

Here’s an interesting anecdote I would like to share:

I was asked by Pushpindar Singh, a top air war historian if I knew whose Flag Jeep I had fired upon at Wagha on the morning of September 6. I replied that I recalled it was my sixth and last attack and while exiting the theatre, I saw a jeep with a flag which I shot at and saw a figure jumping out before the bullets hit the jeep. Pushpindar confirmed that this was Major General Nirindera Parshad, the Divisional Commander who abandoned his Division. Having set out for the Lahore Gymkhana, he instead ended up in Amritsar to be court martialled.

That same evening in our third mission of the day we obliterated the IAF base at Pathankot, destroying 13 fighters as part of the tragically failed magnum opus of the PAF planned by venerable Air Marshall Asghar Khan. It failed because his June 6 strategic plan was not followed through, owing to the negativity of a couple of timid air staff officers who misled the newly appointed C-in-C. Had the plan, which had been fully rehearsed with aircraft and the best pilots of the PAF made available, the IAF would have incontrovertibly lost over 50 fighters. Sadly, the command at two prime bases failed in their mission.

We expect nothing from the Indians, but this nation and its rulers (I didn’t say leaders) owe so much to such few gallant fighters for their strident commitment to their country, a commitment they have always fulfilled with their blood, sweat and the tears of the families. As we fight a different war even today, we must not shy away from acknowledging the mistakes of the past. It is only by doing so that we can secure our future.

By courtesy : Straight shooting on the 1965 war by Air Commodore Retired Sajjad Haider. The writer is a retired air commodore and author of the bestseller Flight of the Falcon: Demolishing Myths of 1965-1971 Senseless Wars. Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 6th, 2015.

Courtesy of Dawn.

Admiral Graf Spee

Admiral Graf Spee was a Deutschland-class heavy cruiser which served with the Kriegsmarine during World War IL. The vessel was named after Admiral Maximilian von Spee, commander of the East Asia Squadron that fought the battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands, where he was killed in action, in World War I.


She was ordered by the Reichsmarine from the Reichsmarinewerft shipyard in Wilhelmshaven. Her keel was laid on 1 October 1932, and the ship was launched on 30 June 1934; at her launching, she was christened by the daughter of Admiral Maximilian von Spee, the ship’s namesake. The ship was completed slightly over a year and a half, and commissioned into the German fleet on 6 January 1936. She was nominally under the 10,000 long tons (10,000 t) limitation on warship size imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, though with a full load displacement of 16,020 long tons (16,280 t), this was significantly exceeded. Armed with six 28 cm (11 in) guns in two triple gun turrets, Admiral Graf Spee and her sisters were designed to outgun any cruiser fast enough to catch them. Their top speed of 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) left only the few battle cruisers in the Anglo-French navies fast enough and powerful enough to sink them.

Admiral Graf Spee spent the first three months of her career conducting extensive sea trials to ready the ship for service. The ship’s first commander was Kapitän KzS Conrad Patzig; he was replaced in 1937 by Walter Warzecha. After joining the fleet, she became the flagship of the German Navy.

  • In the summer of 1936, following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, she deployed to the Atlantic to participate in non-intervention patrols off the Republican-held coast of Spain.
  • Between August 1936 and May 1937, the ship conducted three patrols off Spain.
  • On the return voyage from Spain, Admiral Graf Spee stopped in Great Britain to represent Germany in the Coronation Review on May 20 at Spithead for King George VI.
  • After the conclusion of the Review, Admiral Graf Spee returned to Spain for a fourth non-intervention patrol.
  • Following fleet manoeuvres and a brief visit to Sweden,
  • The ship conducted a fifth and final patrol in February 1938.

In 1938, KzS Hans Langsdorff took command of the vessel; she conducted a series of goodwill visits to various foreign ports throughout the year. These included cruises into the Atlantic, where she stopped in Tangier and Vigo. She also participated in extensive fleet manoeuvres in German waters. She was part of the celebrations for the reintegration of the port of Memel into Germany, and a fleet review in honour of Admiral Miklós Horthy, the Regent of Hungary. Between 18 April and 17 May 1939, she conducted another cruise into the Atlantic, stopping in the ports of Ceuta and Lisbon. On 21 August 1939, Admiral Graf Spee departed Wilhelmshaven, bound for the South Atlantic.

World War II: following the outbreak of war between Germany and the Allies in September 1939, Adolf Hitler ordered the German Navy to begin commerce raiding against Allied merchant traffic. Hitler nevertheless delayed issuing the order until it became clear that Britain would not countenance a peace treaty following the conquest of Poland. The Admiral Graf Spee was instructed to strictly adhere to prize rules, which required raiders to stop and search ships for contraband before sinking them, and to ensure that their crews are safely evacuated. Langsdorff was ordered to avoid combat, even with inferior opponents, and to frequently change position. On 1 September, the cruiser rendezvoused with her supply ship Altmark southwest of the Canary Islands. While replenishing his fuel supplies, Langsdorff ordered superfluous equipment transferred to the Altmark; this included several of the ship’s boats, flammable paint, and two of her ten 2 cm anti-aircraft guns, which were installed on the tanker.

On 11 September, while still transferring supplies from Altmark, Admiral Graf Spee’s Arado floatplane spotted the British heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland approaching the two German ships. Langsdorff ordered both vessels to depart at high speed, successfully evading the British cruiser. On 26 September, the ship finally received orders authorizing attacks on Allied merchant shipping. Four days later Admiral Graf Spee’s Arado located Booth Steam Ship Co’s cargo ship Clement off the coast of Brazil. The cargo ship transmitted an “RRR” signal, “I am under attack by a raider” before the cruiser ordered her to stop.

Admiral Graf Spee took Clement’s captain and chief engineer prisoner but let the rest of her crew to abandon ship in the lifeboats. The cruiser then fired 30 rounds from her 28 cm and 15 cm guns and two torpedoes at the cargo ship, which broke up and sank. Langsdorff ordered a distress signal sent to the naval station in Pernambuco to ensure the rescue of the ship’s crew. The British Admiralty immediately issued a warning to merchant shipping that a German surface raider was in the area. The British crew later reached the Brazilian coast in their lifeboats.

On 5 October, the British and French navies formed eight groups to hunt down Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. The British aircraft carriers HMS Hermes, Eagle, and Ark Royal, the French aircraft carrier Béarn, the British battlecruiser Renown, and French battleships Dunkerque and Strasbourg, and 16 cruisers were committed to the hunt. Force G, commanded by Commodore Henry Harwood and assigned to the east coast of South America, comprised the cruisers Cumberland and Exeter. Force G was reinforced by the light cruisers Ajax and Achilles; Harwood detached Cumberland to patrol the area off the Falkland Islands while his other three cruisers patrolled off the River Plate.

  • On the same day as the formation of the Anglo-French hunter groups, Admiral Graf Spee captured the steamer Newton Beech. Two days later, she encountered and sank the merchant ship Ashlea.
  • On 8 October, the following day, she sank Newton Beech, which Langsdorff had been using to house prisoners. Newton Beech was too slow to keep up with Admiral Graf Spee, and so the prisoners were transferred to the cruiser.
  • On 10 October, she captured the steamer Huntsman, the captain of which had not sent a distress signal until the last minute, as he had mistakenly identified Admiral Graf Spee as a French warship. Unable to accommodate the crew from Huntsman, Admiral Graf Spee sent the ship to a rendezvous location with a prize crew.
  • On 15 October, Admiral Graf Spee rendezvoused with Altmark to refuel and transfer prisoners; the following morning, the prize Huntsman joined the two ships. The prisoners aboard Huntsman were transferred to Altmark and Langsdorff then sank Huntsman on the night of 17 October.
  • On 22 October, Admiral Graf Spee encountered and sank the steamer Trevanion. At the end of October, Langsdorff sailed his ship into the Indian Ocean south of Madagascar. The purpose of that foray was to divert Allied warships away from the South Atlantic, and to confuse the Allies about his intentions.
  • By this time, Admiral Graf Spee had cruised for almost 30,000 nautical miles (56,000 km; 35,000 mi) and needed an engine overhaul.
  • On 15 November, the ship sank the tanker Africa Shell, and the following day, she stopped an unidentified Dutch steamer, though did not sink her.
  • Admiral Graf Spee returned to the Atlantic between 17 and 26 November to refuel from Altmark. While replenishing supplies, the crew of Admiral Graf Spee built a dummy gun turret on her bridge and erected a dummy second funnel behind the aircraft catapult to alter her silhouette significantly in a bid to confuse allied shipping as to her true identity.
  • Admiral Graf Spee’s Arado floatplane located the merchant ship Doric Star: Langsdorff fired a shot across her bow to stop the ship. Doric Star was able to send out a distress signal before she was sunk, which prompted Harwood to take his three cruisers to the mouth of the River Plate, which he estimated would be Langsdorff’s next target.
  • On the night of 5 December, Admiral Graf Spee sank the steamer Tairoa. The next day, she met with Altmark and transferred 140 prisoners from Doric Star and Tairoa.
  • Admiral Graf Spee encountered her last victim on the evening of 7 December: the freighter Streonshalh. The prize crew recovered secret documents containing shipping route information.
  • Based on that information, Langsdorff decided to head for the seas off Montevideo. On 12 December, the ship’s Arado196 broke down and could not be repaired, depriving Graf Spee of her aerial reconnaissance. The ship’s disguise was removed, so it would not hinder the ship in battle.

Battle of the River Plate

  • At 05:30 on the morning of 13 December 1939, lookouts spotted a pair of masts off the ship’s starboard bow. Langsdorff assumed this to be the escort for a convoy mentioned in the documents recovered from Tairoa.
  • At 05:52, however, the ship was identified as HMS Exeter; she was accompanied by a pair of smaller warships, initially thought to be destroyers but quickly identified as Leander-class cruisers. Langsdorff decided not to flee from the British ships, and so ordered his ship to battle stations and to close at maximum speed.
  • At 06:08, the British spotted Admiral Graf Spee; Commodore Harwood divided his forces up to split the fire of Admiral Graf Spee’s 28 cm guns. The German ship opened fire with her main battery at Exeter and her secondary guns at the flagship Ajax at 06:17.
  • At 06:20, Exeter returned fire, followed by Ajax at 06:21 and Achilles at 06:24. In the span of thirty minutes, Admiral Graf Spee had hit Exeter three times, disabling her two forward turrets, destroying her bridge and her aircraft catapult, and starting major fires. Ajax and Achilles moved closer to Admiral Graf Spee to relieve the pressure on Exeter. Langsdorff thought the two light cruisers were making a torpedo attack, and turned away under a smokescreen.
  • The respite allowed Exeter to withdraw from the action; by now, only one of her gun turrets was still in action, and she had suffered 61 dead and 23 wounded crew members.
  • At around 07:00, Exeter returned to the engagement, firing from her stern turret. Admiral Graf Spee fired on her again, scored more hits, and forced Exeter to withdraw again, this time with a list to port.
  • At 07:25, Admiral Graf Spee scored a hit on Ajax that disabled her aft turrets. Both sides broke off the action, Admiral Graf Spee retreating into the River Plate estuary, while Harwood’s battered cruisers remained outside to observe any possible breakout attempts. In the course of the engagement, Admiral Graf Spee had been hit approximately 70 times; 36 men were killed and 60 more were wounded, including Langsdorff, who had been wounded twice by splinters while standing on the open bridge.



Scuttling in Montevideo: as a result of battle damage and casualties, Langsdorff decided to put into Montevideo, where repairs could be effected and the wounded men could be evacuated from the ship. Most of the hits scored by the British cruisers caused only minor structural and superficial damage but the oil purification plant, which was required to prepare the diesel fuel for the engines, was destroyed. Her desalination plant and galley were also destroyed, which would have increased the difficulty of a return to Germany. A hit in the bow would also have negatively affected her seaworthiness in the heavy seas of the North Atlantic. Admiral Graf Spee had fired much of her ammunition in the engagement with Harwood’s cruisers. After arriving in port, the wounded crewmen were taken to local hospitals and the dead were buried with full military honours. Captive Allied seamen still aboard the ship were released. Repairs necessary to make the ship seaworthy were expected to take up to two weeks.

British naval intelligence worked to convince Langsdorff that vastly superior forces were concentrating to destroy his ship, if he attempted to break out of the harbour. The Admiralty broadcast a series of signals, on frequencies known to be intercepted by German intelligence. The closest heavy units—the carrier Ark Royal and battlecruiser Renown—were some 2,500 nm (4,600 km; 2,900 mi) away, much too far to intervene in the situation. Believing the British reports, Langsdorff discussed his options with commanders in Berlin. These were either to break out and seek refuge in Buenos Aires, where the Argentine government would intern the ship, or to scuttle the ship in the Plate estuary.

Langsdorff was unwilling to risk the lives of his crew, so he decided to scuttle the ship. He knew that although Uruguay was neutral, the government was on friendly terms with Britain and if he allowed his ship to be interned, the Uruguayan Navy would allow British intelligence officers access to the ship. Under Article 17 of the Hague Convention, neutrality restrictions limited Admiral Graf Spee to a period of 72 hours for repairs in Montevideo, before she would be interned for the duration of the war.On 17 December 1939, Langsdorff ordered the destruction of all important equipment aboard the ship. The  ship’s remaining ammunition supply was dispersed throughout the ship, in preparation for scuttling.

On 18 December, the ship, with only Langsdorff and 40 other men aboard, moved into the outer roadstead to be scuttled. A crowd of 20,000 watched as the scuttling charges were set; the crew was taken off by an Argentine tug and the ship was scuttled at 20:55. The multiple explosions from the munitions sent jets of flame high into the air and created a large cloud of smoke that obscured the ship which burned in the shallow water for the next two days.

On 20 December, in his room in a Buenos Aires hotel, Langsdorff shot himself in full dress uniform and lying on the ship’s battle ensign. In late January 1940, the neutral American cruiser USS Helena arrived in Montevideo and the crew was permitted to visit the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee. The Americans met the German crewmen, who were still in Montevideo. In the aftermath of the scuttling, the ship’s crew were taken to Argentina, where they were interned for the remainder of the war.

Photo by Imperial War Museum staff – This is photograph HU 3285 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 6307-02), Public Domain,

By S. W. Roskill – The War at Sea 1939–1945, Chapter VI, Public Domain,

By courtesy


The Battle of Chawinda

India/Pakistan War 6 September–23 September 1965

The Battle of Chawinda was a part of the Sialkot Campaign in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. It was one of the largest tank battles since the Battle of Kursk in World War II. The initial clashes at Chawinda coincided with the tank battle near Phillora and the fighting intensified once the Pakistani forces at Phillora retreated. However, the advancing Indian 1st Armored Division was stopped at Chawinda. The battle finally ended due to the UN ceasefire


Location N32.384; E74.724



Pakistan, Kashmir, India (The Pathankot -Jammu Road straddles the border near the Sialkot salient)

The terrain in the Sialkot area is particularly suited for armour operations, being generally flat and rising gently to the north-east, interspersed with small gullies or ‘nullahs’ that flow from north-east to south-southwest.



Chawinda is marked by the pin





Commanders and leaders
 Maj Gen Abrar Hussain
 Lt Col Nisar Ahmed Khan
 Brig. Sardar M.Ismail Khan
 Brig. S. M. Hussain
 Brig. Abdul Ali Malik
 Brig. Muzzafaruddin
 Maj Gen Tikka Khan
 Lt Gen Bakhtiyar M.Rana
 Maj Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Ali Khan
 Brg. Amjad Chaudhry
General Harbaksh Singh: C-in-C Western Command

Lt Gen Pat Dunn
Lt Col Ardeshir Tarapore


30,000-50,000 infantry

22nd cavalry (44x M48)

10th Cavalry (44x Patton)

25th Cavalry (44x Patton)

33th TDU sqn (15x Shermans)

19th Lancers (44x Patton)

11th Cavalry (44x Patton)

Total: 132

+150 (tank reinforcements)

80,000–150,000 infantry

4th Horse (45 x Centurion)

16th Cavalry (45x Centurions)

17th Poona (45x Centurion)

2nd Lancers (45x Sherman)

62nd Cavalry (45x Sherman)

Total 225 tanks[

Casualties and losses
44 tanks (Pakistani claim)

Over 518 km2 (218 mi2) of territory lost

29 tanks lost (Indian claim)

120 tanks (Pakistani claim)

 Pakistan: The Army’s 15th Division had to control a front of some  113 miles approximately, aided by the 6th Armoured Division which had seven armoured regiments. It shared defensive duties with the 8th Division comprising four infantry brigades and four supporting armoured regiments. An Artillery Brigade of IV Corps’  was also moved to this sector from Chhamb.

  • General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6 Armoured Division: Abrar Husain
  • Director Military Operations (GHQ) Major General Gul Hassan
  • Officiating GOC 15th Division: Brigadier Sattar Ismail
  • Commander 24th Brigade: Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik
  •  Commander Artillery 4th Corps: Brigadier A.A.K. Chaudhry
  • Commander 115 Brigade: Brigadier Muzaffaruddin
  • 24th Brigade Armour Regiment Commander: Lt. Colonel Nisar Ahmed
  • 24th  Brigade, 2nd Punjab, Infantry Commanding Officer: Lt. Col. Jamshed
  • 4 Corps Artillery: Brigadier Amjad Ali Chaudhry
  • Farouk Adam, (Sitara-e-Jurat)
  • 15th Division Commander (new): Major General Tikka Khan
  • 2nd Punjab supporting 25th Cavalry attack: Major Mohammad Hussain Malik

India, Indian I Corps

  • 1st Armoured Division
  • 6th Mountain Division
  • 26th Infantry Division
  • 14th Infantry Division



The area of operations is the from the centre of the map toward 2 – 3 o’clock 

  • Indian 1 Corps with its 1st Armoured Division and three infantry divisions had orders to secure the Pathankot–Jammu road by launching a riposte to an anticipated move by Pakistan against Jammu; the private plan of Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik that his superiors had thwarted. The aim of the Indian attack was to seize the key Grand Trunk Road around Wazirabad and to capture Jassaran, which would enable the domination of Sialkot–Pasrur railway, thus completely cutting off Pakistani supply line.
  • The Indian 1st Armoured Division would  establish a bridgehead across the international boundary in Pakistani territory, capture Phillora; proceed towards Pagowal and Chawinda to the Marala-Ravi link canal. Meanwhile in a complimentary action, the 14th Infantry Division was to capture Zafarwal and proceed in a north-westerly direction towards Chawinda.
  • The Indian plan was to drive a wedge between Sialkot and the Pakistan’s 6th Armoured Division.

The Pakistani GHQ had ordered all formations to move to their defensive positions on 4th September. The 6th Armoured Division, under General Abrar Husain, complied. When news of the Indian attack came, he was told to move his troops to Pasrur on the night of 6/7 September as a reserve for 1 Corps. The move occurred during the night. Then at midnight, the division’s staff was told to return to their previous position around Gujranwala by 0500 hours on 7 September! This was confirmed by the GOC Abrar Husain who said that the DMO Gul Hassan had given him this order on the telephone. GHQ seemed to be making decisions quite arbitrarily.

But general confusion seemed to reign on the battlefield too. In the Sialkot sector, the 15th Division, apparently based on feeds from the 115th  Brigade, reported that the Indians had broken through in the Jassar area, an improbable feat that would have demanded crossing the River Ravi and then its tributary that was on the Pakistani side of the border. Based on this report, HQ 1 Corps requested the GHQ to give it permission to blow up the bridge at Jassar.

Meanwhile HQ 1 Corps ordered 15th Division, under Brigadier Sardar Ismail,

whom Pakistan military historians were to refer derisively as ‘a Service Corps’ officer, and not someone who belonged to a fighting arm,

to provide assistance to the 115th Brigade. Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, commander 24th Brigade and Brigadier A.A.K. Chaudhry commander 4 Corps Artillery had been moved from Chhamb to help protect the Sialkot sector.

Gul Hassan credits Abdul Ali Malik’s intuition that prevented him from hurriedly inserting his forces into the confused situation. This allowed Abdul Ali Malik’s 24th Brigade and Brigade Chaudhry’s artillery to remain in their defensive positions around Chawinda for what would eventually become the celebrated defence of Chawinda against the Indian 1st Armoured Division. Abdul Ali Malik recalls getting a call on 7 September from the officiating GOC of 15 Division to say that:

A critical situation had arisen in Jassar area where the enemy had succeeded in establishing a bridgehead on Pakistan’s side of the river. . . He wanted me to move to Narowal and stabilize the situation there by counterattack. I pointed out that a large enemy force with armour was concentrated on the other side of the border opposite my brigade, and could attack at any time.

Such a move Malik said would be ‘quite unsound and dangerous.’ Despite this protest, at 1800 hours he was ordered to move to Narowal. He chose not to do so with his entire brigade, and instead took only his small operations group. On arrival, Malik learned from Brigadier Muzaffaruddin, commander 115th Brigade, that Jassar bridge had been blown up that morning. The Indian enclave on the Pakistan side of the Ravi River had been cleared by the 115 Brigade. Malik’s armour regiment commander, Lt. Colonel Nisar Ahmed warned him that should his regiment be moved to Jassar,

 ‘please do not expect a regiment from me when we get back to Chawinda.’

So, Malik told him to bring only one squadron ‘in case it was required.’ He then asked to speak ‘to somebody who had actually seen the Indians on the Pakistan side of the river.’ No one came forward.

The whole picture was one of confusion and uncertainty,’

writes Malik. His infantry commander, Lt. Col. Jamshed, whose battalion would have to launch the attack, was of the view that:

 ‘due to the uncertainty of the situation about the enemy, it would be suicidal to commit the battalion in a night attack in an unknown area without any daylight recce of enemy dispositions.’

Malik concurred.

A commander carries a heavy burden of responsibility in war for the safety of his men. I was not fully convinced myself that a large enemy force could have come across the river without a bridge to support it. If the Indians had really intended to make a breakthrough in this area, they could have easily used their large Dharam enclave for initial concentration, where they already had a boat bridge over Ravi. But they had easily abandoned that enclave under slight pressure,’ recalled Malik.

While discussions were going on about this with the officiating GOC of 15th Division, Sardar Ismail, an urgent message arrived from Sialkot reporting Indian shelling in Suchetgarh and that an attack appeared imminent.

That settled it’ recalls Malik. ‘I took the GOC aside and told him that Jassar was a mere flap and we were both at the wrong place. I pleaded with him to go back to his headquarters, get our orders reversed, and to move us back to our original positions. He agreed and left for Sialkot.’

On his way back during the night, Malik saw a convoy of guns belonging to Brigadier Amjad Ali Chaudhry’s 4 Corps Artillery heading towards Jassar. He stopped them and told them to return. Lucky for them, they managed to get back before daylight when they could have been sitting ducks for the Indian Air Force.

Even the official Indian historian of the war acknowledges that ‘the picture of false Indian pressure at DBN (Dera Baba Nanak), as painted by Brigadier Muzaffaruddin, the brigade commander before his superiors, led to the initial orders for the move of Pak 24 Brigade from the threatened Chawinda sector.

Had the mistake not been rectified, and had the 24 Infantry Brigade not re-occupied its original position, the Pakistanis could have lost the crucial Chawinda battle. Indeed, India expected Pakistan to take advantage of the Dera Baba Nanak bridge and the Pakistan enclave on the Indian side of the Ravi to launch an attack towards Gurdaspur and Pathankot. But having blown up the bridge because of Brigadier Muzaffaruddin and his division commander’s panicky reporting, Pakistan lost that capability of a counter attack.

One of Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik’s officers, Farouk Adam, (himself a winner of the Sitara-e-Jurat), recalls how Malik first heard about the Indian forces opposite Chawinda from a

‘thoroughly shaken engineer Havildar’

who told the CO 2 Punjab, Lt Col. Jamshed, that

the Indians had attacked and taken all our positions ahead of Chawinda.

Wikipedia: The striking force of the Indian 1st Corps was the 1st Armoured Division supported by the 14th Infantry and 6th Mountain divisions and the Indian infantry seized the border area on 7 September. This was followed by a short engagement at Jassoran in which Pakistan lost 10 tanks and it ensured complete Indian domination of Sialkot-Pasrur railway. The Indian 1st Armoured Division’s drive quickly divided, with the 43rd Lorried Infantry Brigade supported by a tank regiment attacking Gat, while the main blow of the 1st Armoured Brigade was hurled against Phillaura. Pakistani air attacks caused moderate damage to the tank columns, but exacted a heavier toll on the truck columns and infantry. The terrain features of the area were very different from those around Lahore, being quite dusty, and the approach of the Indian attack was evident to the 25th Cavalry by the rising dust columns on the Charwah-Phillaura road.

Brigadier Malik immediately ordered his staff to cut all communications with higher headquarters

‘lest they sow any more confusion in the already confused state of affairs and ordered the brigade straight to Chawinda.’

He was later to confirm his move in a wireless exchange with the new division commander, Major General Tikka Khan. 2nd Punjab, he was informed, would join him as soon as it reached there

This was thus, the solitary infantry brigade at Chawinda, bolstered by an armoured regiment. Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, on return to Chawinda, took the extraordinary decision to order the 25 Cavalry with its two squadrons of tanks to attack the oncoming Indian armoured division in extended line formation.

Nisar was ordered to put his two squadron in extended line and go over to the offensive…two squadrons of tanks and one infantry company blunted and beat back what was one armoured division and three of infantry! The sheer momentum of such a massive Indian force should have allowed them to do better. But then who could have predicted that an infantry Brigadier would react in quite the manner that Brigadier Ali had done under the circumstances?

The audacity of this move was more than matched by the performance of the Pakistani armour in that encounter. No one would have blamed him if he had put all available troops in defensive positions around Chawinda. But he did not do this. And for the first time in the history of tank warfare two squadrons took on an armoured division. This momentous decision, not recommended in any text book, was to save Pakistan from total defeat.

We advanced all day in short bursts, from cover to cover. The Indians were retreating by the afternoon. We reoccupied Phillaurah, then Godgore, then Chobara. And Major Mohammad Hussain Malik (of 2 Punjab that was supporting the 25 Cavalry attack) asked half in jest, if the Brigadier (Abdul Ali Malik) would have us take Delhi the same day.’ By nightfall, the troops were overextended and fell back from Chobara. Sometimes ignorance is truly bliss. But then it was dusk, and the tanks withdrew to leaguer for the night

 Wikipedia: “Realising the threat, the Pakistanis rushed two regiments of their 6th Armoured Division from Chhamb to the Sialkot sector to support the Pakistani 8th Infantry Division there. These units, plus an independent tank destroyer squadron, amounted to 135 tanks; 24 M47 and M48 Pattons, about 15 M36B1s and the remainder Shermans. The majority of the Pattons belonged to the new 25th Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. Nisar, which was sent to the Chawinda area. Fighting around the Godgore village between the Indian 1 Armoured division and the Pakistani 25th Cavalry Regiment resulted in the Indian advance being stopped.”

The next day, the puny Pakistani attacking force found a marked map in an abandoned Indian jeep that showed they had been up against the 1st Armoured Division, 6 Mountain Division, 26 Infantry Division, and the 14 Infantry Division!

The Pakistani high command apparently had not anticipated the Indian moves in this sector despite the capture of the dispatch rider on 4/5 September which yielded valuable information about Indian formations and plans. Malik recalls that ‘this lucky find was such an important piece of intelligence that I closed the bag immediately and sent it on to 15 Division for onward dispatch to GHQ . . . However, I was disappointed to learn later that GHQ staff did not consider this intelligence to be genuine. People had read too much military history and considered this to be a plant by the enemy.’ It was only because of the later capture of an operational order in a knocked-out Indian tank that Pakistan’s GHQ could find out the disposition of Indian forces in this sector and their intent. The next day, as Brigadier Malik assessed the situation with his senior commanders, they came under artillery fire. He knew his paltry troops could not hold the territory against a concentrated counter attack. So, he chose to go on the offensive once more, reoccupying Chobara but only to abandon it yet again under a fierce Indian assault.

It took GHQ ‘nearly forty-eight hours to decide upon their next move. Our operational plans had perhaps not taken into consideration all the options open to the aggressor,’ wrote Brigadier Chaudhry, the commander of the Pakistani artillery. The Pakistani artillery meanwhile continued to do enormous damage to the Indian armour and infantry attacks, concentrating fire with speed and accuracy on Indian artillery positions with great effect, forcing the latter to keep well behind the front. Pakistan’s US supplied 155mm long-range guns were especially effective in this regard.

The Indians resumed their attacks on 10 September with multiple corps sized assaults and succeeded in pushing the Pakistani forces back to their base at Chawinda, where they were stopped. A Pakistani counterattack at Phillora was repulsed with heavy damage, and the Pakistanis settled in defensive positions. The Pakistani position at this point was highly perilous, the Indians outnumbered them by ten to one.

Farouk Adam recalls:

We were overextended and so had to abandon Chobara and take up defence around Godgore. The next morning, we discovered a marked map in an abandoned Indian jeep. This showed their entire order of battle… We were stunned by our achievements of the previous day, and made urgently conscious of how pitifully thin we were not the ground. The Indians broke through the position that we had taken back from them and routed our replacement. The signs of defeat were all over—stragglers moving back, some without weapons, some without their helmets and web equipment, without a resemblance of discipline or any sign of cohesion – demoralized troops, defeated. We dug in around Chawinda.

On 11 September, the Indians broke through the Pakistani defences, and Chawinda was threatened again.  But Brigadier Malik stood his ground, indeed moving his own headquarters into the forward lines. ‘Oh my God,’ thought Farouk Adam,

the Old Man is really determined to stake himself out like the Indian Chiefs!’…he assessed that by this time the Indians had come to know exactly what stood against them. They threw everything at us. They often came close to success. Many times, it seemed that our defense had disintegrated, only to be rallied round again…The Pakistani position at this point was highly perilous, the Indians outnumbered them by ten to one…. We held on to Chawinda till the guns fell silent — The News February 11, 1992 By Farouk Adam SJ

However, the Pakistani situation improved as reinforcements arrived, consisting of two independent brigades from Kashmir, 8 Infantry Division, and most crucially, their 1 Armoured Division. For the next several days, Pakistani forces repulsed Indian attacks on Chawinda.

The Indian 1st armoured division managed to capture some territory, but then the armour that was to take part in a pincer movement to reduce Chawinda on 14 September ran into a strong anti-tank screen and a fierce battle occurred with a regiment of Pakistani Pattons. In the words of the C-in-C western command, General Harbaksh Singh:

 ‘The progress of the battle fell far short of expectations. The armour having failed to create the tactical pre-condition for an infantry assault on Chawinda, the attack . . . was called off.

Thus, ended the first battle of Chawinda. In the words of Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik:

This battle . . .  enabled Pakistan to seize the initiative from the Indians and blunted the edge of the massive attack of the powerful Indian armoured division, forcing it to retreat. ‘

The Indian commanders did not give up their aim to capture Chawinda and thus contain Sialkot, and they spent the 15 and 16 September planning afresh. The corps commander reviewed the plans on 16 September along with the commanders of the 1st Armoured Division and 6 Mountain Division, with the 6 Mountain Division being given the job of capturing Chawinda while the 1st Armoured Division and 14 Infantry Division would attempt to get Badiana and Zafarwal. In the runup to the final attack on Chawinda, India got into fierce battles with Pakistani armour and artillery, losing, among others, Lt. Col. A.B. Tarapore of 17 Horse, who was given the highest Indian military honour of the Param Vir Chakra. After that, general confusion took over on the Indian side as misunderstandings arose about the timing of the 35 Infantry Brigade’s move.

  • The Brigade took off on 16/17 September, earlier than planned and was recalled.
  • The attack, originally planned for 17/18 September was thus postponed by twenty-four hours, by when, due to further confusion, the Armoured Division withdrew some troops before the 6 Mountain Division could mount its attack.
  • A large Indian assault on 18 September involving India’s 1st Armoured and 6th Mountain Divisions was repelled, with the Indian 1st Armoured and 6th Mountain divisions taking heavy losses.
  • On 21 September, the Indians withdrew to a defensive position near their original bridgehead, with the retreat of Indian first armoured division, all their offensives were ceased on that front. Pakistani General vetoed the proposed counterattack “Operation Windup.”

By then, the element of surprise had been lost. Pakistan started shelling the forming-up places (FUPs) while the troops were being marshalled for the attack. The operation was in consequence, dislocated from the very beginning. Pakistan’s artillery pounding unnerved the Indian troops, who ended up firing on each other in the confused fog of battle. The two companies of the 4 J& K Rifles that had managed to reach Chawinda were thrown back by Pakistani infantry and armour fire. About 500 J& K Riflemen ‘deserted due to Pakistan’s armour threat, and the remnants of the Gorkhas were found near Lebbe (close to Phillora, already in Indian hands).’The failure to capture Chawinda led to the abandonment of plans to capture Zafarwal and Badiana.

In a stinging indictment of the Indian operations, the Indian C-in-C western command wrote:

The battle is a classic study in command failure and poor execution. Lack of control at Corps level paved the way to defeat—an indifferent leadership at lower levels made disaster inevitable. The depressing combination decided the fate of the battle of Chawinda and foredoomed the outcome of the entire campaign.

Chawinda was a critical battle of the 1965 war, for had it fallen to the Indian attack, Sialkot’s right flank was open and, as Gul Hassan states, India would have forced a fight with Pakistan’s 6 Armoured Division in the closed space on the eastern bank of the Marala –Ravi link canal, depriving the Pakistani armour freedom of movement.

The normally taciturn and modest Abdul Ali Malik writes in his unpublished memoirs that:

If I had not acted as I did on my own initiative on 8 September, to advance and intercept the enemy attack without orders, and perhaps, technically against my orders to stay put at Pasrur, there would have been no battle of Chawinda to talk about. The enemy would have gone beyond Chawinda and Badiana before 1 Corps or GHQ could intervene in the battle. Thus, there might have been battles of Pasrur, Sialkot or Daska, but no battle of Chawinda.’
As it turned out, the Indian attack on a narrow front led to the biggest tank battle since the Second World War. But India’s poor generalship came to Pakistan’s rescue. India kept attacking Chawinda head-on instead of bypassing it. That, combined with the spirited defence of Chawinda under Major General Abrar Husain, commander 6 Armoured Division, the concentrated use of Artillery by Brigadier Chaudhry (according to a fire plan developed by his Brigade Major Aleem Afridi), and the troops of 24 Brigade under Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik, was to save Sialkot from the Indian onslaught. But it was a close call.


Captured Indian Centurion tank in 1965 War near Chawinda,_Sept. 1965

According to the Pakistani C in C the operation was cancelled since “both sides had suffered heavy tank losses……would have been of no strategic importance….” and above all “the decision…was politically motivated as by then the Government of Pakistan had made up their mind to accept cease fire and foreign sponsored proposals”.

Wikipedia: On 22 September, the United Nations Security Councilunanimously passed a resolution that called for an unconditional ceasefire from both nations. The war ended the following day. The military and economic assistance to both the countries had been stopped when the war started. Pakistan had suffered attrition to its military might and serious reverses in the battle at Khemkaran and Chawinda which made way for the acceptance the UN Resolution.

Wikipedia: At the end of hostilities on 23 September 1965, India held about 200 square miles (518 square kilometres) of Pakistani territory in the Sialkot sector including the towns and villages of Phillora, Deoli, Bajragarhi, Suchetgarh, Pagowal, Chaprar, Muhadpur, Tilakpur south east and east of Sialkot city, which were returned to Pakistan after the Tashkent Declarationin January 1966

The CGS at GHQ in Rawalpindi, General Sher Bahadur, was reported by General Gul Hassan to have wanted to distribute the artillery in pockets throughout the front. This would have dissipated its effectiveness. The director artillery at GHQ Brigadier Reilly, and Brigadier Amjad Chaudhry persuaded Gul Hassan not to follow this advice. At the field command level, the hesitancy and panicked responses of the acting GOC 15 Division coupled with the reported suggestion of Brigadier Hisham El-Effendi (who had been posted by GHQ as an advisor to General Husain) to withdraw the 6 Armoured Division from Chawinda could have doomed Pakistan’s defences. It was evident that Pakistan’s senior commanders had been elevated too rapidly to senior levels, without adequate preparation in strategy or even tactics involving large formations. The little training, they had dealt with historical campaigns and the Second World War—on a scale that did not fit the canvas of either India or Pakistan. The 1965 war was more of a slug fest between two equally matched amateur boxers.

Brigadier Abdul Ali Malik: “He had fought in the World War II and won the MBE due to his bravery as a young army lieutenant. Later in the 1965 War, he was awarded the gallantry award, Hilal-i-Jurat, for leading an infantry brigade as part of the 6th Armoured Division that fought the famous tank battle with the Indian Army at Chawinda in Sialkot and halted the advance of the invading Indian troops in Pakistan’s territory.”


Courtesy of: Excerpts from Crossed Swords by Shuja Nawaz Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York 2010;