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Hilal English

Bravehearts of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965

September 2023

In the annals of history, the heroics of Pakistan's armed forces during the 1965 War shine as a testament to unparalleled valor and unwavering dedication. Amidst the war, these brave men and women stood firm, defending their nation with unwavering resolve. The officers who served during this crucial period went beyond the call of duty, exemplifying the highest ideals of service and sacrifice.

Pakistan Army
Kashmir Sector. The following officers stood out in terms of planning, execution, valor and fighting beyond the call of duty during 1965 War:
Major General (later Lieutenant General) Akhtar Hussain Malik. The man who conceived, planned and executed Operation Gibraltar well before the start of the Indo-Pakistan War and during the war. 

During Operation Gibraltar, Brigadier Hazur Hasnain, SJ and Bar stood out as one the most outstanding soldiers Pakistan Army has Ever known.

Brigadier Hazur Hasnain, SJ and Bar. During Operation Gibraltar, Brigadier Hazur Hasnain, SJ and Bar stood out as one the most outstanding soldiers Pakistan Army has ever known. Shorter than average in height, he was a giant among men. Born on November 27, 1936, in UP, he migrated to Pakistan and was educated in Hyderabad. He joined PMA in 1957, and went on to bag all three awards: Sword of Honor, Norman Gold Medal and Silver Spurs. Commissioned in 15 Baloch, he joined the Special Services Group. He was dropped behind enemy lines before the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 brokHavingcarried out attacks as per his mission, Brigadier Hazur Hasnain was surrounded but fought back and was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat for his heroism. He was again decorated for valor during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 in East Pakistan.

Having carried out attacks as per his mission, Brigadier Hazur Hasnain was surrounded but fought back and was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat for his heroism. He was again decorated for valor during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 in East Pakistan.

Lieutenant (later Major) Shabir Sharif Shaheed. During the Battle of Chhamb-Jaurian, the Brigade Commander ordered 6 FF to send out a reconnaissance patrol to look at the deployment of Indians on and around that 'Throti' feature. Shabir, who was initially tasked to carry out reconnaissance, saw an opportunity where an artillery battery was in a state of rest and not fully alert. Seeing an opportunity, he changed his mind, and instead of going back, he attacked the gun positions and got them into a panic, thus forcing them to either withdraw or fall for him. He captured four Indian prisoners of war (POWs), and having destroyed two guns, he brought a field gun towed to a gun-tower (Shaktiman). He put his wounded soldiers and Indian POWs in the same vehicle, and returned with full information about the Indian deployment. This action of Lieutenant (later Major) Shabir Sharif enabled operations of the 10 Infantry Brigade to be resumed with 6 FF again leading on the main axis with 13 Lancers in support on a manoeuvre to get around Throti feature and face towards Jaurian. These operations were a great success, and the Indians panicked and ran. The Brigade took a large number of vehicles, ammunition dumps and POWs. It was perhaps the largest-ever haul of men and materials in all our wars with India. During the Indo-Pakistan War 1971, Major Shabir Sharif earned Shahadat and a well-deserved Nishan-e-Haider.
Major Raza Shah Shaheed, SJ. Before the war started, he was the Group Commander of Gunnery at the School of Armor. As soon as he learnt of the imminent war, he took off for the battlefront and joined his great Regiment, the PAVO's 11 Cavalry. As the operation started on August 31, he was a leading squadron commander, and despite the terrain being unfriendly tank country, he braved Indian defenses and carried out his task, supporting the accompanying infantry in the process embraced Shahadat on August 1, 1965, thus becoming one of the first casualties of the war.
Sialkot Sector. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, Pakistan Army launched a major offensive in the Sialkot Sector to capture key areas and pressure the Indian defenses. The sector was strategically important due to its proximity to the city of Sialkot, which was a crucial transportation and communication hub. The following stood out by their valor and fighting beyond the call of duty:
Operations of 25 Cavalry Regiment
Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Nisar Ahmed. During its operations in Sialkot Sector, Lieutenant Colonel (Later Brigadier) Nisar Ahmed was the commanding officer of 25 Cavalry, particularly in the battle of Chawinda. His leading from the front and in the process of bringing the Indian 1 Armoured Division deserves a special mention and should be remembered for all times. He was deservingly decorated with Sitara-e-Jurat
Major (later Brigadier) Mohammad Ahmed. On raising the 25 Cavalry Regiment (June 9, 1962) at Kharian, Major Ahmed was amongst the pioneering officers to join the men of steel. While in the Regiment, he was selected to attend the Tank Technology Course from the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1965. On his return to Pakistan, he joined his Regiment, 25 Cavalry and fought in the famous Battle of Chawinda, a battle that stands in the annals of Pakistan Army's history as one of the fiercest battles of all times. The Regiment performed outstandingly, with its Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nisar Ahmed (Kaka Nisar), getting SJ and several others. While commanding B Squadron, Major Mohammad Ahmed fought like a true cavalier, wherein the tanks he was fighting in were hit successfully, and he had to change his tank thrice. During the battle, he sustained another direct hit, so his hands and face were severely burnt and evacuated semi-unconsciously. He was awarded with a well-deserved SJ.  
Major Ziauddin Abbasi (Guides Cavalry). The Indian military strategically deployed its potent Armoured Division, comprising tanks, armored vehicles, and infantry, with a resolute objective: a swift advance towards Wazirabad. This pivotal moment necessitated exceptional leadership and audacious strategy. Amid this turmoil, Major Abbasi emerged as an inspirational figure, instilling valor and unwavering determination in his squadron. His authoritative command resonated: "Today, my squadron will advance with unprecedented swiftness and impact, transcending historical warfare precedents."
Against the unrelenting Indian assault, Major Abbasi's squadron stood unwavering, as a bulwark against waves of attacks. His leadership, a resolute beacon, embodied unshakeable resolve. His tank boldly engaged at the forefront, advancing fearlessly with the turret exposed. This display held strategic and symbolic weight, encapsulating his commitment to precision amid battle chaos. Amid shelling, Major Abbasi remained steadfast. His daring decision to lead with an open turret showcased his dedication to the mission and men. With each inch gained, his presence galvanized soldiers, mirroring battle intensity. Recognizing the enemy's fierce artillery rendered head-on assault futile, Major Abbasi's brilliance shone. He daringly flanked with a small contingent, resolute amidst enemy fire, standing tall in an exposed turret. His actions testified to the leadership and unwavering commitment. Tragedy struck during this campaign. A shell hit, and Major Abbasi embraced martyrdom with comrades. His tank, once a symbol of advance, became a sacrifice monument. Yet, his legacy persisted. His strategy and courage inflicted heavy enemy casualties, casting doubt on their ambitions. Major Abbasi's fearless charge and leadership left an indelible mark, halting enemy advances, his heroism etched in memory. His name became synonymous with the Battle of Chawinda–a testament to duty. Posthumously awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat, Major Ziauddin Ahmad Abbasi epitomized front-line leadership, inspiring his comrades to pursue honor.
Lahore Sector. Pakistan Army launched a major offensive in the Lahore Sector as a part of its strategy to divert Indian forces and relieve pressure on its forces in other sectors. Pakistani forces aimed to exploit the perceived vulnerabilities in the Indian defense and achieve a breakthrough. The following stood out by their valor and fighting beyond the call of duty:
Major General Sarfraz Khan. He was the GOC of 10 Infantry Division defending Lahore and fought the battle of Lahore most brilliantly. During WW II, he was decorated with Hilal-e-Jurat, whereas he had already earned Military Cross. 
Brigadier Ahsan Rashid Shami. He was well ahead in the theatre of battle, monitoring and coordinating the artillery support. Being precariously close to the Indian Forces, he fell victim to ground fire and embraced Shahadat. He was awarded Hilal-e-Jurat posthumously, thus becoming the highest-ranking officer during the war in 1965.
Brigadier Qayum Sher. He fought the defensive battle for Lahore, during which he carried out counterattacks to dislodge the Indians. His exceptional contributions were acknowledged through the award of Hilal-e-Jurat, a testament to his gallantry and dedication.
Major Raja Aziz Bhatti. While valiantly defending the frontlines against the Indian offensive and simultaneously coordinating artillery fire, he fell to a direct hit from ground fire. His selfless display of leadership and ultimate sacrifice earned him the highest honor, Nishan-e-Haider, a symbol of his unparalleled courage and dedication.
Khem Karan Sector. The sector held importance due to its proximity to the town of Khem Karan and its strategic location in the defense of Punjab. The following stood out by their valor and fighting beyond the call of duty:
Lieutenant Colonel Sahibzad Gul, Commanding Officer 6 Lancers. He took over the command of 6 Lancers in July 1964. On declaration of emergency, in the first half of 1965, he moved the Regiment to the field service area. He was the Commanding Officer of 6 Lancers during the Indo-Pakistan war in 1965. The regiment fought in the Khem Karan sector. 6 Lancers stepped first into Indian territory and, under its brave Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Sahibzad Gul, captured Khem Karan, amongst the first Indian towns to be captured by Pakistan. On September 8, 1965, 6 Lancers outflanked Khem Karan, advanced along the railway line, reached Voltoha Railway Station, and contacted the Indian defences; only one platoon of 1 FF was with them. At about mid-day on September 9, Commander 5 Armoured Brigade ordered 6 Lancers with two companies of 1 FF to capture Voltoha. 1 FF quickly established a firm base and contacted the Indians at Asal Uttar. 6 Lancers advanced and attacked the Indians at Voltoha. Their objective was milestone 32, which India called the Battle of Asar Uttar. Lieutenant Colonel Sahibzad Gul, while leading from the front, was standing on the turret of his tank and observing the Indian position when he was mortally wounded. His tank blew off the ground due to anti-tank fire from the enemy. 
Due to his brave and bold command, he was awarded Sitara-e-Jurat posthumously. Two officers, eleven Non-Commissioned Officers, and 7 Sowars of 6 Lancers embraced Shahadat. An account of his brave action is given in his citation.
Pakistan Air Force
Some Exceptional Actions and Decisive Moments

Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilots were like air gladiators whose heroics are endless, and to write down about each is beyond this discourse's scope. Several individual moments during the war showcased  PAF's excellence. I will mention these briefly here: 
Battle of Chhamb
Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui. September 1, 1965, marked a pivotal juncture in the Pakistan-India conflict, as PAF initiated a daring strike under the leadership of Sarfraz Rafiqui. As dusk settled that evening, the swift advancement of Pakistan Army's 12 Division in the Akhnoor Sector of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir prompted Indian Air Force (IAF) to respond, with its No. 45 Squadron promptly dispatched from Poona to Pathankot, deploying Vampire aircraft for close support amidst the challenging Kashmiri terrain. The escalating ground situation spurred the Vampires into immediate action. In a series of three successive strikes, each comprising four Vampires, IAF aimed to defend their positions. Despite  IAF's claims of success, Major General G. S. Sandhu's account in History of Indian Cavalry offers a contrasting narrative. The first Vampire assault, alongside vital support vehicles, effortlessly obliterated three AMX-13 tanks of India's 20 Lancers. Subsequently, the second sortie targeted Indian infantry and artillery, culminating in impactful explosions among ammunition-laden vehicles; however, a transformative moment materialized when Squadron Leader Rafiqui and Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti of  PAF entered the fray. Patrolling near Chhamb at an altitude of 20,000 feet, they locked onto two Vampires guided by radar. With a swift descent, Rafiqui engaged the adversaries, dispatching the first Vampire with a lethal volley from the 0.5" Browning six-shooter just as two additional Vampires closed in. This pivotal encounter marked a definitive turning point in the conflict, underscoring PAF's adeptness and strategic acumen. Sarfraz Rafiqui's calculated actions illuminated the efficacy of PAF's approach, emphasizing that strategic manoeuvres could reshape the course of history even when confronted with daunting odds.
Attack on Halwara Airfield. On September 6, 1965, Squadron Leader Sarfraz Ahmed Rafiqui led a formation of three F-86 aircraft on a strike against Halwara airfield. Soon after crossing the Indian border, Rafiqui had been warned about many enemy interceptors being in the air by a returning F-86 formation leader. He, however, continued his mission single-mindedly. On the way back, the formation was intercepted by about ten Hunter aircraft, out of which Rafiqui accounted for one in the first few seconds. After Rafiqui shot down one Hunter aircraft, his guns jammed due to a defect and stopped firing, upon which he refused to leave the battle area, as he would have been perfectly justified to do; he instead ordered his No. 2 to take over as leader and continue the engagement with the enemy. He took up a defensive position in the formation to give it as much protection as possible by continuing fighting manoeuvres in an unarmed aircraft.
In contrast, the remainder gave battle to the enemy. This called for a quality of courage and dedication on the part of Rafiqui equal to the best in the history of air fighting. The end for him was never in doubt. He chose to disregard it, and, in the process, his aircraft was shot down and he was killed, but not without his action enabling his formation to shoot down three more Hunter aircraft. Rafiqui thus provided exemplary leadership in battle and displayed outstanding courage in the face of exceptionally strong opposition. His inspiring leadership and selfless example significantly affected the subsequent course of the air war in which PAF never failed to dictate terms to an overwhelmingly larger and better-equipped enemy. Rafiqui's conduct was clearly beyond the call of duty and conformed to the highest tradition of leadership and bravery in battle against overwhelming odds. For this and his earlier exploits, he was posthumously awarded HJ. 
The First Air Strike on Pathankot
Air Commodore Sajad Haider.
The strike mission, which he led on September 6, 1965, against Pathankot airfield, where his formation destroyed 13 enemy aircraft, including nine MIG-21s, was conducted in the best traditions of PAF. The formation carried out repeated attacks in the face of heavy ack-ack. For their determination, courage and exceptional flying skills, he flew and led his Squadron during operations against the enemy. Squadron Leader Sayed Sajad Haider was awarded SJ. 
Saving Lahore. On the morning of September 6, when news came of the enemy attack on the Lahore Sector, a PAF squadron on a mission elsewhere was diverted to stop the advancing Indians. This Squadron gave the Indians the foretaste of things to come. At around 0900 hours, the Squadron was ordered to strike the Indian Army advancing on Lahore along the Amritsar-Wagah road. Squadron Leader Sajad Haider and Flight Lieutenants Mohammad Akbar, Arshad Sami, Khalid Latif, Dilawar and Ghani Akbar flew this historical mission that saved Lahore and Pakistan that day. The formation, armed with rockets, in addition to the guns, took off in September haze and levelled off at the planned height before heading towards the target. Shortly afterwards, they were over the target area where, to their amazement, they spotted enemy vehicles moving along the road crossing Wagah covered by Indian armour. The enemy did not see them, but when they did, it was a sight to see the drivers jumping out to take cover, leaving their vehicles to their fate. They made six attacks each, and the formation stayed over the target for 16-17 minutes, ensuring that the enemy’s attack was blunted entirely. By the time they decided to exit, there were columns of fire all around, melting steel with the enemy within. Sajad Haider called off the mission after their ammo was nearly depleted and fuel perilously low. 
Squadron Leader M. M. Alam–The Extraordinary Feat and the Making of an Ace. To defend this important base, the air duels overhead Sargodha stay in the annals of air history as one of the accounts of valor and resilience of PAF pilots. It is here that Squadron Leader M. M. Alam made those historic kills. 

Alam's masterful skill, unwavering courage, and impeccable timing led to a breathtaking display of aerial combat prowess. His swift manoeuvres and deadly accuracy resulted in a decisive victory, with the once-imposing Hunter squadron reduced to fragments in the skies over Sargodha.

On the morning of September 7, the skies above Sargodha became a battleground as IAF launched a retaliatory strike. Anticipating this move, PAF was prepared, with the Sargodha Base at full alert. Among the PAF ranks, an exceptional pilot named Alam, accompanied by his wingman, Flight Lieutenant Masood Akhtar, was patrolling the skies on a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) mission. As the haunting silhouettes of IAF Hunters appeared over Sargodha, Alam received radar vectors guiding him towards the incoming threat. In a synchronized response, another section of PAF Sabres, led by Flight Lieutenant Bhatti, endeavoured to engage the approaching Hunters. Yet, Alam surged forward, positioning himself as the first line of defense. High above in an F-104, Flight Lieutenant Arif Iqbal keenly observed the unfolding events with profound fascination. Alam's radar screen painted the locations of the enemy planes, and as he was vectored back towards Sargodha, his wingman Akhtar reported contact with four Hunters. With a swift decision, Alam plunged towards the adversaries, shedding his external stores to enhance manoeuvrability. However, amid the chaos, two more Hunters emerged behind Alam. Reacting with split-second instincts, he disregarded the four in front and climbed to confront the duo behind. The Hunter squadron changed course, abandoning their intended strike on Sargodha, and veered towards Alam. Capitalizing on his F-104's speed advantage, Alam executed a daring manoeuvre, pulling up and reversing his course to close the distance. Fixating on the rearmost Hunter, Alam initiated his attack. His first Sidewinder missile launched but missed its mark, exploding harmlessly on the ground. The skirmish played out amidst a web of high-tension wires, adding an element of peril to the dogfight. As the Hunters navigated to avoid the wires, Alam seized the opportunity and fired a second Sidewinder. The missile raced toward its target, colliding with the tail of the Hunter. Alam had achieved his first kill, downing the enemy aircraft. The Hunter's pilot, Squadron Leader Onkar Nath Kakar, ejected and was later captured as a prisoner of war.
Amidst the flurry of action, Alam momentarily lost sight of the remaining five Hunters. His wingman's voice cut through the chaos, revealing their positions. Alam swiftly located the five enemy aircraft, flying in impeccable formation at low altitudes and high speeds. Unaware of the impending danger, the Hunters initiated a sharp left turn. In a matter of heartbeats, Alam seized his moment. He unleashed a torrent of firepower from his aircraft's powerful weaponry, executing precise shots with deadly accuracy. Unable to counter the onslaught, the Hunters fell one after another, their demise etched against the backdrop of Sargodha’s skies. Alam's masterful skill, unwavering courage, and impeccable timing led to a breathtaking display of aerial combat prowess. His swift manoeuvres and deadly accuracy resulted in a decisive victory, with the once-imposing Hunter squadron reduced to fragments in the skies over Sargodha. This engagement, a testament to the pinnacle of piloting prowess, remains a memorable chapter in the annals of aerial warfare.
The Fear of F-104s and the Surrender of IAF Gnat 
An IAF squadron comprising Gnats intruded in the Sialkot Sector, in response to which the PAF scrambled F-104s to intercept them under Flight Lieutenant (later Air Chief Marshal) Hakim Ullah. On his arrival, the IAF squadron scrambled, and one of the Gnats was overheard warning others of the incoming Starfighter. This Gnat was flown by Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh Sikand, who lowered his landing gear and landed at an abandoned airstrip in Pasrur. Air Chief Marshal Hakim Ullah is credited with forcing the Gnat down. 
Squadron Leader Mervyn Middlecoat. He was commanding the elite No. 9 Squadron equipped with F-104's, when the war broke out in the first week of September 1965. The Squadron was assigned the precious and vital task of photoreconnaissance deep inside enemy territory, along with the Air Defense of Pakistan. Another important task for the Starfighters was the interception of intruding IAF Canberra bomber aircraft. The only potent weapon available to PAF was the F-104, as it could fly night interception missions and could pose a threat to IAF bombers. After September 1, the F-104s were extremely active in air defense and air superiority operations. Of 246 missions flown by F-104s during the hostilities, 42 were against the IAF Canberras at night. Middlecoat was enthusiastic about these night interception sorties and flew many such missions. The first positive encounter between a Canberra and PAF night fighter occurred on September 13-14 when a Star Fighter flown by Middlecoat from Sargodha intercepted a Peshawar intruder during its high-level exit. The Sakesar radar carried out the interception. As Middlecoat arrived at the position directed by the radar, nothing was visible in the pitch-dark night. Middlecoat carried out an utterly blind interception and was vectored about half a mile behind the intruder by the Sakesar radar. On arriving at the directed position, he fired his lethal Sidewinder. Missile tone indicated the acquisition of the target, and seconds later, an explosion was seen at a range of about 4,000 feet. It was an indication that the impact or proximity fuse of the sidewinder had fired, and the Canberra was assumed to have been destroyed; however, confirmation was impossible since the encounter occurred in the Indian territory. Middlecoat also flew daring photo reconnaissance missions deep inside enemy territory. He flew with great courage and produced some extraordinary results. While flying these missions, his intelligence proved important to PAF and Pakistan Army in assessing the battlefield.  

The writer is a military historian and biographer. 
E-mail: [email protected]