1965 War: M M Alam will live in history, and in our hearts, forever….

MMAlam

HUSSAIN SAQIB

Downing five enemy aircrafts in less than a minute in air-to-air combat was no ordinary feat; it was a world record. It sounds as if he was shooting partridges in fun-hunting and not enemy Hunters.

It was exactly half a century ago that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) proved its mettle to show that it is a force to reckon with; not to be cowed down by enemy of whatever size. Every fighter pilot, every engineer and technician and even the airmen fought 1965 war like heros. They are the ones that Pakistan should be proud of.

And the shining star of this galaxy of great fighters is undoubtedly the one and only; M.M. Alam. He stands taller than rest of his countrymen in the Hall of Fame of history. Fondly known as the Little Dragon, PAF fighter pilot M. M. Alam, retired Air Commodore of Pakistan Air Force, recipient of the Pakistani military decoration, the Sitara-e-Jurrat (“The star of courage”) and a bar to it for his actions during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 will live in history for ever.

Born on July 6, 1935 in Calcutta, British India and nicknamed Little Dragon, Alam is well-known for his actions during the War when he was posted at Sargodha. During this war he was involved in various dogfights while flying his F-86 Sabre jet equipped with AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. He is credited in Pakistan with downing nine Indian fighters six of them are Hunters of the Indian Air Force in air-to-air combats, 5 of them in less than a minute.

Downing five enemy aircrafts in less than a minute in air-to-air combat was a world record. It sounds as if he was shooting partridges in fun-hunting and not enemy Hunters.

Alam was the first commanding officer of the first squadron of Dassault Mirage III fighters procured by the PAF in 1967. However he was not very popular with the top management of the PAF and was shortly removed from command, on the excuse that he was not “literate enough”. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, all personnel who were of Bengali origins or were born in Bengal were grounded to prevent any defections. Thus, Alam was posted on a staff job and did not fly in combat. In 1979 he went to Afghanistan to advise the Mujahedin. M.M. Alam retired in 1982 as an Air Commodore and lived in Karachi before his death. One of the roads of Gulberg in Lahore is named after him as M. M. Alam Road. This road houses Lahore’s most popular businesses; food and clothing.

Narrating eye-witness account of M.M. Alam’s encounter with the Indian Air Force (IAF), his comrades of 1965, proudly declared that they had the unique opportunity on 7th September, 1965, of seeing history being made by him. According to their account, the tension of the post Rann-of-Kutch period had increased progressively culminating in the outbreak of the Indo-Pak War of 1965. The PAF was in a high state of alert. It did not take a psychologist to analyze the state of mind of the PAF pilots. Calm and resolute, quiet yet zealous, they were all too keen to teach their adversaries a lesson.

“Seated in the cockpit of an F-104 aircraft”, says one of the narrator, “I was awaiting my turn to be launched into the air. On a warning of an approaching low-level raid, some of my colleagues had already got airborne. For a short span of about half a minute we were anxious, but it was not long before we realized that the enemy had failed to deliver a proper attack and had caused no damage except to chip off a corner of a transistor-radio. They had to pay a rather heavy toll for the damage they had caused on the personal property of an officer – 4 out of the 6 raiding aircraft were shot down.

“When a second in-coming raid was detected, four of my colleagues flying the F-80s and I in my F-104 were ordered to the air. In minutes we were airborne and were waiting to ‘greet-our friends.’ Squadron Leader M. M. Alam with his wingman was orbiting south-east of the airfield; the other pair of F-86s led by Flight Lieutenant Bhatti was further east of Squadron Leader M. M. Alam’s section and I was circling the airfield at a height of about 15,000 feet. While heading north, I spotted four enemy aircraft exiting in a south-easterly direction. I called out on the radio that I had visual contact with them and started turning in the direction of the enemy’s exist. By the time I had come behind the enemy aircraft, I saw that four F-86s – two of Alam’s formation and two of Bhatti’s – were already chasing the Indian Hunter aircrafts.

“The Hunter is a faster aircraft than the Sabre and in order to close in to a firing range, the Sabres had to jettison their external fuel tanks and dive down from height. Bhatti tried to get rid of his external tanks but unfortunately one of his tanks failed to jettison. It was now practically impossible for him to close the gap between himself and his prey. So, he wisely decided to let the other pair of F-86s, led by Alam, tackle the Indian aircraft. Alam and his wingman started gradually to close in on the enemy. Though I, in the F-104, would have had no problem getting into the firing range, I thought it appropriate and fair to let Alam try his hand first. I decided to keep the Hunters in sight and trail Alam, firstly to allow him more maneuvering area and, secondly, to be ready for any one of them who might decide to run away faster. In the heart of my heart, I feared that Alam, with his complete mastery of the F-86 and his determination to punish each one of the Indians for the liberty they had taken, would give me no opportunity. In a short while I realized that my fears were turning into facts.

“Alam had also spotted only four Hunters. He decided to engage the one on the extreme right first. It was then that he spotted a fifth Hunter further to the right. He changed his mind and switched his attack to this new find. Barely a couple of seconds must have lapsed before Alam’s six guns were spitting fire and fury at this Hunter and I saw a ball of fire hit the ground. Alam pulled his guns on to the next Hunter. A few seconds later, another ball of fire hit the ground. Then the Indians tried a half-hearted defensive maneuver. Alam was almost overshooting an enemy aircraft but by then he had destroyed it – a third ball of fire and the pilot of this Hunter managed to eject from his aircraft before it crashed. Alam was once again in a better position to tackle the two remaining Hunters. It was only a matter of moments before these two also turned into balls of fire and crashed into the ground.”

This was the first time that a fighter pilot had attacked and destroyed five enemy fighters at almost tree-top level in a short span of a minute or so. A new chapter was added not only to the history of the PAF, but also to that of military aviation.

A research report carried by Defence Journal gives more detailed account of M M Alam’s achievement. It says that the rear pair of Hunters kept a good lookout and on spotting Alam’s Sabre, did a sharp defensive turn into him.  Alam pulled up to avoid an overshoot and then repositioned again.  Still out of gun range Alam pressed on, but with the Hunters doing a full power run, he settled for a missile shot against the last man.  Firing a Sidewinder from a dive at very low altitude, Alam was not surprised to see it go into the ground.  The best way of launching the early model Sidewinders at such altitudes was to get below the target and fire with a cooler sky for a background, thus easing the missile seeker’s heat discrimination problem.  However, with the Hunters skimming the treetops, going any lower was out of question.  The predicament was soon resolved when the Hunters pulled up to clear a stretch of high-tension cables.  In good range, dead line astern and hearing a loud ‘growl’ that signaled a positive heat source, Alam couldn’t have asked for better firing conditions.  He let go his second Sidewinder, but didn’t see it hit directly.  With an apparent proximity detonation, the missile warhead had dangerously ruptured the Hunter’s fuel lines.  Jog’s formation members heard desperate messages of illuminated warning lights and engine rough-running from the stricken pilot.  Overshooting the crippled Hunter, Alam noticed with amazement that its canopy was missing and there was no pilot inside.

With other Hunters as well as his own wingman to keep an eye on, Alam had obviously missed the ejection sequence.  Looking around, he noticed the pilot coming down by parachute.  Sqn Ldr Onkar Nath Kacker had come down near Burjlal, a village (now abandoned) by the bank of Chenab River, about 25 miles south-east of Sargodha.   Alam had lost sight of the other Hunters, but with ample fuel he was prepared to fly some distance to catch up with them. Soon after crossing the Chenab River, his wingman Akhtar called out, “Contact, Hunters one o’clock.”  They were flying at 100-200 feet and around 480 knots.  As Alam closed into gunfire range, the Hunters did a half-hearted defensive turn which did nothing to spoil his aim; rather, it set them up in line astern for easy shooting in a row.  Alam fired at the last Hunter against the glow of the rising sun and saw fuel spew out of the drop tanks, which had taken hits from the Sabre’s six guns. In a hurry to score fast, Alam shifted his aim ahead onto the next aircraft and fired another short burst.  The Hunters seemed to fly across Alam’s gun-sight like a gaggle of geese, and he obliged repeatedly, four times in all.

Alam announced to the radar controller that he had shot down five Hunters.  An ace-in-a-mission must have sounded like a splendid achievement and, the news spread like wildfire right upto the highest echelons. Alam had barely stepped back in the squadron when Radio Pakistan announced the unparalleled feat of jet combat.  The die had been cast; confirmation of the kills was now of little consequence. Alam’s prolific shooting in the war had, however, left a tidy balance in his account.  He finished the war with a credit of five aircraft in just three dogfights, including the speed-shooting classic at Sangla Hill.

He retired as an air commodore even though he is the best fighter pilot PAF ever had. These days, he is hovering between life and death at a military hospital in Karachi. Alas, the hunter of the Hunters may not be able to shoot down the ultimate Hunter, the angel of death. His life among us will always make us proud as a nation. And even if the ultimate Hunter takes him to his eternal abode, he will live forever in history, and the hearts of hundreds of millions of people who will evaluate his feat with fondness and cherish his memories.

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