The pilot who became a prisoner of war
This story is dated November 21, 1971. It is 11 days before the official start of the India-Pakistan war. Two days ago, troops of the 4th Sikh Regiment marched towards the East Pakistani town of Chogacha with some tanks.
A detachment of troops was riding on tanks and three more companies were following on foot. The soldiers of Pakistan’s ‘107 Infantry Brigade’ were trying to confuse them, but the Indian soldiers were full of excitement. The locals were welcoming him with the slogan ‘Joey Bangla’ in response to which the slogan of the 4th Sikh Regiment ‘Jo Bole So Nihal’ resounded. Overall, it was like the Hollywood movie ‘Battle of the Bulge’. ۔ By evening, Indian troops had reached the shores of the Kabadak River in Chogacha. D-Company, driven by tanks of the 4th Sikh Regiment, tried hard to reach the bridge, but before they could reach it, Pakistani troops blew up the bridge.
An Indian tank was stuck in the sand on the west bank of the bridge and all attempts to remove it failed. Four Saber jets attacked.
Captain HS Panag, Adjutant of the Fourth Sikh Regiment, who retired as a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army, wrote in his recently published book, The Indian Army, Reminiscence, Reform and Romance: On a foggy day, four Saber jets of the Pakistan Air Force launched air strikes on the bases of the Four Sikh Regiment. They were trying to destroy the Indian tank trapped near the bridge.
“We have been repeatedly demanding air corps from our air force, but our demand has not been met, as the war has not been formally declared. We were shooting at planes with light weapons like light machine guns.
Within minutes, Nets arrived to fight the Sabers
At the same time, at the airport, Flying Officer Don Lazarus was playing Scrabble with Flying Officer Sonneth Suarez.
At 2:37 a.m., the airbase siren sounded. Lazarus and Suarez left the game of Scrabble and ran for their nets. On the other hand, Flight Lieutenant Roy Messi and MA Ganpati also jumped for their planes.
The area where the Pakistani Saber jets were attacking the 4th Sikh Regiment was about 50 miles northeast of Dum Dum Airbase. It took 8 to 9 minutes for these four net planes to reach there. Captain Panag, on the other hand, was returning from his jeep after inspecting supplies at his hideouts.
Panag recalls: ‘I saw about three o’clock that three Saber planes went up to 1800 feet and then went down to 500 feet to drop the bomb. Then my eyes went to the four planes that flew over my head at the height of the tree. They passed so fast that my jeep stumbled.
“It occurred to me for a moment that the Pakistan Air Force did not deploy its entire squadron to stop us, but then the four fighter jets chased a Saber plane. Unbeknownst to the Sabers, the Nets have jumped into the fray. But I figured it out and I stopped the jeep and watched the aerial battle. ”Messi fired his first burst.
Leading Air Force historians PVS Jagan Mohan and Sameer Chopra write in their book Eagles Over
Bangladesh: Macy and Ganpati were flying in a fighting position at a distance of one and a half kilometers from them. Suarez shouted ‘Connect’ on the radio and then in the code word ‘Gana Doni’ meaning Saber is flying to your right at 4,000 feet. But Ganpati still couldn’t see Saber. Suarez screamed on the radio again, “Aircraft at two-hour, moving two-hour, three kilometers ahead.”
Meanwhile, Messi spotted Saber and fired his first shot at Saber from 800 yards out. Lazarus hit Saber from 150 yards out.
One of the four flying officers from the net attack is currently based in Malaysia and remembers the fight as if it were tomorrow.
Lazarus explains: ‘At that moment I looked at the third Saber. I put my net in pursuit of it. I fired at him from 150 yards away. It was a small burst. Only 12 bullets would have come out of my cannon when Saber caught fire. I shouted on the radio, ‘I got him! I got him! There was an explosion in Saber on the way to my net. The blast was so close that parts of the Saber debris hit my net and stuck to its ‘Nose Cone’ and ‘Drop Tanks’.
On the other hand, when Messi fired his second burst, his cannon jammed. But his third burst hit the saber’s ‘port wing’ and smoke began to billow from it. Macy said on his radio the code word for the plane crash was ‘Murder, Murder’.
Panag, who saw the scene on the ground, saw two Saber jets falling down and two parachutes open and they were returning to their troops.
“Our troops came out of their bunkers and ran towards the falling parachute,” Panag said. I felt that our soldiers with a fighting spirit could harm the Pakistani pilot. First I turned my jeep this way and then stopped the jeep and ran as fast as I could. When I was 50 yards away, I saw our soldiers shoot down the pilot and beat him with the butt of a rifle. I screamed and told them to stop. I stood in front of him and rescued him from my men. ”The pilot was marched to the battalion headquarters.
“I applied ointment to the pilot’s forehead,” Panag said. The pilot’s name was Flight Lieutenant Pervez Mehdi Qureshi. He was a tall, handsome soldier. He was certainly more than 6 feet tall. At first he was a little nervous because he had been beaten a little. But later he was very enthusiastic. He was the Squadron Commander of the 14th Squadron of the Pakistan Air Force based in Dhaka and had received the most prestigious award ‘Sword of Honor’ from the Pakistan Air Force Academy.
“I searched his wallet. It had a picture of his wife. I gave him that picture to keep. Then I made a list of the things he had, including a watch, a 9mm pistol, 20 rounds of ammunition and his survival kit. I told them that you are now a prisoner of war and you will be treated under the Geneva Conventions. He did not say a word as he was being taken to our brigade headquarters. But I could clearly see through his eyes that he wanted to thank me.
The day after the incident, Pakistani President General Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency in Pakistan.
Two days later, on November 25, he issued a statement: “Within ten days, our forces will be at war with India.” When the Indian Nets landed at Dum Dum Airport, the entire airbase was there to greet them.
“The call to our formation was a sign-cocktail,” Lazaros said. He asked ‘Cocktail 1?’ He called it “murder,” which meant he shot down a plane. Cocktail 2 said ‘negative’. Cocktail 3 said ‘Murder Murder’ and I also said ‘Murder Murder’. This information had reached them before our landing.
“When we landed there, our plane was surrounded by people. The pilot usually goes down the stairs. The net plane is too small. Normally we jump below it, but we were not allowed to go down that day. Our comrades carried us down on their shoulders.
After that, the pilots became everyone’s heroes and wherever they went, people surrounded them. Chief Air Chief Marshal PC Lal of the Indian Air Force arrived in Kolkata specifically to congratulate the airmen. He said: “We won the air war before the real war began.”
A few days later, Defense Minister Jagjivan Ram and Chief Air Marshal Dewan of the Eastern Air Force Command also arrived at the airbase to congratulate the four pilots, flight controller KB Bagchi and their commanding officers.
They all wore flower garlands and boarded the net plane and took pictures with them. Pervez Qureshi Mehdi became the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force.
Pilots Messi, Ganpati and Lazarus, who took part in the battle, and flight controller Bagchi were awarded the Veer Chakra.
Flight Lieutenant Pervez Qureshi Mehdi was imprisoned in Gwalior for a year and a half.
In 1997, Pervez Qureshi was made the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force.
He held this position for three years. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pakistan in 1999, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif introduced him to Vajpayee.
It was later reported that he had differences with the then Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf over the Kargil war and had refused to involve the Pakistan Air Force in the Kargil war.
Air Marshal Mehdi’s cockpit seat, his parachute and parts of the Saber aircraft are still kept as mementos at the 4th Sikh Regiment Headquarters.
Mehdi was the first prisoner of war in the 1971 war and was made a prisoner of war by Captain HS Panag of the 4th Sikh Regiment.
Captain Panag retired as a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army. Prior to that, he was the Chief General Officer Commanding of the Northern and Central Command.