The Boyra Air Battle - 22 November 1971
- Category: The Bangladesh War 1971
- Last Updated: Sunday, 29 March 2015 21:32
- Written by P V S Jagan Mohan
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This is the story of the famous Boyra battle as the world knew it in 2005. A more updated and accurate version of this air battle appears in the book "Eagles over Bangladesh" by P V S Jagan Mohan and Samir Chopra.
The air defence of Calcutta sector was the responsibility of No.22 Squadron based in Kalaikunda. The Squadron was a post-65 raised squadron, about five years old. It had been equipped with the HAL built Gnat right from its date of raising in October 1966 at Bareilly. No.22 was part of 5 Wing at Kalaikunda from September 68 onwards. As warclouds gathered, it operated a detachment from Dum Dum airfield in Calcutta which was activated just in time. The unit was under the command of Wg Cdr BS Sikand, who was a POW in Pakistan in the 1965 War. The detachment at Dum Dum started operating from 22 September onwards to familiarise themselves.
The first fighting broke out at Boyra peninsula on 21st November , when a group of Muktibahini assisted by Indian Army elements had established a foothold in Pakistani territory in the Battle of Garibpur. The Pakistani army bought in a squadron of M-36 Chaffee tanks into the battle. These were promptly taken on by a Squadron of PT-76 Tanks from the 45 Cavalry regiment. In the ensuing battle, 13 of the Pakistani tanks were knocked out for a loss of four of our tanks. To counter his reversals on the ground, the Pakistani Army commander called on for Air support. This promptly materialised on the second day of the battle.
The first intrusion of four F-86 Sabres were picked up in the Jessore area by our radar at 0811 hours. These were the Canadiar Sabres operated by No.14 PAF squadron. These were more powerful version of the Sabre powered by the Orenda engine - most of which were smuggled into Pakistan through a clandestine deal organised between Germany and Iran. No.22 Squadron scrambled four Gnats from Dum Dum. However the Sabres had flown back to thier territory by the time the Gnats could make it to Boyra.
A second raid by the Pakistanis followed at 1028 hours. An interception could not be carried out in time and the Sabres went off unscathed. However the third strike was not to have the same luck for the Pakistanis.
At around 1448 hours, the radar picked up the four Sabres as they pulled up in a north westerly direction to about 2000' AGL. Within a minute, the ORP at Dum Dum was scrambled. Four Gnats took off by 1451 hours, less than three minutes from the time the Sabres were detected by the radar.
The Fighter controller in the sector was Fg Offr KB Bagchi. He told the formation leader, Flt Lt Roy Andrew Massey, "One O'Clock , 10 Nautical Miles". Massey Replied "Contact , I can see them pull up".
The Sabres seemed to have already carried out several passes in the eight minutes it took the Gnats to reach the Boyra Sailent. The Sabres were commencing to start another dive - they were at about 1800 feet altitude and diving down to 500' in an attack run.
"Right wing over attack". shouted Bagchi, "half twelve, thousand yards"
"Contact" replied Massey.
"Request type," said Bagchi
"Shoot" was the command from the Fighter Controller.
It was 1459 hours.
Murder Murder Murder
The four Gnats dived into the attack to bounce the Sabres. The first section of Gnats was of Massey and Fg Offr SF Soarez as his No.2. The second section consisted of Flt Lt MA Ganapathy and Fg Offr D Lazarus. As the Gnats dived in, a section of two Sabres pulled out of the attack and placed themselves in an awkward position, just in front of Ganapathy and Lazarus. Ganapathy called out on the R/T 'Murder Murder Murder' . Both the pilots did not waste time on this perfect opportunity. Cannon shells slammed into the pair of Sabres and both the Sabres were badly damaged. The Pakistani pilots promptly ejected out of the Sabres and drifted down to Boyra by parachute. The wreckage fell near Bongaon village
Massey in the meantime pulled up over Ganapathy and Lazarus to latch onto another Sabre. The Sabre broke into Massey's attack forcing him to take a high angle-off burst. The burst missed the target. Massey took another well aimed burst at 700 yards and hit him in the port wing. By that time, Massey's starboard cannon had stopped firing. But the Sabre streaked back into Pakistani territory trailing smoke and fire. Massey himself realised that he was well over East Pakistani airspace in the chase to hit the Sabre. He then turned around and rendezvouzed with the rest of his formation.
The time was around 1515 hours. An Antonov-12 seconded to the Aviation Research Center was approaching Calcutta and requested Dum Dum airport to land. Dum Dum asked the An-12 to hold in the circuit outside Calcutta 'indefinitely'.
Irked at the unspecified delay in landing, the pilot asked the tower for the reason. The tower replied 'We have four Gnats beating up the airfield and Calcutta at low level for the past ten minutes!'. The victorious Gnat pilots have returned from the sortie and proceeded to do a royal lowlevel beatup of Calcutta and the environs. The Bengali populace could only glance up in curiosity and amusement at the continous roar of the Orpheous engines as the Gnats made several passes over the city before landing back at Dum Dum as they started nearing the end of thier fuel reserves.
The pilots were greeted by a joyous group of officers and technicians on the ground. It was time for writing down the combat reports and swapping stories. News had come after some time that two Pakistani Pilots were captured by our troops when they landed near Indian positions. They were Flt Lt Parvez Mehdi Qureshi and Fg Offr Khalil Ahmed respectively.
The gun camera film clearly showed the damage and destruction to three Sabres. and overnight all the three pilots involved became National Heroes. The next day's papers carried the story in the headlines - with pictures of the three pilots supplied by the Ministry of Defence. It had been over Six years since an enemy aircraft was downed in aircombat and this provided just the right filip to a country about to go into war. The Defence Minister, Babu Jagjivan Ram made a visit to Dum Dum along with his wife and the AOC-in-C Dewan. He congratulated the CO, the four pilots and the fighter Controller Bagchi.
Reconstructing the exact details of the aircombat and super imposing it with the version released by the Pakistanis, it was deduced that Khalil Ahmed was Ganapathy's victim while Lazarus had bought down Qureshi's Sabre. The third Sabre which went back into Pakistani territory was being flown by Wg Cdr Chaudhary. There were reports of him ejecting over the Chaugacha lake near Jessore, but later it transpired that he flew back the damaged Sabre back to Tezgaon. The Indian pilots never met the PAF POWs at any point of time.
After the battle
|[Left] The Indian Pilots Roy Massey, MA Ganapathy and Don Lazarus became heroes overnight.
[Right]The Two Pakistani Pilots Parvez Mehdi Qureshi and Khaleel Ahmed who were captured after baling out.
All the dramatis personnae in the story were decorated for the service. For this and subsequent role of No.22 Squadron in the conflict, the CO Wg Cdr Sikand was awarded the VSM. The three pilots , Massey, Ganapathy and Lazarus were awarded the Vir Chakra while Bagchi was given the Vayusena Medal for directing the Interception.
Roy Andrew Massey became the CO of India's second MiG-23MF Squadron, No.224, 'The Warlords'. His stint of command was less than six months. He was killed during a routine sortie over Tilpat on 28th November 1983, when his MiG-23 had a bird hit over the range. Earlier in the seventies, Mandapadu Appachu Ganapathy died in service -- beset with personal family problems, he chose to end his life and committed suicide.
Donald Lazarus had a distinguished career. He was an FCL, an Instrument Rating Instructor and and a pioneer member of India's first ECM Squadron. He was also the first Commanding Officer of No.102 Trisonics, which was raised on the MiG-25R -- then (and to some extent even now) India's ultra top secret squadron. After his stint at command he was promoted to Group Captain in command of a Station. It is said that Donald Lazarus was destined for higher command, but he 'chucked it all in' and opted for premature retirement -- a decision that left many of his colleugues shocked. His reasons for the retirement were different, He has had his career and done his service to the nation, now he was answering the call of God. After retirement he settled down in his native Conoor area working for the Christian Mission Service, an organisation with its HQ in the Niligiris which cares for destitute and orphaned children.
The Last encounter
In 1996, Air Chief Marshal Parvez Mehdi Qureshi was appointed as the Chief of Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force. Not many people recognised Qureshi as the same pilot who was a 'guest' of India after the Boyra air battle. When the news was reported in India, Donald Lazarus decided to write to Qureshi. Lazarus wrote a letter congratulating Qureshi for his achievement in becoming CAS and mentioned that Qureshi may not recall his earlier meeting with Lazarus which was in the air. Perhaps Lazarus did not expect a reply to the letter, but it seemed the right thing to do to wish someone well whom he had met in battle a couple of decades back.
To his surprise a staff officer for Qureshi wrote a reply saying that they have received the letter addressed to the CAS and thanking Lazarus for the greetings. Normally one would have thought that this would have been the end of the matter. But it was not to be.
Don Lazarus received a further surprise, when a letter came signed by the Pakistani CAS himself. Air Chief Marshal Qureshi expressed his thanks to Lazarus for his wishes and complimented on the 'fight' shown by the Indian Pilots on the ocassion. Group Captain Lazarus still preserves the letter quite carefully , which serves to remind all that even now in the subcontinent when old rivals and enemies are neck to neck, chivalry is still alive among fighter pilots!
Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the 1971 War - Publications Division
My Years with the Indian Air force by Air Chief Marshal PC Lal
IAF Journal 1997 - 'The Price of Arrogance' by Gp Capt Ranbir Singh
Wg Cdr [Retd] VG Kumar, Gp Capt [Retd] Don Lazarus