Shukla (2014,2016) wrote:
To set the stage, the PAF in 1965 was a well-trained, American-supplied air force of 17 squadrons (12-16 aircraft per squadron), which included a squadron of F-104 Starfighters, then the most formidable fighter in Asia; eight squadrons of F-86 Sabres; two squadrons of highly regarded B-57 bombers; and a high-altitude reconnaissance squadron of RB-57, including the secret RB-57F photo-recce aircraft that flew at 70,000 feet, beyond the reach of Indian fighters and anti-aircraft weapons. The PAF imaginatively used its two squadrons of light trainers for reconnaissance and ground attack.
The IAF, in contrast, had 48 squadrons, almost thrice the PAF’s strength, although six Vampire and three Toofani fighter squadrons were obsolescent. Furthermore, India retained several squadrons in the east to guard against China. With Indian quantity offset by PAF quality, the decks were evenly stacked.
On September 6, 1965, The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) launched its first major air attack on India. Ranging freely across the border, PAF fighters attacked multiple Indian Air Force (IAF) bases, destroying (according to Indian accounts) ten Indian fighters on the ground in Pathankot, damaging another three, and downing two IAF fighters protecting Halwara air base. The next day, another 12 Indian fighters were destroyed on the ground in Kalaikunda air base, in West Bengal.
The IAF remained on the back foot for the rest of the 1965 war
I have mentioned earlier how, on 6th September, PAF No. 19 Squadron had prevented Indian 15 Division’s leading brigade from establishing a bridgehead across BRB Canal, delaying the Indian advance and allowing Pakistan’s 10 Division to occupy forward positions in the face of the enemy onslaught. Other PAF missions, which deserve special mention were: 1) PAF’s successful defense of Sargodha on 7th September; 2) No.19 Squadron’s raid on Pathankot in which IAF MiG 21’s, Gnats, and Mysteries were caught off guard on the ground; 3) No. 4 Squadron’s ill-fated strike over Halwara 6th September which ended in the loss of Squadron Leader Rafiqui but had far-reaching consequences.
The only significant naval operation during the war was the Pakistan Navy’s raid on Dwarka, 200 miles east of Karachi. This raid was more of a symbolic nature. However, it was significant in the sense that the smaller Pakistan Navy challenged its more powerful rival and demonstrated its sea control ability, at least in the Arabian Sea. The Indian Navy’s throwing down the Pakistani challenge when at least one Indian frigate, INS Talwar, was in the vicinity, was enigmatic and the excuse that the Indian government had restrained its navy from operating west of Porbandar is superfluous.
A more valid explanation of the Indian Navy’s mute response to the Dwarka raid may be the threat posed by the Pakistani submarine Ghazi due to which most of the Indian Navy’s western fleet, including the aircraft carrier Vikrant, was bottled up in Bombay port, ostensibly for retrofitting. This brings out an important conclusion that an aircraft carrier, without a potent onboard air complement, instead of projecting sea power, is a sitting duck. Unlike the Pakistanis, the Indian military leaders are over cautious and do not take the plunge unless they are 100% sure of their success.
The Indian Navy was not confident about the capabilities of Sea Hawk ground attack aircraft and Breguet Alize ASW aircraft on board Vikrant. Had the Indian Navy taken the risk, the Sea Hawk and Alize duo could have reduced Pakistan Navy’s sea denial and limited sea control capabilities. After all, Sea Hawk had performed well during the Suez Crisis. Sea Hawk was sub-sonic, but so was Sabre, PAF’s workhorse during the 65 and 71 wars.
To sum up, Pakistan fought the 1965 War against India in a cavalier manner, based on a simplistic assumption that the war would remain confined to Jammu & Kashmir. As a total war with India had not been factored in the Pakistani war planning, panic ensued when India attacked across the international border, and the strategic reserves were prematurely committed. With 1 Armoured Division bogged down in the Kasur sector, a stalemate in the Sialkot sector, and an American embargo clamped down on the Subcontinent, Pakistani leadership accused the United States of betraying an ally. That was the time when the Indian Chief of Army Staff came to Pakistan’s help by telling his prime minister that the Indian Army had pooped up its ammunition and could not fight any longer.
Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.