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Sunday, May 19, 2024

A Tribute to (Guppoo) Cecil Chaudhry: An officer and a gentleman!

Group Captain Ali Kazim(R) |

Cecil Chaudhry, or Guppoo (for his treasure of anecdotes that never exhausted) as he was known to his friends, died on 13th April 2012. So ended my 53-year-old relationship with him. Cyril, his elder brother was my course mate when I joined P.A.F Academy Risalpur in 1957. I recall, during one winter break, these used to be pretty short, Cyril invited some course mates to spend the break at his house. It was a big house. The “boys” bunked in a big sized room with extra mattresses and comforters. That is when I met Cec. Cec he remained to me always.

My friends planned to go out, to proverbially paint the town red. Cec asked me to stay back. Stay back I did having immediately struck a cord with him. We went for a walk till we got to a Church compound. Sitting on the steps of the main building, out came a flask from his hip pocket. One swig and it was offered to me. That was my first taste of scotch! Of course drinks were not banned back then. We ended up at the Burt Institute where a dance competition was arranged. Cec’s partner was already there. He was a great dancer, light on his feet. They went on to win the first prize.

Read more: How Pakistan planned and prepared for the 1965 war against a…

That day was the start of a beautiful friendship!

Most know Cec. as a war hero. He was. Especially the mission at Halwara in 1965. I would like to share here the events of that fateful day of 6th September 1965.  Prior to the 1965 war, P.A.F. was operating in the Runn of Kutch from Mauripur Air Base. The Air Force was convinced that war with India was inevitable and therefore was prepared. We knew our targets, our formation composition and from which field to operate. The time over target (TOT) was simultaneous for all assigned targets. In 1964 I was posted Test Pilot and Quality Control Officer at Mauripur, thereby posted out of No 14 Squadron.

I was under the command of Officer Commanding Maintenance Wing and not The O.C. Flying Wing. However, I flew Runn of Kutch missions, whenever required and was to be attached to 32 Fighter Wing, Mauripur in case of war. On the morning of 2nd. September I was #3 in a 4 aircraft formation lead by Shaheed ‘Butch’ Ahmed and reached Sargodha around 7 am. That day I flew two missions in support of our Army heading for Akhnur in Kashmir. I went back to Mauripur on the 5th. of September and on the 6th morning took off from Mauripur under the leadership of Sqn. Ldr. Azim Daudpota (Later Air Marshal Daudpota, SJ) in a large formation which was to land at Risalewala and my assigned target was IAF Base Halwara, whenever the strike was ordered by the Air Staff. However, we were told to proceed to Sargodha where we parked the aircraft (F-86s) in the strike area pens.

On the afternoon of 6th September, preemptive strikes were ordered as planned earlier. Here, I must mention that the Indian Army had launched a massive attack, backed by Armour to capture Lahore and have a drink in the evening at Punjab Club/Lahore Gymkhana. Our Army was not prepared for such a massive onslaught. P.A.F had not planned for any extensive Air Support for our Army in this sector but the very sovereignty of Pakistan was at stake. The PAF, under the command of dynamic leader like Air Marshal Nur Khan, was ordered to neutralize the Indian Army designs. Despite our meager resources, our 2nd. to none fighter pilots flew continuous mission the whole day.

Read more: What happened on the Kasur front in the 1965 war?

Coming back to the strikes on IAF Air Bases. Well past the time that the aircraft should have taken off to strike Halwara, I was told that I was required for a briefing by Sqn. Ldr. Rafiqui for Halwara strike. Rafiqui Sahib was briefing, as he sat n the ground. Hardly a few minutes had passed when Flt. Lt. Yunus Hussain walked in. He had just come back from a mission from Lahore. Rafiqui Saheb asked me, ‘Kazim if you don’t mind let me take Yunus, he is my Flight Commander and you follow in the 2nd. wave”. So I got up and went for briefing of the 2nd wave of four that was to be lead by Sqn. Ldr. Moin ur Rab (Later Air Vice Marshal,). We were briefed and were to fly the aircraft that had been brought that morning from Mauripur. We were shocked to find that they had neither been refueled nor rearmed!.

In the meantime, some of the senior colleagues had approached the Base Commander, (late) Air Commodore ‘Mitty’ Masud, HJ to call off this mission as it was too late and Halwara would be up in the air with all their aircraft. It will be pertinent to mention here that on this day, 6th. Sep. at around 1400hrs. we had sent a 104 to Halwara to check out the activity there and that would have warned them that something was up. Additionally, other IAF Bases had already been struck therefore there is no doubt that Halwara was ready to face a strike by PAF and would not be taken by surprise like other bases.

Regarding calling off the mission, to the best of my knowledge, Base Commander had agreed and called Air Headquarters to permit cancellation of mission by them. Certainly not the Air Chief, I am sure. Rafiqui, the lion-hearted, began his takeoff roll and during the take off one formation member had a technical failure and was forced to abort take off. That left three Sqn. Ldr. Rafiqui (leader), Flt.Lt. Cecil (No.2) and Flt.Lt. Yunus Hussain (No.3) When this formation was heading for Halwara, Sqn. Ldr. M.M. Alam was returning from a mission and he called upon the radio and asked Rafiqui Saheb not to proceed as he had spotted a large number of Indian Fighter Aircraft in the vicinity of Halwara.

Read more: The graveyard of Indian tanks: the battles in the Sialkot sector…

But Rafiqui and his colleagues had already signed and delivered a cheque in the name of their NATION where the amount column had said ” Up to and Including My Life.”  Rafiqui, lovingly called RAF by his mates carried on, knowing fully well what was the expected outcome. In the Air Combat of 3 vs innumerable, Yunus was shot down, Rafiqui shot down 2 before his guns jammed and he handed over the lead to Cecil who shot down 3 and overwhelmed, disengaged and used all the skill at his command to evade the pursuing IAF Fighters and landed at Sargodhia with the sun setting on a day which we, the colleagues of  Shaheed Sqn. Ldr. Sarfraz Rafiqui, HJ. Shaheed Flt.Lt. Yunus Hussain, SJ. and Gp.Capt. Cecil Chaudhry, SJ, S.Bt. (RIP) will never ever forget.

The evening of 6th September, 1965 was our Sham-e-Ghariban. Cecil and I stood next to the mess swimming pool, which was as empty as our hearts. The night was dark and quiet, the lights were dim and the sadness was just so loud. We just stood in silence. A silence that spoke louder than words. Then Cec. broke the wall of silence saying  “why are they saying that my leader is alive?”, I replied, “Cec you were there and you know the gloom in the heart of all pilots and men, a bit of hope is required to let them sleep.

We have to fight again, come sunrise”. As I write this, a tribute to one of the bravest man I knew, and all those who gave up their lives for our motherland, I reaffirm, that the men of Pak Armed Forces pledge their lives to the Nation. That blank cheque the motherland can call upon any time, to deliver!

Courtesy: Pakpotpourri2’s Blog

Ali Kazim is based in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.