Hawker Hunter in combat: My part in the IAF Dhaka attack of 1971

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Air Marshal Harish Masand describes his part in the 1971 war to Hushkit.net,  attacking Government House in Dhaka with a force of Indian Air Force Hawker Hunters. This mission may have been pivotal in the surrender of Pakistani forces in the East. 

‘I was flying Hunters in the East with a unit called the Black Panthers (37 Squadron) in 1971. The first real combat mission is generally the most memorable one, particularly when one is young. I have already mentioned my first mission of 1971 war briefly earlier. A write-up on this mission is also available at bharat-rakshak.com. For me, the most memorable, however, was the one we did on the penultimate day, December 14, 1971, when I went as a wingman to attack the Government House in Dhaka when Governor Malik of East Pakistan was holding a meeting with his cabinet and UN representatives trying to find an honourable cease-fire. We had no target photographs and were tasked at the last minute in the morning as the intelligence came in. My CO and Leader, then Wing Commander ‘Suppi’ Kaul, and three more of us were briefed on the location on a Burmah Shell tourist map of Dhaka. Having done some missions over Dhaka by then, we knew the anti-aircraft fire was very heavy and effective till about 6000 feet and we would’ve had to fly through the flak in the attacks.

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Armed with T-10 rockets and 30mm guns, we cruised out at medium altitude and did a couple of orbits over Dhaka above 6000 ft to spot the target building as also to align ourselves for the attack on the designated conference hall, all this while watching the balls of fire of the flak below us. Swooping down from that height like eagles in a steep dive, we carried out two attacks, the first with rockets and the second with guns, putting our ordnance accurately on the conference hall. After the second attack, when we exited North hugging the deck at high speeds close to 500 Knots to evade the flak, I found the Oberoi Hotel right in front. We knew that this hotel housed most of the diplomatic community, foreign media and some local ministers and avoided attacking it. However, just for the thrill of it, I headed straight towards it before pulling away at the last minute when I was close enough to see the faces of the people in the balconies watching the whole attack. Somehow, this mission and the exit are still imprinted vividly in my mind. By all accounts, this attack hastened the surrender of Pakistani Forces in the East. After the instrument of surrender was signed in Dhaka on December 16th, Air Marshal HC Dewan, the AOC-in-C of Eastern Air Command asked Lt General AAK Niazi why he surrendered though he had the troops to hold out much longer. Niazi pointing to the wings on Group Captain Chandan Singh’s chest, has been quoted as saying, “This had hastened the surrender. I and my people have had no rest during day or night, thanks to your Air Force. We have changed our quarters ever so often, trying to find a safe place for a little rest and sleep so that we could carry on the fight, but we have been unable to do that.” When I read that later, I felt proud to be a part of that air force and it made the memory of this important mission over Dhaka even more vivid for me.’    

Enormous thanks to Angad Singh. 

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5 comments

  1. Iftikhar Ali Khan

    One PAF squadron pitched against twelve Indian squadrons. India lost 36 aircrafts before they neutralized Dacca Air base.
    I wonder how a pilot worth his name can take pride in such a lop sided encounter. All the best to you IAF.

  2. sglover

    Yeah, I’m a little puzzled about this. The mission was “…to attack the Government House in Dhaka when Governor Malik of East Pakistan was holding a meeting with his cabinet and UN representatives trying to find an honourable cease-fire” — meaning a deliberate attack on *neutrals* conducting peace negotiations?!?!? If that’s so, it’s a little hard to square with any notion of knights of the air, chivalry, any of that. Sounds more like straight-up treachery, to put it mildly.

  3. Dinesh Raghavan

    Thank you for the beautiful article and your service with the IAF. Love hushkit. I just wish the other Pakistani commenters would stop the rubbish. Anyways the Iaf liberated east Pakistan that became Bangladesh and stopped the genocide of Bengalis that were committed by the unprofessional Pakistani troops

    • Rajnish Mudgil

      sglover, To set the record straight, in the East, the IAF downed 5 x F-86 Sabres for the loss of two Hunters in air combat, as acknowledged even by your own Pakistani writer, Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail. Another 5 IAF aircraft were lost to ground fire in attack missions. As for the attack on the Governor’s House of 14th December, the intent was to scare General Niazi into a surrender without any collateral damage instead of prolonging the war and causing more casualties on the ground, particularly to Pakistani forces, through street fighting in Dacca, The accuracy of this attack may be obvious from the fact that not a single life was lost in these attacks while an immediate capitulation came about. If the Indian Army had to enter Dacca fighting, there may not have been about 93,000 PoWs but a lot less because even the Bengalis would have butchered every Pakistani who had committed such horrendous atrocities on the locals, including rape and genocide since March 1971. It is to the credit of the Indian Army and their chivalry that every prisoner was protected from the wrath of the locals, treated well as evident from many accounts, and repatriated later without handing them over to Bangladesh for war crime trials, as demanded by Bangladesh even though it strained India’s relations with the new state of Bangladesh. The same cannot be said of the treatment meted out to Indian PoWs in Pakistani hands, many of whom were tortured and never returned. The Pakistanis should be thankful they lost to India instead of making such unfounded comments.

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