How IAF’s Canberra fighters ruled Pakistani skies and bombed Peshawar in 1965 War

New Delhi September 14 The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Thursday paid rich tribute to its first-generation bombers – the Canberra fighters – which played a major role in the battle of air supremacy during the 1965 War with Pakistan.

Remembering the valour of the Canberra jets, the IAF tweeted, ”#1965War & IAF: 13 Sep 1965, saw another first in the war. A daring plan of targeting Peshawar was put in action. 06 Canberras of No 5 Sqn, ripped across the heartland of Pakistan and proceeded to engage targets including the Runway, Aircraft on the ground and other ground facilities.”

Sharing details of the role played by Canberra fighters during the 1965 War, the IAF said in another tweet how Canberras were intercepted by Starfighter aircraft and survived a missile attack from Pakistan.

”All aircraft returned back safely to the Agra Air Force Station, imprinting a fear that nothing was beyond the reach of the IAF,” it said in another tweet.

Sharing the heroic deeds of Canberra fighters, the IAF posted a blog on its Facebook page, which read, ”13 September saw another first in the war. PAF had moved the bulk of its forces to the rear base of Peshawar. Targeting Peshawar was doomed to be ill-fated, either by day or by night. This was due to the limited range and endurance of the bombers, coupled with large exposure time and PAF’s night interception capability aircraft, F-104.

However, a daring plan was put together and on the night of 13 Sep, six Canberras of No.5 Squadron, navigating with minimal tactical routing and at very low levels, ripped across the heartland of Pakistan. Coming close to their target, they pulled up to their drop height of 10,000 ft. Leading the raid was Sqn Ldr JC Verma with Flt Lt Dastidar as his navigator; the pathfinder who would drop the target indicator bomb was Sqn Ldr Gautam with Flt Lt SN Deshpande as his navigator. Gautam did his job perfectly and the other Canberras thereafter proceeded to engage targets including the Runway, a Bulk Petroleum Installation, Aircraft on the ground and other ground facilities.

As they exited the target area, they were bounced by a Starfighter. Expecting the worst, the Canberras with nthe ight as their ally, carried out evasive manoeuvre. A Sidewinder was launched by the Starfighter, however, providence was on the side of the Canberras and this missile missed its mark. All aircraft returned safely back to Agra imprinting a fear that nothing was beyond the reach of the IAF.”

It may be recalled that Canberras were the first English Electric jet fighters inducted into the Indian Air Force.

Though Canberra jets, with the primary task of bombing, were already obsolete when the IAF first placed orders for 80 of them in 1957, they played a crucial role during the Second World War.

At that point of time, Canberra had to contend with much speedier fighters, but the IAF made innovative use of them. The IAF deployed them for low-level bombing missions and to take high-altitude photographs of enemy targets and movements on the eastern and western flanks.

Its pilots and crew had several narrow escapes during their sorties. In 1959, the Canberra became the first aircraft to be shot down by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

The Canberra jets took part in the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. The Canberra fighters were instrumental in destroying the Karachi Oil Terminal, the bombing of Peshawar near the Afghanistan border and the destruction of a vital Pakistan Air Force (PAF) signals hub.

Besides the 1965 and 1971 War with Pakistan, the Canberra fighters also took part in all major operations, including the liberation of Goa in 1961,1987 Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, 1988 Opertaion Cactus in Maldives and 1999 Kargil War.

On December 18 1961, Canberra fighters of No. 16 and 35 Squadron bombed the Dabolim airport forcing Portuguese forces to surrender.

The Canberra fighter were last seen in action during the 1999 Kargil War as they undertook recce missions. During one of the missions one aircraft’s engine was hit by a missile.

The sturdy Canberras could survive the enemy’s missile attack and landed safely with all vital information.

During its service, Canberra provided invaluable photo reconnaissance inputs of enemy territory during wars and peacetime operations, resulting in accurate and effective ops.

After serving the nation for over 50 years, the IAF bid adieu to its legendary old war horse on May 11, 2007 at the Air Force Station Agra.