The stories of three distinguished war heroes (Hilal-e-Jurat) of the Armed Forces, i.e., Army, Navy and Air Force, who led from the front and sacrificed for the motherland.
September 6 is an important day on the national calendar of Pakistan, a day that reminds us about the heroic deeds of the Armed Forces of Pakistan and the entire country, who stood together as one nation, during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965. How time flies! Although it seems like it was only yesterday, but in real time, almost six decades have gone by. And yet, its memory refuses to fade away and continues to live in our hearts and minds. Here was a war where the nation stood together as one, where every individual, male or female, from all walks of life participated. While the troops were fighting on the frontlines, the civilian population provided motivational support that is really necessary for winning a war. In concrete terms, while the armed forces’ logistics flowed forward fearlessly in civilian transport, our singers outdid themselves by singing incredibly motivational songs that continue to resonate and motivate the nation even to this day. (Ay putar hataan te nahi wikday and Apni jaan nazar karun are just a few examples). Another programme that hit the national radio was run by Nazim Din called Hum Khairyat Sa hain. Never before or after that war has that kind of sense of jazba (passion) been witnessed.
In 1966, the Government of Pakistan awarded Hilal-i-Isteqlal to three cities, Lahore, Sargodha and Sialkot for showing spartan resistance to the enemy during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. These three cities were the frontline targets of the Indian advance by land and incessant air attacks on September 6, 1965. For commemorating this day, special celebrations are organised annually in these three cities, that begin with hoisting and unfurling of the special flag of Hilal-i-Isteqlal, followed by other events and visitation to the graves of the shuhada of the Armed Forces and those civilians that gave the ultimate sacrifice for the defense of the motherland.
Here, I would like to emphasise that in a war, every individual soldier puts in his best, not for awards or recognition, but because he considers it to be his duty to safeguard the honor and safety of his beloved Pakistan even at the peril of his life! While the actions of some are duly recognised and a few have been awarded well-deserved medals for their acts of valor, we must not forget the long list of the vast majority who remain our ‘unsung heroes.’ Unfortunately, due to shortage of space, in this article I have had to, perforce, select one personality each from the Army, Air Force and Navy to make the readers aware of their uniqueness and exceptional valor. Each of them was awarded with Hilal-e-Jurat, the second highest gallantry award of Pakistan.
Squadron Leader (SL) Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui, HJ and SJ: PAF’s Highest Decorated Officer
Born in Rajshahi (former East Pakistan) on July 18, 1935 Sarfaraz had three brothers and a sister. He started his education at St. Anthony’s High School in Lahore, where his father worked with an insurance company. Sarfaraz completed his matriculation from Government High School, Multan in 1948 at an early age of thirteen. A year earlier, he had been selected as a King’s Scout to attend a jamboree in the UK and France. In Paris, his fervor for the impending birth of Pakistan knew no bounds. He hastily had his version of the Pakistani flag stitched by the Girl Guides (white bar consigned to the bottom, crescent in one corner and star in the other). On the eve of independence, Sarfaraz formed a troop of three Muslim scouts, proudly showing the new flag. After the jamboree, it was quite a homecoming for a twelve-year old to a new Pakistan. When the elder Rafiqui moved to Karachi as Controller of Insurance, Sarfaraz joined the DJ Sindh Government Science College. Scouting remained a passion and he managed another trip abroad, this time to a jamboree in Australia. However, his thoughts soon turned to the Air Force, where his elder brother, a dashing young pilot, had won the Sword of Honor in the 4 GD (P) Course. When Sarfaraz applied for Royal Pakistani Air Force (RPAF) in 1951, he had not appeared in his Intermediate examinations. His Principal at DJ Sindh Government Science College found him to be very intelligent and well suited for a military career. His above-average intelligence was to be echoed by all his instructors in the later years.
Sarfaraz was selected for the RPAF through the Services Selection Board despite the report revealing his bleak prospects of making a pilot. He joined the Joint Services Pre-Cadet Training School (JSPCTS) at Quetta. The Commandant of the School was impressed with Sarfaraz’s command on English, his confidence and his travels abroad at such an early age. After five months of training at JSPCTS, he entered RPAF College at Risalpur. In 1953, he graduated in the footsteps of his brother, winning the prestigious Atcherley Trophy for the Best Pilot in the 13 GD (P) Course. It was noted by some of his instructors that he sometimes exhibited careless tendencies and overconfidence. He once pranged a Fury in Miranshah, breaking one of its landing gears; only a belly-landing at the better-endowed airfield of Peshawar saved the day. To sober him up, he was reprimanded and it worked. He continued with a string of above-average reports in his Advanced Flying Course as well as the Fighter Weapons Instructors' Course, both done in the USA. He again showed his prowess as a superb fighter pilot by topping the course at PAF’s Fighter Leaders School in 1960. After yet another course at RAF's prestigious Fighter Combat School, he ended up piling a unique assortment of highly rated qualifications that served him and the PAF in good stead. As an exchange pilot in the UK, he flew Hunters for two years. Sarfaraz's Officer Commanding (OC) in No. 19 Squadron (RAF), reporting on his flying abilities, eloquently wrote, “In the air, his experience and skill combine to make him a very effective fighter pilot and leader who creates an impression of disciplined efficiency in all that he does.”
On his return from the UK in 1962, he was given the command of No. 14 Squadron. A year later, he was given command of the elite No. 5 Squadron, in which he was to achieve martyrdom and eternal glory. He was well-known as much for his highly assertive and effective control of the Unit as for his spirited attitude towards flying. Sarfaraz’s sense of humour, seldom evident from his sole published photograph, was a very genial trait, amply noted at home and across the shores.
As an officer, he was found to be courteous and well-mannered with a pleasant personality. He was extremely popular and socially well-accepted. Swimming took up his leisure time, though his keenness for flying determined the daily routine. An incident that deserves special mention relates to Sarfaraz's steadfastness in matters of honor and righteousness. During one RAF dining-out night, he was enraged when the Pakistani representatives (exchange pilots) were denied the customary toast to their Head of State, while the Europeans merrily drank to their royalty. He walked out of the dinner proceedings and, next morning, informed the bewildered OC that he would prefer to be repatriated rather than suffer such scorn. The matter got a bit complicated, but an unyielding Sarfaraz would accept nothing short of an apology. The OC repented publicly and, later made sure that the Pakistanis were never slighted again. Sarfaraz also drove a point home that it was respect, not pennies that counted. Sarfaraz was unconventional in many ways. His aversion to an arranged marriage invoked the ire of his conservative father, who had failed to incline Sarfaraz towards one particular offer; this included fringe benefits of a house and a good bit of cash besides the damsel! Star-crossed perhaps, he ran short of time looking for the right mate. The Mess remained his home and hearth until the end.
Two memorable aerial encounters, each a classic of modern jet warfare, capped Sarfaraz Rafiqui’s illustrious career as a fighter pilot. The evening of September 1, 1965 saw hectic and desperate attempts by the Indian Air Force (IAF) to stop the rapid advance of Pakistan Army’s 12 Division offensive against Akhnoor. Vampires, obsolescent but considered suitable for providing close support in the valleys of Kashmir, were hastily called into action. No. 45 Squadron was moved from Poona to Pathankot. The grim situation on the ground found the Vampires at work immediately. Three strikes of four Vampires each had been launched in succession that evening. Much has been made of their success by the IAF, but Major General G. S. Sandhu was not impressed; in his book, History of Indian Cavalry, he recounts how the first Vampire strike of four leisurely proceeded to destroy three AMX-13 tanks of India’s own 20 Lancers, plus the only recovery vehicle and the only ammunition vehicle available during this hard-pressed fight. The second flight attacked Indian infantry and gun positions, blowing up several ammunition vehicles. The Indian forces were spared further ignominy at their own hands when an element of two Sabres arrived on scene. Squadron Leader Rafiqui and Flight Lieutenant Imtiaz Bhatti were patrolling at 20,000 ft near Chhamb. On being vectored by the radar, they descended and picked up contact with two Vampires in the fading light. Rafiqui closed in rapidly and before another two Vampires turned in on the Sabres, made short work of the first with a blazing volley from the lethal 0.5” Browning six-shooter. Then, with a quick-witted defensive break, he readjusted on the wing of Bhatti, who got busy with his quarry. While Rafiqui cleared tails, Bhatti did an equally fast trigger job. One Vampire nosed down into the ground, which was not too far below; the other, smoking and badly damaged, ducked into the trees. It had shaken the Indian pilot, Flight Lieutenant Sondhi, who staggered back to tell the horrifying tale. The less fortunate Flight Lieutenant A. K. Bhagwagar, V. M. Joshi and S. Bharadwaj went down with their ghoulish Vampires, in full view of the horrified Indian troops. Only minutes before, Flying Officer S. V. Phatak of another Vampire formation had bailed out after being hit by ground fire. The mauling had been thorough. This single engagement resulted in a windfall of strategic dimensions for the PAF. The shocked and demoralised IAF immediately withdrew over 80 Vampires, together with about 50 Ouragans, from the frontline service. The IAF was effectively reduced in combat strength by nearly 35% in one deadly stroke, thanks to Rafiqui and Bhatti’s marksmanship. It may be appropriate to recollect the remarks of U.S. Air Force (USAF) Fighter Weapons School (Class of 1956) about Rafiqui's adeptness at gunnery. “Capt Rafiqui was the high individual in air-to-air firing and was above average in air-to-ground firing; has a thorough understanding of methods and techniques used in fighter weapons delivery and aerial combat manoeuvring, valuable as a future gunnery instructor. Highly recommended that he be used in this capacity to the greatest advantage, possible when returning.” The PAF made no mistake and put his skills to good use, as the Chhamb encounter demonstrated. However, there was much more to come.
Citation of SJ: “On September 6, 1965 during an aerial combat over enemy territory, Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui destroyed two enemy vampire fighter-bombers. During an attack on a well-defended enemy airfield at Halwara, Squadron Leader Rafiqui encountered a number of enemy fighters. He destroyed one enemy Hunter aircraft but was subsequently shot down and bailed out over enemy territory. The officer is missing. For exceptional flying skill and valour shown by Squadron Leader Rafiqui in pressing home his attacks in aerial combats with enemy aircraft, he is awarded SJ”.
Brief Description of Shahadat
On the evening of September 6, 1965, an ill-fated formation of three aircraft took off from Sargodha for a raid on Halwara airfield, one of the three that had been singled out for a pre-emptive strike. Led by Squadron Leader Rafiqui, with Flight Lieutenant Cecil Choudhry as No. 2 and Flight Lieutenant Yunus Hussain as No. 3, the formation hurtled across into the enemy territory in fast fading light. Squadron Leader M. M. Alam’s formation, also of three aircraft, which had taken off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid on Adampur. Four Hunters, themselves proceeding on a mission against Pakistan Army formations, had bounced them. Rafiqui was warned by Alam’s section to watch out for Hunters in the area. At Halwara, IAF's No. 7 Squadron equipped with Hunters had flown four strikes during the day. These were armed reconnaissance missions, which had little success in finding worthwhile targets. The fourth and last strike for the day was on its way to the precincts of Lahore, when it had encountered Alam’s formation near Tarn Taran. In that engagement, Squadron Leader A. K. Rawlley’s Hunter impacted the ground as he did a defensive break at a very low level, with Alam firing at him from stern. The remaining three Hunters aborted the mission and were backtracked after landing, when Rafiqui’s formation pulled up for what was to be a gun attack on the parked aircraft. That evening, two pairs of Hunter combat air patrol (CAP)’s were airborne, one from No. 7 Squadron with Flying Officer P. S. Pingale and Flying Officer A. R. Ghandhi and the other from No. 27 Squadron with Flight Lieutenant D. N. Rathore and Flying Officer V. K. Neb. Pingale and Ghandhi were in a left-hand orbit over the airfield when Rafiqui broke off his attack and closed in on the nearest aircraft (Pingale). Rafiqui’s guns, as usual, found their mark. Pingale, not sure what hit him, lost control of his Hunter, and ejected. Next, Rafiqui deftly manoeuvred behind Ghandhi and fired at him, registering some hits. Just then, Cecil heard his Squadron Commander call over the radio, “Cecil, my guns have stopped firing; you have the lead.” Cecil promptly moved in to lead, with Rafiqui sliding back as the wingman. Ghandhi did not let go of the momentary slack and manoeuvred behind Rafiqui who was readjusting in his new position. Ghandhi fired at Rafiqui’s Sabre, but couldn’t get him because of a careless aim. While Ghandhi followed the Sabre, Cecil bored in and shot him in turn, the bullets finding their mark on the left wing. Ghandhi, seeing his aircraft come apart, ejected near the airfield. Running out of fuel as well as daylight, Rafiqui deemed it prudent to exit. Gathering his formation, he headed north-west, but with two more Hunters lurking around, a getaway was not easy. Happy on home ground, Rathore and Neb dived in to give chase. Rathore got behind Rafiqui who was on the right while Neb singled out Yunus on the left. Overtaking rapidly, Rathore fired from about 600 yards, registering some hits. Closing in still further, he fired again, this time mortally hitting Rafiqui’s Sabre. It banked sharply to the left and then hit the ground near Heren village, some six miles from Halwara. Meanwhile, Cecil looked around and noticing Yunus in trouble, called a defensive break, but Yunus, for some incomprehensible reason, pulled upwards, assisting Neb to catch up. Neb did not let go of the chance and fired a well-aimed volley, which Yunus did not survive. A puff of smoke rapidly turned into a sheet of flame as the Sabre disintegrated in mid-air and fell to the ground. Left alone, Cecil bravely fought his way out and dashed across after a nerve-racking encounter.
In this epic encounter, Rafiqui was at his leadership’s best. Of course, he had scored a confirmed kill a third time. However, more importantly, the significance of the mission was not lost on him and, despite heavy odds, he did his best to get the formation to put in the attack. As a Squadron Commander, he demonstrably inspired other Squadron Commanders and pilots to lead fearlessly. This may well have been Rafiqui’s greatest contribution to the 1965 air war. The award of the HJ, as well as SJ acknowledged his gallant leadership and selfless devotion to duty. PAF Base Rafiqui (Shorkot) and major boulevards across various cities of Pakistan named after him rekindle the spirit of his chivalry.
Citation of HJ: “On September 6, 1965, Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui led a formation of three F-86 aircraft on a strike against Halwara airfield. Soon after crossing the Indian border, Squadron Leader Rafiqui had been warned about a large number of enemy interceptors being in the air by the leader of a returning F-86 formation. He, however, continued his mission single-mindedly. On the way back, the formation was intercepted by about ten Hunter aircraft out of which Squadron Leader Rafiqui accounted for one in the first few seconds. After Squadron Leader Rafiqui shot down one Hunter aircraft, his guns jammed due to a defect and stopped firing upon which he refused to leave the battle area, as he would have been perfectly justified to do; he instead ordered his No. 2 to take over as the leader and continue the engagement with the enemy. He himself now took up a defensive position in the formation in an attempt to give it as much protection as was possible by continuing fighting manoeuvres in unarmed aircraft whilst the remainder proceeded to give battle to the enemy. This called for a quality of courage and dedication on the part of Squadron Leader Rafiqui equal to the best in the history of air fighting. The end for him was never in doubt. He chose to disregard it and, in the process, his aircraft was shot down and he was martyred, but not without his action enabling his formation to shoot down three more Hunter aircraft. Squadron Leader Rafiqui thus provided exemplary leadership in battle and displayed outstanding courage in the face of exceptionally strong opposition. His inspiring leadership and selfless example significantly affected the subsequent course of the air war in which PAF never failed to dictate terms to an overwhelmingly larger and better-equipped enemy. Squadron Leader Rafiqui's conduct was clearly beyond the call of duty and conformed to the highest tradition of leadership and bravery in a battle against overwhelming odds. For this and his earlier exploits, he is posthumously awarded HJ”.
Selfless and Sacrificing Gesture of his Parents: The Government of Pakistan awarded 77 acres of prime agricultural land as a recompense with the awards of HJ and SJ, which was most generously bequeathed by Rafiqui’s parents to the Sarfaraz Rafiqui Welfare Trust, that the PAF is so efficiently administering to date for the benefit of widows, orphans and the needy.
Family Details: Sarfaraz Rafiqui had three brothers and a sister. His eldest brother, Imtiaz Rafiqui was an engineer in Radio Pakistan who passed away lately. Aizaz Rafiqui worked in Adamjee Insurance and retired as the General Manager. He passed away in 2008. Ejaz Rafiqui was a brilliant fighter pilot of PAF, who embraced shahadat in a flying accident in 1951. The youngest sibling, his sister, Mrs. R. M. Sarwar, got married to an army officer. Unfortunately, she also passed away in 2008. Although his entire family is gone, they will, however, continue to live in the hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis for good.
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