ROOKIE PILOT

With the onset of the 1965 war, and not having finished my Fully Operational Syllabus, I was therefore only qualified to do air defence missions. Due to severe lack of experience, my Flt Commander did not detail me for any live missions against the enemy. I was disappointed and eager to actively participate in the war and expressed my feelings and keenness to my Flt Commander. I had learnt how our soldiers had been humiliated in the 1962 war against China and I was keen to change such perceptions. With great reluctance he conceded to my request and I was put on air defence missions.

On the morning of 5 September 1965, one F 104 star fighter made a high speed single pass down the runway. It was interpreted by us as a photo reconnaissance sortie to identify our dispersal plans and positions of aircraft and our readiness status. It was evident that soon we would have an airstrike against our ground instillations and aircraft. Flt Lt Ahuja and Flg Offr MV Singh were detailed to carry out a strike against Pakistan army‘s ground position in the Khem Karan Sector. Here, Flg Offr MV Singh was shot up by the enemy ack ack fire, a shell went through his cockpit and his right leg got severely injured. Since he was in terrible pain and unable to fly his aircraft back to base, he ejected and was taken POW. Incidentally it is the same area where an army vehicle driven by Kisan Babu Rao Hazare (Anna Hazare) survived enemy shelling, when his transport was hit and every occupant of the vehicle perished, he was the lone survivor.

On the morning of 6 September, I was on ORP duty which commences ½ an hour before sunrise, to be on standby to take on the enemy within 2 minutes. As my shift was drawing to a close at 1300 hours, Sqn Ldr Patel and Flt Lt DN Rathore were detailed to take over the afternoon shift. Since Patel had some work, he requested me to continue and stand in for him. Flt Lt Rathore as my leader carried out a briefing. At around 1700 hours, my Station Commander, Group Captain John was in conversation with the Air Defence Commander on the tennoy. He was told to get all serviceable a/c airborne as a massive air strike was expected by the enemy. Hearing this, it was clear to me that since the time was inadequate to comply with the advice, I was sure that we at ORP would be asked to protect the base. I casually picked up my flying helmet, proceeded to my aircraft, strapped myself up and waited for the command. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Flt Lt DN Rathore who was my leader for the mission, came running out to scramble. I took the cue and started my aircraft. Rathore came live on RT and told me to scramble for Combat Air Patrol over the base, for which I had already been briefed. As we took position for the CAP, I spotted three aircraft coming towards our base from the north east and informed myleader, “3 Bogies 0ne O’ Clock below”. Since I had never seen the F 86 sabres in my life, and they somewhat resembled with the Mystere aircraft, I was confused for a while but Rathore my leader was very clear about them. He established visual contact and started manoeuvring his aircraft to position himself behind them for a gunshot. I like a good No 2 remained stuck with him in position. After manoeuvring, I found two Sabres did not go over the airfield but had turned 270 degrees heading for the border leaving the airfield on the south.

Rathore positioned behind them on the right and I was on the left. My job was to look out for more bogies and cover his tail. I saw Rathore firing on the aircraft on the right. Seeing him fire I was now sure they were not Mystere aircraft but were the enemy Sabres. I then decided to take on the Sabre on the left. In my excitement, I just put the aircraft nose onto the enemy aircraft and started firing, but found to my chagrin that the bullets were not hitting the enemy but running on the ground. I suddenly remembered the “Ranging and Tracking“ exercise, which means the use of GyroGunsight (aiming device meant to feed range and gravity drop to the aiming point ‘piper’). I then put the piper on to the aircraft cockpit and fired a burst. This burst hit the tail of the enemy aircraft and some black smoke emanated. I moved the piper slightly forward and fired another burst. The enemy aircraft threw a hard left turn, which gave me a sudden plan view for a moment, and made it better for me to position the piper. I was taught during training that two pounds of high explosive charge fired into an aircraft causes it to explode, but this aircraft did not explode! I continued to ROOKIE PILOT Wg Cdr Vinod NebbNebb, VrC and Bar 1965 AIR WARfire at him and kept closing on to him with utter disregard to my own safety. I was barely 100 yards from him when it suddenly exploded and I saw a moon shaped big chunk of debris flying towards me. I broke right and pulled up to find Rathore on my right and ahead of me. I caught up with him and we proceeded to Ferozepur border to see if we could find more Sabres, but alas there were none and hence we came back to base. As we were approaching Halwara, the air traffic controller told us to proceed to Ambala. We set course for Ambala, and as we were reaching Ambala, instructions were revised and we were asked to return to base. By this time it was dark and despite not being night qualified I managed to land safely. When I switched off the aircraft at the ORP, the ground crew opened the Sabrina (which collects the empty shells) collected the empty shells and threw them on himself as if he had found a treasure. Such a memorable and adorable scene, a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment still remains etched in my mind.

My Commanding Officer Wg. Cdr Clarke, picked me up in his car and drove me toward the Base Operations Room. He had barely driven 500 yards, when the Station Commander, Gp. Capt GK John stopped us and took me with himself. When we reached the Base Operations Room, I gave him the full details of the sortie. He congratulated me for the mission accomplished and declared that I was the junior most and the youngest pilot to have shot down a Sabre aircraft in any war. The words of my flight commander, DS Jog once more reverberated in my ear “Do a job better than the best”.

Subsequently, I carried out many air defence missions but did not get a chance to engage any enemy aircraft in combat. Every evening we would disperse the aircraft to far away bases to return early morning. This was primarily to save our aircraft from night enemy bombing. One night, Pakistan conducted a daring but foolishexercise, in that, they used a Hercules aircraft to para drop a special combat force to conduct an attack on Pathankot, Adampur and Halwara Bases. Sqn Ldr S.K. Singh a ground duty officer was in charge of Halwara ground defence and security and he led his men on the job of rounding up these invaders. He, with the help of the civilians around the airfield, was able to capture most of them alive, while some were killed in the encounter. He was the only ground duty officer to have been awarded a VrC in the history of the IAF.

During the on-going war, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh now Marshal of the Indian Air force, flew in his Canberra Aircraft to personally meet us and congratulate us. This was indeed a great morale booster as he was the one who gave me my wings! Subsequently, the awards to the gallants were announced and I was awarded a Vir Chakra. The investiture ceremony was held at Rashtrapati Bhawan, where the then president Dr. Radha Krishan, pinned my medal and shook my hand! I felt that I had made history. Truly memorable!

Wing Commander Vinod Nebb was commissioned in the IAF in 1963 and was still under training as a fighter pilot when the 1965 Pakistan war broke out. He was very eager to participate to set aside the humiliation of 1962. On his insistence, he was allowed to do Combat Air Patrol (CAP) and during one such sortie on September 06 over Halwara, he shot down a Pakistani F86 Sabre aircraft. He was just 22 years old. The President, Dr Radhakrishnan, awarded him his first Vir Chakra. While in the IAF, he won many rocket and gunnery trophies. In 1971, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, he was awarded his second Vir Chakra. In 1984, while commanding a radar unit, he put his imprints on the Himalayan Car Rally map and stood first among all Indian participants and sixth from amongst all participants across the world. In 1988, his flying career came to an abrupt end when he suffered a heart attack, and he took premature retirement. Thereafter, he helped his wife in her venture in direct marketing with Hindustan Unilever Limited, by conducting motivational training.

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