Wing Commander Sunith Soares
Flying Officer Sunith Soares (Later Wing Commander --- Relinquished Commission in 1989) Class of 1962. Commissioned 1966 in the GD(P) branch of the IAF. Saw action over East Pakistan where he flew 24 sorties. Currently in the Aviation Industry.
On 22 Nov 1971, four aircraft of no 22 Sqn of the Indian Air Force shot down three sabres of the PAF based at Dacca in East Pakistan. The Indian pilots involved in the action were Flt Lt Roy Massey, Flt Lt MA Ganapathy, Flt Lt Don Lazarus and Fg Offr Sunith Soares.
The following is an account of the action by Sunith Soares.
It was a few days before the 1971 war with Pakistan actually began. We were based at Kalaikunda, near Kharagpur, and for many months had been maintaining a detachment at Calcutta for air defence duties. The ORP was a make shift one with sand bags to protect the aircraft and tents for the crew.
The Indian army was geared for battle and in the Boyra sector had moved adventurously into Pakistan territory setting up defensive positions in preparation for the coming battle. This sort of aggressive posturing must have been particularly provocative to the military authorities at Dacca and they decided to use some airpower to displace our troops.
The first strike by the PAF sabres was around 10 AM- no sooner had the sun dispersed the morning fog. Four gnats were scrambled but arrived too late to pose a threat. A second strike followed soon thereafter but once again the gnats could not make contact and returned to base a trifle dejected. Wg Cdr BS Sikand, our CO, who had led the first two sorties, then decided to take the afternoon off for some beer and socializing and handed over the lead to Roy, and I was slotted in as number 2. Ganapathy and Don retained their positions at 3 and 4.
As I settled into the makeshift ORP, I silently prayed for another strike. Don and I were playing scrabble when the klaxon went off once again. One more formation had been picked up on the radar heading toward Boyra. Our controller this time was Fg Offr Bagchhi and the time was 1440h, and soon we were hurtling through the skies at low level with the throttles against the stop. At this speed and height the gnat is not easy to fly as the noise level is atrociously high and the aircraft bucks like a rodeo horse. It became difficult to hear Bagchhi and after a slight reduction in speed and a modest gain in height we reached the border to be told that the enemy was at 2 o’clock 4 miles. Ganapathy and Don being on the right flank and therefore closer to the target should have been able to spot the aircraft but the afternoon haze made this difficult.
I then saw a glint of metal and by sharply focusing my vision saw one aircraft at about three kms, perched as if to commence a dive. I called out contact and commenced a crisp commentary on the flight path. Roy having spotted the aircraft, decided to pull over the flank pair to manoeuver behind the aircraft. This positioned us at about 1.5 kms behind the sabre. Someone by this time must have warned him about us, as he went into a classic steep turn with the intention of shaking us off. With slats out and full power he executed a motherless turn, but the gnat not only kept up with him degree for degree but gained some distance in. After the incident, we found that we had clocked more than 9G during this turn. The sabre now came out of the turn to gain some speed and this allowed us to close in, as the gnat has a very good acceleration, and we were soon at firing range. Roy fired a small burst which missed but followed quickly with another which hit the right wing near the fuselage. I saw the wing catch fire, canopy fly off, and the start of the ejection process before we overshot the flaming aircraft. Strike one Sabre.
While we were in combat, I heard Ganapathy call out that he had spotted a sabre and he manoeuvred behind the ac very quickly to fire his first burst which missed. In the meantime while this was happening the third sabre cropped out of the blue- literally- between Ganapathy and Don, at a distance of 200 yards or so. With lightning quick reflexes Don swerved his ac and in a flash, fired his guns which struck the sabre on the wing causing it to explode. The debris hit Don’s ac on the nose and drop tank. Yes drop tank- in our enthusiasm we had forgotten the cardinal principle of combat - jettisoning the tanks. Strike two sabres. The pilot ejected. This pilot, a POW was released, to later become the Chief of the Air Staff of the PAF.
Meanwhile Ganapathy had fired a second burst which this time was better directed and hit the sabre on the right wing which also caught fire. Strike three sabres. During our combat which I estimate did not take more than 3 minutes, I saw small puffs of incandescent lights which I later found to my dismay, was AA shells bursting all around. The Indian army AD regiment was having a field firing practice at our expense. It’s a good thing their gunnery was not as good as ours.
It was now Bagchhi’ turn to take over and he assembled us for our return to base. After our rendezvous we came in a finger four formation for a run in, but because of Don’s damaged aircraft did not intend to do any dramatics, but Ganapathy would not have any of it. After peeling off he came in for a victory roll to tell the world that we had shot down three sabres without any loss.