B-57 THE INTREPID BOMBER OF PAF
|Columnist Gp Capt SULTAN M HALI writes about the B-57, the workhorse bomber of the PAF which served the country well
The B-57 Bomber was built under licence by the American Martin Company during the 1950s for the USAF from the British Canberra Bomber. The first B-57 flew its maiden flight on 20 July 1953. The B-57 was a tandem two-seat night intruder and a tactical bomber. Its crew comprised a pilot and a navigator-cum-bombardier. Carrying a payload of 56 rockets and 8000 lbs. of bombs, 2 turbo jets, fired by cartridge starters powered the B-57. It was very large in size, having a length and wingspan of 65 feet, which meant virtually no manoeuvrability. Its speed was just 500 mph, and although it could fly at 50,000 feet, in war the bomber pilots hardly rose above 200 feet in order to avoid enemy radar. Once over the target they would pull upto about 8000 feet, from where they would release their payloads. Induction in PAF
After the 1955 Pak-US agreement, the PAF received 26 Martin B-57s including 2 training versions, which formed two squadrons, Nos. 7 and 8, of No 31 Bomber Wing on 11 May 1960. Squadron Leader Ayaz A Khan became the first Squadron Commander of No 7 Squadron while Squadron Leader Muhammad Iqbal, who later attained shahadat in the 1965 War, became No 8 Squadron’s pioneering Squadron Commander. Subsequently, the PAF also received two modified Martin RB-57F high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
World’s First Formation Loop with B-57s
PAF’s B-57 pilots soon mastered this heavy and unwieldy aircraft. under the command of the Bomber Wing’s Officer Commanding, they became the first in the world to form a regular formation aerobatics team of 4 B-57s. On 27 October 1964, led by Wing Commander Nazir Latif with Flight Lieutenants Altaf Shaikh, Basit and Shams, the team performed aerobatics at Peshawar during an air display at which Air Marshal Omar Dani, the C-in-C of the Indonesian Air Force was the chief guest. The team coolly executed loops, rolls and wingovers in full view of disbelieving spectators. The manoeuvres performed were till then unheard of in such a sluggish aircraft as the B-57, which was not really designed to perform aerobatics even singly. The precise but easy looking station-keeping throughout the demonstration effectively concealed the intense mental concentration, physical exertion, and high dexterity that was required of all the team members.
The 1965 War
When war came in 1965, PAF’s Bomber aircrew were fully prepared. They carried out counter air operations against enemy airfields at Jamnagar and Jodhpur in the South and Ambala, Adampur, Halwara, Srinagar and Pathankot in the north. Undefended by fighters, and beyond the range of own radar to receive any support, these night intruders made a lasting contribution to PAF’s total war effort. PAF’s B-57 force remained committed to the night attack of Indian airfields as its principal task throughout the war. Its meagre force of 22 aircraft undertook a total of 195 missions delivering more than 600 tons of bombs as compared to an estimated 92 night bombing sorties against PAF targets by more than 60 IAF Canberras.
After the first hectic night’s operations, when the B-57 crew were extended to their limit by flying upto 3 sorties during the hours of darkness, no more than two missions per night were allowed. This was a fairly frequent commitment, however, and the B-57 crew still had a very long tour of duty each day. For the first week of operations when most missions against the northern Indian airfields originated from Peshawar, the centralized spares and servicing organization for the B-57s at Mauripur necessitated the bomber crew returning to their Karachi base at the conclusion of each night’s mission. The northern bases were also considered too vulnerable to IAF attacks during the day.
To attack the close concentration of enemy airfields in the north, and to remain out of reach of the Indian fighter-bombers; the bomber wing remained on the hop throughout the war. The pattern often repeated was to set off from home base, strike inside Indian territory, recover to another base to rearm and refuel, and then to strike again before returning to base or to another safe airfield. This enabled them to be prepared to attack their targets night after night. By arriving over their targets in a stream at intervals of about fifteen minutes, the B-57s certainly succeeded, disregarding even the actual damage they inflicted, in achieving a major disruption of the overall IAF effort, disabling their optimum attack capability the next morning. The effect on the morale of the IAF personnel was devastating. The effect of fatigue caused to them was most pronounced on their air and ground crew while they were forced to keep shuttling in and out of air raid shelters and trenches. This made the task of PAF fighter pilots that much easier to fight them in the air the next morning.
PAF’s B-57 Losses
Of its twenty-two B-57s, which fought the war, PAF lost three but out of these, only one due to enemy action. After the first strike on Jamnagar at 6 P.M. the bombing shuttle was maintained all night by single sorties. One such lone bomber flown by Squadron Leaders Shabbir Alam Siddiqui and Alam Qureshi, the navigator, was doing its third mission in less than nine hours. As an over-fatigued crew descended lower and lower to pin point its target, the bomber hit the ground and exploded with all its ordnance and the invaluable officers. The second bomber was lost as a result of enemy anti-aircraft fire on 14 September. On their thirteenth mission of the war, Flight Lieutenants Altaf Shaikh and his navigator Bashir Chaudhri ran the gauntlet of concentrated flak thrown up by 50 to 60 guns at Adampur airfield. Both officers ejected in enemy territory and were repatriated after the war. The third B-57, piloted by Flight Lieutenants M A Butt and A S Z Khalid as navigator, was lost in the early hours of 17 September. While making an approach to land at Risalpur, the B-57 encountered adverse weather in the shape of strong wind sheer coupled with reduced flight visibility. Unable to maintain height, the aircraft crashed south of the runway, instantly killing both pilot and navigator.
The Grand Finale
The PAF’s B-57 campaign came to an end with a close support mission during the night of 22 September by four B-57s, which dropped 28,000 lbs. of bombs on enemy artillery and tank concentrations at Atari. Large enemy reinforcements had been seen that day moving towards Atari for a possible assault on the salient on the eastern bank of the BRB Canal. It was the task of the PAF to prevent these reinforcements from reaching their destination. The bombs from the B-57s dropped ‘in train’ engulfed the enemy armour and other vehicles concealed under the trees and in the bushes. Very few survived to reach Atari.
No 8 Squadron is Number Plated
In the post-65 period the B-57 squadrons trained hard to achieve even higher standards in the light of the lessons learned during the war. However, the dwindling spares support following the arms embargo imposed by USA necessitated the number plating of No 8 Squadron and its assets being amalgamated with No 7 Squadron. Thus ended an era of valour and grit but the values learnt would remain enshrined in the history of the squadron to be continued with renewed vigour when it would be reactivated in 1982 with Mirage V aircraft.
The War in 1971
The B-57 force of PAF gave its very best in the 1971 War too. Of the available strength of 16 B-57s at the outset of the war, 15 were launched the very first night as a follow up to the pre-emptive strike on 3rd December. Twelve IAF runways were targeted the first night and a total of 183 bombs were dropped. Although no immediate assessment of the damage was available, yet confirmation came much after the war from a very unlikely source. Air Chief Marshal P C Lal, the Chief of the Indian Air Force during the 1971 War, in his memoirs titled My Days with the IAF provides full details of the destruction caused by PAF, naming every IAF airfield attacked.
B-57 Crew who embraced Shahadat in 1971.
The PAF’s night bombing campaign was continued with good effect throughout the war and reflected great credit upon the courage and perseverance of the B-57 crew, six of whom embraced shahadat over enemy airfields. Squadron Leaders Khusro and his navigator Peter Christy had both joined PIA but when war became imminent, they rejoined their squadron. Both displayed exemplary courage, determination and fighting spirit. On 6 December, their aircraft failed to return after a bombing mission to Jamnagar and they were declared missing in action. Squadron Leader Ishfaq Hameed Qureshi, who was recalled from PIA and his navigator Flight Lieutenant Zulfiqar Ahmad were unable to return from their second mission of the war on 5 December and were declared missing in action. Flight Lieutenants Javed Iqbal and his navigator Ghulam Murtaza Malik flew two missions against heavily defended Indian airfields and displayed great bravery. On 5 December, they failed to return after a bombing mission to Amritsar airfield and were officially declared missing in action.
Night Bomber on Day Light Raid
A serious situation had developed in the south when Indian ground forces advancing on four axes, penetrated along the Khokhrapar-Chor railway line upto Umarkot and Chachro and to Nagar Parkar itself. PAF was called upon to blunt this attack and prevent the enemy’s further advance inland. B-57s from No 7 Squadron were also pressed into daring daylight raids to save Hyderabad from falling into enemy hands. F-86s and F-104s provided top cover. The armed reconnaissance and interdiction mission achieved the destruction of enemy trains and this virtually choked the flow of supplies vital to the enemy advance. Emboldened by their success, the B-57 crew followed their bombing attacks by several strafing runs on the freight wagons and stopped the enemy dead in his tracks forcing him to abandon his planned offensive.
Bomber crew are traditionally known as the unsung heroes of war. The reason for this is simple. A fighter pilot’s mission is at once spectacular and visible at least to our own radar, and the results of its success or failure are known almost immediately after the mission, either through some of the pilots within the formation or are recorded by own gun cameras; the bomber crew’s exploits take place far away from their bases and are well outside the ranges of their own radar. Their missions are carried out mostly at night, with its inherent risks and dangers, and there are often no cameras to record their success or their failure. It is only recently that the results of bomber operations can be confirmed through satellite imagery and other sophisticated techniques.
PAF, however, did recognize the services of its bomber crew in both the wars. As a tribute to PAF’s B-57 crew who valiantly faced the highest loss rate of the war, and persisted doggedly each night, and its navigators who, despite their rudimentary bomb aiming devices and the difficulty of map reading at low level on pitch dark nights, carried the war deep into the enemy’s heartland, the Government of Pakistan awarded 15 Sitara-e-Jurats (6 posthumous) and 2 posthumous Tamgha-e-Jurats to B-57 pilots and navigators.
End of an Era
On 27 December 1983, a colourful ceremony was held at Masroor Air Base, the erstwhile home of the B-57s to mark the end of their service. A smartly turned out contingent of air and ground crew participated in a parade. No 7 Squadron was formally re-equipped with A-5s and bade farewell to the intrepid B-57s. At the ceremony’s conclusion, 2 B-57s in close line astern formation flew past to mark the end of their era and in came three A-5s in close Vic formation depicting the new weapon system being inducted.
Ansari, Farhan, Flight Lieutenant, ‘A Tribute to the B-57 Bomber’, published in The Pakistan Times, Rawalpindi, September 06, 1993.Fricker, John, Battle for Pakistan: The Air War of 1965, Allan Printing Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, UK, 1979.
Hali, Sultan M., Group Captain, ‘The Air War in 1971-Revisited’, published in Shaheen, Vol.XLVI Summer issue, 1997, Rear Air Headquarters, Peshawar.
Rafi, Rais A., Air Commodore (Retd), ‘B-57s Over Ambala’, published in The News, Islamabad, September 06, 1995.
Sheikh, Altaf, Air Commodore (Retd), ‘Fateful Bomber Mission over Adampur-1965 War’, published in The News, September 07, 1997.
The Story of the Pakistan Air Force, published by The Shaheen Foundation, Islamabad, 1988.