S.A. Rafiqui

Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui
(Hilal-e-Jurat) (Shaheed)

By Group Captain M. Kaiser Tufail (PAF)

Some days after the war had started in September 1965, a poignant message arrived by telegram at 22 ILACO House, Victoria Road, Karachi. It read, “Regret to inform, your son Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui failed to return from a mission against enemy…”.

The Rafiquis – whose grief over an earlier loss of their elder son Ijaz in a Hawker Fury crash many years ago hadn’t quite subsided – did not know what to make of this message. But gradually, sorrow began to blend with pride as details followed about the epic air battle at Halwara, in which their son had fearlessly fought in mortal combat. He was brave and chivalrous till the last. Another son had gone down but with honour, a distinction reserved for the bravest of the brave.

Born in Rajshahi (erstwhile East Pakistan) on 18 July 1935, Sarfaraz had three brothers and a sister. Education started in 1942 at St. Anthony’s School, Lahore, where his father worked with an Insurance Company. He matriculated from Government High School, Multan in 1948 at a remarkably early age of thirteen. A year earlier, he had been selected as a King’s Scout to attend a jamboree in UK and France. In Paris, we are told, his fervour for the impending birth of Pakistan knew no bounds. He hastily had his version of the Pakistan flag stitched by the Girl Guides (white bar consigned to the bottom, crescent in one corner, star in the other)! On the eve of Independence, Sarfaraz formed a troop of three Muslim scouts, proudly flaunting the new flag (1). 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 D.J. Sindh Science College. Scouting remained a passion and he managed another trip abroad, this time to a jamboree in Australia. But thoughts soon turned to the Air Force, where his elder brother, a dashing young pilot, had won the Sword of Honour in the 4th GD(P) Course. Sarfaraz applied for the RPAF in 1951, not yet having appeared for his Intermediate examinations. His Principal at D.J. Science College found him to be “very intelligent and well suited for a military career” (2). Sarfaraz-s above-average intelligence was to be echoed by all his instructors in later years.

Sarfaraz was selected for the RPAF, though the Services Selection Board report was not very generous about his prospects of making a pilot. He joined the Joint Services Pre-Cadet Training School at Quetta. The Commandant of the School was impressed with Sarfaraz’s command of English, his confidence and his travels abroad at such an early age (3). After five months of training at JSPCTS, he entered the RPAF College at Risalpur. In 1953, he graduated in the footsteps of his brother, winning the prestigious Atcherly Trophy for the Best Pilot in the 13th GD(P) Course (and turning the Selection Board report on its head)!

Flying came easily to Sarfaraz, which ability, as some of his instructors noted, led him to exhibit careless tendencies and some over-confidence. He once pranged a Fury in Miranshah, breaking one of its landing gear; only a belly-landing at the better-endowed airfield of Peshawar saved the day. To sober him up, he was promptly administered a reprimand. Born fliers are known to follow the line of least resistance, but luckily for Sarfaraz, guidance was always at hand. 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 USA. He again showed his prowess as a superb fighter pilot by topping the course at PAF’s Flight Leaders’ School in 1960. After yet another course at RAF’s prestigious Fighter Combat School (now Combat Commanders’ 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 UK, he flew Hunters for two years Sarfaraz’s Officer Commanding 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” (4). On return from UK in 1962, he was given 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 came to be 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 honour and righteousness. During a 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 Officer Commanding 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 (5). Sarfaraz also drove home a point that it was respect, not pennies that counted.

Sarfaraz was unconventional in more ways than one. 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 till the end.

Deadly Stroke

Two memorable aerial encounters, each a classic of modern jet warfare, capped Sarfaraz Rafiqui’s illustrious career as a fighter pilot. The evening of 1st September 1965 saw hectic and desperate attempts by the IAF to stop the rapid advance of Pak 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 (alongwith some Canberras) had been launched in succession that evening. Much has been made of their success by the IAF, but Maj. Gen. G. S. Sandhu is 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. Sqn. Ldr. Rafiqui and Flt. Lt. Imtiaz Bhatti were patrolling at 20,000 ft. near Chamb. 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 two 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 over into the ground which was not too far below; the other, smoking and badly damaged, staggered for a few miles before its pilot, Flg. Off. Pathak, ejected. The less fortunate Flt. Lts. A K Bhagwagar, M V Joshi and S Bhardwaj went down with their ghoulish Vampires, in full view of the horrified Indian troops (6).

This single engagement resulted in a windfall of strategic dimensions for the PAF. The shocked and demoralised IAF immediately withdrew about 130 Vampires, together with over 50 Ouragons, from front-line service. The IAF was effectively reduced in combat strength by nearly 35% in one stroke, thanks to Rafiqui and Bhatti’s marksmanship.

It may be appropriate to recollect the remarks of USAF Fighter Weapons School (Class of 1956) about Rafiqui’s adeptness at gunnery. “Captain 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 Chamb encounter demonstrated. But there was more to come.

Target Halwara

On the evening of 6th September 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 Sqn. Ldr. Rafiqui, with Flt. Lt. Cecil Chaudhry as No. 2 and Flt. Lt. Yunus Hussain as No. 3, the formation hurtled across into enemy territory in fast fading light. Sqn. Ldr. M. M. Alam’s formation, also of three aircraft, which had taken-off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid on Adampur. They had been bounced by four Hunters, themselves proceeding on a mission against Pak Army formations. 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 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 Taran Taran. In that engagement Sqn. Ldr. Peter Rawlley’s Hunter impacted the ground as he did a defensive break at very low level, with Alam firing at him from stern. The remaining three Hunters aborted the mission and were taxiing back after landing, when Rafiqui’s formation pulled up for what was to be a gun attack on the parked aircraft.

“Boy …We’ll Sort Them Out!”

That evening, two pairs of Hunter CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) were airborne, one from No. 7 Squadron with Flg. Off. Adi Gandhi and Flg. Off. P. S. Pingale and the other from No. 27 Squadron with Flt. Lt. D. N. Rathore and Flg. Off. V. K. Neb. Gandhi and Pingale 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. In the melee that followed, Yunus broke off chasing Gandhi’s Hunter, while Rafiqui manoeuvred behind yet another Hunter (possibly Rathore or Neb who had plunged into the fray). “Boy, keep my tail clear, we’ll sort them out!”, called Rafiqui, who had been cautioned by Cecil about the new entrants (8). As Rafiqui fired, the improbable happened – his guns jammed. Cecil heard his Squadron Commander call over the radio, “Cecil, my guns have stopped firing, take over the lead”. Cecil promptly moved in to lead, with Rafiqui sliding back as wingman. This courageous act – the captain staying on with the imperiled ship – is what made Rafiqui immortal.

The ensuing fight is difficult to reconstruct as three aircraft on each side were engaged in a fierce tail-chase. In the free-for-all, Gandhi re-emerged to get behind a helpless Rafiqui who was engrossed in clearing Cecil’s tail and, eventually shot him with his four 30mm guns (9). While Gandhi followed the stricken Sabre till it hit the ground, Cecil bored in and shot him in turn, the bullets finding their mark on the left wing. Gandhi, seeing his aircraft come apart, ejected near the airfield (10). Cecil, not sure about Rafiqui-s position, called up on the radio but got no response. He then looked around and seeing Yunus engaged offensively with Rathore and Neb, moved in to support him. Both sides rolled and racked their machines around, firing each time an adversary crossed their gunsights. Running out of fuel as well as daylight, Cecil and Yunus decided to make an exit. As they were gathering themselves in line-abreast formation, Rathore and Neb happy on home ground, dived in to give chase. Cecil 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. Left alone, Cecil bravely fought his way out and dashed across after a nerve-racking encounter .

The mission was unsuccessful, in large measure, because the exigency of wresting the initiative from the IAF had become almost an obsession with the Air Staff. The original plan had envisaged an eight-aircraft package, but unserviceabilities and delays led to a fatally flawed decision to go ahead any way. Three aircraft were too few for attacking a bustling airfield complex, as Station Commander Sargodha had repeatedly pleaded with Air Headquarters. Besides, raids on the selected airfields were being launched as and when the aircraft were becoming available, with complete disregard of a coordinated border crossing. No wonder that the well-alerted IAF was ready to pick them off, one by one. The final outcome at Halwara was not a satisfying prospect either, because unlike IAF losses, PAF-s were fatalities suffered by a none too strong force12. But in all this, the silver lining is that all three PAF pilots fought most gallantly. There is some measure of consolation that the IAF losses were inflicted right over their home base – a most humiliating possibility for any fighter pilot (13).

Greatest Contribution to the 1965 Air War

In this epic encounter, Rafiqui was at his leadership best. Of course he had scored a confirmed kill a third time. He had also not lost sight of the significance of the mission and, despite heavy odds, did his best to get the formation to put in the attack. But when the ultimate test came after his guns jammed during the dogfight, he stayed on. Though he got shot before long, it was the spirit of solidarity, that very brave gesture to stay with the team, which is remembered to this day. As a Squadron Commander, his act demonstrably inspired other Squadron Commanders and pilots to lead fearlessly. This may well have been Rafiqui-s greatest contribution to the 1965 air war. His selfless devotion to duty was acknowledged by the award of a Sitara-e-Jurat (along with Cecil and Yunus), as well as a Hilal-e-Jurat. PAF Base, Rafiqui (Shorkot), named after him, rekindles the spirit of his chivalry. (Sarfaraz Rafiqui Welfare Trust, based on 77 acres of prime agricultural land in Faisalabad Division, continues to benefit the poor and the needy. The land, given by the Government of Pakistan as recompense with the awards of HJ & SJ, was most generously bequeathed by Sarfaraz’s parents for the Trust, which is administered by the PAF).

“… Any further news about him will be conveyed immediately. Letter follows,’ finished the telegram, addressed to Mr. B. A. Rafiqui. The fate of Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz Rafiqui was officially known only after the war, when dreadfully, he was not amongst the POWs being exchanged. He has lain in some unmarked spot in Halwara for many decades. Fate denied Sarfaraz a last homecoming – to the country for which he once eagerly flew the flag as a little boy, in a far-away land. But his soul lives on in the homeland, serving as a beacon for the youth of today and tomorrow.

“A man of character in peace is a man of courage in war.” (Lord Moran – “Anatomy of Courage”)

 


About the Author

Group Captain Kaiser Tufail was commissioned in 1975. He has flown virtually all types of combat aircraft in PAF including the F-16. He commanded a Mirage Squadron and later a Flying Wing. A graduate of Air War College, he has also been on its faculty. He holds a Masters degree in Strategic Studies. For his meritorious services he has been awarded Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Military) by the Government of Pakistan.

Acknowledgements

To Grp. Capt. Sultan M. Hali (Director, Public Relations, PAF) for providing access to taped interviews of Rafiqui’s course-mates and colleagues, whose recollections provided useful material for this article. To Wg. Cdr. Farooq Azam (Deputy Director, Records, AHQ) for providing access to the Personal Records of Sqn. Ldr. Sarfaraz A. Rafiqui, HJ.

References

1 – Based on published account by late Mr. Iqbal Shehzad, fellow scout at Jamboree.
2 – Remarks by Mr. A. L. Shaikh, Principal, D.J. Sindh Science College, 1951.
3 – Remarks by Lt. Col. Gul Mawaz Khan, Commandant JSPCTS, Quetta, 1951.
4 – Remarks by Sqn. Ldr. L. W. Phipps, OC, No. 19 Squadron, RAF, 1961.
5 – Incident narrated by Gp. Capt. Cecil Choudhry (Retd), SJ.
6 – Chamb encounter based on accounts from: (a) Death of Four Vampires by Sqn. Ldr. Imtiaz Bhatti, SJ – “Shaheen” (Winter 1968 issue). (b) Battle for Pakistan by John Fricker. (c) “Fiza’ya – Psyche of The Pakistan Air Force” by Pushpindar Singh, Ravi Rikhye & Peter Steinemann. (d) Air Attack: Outbreak of the War (Sep 1st-6th) on Bharat Rakshak Forum (Internet).
7- No. 7 Squadron, considered IAF-s most elite unit, was at the receiving end of PAF-s onslaught, losing eight Hunters and five pilots during the war; today it is equipped with Mirage-2000.
8 – As quoted by Cecil in Target Halwara – “Shaheen” (Winter 1969 issue).
9 – Gandhi is quoted as having seen the Sabre’s canopy fly off just before it hit the ground, possibly an unsuccessful ejection attempt – in The Famous Halwara Encounter on Bharat Rakshak Forum (Internet).
10 – Many years later, Gandhi met Cecil in Iraq where both were on deputation. Gandhi duly acknowledged Cecil as the victor and introduced him as such to his wife!
11 – Reconstruction of Halwara encounter based on portions of accounts having common ground, from: (a) Flt. Lt. Cecil Choudhry’s statement to Court of Inquiry constituted on 24-9-65. (b) Target Halwara by Flt. Lt. Cecil Choudhry, SJ “Shaheen” (Winter 1969 issue). (c) The Battle Axes No. 7 Squadron IAF 1942-1992 by Pushpindar Singh. (d) The Famous Halwara Encounter on Bharat Rakshak Forum (Internet).
12 – Final outcome presupposes veracity of losses acknowledged by IAF.
13 – All four IAF pilots of the Halwara encounter were awarded the Vir Chakra (equivalent to Sitara-e-Jurat) – “History of Indian Air Force” by Air Marshal M. S. Chaturvedi.