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The Battle of Boyra, on 22 November 1971, was the first engagement between the Air Forces of Indiamarker and Pakistanmarker of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. It is seen as a culmination of the Battle of Garibpur where the Indian Air Force successfully engaged and destroyed strike elements of the Pakistan Air Force.

The Boyra Engagement in brief

The battle took place between a four ship formation of the No. 22 squadron of the Indian Air Force equipped with HAL built Ajeet, against a four ship formation of Canadair Sabres of the PAF No. 14 Squadron.

No. 22 squadron, based in Kalaikunda AFB, was tasked with the air defence of Calcutta sector. The Squadron was formed in October 1966 at Bareilly and had been equipped with the HAL built Ajeets immediately. It was part of 5 Wing at Kalaikunda from September 1968 onwards. The unit started operating a detachment under the command of Wing Commander BS Sikand from the Dum Dum airfield in Calcutta which was activated from 22 September 1971.

Sikand had been taken as a prisoner of war in Pakistan in the 1965 War under curious circumstances after landing in an abandoned airfield in Pasrur in Pakistan. PAF claim he surrendered to Flight Lt. Hakimullah from the No. 9 Squadron flying in his F-104 Starfighter. However, Sikand himself claimed that he had landed in the airfield believing it to be an Indianmarker airfield. This is half corroborated by the semi-official website which was set up by the [then] serving Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail. Tufail writes that Hakimullah had not seen the Gnat so cannot claim to have 'forced' the surrender. He does however speculate that even though the F-104s may not have seen the Gnat, the Gnat pilot may have seen the F-104s.

The Indian air force later would award Sikand the AVSM, which may indicate that they were more prepared to believe Sikhand's version over PAF's.

Background to the ground battle

The initial skirmishes grew progressively bloody and on 21 November a group of Mukti Bahini assisted by Indian Army elements established a foothold in the Boyra Peninsula in what was then East Pakistan. This turned into full scale battle Battle of Garibpur when the Pakistani army bought in a squadron of M24 Chaffee tanks into the battle. These were promptly taken on by a Squadron of PT-76 Tanks from the 45 Cavalry regiment. In the ensuing battle, 13 of the Pakistani tanks were destroyed or incapacitated by the Indian forces which lost four of its own tanks damaged or destroyed, but had been able to draw the battle into its second day.

Facing a reversal on the ground, the Pakistani Army commander called on for air support. This only materialised on the second day of the battle.
Flt Lt.
Roy Massey.

The first intrusion of four Sabres were picked up in the Jessoremarker area on Indian radar at 0811 hours. These were the Canadair Sabres operated by No. 14 PAF squadron and were more powerful version of the Canadian built Sabre powered by the Orenda engine. It has been alleged by later historians that these were smuggled into Pakistan through a clandestine deal organised between Germanymarker and Iranmarker.No.22 Squadron scrambled four Gnat from Dum Dummarker. However the Sabres had flown back to their territory by the time the Gnats could make it to Boyra.

A second raid by the Pakistanis followed at 1028 hours. An interception could not be carried out in time and the Sabres went off unscathed. A third strike was carried out in the afternoon on the Indian Army and Mitrobaihini positions at Chowgachha Mor. This time, however, luck had run out.

The pick-up

At around 1448 hours, the radar picked up the four Sabres as they pulled up in a north westerly direction to about above ground level. Within a minute, the ORP at Dum Dum was scrambled. Four Gnats took off by 1451 hours led by the formation leader Flt Lt Roy Andrew Massey. It was less than three minutes from the time the Sabres were detected by the radar.

The Fighter controller in the sector was Fg Offr KB Bagchi. His voice went over the radio "One O'Clock, 10 Nautical Miles". Massey Replied "Contact, I can see them pull up". The Sabres seemed to have already carried out several passes in the eight minutes it took the Gnats to reach the Boyra Sailent. The Sabres were commencing to start another dive - they were at about 1800 feet altitude and diving down to 500' in an attack run.
"Right wing over attack". shouted Bagchi, "half twelve, thousand yards".
"Contact" replied Massey.
"Request type", was Bagchi's query.
"Shoot" was the command from the Fighter Controller.

It was 1459 hours.

I Got Him!!!

The four Gnats separated into two sections and dived into the attack to bounce the Sabres. The first section of Gnats was of Massey and Fg Offr SF Soarez as his No.2. The second section consisted of Flt Lt MA Ganapathy and Fg Offr D Lazarus. As the Gnats dived in, a section of two Sabres pulled out of the attack and placed themselves in an awkward position, just in front of Ganapathy and Lazarus. Ganapathy called out on the R/T "Murder Murder Murder" . Both the pilots did not waste time on this perfect opportunity. Cannon shells slammed into the pair of Sabres and both the Sabres were badly damaged. In the footage released by Indian Air force, one of the jubilant pilots can be heard shouting "I got him!!! I got him!!!". The Pakistani pilots Parvez Mehdi Qureshi and Khaleel Ahmed had only one option- to eject. They drifted down to Boyra by parachute. The wreckage of the abandoned Sabres fell near the village of Bongaonmarker. Massey, in the meantime, pulled up over Ganapathy and Lazarus to latch onto another Sabre. The Sabre pilot, Wg. Cdr Chaudhury- in a skillful dogfighting move- broke into Massey's attack forcing him to take a high angle-off burst. He missed his target. Taking aim, Massey let off another burst at and hit him in the port wing. By that time, Massey's starboard cannon had stopped firing, but the Sabre streaked back into Pakistani territory billowing smoke and fire. Massey himself realised that he was well over East Pakistani airspace in his chase. He turned around and regrouped with the rest of his formation. Later reports confirmed that Massey's victim, Wg. Cdr Chaudhury, showing considerable courage, had managed to fly his badly damaged Sabre back to Tezgaon Airfield just outside Dhakamarker. Chaudhury himself claimed to have shot down one of the Gnats, but it is clear that all the four Indian pilots survived without any scratch on them.

Down the line

  • The Indian pilots were each awarded the Vir Chakra. The Fighter Controller Fg Offr KB Bagchi was awarded Vayu Sena Medal. Wg. Cdr. Sikand was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM).
  • Massey would later command No. 224 Squadron of the IAF which operated MiG-23MF. He was killed in 1983 after his aircraft suffered a bird hit over a firing range.
  • Donald Lazarus went on to become a Flight commander on No. 102 Squadron of the IAF- The Trisonics- which operated Indiamarker's top secret Mig-25s.
  • MA Ganapathy killed himself in 1976 suffering acute depression.
  • Parvez Qureshi would later go on to be the CAS of PAF.
  • Some reports and analysis suggests that the Pakistanimarker Pilots were under orders not to fire back. However, what is beyond doubt is that at least Qureshi and Ahmed would not have had the opportunity to do so had the orders been given.
  • Tezgaon airfield was subjected to a nihilist offensive campaign by the Indian Airforce and was rendered inoperable by the third day after the formal declaration of war on 3 December, 1971.
  • PAF No.14 Squadron defied orders to destroy their aircraft at the time of surrender on 14 December. These were captured by the Indian Army Mitrobahini and donated to the nascent Bangladesh Air Force.

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