When IAF Gnat Jets Shot 3 Pak Sabres In 1971

Thousands on the ground saw the air battle of Boyra and the four IAF pilots were heroes of Boyra.

New Delhi:

The crisis in East Pakistan reached a climax with one of the most significant wars fought in modern history which led to splitting Pakistan into two and the creation of Bangladesh.

The Pakistani army’s genocide in East Pakistan created a problem of refugee influx for India and Since 1947, this was the first time the Indian armed forces were ready to fight a war to create a new country.

Almost two weeks before the official declaration of war on December 3, 1971, Indian tanks silenced enemy guns in east Pakistan in the Battle of Garibpur, a preemptive strike aimed to hit the Boyra salient in east Pakistan following continuous air space violations and artillery shelling on Indian villages in the east. 

Battle Of Boyra

The Gnats from 22 Squadron, ‘Swifts’, of the Indian Air Force intercepted four Pakistani F-86 Sabre jets and claimed their first kill in the war on November 22 before it was officially declared. The Pakistani Sabres from 14 Squadron, the ‘Tail Choppers’, were airborne to provide air support to troops battling in Garibpur.

The Sabres were picked up near Jessore in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by Indian radars and Gnats were scrambled under the call sign ‘Cocktail’ from the Dum Dum airbase in West Bengal to intercept.

Gnats hold a special place in Indian Air Force’s (IAF) history. In 1965, Gnat, piloted by Trevor Keelor, from 23 Squadron shot down F-86 Sabres over Pathankot and the IAF claimed its first-ever kill post-independence.

India’s 14 Punjab (Nabha Akal) under Headquarters 42 Infantry Brigade under 9 Infantry Division was tasked to capture Garibpur, 9 Km east of Boyra salient, on the first light of November 21. The Nabha Akal battalion under the command of Lt Col RK Singh was supported by 45 Cavalry’s ‘Charlie’ (C) Squadron of PT-76 Tanks, famously known as ‘Pippa’, under Major DS Narang’s command.

As the dawn broke on November 21, a fierce battle began between India and Pakistan. The Indian battalion-sized deployment was turning on Pakistan’s brigade-sized deployment which was supported by an independent armoured squadron and Arty (Artillery), and later by Pak’s F-86 Sabre fighter jets.


Four IAF Gnat flown by Flight Lieutenant (Flt Lt) Ganapathy, Flt Lt Massey, Flying Officer (Fg Offr) Soares and Fg Offr Lazarus vectored their Gnats in the direction of Sabres. Fg Off Bagchi was in command of the radar scope. Almost 17 minutes and 150×30 mm Cannon rounds later, the IAF shot down a Sabre.

Flt Lt Ganapathy radioed – “Murder, Murder, Murder!” after the first Sabre was shot down. The Indian Air Force shared a montage of images of Sabre being shot down by the Gnat. The pictures were taken by the Gun Camera of one of the Gnats. Two Sabres were shot down and one was limping towards Dacca (now Dhaka).

Thousands on the ground saw the air battle of Boyra and the four IAF pilots were heroes of Boyra. Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram garlanded the Gnat pilots who shot down the Sabres.

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The sound of guns echoed for over 7 hours in Garibpur. When guns went silent, 11 M-24 Chaffees were found destroyed and three abandoned in good condition, while the victory came at the cost of 2 PT-76 tanks. Major DS Narang (Chiefy) was killed in action. Major Narang was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (Posthumously).

Brigadier Balram Mehta, who was a captain back then, has written a detailed account of the Battle of Garibpur in his book ‘The Burning Chaffees’. The book has been turned into a motion picture named ‘Pippa’, which was released earlier this month.

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