From the IAF Vault: Story of four ad-hoc combat squadrons of Indian Air Force
Sixteen Vir Chakras, three Vayu Sena Medals,one Vishisht Seva Medal and five Mention-in-Dispatches -- these are the earnings of four ad-hoc IAF combat squadrona. IAF historian Anchit Gupta traces the history of the 120,121,122 and 123 squadrons that were manned by aircraft and instructors from training establishments
The 120 Squadron was activated in 1965 at Jodhpur using Vampire aircraft from the Control and Reporting Flight School. The Squadron was awarded a Vir Chakra, Vayu Sena Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal. In the 1971 war, it was activated with Mystere aircraft from Target Tow Flight (TTF) and pilots from the TTF, 3 and 31 Squadrons, operating from Bikaner Air Force Station earning four Vir Chakras and Vishisht Seva Medals.
In 1965, they were employed in low-level tactical missions over enemy territory disrupting supplies. They also flew combat air patrols, including at night time and dissuaded enemy bombers. Then squadron leader Inder Jeet Singh Parmar was awarded Vir Chakra, he flew four combat sorties in quick succession and chased the enemy bombers away.
In 1971, VN Johari, Commanding Officer of Target Towing Flight Jamnagar and 6 pilots, operated the Mystere aircraft doing tactical reconnaisance and disrupting supplies deep into enemy territory destroying railyards, oil dumps, and munitions. They earned 4 Vir Chakras for the daring role.
On 5 December 1971, Air Vice Marshal Aditya Vikram Pethia (then Flight Lieutenant) spotted a train towards Bhaval Nagar transporting about 15 tanks. Despite enemy ground fire, he made two attacks and destroyed two trains. However, his aircraft was hit by ground fire and he was taken as Prisoner of War.
The 121 squadron was activated in the 1971 war and comprised of 15 Vampire aircraft from C&R School (later renamed as Air Defence College), Aircrew Training and Testing Team, Armament Training Wing, and Fighter Training Wing. Nine of these operated from Srinagar and another six from Halwara. The squadron earned three Vir Chakra medals, two Vayu Sena medals and one Mention-in-Despatches.
The Srinagar detachment was commanded by MS Sekhon with seven pilots, eight aircraft and 29 airmen. They flew missions in Poonch, Uri, Tithwal and Kargil sectors and damaged several enemy bunkers, vehicles, mortar positions, petrol, oil and lubricants, and ammunition dumps. The Kargil war revived thoughts of something similar.
The Halwara detachment under Wing Commander Walter Marshal was called the 'Green Beret' flight for an interesting paint job. The aircraft were painted a mix of blue-black and grey in whatever format the painter wielded his brush. The jaws were in white and the teeth in red giving the painting a 'fearsome look'.
They flew at night, in black-out conditions, and attacked railyards, petrol, oil and lubricants, and munition dumps deep inside enemy territory. The Navigator/Pilot RH seat did all the chores of navigation, map reading, re-setting the stopwatch, course correction calculations and re-setting the compass.
He would raise his seat and look out and down for pin-points calling out and discussing course change and monitoring speed, direction and height. On weapons delivery, he would set switches, call out the pullup point and height, speed and roll in direction and the command 'fire' and pull out.
In 1971, the 122 squadron had pilots and aircraft from the Hunter (Operational Training Unit) at Jamnagar sent to Jaisalmer. They had six aircraft. The unit did exceptionally well in what came to be known as the Battle of Longewala, earned seven Vir Chakras and three Mention-in-Despatches. MS 'Minhi' Bawa, CI Jamnagar, would earn Ati Vishisht Seva Medal as Jaisalmer Commanding Officer.
Longewala would turn out to be one of the biggest tank losses in history. About 80 were destroyed or damaged besides ammunition, vehicles, factories, and dumps. A Dramatised depiction of this battle in the movie 'Border' significantly downplayed the IAF's role.
But this was not all, Donald Melvyn Conquest, then Commanding Officer of the Operational Training Unit, led a formation that attacked and set fire to the Karachi Port bulk oil installation. The next day, he carried out a daring attack on Mauripur airfield and destroyed at least six enemy aircraft on the ground earning a Vir Chakra.
The 123 squadron was first activated for operations in Nagaland with Harvard equipped with a machine gun and an F24 aerial camera for recce at Tezpur in 1962. The squadron was activated again during the 1971 war with five T-6G/Harvard aircraft from the Air Force Academy and the Flying Instructors School.
It operated from Sirsa till 6 December 1971 and thereafter at Rajouri Advanced Landing Ground. The aircraft were painted Dark Green on the surface and black underneath. They were rigged with Hunter electric boxes, carried six T-10 rockets and did 13 operational sorties during the war. The squadron earned one Vir Chakra.