Alam knew that downing four enemy aircraft in less then one minute was a feat that took some explaining. "I developed a technique of firing very short bursts - around half a second or less," he said. "The first burst was almost a sighter, but with a fairly large bullet pattern from six machine guns, it almost invariably punctured the fuel tanks so that they streamed kerosene. During the battle of September 7, as we went around into a turn, I could just see, in light of the rising sun, the plumes of fuel gushing from the tanks after my hits. Another half-second burst was then sufficient to set fire to the fuel, and, as the Hunter became a ball of fire, I would quickly shift my aim forward to the next aircraft. The Sabre carried about 1,800 rounds of ammunition for its six 0.5 inch guns, which can therefore fire about 15 seconds. In air combat, this is lifetime. Every fourth or fifth round is an armor-piercing bullet, and the rest are HEI - high explosive incendiary.
"My fifth victim of this sortie started spewing smoke and then rolled on to his back at about 1,000 feet. I thought he was going to do a barrel role, which at low altitude is a very dangerous maneuver for the pursuer if the man in front knows what he is doing. I went almost on my back and then realized I might not be able to stay with him, so I took off bank and pushed the nose down. The next time I fired was at very close range - about 600 feet or so - and his aircraft virtually blew in front of me.
"Hunter pilots won't believe it," remarked Alam. "I have flown the Hunters myself in England, and they are very maneuverable aircraft , but I think the F-86 is better. Actually the Sabre has a fantastic turning performance. Although the normal stalling speed with flap is about 92 knots or less in a descending scissors maneuver, between 100 and 120 knots is quite normal speed range to rack the Sabre around in combat….
"In a turn the Hunter slows down more quickly then the F-86 for the same application of g. for one thing, it has a much higher aspect ratio - in other words, the lower the speed, the higher the induced drag. This means the Hunter losses speed faster then the Sabre in a turn because of its higher drag rise, which the extra thrust can not counter. So in the turn I steadily closed up on the Hunters, which quickly decelerated from about 450 knots to around 240 knots, and would have had to pull about 7g to get away from me. As it was they just slid back into my sight, one by one."
Later, the Pakistanis found the wreckage of two of Alam's victims a few miles from the Sangla Hill railroad station, along with the bodies of their pilots - identified as a Hindu and a Sikh but otherwise too badly burnt for individual identification. The IAF later reported the loss of Squadron Leader S. B. Bhagwat and Flying Officer J. S. Brar of No. 7 Squadron. Alam's two other claims were evidently more examples of overclaiming in the heat of combat. His remaining antagonists, Wing Commander Toric Zacharaiah (the commander of the No.7 Squadron) and Flt. Lts. Ajit S. Lamba and Manmoham S. Sinha, returned to their base safely. Lamba and Sinha later went on to become air marshals of the IAF.
Alam's third and last air-to-air clash with the IAF occurred on September 16, when he and Flying Officer Mohammed I. Shaukat entered enemy airspace and were detected by the Indians flying 10 miles from the airfields of Halwara and Adampur. Two Hunters scrambled to intercept them. Alam reported the situation to the GCI at Sakesar and was asked if he wanted to engage the Indians, since his wingman had no more than 80 hours flying time in the Sabre and 19 combat missions in his logbook. "Now we are here," Alam replied. "We've got to fight."
"They were flying very fast," Alam reported afterwards. "We were doing about Mach .8 but they must have been diving at around Mach .95 or more. They couldn't stay in our turn, so they zoomed up in a yo-yo maneuver. When I reversed back they both pulled through from there, and we dived behind them until at about 13-14,000 feet they separated in a vertical break."
Alam went after the climbing Hunter and engaged it at about 20,000 feet. His frst burst of gunfire missed, but second scored a hit. "At the third burst he became a ball of flame," Alam said, "so I turned back and looked for my wingman…. Then suddenly I lost all radio contact with him, although I could see him in the distance and I saw the Hunter break away from him."
"The Hunter saw me," Alam continued, "and although he was close to his base, he didn't accept combat. He turned away from me and accelerated rapidly in a dive, although I followed as closely as possible behind him. I knew we were approaching close to the airfield of Halwara and suspected a trap, but then he did a loose sort of a roll to clear his tail, so he had obviously lost me. I had a good 5-6,000 feet below him, at about Mach .94 - .95, and when I felt that he was slowing down, I fired a Sidewinder at him. There was something wrong with the missile, however, as it turned through 90 degrees soon after its release."
"I continued diving after him, however, and then released my second Sidewinder, which scored a hit on his right wing root. As it began to smoke, I saw that we were crossing the Halwara Canal and as I was well inside Indian territory and getting a bit short of fuel, I immediately half-rolled and dived down to tree top level. When I hit the River Ravi, which marks the border between India and Pakistan, I climbed up to conserve fuel, feeling very miserable at having lost my No.2."
Although Alam had not seen the second Hunter crash, the PAF credited him with both planes, for his eight and ninth victories of the war. As in the earlier cases, one of the Alam's victim survived to give his own description of the fight. When the PAF's F-86s were reported, Flying Officer Prakash S. Pingale and F. Dara Bunsha of No. 7 Squadron scrambled up from Halwara. Pingale reported that he got behind the first Sabre, which turned south, then spotted the second "at about 4 o'clock at a range of about 1,000 yardsand about to fire on us." He then told Bunsha to "go for Sabre No. 1," while he engaged the other.
"Sabre No.2 attempted to shake me off by pulling up into the sun," Pingale said. "He also jettisoned his external loads and pulled up steeply as a last ditch maneuver to make me overshoot him, perhaps by the use of leading edge slats…. I was able to open fire at about 350-400 yards. The aircraft literally exploded in front of me."
At that point, Pingale saw saw Bunsha engaging in scissors maneuver with Alam's F-86. He radioed a warning to Bunsha that the Sabre held the advantage in such a fight. But Bunsha was going down in flames by the time he intervened. "Seeing me coming towards him Sabre No.1 left my No. 2 and turned towards me," Pingale continued. "As we crossed head-on, he opened fire on me…. As I reversed to engage Sabre No. 1 in 1 vs. 1 combat, to my utter dismay I found that instead of fighting with me he had half-rolled and was speedily trying to get away in a vertical dive. I attempted to close in but lost contact with Sabre No. 1 because I blacked out due to excessive g (around 8-10 as recorded by my g-meter)." As he returned to Halwara, Pingale could not recall seeing his Pakistani opponent ever fire a missile at him, but he later admitted that his preceptions were somewhat impaired by the pain of a slight back injury he had sustained after being hit by ground fire and bailing out a few days earlier, aggravated by the effects of his high-g turn. Pingale was rewarded the Vir Chakra for his valor in September 16 dogfight and is currently the inspector general of the IAF.
Just before his Sabre exploded in flames, Shaukat ejected at 12,000 feet over the eastern Punjabi village of Taran Taran. He was shot by civilians, who mistook him for a paratrooper, before reaching the ground and being taken prisoner. He was then taken to a hospital, where an Indian surgeon removed a .303 caliber bullet and some shotgun pellets from his body.
After being released in a prisoner exchange in February 1966, Shaukat rejoined the No. 11 Squadron. Inspite of his misfortune on September 16, 1965, he recently stated: " I still consider…M.M. Alam as an example of professional leader and a great human being. It was through his untiring effort that I became an operational fighter pilot in the F-86F well ahead of my many course mates and took part in the 1965 war. We should appreciate that Alam took with him an inexperienced pilot like me with only 80 hours on the F-86F as his only wingman and flew deep into the Indian territory and invited the IAF to fight in their sky. He was a source of inspiration and encouragement for many professional pilots in the PAF."
Shaukat later served in the Turkish air force as part of the Exchange Posting Program between the air arms of the North Atlantic Treaty and its allies. He was a flight lieutenant and had accumulated 1,200 hours flight time in the F-86 by the time East Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh in December 1971. At that point, however, Shaukat who had been born and raised in the eastern Bengali district of Bogra, chose to become a citizen of the new nation and joined the Bangladesh Air Force as a flight commander in its only fighter squadron. He subsequently took the Junior Commander's Course in India and studied at the RAF Staff College in Britain. Mohammad Shaukat-ul Islam applied his leadership training as commander of a squadron of Mikoyan-Gruevich Mig-21s, a wing and an air base. He flew 13 different types of aircraft before retiring with the rank of group captain in 1982. After that he served nine years as managing director of Biman (Bangladesh Airlines) and as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
On September 23 a cease-fire brought the Kashmir War to an end. Alam received the Sitara-I-Jurat and bar - the Pakistani equivalent of the British Distinguished Flying Cross and bar - for gallantry during the short conflict.
Alam commanded the No. 11 Squadron until April 1966. In November 1967, he was promoted to wing commander, given command of the No. 5 Squadron and charged with overseeing the introduction of the newly imported Dassault Mirage IIIEP into that unit.
At about that time, however, Alam began to have problems as a result of professional jealousies and personal resentment among fellow PAF officers. For one thing, there were some accusations that while Alam was a virtuoso pilot, his leadership qualities at the senior officer level left something to be desired. As Pakistan's first ace, much was expected of him after the war, and his more limited administrative abilities may have suffered further under the pressure of such expectations.
Alam was also reappraising his lifestyle, reaching the conclusion that the abandonment of traditional Islamic values by the PAF constituted a betrayal of the people it served. The most obvious symbol of that compromise of values was the consumption of alcohol. Alam not only quit drinking but also began trying to persuade his colleagues to banish alcohol from the officers' mess. Inevitably, Alam's growing zeal rubbed many PAF officers - a good many of whom were his superiors - the wrong way.
In 1969, Alam attended the Staff College, but was removed from the course in 1970 under the absurd pretext that he could not read and write. In May, he was relieved of his command of No.5 Squadron - which was given to Wing Commander Hakimullah Khan - and played no active role in the Indo-Pakistan War of December 1971. Alam was given command of No. 26 Squadron in January 1972 but lost it just two months later. His final position was chief of flight safety, but he continued to meddle in PAF policy.
Also in 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and commenced a series of social reforms. Among other things, Bhutto championed an end of elitism of the military and a return of consistent Islamic values. As one consequence of his efforts, by 1976 the PAF had gone officially "dry."
Alam took a leave of absence and slipped over the border into Afghanistan in 1979. It is believed that Alam advised the Mujahiddin guerrilas in their operations against the Soviet-backed Afghan government. After his return to Pakistan, he would say nothing about his activities, save that they had been inspired by his lone decision to aid the Afghans in a jihad (holy war) against the Soviet atheists.
When Alam retired on May 12, 1982, he had attained the rank of air commodore - the PAF equivalent of a brigadier general. When General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq took power, promising a return of traditional values, Alam welcomed the change. But he soon became disillusioned with Zia's regime, as well.
After that, Alam took up a life of austerity, living in a sparsely furnished apartment in Karachi with little more then a pile of books. As for the once-dashing ace of 1965, while Alam did appear with his fellow war veterans on Pakistani television as late as 1994, his comments on his war time service were disappointingly sparse. That had been another, earlier Mohammad Alam, he said - the new Alam was a different man, more concerned with spiritual integrity than with reliving old dogfights.
At a time when most military heroes are the subject of unqualified adulation, Pakistanis are not entirely sure what to make of Mohammad Alam. Although still looked upon askance by most senior officials of his old service, he continues to command the admiration of most junior officers and men of the PAF. Even those who did not share his religious views respect his integrity, as an "Islamic man for all seasons." It may be noted, too, that in recent years most of his older critics have retired and his younger admirers have become the PAF senior officers of today.
As for the question of separating the man from the myth, even his former Indian adversaries have acknowledged that when their actual losses are separated from the more nebulous claims, Alam's aerial achievements hold up on their own merits. In the final analysis then - and contrary, perhaps, to his own wishes - Alam's record assures his place as one of the great aces of the jet age.
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