The Tactical Air Centre attached to the Indian XV Corps sent in four Su-7s every half an hour, that flew from Adampur and were escorted by MIG-21s from Pathankot. The PAF was also present and the Indian ground forces reported that they were being attacked by Pakistani aircraft as soon as the IAF aircraft left the battle area.
In fact on the 6th of December, I had a grandstand view from Mandiala of a flight of F-86s destroying Indian 130mm guns that had been abandoned west of Tawi.
On the 8th of Dec 1971, a two-aircraft mission led by Sqn Ldr Denzil Keelor was ordered to fly a holding pattern behind the hills and intercept the PAF aircraft. His number two was Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh and the total brief he received from Keelor was "We are going hunting, let's go."
Before Apram knew what was happening, they were airborne, heading towards the battle area and clearing each other's tail. Little did he know the mission would end in disaster with Keelor shot down and his own aircraft badly damaged.
While writing the War History of 26 Cavalry, titled Forged in the Furnace of Battle, I was fortunate to get access to the accounts from both sides in which a squadron of my regiment lays claim to Keelor's MIG-21. The squadron was commanded by Maj Shamshad Ahmed and along with other units of 23 Division had closed up to the river in preparation for the assault across. Mixing these two accounts makes interesting reading. Let the reader bear in mind that the actual time of the following narrative probably lasted only 40 to 60 seconds.
Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh: "At this stage things started going wrong. We were on an air defence mission, but we flew straight over Pakistani Army concentrations at a height of 300 feet. The Pak army convoy was escorted by tanks with ZSU-23 mm air defence guns."
Author's Comments: The Pakistan Amy had no ZSU self-propelled anti-aircraft guns. In fact there were about four squadrons of tanks on the banks of the Tawi and Keelor's mission ran the gauntlet of fire of a mix of 12.7mm and Point 50 Brownings anti-aircraft machine guns. Maj Shamshad's Sherman squadron was equipped with the Point Five O which was a very effective anti-aircraft weapon of its time and could deliver a cyclic rate of 450-550 rounds per minute. Its effectiveness was a consequence of its ammunition, which excelled in its long range accuracy, external ballistics, stopping power, and lethality.
Maj Shamshad Ahmed:"I had just climbed on to the tank, when I saw two enemy aircrafts swooping down on my squadron. This was not new to us as we had been targeted since the beginning of the war and as a MiG-21 whizzed past, I happily engaged it with the Five O. Not having the foggiest idea of the pilot's intentions, I emptied the entire box of ammunition".
Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh:"Then for inexplicable reasons, Denzil decided to make a second pass over them".
Maj Shamshad Ahmed:"As the plane was about to disappear from sight, I saw to my horror that it was taking a U-turn for aligning back with our tanks. I suddenly realized that I was out of ammunition. Holy Caramba! I was caught with my pants down. I kicked the gunner in his butt and shouted for the ammunition box while keeping an eye on the aircraft as it completed its turn. In the next few precious seconds, I grabbed the box from the gunner, ripped it open (like opening a tin of sardines), dropped it in to the cradle, opened the body cover of the Browning, placed the ammunition belt with a zig-zag movement in the slot to hold the bullet; slammed the body cover shut, yanked the loading lever and sensed the bullet enter the chamber. If I had made any error in the sequence, surely somebody else would have been writing this story. When I pressed the butterfly trigger, I half feared I would hear a dull 'click'. The Brownings were in super condition, but of Second World War vintage. However, the gods were on my side. As I thumped the trigger, the gun barked into action."
Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh:"During this second pass, both of us got shot up by the anti-aircraft guns."
Maj Shamshad Ahmed:"The pilot had brought the plane down to tree top level and I could see his white helmet. I could also see from the tracers that the bullets were hitting the target. However, at the back of my mind I somehow felt that this was doomsday for me. One short burst from his 30mm cannon or a salvo of rockets and I would be blown into smithereens. Luckily, I got him first, because he pulled the plane straight up and ejected when he had gained enough height."
Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh:"We were both in a dive when hit by the fire. As soon as I got hit, I started pulling up, and Denzil was pulling up as well. There was a thick cloud and I couldn't see him. Both of us lost contact with each other."
Maj Shamshad Ahmed: "The pilotless aircraft plummeted towards the ground while a parachute drifted lazily towards the Tawi."
Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh:"That was the last I saw of him. I had lost my R/T (due to the AA fire) and there was no contact......My aircraft, on the other hand was shot up badly."
Maj Shamshad Ahmed: "There was rejoicing all around my tank, with 4th Punjab officers and men throwing up their helmets and berets in jubilation. Their CO, Col Rasheed, was one of the first to come and congratulate me. I for one was still in a daze after the life and death experience I had just been through."
Author's Comments: Jagan Pillarisetti who manages the the IAF section of the website Bharat Rakshak, informed the me that Denzil's mission didn't make any firing passes at all as they did not have rocketsor cannons- only Air to Air Missiles. Denzil states that he made the second pass to try and ID (identify) the formation and the next thing he knew, his aircraft was hit. He just had time to make a hard turn towards the Indian lines and ejected when things got too hairy. He 'made it' back; albeit after a suspenseful time lying on his back in no-man's-land. He was injured and could not walk or get up and the Indian patrol that came managed to carry him back.
Flt Lt Apram Jeet Singh:"My aircraft was shot up badly. The front leading edge of the left wing was split open. I had lost the left aileron and all the hydraulics, and the control of the tail section. I landed back at Pathankot, touching down at one and a half times the landing speed without the tail chute, flaps or the airbrakes."
Author's Comments: Flt Lt Apram returned to flying combat missions the next day and flew 21 operational missions during the 1971 War. For displaying exemplary skill and courage in bringing his aircraft safely back to base, he was awarded the Vir Chakra. He was also the founding CO of the squadron equipped with the MiG-25 Foxbat.
Acknowledgements: The account of Flt Lt ApramJeet Singh is drawn from his article 'Mission to Chamb' contained in the Website Bharat Rakshak. Maj Shamshad's account was published in the newsletter of Probyn's Horse. I am grateful to Jagan Pillarisetti for providing me additional information related to this event.