“It was around 10:30 am on September 7, 1965. That was my third sortie (from Kalaikunda air base) on that day. We were flying (Hunters) at 20,000 feet. We were not allowed to cross the border. As there was detection from Pakistan side (East Pakistan), we were informed that Kalaikunda was under attack,” remembers Flt Lt Alfred Tyrone Cooke (retd).
Now settled in Australia, Cooke returned on Monday to dedicate his Vir Chakra which he earned in 1965 war to his squadron at Ambala. The ceremony took place around the same time when the action took place 50 years ago. Cooke adds, “We told the air traffic controller that we were ready and give us direction. We zoomed back. I was driving at .95 Mac…”
When Flt Lt Cooke and his junior went back, they saw black smoke of Sabre aircrafts. “I was enraged that my home is raided. I told Mamgain (Flying Officer Subhash Chand Mamgain) lets go and get them. We spilt it up. He went for 3 Sabre and I went for other 3.”
The dogfight started. Cooke fired at one of the Sabres jet, but he missed. “He pulled off. I told myself these guys are not bad but very good.”
“I jettisoned the Hunter; it was like riding a sports car. Hunters had much more power than Sabres. The Sabre had less thrust. The idea was to get behind the aircraft.”
‘It (air combat maneuvering) went on for 10 minutes. I was thinking I couldn’t get him. He was good, I was worried. It was like the Korean movie ‘The Bridges at Toko-Ri’. But their tactics were quite structured as if from a book. Our training was quite different. My people had told me to throw the book… Aircraft has to be an integral part of you. I was able to preempt what he was doing.”
“I was focusing on it. Then his aircraft exploded and I flew through the fireball.”
“His name was Afzal. We were flying too close that I saw his name written on his white helmet.”
Cooke then engaged the second Sabre. “I was firing but it was not exploding. He increased his angle of diving and started rising up. I didn’t stop firing. He flew across IIT Kharagpur and people have seen it crashing in East Pakistan. The pilot had ejected.”
Cooke picked up the third Sabre and again dog fight started. He managed to make it flee. “I was out of ammunition. I had no drop tank so I was able to pull out. I was shaken…But I got my equilibrium…”
After that he went after the fourth Sabre but he was lacking any ammunition. “He was manoeuvering and looping I was hoping that a bullet is left. The Sabre was heading towards East Pakistan. I came under anti-aircraft fire also.”
After making Sabre to flee, he contacted Kalaikunda air base but no one answered. “Everyone had left their posts and gone into trenches. My wing was shattered. I hardly had any fuel left.”
Cooke had to land at Dum Dum civilian airport. “I did a kiss landing and deployed the tail parachute to bring the aircraft under control. The aircraft stopped midway (as there was no fuel). I asked for a ladder but they said it was not available. They told me to jump. I did not have the breakfast. I just had tea and a few biscuits. I was on empty stomach. I was drained out, both emotionally and physically. A burly man came and told me he would catch me. He got hold of me and I didn’t hit the ground.”
Crooke left air force in December 1968 and the next year he shifted to Australia. His junior Mamgain also got Vir Chakra.