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In a war of 140 characters, American flying icon awards 1971 victory to Pakistan

American flying ace Chuck Yeager, who first broke the sound barrier, seems to have gotten the 1971 India-Pakistan war so wrong: He believes Pakistan won, because it remained a sovereign nation, India didn’t annex it.

world Updated: Sep 09, 2016 01:13 IST
Yashwant Raj
An Indian Air Force's (IAF) AN-32 transport aircraft releases chaff as it flies past the IAF Day Parade in New Delhi.
An Indian Air Force's (IAF) AN-32 transport aircraft releases chaff as it flies past the IAF Day Parade in New Delhi.(AP File Photo)

American flying ace Chuck Yeager, who first broke the sound barrier, seems to have gotten the 1971 India-Pakistan war so wrong: He believes Pakistan won, because it remained a sovereign nation, India didn’t annex it.

This claim came in a testy Twitter exchange with TV host and former editor Shekhar Gupta, who started out Wednesday night (India time) by teasing Yeager about his role helping the Pakistani Air Force in 1971.

“You touched no nerve-you don’t have that power. Pakistan won. They are a sovereign nation. India did not annex them,” Yeager, who is 93, wrote in a post further down into the exchange.

Pakistan won, because India didn’t annex them? This is not how he saw it in 1986 when he wrote “Yeager: An autobiography”. He then said, having seen the war from up close as US adviser to the Pakistan Air Force, East Pakistan — now Bangladesh — fell in three days, and Pakistan stopped India from annexing that part by opening up the western front.

Here is how he went further, much further, on Twitter.

Gupta started with this tweet: “Gen, @GenChuckYeager have you written abt your role with PAF in ‘71 war besides yr memoir. Was your parked plane shot up by IAF at Chaklala?”

Yeager, a seemingly spry tweeter, shot back in minutes: “Asked & answered many x. Indian pilots shot themselves in the foot. That plane helped rescue downed Indian pilots.”

Gupta responded: “Sorry, I touched a raw nerve, Gen. You’re among the finest fighter pilots ever but sadly were on losing side in ’71”

Yeager followed that one with the Pakistan-won claim.

Gupta had squeezed in one another by then: “And the pilot who you say shot himself in the foot by strafing yr plane rose to head Indian Navy, Adm Arun Prakash.”

And Yeager was up to it once again: “Not because he shot an unguarded parked airplane - one that had been used to help his countrymen. But in spite of it”.

In sum, here is what Yeager said: One, Pakistan won the 1971 war because India left it standing and did not annex it; and two, Admiral Prakash shot up an unguarded plane, as if that’s not an honourable thing to do in a war.

Yeager is a celebrated US air force pilot who first earned acclaim shooting down 13 German planes during World War II, and then for breaking the sound barrier as a test pilot in 1947.

His flight to fame formed the anchor for “The right stuff”, a 1983 film that covers 15 years of American airpower, based on a book by the same name by Tom Wolfe.

Yeager continued in the US air force till his retirement in 1975, four years after he was sent, he has said in his book “Yeager”, to advise the Pakistani air force months before the 1971 war.

To his credit, the general, as Yeager prefers to be called — he retired as a brigadier general, did write about his plane being “totaled” in a raid by Indian Air Force.

It was a small Beech Queen Air, which he used for rescuing downed Indian pilots among other things. And he had planned to remove it out of sight to protect it.

In his own words: “I had it parked at the Islamabad airport, and I remember sitting on my front porch on the second day of the war, thinking that maybe I ought to move that airplane down to the Iranian border, out of range of the Indian bombers, when the damned air-raid siren went off, and a couple of Indian jets came streaking in overhead. A moment later, I saw a column of black smoke rising from the air field. My Beech Queen was totaled.

“It was the Indian way of giving Uncle Sam the finger.”

In 2007, Admiral Prakash, the pilot who shot it up, wrote about it saying it was an afterthought: “Pulling out of the second dive, through a gap in the fog I caught a glimpse of a row of small transport aircraft lined up on the secondary runway. The sight was too tempting. Putting all thought of the Hercules out of my mind, and ignoring the multiple arcs of tracer fire, I swung around in a tight high-G turn and emptied my guns on whatever was visible of the light aircraft.”