The story of Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya, MVC (Posthumous)
Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya, Credits: Indian Air Force
Operation Grand Slam
With the failure of ‘Operation Gibraltar’, Pakistan launched ‘Operation Grand Slam’ to launch an offensive in the Chhamb-Akhnoor sector to capture the Akhnoor bridge and hit the Jammu-Pathankot highway and cut-off Jammu from the rest of India. The Indian Army launched a counter-offensive in Sialkot and Lahore to make territorial gains in Pakistan and the task was given to I Corps and XI Corps respectively for the same.
The Indian Air Force had not seen much action since World War II, like in the Indo-China war of 1962, the IAF’s role was reduced to reconnaissance and transportation. An offensive operation would have changed the fate of war with China.
IAF enters the war
The Pakistan Air Force launched an aerial offensive over the Chhamb sector on September 1, 1965, providing aerial support to the ground forces for their offensive, thus giving the ground forces tactical superiority to counter the Indian Army.
The Pathankot airbase is close to Punjab-Jammu border and was developed to support forward operations in the Chhamb-Akhnur-Jammu sector, Poonch-Uri-Jhangar sector. An attack on Pathankot airbase was inevitable. The Indian Air Force was ordered to launch an offensive air power and on the same day i.e. September 1, 1965 and the Indian Air Force entered the war with its Vampires, Mysteres, Gnats against Pakistani F-86 Sabres.
India Strikes Back
With the Pakistan Army making gains in the Chhamb sector, India decided to open another front in the Punjab sector and launched offensive operations in the Lahore and Sialkot sector to bring in leverage in the war, with the task given to XI Corps and I Corps for the same.
With D-Day being chosen as 6th September the Indian Army crossed the International Border and began its offensive. Pakistan decided to counter by seizing the initiative in the air and planned pre-emptive airstrikes on 6th September with its Sabres and B-57 Canberra bombers, with Sabres targeting the Adampur, Halwara and Pathankot airfields and Canberra Bombers carrying out night raids over Jamnagar airfield.
“Opportunities multiply as they are seized” - Sun Tzu
The IAF riposte to the PAF strikes came early next morning at 0530 hours with a plan to carry out air raids over Sargodha and Chota Sargodha airbase. The Sargodha complex was one of the most defended airbases in Asia. The task was given to different Squadrons of Mysteres, Hunters.
The ‘Tigers’ in the air
After conducting successful raids over the Sargodha complex, Mysteres from No. 1 Squadron (Tigers) commanded by Wing Commander OP Taneja had to retreat due to low fuel. While on their way back to Adampur airbase, they were intercepted by an F-104 Starfighter, the most advanced and lethal supersonic interceptor aircraft armed with advanced AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
The subsonic Mystere was no match against the supersonic F-104 Starfighter.
The Mystere’s chances of survival against an F-104 was nil.
The Dogfight (One vs One situation)
The F-104 Starfighter flown by Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain intercepted the Mysteres. Squadron Leader AB Devayya decided to engage with the Starfighter to ensure a safe passage for other Mysteres.
Flt. Lt. Amjad Hussain fired a Sidewinder missile, Devayya a courageous pilot managed to manoeuvre his aircraft, with the missile hitting the ground. The F-104 was rapidly closing in and got hold of Mystere’s tail. Amjad Hussain opened his six-barrelled 20mm cannon and opened fire on Mystere thus damaging the aircraft. Not caring about his safety, Squadron Leader Devayya did not eject and manoeuvred his aircraft to stay in action. Starfighter slowed down but Devayya managed to catch his tail. Amjad rapidly carried out a reversal to engage with the Mystere.
Amjad did a yo-yo manoeuvre to zoom up and get a height advantage. He then dropped to engage with the Mystere, Devayya quickly assessed the situation and pulled up towards him, thus forcing Amjad to do another yo-yo. In an attempt to get behind the Mystere, Starfighter slowed down and Devayya forced Amjad to enter into Horizontal scissors. With each scissor passing by, the flight moved to lower levels. As flat scissors progresses, the range between the aircrafts gets smaller.
Devayya turned hard and thus forced Amjad to go for a reversal and because of this, now the Starfighter was in Mystere’s gun sight. Devayya opened his 30mm cannon and fired at point-blank range at F-104 and therefore damaging the aircraft. Flt. Lt. Amjad Hussain was forced to eject at a low level. Sqn Ldr. AB Devayya was not able to eject due to its damaged Mystere and therefore the aircraft crashed into the ground.
The action was over in less than 2 minutes but no one in No. 1 Squadron at Adampur airbase knew as to what exactly happened to Devayya. He was declared ‘missing in action’ (MIA) and a year later ‘killed in action’(KIA).
The Pakistan government appointed a British historian John Fricker to document the official history of the 1965 war. The document was titled ‘The Battle for Pakistan: Air War of 1965’. The book was commissioned in 1979.
Wing Commander OP Taneja retired as a Group Captain and came across this book, where he was surprised to see that PAF admitted to the loss of a Starfighter during IAF Ops over Sargodha. This caught Taneja’s attention and he connected the dots and deduced that it was Devayya who shot down the F-104 as another Mystere flown by Flt. Lt. UB Guha was hit by a Sidewinder.
Amjad Hussain was shot again in 1971 and was taken POW and during interrogation, he admitted that he had entered into a dogfight with an IAF Mystere. Gp. Cpt. OP Taneja compiled all the information and wrote a letter to the CAS and recommended that AB Devayya should be awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his gallant action that was unknown to the world.
GP Cpt OP Taneja’s letter to CAS, Photo Credits: ThePrint
In 1988, the Indian Government awarded the retrospective Maha Vir Chakra to Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya. He’s the only IAF pilot to be awarded the MVC posthumously.
In the aftermath of the dogfight that took place along the LOC when Wing Commander Abhinandan shot down an F-16 with his MiG-21 Bison, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa while speaking at an event in Coimbatore said, “In 1965, a heavy slow-moving IAF Mystere shot down a Pakistani F-104 Starfighter. Something similar to what happened in the last few days.”
India’s Wars 1947-1971: Page no. 287, 301