Vijay Diwas: How IAF's 'Sabre slayers' shot down PAF jets in dogfight during battle of Boyra


The battle of Boyra was an aerial battle fought between the IAF and Pakistan Air Force jets just days ahead of the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971. 

Battle of Boyra

The battle of Boyra fought by IAF's Gnats on 22nd November 1971 set the stage for the Bangladesh liberation war in December of that year as the Indian Air Force moved to destroy the Pakistan Air Force(PAF).

The battle of Boyra was an aerial battle fought between the IAF and Pakistan Air Force jets in the little known Boyra peninsula.  

A detachment of Gnats moved to Dum Dum airport in Kolkata from its parent base at Kalaikunda to deal with the Pakistani jets.

(Photo Courtesy: IAF)


Ground assault at Garibpur

The newly built 22 Squadron of the Indian Air Force was around five years old at the time of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. The detachment at Dum Dum was operating from September 1971 as tensions began to peak between India and Pakistan.

The air war started due to the ground offensive carried out in the Boyra peninsula by Bangladesh's Mukti Bahini along with India's military as they moved to capture Garibpur inside Pakistan territory.

Pakistan brought in its M24 Chaffee light tanks against well built defensive positions of the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini.

(Photo Courtesy: IAF)


Pak ground attack halted

The Pakistani assault led to heavy casualties as Punjab battalion's PT-76 tanks destroyed Pakistan's  Chaffee tanks.

As a stalemate ensured with Pakistan unable to push back the Indian assault, the Pakistan Army called for air support in order to protect Garibpur which was of strategic importance to the Pakistan war effort.

Pakistan called in its sophisticated Sabre fighters on 22 November 1971. Pakistan's Canadiar Sabres operated by PAF's 14 squadron moved into the area to repel the Indian attack.

IAF scrambled four Gnats but the Pakistani Sabres returned to their territory. In the second raid too the Pakistani jets could not be intercepted, however, the IAF intercepted the PAF planes as it flew for the third time.



IAF, PAF dogfight

In the dogfight that followed Indian Gnats dived in to tackle the Sabres. One Sabre was shot down as the pilot ejected and the wreckage fell in Bongaon village.

The IAF formation in the dogfight was led by Flight Lieutenant Roy Andrew Massey and included Flight Lieutenant MA Ganapathy, Flying Officer SF Soares and Flying Officer D Lazarus.  

In the operation, two Pakistani Air Force Sabres were shot down and one was damaged. According to the IAF, it was the "first aerial engagement" between IAF and PAF in the buildup to the 1971 war as Indian Gnats intercepted PAF Sabres over Boyra.

(Photo Courtesy: IAF)


IAF's Sabre Slayers

After the air battle, the 22 Squadron of the IAF was rechristened as "Sabre Slayers" and decorated with battle honours.

Flt Lt RA Massey, Flt Lt MA Ganapathy and Flight Officer D Lazarus were awarded the Vir Chakra for their role in the air battle.

According to the Indian Army, the IAF fought a major aerial battle with Pakistani Sabres on a strafing mission with three Pak jets shot down.


Mukti Bahini: Bangladesh's freedom warriors

Bangladesh's Mukti Bahini(freedom warriors) was instrumental in fighting a guerrilla war against the Pakistan Army as a paramilitary force during the war of liberation in 1971.

The valiant fighters targeted Pakistan's key military and economic installations in a sabotage operation before the India-Pakistan war broke out in December, 1971. 

The homegrown network conducted intelligence and undercover operations blunting the Pakistan forces as atrocities by Pakistani forces increased in the run-up to the 71 war.


Liberation of Dhaka

Mukti Bahini was the precursor to the formation of the Bangladesh defence force. As a fighting unit during the war, it carried out operations as a  Bengali guerrilla army playing a key role in the battle of Sylhet, Garibpur and Boyra.

The Mukti Bahini forces were at the forefront of the liberation of Dhaka as Pakistani generals surrendered to the valiant fighters as the battle for the capital came to an end in mid-December, 1971.


Muhammad Ataul Goni Osmani

The Mukti Bahini was led by ex-Pakistan military leader Muhammad Ataul Goni Osmani from April 1971. 

A veteran of the Burma campaign for the British forces in World War II, Osmani organized the local militia into a fighting unit working tirelessly to overcome a much superior Pakistani army on the field.

Osmani as commander-in-chief led from the front taking on various combat sectors inside the then East Pakistan. Osmani divided the newly formed army into battalions deploying regular forces and freedom fighters as they took on the Pakistani Army.


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