PAF’s most celebrated squadron

No 6 Squadron was the first PAF Squadron to receive a Squadron colour and battle honours for ‘Kashmir 1948’, ‘Kashmir 1965’ and 1965 and 1971 wars

No 6 Squadron, which is the oldest squadron of Pakistan Air Force, celebrated its 75th anniversary in a grand ceremony at PAF Base, Nur Khan. Having served in this prestigious squadron for nearly a decade in various stages of my air force career, this diamond jubilee meant a lot to me personally. It was attended by aircrews and their families who travelled from various parts of the globe to share the nostalgic moments. They came in wheelchairs, some on crutches and yet others hobbling with the help of walking sticks, because they did not want to miss this glorious reunion.

The current Officer Commanding of the Squadron, Group Captain Usman, in a tear jerking speech, interspersed with visuals of past achievements, mentions of Shaheeds, pioneers and innovators who surmounted challenges and led the squadron’s blazing trail of glory, held the audience spellbound at the ceremony.

Seven and a half decades of history commenced in the midst of World War II, when No. 6 Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron was established in 1942 at Trichnopoly, under the command of Squadron Leader Mehar Singh, equipped with Hawker Hurricane FR. IIb aircraft and was directly swept into action. On February 15th 1944, Flying Officer JC Verma of the Squadron shot down a Japanese Ki-43 Oscar during a low-level dogfight, making him the first Indian pilot since WW I with a confirmed victory in air combat while flying for the Indian Air Force, and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross, while its OC Squadron Leader Mehar Singh became the only Indian to receive the coveted Distinguished Flying Order.  Later, 6 Squadron was reequipped with Spitfire aircraft.

At the advent of Pakistan’s independence, 6 Squadron began its long and arduous journey as an Air Transport Support Squadron and was pressed into service with only one Dakota aircraft, two pilots, three navigators and three signalers stationed at Drigh Road (now Faisal Air Base). Their first task was to ferry the assets from India. Before that task could be completed in face of Indian obduracy, No. 6 Squadron had to taste baptism under fire in the First Kashmir War (1947-1948). Pakistani fighter aircraft were constrained from participation to keep the conflict restricted. Only 6 Squadron, by now supplemented with seven Dakotas, was pressed into service for air dropping badly needed supplies to the troops engaged in the liberation of Kashmir.

No 6 Squadron has remained in the forefront of the war on terror, providing real time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to the fighter squadrons as well as ground and maritime forces, day and night

Unarmed Dakotas were defenceless against the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter aircraft. On November 4th, 1948, a Dakota piloted by Flying Officer Mukhtar Dogar was attacked by 2 IAF Tempests when it was returning from a para-drop mission near Skardu. Indian fighters tried to force land the Dakota at Srinagar but the undaunted pilot evaded the assailants and despite his navigator being injured and a ground crew embracing martyrdom due to the Indian fighters’ strafing, Dogar safely evaded capture and brought back the aircraft safely. For his exceptional valour, Flying Officer Dogar was awarded the First Sitara-e-Jurrat (SJ) for PAF.  This was by no means the last, as aircrews of this prestigious squadron have so far received 24 gallantry awards, the highest for any squadron of PAF. No 6 Squadron was the first PAF Squadron to receive a Squadron colour and battle honours for ‘Kashmir 1948’, ‘Kashmir 1965’ and 1965 and 1971 wars.

The Squadron, which after Dakotas, operated Bristol Freighters and the intrepid workhorse, the Hercules C-130 since 1963, has served the nation through years of supply dropping at various treacherous drop zones in the Kashmir Valley, fighting locusts, relief operations following natural and manmade disasters and has also rushed for humanitarian assistance during international calamities and wars. Its pioneering officers and men modified the air transport fleet for aerial spray, turned it into heavy bombers while its aircrew flew with precision and resolute courage, the baton has been passed from generation to generation, each surpassing the previous one.

For us veterans, it was heartening to be apprised of the latest development, where through indigenous modifications and superb engineering skills, No. 6 Squadron has remained in the forefront of the war on terror, providing real time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information to the fighter squadrons as well as ground and maritime forces, day and night. The erstwhile air transport support fleet has been transformed to pick up the gauntlet of contributing immensely to air dominance.

The Air Chief, who was chief guest on the occasion, also unveiled a commemorative postage stamp which has been issued by Pakistan Post to pay tribute to the services rendered by No 6 Squadron during the past 75 years.

Air Commodore Haseeb Gul, Base Commander of Nur Khan Air Base deserves special mention for leading his indefatigable team comprising the lowest ranks to the highest. The wives of the personnel transformed the base into a paragon of hospitality, making it the most memorable reunion ever.

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF. He is a columnist, analyst and TV Talk show host, who has authored six books on current affairs, including three on China

Published in Daily Times, December 9th 2017.