This is my painting on a classic air combat duel between a Hunter fighter jet of Indian Air Force and a Sabrejet of Pakistan Air Force that took place over Kalaikunda airbase of IAF in West Bengal on 7th September 1965. This dogfight was watched live by students of IIT, Kharagpur and so awesome was the sight of the Pakistani jet being shot down by the Hunter jet after a prolonged fight at tree top heights that one student made a video of the encounter and is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQVRnQnpZwM&feature=player_embedded
Pakistan had launched a pre-emptive attack on Indian airfields on 6th September 1965 and had damaged a number of our aircraft on ground. On 7th September 65, Flight Lieutenant Alfred Cooke and Flying Officer Mamgain was patrolling the sky close to Calcutta when four Pakistani Sabrejets were spotted by radar coming in at low level to attack Kalaikunda (near Kharagpur) airbase in from erstwhile East Pakistan. Flight Lieutenant Alfred Cooke’s quickly headed for Kalaikunda and made contact with the Pakistani jets attacking his base. As the leader of the formation, Cooke had to decide to take on four fighter jets of the opposing force with just two of his own. Cooke was known in the squadron for his skill in dog fights at low level. He had passed out of Fighter Training Academy with the coveted trophy of ‘Best in Flying’. But this was for real and he knew that if he commits to engage the numerically superior enemy force in front of him, it had to be “fight to finish”. Knowing the need of the hour to save his base from the marauders at any cost Cooke threw all cautions to wind and decided to take on the bandits that were already diving down for a gun attack on aircraft parked on ground, while instructing Mamgain to go in for the lone aircraft that was providing cover to the attacking aircraft. As the lone Hunter swooped for his kill, Pakistani jets broke off their attack and went into an evasive manoeuvre. Cooke closed on the lead jet that was already turning hard to right. Pakistan had acquired US made Sabrejet that was battle proven and had maintained a kill ratio of almost 10:1 against Soviet made MiG-15s in the Korean War. Most Pakistani fighter pilots were US trained where they had received training on fighter tactics from veteran US fighter pilots. IAF pilots were aware that a Sabrejet armed with six cannons and an excellent turning performance at low level was a very lethal weapon system and would call for a very high degree of skill level to beat him in a dog fight. They also knew that a British made Hunter fighter may not be able to out turn a Sabrejet but it had an edge on climb performance and a superior acceleration. “Take the fight to vertical”, Cooke was taught by his mentor.
As Cooke was closing in to firing range behind the Sabrejet with his superior acceleration, he noticed that his opponent had suddenly tightened his turn in a downward spiral, a last ditch manoeuvre that a Sabrejet employs to prevent the aggressor from bearing his gunsight on him. Cooke realised that his prey is being controlled by another Sabre in his rear and possibility of an enemy on his tail sent a chill up his spine. Cooke opened fire and watched the shells from his four 30 mm cannons streaking towards the enemy. He also realised that he was closing in at a dangerous rate on to his enemy ahead at tree top heights and if he does not break off from the attack, he might collide with his enemy or hit the ground. All of a sudden Cooke noticed the Sabre started throwing black plume of smoke in the trail indicating a hit and in next second or so it blew up in the air. Cooke pulled back on his control in a desperate move to climb away from the debris of the exploding aircraft. But it was too late. Cooke had not realised that his aircraft was damaged, but it was still flying and before it dawned on him that he came out as a clear winner in his first ever duel in real war, he got entangled in combat with a second Sabre that appeared in his front quarter. Cooke then closed into the second aircraft and opened fire. Cooke and Mamgain brought down one aircraft each in full view of people on ground. Cooke then latched on to the third Pakistani aircraft but by then he had finished all his ammunition. Pakistan while acknowledging their loss of two aircraft had stated that their formation was attacked by superior force of nine Indian fighters. This itself was a tribute to courage and bravery of our pilots who challenged a numerically superior force and came out as clear winners.
Alfred Cooke settled down at Australia in 1967 and has been keeping in touch with his squadron (14 Squadron) till date.