On November 24, the Tuskers, as the No 5 Squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is known, will be celebrating 75 years of its raising with an airshow at the squadron’s home, Ambala, to mark the occasion.
The squadron, raised on November 2, 1948, at Kanpur and equipped with B-24 Liberator aircraft, has a long and distinguished operational history, including overseas service and wars, which will be highlighted in these columns this week.
Writing a detailed history of the squadron in a well-known defence website, Bharat-Rakshak.com, K Sree Kumar says the unit was initially equipped with five B-24 Liberators, originally operated by the British during the Second World War.
This number went up to 16 as more aircraft were put into service. With the role of a heavy bomber squadron having been assigned to it, No 5 Squadron became the first unit in the IAF to undertake such a role.
Tragically, the first Commanding Officer (CO) of the squadron, Wing Commander Jal Rustom Sohrab Dantra was killed in Pune, where the squadron was based, in April 1949, in a ground accident involving B-24. Dantra had risen from the ranks to an officer’s commission and was just 31 at the time of his death.
It was in 1957 that No 5 Squadron moved on from B-24 Liberators and inducted B (I)58 Canberra aircraft. At this time the squadron was located at Agra and once again undertook the role of a bomber squadron albeit with an interdictor role as well. Wing Commander Waman Raghunath Dani was the Commanding Officer of the squadron at the time of this changeover.
In 1961, the squadron was selected to provide its aircraft for the first overseas deployment of the IAF. A detachment of Canberras was sent on deployment with the United Nations peacekeeping force in strife-hit Congo. Wing Commander Anthony Suares was the CO of the unit and he led this deployment which saw the squadron participate in offensive tasks against the Katangan rebels destroying much of their fledgling air force in an air raid in early December 1961.
Wing Commander Suares received a Bar to Vir Chakra for the combat missions in Congo while Flight Lieutenant M M Takle, the navigator, received a Vir Chakra.
Soon, in 1965 the squadron was bloodied in full-blown operations against Pakistan with Wing Commander P P Singh at the helm. The squadron raided Sargodha in the initial days of the war and later made a daring raid on Peshawar, considered to be safe from IAF attacks by the Pakistan Air Force since it was located deep inside Pakistan. Several other raids were also carried out by the unit along with bombing missions in support of the Indian Army targeting troops and armour concentrations of the Pakistan army.
Wing Commander P P Singh, who later settled down in Mohali, near Chandigarh, and retired as an Air Marshal, was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for the operations. Four Vir Chakras were also awarded to Squadron Leader Chitranjan Mehta, Squadron Leader S N Bansal (Navigator), Flight Lieutenant H S Mangat (Navigator) and Flight Lieutenant Pradyot Dastidar (Navigator).
A few years later in the 1971 war with Pakistan, Wing Commander Man Mohan Bir Singh, another CO of the squadron, received the Maha Vir Chakra with the unit having undertaken extensive sorties in aid of ground forces in the fierce battle which took place in the Chhamb sector of Jammu and Kashmir. Squadron Leader Ramesh Chander Kohli, Squadron Leader Dinesh Chandra Bhandari (Navigator), and Flight Lieutenant H P Singh (Navigator) received Vir Chakra.
Many years later, then living in retirement in New Delhi, Group Captain Talwar would face another battle when he took on an attacking mob during November 1984 anti-Sikh violence using his licensed weapon. The war hero had to spend some time in jail before justice could be done to him.
The squadron changed over to Sepecat Jaguar aircraft in 1981 when stationed in Ambala. It was commanded at the time by Wing Commander J S Sisodia. In addition to the deep strike role that it was assigned to as a Jaguar squadron, the unit also performed in a photo reconnaissance role.
A few years later, in 1988, the unit performed in aid of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka under the command of Wing Commander A K Singh. He later rose to the rank of Air Marshal and retired as AOC-in-C Western Air Command. Incidentally, Singh was one of the few officers of the IAF who were initially commissioned as a transport pilot but later switched to a fighter pilot role.
The squadron was awarded the President’s Colours in April 1975 by the then President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. It has been stationed in Ambala since 1981 and has proudly justified its distinguished record of service, amplifying its motto ‘Shakti Vijayte’.