Monday 30 December 2019



We are all quite aware of the aerial confrontations between India and Pakistan in February this year. 

In the early morning hours of February 26, Indian warplanes attacked and destroyed the Islamic Fundamentalist terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed training centre at Jaba Top near Balakot town, just 50 odd km north of Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden was located and executed. Approximately 300 inmates were killed in this precision attack, which caught the PAF with its pants down. 

As came to light in a couple of days, the massive loss of life was met with total shock and disbelief. Many videos were uploaded showing prayer and condolence meetings. Pak Army authorities were seen consoling locals from Jaba Top bereaved (about 25) with the time honoured phrase: "They are not dead, but sitting next to the Almighty, who has called them to his presence." In actuality, 253 inhabitants of the camp had died a gruesome death, smashed to smithereens. Body count was by torsos. The training centre was sealed off by the Army at 0615 hrs. Onlookers were pushed away.

Starting 0700, ambulances were called in and ten (10) were seen parked inside. They soon took away about sixty survivors to the local hospitals. Forty of these succumbed to their horrific injuries. These ambulances made only one trip. The remaining injured were left to their own devices and by 0930, had slunk away into the surrounding forest. A few survivors, mainly clergy as their Masjid wasn't attacked, were spirited away after their presence was no longer necessary.

Starting 1100 hrs, a mass grave was dug using mechanical digging machines and the body parts thrown in and covered up with training centre imams reciting apposite prayers. The total killed in this strike came to 293 Pakistanis, 95% of whom were terrorists under training.

The PAF hit back with Operation Swift Retort mid-morning on 27 February 2019. 12 x F-16, 8 x JF-17 and 8 x Mirage III/V took part in this air attack, aimed at drawing out IAF SU-30 MKIs with a decoy strike force of the workhorse veteran Mirage ac escorted by the JF-17s, and then shooting them down using AIM 120C AMRAAMS fitted on their F-16C/D ac. The mission failed as the lack of practice of the PAF pilots involved resulted in poor coordination and hurried indiscriminate missile launches at a highly trained and versatile pair of SU-30 ac, whose pilots just shrugged the launches off as poorly timed and evaded them effortlessly. At the end of the mission, the PAF withdrew having lost one F-16 but salvaged a vestige of pride by shooting down an IAF veteran MiG-21 Bison ac.

Sqn Ldr Sameer Joshi (Ret'd) of the IAF has analysed the incidents of both days over months of back-breaking and highly commendable effort. His findings are printed in this blog, immediately below.

Friday 12 July 2019





Jumbo with his first DFC

In September 2013, Sailen Majumdar, a well to do Indian Chartered Accountant settled in the UK, was approached by an unknown Punjabi-speaking gentleman, who apparently had Sailen’s father’s World War II medals and wanted to sell them. Sailen acquired them next year in a surreptitious deal made without meeting or speaking with the Punjabi gentleman. Sailen had a sister, Anjali Noel Lobo, in Pune, India. He rang her up mid 2014 to tell her how he had acquired their father’s medals. She felt very happy that the medals had been found as they would enhance the already strong undercurrent of recognition of her late father’s exploits. She asked him why he didn’t meet or speak with the Punjabi gentleman, to get an odd reply that he didn't understand Punjabi, but the medals were safe and with him. 

Mrs Anjali Lobo

He called her up again in October 2014 to tell her that he didn’t want their children and grandchildren to squabble over this issue, so he had decided to sell the medals. In fact, he had already put them up for auction through a Central London Auction House specialising in the sale of collectors' coins of all periods and historical medals. He had set a reserve price of £20,000. He went on to say that he believed that their father would have been very happy and proud that he was doing so. Anjali was furious and heatedly replied, 'I am sorry, I don’t think our father would have been happy or proud that you are selling his medals. He died for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and for the country.” That was the last conversation she had with her brother.

When contacted telephonically by the media, Sailen had his own side of the story. He insisted that he had been completely honest with his sister and when told about the medals, she didn’t express any particular interest in them. She had nonchalantly quipped that were she in his place, she wouldn’t bother. Everybody knew their father had a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC, UK) and Bar. She was now conveniently saying that she didn't remember any of their conversations.

Her riposte to the media was on expected lines. "I feel really sad about it. What else can I say? My father died for the IAF. He would be very sad at this impasse. These are my father's medals and it is shocking that they have become an object of commerce. The auction was called off because bidding did not reach the cutoff price of £20,000.  After media pressure, the IAF bought the medals for £30,000. I am glad that they have reached the IAF. It is what my father would have wanted but I don’t think it was very nice that the Air Force had to pay to acquire them.”

So what was the bond that connected Anjali Lobo, Sailen Majumdar and WW II gallantry medals? The two were siblings, both the offspring of Wing Commander Karun Krishna Majumdar DFC & Bar, the first Indian Officer to reach the rank of Wing Commander and also to be twice decorated for valour. In fact, he was awarded the first DFC on the Burma front in 1942 and next, deep in Europe in 1945. He also baled out once on each front, escaping through raw guts and derring do and setting an example in Leadership.

Wing Commander Karun Krishna Majumdar DFC & Bar, a six foot two inch tall lad, with equally commanding personality, courage and forthrightness, had been given the nickname ‘Jumbo’ by his friends in the Indian Air Force (IAF). He was born on September 6, 1913 at Calcutta to an illustrious family of ardent nationalists. His cousins Jayanto Nath Chaudhuri and Hem Chaudhuri also joined the Forces; the former joined the Army and ultimately became the Chief of Army Staff, while the latter followed Majumdar into the Air Force and rose to a high rank. A bright child, he was honest, fiercely independent and not afraid of going his own way, even in the face of criticism.These traits were abundantly manifest in his role as one of the prominent pioneers of the Indian Air Force.

From early childhood, he had only one passion, one purpose for living – to ‘Fly’.  He took the entrance exam to join The Royal Flying College, Cranwell, UK and stood second in the order of merit.  On commissioning, he joined the newly raised and prestigious first Squadron of the IAF, No. 1 Squadron, as a Flying Officer in the mid 1930s. Flying the Wapiti and later, the Hawker Hart aircraft, he was soon identified as an outstanding flier with tremendous potential for leadership. On June 27, 1941, Jumbo was promoted to Squadron Leader (Sqn Ldr) and took over command of No. 1 Squadron in anticipation of action during the ongoing WW II. The IAF in those days was a minuscule force and clearly under the influence of long-standing British tradition. Majumdar, however, was all for ‘Indianising’ the Air Force environment, famously stating, “The IAF must be an Indian Banyan tree and not an English Oak”.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. Plans were hurriedly made to contain the Japanese and Jumbo’s No. 1 Squadron, now equipped with the Lysander aircraft, was moved to Taungoo Airfield in Burma. One morning, the Japanese attacked the airfield and damaged several aircraft. Only the IAF’s Lysanders remained untouched. Majumdar planned a retaliatory attack and flew out in a Lysander with two 250lb bombs. Flying at treetop level, he entered the Japanese base and dropped the bombs with precision, destroying the hangar and the aircraft in it. The very next day, he led his Sqn, the Tigers, to lay siege to and demolish the Japanese base.

Jumbo and his squadron of Lysanders flew offensive missions that inflicted extensive damage to enemy airfields and installations. For his leadership of the Squadron and daring performance in the Burma Campaign, Squadron Leader Majumdar was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), thus becoming the first Indian Officer in World War II to be so decorated. Promoted to Wing Commander (Acting) in 1942, the first Indian to reach this rank, he voluntarily returned to the war front in England in March 1944, demitting his Acting rank and reverting to Sqn Ldr. 

Jumbo Getting his Second DFC

He flew the Mustang and Typhoon aircraft during the Allied invasion of Europe in numerous reconnaissance and ground attack missions deep into occupied France and Belgium, totally unmindful of personal safety. For his gallant role in these operations, Majumdar was awarded a Bar to his DFC in January 1945, again the first and only Indian to be so decorated. The London Gazette praised him for his operational skills and LIFE magazine listed him as one of the 12 best pilots in the allied air forces for his work in Burma and Europe.

On his return from Europe, this avid flier commanded the Air Force Display Flight. He toured the country extensively, conducting aerobatic shows and displays. He was scheduled to carry out a display near Lahore on February 17, 1945 on a Hawker Hurricane aircraft.The aircraft had a history of snags and he was advised by the Flight's Engg Officer Flt Lt Harjinder Singh to be extra cautious and carry out only safe manoeuvres at a reasonably high altitude. In the aerobatic display flight, his  aircraft developed a serious snag, became unstable and crashed, tragically killing him. Jumbo Majumdar died as he had always wanted to, with his flying boots on in the cockpit of an aircraft, flying to his heart’s content.

Mid 2015, the Indian Air Force (IAF) used its internal discretionary funds to acquire the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the war medals of the World War II veteran Wing Commander Jumbo Majumdar from the auction house. This was because the apathetic Ministry of Defence (MoD) refused to sanction 30,000 pounds (approximately Rs. 28 lakh), the price fixed by the auction house which had acquired the medals from Jumbo Majumdar's son Sailen Majumdar. MoD said that the decision was that of the Ministry of Culture-typical stalling tactics- and that they had sent the file to the Culture (agriculture?) Ministry to take a call on whether the medals should be acquired in the first place. After waiting several months, the auction house Morton and Eden set a May 26 deadline after the IAF had entered into a binding contract with the auction house but failed to reach a settlement. Keen to avoid defaulting on an agreement, the IAF went ahead with the purchase on its own through its Air Attache in London.

Despite the government's rejection, the Indian Air Force has been clear that the memory of the man they consider the father of the modern IAF must be honoured. Yet, in a strange order to avoid controversy, where they should have raised the roof, the IAF decided not to celebrate the return of the medals to India and made no press release on the acquisition of the World War Two treasures. The medals, now in India, were showcased prominently at the Air Force Museum, Air Force Station, Palam, in a formal function on 16 July 2019.

In a statement to NDTV, the AOC-in-C Western Air Command, Air Marshal R Nambiar, PVSM, AVSM, VM&Bar, had said, "Jumbo's contribution during the Second World War both in Burma and in the Normandy Campaigns has been acknowledged in professional circles.  He was the first and the only IAF pilot to be awarded DFC and Bar.  Having understood the importance of Air Power at a very early age, he worked relentlessly to build a strong Air Force for India.  Jumbo led from the front by personal example and worked relentlessly to lay the foundation of the IAF.  His spirit shall live as long as there are young men to take up the challenge of his legacy, and the trail of glory shall be remembered and cherished by the IAF for all time to come."

The auction documents states, "Jumbo Majumdar's seeming disregard for his own safety on solo bombing raids and leading others against what appeared to be insurmountable odds made him a legendary figure both in the Royal Air Force and among his own countrymen. It is generally agreed that had he lived, his example and vision for Indian air power would have seen him rise to the highest level in the post-Independence Indian Air Force."

Sailen Majumdar revealed that he also has somewhere the crucifix that his paternal grandmother Jonaki Agnes Penelope Majumdar (nee Bonnerjee) had made from the metal of the ill-fated Hurricane that his father crashed in. In addition, a note book where he made very personal and philosophical comments about his role in World War 2 (sic). He had to decide what to do with numerous letters between his parents during World War 2. Personal, but such a long time ago, that perhaps they should now be in the public domain for anyone who is interested, rather than them being binned or left in a drawer forever!

As eulogised by Air Marshal R Nambiar, late "Wg Cdr Karun Krishna 'Jumbo' Majumdar was the ultimate flier, a hero in the truest sense of the word."

Monday 24 June 2019



Air Marshal R Nambiar PVSM AVSM VM & Bar

"Early on the morning of this very day 21 years ago, 24 June 1999, the Indian Air Force dropped its first Laser Guided Bomb (LGB) in anger. Release was from a Mirage 2000TH two-seater and I was privileged to have been the pilot in command. In the exciting days that followed, I had the singular honour of dropping four more LGBs, thus dropping five out of the total of 8 LGBs delivered by the Mirage 2000 in the entire Kargil Conflict."
           Air Marshal R Nambiar PVSM AVSM VM & Bar

Air Marshal Raghunath Nambiar, an Experimental Test Pilot with vast experience totalling some 5250 hrs on 42 types of aircraft, first flew the Mirage 2000H/TH as a young and promising fighter pilot in 1986 at AF Stn Maharajpur, Gwalior, a proud member of 7 Sqn IAF, The Battle Axes. In time, he went on to command 1 Sqn AF, the Tigers, also at Gwalior, from 22 April 2002 to 07 July 2003 and has, since then, steadily progressed upwards on outstanding and exemplary personal qualities and ability. He is currently the Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Western Air Command.

As winter withdrew, sunrise cast shadows in Kashmir's valleys from 8AM, when visibility was considerably reduced and targets could not be seen. Low clouds engulfed the ridges and peaks by 11 a.m. The window of opportunity was restricted to the three-hour period between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., provided there was no drizzle. In effect, the Pakistani forces in that area knew they had to stay under cover throughout the morning and start hostile actions only after an early lunch. The Indian Army thus had the entire morning to themselves.

2002: Wg Cdr R Nambiar, CO 1 Sqn AF
Adampur is a major Air Force Base in Punjab and Wg Cdr Raghunath Nambiar (Nambi) had been deployed there since 22 May 1999 for Operation Safed Sagar, the Indian Air Force designation for its Air Operations in Kargil from May to July 1999. Nambi was then a Wing Commander and posted as the Station Flight Safety & Inspection Officer, Air Force Station Maharajpur, Gwalior, where the Mirage 2000H/TH is normally based. He had just over 1900 flying hrs on the Mirage and was soon to become the only IAF pilot to cross 2000 hrs on that type. The Battle Axes were deployed at Adampur and he had been attached to the unit as an “Augmentee” along with a few other officers from other units of the IAF. That's where this epic saga begins.

On the evening of 22 June 7 Sqn was tasked to attack Tiger Hill with LGBs the next morning. Nambi was to captain a two-seater with Sqn Ldr Monish Yadav as his back seater. The target was a set of enemy tents perched at the top of Tiger Hill. They got airborne in a two aircraft formation at 0630h and set course in a North Easterly direction to rendezvous (RV) with two Mirages from Tiger Sqn, ex-Ambala as their escorts. The join up was uneventful and they maintained radio (R/T) silence as they winged their way to the target.

Tiger Hill is unique in shape and size when viewed from the ground. But from 30,000 ft up, it is indistinguishable from the other tall peaks in the vicinity. The only mountain that stands out in this grand vista is K2, Mount Godwin-Austen or Chhogori, which at 8,611 metres (28,251 ft), towers over its surroundings. The aids on board the Mirage allowed them to spot Tiger Hill with relative ease. They had it in contact from 50 km afar and were unpleasantly surprised to find a tiny cloud perched right on its tip, obscuring the Designated Mean Point of Impact  (DMPI) and rendering the LGB impotent. The endurance of the Mirage allowed them to hold on station for about 30 min, so they went around three more times hoping the cloud would drift away and they could complete their mission.

In the fourth attempt, as they turned away from the target, Monish yelled at Nambi to “flare left” indicating a surface to air missile (SAM) launch from the ground. He reacted instantly as per prevailing tactics and commenced dropping flares. He did not spot the tiny shoulder launched missile, but Monish did see it climb towards them and thereafter fall away as they were outside its envelope. They had no choice but to go back with the armament load and prepare for a reshoot the next day. A surprise lay in store for them.

The non-upgraded Mirage 2000 2-seater of today
On the 23rd afternoon, they were informed that Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), would be at Adampur and they spent the rest of the day tidying up the Squadron premises for the visit, among routine duties. The CAS landed in the evening and was keen to fly and observe the first LGB drop. The mission profile was revised and the Commanding Officer of 7 Sqn, Wg Cdr Chhabra, was scheduled to fly the CAS as an observer in a third two-seater, with the attack formation remaining unchanged.

Morning Met briefing on the 24th was at 0500h and by 0530h a short brief was carried out with the CAS in attendance. The plan was for a three aircraft mission with the two lead aircraft armed with an LGB each, while the third aircraft would follow behind, with the CAS in the rear seat. They were to hit Tiger Hill first and then proceed to recce Point 4388 located 30 km NW of Tiger Hill. By 0600h they had walked to the aircraft. Walking to the aircraft is a tedious task in wartime. They were overloaded with their G-suits, helmets and Makarov 9mm pistols along with the various essential items necessary for a successful sortie, such as maps, call-sign cards, MIPs (data cartridges), Electronic Warfare (EW) MIPs, Inertial Navigation Unit (INU) plans, authentication tables-all in all, a very cumbersome procedure.

Wheels roll was at 0630h and their escort Mirages from Ambala joined up with them about 300 km from the target. The RV had been selected well away from the border to remain outside the enemy radar cover, and as before, was uneventful. They maintained R/T silence and meticulously went over the attack drill to ensure all their EW systems and weapons were up and ready. The passage of the magnificent scenery around and below them was barely noticed. They were on the alert, checking their systems time and again, all perked up to go.

Tiger Hill-A very difficult target to hit mandatorily requiring LGB attacks

Tiger Hill was spotted again from about 50 km away in the Litening Pod and they were thrilled to see a totally cloudless sky. Things then moved forward at a rapid pace. Nambi had altered heading to place the aircraft track directly at a set of seven Arctic tents perched precariously on the South face of Tiger Hill. The white tents made good camouflage sense in winter, but in summer, with most of the snow melted away, they stood out in stark contrast against the black rock formations.

Tiger Hill is at an altitude of 16,600 ft, and the pre-briefed altitude for the attack was 28,000 ft, to which they quickly descended. A glance at the INU indicated that the winds at this altitude was 70 kts (~130 kph) in a westerly direction and at 90° to their planned track. This was excessive and well outside the release envelope of the LGB.

Going up was not an option as the Laser was known to switch off automatically at around 30,000 ft. A different direction was also not viable as the target would be shadowed. A quick decision was taken to descend to 26,000 ft, placing them well within the envelope of shoulder fired SAMs. The crosswinds, however, were more tolerable at 50 kts(~93 kph) and just within the limit of the LGB delivery envelope. They had their regulation IR flares onboard and considered going down into the shoulder fired SAMs' operational envelope an operational risk which they were willing to take. Inter-cockpit understanding was excellent and Monish knew exactly what to do.

At 28 km, Nambi pulsed the laser to designate the target for the first time. The Litening Pod instantly ranged the distance to target. They had by then accelerated to a ground speed of 550 kts(~1000 kmph) and the distance to the release point rapidly reduced. Nambi repeatedly re-designated the target as it became more discernible when they closed in. At the release range, he depressed the trigger and felt the aircraft jerk upwards as it suddenly shed 600 kg of load. He immediately commenced a hard turn to the left at 4G and stated dropping flares. Monish took over pod steering and pointed the laser directly at the target while he concentrated on flying a steady 4G turn and monitored the video image. The Laser was steadily flashing and they waited anxiously for the target to explode,  signalling a successful delivery. The time of flight of an LGB, under the delivery conditions that Nambi had dropped it in, was under 30 sec, but to the two pilots in their cockpits, it seemed an eternity. Their joy knew no bounds as the video image of the target showed it to burst out into a wide and soundless explosion.

Bang on target and what an explosion! 

Nambi had by then rolled out on a westerly course and reversed right climbing back to 30,000 ft and checked the air distance with the other strike aircraft. The plan was to gather together and then set course for Pt 4388. He noticed that the distance between the two of them had started to build up as they turned towards the North West. Their escorts from 1 Squadron were, however, with them so they decided to press on with the mission. A quick R/T call to check fuel and intention revealed that the other members had already set course back to base. They continued and scanned Pt 4388 for targets. On return, 15 min later, they routed back via Tiger Hill to film the Hill from as close as possible to assess the damage they had caused. The target area had been blown to smithereens, so they filmed the rest of the hill for any other visible signs of the enemy. They had sufficient fuel so they accelerated to their limit speed to get back to Base by 0800h.

After landing they extracted the video tape from the Litening Pod and headed to the crew room for the debrief. The entire squadron was gathered around the TV as the tape was rewound and played back. Loud cheers and back thumping erupted in ecstasy, as, clearly visible on the tape, four enemy soldiers were rushing across the screen a few seconds before the bomb got to them and the huge explosion. Nobody present there could have survived. The video on the way back also revealed a person 2,000 ft below the hill top, climbing painstakingly upward to the camp. The ongoing retreat of the Pakistani soldiers and mujahideen picked up expressly after this and other deadly LGB attacks.

The IAF also used the MiG-25R – which normally cruises at 65-80,000 ft and M 2.3 – at medium altitude (33-35,000’) for high resolution pictures, something that its Russian designers may never have contemplated. The first such photo mission flown by Wg Cdr PV Thakur, was escorted by a pair of Mirage 2000H aircraft, with all three aircraft at M 0.95, the escorts once again led by Nambi. The cameras on the Mig-25 required delicate recalibration to produce optimal results, as it was designed to film from 40-50,000 feet above the target. The films turned out to be exceptionally good.

Nambi was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry) for repeatedly descending into SAM infested heights to deliver LGBs. This particular mission is specifically mentioned in his citation.

All Service details of this highly decorated Air Marshal and various citations are available at

*Image of Tiger Hill explosion courtesy IAF.