Name: Sarfraz Ahmed Rafiqui
Pak No: 1429
Father’s Name: Bashir Ahmed Rafiqui
Date of Birth: 18 Jul 1935
Place of Birth: Rajshahi
GD(P) Course: 13 GD (P)
Date of Commission: 11 Mar 1953
Date of Shahadat: 6 Sep 1965
Gallantry Awards: Hilal-e-Jurat (HJ), Sitara-e-Jurat (SJ)
Early Life/Career: Born in Rajshahi (Former East Pakistan) on 18 Jul 1935, Sarfraz had three brothers and a sister. He started his education at St Anthony’s High School in Lahore, where his father worked with an Insurance company. Sarfraz passed matric from Government High School, Multan in 1948 at a remarkably early age of thirteen. A year earlier, he had been selected as a King’s Scout to attend a jamboree in UK and France. In Paris, his fervour for the impending birth of Pakistan knew no bounds. He hastily had his version of the Pakistan flag stitched by the Girl Guides (white bar consigned to the bottom, crescent in one corner and star in the other). On the eve of Independence,
Sarfraz formed a troop of three Muslim scouts, proudly showing the new flag. After the jamboree, it was quite a homecoming for a twelve-year old to a new Pakistan. When the elder Rafiqui moved to Karachi as Controller of Insurance, Sarfraz joined the DJ Sind Science College. Scouting remained a passion and he managed another trip abroad, this time to a jamboree in Australia. However, thoughts soon turned to the Air Force, where his elder brother, a dashing young pilot, had won the Sword of Honour in the 4 GD (P) Course. When Sarfraz applied for the RPAF in 1951; he had not appeared in his Intermediate examinations. His Principal at DJ Sind Science College found him to be “very intelligent and well suited for a military career.” Sarfraz’s above-average intelligence was to be echoed by all his instructors in later years.
Sarfraz was selected for the RPAF through the Services Selection Board. He joined the Joint Services Pre-Cadet Training School at Quetta. The Commandant of the School was impressed with Sarfraz’s command of English, his confidence and his travels abroad at such an early age. After five months of training at JSPCTS, he entered the RPAF College at Risalpur. In 1953, he graduated in the footsteps of his brother, winning the prestigious Atcherley Trophy for the Best Pilot in the 13 GD(P) Course. He continued with a string of above average reports in his Advanced Flying Course as well as the Fighter Weapons Instructors’ Course, both done in USA. He again showed his prowess as a superb fighter pilot by topping the course at PAF’s Fighter Leaders’ School in 1960. After yet another course at RAF’s prestigious Fighter Combat School, he ended up piling a unique assortment of highly rated qualifications that served him and the PAF in good stead. As an exchange pilot in UK, he flew Hunters for two years. Sarfraz’s Officer Commanding in No 19 Sqn (RAF), reporting on his flying abilities, eloquently wrote, “In the air his experience and skill combine to make him a very effective fighter pilot and leader who creates an impression of disciplined efficiency in all that he does.” On return from UK in 1962, he was given command of No 14 Sqn. A year later, he was given command of the elite No 5 Sqn, in which he was to achieve martyrdom and eternal glory. He was well-known as much for his highly assertive and effective control of the Unit as for his spirited attitude towards flying. Sarfraz’s sense of humour, seldom evident from his sole published photograph, was a very genial trait, amply noted at home and across the shores. As an officer, he was found to be courteous and well-mannered with a pleasant personality. He was extremely popular and, socially well- accepted. Swimming took up his leisure time, though his keenness for flying determined the daily routine. An incident that deserves special mention relates to Sarfraz’s steadfastness in matters of honour and righteousness. During one RAF dining-out night, he was enraged when the Pakistani ‘representatives’ (exchange pilots) were denied the customary toast to their Head of State, while the Europeans merrily drank to their royalty. He walked out of the dinner proceedings and, next morning, informed the bewildered OC that he would prefer to be repatriated rather than suffer such scorn. The matter got a bit complicated, but an unyielding Sarfraz would accept nothing short of an apology. The OC repented publicly and, later made sure that the Pakistanis were never slighted again. Sarfaraz also drove home a point that it was respect, not pennies that counted. Sarfraz was unconventional in many ways. His aversion to an arranged marriage invoked the ire of his conservative father, who had failed to incline Sarfraz towards one particular offer; this included fringe benefits of a house and a good bit of cash besides the damsel! Star-crossed perhaps, he ran short of time looking for the right mate. The Mess remained his home and hearth until the end.
War Experience: Two memorable aerial encounters, each a classic of modern jet warfare, capped Sarfraz Rafiqui’s illustrious career as a fighter pilot. The evening of 1 Sep 1965 saw hectic and desperate attempts by the IAF to stop the rapid advance of Pak Army’s 12 Division offensive against Akhnur. Vampires, obsolescent but considered suitable for providing close support in the valleys of Kashmir, were hastily called into action. No 45 Sqn was moved from Poona to Pathankot. The grim situation on the ground found the Vampires at work immediately. Three strikes of four Vampires each had been launched in succession that evening. Much has been made of their success by the IAF, but Maj Gen GS Sandhu was not impressed; in his book ‘History of Indian Cavalry,’ he recounts how the first Vampire strike of four, leisurely proceeded to destroy three AMX-13 tanks of India’s own 20 Lancers, plus the only recovery vehicle and the only ammunition vehicle available during this hard-pressed fight. The second flight attacked Indian infantry and gun positions, blowing up several ammunition vehicles. The Indian forces were spared further ignominy at their own hands when an element of two Sabres arrived on scene. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui and Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti were patrolling at 20,000 ft near Chamb. On being vectored by the radar, they descended and picked up contact with two Vampires in the fading light. Rafiqui closed in rapidly and before another two Vampires turned in on the Sabres, made short work of the first with a blazing volley from the lethal 0.5” Browning six-shooter. Then, with a quick-witted defensive break, he readjusted on the wing of Bhatti, who got busy with his quarry.
While Rafiqui cleared tails, Bhatti did an equally fast trigger job. One Vampire nosed over into the ground, which was not too far below; the other, smoking and badly damaged, ducked into the trees. It had shaken the Indian pilot, Flg Off Sondhi who staggered back to tell the horrifying tale. The less fortunate Flt Lts AK Bhagwagar, VM Joshi and S Bharadwaj went down with their ghoulish Vampires, in full view of the horrified Indian troops. Only minutes before, Flg Off SV Pathak of another Vampire formation had bailed out after being hit by ground fire. The mauling had been thorough. This single engagement resulted in a windfall of strategic dimensions for the PAF. The shocked and demoralised IAF immediately withdrew over 80 Vampires, together with about 50 Ouragons, from front-line service. The IAF was effectively reduced in combat strength by nearly 35% in one deadly stroke, thanks to Rafiqui and Bhatti’s marksmanship. It may be appropriate to recollect the remarks of USAF Fighter Weapons School (Class of 1956) about Rafiqui’s adeptness at gunnery. “Capt Rafiqui was the high individual in air-to-air firing and was above average in air-to-ground firing; has a thorough understanding of methods and techniques used in fighter weapons delivery and aerial combat manoeuvring, valuable as a future gunnery instructor highly recommended that he be used in this capacity to the greatest advantage, possible when returning.” The PAF made no mistake and put his skills to good use, as the Chamb encounter demonstrated. However, there was much more to come.
Citation of SJ: “On 6 Sep 1965 during an aerial combat over enemy territory, Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Rafiqui destroyed two enemy Vampire fighter-bombers. On 6 Sep 1965, during an attack on a well-defended enemy airfield at Halwara, Sqn Ldr Rafiqui encountered a number of enemy fighters. He destroyed one enemy Hunter aircraft but was subsequently shot down and bailed out over enemy territory. The officer is missing. For exceptional flying skill and valour shown by Sqn Ldr Rafiqui in pressing home his attacks in aerial combats with enemy aircraft, he is awarded SJ.”
Brief Description of Shahadat: On the evening of 6 Sep 1965, an ill-fated formation of three aircraft took off from Sargodha for a raid on Halwara airfield, one of the three that had been singled out for a pre-emptive strike. Led by Sqn Ldr Rafiqui, with Flt Lt Cecil Choudhry as No 2 and Flt Lt Yunus Hussain as No 3; the formation hurtled across into enemy territory in fast fading light. Sqn Ldr MM Alam’s formation, also of three aircraft, which had taken-off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid on Adampur. Four Hunters, themselves proceeding on a mission against Pak Army formations, had bounced them. Rafiqui was warned by Alam’s section to watch out for Hunters in the area. At Halwara, IAF’s No 7 Sqn equipped with Hunters had flown four strikes during the day. These were armed reconnaissance missions, which had little success in finding worthwhile targets. The fourth and last strike for the day was on its way to the precincts of Lahore, when it had encountered Alam’s formation near Tarn Taran. In that engagement Sqn Ldr AK Rawlley’s Hunter impacted the ground as he did a defensive break at very low level, with Alam firing at him from stern. The remaining three Hunters aborted the mission and were taxiing back after landing, when Rafiqui’s formation pulled up for what was to be a gun attack on the parked aircraft. That evening, two pairs of Hunter CAPs (Combat Air Patrols) were airborne, one from No 7 Sqn with Flg Offs PS Pingale and AR Ghandhi and the other from No 27 Sqn with Flt Lt DN Rathore and Flg Off VK Neb. Pingale and Ghandhi were in a left-hand orbit over the airfield when Rafiqui broke off his attack and closed in on the nearest aircraft (Pingale). Rafiqui’s guns, as usual, found their mark. Pingale, not sure what hit him, lost control of his Hunter, and ejected. Next, Rafiqui deftly manoeuvred behind Ghandhi and fired at him, registering some hits. Just then, Cecil heard his Sqn Cdr call over the radio, “Cecil, my guns have stopped firing; you have the lead.” Cecil promptly moved in to lead, with Rafiqui sliding back as wingman. Ghandhi did not let go of the momentary slack and manoeuvred behind Rafiqui who was readjusting in his new position. Ghandhi fired at Rafiqui’s Sabre, but couldn’t get him because of a careless aim. While Ghandhi followed the Sabre, Cecil bored in and shot him in turn, the bullets finding their mark on the left wing. Ghandhi, seeing his aircraft come apart, ejected near the airfield. Running out of fuel as well as daylight, Rafiqui deemed it prudent to exit. Gathering his formation, he headed north-west, but with two more Hunters lurking around, a getaway was not easy. Happy on home ground, Rathore and Neb dived in to give chase. Rathore got behind Rafiqui who was on the right while Neb singled out Yunus on the left. Overtaking rapidly, Rathore fired from about 600 yards registering some hits. Closing in still further he fired again, this time mortally hitting Rafiqui’s Sabre. It banked sharply to the left and then hit the ground near Heren village, some six miles from Halwara. Meanwhile, Cecil looked around and, noticing Yunus in trouble, called a defensive break but Yunus, for some incomprehensible reason, pulled upwards, assisting Neb to catch up. Neb did not let go of the chance and fired a well-aimed volley, which Yunus did not survive. A puff of smoke rapidly turned into a sheet of flame as the Sabre disintegrated in midair and fell to the ground. Left alone, Cecil bravely fought his way out and dashed across after a nerve-racking encounter.
In this epic encounter, Rafiqui was at his leadership best. Of course, he had scored a confirmed kill a third time. However, more important, the significance of the mission was not lost on him and, despite heavy odds; he did his best to get the formation to put in the attack. As a Sqn Cdr, he demonstrably inspired other Sqn Commanders and pilots to lead fearlessly. This may well have been Rafiqui’s greatest contribution to the 1965 air war. The award of the HJ, as well as SJ acknowledged his gallant leadership and selfless devotion to duty. PAF Base, Rafiqui (Shorkot) and major boulevards across various cities of Pakistan, named after him, rekindle the spirit of his chivalry.
Citation of HJ: “On 6 Sep 1965, Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Ahmed Rafiqui led a formation of three F-86 aircraft on a strike against Halwara airfield. Soon after crossing the Indian border, Sqn Ldr Rafiqui had been warned about a large number of enemy interceptors being in the air by the leader of a returning F-86 formation. He, however, continued his mission single-mindedly. On the way back, the formation was intercepted by about ten Hunter aircraft out of which Sqn Ldr Rafiqui accounted for one in the first few seconds. After Sqn Ldr Rafiqui shot down one Hunter aircraft, his guns jammed due to a defect and stopped firing upon which he refused to leave the battle area, as he would have been perfectly justified to do; he instead ordered his No. 2 to take over as leader and continue the engagement with the enemy. He himself now took up a defensive position in the formation in an attempt to give it as much protection as was possible by continuing fighting manoeuvres in unarmed aircraft whilst the remainder proceeded to give battle to the enemy. This called for a quality of courage and dedication on the part of Sqn Ldr Rafiqui equal to the best in the history of air fighting. The end for him was never in doubt. He chose to disregard it and in the process, his aircraft was shot down and he was killed but not without his action enabling his formation to shoot down three more Hunter aircraft. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui thus provided exemplary leadership in battle and displayed outstanding courage in the face of exceptionally strong opposition. His inspiring leadership and selfless example significantly affected the subsequent course of the air war in which PAF never failed to dictate terms to an overwhelmingly larger and better-equipped enemy. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui’s conduct was clearly beyond the call of duty and conformed to the highest tradition of leadership and bravery in battle against overwhelming odds. For this and his earlier exploits, he is posthumously awarded HJ.”
Selfless and Sacrificing Gesture of his Parents: The Government of Pakistan awarded 77 acres of prime agriculture land as a recompense with the awards of HJ and SJ, which was most generously bequeathed by Rafiqui’s parents to the Sarfraz Rafiqui Welfare Trust, that the PAF is so efficiently administering to date for the benefit of widows, orphans and the needy.
Family Details: Sarfraz Rafiqui had three brothers and a sister. His eldest brother, Imtiaz Rafiqui was an engineer in Radio Pakistan who passed away lately. Aizaz Rafiqui worked in Adamjee Insurance and retired as General Manager. He passed away in 2008. Ejaz Rafiqui was a brilliant fighter pilot of PAF, who embraced Shahadat in a flying accident in 1951. The youngest sibling, his sister Mrs R M Sarwar, got married to an army officer. Unfortunately, she also passed away in 2008. Although his entire family is gone, they will, however, continue to live in the hearts and minds of millions of Pakistanis for good.