‘Desperate to get this kill, I pressed the trigger till my guns went silent – no more ammo! Oh, if only I was carrying air to air missiles instead of these ground-attack rockets,’ Tahir Alam, 23 Sqn Pakistan Air Force, Shenyang F-6 pilot.
The Cold War years were a period of unprecedented peace in Europe, yet they also saw a number of localised but nonetheless very intense wars throughout the wider world in which air power played a vital role.
The book Flashpoints by ex-RAF Tornado and experienced author Michael Napier describes eight of these Cold War conflicts: the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Congo Crisis of 1960-65, the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973, the Falklands War of 1982 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88. In all of them both sides had a credible air force equipped with modern types, and air power shaped the final outcome.
The postwar years saw a revolution in aviation technology and design, particularly in the fields of missile development and electronic warfare yet sometimes pilots find themselves involved in World War 2 style dogfights.
Tahir Alam, 23 Sqn Pakistan Air Force, Shenyang F-6 (MiG-19) pilot recalls a combat he had on Dec. 8, 1971 with Indian AF Su-7s, Narowal sector;
‘As leader called to check switches armed and standby for pull up, from the corner of my eye I saw a flash … it was two jets turning away from us, about 5,000 feet. They obviously hadn’t seen us yet. I called out ‘two bogeys eleven o’clock high!’ I cut in my afterburners, jettisoned my fuel tanks, and broke away from my formation behind the two Indian Su-7s. By now they had spotted me and broke into me with a hard high-G turn. I was not about to let this go to waste! I throttled back and was still closing in. A touch of speed brakes. My heart was beating like African bongo drums and my adrenaline was going through the roof! The Su-7s hit the deck and exited to the southeast. My leader called out for my position, I replied I was chasing the two bogeys and would soon ‘Splash’ them both! The Sukhois were line astern and at tree top level and max speed, with me about 3,000 feet behind and closing in. The Sukhoi leader was not giving his wingman any slack to be able to catch up and get into a low-level battle formation, where they could clear each other’s six o’clock. So here were two sitting ducks for me. I would get the wingman and then move my sight on the leader. We were at tree top level at max speed. I could see the blur of the tanks, trucks and trees whizzing by!
‘When I was about 2,000 feet behind the trailing jet, I pulled the trigger. The massive 30mm cannons opened up. The gunsight shuddered; the smell of cordite was sweet. I was certain that a short burst would do the trick. The total ammo in the F-6 is only 301 rounds, so I had to be economical! I was sure the bogey would burst into a massive fireball. The Sukhoi flew on with no visible damage. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t hit. It is a much larger target than my plane and in a straight and level flight should be a piece of cake. I raised my gunsight slightly and let go another 1 second burst. Again nothing … Nada, zilch, zero! The Sukhoi still running like a scared rabbit and me chasing it like a starved hound! How could I be missing at such close range? Another two second burst. Nope, no hit. Lowering the gunsight pipper, another three second burst. No joy! The gun round counter was showing only 40 rounds left. I thought I would fire with my plane yawing with my rudders. Just one round of the massive gun would be enough. Desperate to get this kill, I pressed the trigger till my guns went silent – no more ammo! Oh, if only I was carrying air to air missiles instead of these ground-attack rockets.
‘In disbelief, I realized my terrible mistake! The gunsight had two modes: Caged and uncaged, depending on if we were attacking tanks, trucks, bridges etc or flying targets. As we were streaking in towards the tanks in battle, the leader had commanded the formation to arm our guns and check gunsights caged for strafing the tanks. In the excitement, I had forgotten to reach forward and with one click, uncage my gunsight for air-to-air firing.’
Flashpoints is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Digital Combat Simulator, War Thunder, Adnanrail Own work and Alec Wilson from Hampton-in-Arden, UK via Wikipedia