“8-Pass Charlie”

Posted by: Ch. Muhammad Natiq.
8-Pass Charlie was the codename of an unknown Pakistan Air Force B-57 bomber ace who raided the Adampur airbase of the Indian Air Force in Indian Punjab a number of times during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 notably starting the series of raids on the base by a solo raid. He was named “8-Pass Charlie” by his impressed Indian adversaries at the Adampur base as he used to make eight passes, one for each bomb, on selected targets with improving efficiency instead of safely dropping all his bomb load and exiting. He is also known to have expertise in disguising his attack run by confusing anti-aircraft gunners by cutting throttles before entering a dive.

During the war, the bomber wing of the PAF was attacking the concentration of airfields in north India. In order to avoid enemy fighter-bombers, the B-57s operated from several different airbases, taking off and returning to different bases to hop and avoid being attacked. The B-57 bombers would arrive over their targets in a stream at intervals of about 15 minutes, which led to achieving a major disruption of the overall IAF effort.

The name was assigned to this unknown pilot by his impressed Indian adversaries at the Adampur base, and appears to be derived from his daring routine of making eight passes in bombing runs during every air raid over the alerting airbase to bomb selected targets with each 500 lb bomb in the moonlight, “and tried to carry out an effective attack each time”, instead of dropping his entire bomb-load of 4,000 lbs during the first pass which would have allowed a safer exit for the aggressor aircraft over initial defences. One of the known kills of 8-Pass Charlie is one of the Indian Air Force MiG 21s on Operational Readiness Platform (ORP) which were about to take off when he executed the first raid on the Adampur base at 2200 hours with his lone B-57 on 6 September 1965. In addition to his routine of making eight passes over Adampur, the unknown pilot also seemed to have had a second routine of conducting his raids thirty minutes after moonrise.

Paddy Earle, an IAF fighter pilot, paid tribute to the unknown ace by saying:
“I have the utmost respect for the Pakistani Canberra bloke who loved to ruin the equanimity of our dreary lives! 8-Pass Charlie was an ace, but he had this nasty habit of turning up about 30 min. after moonrise, just as we were downing our first drink! Seriously, he was a cool dude and a professional of the highest order. To disguise the direction of his run, he used to cut throttles before entering a dive and by the time the ack-ack opened up he was beneath the umbrella of fire. After dropping his load he’d apply full throttle and climb out above the umbrella.”

Squadron Leader Najeeb A Khan was one of the candidates for this title but even he did not carry out eight attacks alone, in fact, he used to make four attacks followed by his wingman a little later, which would turn out to be a total of eight attacks in all. Being the Squadron Commander, and one of the most experienced B-57 pilots, he applied the same tactics of coming in low, pulling up near the target, dive-bombing after visually acquiring his target and then climbing away with full throttles. This profile was followed by the other three bombers who accompanied him.

On the night of 6th September, he led a flight of four B-57s against Adampur. Najeeb narrates: “Myself, Flt. Lt. Bashar, Flt. Lt. Osman and Flt. Lt. Mazhar was the pilot of the four bombers with Flt. Lt. Irfan, Flt. Lt. Rashid, Flt. Lt. Harney, and Flt. Lt. Ghauri as the respective navigators. At the time of takeoff from the PAF base, Osman was delayed a little. Bashar and I took off first and a couple of minutes later Osman and Mazhar joined us. As we settled down on our course Bashar’s aircraft flying about a mile abreast began to fade from sight with the descending darkness.

To keep contact I asked him to move closer but even at 600 feet away he could not maintain visual contact with me. For fear of losing him, I had to take the task of switching on the navigation lights and thus we plodded on towards the enemy territory. It was the first hot mission of my career. The time had come for which I had been trained day and night for over 13 years in the PAF. As I crossed into India a mixed feeling of anxiety and excitement came over me. Pitch darkness had by then engulfed us making navigation a challenge to our professional skills. In the midst of it hearing, Osman’s occasional call of ‘no contact’ was disturbing. There was also vague anticipation of hazards associated with a hostile mission.

However, this seemingly overwhelming gloom was dispelled with the prospect of licking a treacherous enemy who did not believe in any ethics of war. So forward we went, racing against time, to try to prove ourselves worthy of the nation’s trust. Soon we could see the grey ribbon of meandering Beas. We were in the enemy territory; I switched off the navigation lights and settled down firmly on our course. The target was still some distance away. We were flying low; as we approached Adampur we pulled up. Pull-up in a low-level mission is crucial and decides the success or failure of an attack. Lo! The whole base was presenting a lovely sight. It was all lit up, 2 to 3 miles at 10 O’clock from us. We had achieved complete surprise.

I rolled in for a dive aiming at the beginning of the runway where I could see aircraft parked invitingly. I pressed the bomb switch but nothing happened. No bomb release! I was upset and pulled out of the dive. Bashar followed me dropping his bombs right at the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform). Suddenly the lights at the base went off and a heavy barrage of ack greeted us. Indians got ready to give us a fight. Bashar’s bombs had lit up fires and the whole base could be seen as a sunny day (According to the Indians one of the known kills of 8-Pass Charlie is one of the Indian Air Force MiG 21s on Operational Readiness Platform (ORP) which were about to take off when he the executed the first raid on the Adampur base at 2200 hours with his lone B-57 on 6 September 1965.)

I veered for a second try when Osman called out: ‘Leader, suggests, you do not make another dive; the ack-ack is very heavy.’ ‘Never mind!’ I could not bear the thought of having to go back without delivering my cargo. I re-positioned the switches to try the alternative method of bomb release and rolled into a dive pointing the sight slightly ahead of the blaze along the runway. Four bombs were dropped. I rolled out and banked again for another run. The ack-ack was murderous now. The sky was lit up with shell bursts and tracers. Osman’s bomber was hit by a 40 mm shell and he left for home after delivering his cargo.

On the third run, I made an attempt for the technical area of the base. Two bombs found the fuel dump which caught fire sending flames high up into the sky. I had two more bombs left. I checked up the fuel gauge; it was all right. I dived in the fourth time and released my bombs over the dispersal area. Before leaving home I got above the ack range and had a good look to survey the carnage below. A few aircraft, looking like Mysteres (indeed Adampur housed two squadrons of Mysteries which attacked Sargodha in waves, the very next day), were burning on the ORP and the fuel dump sending flames hundreds of feet in the air.”

Squadron Leader Najeeb was a regular visitor to Adampur and narrates another of his spectacular strikes against this target. This narration also includes the same profile which was carried out by 8-pass Charlie, “As usual four B-57s were briefed to takeoff from Mauripur to strike Adampur, via Peshawar, to which we were to return for refuelling. By now, we had been told to diversify our attacks from runways alone to other airfield installations. The airfield area was divided into four sections, and each crew was given a different aiming point for attack.

With eight 1000lb bombs on board, we decided to make four attacks each, dropping a couple of bombs each time so that if we missed the first time around, we would be able to make three more attempts. My primary target was the fuel dump, but the other objectives included the maintenance area, hangars, aircraft pens and technical buildings. We had no trouble finding the target and as I opened the attack with my first two bombs, pulling up at about 3000ft. I got a direct hit on the fuel dump which promptly caught fire. I dropped my second pair of bombs on another section of the airfield containing aircraft pens and the maintenance area, which also caught fire, and went on to cover the remaining two sections with my third and fourth attacks.

This was the most successful strike of the war so far as I was concerned and the speed with which the fire started in the maintenance area indicated that several aircraft or fuel bowsers were involved. AA opposition was of its usual intensity, but as I could see it blazing away in all directions and I was the only aircraft over the target, I wasn’t too worried. As I was exiting at a low level I called up to my No.2, who had taken off about 15 minutes after me and asked him if he could see the target.

He replied that it was easily visible because of the fires, although he was 30 miles away.” The amount of damage reported by him, as well as by PR reports, added to it the enemy respect of the unknown frequent visitor to Adampur, Squadron Leader Najeeb along with one of his bomber pilots’ is the best contender to be titled as the ‘8-Pass Charlie’.

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