For those familiar with Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail's insightful articles featured regularly in military and aviation journals, Great Air Battles of Pakistan Air Force has proven to be an absolute treat.
For the rest, the story of PAF's glory coming from a seasoned fighter pilot who has a captivating knack for storytelling and has himself flown most of PAF's fighter aircraft including F-6, F-7PG, Mirage as well as the F-16, the narration is all the more enthralling.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, each dedicated to an air battle unique in its own right, involving operations during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars as well as the Middle-East from the late 1960s and 1970s where PAF fighter pilots participated while on deputation. Out of the innumerable aerial encounters from the action-filled history of the PAF, the author has chosen to cover those top dog-fights which are examples of supreme airmanship, devotion to duty and valour.
Vivid recreations of combat sequences and the swift manoeuvres of a fighter jet in air combat taking one loop after another with a barrel-roll here and a nose dive there, accompany magnificent paintings by PAF's celebrated aviation artist Group Captain (R) S.M.A Hussaini, PAF's younger aviation art prodigy Squadron Leader Adnan Siraj and British artist Eric Carless, all when combined set the adrenaline rushing.
The narration is based on incorporation of views from each side involved. In order to stick to most reliable chronicling, the author has intentionally left out few much highlighted dog-fights such as those involving PAF F-16s during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, for want of further research. This leaves readers longing for more of his work.
Perhaps for the first time a history of Pakistan's wars is presented with such veracity, and credit paid where due to the best man in the duel without reservation. Some beans are spilled for the first time and some myths broken most tactfully, accompanied by valid reasoning and references.
The project took several years of strenuous research and first hand analysis of records, official reports and most interestingly eye-witness accounts not only of those directly involved but also awestruck spectators on ground.
Most of these were naÃ¯ve villagers when the thrilling aerial adventures unfolded in the wartime skies decades earlier. Preserving these personal descriptions and authentic versions is not only a momentous effort but a tremendous service to aviation and warfare history.
A significant feature is a tribute to PAF's most illustrious war hero Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui Shaheed Hilal-i-Jurat.
The various historic photographs of Pakistani and Indian air warriors, gun-camera films, maps and the appendices offering intricate information on fighter aircraft, official records of kills and losses as well as gallantry awards adds greater significance to the compilation.
And no doubt the author and his work both have received wide acclaim surpassing beyond borders.
The chapter 'Bo Kata' covering the famous dog-fight over the city of Lahore is aptly titled after how the Lahoris cheered PAF as they would kite-flying; an event during the 1965 war which has since become part of the nation's modern folklore.
While the chapters 'Theirs But to Do and Die' about the September 6, 1965 dog-fight over Halwara from which Squadron Leader Sarfaraz Rafiqui did not return after a display of exemplary chivalry, and 'Speed Shooting Classic' about the record kills by legendary ace fighter Squadron leader M.M. Alam Sitara-i-Jurat (Bar), are those sections which place the book not just in the genre of military and aviation history but also certainly of literature.
For it could inspire many a reader to follow in the footsteps of these valiant men and serve as an epic of human behaviour and triumph, or struggle for it, under the most trying circumstances.
Great Air Battles of Pakistan Air Force
By Air Commodore
M. Kaiser Tufail