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When The Devil Dared

Very few people could get commissioned in Air Force, fewer still could create history in aerial combat, hardly anybody could be credited with the unique honor of  being crowned by gallantry awards from three sovereign countries- Group Captain Saiful Azam did all the three. Very few people could get commissioned in Air Force, fewer still could create history in aerial combat, hardly anybody could be credited with the unique honor of being crowned by gallantry awards from three sovereign countries- Group Captain Saiful Azam did all the three.

Chill spills down the spine and life hangs on a fragile string suddenly becoming culpable to the inevitable ferocity  of death and demon. That demon- an aerial avenger is the de facto emperor of sky calling high decibel alarm bell declaring the supremacy of his majesty.

Shooting Down Indian Plane During 1965 Indo-Pak War
Saiful Azam at His Dhaka Office
Saiful-Azam Watches Over His Shoulder As His Victim, An Israeli Mystere-IVA, Goes Down Across The Perimeter Defence Of Mafraq Air Base In Jordan

Azam dealt a blow to Israel when it had hypnotized  the world as being invincible and most formidable muscle power in the Middle East. It had all the valid reasons also. In 5-10 June 1967 Arab- Israeli War,Israel seized the control of Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula with a minimum of casualties.Israel captured West Bank and Jerusalem-without much resistance. The most difficult terrain Golan Height, succumbed to Israel’s onslaught. When Egypt mobilized its demoralized troops along the Israeli border in Sinai Peninsula,Israel by a series of preemptive air-strikes destroyed almost the entire Air Force of Egypt. Let alone Golan Plateau, Israeli sorties on June-5 wiped out two-thirds of Syrian aviation capabilities as an one sided showdown. On a single day June 5th as ifIsrael clipped the wings of its arch rivalsEgypt,Syria andJordan.  It was a shock, sorrow and shame, the whole gulf countries could not raise a faintest voice- against a singleton Zionist blessed by its Godfather USA. Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq one after  the other rather simultaneously surrendered to Israel’s hegemony without staging a honourable resistance. When Gamal Abdul Nasser ordered a withdrawal for his vulnerable Army from Sinai Peninsula-it was a chaotic, cowardice, deadly scared retreat incurring untold miseries. The same scenario was repeated when King Hussein had to call a pull-back across the Jordanian river. The hell broke out loose.

Was it unexpected? The oil rich Arab world had come in close contact with the pomp and prosperity of life. The rulers and the ruled, became accustomed to comfort, luxury and wasting. Neither the administration nor the Armed Forces had any planning, training, preparation, morale, esprit de corps leave alone the sacrifice and the martyrdom. Vile, corrupt and spend-thrift.

The whole Muslim world was awestricken and was bewildered at the enormous scale of defeat and defamation.

Is this the descendant of Salah Din who recovered Jerusalem and Baitul Mukkadas from the Zionist. Where is the follower of General Tariq Ibn Ziad who burnt all his ships after landing at Gibraltar proclaiming a declaration to his men: Either embrace death or inflict defeat on the enemies but no retreat.

With PAF Chief
A ‘Lep Talk’ with RJAF Pilots
Visiting Jordanian Air Force HQ

Against such a backdrop Azam created a history by destroying as many as four Israeli aircrafts. He got front page coverage in leading dailies inLondon and in some other big cities in Europe. “ A Pakistani volunteer fighter pilot has shot down first Israeli Mirage fighter just over the sky of Jordan in a dog fight”. It is incredible that Azam shot down much more technically superior Israeli fighters while flying with Hawker Hunters. On June 5 his flight of four Hawker Hunters engaged Israeli Dassault Super Mysteres attacking Mafraq, the Jordanian Air Base. Azam shot one down and sent another smoking towardsIsrael. Two days later, Azam over an Iraqi Air Base – during an Israeli air attack, shot down one Dassault Mirage111 and moments later downed a Sud-Quest Vautour Bomber again by his Hawker Hunter.

During 1965 Indo-Pak war Flt. Lt. Azam knocked down an Indian G-nat by his F86 Sabre while returning from a sortie for which he was decorated ‘Sitara-I-Jurat’ directly by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. In 1965 aerial combat out of the four terrific treble three were fromEast Pakistan. Sqn. Ldr. M M Alam, SJ-bar (5 Hunter), Martyred Sqn. Ldr. Sharfaraz Rafiqui, HJ(2 Vampire, 1Hunter), Flt.Lt. Saiful Azam SJ(1 G-nat). M M Alam holds the record of gunning down 5 Indian Aircrafts in less than a minute on 7thth Sept 1965- the first four within 30 seconds establishing a world record with a total tally of 9 kill as the legends goes. Sqn.Ldr. Rafiqui is a recipient of both Hilal-I-Jurat and Sitara-I-Jurat. He embraced martyrdom in 1965 war. 3rd biggest Air Base of Pakistan at Shorkot has been named after him “Rafiqui Air Base”. Few other heavy weight fighter pilots fromEast Pakistanin 1965 war were Sqn. Ldr. Alamgir, Flt. Lt Shawkatul Islam, Flying Officer Ahsan.

Saiful Azam is possibly the only fighter pilot in the world bestowed with glittering gallantry medals from three different states for outstanding feats in the aeronautical warfare.. Sitara-I-Jurat fromPakistan in 1965 Indo-Pak war, Hussam-e-Isteqlal byJordan, Noth-e-Shuja byIraqfor 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He is also the only fighter pilot displaying his combat craftsmanship against two different air forces while operating under three countries. Singularly he enjoys the unique status vanquishing highest number of Israeli fighter planes .In Jordan Flt. Lt . Azam commanded a fighter squadron which was usually commanded by a wing commander.

An hour later after the dog fight in Jordan’s first major aerial combat, King Hussein appeared amongst the pilots. He had come to boost up their morale. In that glum pal the king was the symbol of power house of forbearance, fortitude and courage. PAF Asstt. Chief of Staff(operation) Air Cdre. A Rahim Khan also chaperoned the king. What was surprising that the king paid a second visit to them same day in the evening. Turning to Saif, the king asked him to get into his car. Such a gesture of honor, overwhelmed Flt.Lt. Saiful Azam who had just made a dent on the pride ofIsrael’s invincibility. They drove toJordan main hospital to call on a PAF Flt.Lt. Shad who was in a critical condition following a complication of appendicitis. After that they went to Mafraq the damaged Jordanian air base 40 miles fromAmman. Throughout the drive, the king like a captain, kept on reassuring Azam that it was not a defeat and that they could stage a comeback since the operation was not over specially with young fighter like Saiful Azam around, the duel could go on. Azam climbed the Zenith of his martial life when the king continued “ after all Saif had been literally a sword for the king. Thus armed, King Hussein was unwilling to give up so easily”.

Israeli Mirage Was Shot Down by Saiful Azam In Jordan
Saiful Azam With Shurdom

Azam had so many hair raising accounts up his sleeve. While waiting  for the call for a sortie he received a message from the base commander inIraq that he needed four pilots right away for the first mission which Azam had to lead. It was  that mission in which he shot down a Mirage 111 and moments later he gunned down a Sud-Quest Vautour bomber. To add another feather to his decorated cap, Saiful has the rare distinction of becoming one of the twenty two “Living Eagles’ of the world since 2001 staged by the US Air Force. When he completed a course on Fighter Training inUSA, he stood head and shoulder above his peers in Gunnery. Saiful Azam has the credential of operating in eight different air force of eight different  countries- Pakistan, USA, England, Jordan, Iraq, Russia, China and his mother land Bangladesh. Saiful Azam joined the Royal Jordanian air force in the late sixty six on deputation as a  Flt. Lt. During those days much before the Arab-israeli war he shared a dream which he saw the previous night with 1st Lt. Ihsan Shurdom of Jordanian air force that he had shot down an Israeli Mirage to which Shurdom declared that he would present any gift to Saiful Azam whatever he wanted should that come true. On June 5,1967 when Azam shot down one Israeli Mystere, his formation mate and buddy 1st lieutenant Shurdom congratulated him for the dream becoming true. But even on a sortie Azam corrected him- that was not a Mirage. However two days later on 7th June during a dogfight against the Israeli formation over an Iraqi base Azam indeed turned the dream true by shooting down a Vautour bomber and also a Mirage. This time Azam could not turn down the message of congratulation from Shurdom. Later on the same Shurdom became the Air Chief Of Jordan.

After Azam’s successful offensive against the Israeli air force over the H-3 base in Iraq when he killed a Vautour and a Mirage, Maj. Gen. Mordechai Hod, the commander of Israeli Air Force is said to have commented “The critique of H-3 fiasco, made me feel almost  as if I had lost the war. Whatever factors may have been discussed during the H-3 rout being hard work of a determined team under the able leadership of a first class PAF pilot. That Mossad was ignorant of this fact would be under-rating the capabilities of a notoriously efficient outfit.”  

About the future strategy of Bangladesh Air Force, Azam aligned with the vision of President General Ziaur Rahman who himself was a paratrooper “Is the formation of guerilla air force of helicopter squadron in addition to conventional air force”. During 1971 liberation war the role of Mukti Bahini was that of a guerilla warfare which was closing down the noose around the lifeline of Niazi’s frustrated forces and the final thrust of India was like a straw that broke the camel’s back.

The ethos of patriotism and faith galvanized in the gene of Saiful Azam. Born in Pabna fathered by Nurul Amin, Azam was a diehard nationalist. In 1965 he exulted in the air as a Pakistani, in 1967 he belligerently protected the skies of Arabs as a Muslim. In 1966 he volunteered to join the Saracens out of his strong faith. In 1971 grounded by Pakistanis (an eagle caged) he was burning with the zeal of Bengali esprit de corps. Long before Bir Shresto Matiur Rahman executed  the hijacking of a Pakistani fighter jet T-33, Azam was organizing with his other Bengali cohorts from PIA and PAF to skyjack a PIA jet fromKarachi and to that end, he even sent his wife and son toDhaka on March 6’71. Why he had to abandon that clandestine mission and why he had to call back his wife toKarachi-is a long story. However it would be worthwhile to bring the facts to limelight that he was the mentor and confidante of Matiur Rahman in his foiled skyjacking of T-33 jet in which Matiur embraced martyrdom. Following that T-33 crash , Pakistani intelligence took Azam for remand and interrogated him for 21 days. He survived that ordeal by the interception of Pakistan Air Chief, Air Marshal A Rahim Khan, possibly also by the request of King Hussein.  

Though Azam couldn’t defect toIndia, but right under the nose of Pakistani military- every second, every minute, every hour of his day was occupied with the thought of contributing his legacy to the fastest course of liberation of his motherland at the peril of his life. For that he was apprehended by the authority and how he was set free had just been mentioned.

That Gr. Capt. Saiful Azam is notoriously nationalist, that he is the son of Bangladesh and let history be a witness that he is a freedom fighter.

Capt Syed Ahmed Mortada (Retd) was commissioned on 23 November 1970. Being an officer of Medical Corps he served at various cantonments of Pakistan and Bangladesh. He also served in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Botsowana under Ministry of Health. Capt Mortada retired from armed force in 1977. He is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star, New Age, Guardian, Mirror and many other dailies and weeklies. He can be reached at : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.