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WHERE EAGLES DARE (A Tribute to Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat Shaheed)


Mar 21, 2007
United States
WHERE EAGLES DARE (A Tribute to Wing Commander Mervyn Middlecoat Shaheed)

By Sarmad Hassan Sharif

1971 war is full of mysterious incidents which have been penned down but never discussed in great detail. May it be the mysterious sinking of PNS Ghazi, crash of a PIA Boeing 707 in China, crash of a PIA Fokker F-27 on a maritime surveillance mission or unconfirmed status of ejected pilots of both PAF and IAF, we cannot find enough to figure out that what actually happened.

While things remained in the iron curtain after the war, information was limited up to the controlled print media and one could not access to the story present on other side of the border. It wasn't the advent of the internet, that information started pouring in but in some cases that information was also not conclusive.
Being a keen air war historian, I was quite impressed with the performance of the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter in PAF service, especially its role in the 1965 war. However I had very limited information regarding its service history in 1971 war. While details remained moot in the Official PAF History of 1982 and Fiza'ya (By Pushpinder Singh and Ravi Rikheye) it was not until I stumbled across BHARAT RAKSHAK, the premier Indian defense related website, about the air combat at Jamnagar, in which one of our F-104 was shot down by an IAF MiG-21FL. When I came across the PAF pilots involved in the mission, I was startled to find the name of Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat, as he was one of the most experienced F-104 pilot in PAF. He was one of the most experienced and the most respected pilots in the air force and had led No. 9 Squadron bravely, in the 1965 war. Keeping in mind the war propaganda (from both sides) I was not satisfied with the details provided by BHARAT RAKSHAK and decided to search more about the last mission of Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat.


Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat was a brilliant officer right from the beginning. On his graduation with the 16th GD(P) course in 1954, he was awarded the trophy for best performance in Ground Subjects. Soft spoken and mild mannered, Middlecoat was the epitome of an officer and a gentleman besides being an outstanding pilot. Flying different aircraft in his service career, he came to master the F-104 Starfighter.

Flt. Lt. Middlecoat was amongst the first three pilots to undergo type conversion in the United States for the F-104 Starfighter. He along with Flt. Lt. Allaudin 'Butch' Ahmed, served with the ANG (Air National Guards) unit flying the Starfighter, in South Carolina. Both Middlecoat and Butch trained extensively as they had to form the nucleaus of the training core of Starfighters in the PAF.
This training paid off well, when the No. 9 Squadron performed exceptionally well in the 1965 war. Under the leadership of Squadron Leader Middlecoat, the Squadron recorded history in its own unique way. The milestones achieved by the squadron are:

1. First air arrest of the type anywhere in the world (F-104 vs. Gnat)
2. First air to air kill of the type anywhere in the world (F-104 vs. Mystere)
3. First missile kill of the type anywhere in the world (F-104 vs. Canberra)
4. First confirmed night kill of the type anywhere in the world (F-104 vs. Canberra)
5. First utilization of the F-104B Model for Photo Reconnaissance

During the seventeen days conflict, he kept his squadron's spirits high with firm conviction of a commander who leads from the front. He performed an impressive 17 Air Defence Sorties and 3 Photo Reconnaissance Missions. For his bravery, professional leadership and selfless contribution in the war, Squadron Leader Middlecoat was awarded with Sitara-e-Jura'at.

The 1965 war ended with 9 Squadron flying 254 sorties of which 246 were day and night defence, 4 escort and 4 counter air. PAF lost two Starfighters during the 17 day conflict with India. These losses were not replaced by the US given the arms embargo imposed o Pakistan. Therefore No. 9 Squadron was left with only 8 F-104As and 2 F-104Bs after the hostilities. In addition PAF faced the problem of dwindling spare parts stocks for the aircraft which were also embargoed and had to be sourced from a third party sources and black market.

During the war, new lessons were learned. Squadron Leader Middlecoat devised new strategies and tactics and added them in the training curriculum. With the induction of Mirages and F-6s, and both types being stationed at Sargodha, it was not long when F-104 was pitted against these aircraft in DACT (Dissimilar Air Combat Training). However, within PAF it was assessed that F-104 was inferior in all flight regimes by the increasingly numerous MiG-21s with the Indian Air Force but superior to the Su-7s, also inducted by IAF in large numbers. Especially in a close in dogfight the Starfighter was considered to be outmatched by the MiG-21 given its superior manoeuvrability and similar speed and acceleration.

However, Squadron Leader Middlecoat was confident that the tactics of the PAF F-104 made use of the aircraft's high speed to hit targets quickly, ideally using AIM-9B Sidewinder and quickly egress at high speed and low level. Turning with more nimble fighters was not considered advisable.

Slowly but surely, the arms embargo on Pakistan started effecting the F-104 flying, with the result that the aircraft were practically cocooned starting December 1969. PAF also lost two Starfighters in accidents during this time period.
Wing Commander Middlecoat was posted in No. 26 Squadron (Black Spiders) at Peshawar where he commanded an F-86F Squadron. His stint at Peshawar was equally exciting as he incorporated new tactics in the training curriculum. A detachment of Hunters from the Royal Air Force visited Peshawar and were damned impressed when they met Wing Commander Middlecoat in a training dogfight mission. For the junior pilots (both No. 9 Squadron and No. 26 Squadron), he was somewhat like an invincible ray of beacon, who guided them in this time of darkness. Amongst his colleagues he was regarded amongst the most respected pilots of his time.

It was the results of his training that both No. 26 Squadron and No. 9 Squadron had performed exceptionally well in the 1971 war. While the vintage F-86F Sabres faced the Hunters in the opening round of the war, the Starfighters chalked up three confirmed air to air kills in their tally.

As India-Pakistan tensions mounted around mid-1971, Wing Commander Middlecoat was ordered to lead a contingent of pilots with previous F-104 experience, as a PAF detachment to Jordan from where they had to regain experience on the aircraft. This was a gifted oppurtunity as PAF F-104s required some time to be brought to an airworthy state with essential spares being shipped in from the Unites States. Led by Wing Commander Middlecoat, the PAF pilots immediately started an extensive training program in Jordan in which Jordanian pilots were also included.

King Hussein of Jordan, a keen aviator, was a regular visitor of the Starfighter Squadron, and was damned impressed by the proficiency of PAF pilots. He was amazed to see Starfighters being used for airfield attacks with their Vulcan Gatling Guns (notorious for their deadly punch) utilizing their high speed. He personally admired Wing Commander Middlecoat and always asked him for anything he required during his stay in Jordan. Such was the relationship between both the air forces that King Hussein promised to send these aircraft to Pakistan if the need arises.

THE 1971 WAR

No. 9 Squadron was ready for action on the onset of 1971 war. F-104s participated in the opening raids by attacking Faridkot and Bernala Radar Sites. In the following couple of days the Starfighters carried out SEAD missions against Amritsar Radar and shot down two enemy aircraft in the process. However, a specially modified F-104 equipped with SLARD/RALOR (specially equipped radar locating sensors) was shot down by enemy ground based air defenses on 5th December, after which the radar busting campaign was brought to a halt.

The news of the war reached Jordan, and all pilots were instructed to return back as soon as possible. Wing Commander Middlecoat knew that the time has come to show the enemy again the meaning of war, as he prepared to come back and join his squadron. As the December war progressed, PAF HQ decided to strengthen the already weak Southern Air Command. In a strategic move PAF shifted 7 F-104s of No.9 Squadron to Masroor Air Base on 6th December.

The basis of bringing the Starfighters in this area was to:

1. All weather day/night air defence with a primary emphasis on intercepting IAF Canberra Bombers at night, which till before their arrival, would arrive over Karachi at night and bomb any target of their choice with impunity;

2. Intercept Indian Navy Maritime/ASW aircraft and locate Indian Naval vessels;

3. Carry out daylight blitz strikes against IAF and IN installations as they had the range and speed to carry out such missions;

4. Fly CAP over the war zone and intercept any incoming IAF strike element.

Though they were introduced late in this sector, their arrival however boosted the morale of the PAF Southern Air Command. IAF also now behaved in a cautious manner because before 6th December, they wrecked havoc on important installations which included the Keamari Oil Farm as well as PAF Base Masroor. After the arrival of the Starfighters, IAF restrained itself against the raids against Karachi and was restricted to close support of their army.


Wing Commander Middlecoat arrived back on December 10, 1971. His arrival was delayed as initially he was to lead the RJAF Starfighter contingent to Masroor, but due to the impending delay of the transfer of RJAF aircraft he had to hurry back to participate in the war. Immediately after his arrival, he started to fly his missions with such enthusiasm, that the morale of the squadron was highly lifted.

The result of this morale was clearly visible when PAF F-104s struck Okha and destroyed an IN Alize ASW aircraft on December 10, 1971, while the next day PAF F-104s struck Utterlai and destroyed an IAF HF-24 Marut while damaging the other one. A similar mission was planned for the December 12, 1971 in which two F-104 Starfighters were to fly a similar strike mission against the heavily defended Jamnagar Air Field. Intel had confirmed the presence of MiG-21FL and Hunter aircraft at Jamnagar. This particular enemy base had to be sorted out as it supported the majority of the strikes against Karachi and Badin areas. While the B-57s visited Jamnagar on regular basis, no worthwhile damage had been done.

The F-104 Starfighter was the only aircraft available with the Southern Air Command to conduct a blitz daylight strike deep inside the enemy territory.

The Indians on the other hand were quite annoyed on their reaction time at Utterlai and Group Captain Pete Wilson, Station Commander of Jamnagar Airbase had issued a warning to the detachment of the MiG-21 pilots at his base, that if anyone cannot scramble in less than 2 minutes, he can leave the base and go back. The IAF MiG-21 pilots at Jamnagar practiced hard to scramble in less than 2 minutes and somewhat succeeded. The Indian Station Commander anticipated a PAF attack after the Utterlai strike. He was sure that PAF will attempt a similar daylight raid on his base and was keeping his fingers crossed as he knew that he will be facing a major challenge. Coming in a long way to attack a fully alert enemy base is not a simple task. Six years back, he had witnessed the PAF raid against Kalaikunda and was well aware of the capabilities of his adversary.

Wing Commander Arif Iqbal had been leading from the front in the absence of Wing Commander Middlecoat. Since this was a highly dangerous mission, he decided to lead this mission with Squadron Leader Tariq Habib as his wingman. It was at this instance that Wing Commander Middlecoat intervened and said, "Arif, I'm taking this one," as he took the mission briefing papers from him. While Wing Commander Arif Iqbal insisted that he is supposed to lead this mission, Wing Commander Middlecoat stood firm in his stance that this is a dangerous mission and he himself will lead the mission, owing to his confidence backed by experience. At the end, Wing Commander Arif Iqbal had to step back and let Wing Commander Middlecoat lead this mission.

Following the successful strike against Utterlai, Wing Commander Middlecoat worked on the mission profile along with his wingman.

They had to fly ~ 500 km from their base towards Jamnagar Airfield at low level i.e. below 250 ft AGL skimming the sea;
As soon as they neared their target they had to pull up to 2-3000 feet with target offset to their right by 2-3 miles in order to line up for their strafing runs;

Once in line they had to attack the aircraft exposed on the runway/taxiway with a single pass each;
Exit at high speed and low level.

While both the Starfighters were equipped with Sidewinders, it was not advisable to indulge in any dogfight as it could eat up the meager fuel reserves which was required for a safe egress and recovery.

After pre-flight mission briefing, both the pilots bade farewell to their colleagues as they headed towards their mounts. Both F-104 Starfighters took off and set their course towards Jamnagar Base at low level. They were configured with wingtip fuel tanks and underwing pylons equipped with Sidewinders for self defence. Skimming the Arabian Sea, both Starfighters approached undetected till they crossed the Saurashtra sea coast. They were picked by Indian MOUs which immediately informed the base.

The long awaited hooter at Jamnagar finally blew as Squadron Leader Guni Sehgal and Flight Lieutenant Bharat Bhuhsan Soni ran towards their MiGs. Within less than two minutes both the MiGs took off at breakneck speed at the same time when the Starfighters appeared overhead and took a readjustment turn for a strafing run. The MiGs were ordered to set up their CAP orbit pattern, while two way R/T contact was established between the Killer Control and the MiGs.

Wing Commander Middlecoat while proceeding according to the mission plans had lined up along runway 24 going straight for the ORP. His aircraft was picked up by Flight Lieutenant I.J.S. Boparai, who was monitoring the interception as the Killer Control. Quick as a flash Boparai directed the lead MiG piloted by Guni Sehgal to take on against Middlecoat, as he was in the right position for the fast attack. "Guni, one bandit over Jamnagar Town running low level along runway 24, 3-4 kms away. Soni, the second F-104 is now turning trail, far behind". Arriving at high speed and low level, Wing Commander Middlecoat pulled up for a strafing run, and upon noticing a couple of aircraft on the ORP, fired his Vulcan Gatling Gun. The bullets hit the targets but no smoke or explosion was observed.

They were decoys placed strategically by the Station Commander. As he was pulling up, Wing Commander Middlecoat noticed a couple of MiG-21s on the ground. While he was justified to leave the area as he had completed his attack, he conducted a teardrop turn and decided to dive back and carry out another attack on the MiGs. This maneuver frustrated Guni's attack as he expected the F-104 to pull up and exit after completing its attack.

By now, the second MiG had acquired visual contact and dived in. Squadron Leader Tariq Habib who was coming in for the attack, noticed a silver MiG diving towards him with an intent to kill. Immediately sensing danger, he abandoned his attack, broke hard towards right, separating his distance from the MiGs and flew NW (general direction of Pakistan) at high speed. This was witnessed by Flight Lieutenant Bharat Bhuhsan Soni, the Indian MiG-21 pilot.

Wing Commander Middlecoat by now had aligned for a second attack on the airfield. He dropped his speed to get a better aim and dived towards a parked MiG-21FL firing his gun. "Soni, the bandit has gone into a hard right to get that MiG-21 on the ground. He has dropped his speed. Get him. Soni confirm contact?" yelled Boparai.

Guni by now had settled behind Middlecoat while Soni also confirmed contact and dived to get him. Both the MiGs were perched above and behind the F-104 waiting for it to clear the 'guns free' area of the airbase. By this time Middlecoat had also spotted both the MiGs and after realizing that he is sharing the airspace with them alone, engaged reheat and disengaged.

However the MiGs were determined to bag a kill and that too of a Starfighter. Guni closed in to get a positive missile tone and was about to press his missile firing button, when Soni overtook him at an amazing speed and was dead set on Middlecoat’s Starfighter. All this was happening in milliseconds at a very high speed and Guni was unable to stop himself in firing the missile. He yelled on his R/T, “Bops, Soni has come right in front of me, I have pressed the missile firing button”. The missile streaked straight at Soni’s MiG but later deflected at the sun’s reflection in the Arabian Sea. As soon as Soni saw a missile going past his aircraft he stammered on his R/T, “Firing Red at me……….. Missile has missed.”

Boparai knew the fact that if he relayed the true information to Soni that he has survived a near fratricide, it could un-nerve him and Soni might give up his chase of the Starfighter (IAF had lost a MiG-21 last night in a fratricide while intercepting a Mirage-IIIR). He then told Soni that the F-104 might have deployed IR Flares and at the same time ordered Guni to hold fire and provide cover to Soni. Determined to bag a kill, Soni got a positive missile tone and fired his K-13 Atoll missile at the F-104. Instinctively the Starfighter broke right, in a high G turn, engaging maximum dry thrust. This manoeuvre was enough to evade the early generation IR missile, but Soni also broke right, engaged reheat and closed in fast.

As the MiG-21 (using afterburners) could sustain a tighter turn and better rate of closure than the Starfighter (without afterburners), he rapidly closed in and fired a two second burst of his 23mm gun. With bright flashes all around the Starfighter, the aircraft started to get out of control. Wing Commander Middlecoat, as reported by Soni, pulled up the Starfighter with the remaining energy left in the aircraft, and ejected at high speed. The stricken aircraft crashed inverted in the sea.

Meanwhile the Indian Killer Control ordered Soni to ‘Return to Base’ and asked Guni to orbit overhead. He noticed that Middlecoat had neither separated from his ejection seat nor he had waved to the orbiting MiG after ejection. An ejection at a speed of more than 950km/hr and at a very low level can prove near fatal at times and it was assumed that Middlecoat had been injured in this process. Guni was replaced by an slower orbiting Hunter which tried its best to communicate with Middlecoat but never got any response. Since there was no boat in the area, nor IAF could muster any heliborne search, Middlecoat according to the Indian accounts was not rescued and his exact fate remains unknown till to date.

Back at Masroor, the Squadron was anxiously waiting for both their pilots when they learnt that only one F-104 has returned back from the mission. In the debriefing session, Squadron Leader Tariq stated that since they were intercepted by enemy MiGs, they had to abort and return back. However Wing Commander Middlecoat got tangled with the enemy MiGs and in the ensuing air combat he was shot down by a missile. Wing Commander Arif Iqbal was really upset, as he was supposed to go on this mission. Not only he lost his squadron commander, but also a friend whom he served with No. 9 Squadron for almost a decade. Other pilots were also in a state of shock. Wing Commander Middlecoat was an outstanding officer and sportsman and a king pin on the F-104. He was a role model for the youngsters and when they heard that he had got into a dogfight over Jamnagar and went missing, they fully expected him to swim the Gulf of Kutch and return.


Upon his martyrdom, he was awarded the Sitara-e-Juraat for the second time. Wing Commander Middlecoat's loss was a huge one, both for No. 9 Squadron and PAF. He was amongst the pioneers who trained PAF to go and fight supersonic. He was well aware about the flight characteristics of the F-104 and was well prepared to take his chances. He was justified to leave the area after conducting his first strafing attack but upon spotting some real targets decided to take his chances and that too in the presence of enemy interceptors. This displayed his leadership to lead from the front and his commitment to complete his mission.

His wingman on the other side, preferred personal safety as he extricated himself out of the battle and disengaged (as witnessed by the Indian MiG-21 pilots). Had he conducted a diversionary maneuver, he could have sandwiched both the MiGs and shoot down the trailing MiG-21 (since both MiGs were focused on Middlecoat's Starfighter) forcing Soni to disengage, but personal safety got the better of him.

As an analyst, I will never say that it was an even battle. The Starfighters were operating deep inside enemy territory on the heels of their endurance. Indulged in any sort of dogfight could easily eat up their fuel reserves which could also subsequently lead to loss of the aircraft. The MiG-21 though short legged was operating at its own turf. More nimble than the Starfighters, the MiG-21 could use afterburner for longer spells due to close proximity of its home base. The Starfighters had to maintain a constant speed and use of afterburners was strictly limited.

Luck also favoured the Indians which enabled them to down their first F-104 in air combat.

1. The MiGs at Jamnagar had been recently equipped with GP-9 Gondola packs, and were amongst the handful of MiGs equipped with guns. A gunless MiG would had bleak chances of carrying out a successful interception;

2. Bharat Soni was almost shot down by his own leader, when he survived a near fratricide. However it was the vile of I.J.S. Boparai who convinced Soni that it was not a missile but IR Flares deployed by the Starfighter. Had he told Soni the truth, Soni might have disengaged from the combat;

3. Had Wing Commander Middlecoat exited after the first attack, the MiGs would never get him;

4. Had Squadron Leader Tariq carried out a diversionary maneuver and sandwiched the MiGs, it could end up with the Griffins shooting down a supersonic MiG-21. Why he did not turned back and re-engaged the MiGs to keep his leader's tail clear, will remain one of the 'ifs' of the war.

A clean getaway by Wing Commander Middlecoat was still possible, but dedication to complete a mission was deemed important as he never believed in failure. From Air Cdre. ® I.J.S. Boparai’s account, it has been confirmed that Middlecoat’s Starfighter slowed down in his second pass, as he spotted a parked MiG-21, which was the reason that both the Indian MiGs were able to catch up with him. A few days back Squadron Leader Amjad was shot down over Amritsar by AAA, when he conducted a second pass to locate and destroy Amritsar Radar. However he was lucky enough to survive the ejection.
Both sides lost extremely talented and senior pilots in this war.

The same MiG-21 squadron which rejoiced the shooting down of the Starfighter was brooding over the loss of their commander the very next day, when Wing Commander H. S. Gill was shot down over Badin and went missing in action. Similarly Flight Lieutanent Samad Changezi (the youngest pilot of the Starfighter Squadron) was struck hard by the loss of his leader that he developed a hatred for the Indian MiGs which claimed his life later on, when he himself was shot down (in another uneven dogfight) in order to even the score against the Indian MiGs. Such are the harsh realities of war.

There are many myths and untold facts of the 1965 and 1971 war which after a lapse of 30-40 years came in the public domain. It is still to be verified by the Indians that did Middlecoat got the MiG-21 parked on ORP, before he himself was attacked by the two MiG-21s which were airborne to intercept the Starfighters? If he succeeded in destroying the Mig-21 on the ground then this mission can be regarded as successful.

We still do not know the fate of Wing Commander. M. L. Middlecoat. Did he die while ejecting at such high speed or did he meet his end in the shark infested waters? Regrettably the IAF did not manage to rescue this brave pilot as there was no ship in the vicinity. He was declared MIA and after the return of all POWs he was presumed dead. His supreme sacrifice will always be remembered. The young generation will always remember him as a commander, who lead from the front, made optimum use of the limited resources with excellent results, and laid down his life for this country. We owe our freedom to these Air Warriors who sacrificed their present to secure our future.


Combat And Aviation History Of Pakistan

December 12, 2015 · ·


Mar 25, 2008
United Arab Emirates
Wing Commander Mervyn Leslie Middlecoat, an eagle, a patriot and a legend.
I still remember those days of Dec. 1971, when his residence gate bearing his name plate in typical PAF colour at Khyber Road (North Circular Road) at Peshawar Base.

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