The tale of Squadron Leader Devayya Bopayya’s heroic deed might have been forever buried with his in Pakistani soil had not a strange set of events led to the investigation of what exactly happened on the fateful day when No.1 Tigers Squadron was assigned the task of taking down Sargodha, the Pakistani Air force’s main airbase.
His Entry Into the Force
Devayya Bopayya was born on December 24, 1932, and he was the son of Dr. Bopayya from Coorg. He joined the Indian Air Force and attained the rank of Squadron Leader.
The Attack on Sargodha
The year was 1965, and it was the time of the Indo-Pak war. Squadron Leader Devayya was stationed at the Adampur Air Force Base, in the No.1 Tigers Squadron.
When this squadron was given the orders to take down Sargodha, the main airbase of the Pakistan Air Force, the Commanding Officer, Wing Commander O.P. Taneja decided to send in waves of four aircrafts that were spaced out by a distance of 1000 yards.
Standby pilot Squadron Leader Devayya was asked to take off, but his squadron had no more planes, so he borrowed one from the nearby No.32 Squadron and took off. As he was the last to leave, he was also the last to return.
As the Mysteres were leaving after a short and swift pass over the airbase, a PAF F-104 Starfighter began to tail them. The aircraft was piloted by Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain. He knew that his F-104 could easily run rings around the old Mysteres.
Flt. Lt. Hussain picked up Squadron Leader Devayya’s Mystere as it had been the last to turn back. He fired a deadly AIM-9 Sidewinder at the enemy aircraft, but the Mystere took swift evasive action, and the missile harmlessly hit the ground. Closing in for the kill, Hussain fired several bursts from his Vulcan Cannon. Instead of seeing the Mystere go down as he had then triumphantly expected, he found out that the enemy pilot had latched on to his tail and was pursuing him. The Mystere scored several hits with its 30 mm gun and Flight Lieutenant Hussain was finally forced to eject.
Unfortunately, it was too late for Squadron Leader Bopayya to eject from his aircraft and he crashed on Pakistani soil.
When the Mysteres returned to their base after the mission, Devayya was not initially missed. It was thought that he had gone to No. 32 squadron to return the borrowed aircraft. But as time passed and he still did not return, he was recorded as Missing In Action (MIA). A year later, he was declared dead, as is the practice. But the story of what he had done that day came up in a strange way.
How the Story Unraveled
The PAF had commissioned a British writer, John Fricker, to write an account of the attack on Sargodha. He gave a flattering account of the triumph of the PA pilots on that day and claimed that the only achievement of the IAF on that day, September 7th of 1965, had been to take down one single F-104.
Wing commander Taneja, who had by then retired as a Group Captain, came across this account in the book. He at once alerted the higher authorities that this could be related to Squadron Leader Devayya. But nothing happened until 1987 when the Defense Ministry began to compile an official account of the 1965 war.
One researcher – retired Air Commodore Pritam Singh, who knew all the Mystere pilots who had flown that day, began to pick up the pieces. He found that the PAF had officially accepted the loss of an F-104 in a broadcast. He talked in detail to Group Captain Taneja and went after every possible source that he could find. Finally, he gave his compiled evidence to the high command in November 1987.
Squadron Leader Devayya had taken a calculated gamble as he knew that his Mystere could not match up to the nimbler F-104. As his own aircraft was running low on fuel, he was aware that even if he managed to take down the F-104, he would have to eject on Pakistani soil.
But by staying back and taking on the F-104, he had allowed the other Mysteres to fly back home safely. In April 1988, the Maha Vir Chakra was conferred posthumously on Squadron leader Devayya, finally recognizing his courageous act in holding off the F-104.
He’s still remembered for his daring feet, years after his demise.