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September 3, 2015

A tribute to Air Commodore Zafar Masud (HJ, SBt)

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September 3, 2015

Born in 1927 and coming from a Gujranwala based literate family Zafar Masud (affectionately known in PAF as Mitty Masud) was brilliant since childhood. His father Zafar Hussain Khan, senior officer of Railway board, was a noble officer of enviable reputation. The family was settled in Delhi before partition and Mitty Masud did matriculation from Model High School in 1942. With a dream to become a fighter pilot Masud joined RIAF and got commission on 25 February 1946. At the time of Independence, Mitty Masud opted for Pakistan and thus became the youngest pioneer of the newly born Royal Pakistan Air Force. In 1948 Mitty Masud joined the RPAF College where he imparted flying training to young cadets of PAF. As the PAF entered the Jet age with the arrival of modern ‘Attacker’ jet aircraft in 1958, Mitty Masud was among the very few to get operationalise on the new weapon system. Being the member of No 11 squadron, he was the proud member of the first PAF jet aerobatic team ‘Paybills’ under the legendary command of famous FS Hussain.
An exceptional fighter pilot, Masud was at his best when given really challenging assignments, but even when asked to take on some mundane tasks, he tackled those with great energy and inventiveness. Quite remarkably, within days of taking over a new unit, the men under him would begin to identify with his goals, and the experience always left them better trained and stronger advocates of professional values. In 1958 Air Marshal Asghar Khan chose Wing Commander Masud to organise, train and lead an aerobatics team of 16 Sabre jets that set a world record, validating the PAF’s place among the well-regarded air arms of the world.
Flight, an international aviation magazine of great credibility and reputation published an article pressing the PAF for the exceptional world record. Mitty Masud’s heroics made the headline world over. Within months of that event Masud was assigned to set up and command the Fighter Leaders’

School, the premier institution of the PAF that today runs under the name of Combat Commanders’ School. Masud worked day in and day out to establish the elite FLS with international standards. He was its first squadron commander as well. England was the next stop in the illustrious career of great Mitty Masud. At UK, he showed his true colours and made the nation proud by achieving the ‘best foreign student’ award.
In 1965 Group Captain Masud became a war hero for his courageous leadership as commander of Pakistan’s key air base at Sargodha. The team of officers and men under Masud fought back the Indian Air Force assaults on Sargodha with skill and disciplined confidence. Simultaneously they punished the IAF in other combat zones and assisted in halting the Indian Army from Sialkot to Kasur. Among his pilots were dead and living heroes the nation has come to know well: Rafiqui, Alam, Munir, Alauddin Ahmed, Yunus, Middlecoat, Yusuf Ali Khan, and Cecil Chaudhry. Masud’s men gave the best that he demanded of them, and for his war leadership he was given a high medal for valour, the Hilal-e-Jurat.
Perhaps the biggest contribution made by brilliant Mitty Masud during the war was the defence of most vulnerable and strategically important installation of PAF, the Sargodha air base. Sargodha, under the command of Group Captain Zafar Masud, was fully prepared to meet the challenge of IAF’s retaliatory attacks on 7th September. The Indian authors in their book, Fiza’ya have acknowledged the role played by PAF commanders in thwarting the IAF attack on 7 September against Sargodha base.
Under the command of Mitty Masud, Sargodha alongside Peshawar, posed the greatest threat to the forward bases of the IAF. In addition, Sargodha in conjunction with Sakesar radar, was the pivot of the PAF’s entire air defence system in the vital sector. He also played a key role in motivating the men behind the scenes, the maintenance personnel. These resolute men had a very difficult role to play. However, their heroic performance during the war was yet another prime factor in PAF’s overall brilliant performance in operations. The ardour, which they went about the recovery of aircraft damaged by the enemy action, the day and night arming, and refuelling to achieve hitherto impossible flying rates, was unbelievable. These unwarranted conditions were suddenly thrust upon them — no previous exercise could have possibly simulated this degree of realism — and they rose to the challenge like true zealots.
Most of the credit also went to Mitty Masud as the commander of these operations. The post war analysis of the war reflected that 33 IAF attacks on Sargodha caused negligible damage. The IAF was defeated in the battle for Sargodha and lost the battle for air superiority and the urge to fight the PAF in the air, thanks to able command of Gp Capt Mitty Masud.
Citation of Gallantry Award: “As Commanding Officer of the most important operational station of the Pakistan Air Force, Group Captain Mohammad Zafar Masud showed great qualities of leadership, devotion to duty and organising ability in the conduct of air operations against the enemy. On the day and night of 7th September, 1965 in particular, when the enemy made five successive attacks on our air fields and their installations with Canberra bombers, Hunter and Mystery fighter bombers, the cool courage and determination with which the whole station faced the attacks and heavy damage inflicted by its fighters on the enemy aircraft, clearly indicated the high morale and professional efficiency achieved by the station personnel under the command of Group Captain Masud. For his contribution to the success of the Pakistan Air Force operation against the enemy during of the war, Group Captain Mohammad Zafar Masud was awarded Hilal-e-Jurat.”
Masud married Elizabeth Harniette on 26 June 1959 at Karachi. He remained happily married to his devoted wife for 45 years. Elizabeth Masud, a German lady, spoke Urdu fluently. As a PAF Commander’s wife, she was a leading member of the PAF Women’s Association and made strong contributions to the families’ welfare schemes. She was especially supportive of her husband’s particular attention to the living conditions of the lower paid employees. Many still remember fondly her energy and enthusiasm in projects dealing with childcare and pre-school education at the PAF bases at which Masud served in various capacities. Elizabeth despite her own frail health remained by her husband’s side during his long and difficult battle with Parkinson’s disease.
One of the PAF’s most courageous leaders, Air Commodore M Zafar Masud breathed his last on 7th October 2003 due to a Cardiac arrest. The great warrior, epitome of a leader and a visionary commander was given the heroes farewell by the entire ranks and file of PAF. Later, the gallant son of Pakistan was laid to rest in his eternal abode with full military at PAF graveyard at PAF Base Nur Khan (Chaklala).

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