Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya, son of Dr. Bopayya, was born on 24 December 1932, at Coorg, Mysore. He was commissioned as General Duties (Pilot) in the IAF on 6 December 1954. During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, No.1 Tigers Squadron, then based at Adampur AFB, was given the task of hitting Sargodha, the principle airbase of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
The Squadron's Commanding Officer, Wing Commander O.P. Taneja, decided to attack Sargodha on September 7th by leading a wave of four aircraft, to be followed by more aircraft at an interval of a 1000 yards each. However in the dark and because the pilots had to maintain radio silence for secrecy, one of the waves lost its way. Two more aircraft had developed engine trouble and came back. Sqn. Ldr. Devayya, the standby pilot, was asked to take-off. His squadron having no more aircraft left, borrowed one from the adjoining No.32 Squadron. He was too far behind to join up in time with the rest and was thus also the last one to turn back from Sargodha. The action was short and swift. As IAF Mysteres exited after a low strafing pass over Sargodha airbase, a lurking PAF F-104 Starfighter on combat air patrol latched on to their tail. The PAF pilot, Flt. Lt. Amjad Hussain, was looking for easy targets and the IAF Mysteres were short on fuel and endurance.
He found the first IAF Mystere, piloted by Squadron Leader Devayya, and fired a AIM-9 Sidewinder, the deadliest weapon in that air-war. But the Mystere surprised him with swift evasive action, sending the missile harmlessly into the ground. The PAF pilot closed in, gave the Mystere a burst from his six-barreled Vulcan cannon and climbed jauntily for more kills. Flt. Lt. Hussain knew the stodgy old Mystere had no chance against his nimble F-104. Little did Hussain realise that the IAF pilot he had shot, was neither down nor out, but pursuing him, nursing his wounded aircraft. The F-104 tried desperately to break free, but the Mystere pressed on and scored several hits with its 30mm gun. In the smoke-filled F-104 cockpit, a shaken Flight Lieutenant Hussain, struggled with controls but finally ejected.
Squadron Leader Devayya had waited too long for his Mystere's ejection seat to save his own life and perished on Pakistani soil. And there lay, buried with him, the tale of his supreme sacrifice. The action was over in less than two minutes, but it took 23 years to establish that it did, indeed, take place. What Squadron Leader Devayya achieved in the pre-dawn skies that morning is now considered one of the most remarkable events in the history of post-world war air combat. After the aircraft returned from the successful mission, for the headcount and debriefing, no one had missed Devayya. Wing Commander Taneja, was told that he must have gone to No.32 Squadron to return their aircraft and to change. But when more than 40 minutes had passed, he insisted on seeing Devayya. It was then in the confusion of its first major wartime engagement, that the IAF realised that he had not returned.
Then, there was no way of saying what had happened. Squadron Leader Devayya was listed missing and was then declared dead, as is customary, a year later. But evidence of what he had accomplished first came, ironically in 1979, from Pakistani sources. The PAF commissioned John Fricker, a British writer, to compile their story. Fricker wrote what was expected; a flattering, fawning account of the air-war which the PAF won flaps down. If there was anything that the IAF could take credit for, he said, it was the destruction of a PAF F-104 by an infinitely inferior IAF Mystere over Sargodha on the morning of September 7th. The moment Wing Commander Taneja, who retired as a Group Captain, saw Fricker's book, he informed the higher authorities and told them it had to be Squadron Leader Devayya. No other pilot had claimed to have air-to-air combat and only two pilots were lost that day, Squadron Leader Devayya in the morning and Flight Lieutenant Babul Guha in the evening. But no one moved until 1987, when the Defence Ministry's War Studies Division, busy compiling the official history of the 1965 war, saw Fricker's book.
One researcher was Air Commodore (retd.) Pritam Singh who had seen action as a young Gnat pilot. He knew all the pilots in the Mystere formation and began to trace them. He picked up evidence of a Pakistani broadcast accepting the loss of a F-104, talked in detail to Group Captain Taneja (retd.) and pieced together other evidences. The jigsaw fell into place, though the one source from which Air Commodore (retd.) Singh had expected much, disappointed him. He remembered that Flight Lieutenant Hussain, whom Squadron Leader Devayya had shot down was yet again shot down over Amritsar in the 1971 war and was taken prisoner. He ferreted out Flight Lieutenant Hussain's interrogation report but it had no mention of the 1965 dogfight. Air Commodore Singh (retd.) did not give up. In November 1987 he presented the evidence to high command. His effort was to get the IAF to recognise that such a fight did take place.
Squadron Leader Devayya, according to him, was one of those old generation, WW-II type of daring pilots, an unusual sort of character. Unusual he had to be, for he chose to stay back and fight the F-104 even though the raid on Sargodha had stretched his aircraft's fuel reserves to its very limits. He knew that even if he won and survived, he would have to eject within Pakistan. When asked what chance a Mystere had against a F-104 even in ideal conditions, Group Captain Taneja's (retd.) reply was an emphatic, "absolutely nil." By staying back, Devayya saved the remaining Mystere formation from the marauding F-104. Finally, in April 1988, the President of India, R. Venkataraman, conferred the Maha Vir Chakra on Squadron Leader Ajjamada Bopayya Devayya, nearly 23 years after he died in an audacious air attack over Sargodha, Pakistan's most formidable air base. The evidence adds up to a stirring saga of his courage, sacrifice and flying skills. Jai Hind!! Jai Jawan!!