Air Cdre Mansoor A Shah A superb pilot, brilliant strategist

“Air power takes shape with reference to setting the traditions and philosophy, and developing the psyche, capability and performance of the air force and the nation to which it belongs”

This quote from Air Commodore Mansoor Ahmed Shah (Late) generally known as Polly Shah, reflects the philosophical thoughts of our forefathers. He was part of the team which laid down the foundations of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on 14 Aug, 1947. He was born to Maj (Dr.) Habibullah Shah and Captain (Dr.) Enid Flora Shah. He was commissioned in the Royal Indian Air force on 09 Apr, 1945 as a pilot and won the “Best Flying Progress Trophy”.

British pilots in those days considered the native Indian pilots fit only for menial tasks of whitewashing, cleaning, digging, painting, and polishing. They would label local pilots as unsteady, unsafe and quite unfit for operations. Mansoor Shah and the other natives proved their British masters wrong. On the independence, he opted for PAF and amongst other pioneers, threw head down in establishing the PAF.

The log book page of Mansoor Shah on 14 Aug, 1947 is decorated with Pakistan flag with remarks “Pakistan Zinda baad”. He imbibed the motivated minds: “To be effective, air force personnel should have an extra-ordinary breadth of vision, general knowledge, coolness of temperament, technical understanding, capacity of sustained hard work, plus extreme tact, honesty and unflinching loyalty to colleagues and to cause”.

Establishing a new air force, bases and units, aircraft inventory, flying operations with only 200 officers (60 pilots) and 2000 airmen, maintenance, logistics, administration, education and training, rehabilitation and morale of the split families in a new force were the challenges of PAF. He narrated terms like hi-fi, air conditioned, stereo or fully loaded which were not in use. Demands were few and officers went proudly on bicycles to work which were hired from local contractor @ Rs 8 per month.

The wives would go out shopping on smoke belching public omni buses. He was a staunch follower of Quaid-e-Azam who fought for a neat and clean Pakistan. Polly was cautious of the Hindu mentality considering Muslims as foul and illegal excrescence like a cancer on the pure and beautiful body of mother India.

Mansoor Shah had professional praise for the first four British air chiefs, but also had reservations on the lack of air power strength in Pakistan which was restricted only to the use of transport aircraft during the Kashmir operations in 1947. He commented, experienced RAF helped Bharat in planning, controlling and airlifting the Indian military formations to Kashmir making it difficult for Pakistani volunteer tribesman to survive.

He flew the first supply drop mission in Dec, 1947 in Kashmir in the four-engine Halifax bomber, commonly known as death trap during those days due to its difficult handling. He managed successfully through the difficult terrain of the valley to deliver supplies to the Pakistani soldiers strangled there.

Polly Shah contributed to developments in PAF through induction of Fury, F-86, B-57, F-104, C-130, F-6 and Mirages. As an outspoken officer he criticized the purchase of Super-marine attacker by the PAF. Rightly so, as it was not even procured by the RAF. His daring action on night of 12 Sep, 1965 when he blew the logistics lines of Bharat Army moving on the Amritsar-Gurdaspur railway lines. He was not supposed to fly in enemy territory being a senior officer, but made personal example for his colleagues and peers. He had commanded No12 Squadron.

He was an amazing pilot who flew all the 29 types of aircraft in use with PAF (Piston engine and jet fighters, transport, reconnaissance and training). He also flew different types of aircraft i.e. a fighter and a transport aircraft the same day with a time difference of only a few hours. He had a total of 4,569 flying hours to his credit. He also flew 8 types of civilian aircraft in use with the Pakistan civilian agencies. He also enjoyed the honor of commanding three PAF bases i.e. Chaklala (Noor Khan), Peshawar and Mauripur (Masroor). Being the victim of the defence forces system, he could not make it to Chief of the Air Staff as only one out 3 had to be promoted and remaining 2 had to go home.

Polly also served at PAF Academy Risalpur as an instructor as well as the acting commandant and taught flying skills to the young eaglets of PAF. Polly is graded a fatherly figure by his students, who still remember his teachings acumen as an ardent instructor. They appreciate the art of teaching air operations by Sir Polly, who would give everything he had in his kit bag of knowledge and experience.

One of his students Zulfiqar Ali Khan also rose to become the Chief of the Air Staff, PAF. He is remembered as an innovative and ingenious individual by his colleagues. He was graded an exceptional pilot by his seniors throughout service. He was also earmarked to command PAF base Dacca in Nov, 1971 but could not proceed due to suspended flights between East and West Pakistan. During service he served as Director Plans, Director Training and Chief Inspector at AHQ. He had the unique honor of serving at the important posts of Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Training), Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Administration) and Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Operations).

Polly was an expert war strategist. According to him, non-military writers credit the concept of pre-emptive strikes of PAF at the enemy’s airfields during 1971 as replica of Israeli’s pre-emptive strikes of 1967 Arab-Israel war. He commented these innovations were used by PAF during 1965 war. The concept of joint warfare was conceived during his last years of service. He was the first officer representing PAF at the Joint Staff level.

Polly knew part of air force in an art of war. He knew air force is an expensive business requiring stupendous financial outlays. During the actual armed conflict (because of the speed and range of modern aircraft, their tremendous flexibility and awesome capability and because of the very intricate technology involved), efficient utilization of an air force presents some of the most urgent, wide ranging, difficult and complex problems ever confronted to those responsible for the conduct of war. Due to their selfless devotion, these Muslim countries in those days, requested PAF for establishing and developing their air forces and selecting the aircraft for their use. He also had a deep insight over national and international politics. Starting from World War 2 till his last breath he inferred clear thoughts about international players’ trends.

His had philosophical ideas which were a combination of divine religions, space, time as fourth dimension, Einstein’s theory of relativity, negative or positive infinity, concepts of electrons, quarks, bosons, photons, gravitations, cosmic rays, galaxies, black holes, neutrons, stars, red giants and white dwarfs etc. He penned down two books “The Gold Bird” and “Flight through Life”. He would quote from the book of former president Ayub Khan “Friends not Masters” that USA had always been acting as masters instead of friends.

Air Commodore Mansoor Shah was expert in narrating the jolly tales of initial days of the PAF. According to him the enjoyment those days was flying at low level. In one of the anecdotes a pilot went so low level over Arabian Sea that a jumping fish got entangled in the oil cooler of his flying machine. He would recall the club life at Peshawar club which had a vibrant social life. Polly Shah lived for 62 years with life partner Sibiha. Polly was one of lucky guys who enjoyed company of grand-children. His two daughters Farida and Sonia are happy housewives settled in Lahore and UK respectively. “My father was a great man”, states his son Daud Shah, who was named on Prophet Daud (AS).

A graduate of Air Command and Staff College USA and Air War Staff College Quetta, Mansoor was recipient of Sitara-e-Quaid-e-Azam from the president of Pakistan in 1970. He was also decorated with commendation certificate by Commander-in Chief, PAF on 30 Sep, 1956. He was also decorated with Air University badge at Alabama (US) in Dec, 1956. Air Commodore Mansoor Ahmed Shah was an inspiration and a beacon for all PAF officers who knew him.

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