Service No : 9015 F(P)
Date of Birth : February 11, 1945
Place of birth : Ludhiana, Punjab
Last Rank : Flight Lieutenant
Unit : 27 Sqn
Arm/Regt : Indian Air Force
Operation : Op Cactus Lily
Awards : VrC
Martyrdom : December 5, 1971
Flight Lieutenant Gurdev Singh Rai was born on 11 February 1945 in Chack Sarwan Nath village in Ludhiana district of Punjab. He did his primary schooling at Herman village and studied further at the high school at Katana Kalyan and thereafter went to Arya college Ludhiana. He was inclined to join the Armed Forces right from his younger days but this did not find favour with the family. So, he didn’t inform them before joining and the family got to know finally when he left for his training in NDA. He was commissioned into the Indian Air Force on on 25 December 1964 at the age of 19 years.
He joined the flying stream of the IAF and got trained as a fighter pilot. He passed out of the 91st Pilots' Course and underwent subsequent phases of flying training on different aircrafts. After completing his flying training, he served with various flying squadrons located at different Air Force bases. By 1971, he had put in around 7 years of service and developed into an ace fighter pilot having expertise in various air operations.
Offensive Air Operation (Indo-Pak War) : 04-05 Dec 1971
During 1971, Flt Lt Gurdev Singh Rai was serving with 27 Sqn, known as "Flaming Arrows". The Squadron was formed at Adampur on 15 Feb 1957 with the de Havilland Vampires, but was later armed with the Hawker Hunter MK56 aircrafts. The squadron took part in "Operation Vijay" for the liberation of Goa in 1960 and also took part in the1965 war with Pakistan. Flt Lt Gurdev Singh Rai as his first assignment got posted to Air Force Base at Halwara and got the chance to participate in active operations very early in his career during the 1965 war. After the war, the Hunter MK 56A replaced the Hunter MK56 in the Squadron. In 1971, the 27 Squadron operating from Halwara changed it’s role to deep penetration strike and was shifted from Halwara to Pathankot.
As war broke out with Pakistan on the 3rd of December, 1971, Flt Lt GS Rai was detailed to carry out a strike mission on a Sakesar Signals Unit complex deep inside Pakistan. His first airstrike was very successful and he returned safely after blasting the enemy installations. Though the target was heavily defended by enemy air defence assets, he came back to base without a scratch.
On the 5th December 1971, Flt Lt GS Rai was detailed as leader of a strike mission to the same target. He exhibited conspicuous courage and determination in the face of strong enemy opposition and succeeded in damaging the Radar Unit to the extent that it went off the air completely thereafter. But unfortunately, he could not be contacted thereafter. Flt Lt GS Rai or his aircraft were never found and it is still not clear if he had been killed in action. Presently, his name features on the official list of the ’54 Personnel Missing in Action’.
Flt Lt Gurdev Singh Rai was given the gallantry award, “Vir Chakra” on 26 Jan 1972 for his outstanding bravery, devotion to duty and supreme sacrifice.
Citation for the Vir Chakra awarded to him reads:-
During the operations against Pakistan in December, 1971, Flight Lieutenant Gurdev Singh Rai was serving with a Fighter-Bomber Squadron in the Western Sector. On the 4th December, 1971, he was detailed to carry out a strike mission on a Sakesar Signals Unit Complex. He carried out the mission successfully, causing extensive damage to the installations and aerials of the unit, despite strong air and ground opposition.
On the 5th December 1971, he was detailed as leader of a strike mission to the same target. He exhibited conspicuous courage and determination in the face of strong enemy opposition and succeeded in damaging the Radar Unit to the extent that it went off the air completely thereafter. But unfortunately, he could not be contacted thereafter. Throughout this operation, Flight Lieutenant Gurdev Singh Rai displayed gallantry and leadership of a high order.