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Sep 02, 2014

Sabre Killers- Keelor Brothers

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By Ramesh Lalwani, New Delhi [ Published Date: June 11, 2006 ]

It was immediately after the 20 day war with Pakistan in 1965, I saw a documentary film from Film Division which has been etched in my memory. The narrator said "watch that Pak Sabre plane flying over Indian territory and Ghat flown by Squardon Leader Keelor chasing it. Soon Knat fired a missile and it hit Pak plane and the Sabre was shown hitting ground and going in flames. Though  Keelor brothers did not get highest military honors but they had became household names during the 1965 war for their daring air raids deep into Pakistani territory as pilots of the small Indian Air Force Gnats. In this article I have collected information about these two brothers from various sources including Bharat Rakshak.

Air chief Marshal Arjan Singh said in an interview "Gnats were very small aircraft, difficult to spot on the radar. As you know radar beams hit the metal of the aircraft and on return gives the blip. The smaller the aircraft, smaller the blip. So Gnats became famous. Even the radar controller would take time to decide if it is a fighter aircraft. We found Gnats very maneuverable. For fighters the most important thing is turning in a circle. If you turn faster your attack is safe. This aircraft had a small turning circle. But it was giving us lots of technical problems.

We lost many test pilots in accidents involving Gnats. We didn't have much confidence till one of the Keelor brothers shot from the aircraft in the Chamb-Jaurian area. They both fought very well and both got the Veer Chakra.

Once one of the brothers shot down a superior Pakistani aircraft, our people got tremendous confidence. Then everybody wanted to fight using Gnats."

Knat was a much smaller aircraft as compared with Sabre. Specifications of two are indicated below for comparison:

Manufacturer: Folland Aircraft (later, Hawker Siddeley)
Designation: FO-141
Nickname: Gnat
Type: Fighter

Specifications

Length: 29'  9''
Height: 8'  9''
Wingspan: 22'  2''
Gross Weight: 6,650 to 8,885 lbs.

Propulsion

No. of Engines: 1
Power plant: Bristol Siddeley Orpheus 701 turbojet
Pounds of static thrust (each): 4,520

Performance

Range: 500 miles (1 hour 30 min)
Max Speed: 695 mph  (Mach 0.98)

Designed in a private venture by Folland Aircraft, Ltd. in the United Kingdom, designers wanted to see just how small they could make an aircraft, yet still be effective. Intended for sale as an export, India, Yugoslavia and Finland purchased Gnats. India liked the aircraft so much, that the Bangalore Division of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. continued construction and Gnats were flown very successfully by the Indian Air Force. The little plane carried only 240 gallons of fuel internally and 60 gallons in two underwing jettisionable tanks.

Sabre Specifications: orth American F-86F-30

Dimensions

Wing span: 39 ft 1 in (11.91 m)
Length: 37 ft 0 in (11.27 m)
Height: 14 ft 0 in (4.26 m)
Wing Area: 288 sq ft (26.75 sq m)

Weights

Empty: 10,815 lb (4,906 kg)
Gross T/O: 17,772 lb (8,061 kg)

Performance

Maximum Speed:  688 mph (1,107 km/h) @ sea level.
Service Ceiling: 48,000 ft (14,630 m)
Cruising Speed: 513 mph (826 km/h)
Normal Range: 463 miles (745 km)
Maximum Range: 1,317 miles (2,120 km)

Powerplant

Single J47-GE-27 (no afterburner) rated @ 5,910 lbs (2,708 kg) thrust

Armament

Six .50 caliber M-3 machine guns - 265 rpg.
2,000 lb (907 kg) bombs or 16 x .5 in rockets.

In its  50 years of independence issue in 1997,India Today listed film star Nargis , Everest hero Tenzing Norgay  and also in the top-gun bravado of the Keelor brothers, Denzil and Trevor, aces in wars with Pakistan as  post-Independence heroes.

Wg Cdr(Retd) Trevor Joseph Keelor, Vr.C, VM

Sqn.Ldr.Treevor Jospeh Keelor Veer Chakra Vayu Medal; Got his first combat kill on 3rd Sept 1965(Photo   courtesy IAF museum)

Born on December 8, 1934, in Lucknow, Trevor Joseph Keelor had studied in St Francis’ High School, Lucknow, St Georges College, Mussorie, and La Martiniere College, Lucknow, before joining the Indian Air Force in 1953.  Trevor retired from his service in 1978 .Trevor Joseph Keelor passed away on April 27, 2002.

CITATION

Vayu Sena Medal

On the 5th February 1964, Flt Lt Keelor was detailed to ferry a Gnat from Poona to Palam in a formation of five aircraft. The last part of the flight had to be undertaken at a height of 41,000 feet. While descending to land at Palam, he discovered, at a height of 15,000 feet that there was no response from the engine to the throttle movements. After informing the leader, Flt Lt Kellor immediately broke off the formation and attempted a landing at Palam, knowing fully well that previous attempts to force land a Gnat had resulted in fatal or serious injury to the pilot. With great presence of mind and careful handling, he accomplished the forced landing successfully without any damage to the aircraft. Flt Lt Trevor Kellor displayed courage, presence of mind and a high standard of professional skill in the best traditions of the Indian Air Force.

Veer Chakra

On 3rd September 1965, on receipt of a report that a formation of Pakistani fighters were circling over our Army position in the Chhamb Sector of J&K, a formation of Gnat aircraft was ordered to intercept the intruders.

Approaching the area, Sq Ldr Trevor Keelor, who was a section leader in the Gnat formation, sighted enemy F-86 Sabre jets and engaged them in air battle. When the combat was in progress, F-104 Starfighters of the Pakistani Air Force also joined in.

Unmindful of the numerical superiority of the enemy, Sq Ldr Keelor chased a Sabre jet and pressed home his attack until the enemy aircraft caught fire and disintegrated in the air. This was the first victory of our Air Force in the air battles against the Pakistani Air Force.

In this operation, Sqn Ldr Keelor displayed courage and leadership of a high order in the best traditions of the Air Force.

Air Marshal (Retd) Denzil Joseph Keelor, AVSM, KC, VSM, Vr.C

Sqn.Ldr.Denzil Keelor Veer Chakra the elder Keelor shot Pak Sabre on 19th Sept 1965(Photo courtesy IAF museum)

Air Marshal(Red) Denzil Keelor was born on 7th Dec 1933 and studied in La Martinier college Lucknow.He joined IAF on  6th Nov 1954.He had very eventful career and was honored with Veer Chakra,Visisth Sewa Medal,Keerti Chakra and Ati Visisht Sewa Medal. He rose to the rank of Air Marshal. He retired from service on in 1991He worked as President of YMCA for 10 years. He continues to be actively involved with a number of activities and presently is chairman of Special Olympics Bharat.

CITATION

Param Vishist Sewa Medal: Awarded on 26th Jan 1989 (Citation not available)

ATI VISHIST SEWA MEDAL : Awarded on 26th Jan 1986(Citation not available)

KIRTI CHAKRA

Gp. Capt. Keelor who had rich and wide combat experience and the destruction of a Sabre aircraft to his credit, was flying a MiG-21 U trainer on 27 Mar 78, when due to structural failure the canopy of the aircraft detached and flew off. Gp Capt Keelor felt sudden decompression and loss of control, but managed to fly back to base and execute a safe emergency landing without the canopy. Later on 17 May 78, during firing trials one of the 23 mm Cannon Shells exploded causing extensive damage and total electrical failure to his aircraft. He successfully executed another safe landing back at his airbase.
 
VEER CHAKRA

On 19th September 1965, Sqn Ldr Denzil Keelor was providing fighter escort to Mystere aircraft during a strike mission in the operations against Pakistan. His  section of four Gnat aircraft was engaged by four enemy Sabre jet aircraft and the battle was fought at a height of less than 2,000 feet from the ground where enemy anti-aircraft guns were also active.

Under his guidance, his subsection leader shot down a Sabre jet aircraft. Thereafter Sqn Ldr Keelor himself engaged another Sabre jet and crippled it. Throughout the operations, Sqn Ldr Keelor was a source of inspiration to his pilots and ground personnel. His courage and devotion to duty were in the best traditions of the Air Force. For this he was awarded the Vir Chakra.

The Sabre kill by Denzil earned the Keelor family a unique distinction. Both the brothers now had Sabres to their credit and both earned the Veer Chakra, making it the first time brothers had won the Veer Chakra for identical feats.  


Ramesh Lalwani, New Delhi
 

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Hemant Sailani, India :
Heard a lot about Keelor brothers and Wing Cmdr Gautam in my childhood from my father...it's great reading more...Proud of all of them
Michael Dwyer, India :
Sir,
When the '65 war broke out I was only 12 years old but still remember reading of the exploits of the Keelor brothers and my parents talking about them. They were, and still are, to those who come to know about them, an inspiration to all.
You have done a wonderful job. We need our youth to know about these real heroes to help inspire them to a more noble lifestyle.
Hats off to you.
PIERRE FRANCIS, India :
It was a pleasure to read about the Keelors. They were known to my family from their Lucknow days.
ANIL SOOD, India :
DEAR MR LALWANI
PLEASE REFER TO MY EARLIER MESSAGE TO YOU SIR.
CAN YOU HELP ME IN GETTING RESPECTED DENZIL'S CONTACT NO OR EMAIL ID OVER MY MAIL anisush@gmail.com

THANKS

ANIL SOOD
ANIL SOOD, India :
DEAR MR RAMESH LALWANIJI
MYSELF AND MY SISTER ARE PROUD ENOUGH TO HAVE STUDIED UPTO CLASS V IN ST. MARYS' KINDERGARTEN SCHOOL AT LUCKNOW WHERE FATHER OF KEELOR BROTHERS WAS THE PRINCIPAL WAY BACK IN 1954 TO PERHAPS 1960. THEREAFTER I STUDIED IN ST. FRANCIS HIGH SCHOOL, NOW ST FRANCIS COLLEGE.

PLEASE CONFIRM IF I AM CORRECT, AND PLEASE PASS ME MR DENZIL KEELOR'S CONTACT NO AT MY MAIL anisush@gmail.com I AM NOW 60+

HOPE YOU WILL NOT DISAPPOINT AND ALSO HOPE YOU MIGHT ME KNOWING SOME OLDIES OF ST MARYS' SCHOOL
Clifford Bond, India :
Dear Mr. Lalwani,
It gives me great pleasure to read this article regarding the Keelor brothers. I was fortunate to witness them being honored at Lucknow in 1965, after bringing down the 'Saber'. Denzil happens to be my uncle. He has not only been an outstanding IAF officer, but a wonderful human being. It is hard to finda selfless person like him.

Kind Regards,
Clifford Bond
PRAVEEN THAKUR, India :
WELL DONE KEELOR BROTHER WE ARE PROUD OF YOU
keith abberstein, UK:
A wonderful tribute to the Keelor brothers. I was very pleased to come upon this article on the website by accident, as I knew Denzil, Trevor, older sisters Marie and Cynthia, when I stayed as a holiday guest (with my parents) in their bungalow in 1942/43 when I was age 11 and Denzil would be about 2 years younger..
I dont know if Denzil will remember me but I recall very clearly that their bungalow was just across the rhino enclosure of the Lucknow Zoo.
I would very much like to get in touch with Denzil if he remembers. My e-mail astein@supanet.com.

Kind Regards

Keith A Abberstein.
Deepti Mayor, India :
Dear Mr. Lalwani,
My grand father Bhopinder Singh alias Bindi was a test pilot. He commanded the first squadron of the Pakistans ‘Sabre’ Killers. If you have information on him i shall be very glad to know about it.

regards

Deepti Mayor
deeptimayor@hotmail.com
Chhingpuii,Mizoram, India :
I am fortunate in having a chance to meet Air Marshal Keelor. I am impressed by what you write. But please tell me about his family.
Michael Donohue, UK:
The Brothers are first Cousins of my Wife and I have had the pleasure of knowing them both.

Trevor lived close to me when undertaking a Staff College Course in the U.K.
He was a very daring chap and full of fun at all times.
V.Ramesh Kumar, India :
Sir,their heroics are mindboggling,to say the least.Perhaps,they are the only brothers in the history of airforce to have achieved this feat.I tell my young sons to derive inspiration from Keelor bros.The only regret is,neithor our govt nor airforce gave prominance to these heroes to inspire the younger,so called gen next. thanx sir,for your research on them.
Ramesh Lalwani, India :
3rd Oct 2009
I visited this article after a long time. Denzil Keelor lives in Noida. I shall search for information sought by Mr Gamble.
R.Suresh Kumar, India :
kudos for this excellent article on the Keelor brothers. As a student at kendriya vidhyala delhi canttin the year 1965, we used to worhsip them. Their newspaper cutouts were hung all over the school dormitory.

They are a shining example for the youth of India.

We are proud of you and salute you.

R.Suresh kumar
Cochin
leni123sk@gmail.com
Dunstan Gamble, India :
Sir, your article on the Keelor Brothers is really fantastic. To gather such information is not a joke. Denzil Keelor was the one who handed over the Review Star Award in oct 2008 at Hyderabad at the AGM of the All India Anglo Indian Association. I would be glad if you can give me the Phone no of Sir Denzil Keelor or the E-Mail Id. My E-Mail Id is dunstan_gam@hotmail.com
I G venugopal, India :
The keelor brothers were my childhood heroes. I used to relate them to The Biggles books which were a great rage then with the boys in my school.

Great work Mr lalwani keep it up our country needs heroes to inspire the younger generation.

People like you can sing about their glory thro services like these.

Venugopal
Ig Venugoapl, India :
The keelor brothers were my heroes when i was at school recalling the deeds of the Indo pak war. When i met my cousins in delhi that year I was told one of the keelor wives was a teacher in St columbus School .
The Keelor brothers hats off to you we still hold you in great esteem.
B K SINGH, India :
DECEMBER 10TH 08
================
Dear Mr Lalwani

KEELOR BROTHERS DID OUR COUNTRY PROUD
LATE TREVOR KEELOR LIKE DENZIL WERE OUTSTANDING FIGHTER PILOTS

DENZIL CELEBRATED HIS 75th BIRTHDAY ON 7TH DECEMBER 08 IT WOULD HAVE BEEN APPROPRIATE IF NATION REMEMBERED TREVOR AND WISHED DENZIL MANY MORE HAPPY RETURNS.

I SALUTE DENZIL AND REMEMBER TREVOR WHO WAS LIKE A BROTHER TO ME.

I CHERISH THOSE WONDERFUL YEARS WHEN I WAS DEPUTY TO DENZIL AS VICE PRESIDENT YMCA.

HERE"s WISHING DENZIL MANY HAPPY RETURNS FOR DEC 7TH 08 AND BEYOND.
Ainsley Wilson, India :
Dear mr Lalwani,

Excellent article sir, hope to read more of your articles in future and learn a lot more about the passed that not many people know about. Thank you.
Nelson Lewis, Bahrain :
Dear Mr. Ramesh Lalwani,

I wish to congratulate you on the excellent articles that you have written about war and war heroes.

I am aware of both IAF heroes of 1965 Indo-Pak war, namely Denzil and Trevor Keelors, who had become instant heroes by shooting an enemy aircraft each at the outset of the war. It is interesting to note that one retired as Wing Commander and the other reached the rank of Air Marshal, equivalent to a three-star General in Army.

Have you written any article on Havildar Abdul Hamid, who single-handedly destroyed and immobilised many Pakistani Patton tanks? If i recall, he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra. After displaying conspicuous bravery, he was killed by enemy fire.
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