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WORLD WAR II

The Indian Gift Squadrons
A look at RAF Squadrons gifted by Indian people

POLLY SINGH


- Spitfire VB BM 252 “Bombay City” while serving with No 132 Bombay Gift Squadron RAF in 1942

The presentation of aircraft as a means of supplementing public monies with private funds became commonplace in the first world war when hundreds were “presented”. In fact it was a purely public relations exercise, for the money went into the general funding of aircraft and a random production aircraft was chosen to bear the name of the donor. It was only in the second war when England stood alone and the gallant defense of the RAF inspired the world to give tangible aid. The Spitfire by its very name had caught the imagination of many during the second half of 1940 and hundreds of Spitfire funds were set up by public bodies, firms and clubs to raise money for more. There were door to door collections, boxes at displays of captured and shot down German aircraft. As public fervor rose, the PRO of the Ministry of Aircraft production (MAP) was made responsible for arranging public recognition for the donors. Undivided India was by far, the greatest supporter of aircraft and subsequently whole squadrons of the RAF during both the great wars, after all it was the “jewel in the crown” (the American ‘lend-lease’ system of the second war was off course the main contributor to the British war effort as a whole).

There was a precedent to follow of the earlier war in which by Aug 1917, funds for 437 aircraft had been presented. In that war a guide scale had been drawn up; 1,500 for a BE2c (70hp Renault), 2,250 for a Vickers Gunbus and 3,500 for a Short Floatplane.

- Royal Aircraft factory BE2c “Punjab 40 Lahore 3” was presented for 1,500 in the first war

Aircraft were said to have been presented, but in effect an aircraft just off production was marked to the donors’ wishes by name or other presentation details. In the second war it was generally accepted that a donation of 5000 would constitute a gift fighter and 20,000 a Bomber.

- Royal Aircraft factory FE2b Gunbus “Bhopal”
Bristol F2b Fighter (Brisfit) F4440 at Cologne, Germany of 18 Sqn RAF bears the inscription “Presented by Maharaj Bahadur Sir Rameswar Singh of Darbhanga No 1 the Lord Hardinge” -

After the Battle of Britain there was growing concern that the glamorizing of fighter pilots was working to the detriment of the RAF as a whole. Further, disproportionate approbation was being received for the Spitfire which in fact was working in smaller numbers than the Hurricane. This led to well over a thousand Spitfires being named. Thereafter it was decided that where the donor merely specified a fighter the name was given to a Hurricane. Some of the aircraft named for Indian Donors are indicated below:

Serial

Aircraft Type

Name on ac Contributors

R1719

Wellington

Gorakhpur From the Indian District

X9639

Wellington

Assam Bomber I

Assam War Fund Simla

BP229 Hurricane Bikaner III Maharaja of Bikaner
HL670 Hurricane Bashahr Maharaja of Bashahr

Large gifts from the colonies seemed to warrant something more than the standard recognition and it was decided that whole squadrons would be named after the territories concerned. Again there was a precedent in the first war, when funds to the equivalent of equipping 110 sqn of the independent force with DH 9As were given by His ‘Serene’ Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad; the sqn being known as the No 110 (Hyderabad) gift sqn.

The first sqn to be so named in the second war was No 257 “Burma” sqn commanded by the famous ‘Bob’ Stanford Tuck (DT-?). From 1940 to 1942 a regular series of existing sqns as listed were being named as gift squadrons. The aircraft of these gift squadrons were also being named as per the earlier policy of the MAP.

- “Assam one” an Indian gift Spitfire Mk IIA P 8167 of No 266 Sqn RAF at Wittering in Jul 41
Flt Lt HJL Hallowes at Turnhouse with “City of Bombay” another Indian gift Spitfire given to No. 122 Squadron, RAF. The aircraft is BM 252, MT-E. -

Among the first names received were those for the three East India Sqns, these being allotted to their Spitfires as follows: No 65 sqn: Calcutta, Burdwan, Asansol 1&2, Howrah, Midnapore, Chittagong, Eastern Bengal railway Nos 1 & 2. No 92 sqn: Tipperra, Barkargunj, Dacca, Narayangunj, Mymensingh No 1, Darjeeling, Dooars, Calcutta, Swimming Club 1 to 5. No 123 sqn: Parganas 1&2, Women of Bengal Nos 1&2, Balmer Lawrie, Mymensingh No 2, Mackinous-India, Chittatgong No 2. In the case of 253 sqn fifteen names were given with the request that one flight be named Jagirdar’s Flight with the ac Jagirdar 1 to 4.

- A Half anna 'coupon' sold to raise funds for the Bombay Squadron.

The Madras Presidency Sqns Nos 79, 234 and 264 were allotted 18, 16, and 15 names respectively to be marked at Pembrey, Warmwell and West Malling respectively. After the announcement of No 124 sqn as the Bhopal and Baroda sqn, The Maharaja of Baroda upped his subscription by 50,000 to qualify No 124 as just Baroda. Bhopal agreed to this providing they had their own sqn and No 118 also equipped with the Spitfire V was earmarked. However further funds were not forthcoming and Bhopal qualified for only 10 aircraft to be named, but not a sqn to bear its name. The following RAF Indian Donor sqns were named:

No

Name of Province

Date

35

Madras-Presidency

Jan 42

56

Punjab

Apr 41

65

East-India

Aug 40

79

Madras-Presidency

Mar 41

82

United-Provinces

Dec 41

87

United-Provinces

Dec 41

92

East-India

40

99

Madras-Presidency

Nov 41

110

Hyderabad

Jan 42

118

Bhopal

Canceled

122

Bombay

May 41

123

East-India

May 41

124

Baroda

Jul 41

129

Mysore

Jul 41

130

Punjab

Jul 41

132

Bombay

Apr 42

149

East-India

42

152

Hyderabad

May 40

234

Madras-Presidency

41

253

Hyderabad-State

Jun 41

264

Madras-Presidency

Apr 41

 

DC-Clip_Small.jpg (19612 bytes) An advertisement from the Deccan Chronicle of 28 Sep 41 extols the Hyderabad public to come view a Messerschmit Bf 109 E (?) shot down by No 253 Hyderabad Gift squadron over Britain. The wreck (right)  finally ended up in a Gulbarga Engineering College (now in Karnataka) and is embroiled in a legal battle over its dubious sale to a British collector. Click to Enlarge

 

Sadly no official record was made of aircraft named in squadron service or of the aircraft names associated with the squadrons. As the RAF de mobilized after the war and today remains a whittled down fraction of its wartime strength, most of the gift squadrons were disbanded. Of the gift squadrons that remain, the colonies that they were once associated with have long since become nations in their own right and the association has long since lapsed. Many of the gift sqns used their Indian attachment to design their crests. Some of them are shown below.

092_Small.jpg (15869 bytes) No 92 (East India) Sqn

Badge: A Cobra entwining a sprig of Maple leaf

Motto: “Aut Pugna aut morere’ (either fight or die)

The maple leaf signifies the squadrons association as a Canadian unit in WW I and the Cobra represents that No 92 was one of the East India sqns.

- No 122 (Bombay) Sqn

Badge: In front of a mullet a Leopard rampant

Motto: “Victuri volamus” (We fly to victory)

The mullet represents fighting in the heavens and the Leopard, a fierce fighter represents Bombay

 No 123 (East India) Sqn

Badge: In front of two claymores, in saltire, the points uppermost, a Tiger’s head raised.

Motto: “Swift to strike”

The claymores indicate the sqn’s association with Scotland and the Tiger’s head its association as the third East India Sqn.

- No 124 (Baroda) Sqn

Badge: A Mongoose passant

Motto: “Danger is our opportunity”

The Mongoose is an inhabitant if India and is known for its speed and ferocity in killing its enemies.

- No 129 (Mysore) Sqn

Badge: The Ghunda Berunda of Mysore

Motto: “I will defend the right”

The badge associates the sqn with the Indian Province of Mysore.

- No 130 (Punjab) Sqn

Badge: An Elephant’s head

Motto: Strong to serve

Elephants are formidable opponents and are associated with the Punjab (?)
- No 132 Sqn

Badge: A Leopard rampant

Motto: “Cave leopardnum” (Beware the Leopard)
- No 152 (Hyderabad) Sqn

Badge: A Head dress worn by the Nizam of Hyderabad

Motto: “faithful ally”

- No 253 (Hyderabad) Sqn

Badge: A dexter arm, embowed, in Mogul armour, the hand holding an Indian battle axe

Motto: “Come one come all”

The badge was suggested by the Nizam of Hyderabad as appropriate.

 


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