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Air Cmde Nanu Shitoley DFC

MUKUND MURTY


-Nanu Shitoley was kind enough to share his time and hospitality with me one evening in January 2004, thanks to a meeting fixed up by my old family friend and his neighbour, Dincey Muncherjee [IAF transports, who later flew 747-400's for Air India and S'Pore Airlines]. As I walked down the road from my place in Colaba to his, I was terrified at the prospect of reaching later than the appointed hour of 7pm - an extra huff and a wheezy puff ensured that I just made it ! What followed was an hour and a half of the story of a fascinating life, including the sortie to Tamu I have semi-fictionalised at this link [which epitomizes the sheer grit and determination which earned him his DFC]. Alas, his log book is lost [as are photographs], and with it, details of the 300 hours of operational flying which he did in Burma, at the end of which he received his well-earned DFC. What follows is based upon his memory, supplemented, in parts, by extracts from the Official History of the IAF in the Second World War….

Narayanrao Khanderao Shitoley, IND/1841, was born in September, 1923. His mother was a Rane from Goa. His father, Khanderao Shitoley, lost his parents at a very early age and so came to Gwalior, to be looked after by his distinguished uncle, Sir Appaji Rao Shitoley, a member of the Council of Regency in the Princely State of Gwalior. Khanderao studied at the Sardar School in Gwalior and later at the Benares Hindu University, where he had the opportunity to interact with Annie Besant. Upon his return to Gwalior, he joined the Gwalior State Army after the First War and thereafter settled down in his own estate at Nej near Ankli [close to Belgaum].

Nanu is a Rimcollian through and through - the pride at having schooled at the Royal Indian Military College [RIMC] in Dehra Dun from 1935 to 1941 is very evident when he talks about his own time there or about other Rimcollians who joined the services [Nur Khan was a class-mate, whereas Ranjan Dutt and Asghar Khan were senior]. Dehra Dun was even more special, as his sisters were in school at Woodstock, so family holidays were mainly spent in Dehra Dun or Mussoorie itself.

One morning in 1941, there was tremendous excitement at School - an RAF squadron leader had come to recruit for the Air Force ! He took one look at Nanu and selected him for the 11th Course [Biblo Crishna of 10 Sqn was from the 12th Course] - the fact that he was a Rimcollian was in itself enough to get him through the first round of selections [the Air Force had not been getting recruits of very good quality of late, therefore Rimcollians from the RIMC were considered an especially good catch !]. This was followed by a medical lasting 2-3 hours at RAF Station Lahore - here again, they knew all about the RIMC.

Once he'd cleared his medicals, it was off to the Initial Training Wing [ITW] at Walton in Lahore for three months of square-bashing where his instructor was Wg Cdr Hogg, a scout master who'd been commissioned for the duration of the War. The Chief Instructor was Wg Cdr Russell. The ITW was later shifted to Poona, and the course extended from 10 to 14 weeks, and towards the end of 1943, to 18 weeks.

This was followed by a one year's course in Hyderabad where he underwent training as an Observer [1]. Observers, when they qualified, were entitled to wear half-wings with an 'O,' which all of them wore with a greater pride than the later 'N' wings of Navigators. This was because Observers were put through a more intensive course which taught them, in addition to advanced navigation, wireless telegraphy and gunnery, visual and artillery spotting techniques as well. Cecil Naire of 7 Sqn., when I asked if he had been a Navigator, recoiled with Patrician horror and cried "Oh no, I'm not a Nevigaytah, I'm an Observah !!"

Following the course, Nanu was posted to No. 5 CDF, then at Cochin flying Wapitis, in August 1941. He continued there until the end of '41 or the beginning of '42, when, following the Japanese defeat of British forces east of India, Observers who wished to re-muster as pilots were given the opportunity [and, indeed, the encouragement] to do so. Nanu's re-mustering as a pilot coincided with the disbandment of 5 CDF [whose personnel formed the nucleus of 8 Sqn., then forming with Vultee Vengeances at Trichinopoly] in March 1943, and he remembers leaving Cochin to go to Agartala for a month or two, followed by a Signals course at Andheri in Bombay.

At last - No. 1 EFTS [Elementary Flying Training School] at Begumpet in Hyderabad [the other EFTS, No 2, was at Jodhpur], with its palpable smell of young mens' anxiety, competing with the smell of the hot oil/ fabric/ fuel smell of the DH-84 Tiger Moths they flew. The duration of the course was 10 weeks [subsequently extended to 12].

He was then off to No. 1 SFTS [Service Flying Training School] at Ambala for intermediate and advanced flying training. The school was initially divided into two parts, 10 weeks for intermediate training and 11 weeks for advanced training. With the formation of the OTU [Operational Training Unit] at Risalpur [in 1942], the duration of the course was subsequently reduced to 18 weeks in 1943. Here he flew about 150 hours on Harvards. Going from the docile 130hp-engined Tiger Moth to the 550hp Harvard with its retractable undercarriage, variable pitch, strong swing on take-off and predilection to ground-loop on landing, helped the young pilots to master the intricacies of the Hurricane [many pilots like AM DG King-Lee and Hoshang Patel, remember the bite of the Harvard and the later Spitfires like the XIV, but think of the Hurricane as docile…].

Nanu then went to Risalpur where the Hurricane OTU was located [the Vengeance OTU was at Peshawar where, subsequently, the Hurricane OTU also moved]. He remembers that they first had to thoroughly master the Hurricane's cockpit drill - until they did so, they were not allowed to fly. In order to accomplish this, there was a dummy Hurricane cockpit, complete in every respect, in which pilots had to practice, hour after hour, memorising the litany of the check-list [this is a very interesting piece of information, indeed - I have not heard of anyone else speak of a mock-up before].

Finally, Hurricanes…! He flew about 40hrs on this wonderful aeroplane, which was thorough in all respects, consisting of 12 weeks of flying, squadron and gunnery training, including a four-week fighter reconnaissance course. From the beginning of 1944, all replacement pilots for ground attack squadrons were sent to Ranchi for a special 3 week ground attack course - Nanu said that only the better ones were chosen for such flying.

At last, he got his posting - it was to No.1 Sqn at Imphal, where he arrived in May or June 1944. Arjan Singh was the CO, Rajaram commanded 'A' Fight, which Nanu joined - and 'B' Flight was commanded by Raza [Anand Ramdas Pandit was a senior pilot in 'A' Flight at the time]. The Army Liaison Officer [ALO] was Maj. Sam Foster, whom Nanu remembers as someone who "sort of looked down his nose" at the Indians [no one would, by the time the Squadron had finished proving itself in fourteen months of intense action !]. He remembers that No. 1 Sqn. shared the airfield with 28 Sqn. RAF, their old friends from the first Burma campaign [who were also on Hurricanes], as well as a squadron of USAAF Dakotas. There was hardly any interaction with the Americans, however, as they had a different mess and technical area.

At the frontline. Pilots of No.1 Squadron with the CO, Arjan Singh sitting at the drivers position in the Jeep.  Last row L to R (Standing on Jeep): K N Kak DFC, A R Pandit DFC. Middle Row L to R (Standing on Jeep): A C Prabhakaran, Rishi, Koko Sen, Major Williams, Arjan Singh DFC, D P , Tutu, R Rajaram DFC, 'Bonzo' (Dog), Pop Rao, Gupta. Front Row L to R (Standing on Ground): Hafeez, Doc Herbert (sitting on step) and Tallu Talwar.

He remembers that they were engaged in almost non-stop Photo Reconnaissance/ Reconnaissance/ Ground Attack sorties, the last two at tree-top height - there was zero margin for error, and he remembers frequently encountering Japanese anti-aircraft fire on these sorties. Although the Japanese air force strength was low, the threat from their superlative fighters was nevertheless there, and so they sometimes used to get an escort from the RAF, usually in the form of two Spitfires, as the Hurricane was at its most vulnerable on such sorties, which he said were typically of 11/2 to 2 hours with long-range tanks. Although some RAF Hurricane squadrons had removed two of the four 20mm cannon from their aeroplanes for improved performance, Nanu does not remember this practice being followed in 1 Sqn. [neither does Hoshang Patel remember this practice being followed in 6 Sqn.]. There was a very real danger from Jap fighters when they used to go on sorties to photograph Jap airfields in the Kabaw Valley - here they needed the Spitfire escort more than ever. Once, he was tasked for a photo-reconnaissance sortie over an airfield in this area. He was alone, escorted by two Spitfires [based out of Tamu]. He was at about 3000' concentrating on the photo-recce, when the Spitfire Leader called out to his No. 2 - there - in the distance - they were being followed by three Japanese aeroplanes ! Inexplicably, they did not attack, and he has lived to tell the tale !

He spoke of how the Japanese targeted transport airfields operating Dakotas [to disrupt the Allies' excellent supply-dropping system which ultimately saved Imphal]. He remembers how, one day, three RAF Dakotas on a supply-dropping sortie near Kalewa were all three shot down.

RAF Dakota landing at Imphal Air Strip , March 44 -
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An RAF Dakota dropping supplies  Tiddim Road

In Imphal, they all lived in Bashas. The idea of the 'Anatomy of a Tac-R Hurricane Sortie' came from an experience he related to me of a sortie to Tamu. He doesn't remember the name of the Leader of the sortie [who later joined the PAF on Partition], only that he made a safe wheels-up landing at Tamu. He said that while the No.1 or the Leader looked after the navigation, the No. 2 was the Weaver who kept their tail clear. His keenness for flying is evident - he smiled and said that Arjan Singh recently told him "Nanu, I've got you so many times in my log book !" This is further emphasised by the fact that he could make it back to Imphal through severe weather, alone, a mere month after he'd joined the squadron with less than 200hrs of total flying time and only 40hrs on type…

No.1 Squadron at Imphal and beyond

As mentioned earlier, the Squadron flew 354 sorties totalling 466 hours and 45 minutes in August 1944, even though the weather was so bad that they couldn't fly for eight days.

In September, the weather deteriorated even further, and the squadron could only fly 292 sorties totalling a little more than 400 hours. However, the duration of the sorties was getting longer, with the Japanese being slowly but inexorably pushed southwards. The Rivers Mu, Uyu and Myittha were recce'd for signs of traffic. The railway line - this was the Kawlin-Shwebo-Mandalay-Meiktila line - between Kawlin [90 miles SE of Tamu - sortie distances were huge…] and Indaw was carefully observed - although all the bridges had been destroyed, the stations appeared to be occupied ! In a rapidly-changing battle scenario, the position of Allied troops had to be marked as well. One of the most important sorties carried out on the 13th September was the photography of Taukkyan airfield SW of Kalemyo, with its 2000 yard long runway. While several craters were observed, it appeared to be in good condition overall [it was - this airfield is now Kalemyo airport !].

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A view of the 'Choclate Staircase' showing some of the 39 Hairpin bends JAK State Troops attacking the Kennedy Peak A pair of Jeeps on the Muddy Tiddim Road

October 1944 was a momentous month for the Allies, and a busy one for No. 1 Squadron. The fall of Bumzang was quickly followed by that of the critical Tiddim [the three critical points of the Japanese assault on Imphal were Tamu to the south of Imphal, Tiddim to the south-west, and Ukhrul to the north-east] on 18th October. The squadron did sterling work in the Kalewa/ Kalemyo area, more than 120 miles away from their base, flying a record 439 sorties [including three at night !] totalling 779hrs 40' despite bad weather during the earlier part of the month. For this work the Squadron received four congratulatory messages from XXXIII Corps - a mammoth photo-reconnaissance task had been carried out, 9, 555 prints were developed, and the Squadron well-deservedly praised "for skill and speed with which air photographs have been produced and dropped on forward troops."

- Work going on in a Mobile Photo Processing Unit

November saw an even greater effort by the 17 pilots of the Squadron who flew an incredible 525 sorties totalling 1000hrs 30' of which 25hrs 10' were by night. Whilst most of the sorties were in the Kalemyo/ Kalewa area, they went further south upto Gangaw and Monywa [almost 200 miles away from Imphal - a glance at the Hurricane's fuel consumption given in Note [2] above gives an idea of the flying being carried out to the very limits of human and aeroplane endurance] and east upto the Mu River. On these sorties they usually went in pairs, but sometimes also singly. They were sometimes provided with a Spitfire escort as there was a very real danger from Japanese fighters on these sorties so far south of Imphal [the 460 mile range of the Hurricane vis-a'-vis the 1864 mile range of the Oscar would ensure that any combat was one-sided !].

The bridge at Hpaungzeik over the Neyinzaya Chaung [chaungs or streams were raging torrents in the monsoons, which would disappear into dusty tracks during the dry months was critical for the taking of Kalemyo, just south-west of it. Reconaissance by day showed that the bridge was unserviceable, but piles of wooden planks stacked along the banks of the Chaung gave rise to the suspicion that these planks were placed on the bridge at night and used for traffic. Sqn. Ldr. Arjan Singh flew over Hpaungzeik on the night of the 3rd November, 200 miles in the dark, and confirmed that this was, indeed, the case ! Kalemyo fell on the 15th November….

November 1944 saw two casualties for the squadron, one fatal. On the 22nd, an aeroplane returning from a recce of the Wetkauk-Naungmana area force-landed after a glycol [coolant] leak. Although it caught fire after landing, the pilot got out safely and, after a three-day trek through hostile jungle, returned home. The other pilot, DF Eduljee, the only AFC holder in the IAF at this time, failed to pull out of his dive whilst strafing some camouflaged bashas in the Shwegyin area.

December 1944 saw the Squadron fly 335 sorties totalling 775hrs 15'. The sorties were getting longer….

December was a crucial month with the opening of the Trans-Chindwin offensive. The principal players were IV Corps under Lt. Gen. Sir Frank Messervy, comprising 7th & 19th Indian Div. & 254 Tank Bde. XXXIII Corps under Lt. Gen. Sir Montagu Stopford, comprising 2nd British & 20th Indian Div., 268 Bde. & 255 Tank Bde. [both Indian].

Messervy_Small.jpg (17009 bytes) Lt. Gen. Sir Frank Messervy (Left) was the GOC of IV Corps

Lt Gen Montagu Stopford (Right) commanded the XXXIII Corps

Stopford_Small.jpg (16003 bytes)

In the north, the 19th Indian Div. crossed the Chindwin and despite the difficult terrain and the fanatical resistance of the enemy, rapidly progressed eastwards, capturing Pinlebo on the 16th December, Wuntho on the 19th and Kawlin on the 20th December, a distance of nearly 80 miles.

In the south, the 20th Indian Div, crossed the Chindwin at Mawlaik and took Maukkadaw on the Chindwin on Christmas Day.

Such rapid advances only further emphasized the criticality of accurate aerial reconnaissance in order to determine the position of the Allied troops as also the position and intentions of the enemy. However, this was easier said than done - the terrain was so difficult, that the tracks themselves could not be seen easily from the air, let alone troops. So it was back to basics once again by resorting to the First War system of troops displaying ground signals, these positions marked on the map when the troops were spotted by the low-flying aeroplanes, and the map then being dropped by the pilot onto the Headquarters at Mawlaik.

What about the enemy - what was he doing ? He was withdrawing quickly to the Irrawaddy, there to regroup, but he was blocking the road at frequent intervals with tree trunks, most of these booby-trapped. No, it was not going to be easy…

January, 1945. On the 2nd January, the 19th Indian Div. took Kanbalu, and Shwebo on the 7th. On the 9th of that month, the 19th Indian Div. crossed the Irrawaddy and secured Thabeikkyin. On the 10th January, the 20th Indian Div. had captured the Japanese communications centre at Budalin, and by the end of the month the 2nd British Div. had also reached the Irrawaddy.

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Dispositions in Burma on 24 Jan 1945 Jat Machine Gunners at Monya Troops from the 4/10 Gurkha Regiment strike a Burmese Village

At last, after very costly fighting, Monywa, the chief Japanese position on the Chindwin, was taken on the 22nd January by the 20th Indian Div. On the same day, other units of the Division took Myinmu, only 40 tantalising miles west of Mandalay after heavy fighting.

What was the squadron doing during this period of intense army activity ? Strangely, there was a lull in their operations "with intermittent flying as and when called for." Upto the 15th January, the Squadron flew only 42 sorties, almost all photo-reconnaissance, over a nine day period. 2nd & 19th Indian Divs. began their push towards Shwebo, which they took on the 7th January, 1945. From the 16th upto the 28th January, no sorties were called for by the army. This well-deserved respite for Nanu and the rest of the Squadron, was, however, all too brief.

The drive to Meiktila was about to begin….

The enemy was, as usual, cunning - he made no attempt to stop the Allies from coming towards the Irrawaddy, but dug into well-sited and well-manned positions on the other side of the river, there to meet the attack with the river at the back of the attackers, a tactic reminiscent of the First Sikh War at Sobraon on the 10th February, 1846…

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A section of well armed Chin Levies with a Captured Japanese Flag Budalin in Flames being attacked

A direct frontal attack would therefore have been suicidal. Field Marshal Sir William Slim, the Allied commander, decided upon subterfuge, to move IV Corps secretly from the left to the extreme right, gain a bridgehead near Pakokku, 58 miles northwest of Meiktila, and then strike at the pivotal enemy headquarters of Meiktila. To this end, two movements took off in a southerly direction from the main road between Tilin [now known as Htilin] and Pauk - both manoeuvres aimed at diverting Japanese attention from the proposed point of crossing of the Irrawaddy at Nyaungu, 17 miles southwest of Pakokku.

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Field Marshal Sir Viscount Slim

Gurkhas clear a village near the Irrawady

No. 1 Squadron was tasked with the Tac-R requirements of IV Corps. Imphal was now too far from their area of operations, so a detachment of the Squadron moved 175 miles south of Imphal, to the newly-prepared PSP [Perforated Steel Plate] airfield of Kan, 15 miles north of Gangaw [which was 80 miles from Pakokku, one of the points where the Irrawaddy was to be crossed] during the last week of January. The crossing of the Irrawaddy was planned for the 14th February, and the Squadron was to cover the deception movement [towards Tilin and Pauk] of the troops southwards. The area east of the Irrawaddy naturally demanded greater attention, as the crossing of that great river was imminent and everything depended upon accurate information on what the enemy was up to. So the Squadron was busy on reconnaissance and also attacking any target of opportunity, especially loaded carts.

February, 1945. On the 1st February, Lingadaw, on the way to Pakokku, was captured, and on the 3rd, Myaing, on the way to Nyaungu. Myitchie, eight miles north-west of Nyaungu, at the point where the Irrawaddy turns due south, was captured, and the stage was now set for the secretly-planned crossing of the mighty Irrawaddy….

VillageAttack_Small.jpg (38537 bytes) TrucksPagan_Small.jpg (30140 bytes)
Gurkha Patrol in the Pakokku Area

Trucks crossing a river in the Pagan Area

The 19th Indian Div. had already crossed the Irrawaddy on the 9th January at Thabeikkyin, and this intrepid Division now consolidated this achievement with another bridgehead crossing at Kyaukmyaung, just 40 miles north of Mandalay. Although both bridgeheads had been subject to fanatically furious counterattacks; the 19th had not only stood firm but had, on the contrary, expanded and strengthened its positions. The 20th Indian Div. crossed at Allagappa, 40 miles west of Mandalay on the 12th February, securing and strengthening its bridgehead after severe and heroic fighting on both sides.

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A Starting point on the river bank

Stuart Tanks move upto the river

During the wee hours of the 13th February, 1945 the 7th Indian Division began crossing the Irrawaddy at Nyaungu as planned, and on the 24th February, the 2nd Indian Div. crossed the river at Ngazun, between the 20th Indian Div.'s bridgehead at Allagappa and Mandalay - they were now less than 25 miles west of Mandalay….

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4/10 Gurkhas moving across the river

A Bridge being built by the engineers

Progress in the 7th Indian Div.'s sector was rapid. After crossing at Nyaungu on the 13th, they took the oil wells of Pagan the next day. The 17th Indian Div. now took the offensive in this sector and on the 24th, Taungtha, an important Japanese maintenance centre fell - the speed of advance can be imagined by the fact that Taungtha is 40 miles north-east of Pagan, from where they had started only eleven days before. The first of the airfields, Thabutkon, fell on the 26th and the 17th Indian Div.'s airborne brigade was flown in from Palel. Meiktila was attacked on the 28th and fell on the 4th March - this success was short-lived, however, and Meiktila was re-taken by the Japanese and it would not be back in Allied hands until the 3rd April…

In keeping with the rapid movement of the ground forces, No. 1 Squadron had to move south from Kan to Sinthe, a PSP  runway which had been prepared on the 9th February. Sinthe was about 20 miles north-west of Nyaungu, the place where the 7th Indian Div. was to cross. Living conditions were basic, with the pilots living in tents. Each tent was shared by two pilots, and Nanu had, as his tent-mate, Bunny Cariappa [who later joined Ariana Airlines], Thimayya's brother-in-law.

On the 14th February, the day Pagan was taken, the Squadron flew 28 sorties, and on the 16th February, 32 sorties. The skies over the Nyaungu - Meiktila sector reverberated with the sound of the Squadron's low-flying Hurricanes.

The pressure to take Meiktila was enormous, and it was naturally the centre of the Squadron's attentions. It was also a veritable devil's cauldron of anti-aircraft defences. Four of the Squadron's aeroplanes were hit seriously, and the Squadron had another fatality.

On the 26th February, on a reconnaissance between Taunggon and Mahlaing [25 miles north-west of Meiktila], one of the Squadron's pilots, Norris, "a boy from Bangalore," was hit near his heart. Semi-conscious, with superhuman courage and incredible airmanship, he somehow managed to regain the Allied lines where he actually managed a forced landing. The crew of a tank watched horrified as the aeroplane slewed across the rough ground, ran and gently pulled him out as soon as it had ground to a halt, and rushed him to a field hospital. The boy died there the next day…

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Medics at the 5th Indian Division Field Surgery Hospital

Meiktila fell on the 4th March, taken by the 17th Indian Div. This was a disaster, an unthinkable disaster for the Japanese, and they threw everything into getting it back. In this, they had been helped by the rapidity of the Allied advance, as seen by the fact that a strong Japanese column had retaken a dominating hill feature in Taungtha [on the 24thFebruary, Taungtha, an important Japanese maintenance centre fell - the speed of advance can be imagined by the fact that Taungtha is 40 miles north-east of Pagan from where they had started only eleven days before] just after the 17th Indian Div. had victoriously passed it ! The vital airstrip of Meiktila fell soon afterwards, and the 28th East African Bde. was driven back 13 miles to the Letse area.

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Frontier Force troops attacking a village at Meiktila

A Howitzer of the 9th Jacob Mountain Battery being fired

March was confusing, with closely-run see-saws between the Allies and the Japanese…

- A Map showing the Irrawady Crossings
3" Mortars open fire at Mandalay, while a Bren Gunner keeps cover in the foreground. -

For example, Allied tanks and troops were located at Gwebin on the 1st March; on the 18th, Allied troops and vehicles were about three miles north of Gwebin, which meant a retreat ! On the 21st, a battle was noticed near Ywathit, south-east of Letse, two days later, Allied troops were seen in Ywathit itself……! The Squadron flew 618 hours during the month, despite the fact that late at night on the 4th March, nine aeroplanes had been damaged and nine airmen injured [no fatalities, thank God !] when the Japanese bombed the airfield, having flown nearly 300 miles over featureless jungle from their airfields around Rangoon - typical of the enemy's superb airmanship, to say the least….

However, by now the Japanese were thin on the ground, and, in order to reinforce Meiktila, they had to pull out troops from elsewhere. As a result of this, Mandalay [a name which conjured the same magical image for the Allies, as did Paris for the Germans during the First War] fell on the 14th March, and the 5th Indian Div., which had come all the way from Jorhat, re-took Meiktila on the 3rd April.

End of the tour

By now, the Squadron had spent close to fourteen months of intense, sustained action, and on the 26th March, they were relieved at Sinthe by 7 Squadron, who had just converted from the Vultee Vengeance to the Hurricane. No. 1 Squadron, however, continued operations until the end of March.

This brought to a close an operational record few squadrons in any air force can boast of - 4,813 sorties totalling 7,219 hours 45' over 14 months, an average of 343 sorties and 516 hours per month.

This was recognized by Air Vice-Marshal Stanley Vincent [who, as Gp. Capt., commanded Northolt during the Battle of Britain], AOC of 221 Group, who paid this richly-deserved compliment to the air and ground crew of the Squadron " The reliability of their Tac-R and photographic work has remained at a high level throughout, and ground crews have set a record of serviceability of aircraft which is second to none in any Air Force in the World."

This was recognised by more tangible awards. There were DFC's for Fg Offr Rai, Fg Offr AR Pandit, Sqn Ldr R Rajaram, Fg Offr KN Kak, Fg Offr MN Bulsara, Fg Offr PS Gupta, Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh, Fg Offr BR Rao, Mentioned in Despatches for Fg Offr Rao, Fg Offr Kak, Fg Offr Rishi [the Equipment Officer], Warrant Officer Tara Singh [the Armament Officer], and Flt Lt Patwardhan [the Adjutant].

The move to Kohat began - 'A' Flight under Rajaram, accompanied by Nanu Shitoley, Ronnie Noah [from UP] and Bunny Cariappa. 'B' Flight under HN Chatterjee, accompanied by Gupta, Joseph, and one other pilot.

At a forward airfield thats been turned to a quagmire due to the Monsoons, Fg Offr A C Prabhakaran, Flt Lt Ramaswamy Rajaram and Fg Offr S Hafeez pose by one of the Hurricane IIcs. Unfortunately both Prabhakaran and Hafeez were to die in operations later on in late 1944. Rajaram became an Air Marshal and AOC in C of SWAC. But he died of Leukemia in 1966.

Just short of Kumbhirgram, the weather, their old enemy, which had made Hafeez and Prabhakaran collide and lose their lives, which had killed Rajendra Singh when he was ferrying an aeroplane back from Calcutta, which had almost taken Nanu's life some months ago, intervened. When Chatterjee landed at Kumbhirgram, he was horror-stricken to find that his entire flight was missing ! Rajaram carried on towards Kohat, taking Bunny Cariappa with him and leaving behind Nanu and Ronnie Noah to search for the handsome PS Gupta, Joseph, and the other pilot. They gave up after two days of searching - no wreckage, nothing.…

There were two more DFC's - for Nanu Shitoley, who had flown 300 hours on Operations in less than eight months, who had been recommended for the medal in Sinthe itself, and Flt Lt HN Chatterjee - the announcement came in Kohat, where the Squadron had gone for a well-deserved rest.

Post Independence

From 1949 - 1951, Nanu commanded the newly-formed Comm. Squadron. This was followed by a six-month stint, training as an Aircrew Examining Board Examiner on Dakotas at Naisborough in Yorkshire for six months where, apart from the Dakotas, he also flew Ansons and Oxfords. He also qualified as a Flight Instructor at the Central Flying School [CFS] at Dishforth, flying Harvards. Whilst in England, he picked up a Holland & Holland 375 Magnum for 100 pounds [Service Officers were also picking up wonderful handguns like Webleys in India at that time for Rs. 100/- !] with which he used to go duck-shooting in Agra and Bharatpur. There was also neelgai and deer shikar in Agra.

This was followed by a stint in the [again] newly-formed Aircrew Examining Unit in Delhi, where he served upto 1953, where he served with people like Hegde and Bunny Fernandes. In 1953, he gave shape to the CTS [Conversion Training Squadron] in Agra to convert pilots onto Dakotas…

Nanu told me a story during his time in Comm. Squadron. Once, he had flown Nehru to Bombay from Delhi. Before the trip back to Delhi, the crew did a full pre-flight check - everything was as it should be. Then there was an unexpected delay, and unbeknowns't to the aircrew, the ground crew had put the pitot cover back on. They took off - there was no airspeed showing ! What should they do, carry on or return ? Just then, the Navigator called and told him "Sir, I have no airspeed !" to which Nanu phlegmatically replied "Neither have I, old boy !" He had carried on to Delhi and relied on his prodigious flying skills to get them home - returning to Santa Cruz airfield in Bombay would have reflected poorly on the IAF, something that was unacceptable to him.

Another vignette of his time with Comm. Squadron was the story he told of the time when Bhim Rao force-landed a Devon with Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the then Home Minister, on board, on a flight from Delhi to Rajasthan. A huge crowd had collected around the aeroplane after the successful force-landing, and Patel was whisked off in a car. Patel praised Bhim Rao in Parliament for the skilful way in which he had brought the aeroplane back….

Air Marshal Gibbs with DFC Awardees and the Next of Kin of a DFC Recipient. From left to right in the last row are Chatterjee, A R Pandit, Gibbs, Minoo Engineer, Shitoley,Rono Engineer. BR  Rao's son is in the front .
DFC recipients Ravindra Rao (on behalf of his father Late F/O BR Rao), RM Engineer, NK Shitoley, AR Pandit, HN Chatterjee and MM Engineer -

Nanu says that there was a small pressurised compartment in a Dakota, especially made for Patel, after his heart attack. He also feels that Patel should have become Prime Minister of the newly-independent India, and not Nehru.

Another Comm. Squadron story…one day, Chandan Singh was tasked to fly Krishna Menon to Delhi. There was heavy fog, and no flying was possible. Menon, as was his wont, was pacing up and down and ranting about the delay, when Chandan Singh gently pointed out to him that even the birds were staying on the ground !

Once he had flown Jawarharlal Nehru to Karachi. Some of his old friends who were now in the PAF, invited him to Kohat. As soon as he entered the old Mess in Kohat, the old Pathan Aabdaar [chief waiter] rushed to Nanu and enveloped him in a bear-hug !

In 1961, Nanu went to Los Angeles to the University of Southern California to attend a course on Fight Safety. His course-mates were from the US, the UK, Pakistan, Turkey, and even a distinguished Luftwaffe fighter pilot of the erstwhile Wartime Jagdwaffe, whose name he cannot recollect ! There were two USAF pilots - one white and the other black. He says that the latter did very well at the course. One night, when they had all decided to go to a fancy restaurant for dinner, this pilot very subtly excused himself - only later did Nanu realise that this was probably because this was an exclusive restaurant where a black person may have been made to feel unwelcome - this was 1961, mind, when the Civil Rights movement was in its nascent stage !

He commanded AF Stn. Palam, having also managed to fly [once a fighter pilot…!] Hunters [of 20 Sqn.], Mystere IVa's and MiG 21's. He speaks especially fondly of the Hunters….

He retired in April 1975 as SASO [Senior Air Staff Officer] Southwestern Air Command, Jodhpur, after a distinguished career spanning 34 years in the Indian Air Force.

He is now retired in Bombay with his charming wife and daughters, still very much the flyer, as he describes the movement of aeroplanes in the age-old tradition of the aviator, and grins, and talks about the Hurricane, and Burma….

Webmasters Note [01 December 2006] : Air Commodore Nanu Shitoley DFC passed away on 14 November 2006 at Mumbai.


[1]    Email received from K Sree Kumar Nair about Observer/ Pilot courses

In response to one of the questions  about wanting details of those early Pilots' Courses run in India that were sent in their entirety to train as Observers: Air Marshal BS Krishna Rao, quoted in "Aviation in the Hyderabad Dominions" by Mrs Anuradha Reddy, says: "1st, 2nd and 3rd Courses, although they were Civil Pilots Licence 'A' holders, were recruited only as navigators [observers as they were called in those days]. The 4th Course was trained as pilots, some were sent to the UK for training and the rest in India. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd course observers were converted in 1940 and 1941 to Service Pilots. ACM PC Lal, AM Rajaram, AVM Sondhi, Air Cdres Atamaram and Lodhi were some of these... [Air Commodore Ratnagar, in his recent recollections to Jagan, says he was classified as 3rd Course, but sent to train as a pilot, and passed out, with 4th Course, starting at RAF Risalpur, 14 Jun 1940 -- also that he was the only member of 3rd Course to train as a pilot. Minor discrepancies apart, can we agree that these two officers' recollections, of 3rd Course, are reconcilable?] ACM Lal also adds, in "My years with the IAF", that he trained initially as an Observer, with the promise that he would be converted to a pilot later.  He doesn't identify his Course number in his book, but he started his training, at RAF Risalpur, on 14 Nov 39.   So I got the course numbers, and the number of courses, to which this was done, wrong -- but the basic fact, that some of the early Pilots' Courses were sent, in their entirety, to train as Observers, basically right. It'd be interesting to work out which course Cecil Nair belonged to, though based on what he told you he may well have undergone some elements of pilots' training before being sent to train as an Observer. [Again btw, Stephen Ambrose says, in the "Wild Blue", that the USAAC, around that same time, was actually sending the *best* performers from initial training and ground school to train as navigators, not as pilots -- navigators were considered to require more intellectual prowess and mental acuity than the pilots -- a sentiment I know a few retired navigators would agree with!!]


References/ Bibliography

[1] Interview with Air Cmde. Nanu Shitoley DFC and Wg Cdr Hoshang Patel
[2] AP 1564 B & D Maintenance Manual and Pilot's Notes for Hurricane IIA, IIB, IIC, ID, IV and Sea Hurricane IIB, IIC
[3]  Pilot's Notes for Tiger Moth Aircraft   RAAF. Publication No 416, Feb 1944
[4] Pilot's Notes for Harvard 2B A. P. 1691 D
[5] History of the Indian Air Force 1933-1945, Orient Longmans 1961
[6] www.bharat-rakshak.com
[7] British Aircraft - R. A. Saville-Sneath, Penguin 1944
[8] The Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II - Bill Gunston, Salamander 1988
[9] Hurricane at War - Chaz Bowyer
[10] Hurricane at War : 2 - Norman Franks, Ian Allen 1986
[11] The Complete Air Navigator - D. C. T. Bennett, C. B., C. B. E., D. S. O., Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons 1950
[12] Ground Studies for Pilots Vol. 3 - R. B. Underdown, Blackwell Science 1993
[13] Old photocopies of W/ Cmdr. 'Randy' Randhawa's notes [AP1234?] Chapt. 4 'Pilot Type Compasses'
[14] Actual Instruments/ Equipment in the writer's collection - Type 'C' Leather Helmet, Mk. VIII Goggles and Type 'G' Oxygen Mask, P-8 Compass, Dunlop Air Pressure Gauge AHO E1, SS & S Co Ltd London Vertical Speed Indicator No 148/ 41, Navigational Computer Mk. III D*, Computer; Dead Reckoning Type AN 5835-1, 'Unique' Navigational Slide Rule
[15] Vintage Flying Helmets - Mick Prodger, Shiffer 1995
[16] Luftwaffe Vs RAF Flying Clothing/ Flying Equipment - Mick Prodger, Shiffer 1997
[17] The Royal Air Force 1939-45 - Andrew Cormack/ Ron Volstad, Osprey Men-At-Arms Series 1999
[18] RAF Combat Units SEAC 1941-45 - Bryan Philpott, Osprey 1979
[19] Eagle Day - Richard Collier, Pan 1969
[20] Operational Navigation Chart 1 : 1, 000, 000 J-10 Burma/ Thailand
[21] At them with the Bayonet ! The First Sikh War - Donald Featherstone, Jarrolds 1968
[22] Jane's Guns Recognition Guide - Ian Hogg/ Rob Adam, Harper Collins 1996
[23] The Battle of Britain - Film, Harry Saltzman production 1968
[24] Models of Zero, Oscar and Tojo made by Dhananjay Murty
[25] Last and most important, several incredibly pleasurable hours spent in and around the IAFM Hurricane, Delhi, 1989/ 90 when my son and I used to clean/ maintain/ preserve her and other aeroplanes there t bases.


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