The Westland Lysander - The IAF's first monoplane bomber

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The Westland Lysander equipped three of the four IAF Squadrons in its heyday - Indian pilots flew it into battle in the jungles of Burma to the  hostile lands of the North Western Frontier.  Seen here is a Lysander II of No.4 Squadron in late 1942, sporting bomb carriers under the stub wings, twin .303 inch  Brownings in the rear cockpit.  Not clearly visible in the picture are two forward firing Brownings installed in the main wheel spats, just above the main landing lights.   Photo Courtesy :  Bruce Robertson Collection via 4+ Publications

Introduction

It was an odd sight in the skies over Europe and Asia during the Second World War. At a time when the latest fighters were designed with sleeker looks, more powerful engines and heavy armament, this particular aircraft, the Westland Lysander was the anti-thesis of the philosophy. It had a stubby fuselage with a radial engine in the front, two non-retractable undercarriage legs. High wing monoplane supported by V struts, and would be flying along at speeds that today’s motorcars would exceed by miles!

The aircraft was the result of the Air Ministry Specification A.39/34 calling for a two-seater Army Cooperation role replacement of the Hawker Hector. The Army Cooperation Squadrons of that time were cooperating directly with the Army, and tasks like reconnaissance, artillery spotting, communication, liaison etc were to be the responsibilities of the Army Co-operation squadrons.

Westland Aircraft Limited, based at Yeovil, Somerset, England submitted a proposal called the P.8, by engineer Arthur Davenport, under the technical direction of Edward (teddy) Peter, the famous aircraft designer. Petter himself was instrumental in gathering opinions from the Army and RAF Army Cooperation squadrons that went into the final development of the aircraft. Good visibility from the cockpit and special performance from small airfields and areas, and slow flying speeds were the essentials of Army Cooperation work.

Prototypes and Production Orders

Westland received the order for the aircraft and two two prototypes were given the go ahead in June 1935. The first prototype (K6127) was flown on June 15, 1936. It was powered by a 840 hp Bristol Mercury IX radial engine. The second prototype (K6128) flew six months later, on December 11, 1936. The second prototype had a more powerful 905 hp Mercury XII Radial.

- The Mercury IX powered prototype Lysander K6127, seen during its flight trials.

The Air Ministry finally chose the Westland design in September 1936 and ordered for its first batch of 169 aircraft the same month. It was about this time, the aircraft was named the Lysander - in the tradition of naming Army Cooperation aircraft after classical warriors. (Lysander was a Spartan admiral who defeated the Athenian fleet in 405 BC). The production was carried out in two versions, the Mk I and Mk II, respectively powered by Mercury XII and the Bristol Perseus XII engines. The latter engine was tested on the first prototype before actual production began.

Description

The Lysander was a 'modern' design as far as Army Cooperation aircraft were concerned. For the first time, it featured an enclosed cockpit that provided some crew comfort. It was a high-wing monoplane design with a fixed undercarriage, powered by a radial engine.

The pilot sat high in his cockpit and had an excellent field of view from his position. The position of the pilot was such that the wings on the aircraft were at his eye level to the sides, so he had a good view above and below the wings. The pilot’s cockpit had a aft-sliding roof and vertically sliding side windows. The entire cockpit was a long glass house with the air gunner / observer sitting in tandem to the pilot. The gunner sat on a swivel seat that would allow him to face forward as well. The gunner could also double up as the bomb –aimer with access to a bomb sight that could be aimed through a clear glass panel in the fuselage. A 95 gallon self sealing aluminum main fuel tank is placed just behind the pilot’s seat dividing the space between the two crew members.

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The Cockpit and Instrument panel of the Lysander. Click on the images above and on the right to see larger views and explanation of the numbers.

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The undercarriage was a unique design. it was built around an upside down horse shoe shaped strut that had internally sprung Dowty wheels at either end. The strut was covered panels to give it some stream lining. The Pilot had step holds and hand holds inserted in wheel spats to allow him to climb into his cockpit. Rather uniquely, each of the wheel spats housed a .303 Browning machine gun with about 500 rounds each. These fired outside the propeller arc and this eliminated the requirement for synchronising gear. Additionally Stub wings can be fixed to the wheel spats to which a variety of bombs can be fixed. The stub wings were stressed to carry either a single 250lb bomb , or four 20lb bombs each, or two 112lb bombs. The spats also housed two powerful landing lamps that helped the pilot land the aircraft without any external lighting aids, even on rough ground.

- A period Cutaway drawing of the Lysander as published in FLIGHT magazine. Note the prone position of the air gunner in a 'bomb aiming' role on the floor of his position.

The wings were an advanced design of their own. The wings tapered outward from the tip towards the root and at a point tapered inwards. The aircraft featured automatic slats - that deployed whenever the aircraft's speed fell below a point. The slats would also deploy the trailing edge flaps - This was the first aircraft in which the pilot didn’t have to remember to operate the flaps!. It also relieved the pilot the burden of retracting them before the safe speed was exceeded.

The automatic slats and flaps gave the aircraft tremendous low speed performance. It could hang in the air at just 55miles per hour! The aircraft was almost impossible to stall in level flight. As the speed was lowered, the aircraft would go into a nose high attitude and there was no wing drop or spin that develops. The stall would be delayed to an exceptionally large angle of attack and is not usually reached in the normal envelope of flight operations. During take off, the aircraft did not require the tail to be lifted and would lift off straight once take off speed of 80 mph was reached.  The aircraft was cleared for a maximum diving speed of 300 mph, and aerobatics as well as spinning were prohibited. Sudden maneuvers and heavy loads were prohibited when flying at high speed.

The Lysander was produced in three distinct variants - the Marks I, II and III. There were subvariants within each mark - the differences as illustrated below

Variants:

Type Power Plant  Details, Variants, Conversions Number Produced  End User
Prototype     2 RAF
Mk I  664-kW (890-hp) Mercury XII radial Conversions include TT.Mk1 variant (Target Towing) 169 RAF
18 EAF
Mk II 675-kW (905-hp) Bristol Perseus XII radial Conversions include TT.MkII variant (Target Towing) 399 RAF
6 IAC
36 Turkey
Mk III  649-kW (870-hp) Bristol Mercury XX or 30 radial Twin 7.7-mm (0.303-inch) Browning machine guns in the rear cockpit for the observer instead of a single Lewis machine gun.

Sub variants include ·

  • Mk IIIA - Mk IIIs with Additional Armour protection·
  • Mk IIISD - Special version for clandestine operations. No armament, long range fuel tank under the fuselage, fixed external ladder at Observers position.
  • TT.Mk III - Mk IIIs converted into target tugs.
  • TT.Mk IIIA - New production target tugs built upto Mk III standards. Armament removed, attachments for drogue targets and a winch in the rear cockpit.
350
364
100
 
RCAF     225  
Grand Total 1517  

Of the above, only the Mk.II and Mk.IIIs ever served with in numbers with operational squadrons in India.

Service with the RAF

The Lysanders entered squadron service in May 1938. The first RAF Unit to get them was No.16 Squadron, RAF based at Old Sarum, UK , the birth place of Army Cooperation training.

The first Indian to fly in a Lysander was IND/1560 Pilot Officer Surendra Nath Goyal (later AVM). He did this as a passenger in Lysander Mk.I L4691 on 13th September, 1938. He had only received his commission from RAF Cranwell in June 38 and arrived at Old Sarum for Army Cooperation training. Goyal was attached with No.16 Squadron in August 1938. He was with the Squadron for three months, during which time he flew Hawker Harts and Furys. He never got to fly the Lysander directly, though he did fly as a Passenger in two flights on this day, each lasting half an hour. He remembers that at that time the Lysander was the 'latest' as far as Army Cooperation aircraft went. It would be quite some time before Indian pilots would get to see or fly the aircraft.

The other two graduates out of Cranwell after Goyal, Arjan Singh and Prithipal Singh, had to finish their course in an accelerated mode as war had broken out and they never got to fly the Lysanders. It would be another two years before Indian pilots got to solo in and make their first flights in this aircraft.

At the onset of the Second World War, seven squadrons of the RAF were operating the Lysanders in England. When the British Expeditionary Force went to France, six of these squadrons formed part of the BEF.  However most of these units suffered badly when the Germans invaded the low countries and subsequently France. Only about 50 odd out of a total of 174 Lysanders that were sent to France made it back to the British Isles.

From then on, Lysanders would equip additional squadrons, including those in Australia and Canada.  Starting from 1941, the "Lizzie" as it was affectionately known, were employed in full force in the Special Operations role. No. 138 (Special Duties), was formed to operate missions for the Special Operations Executive to maintain contact with the French Resistance. They were used to drop covert agents in Occupied France, and on many occasions to also evacuate Agents, downed allied airmen etc back to the UK.  These Special Operations Lysanders were modified Mk III Variants - with a long range fuel tank underneath, and a fixed Ladder to assist the rear passenger to get in and out of the aircraft with ease. These aircraft were also painted black overall to take advantage of the night sky.

Lysanders in India

The first Lysander arrived in India in March 1938, when the second prototype aircraft K6128 was dispatched for the Aircraft Depot India, Karachi for carrying out tropical trials. The aircraft was attached to No.5 Squadron RAF during this period was tested in Peshawar and Kohat. The aircraft ended its life somewhere in the Indian Subcontinent as a Ground Instruction airframe by July 1940, probably at Ambala in the Technical school.

The second prototype K6128 seen at Miranshah in Northern Waziristan, in current day Pakistan. The aircraft was attached to No.5 Squadron whose Westland Wapitis can be seen in the background. Photo Courtesy - Profile Publications - Harold Penrose -
- The Second Prototype Lysander on temporary gun butts erected by No.31 Squadron RAF at Drigh Road Karachi. Note the Indian labourers using brute power to lift up the tail!Photo Courtesy - A Pictorial History of the RAF - Vol 1 - JWR Taylor

India remained the haven for biplanes till August 1941, when the first batch of 48 Lysander IIs arrived at Aircraft Depot, Drigh Road. These were allotted to Nos.28 Squadron RAF and No.1 Squadron IAF. Subsequently, No.20 Squadron, RAF, Nos. 2 and 4 Squadrons IAF were also re-equipped with the Lysanders.

Two examples briefly served with No.104 (GR) Squadron IAF (more about this later!). By mid-43, all front line Lysander units had given them up for the Hawker Hurricane and the type was relegated to training establishments like the 151 OTU, No.1 AGS(I) and No.22 AACU.

No.28 Squadron RAF  under Sqn Ldr P N Jennings received its Lysanders at about the same time as No.1 Squadron, IAF.  Lysander Mk II N1273 of No.28 Squadron RAF over the Khyber. This particular aircraft crashed on take-off at Kohat on 19 Dec 1941. Photo Courtesy - Eyes of the Phoenix - Geoff Thomas -
- Three Lysanders in a flypast over Kohat in late 1941 / early 1942. Another aircraft can be seen on the ground.
Two Lysanders of No.28 Squadron seen at Kohat before the far eastern front flared up.  Lysander – “BF-M” P1686 or similar in the foreground & BF-Y behind, of No.28 Squadron. 

No.28 Squadron was always considered as the 'rival' squadron to No.1 Squadron IAF. Both units flew into Burma within days of each other.  P1686 was one of the aircraft flown by No.28 to Burma. It was lost when Bombs fell off and destroyed it on take off at a Landing Ground near Mingaladon (Rangoon)17/2/42.  Frank Powley Collection

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No.1 Squadron "The Tigers" - (Aug 41 - June 42) 10 Months 

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On 13th October 1941, at 0900 Hrs, Sir George Cunningham, Governor of the North West Frontier Province, presented the official "Tiger" crest of No.1 Squadron as approved by the Chester Herald in August 41.  Here, the Squadron members pose for a group photo in front of a Lysander.

Sitting L to R: U/I , Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad (B Flt Cdr) , U/I, Sqn Ldr K K Majumdar (CO), Sir George Cunningham (Governor NWFP), U/I, U/I, Flt Lt Prithipal Singh (A Flt Cdr), U/I.  Standing L to R : U/I ,U/I , Plt Offr YV Malse, U/I ,U/I ,U/I ,U/I ,Plt Offr Sk Ibrahim, U/I , U/I ,U/I ,U/I .

The first Indian Squadron earmarked for conversion to the Lysander was No.1 Squadron. At that time the Indian Air Force consisted of only two Squadrons, No.2 having been raised a few months before.

In early August of 1941, No.1 Squadron was based at Kohat when orders came in for sending pilots to pick up the aircraft. On 8th August 1941, The Commanding Officer, Sqn Ldr Majumdar, along with seven other officers ‘A’ Flight proceeded to Aircraft Depot India for conversion training. ‘B’ Flight under Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad remained at Kohat on watch and war duties. Five officers from the neighboring No.28 Squadron also proceeded to Karachi to collect the aircraft.

Details on conversion training at the Aircraft Depot are not available but the pilots probably finished this by the end of the month. The new aircraft were collected on 1 Sept 1941 and the move from Karachi to Peshawar began on the same day. The pilots were led by Sqn Ldr Majumdar (CO). The formation had their first stop at Padidan, followed by Multan as the second stage of the flight. At Multan, Lysander P9180 swung on landing and had damage to the wingtips and tail. Not an auspicious start on the first day of operations!

The aircraft was repaired by the Technical Officer, WO Harjinder Singh and the aircraft was flown out to Peshawar the next day. The CO and the Engineer Officer had a tacit understanding not to report any accidents as long as the aircraft could be repaired within 24 hours. The ground crew under Harjinder spared no corners to get the aircraft back into flying conditions. Thus No.1 successfully hid the details of the accident. Meanwhile, their RAF ‘sister’ Squadron, No.28 was not so lucky. They reportedly could not land at Multan due to flooding and all the aircraft force landed at a small landing ground at Dera Ghazi Khan, about 60 miles from Multan. Fuel had to be ferried by land and by boat to refuel these aircraft and dispatch them to Kohat.

Towards the end of September ‘B’ Flight handed over duties to No.2 Squadron and started their conversion to Lysanders in October. The Harts and Audaxes disposed off would go to the newly raised No.3 Squadron as well as to No.2 Squadron. By end of October, No.1 was completely equipped with the Lysander.

Serviceability of No.1 Squadron’s Lysanders was high compared to No.28 RAF Squadron. Part of it is attributable to the tail wheel failures of the Lysanders. The tail wheel was prone to burst on landing and at that time the relatively few spares were making it to the squadrons up the supply chain. WO Harjinder Singh managed to design a wooden replacement for the tail wheel, that was made of layered wood, rubber sandwiched between metal discs with a metal tyre around it. The tail wheel was then internally sprung with rubber bands around the hub and the first aircraft equipped with the replacement was test flown on 9th October 1941 by Majumdar himself.

The Squadron was presented with their official "Tigers" Crest on 13th Oct 1941, by the Governor of NWFP, Sir George Cunningham.  On 7th November , 1941, another official ceremony was organised where this time, the Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley officially handed over thirteen Lysanders to No.1 Squadron. The aircraft were paid for with donations from the Bombay War Gifts fund.

Peshawar, 7 Nov 1941, Sir Roger Lumley, Governor of Bombay inspects No.1 Squadron during the official presentation of the Lysanders.  The person to the right of him in the photo is believed to be Sqn Ldr Majumdar. -
- Ground crew of No.1 Squadron with one of the Lizzies. WO Harjinder Singh can be seen standing in the center (wearing tie).

Around the same time November, A couple of Lysanders of 1 Squadron accompanied 28 RAF Squadron to Quetta to carry out some demonstrations for the participants of Staff College Quetta. In the middle of November, a ‘War Week’ was held in Calcutta. No.1 Squadron flew its Lysanders to Calcutta to take part as guests of No. 3 Coastal Defence Flight. Enroute, the Squadron personnel actually salvaged an additional Lysander (N1212) which was designated Cat F by No.28 Squadron. The additional aircraft was flown by Flt Lt Rupchand, the Squadron Adjutant.

On 8th December, war was declared with Japan and the Squadron was ordered to the Burma front on 14th December. The Squadron returned to Peshawar two days later.  As there was a shortage of air gunners, volunteers were called from among the fitters, riggers and other ground crew members. The airmen volunteered almost to a man. They were trained on a fast track basis in less than a fortnight.

The Squadron suffered its first casualty on the Lysander on 20th December 1941, when Pilot Officer Paljor Namgyal , who at that time was the crown prince of the Kingdom of Sikkim, undershot trying to land at Peshawar. The aicraft R1989 hit a bund and overturned - killing the pilot and seriously wounding the observer.

From the middle of January, as arrangements were made to move the ground personnel to the front in Burma, the pilots of No.1 Squadron kept themselves busy by flying practice sorties in the Lysanders. Duties included Air to Air gunnery sorties for both the pilot and the air gunner. The aircraft offered several improvements over the Harts and Audaxes – both in terms of handling as well as armament. Then Plt Offr Moolgavkar, who converted to the Lysanders with No.20 Squadron RAF, mentions:

The Lysander was designed to land on unprepared airfields. It had softer tyres. Large tyres. Strong under-carriage. Solid construction. Two browning guns, Stub wings. It can carry 4 20lb bombs or single bombs. Small guns in the back. A reflector gunsight for the first time. Earlier in the Audax and Hart, it was a ring and bead site. You can’t move your head from side to side when you lined up the ring, the bead and the target. The Reflector sight on the other hand projected at Infinity. So you could concentrate on the target.

It does appear that most of the Lysanders with No.1 Squadron were equipped with the ring and bead sight rather than the reflector, and most of the photographs testify to this.

A small mishap occurred on January 16th, when Plt Offr Satyanarayana overshot the runway while coming to the land at Peshawar and swung into soft ground on the left. Ratnagar was coming in just behind Satyanarayana and he steered his Lysander P1675 to the right to avoid Satyanarayana's aircraft, and bogged down in soft ground himself, with light undercarriage damage. The last aircraft of the formation, flown by Ananthanaryan, also suffered an accident. Then crew chief, Warrant Officer Harjinder Singh, in his biography, writes how Majumdar grimaced at the news of three aircraft accidents in quick succession. However due to the undaunted efforts of the ground crew at Peshawar, all the three aircraft were salvaged and repaired in time for the pending move to Burma five days later.

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Lysander N1255 in No.1 Squadron codes NB-F.  Ratnagar flew this aircraft on February 20, 1942 from satellite airfield 'Z'  to Johnny Haig.

Photo Courtesy: RAF Kai Tak Records via Warpaint Books

When the time came for the squadron to move to Burma on 21st January, the movement was done lock stock and barrel. Pilots packed their civilian cloths, blazers, tennis rackets everything and went to the front. The air party started their move to Burma on 27th January, the ground party having left earlier by rail and ship. The seven long hops amounted to nearly 17 hours of flying - during which the Lysanders of No 1 Squadron traversed the entire sub-continent, flying 1700 miles from Peshawar in the North-West, all the way to Toungoo in Burma, arriving on 1st February. The aircraft flew along Peshawar - Lahore - Gaya - Calcutta - Chittagong - Akyab and Toungoo. The ground party consisting of the airmen and technicians had already moved to Toungoo.

Toungoo Operations

On their very first night in Toungoo, the Japanese air force raided the airfield, but none of No 1 Squadron's aircraft were lost due to the good dispersal of aircraft. Two days later, on February 3rd, Sqn Ldr Majumdar in a Lysander equipped with a pair of 250lb bombs, carried out a daring daylight attack on a Japanese airfield at Mae-Haungsang. This airfield was believed to be the base from which the Japanese aircraft had attacked Toungoo. He was escorted by two Buffalos of No.67 Squadron. Flying low and unobtrusively, he attained the target and dropped his load of 500 lbs. of bombs on the airfield's only hangar which contained an aircraft. Bombing was accurate. Direct hits were scored and the hangar was smashed. The gunner, Sgt Rustomjee, used his guns to strafe targets on the ground, as did the escorting Buffalos of No.67 Squadron.

AIRCREW OF NO.1 SQUADRON (FIRST TOUR OF BURMA)
The Officers Air Gunners, W/Ops
S/L KK Majumdar (CO)
F/L Prithipal Singh (OC 'A' Flight)
F/L Niranjan Prasad (OC 'B' Flight)
F/L Lala Rupchand (Adj)
F/L Haider Raza
F/O Henry Runganadhan
F/O Rajender Singh
P/O YV Malse
P/O HS Ratnagar
P/O HS Moolgavkar
P/O Satyanarayana
P/O Ananthanaryana
P/O JK Deuskar (KIA)
P/O PS Gill
P/O Sk Ibrahim
P/O BK Nanda (Equipment)
WO Harjinder Singh
Sgt Kartar Singh
Sgt Cabinetmaker
Sgt B H Ghyara
Sgt Kameshwar Dhora
Sgt Rustomjee
Sgt Ashraf
Sgt Ghulam Ali
Sgt Zia
Sgt Mukerji
Sgt Dildar Khan
Sgt Sud

Not to be left behind, the entire squadron wanted to take part in the action. So a larger raid on Mae-Haungsang airfield was mounted on 4th February, led by Sqn Ldr Majumdar. Nine Lysanders from No.1 Squadron took part in this attack. For the first time two Lysanders from No.28 Squadron RAF also flew as part of the formation – making a total of 11 aircraft. The Lysanders were again escorted by two Buffalos from No.67 Squadron. 

One of the pilots in the formation was Plt Offr YV Malse,  flying Lysander P9120 on this mission, with Sergeant Ghulam Ali as his gunner. He was just behind Jumbo Majumdar during the attack, as he narrates:

"The first operation was on the 4th of February, we carried out a raid on Mae-Haungsang. The whole squadron used to go on operations and that time, if I remember right, Majumdar was leading the formation and it (Mae-Haungsang) was attacked by six of our aircraft. I was one of them.

We had no time to look around (at any anti aircraft fire from the ground), Firstly, we were carrying bombs, 250 lbs on each (stub) wing. I was No 2 and (S/L) Majumdar was No 1. When Majumdar (went into a) dive, I dived, released bomb, pulled back and out to He-Ho, I did not even look down. But I could see the burst (from Majumdar's bomb).

I was told that there was firing, personally I don't know if I was too excited. There must have been some firing, but I didn't notice it in the excitement."

The whole sortie to Mae-Haungsang and back lasted two hours and forty five minutes. Several hangars were claimed destroyed in the raid. The damage from the previous day's raid by Majumdar was also noticed during the attack.

On 5th February, the Squadron then moved to Mingaladon airfield near Rangoon. The next raid carried out by the Squadron was on 6th February . Five aircraft of the squadron, along with another from No.28 RAF, attacked Moulmein waterfront. Very little activity was observed in the area and the aircraft ended up bombing the Railway station and strafing the small barges found in the water way. As Malse remembers “That bit was washed out

On 7th February, the Squadron split up into two flights. Sqn Ldr Majumdar led one Flight with Flt Lt Prithipal Singh to He Ho airfield in the north, and later to Lashio airfield. The second Flight under Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad remained went to Mingladon. A lone aircraft under Flt Lt Raza went to Toungoo to carry out Army Co-operation sorties from there. The flight under Sqn Ldr Majumdar would operate in support of the Chinese army.

Operations from Mingaladon

The flight in Rangoon was very active in bombing missions. On 10th February four aircraft of No.1 Squadron, along with two from No.28 bombed Cheingram in Indo-China. The aircraft dropped 250lb bombs and then machine gunned the Streets. Two Japanese fighters were spotted by one of the pilots over the town but the fighters made off without challenging them. The Lysanders were in the air for over three hours during the raid and this was well beyond the safe limits of their endurance.

The next day, 11th February, Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad sent off on a dusk reconnaissance mission over Moulmein and Martaban along with Sgt Moyner of No.28 Squadron. Niranjan lost his way during his return in the diminishing light. Over Mingaladon airfield, he was shot at by own AA guns and the aircraft caught fire. Both the pilot and the gunner baled out. This was a first from a Lysander in the Indian sub-continent. Niranjan Prasad sprained his ankle on landing and was detained by a hostile Burmese peasant. Fortunately for him, the Burmese farmer’s daughter helped Niranjan Prasad to escape and he made his way back to the airfield. The RAF air gunner,  Sgt Moyner,  too made his way back to base safely.

Flt Lt Niranjan "Joe" Prasad - seconded from the Army to the IAF in 1940, commanded  'B' Flight based at Mingaladon. Flt-Lt-Niranjan-Prasad_Small.jpg (10869 bytes)

Niranjan recovered from his injuries to lead another sortie five days later. On the 16th of February, Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad led a ten aircraft raid on Moulmein docks. No.28 Squadron RAF provided five of the aircraft and the crews to fly them.

Another raid was launched on the 17th near Martaban by Niranjan Prasad. This raid encountered heavy anti aircraft fire – as Plt Offr (Later Air Chief Marshal) Moolgavkar remembers the raid:

I remember the raid on Martaban very much. It was a SNAFU - you know the Americans say it Situation Normal All Fouled Up. Niranjan Prasad was the Fit commander and we were stationed at Mingladon. Niranjan was all Army bluster and bravado. He called all of us for a briefing, designated a target and gave us all the talk you know 'Press on Regardless' 'we are going across the line' etc. Of Course we are the airforce we have to go across the line!

The briefing was done. We are supposed to fly at 6500 feet altitude. Now how they arrived at it, I do not know, but it has a significance, which I will come to later. So all of us took off. There must have been six or seven of us. All flying in the V Formation-just like the geese - the birds. The order of the formation , again we followed the same seniority thing. Niranjan leading the formation, followed by the next senior most, and then the others etc etc.

Anyway as we approached the targets, I was trailing in the back. I suddenly felt a whoomph and felt the aircraft was thrown up by something. Apparently the Japs had anti-aircraft guns which were effective at 6500 feet altitude. And we were flying at exactly the same height!. They bracketed their fire, so some shells were overshooting some were exploding in front of us. Black puffs. I felt my Lysander judder, the stick wobbling to the fire..

We were still short of the targets. Maybe four to five kilometers. The Japs had put up guns expecting us. Anyway in the AA barrage, I see Niranjan flick his Lysander in a roll, UPSIDE DOWN and dive away. Literally upside down that too carrying those bombs - reckless I tell you, the roll could have snapped off the stub wings as well as the undercarriage. A Lysander is not supposed to be rolled.

We had airgunners in the back but they were not of much use. Luckily we never encountered any fighters. Anyway as soon as Niranjan rolled and dived, the rest of the formation broke off in all directions. I do not know where they dropped the bombs, but they made their way back in ones and twos.

I myself put the Lysander in a dive , I did not roll it as Prasad, no point in doing so. And as I started to pull up, I let go of my bombs hoping the momentum will carry them to wards the target. Wishful thinking. I then turned back and flew back to the base.

Plt Offr HS Ratnagar , flying one of the aircraft in that raid remembers encountering accurate ground fire from the Japanese. A couple of bullets / shrapnel hit his Lysander, but neither he nor his gunner - Sgt Ashraf – were hit. This did earn a "very effective fire" remark on the AA in his logbook!

The detachment at Mingaladon carried out other attacks – bombing Daukyat Vlllage on the 18th. This turned out to be one of the last missions of this force. They had received their orders to move back to India. The ground parties of the Squadron started moving back on the 20th. They embarked for Rangoon Harbour at sea and arrived at Akyab by 23rd, from where they caught the train to India. Even while they were at Sea, the last three Lysanders from the Mingaladon detachment were flown by back by Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad, Plt Offr Ibrahim and Plt Offr Ratnagar. They reached Calcutta on the 22nd, from where they made their way to Secunderabad to set up the Advance HQ of the Squadron in early March.

The Lashio detachment

The detachment of No.1 Squadron that went to Lashio under Sqn Ldr Majumdar and Flt Lt Prithipal Singh was heavily involved in flying support missions in support of the Chinese Army in Northern Burma. Early on into their move to Toungoo, Plt Offr Malse’s Lysander P9120 was destroyed in one of the air raids on Magwe.

Sqn-Ldr-Jumbo-Majumdar_Small.jpg (12471 bytes) The Commanding Officer, Sqn Ldr KK "Jumbo" Majumdar led half of the squadron up north to Lashio along with Flt Lt Prithipal Singh.
Certainly a rare photograph of No.1 Squadron 'in the field'  - The 'A' Flight commander - Flt Lt Prithipal Singh is seen here in a Lysander adorned with a 'Tiger head' emblem and the inscription 'Konkan' on the aircraft. -

The work of the detachment increased as the tide of the battle began to flow against the allies. Numerous bombing raids were flown over the Japanese airbases at Cheingrai and Chiengmai in Siam. One raid on Chiengrai was memorable – as Flt Sgt Bejon Ghyara, an Air Gunner with the squadron remembers. “In our second raid, we bombed Cheingrai hill. In Cheingrai hill, there was elephant transport being used by the enemy in a heavy forest area. All we did was drop 250lbers among the elephants and they played havoc. They (elephants) did the rest.!”

The first fatality of the operations for No.1 Squadron happened on 14th February, when Plt Offr Jatain Deuskar and his gunner Sgt Kameshwara Dhora were killed while trying to force land about 60 miles from Lashio. After extending their loiter time over an enemy target, Deuskar ran out of fuel while making for Lashio. Instead of baling out, he tried a force landing in a field, possibly in the hope of saving the aircraft. But the aircraft flipped over and both the crew members were killed. A ground party from Lashio later went to collect their bodies and cremated them on the field.

Feb 42, Toungoo - A previously unpublished photograph of Plt Offr Jatain Deuskar in flying boots and personal firearm - ready for a flight. Deuskar and his gunner Dhora were the only casualties of the Squadron during the first tour of Burma. -

About the same time as the Rangoon detachment commenced movement to India, the main detachment at Lashio too got its marching orders. On 23rd February, the first ground party was sent back to India under Plt Offr Malse. They made their way upto Magwe and were airlifted to Akyab after a few days. Preparations were made by the rest of the Squadron at Lashio to move to India as well. Initially there as some talk of the Squadron moving to China against orders, but better sense prevailed and the idea was dropped.

The lone ranger from Toungoo

In the middle of all this, the lone war waged by the single aircraft based at Toungoo is worthy of mention .  Flt Lt Haider Raza with Sgt Dildar Khan as his gunner, helped by Sgt Cabinetmaker as the fitter manned this detachment.  Raza was sent to Toungoo in the second week of February to carry out reconnaissance sorties from there. The Lysander was entirely maintained by Raza, his gunner Dildar Khan and Sgt Cabinetmaker. Toungoo was frequently raided by Japanese aircraft and was completely devoid of any fighter protection. Only the effective dispersal of the Lysander saved it from destruction.

Raza regularly carried out reconnaissance sorties over the Siam border and all approaches from the Sittang river. On one occasion, he was able to locate a concentration of Japanese troops that were previously unknown – his suspicions were aroused by the presence of some elephants near a trail. The reporting of this Japanese force proved to be of great value to the Army.

Raza became isolated around this time as all communications were cut from the rest of the Squadron at Lashio. The Japanese army was closing in on Toungoo and the airfield and artillery fire could be heard in a distance. On 27th February, Japanese bombers made an attack on Toungoo. On their way back, the escorting Japanese aircraft strafed the airfield. The airfield’s AA fire’s effectiveness was low and at one point, Sgt Dildar Khan climbed into the gunners position of the lone Lysander and fired at the attacking Japanese aircraft with his rear guns. One of the fighters was damaged as the Japanese fighters withdrew. The Lysander escaped major damage.

Flt-Lt-Syed-Haider-Raza_Small.jpg (11246 bytes) Flt Lt Haider "Victor" Raza - flew several sorties out of Toungoo entirely on his own. His last sortie of the tour was to fly an RAF pilot to Mingaladon to fly out an abandoned Hurricane back to allied lines.

The next day, Raza decided to carry out a reprisal attack. So on 28th February, he took off for a mission against Mae-Haungsang airfield. Approaching from behind and at low level, the lone Lysander took the Japanese by surprise. Several troops on the ground were strafed by Raza – and bombs were dropped on the wireless station destroying it. Though the Lysander received a bullet hole in the tail plane, Raza made it back to Lashio without further ado.

That night, Raza managed to contact Majumdar by phone to request for an additional fitter and rigger for his aircraft. Only then did it dawn on the CO that Raza had been operating all along from Toungoo. He was under the impression that Raza had flown back along with Niranjan Prasad. Majumdar promptly told Raza to evacuate Toungoo and come down to Lashio.

On 1st March, Raza flew out of Toungoo to join up with the main force at Lashio. While he flew out with his gunner, Dildar Khan, he was not able to accommodate the lone technician, Sgt Cabinetmaker. Cabinetmaker made his own way to Lashio by land, in between acting as a train driver for a train full of refugees.

Rest of the Burma Ops

On 5th March, the pilots flew their Lysanders out of Lashio to Magwe. For five days commencing on 7th March, till upto 11th March, the few remaining pilots flew a continuous patrol over the retreating forces. On 7th March, most of the remaining ground crew made their way from Lashio to Magwe and to Akyab for their journey to India. According to Air Vice Marshal DF Stevenson’s Despatch, No.1 Squadron had carried out a total of 41 Bombing sorties against enemy aerodromes and close support to the army.

One final mission was to be flown by the pilots on 7th March. Two Hurricanes remained at Mingaladon and could not be flown out in time. It was decided to fly in two RAF pilots into the airfield so that they could fly out these aircraft. Two Lysanders, flown by Flt Lt Raza and Fg Offr Rajinder Singh, both volunteers for the task, flew in to Rangoon with one pilot each in the back seat.

After landing, the RAF pilots disembarked to fly out the Hurricanes. With the Lysanders still on the ground, two Japanese reconnaissance aircraft passed over the airfield but failed to notice the activity below. There was also a risk of the Japanese troops arriving at any moment, but the Hurricanes and the Lysanders flew out of the deserted airfield in time and came back safely. This particular flight caught the imagination of the Illustrated Weekly of India who promptly carried a one page story on the feat – complete with an artist’s impression of Raza’s Lysander taking off from the Burmese airfield under fire.

-

LAST PLANE FROM RANGOON: The Illustrated weekly of India ran a single page report on the incident - depicting Raza's Lysander taking off from Rangoon.

c March 1942. An Unidentified Air Gunner in the rear seat of a 1 Squadron Lysander trains the twin Browning machine gun mount. -

On 12th March, all the remaining Lysanders, presumed to be around six were handed over to the Burmese Communication Flight. Sqn Ldr Majumdar and the rest of the aircrew were flown back to India in a Flying Fortress on the same day.

Back in Secunderabad

The very same day at Secunderabad, the three aircraft flown by Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad, Plt Offr Ratnagar and Ibrahim, arrived at Begumpet. Advance HQ of No.1 Squadron was set up pending the arrival of the main contingent. Soon the rest of the No.1 Squadron’s force arrived by train and by air. Some of the aircraft left behind by the Squadron with the communication flight were also flown in to Secunderabad to reform the establishment. Secunderabad was already host to another Lysander Squadron of the Indian Air Force, No.2. However No.2 Squadron moved out after a few days as more and more personnel of No.1 started trickling in.

Sqn Ldr Majumdar never got to return to Secunderabad to assume command of the Squadron, he was posted away to Air HQ. Sqn Ldr Subroto Mukerjee returned to command the Squadron for a second time on 13 March 42.

Juhu-1Sqn-03a.jpg (10631 bytes)
Eight of the Ten Lysanders flown by No.1 Squadron to Bombay's Juhu airfield on 5 April 1942 can be seen in this photograph. The Lysanders exhibit varied markings, with the aircraft closest to the Camera marked with Squadron Letters and with the next aircraft completely lacking any of the letters.

On 5 Apr 42, ten Lysanders of the Squadron were flown to Bombay. The Squadron landed at Juhu and all the pilots and gunners received a grand welcome from the Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley, who then inspected the aircraft and was introduced to the aircrew by Niranjan Prasad. Members of the squadron also met with the war gifts committee, whose contributions help paid for the Lysanders of the Squadron in the first place. Later on, all the Lysanders flew in formation over Bombay.

- -
Two photographs show the Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley inspecting the aircraft and being introduced to the aircrew. In the left photograph, the Governor is introduced to Sgt B H Ghyara.  Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad is escorting the Governor in both the photographs.  In the photograph on the right, the aircraft to the right is sporting a ring and bead gunsight with the foresight mounted just behind the propeller on the cowling. All the aircraft are equipped with the Volkes tropical air filter fitted underneath the engine cowling.

After four days of ‘touring’ Bombay, the Squadron returned to Secunderabad on 9th April. The squadron flew in various exercises over the Deccan plateau during the next few weeks.

-LEFT: Tea Party at the Willingdon Sports Club near Juhu. The Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley chats with Plt Offr H S Ratnagar, watched by Prithipal Singh in the rear.

BELOW: The pilots, gunners and other airmen from Bombay in a customary group photograph at the Willingdon's Sports Club at Juhu.

Top Row: All unidentified - fifth from left (possibly BH Ghyara)
Middle Row Seated: U/I, U/I, U/I, F/L N Prasad, Sir Roger Lumley, F/L Prithi Pal Singh, U/I,U/I, F/L H Raza
Bottom Row Seated: U/I, U/I ,P/O P S Gill, P/O YV Malse, U/I, U/I, P/O Sk Ibrahim, P/O HS Ratnagar, U/I, U/I, U/I

Juhu-1Sqn-05.jpg (73513 bytes)

On 20th May , the No.1 Squadron moved to Trichinopoly. The Squadron was now earmarked for conversion to the Hawker Hurricane and the first batch of pilots were sent to Risalpur in late June 42. Four of the Lysanders were handed over to No.1 Squadron at Trichinopoly on 16th June 42. Three more aircraft were handed over to No.4 Squadron at Kohat on the 20th, which marked the last day of the aircraft’s service with No.1 Squadron. Hurricane conversion at Risalpur started just five days later.

In the brief ten months of service, No.1 Squadron flew its Lysanders all across the length and breadth of the country, from the NWFP to the Far East airfields in Burma, to the southern most areas of the Peninsula. The Squadron had earned a name for itself in the Burma operations and its record in the fighting helped set the stage for further expansion of the Indian Air Force.


Lysanders Operated by No.1 Squadron

Serial Remarks
L4767 Went to 2 Sqn IAF
L4797 Collected from Drigh Road 3.11.41, To Burma
L6855  
N1212 Ex-28 Sqn, Acquired.  Later went to 20 Sqn RAF, DBR 13.4.43
N1255 Went to 2 Sqn IAF
P1674  
P1675 Went to 4 Sqn IAF w/o 24.3.43
P1694  
P9120 To Burma - Lost in Japanese Raid at Magwe
P9131 Went to 4 Sqn IAF  SOC 1.8.42
P9176 Went to 2 Sqn IAF, ATU SOC 31.7.44
P9178 SOC 31.7.44
P9179 To Burma, To 301MU DBR 6.8.42
P9180 Went to 2 Sqn IAF, 1 ATU , SOC 31.12.43
R1989 Undershot Ldg at Peshawar P/O N Paljor . W/o
R2007 Went to 2 Sqn IAF, to 151 OTU w/o 16.3.43
R2033  
DG447 SOC 27.7.42

 


No.2 Squadron (Nov 41 - Sept 42) 10 Months

The second squadron to equip with the Lysander was No.2 Squadron at Kohat, then under Sqn Ldr Aspy Engineer. Just after a month and half after No.1 Squadron got the Lysanders, No.2 Squadron received its first Lysander II, which was ferried from Aircraft Depot, Drigh Road. The aircraft arrived at Kohat on 30th November 1941.

Several of the squadron's pilots underwent practice flights on the lone Lysander. On 3rd December, Flt Lt M K Janjua and S S Majithia ferried two Lysanders, followed by two more on the 13th by Janjua and Plt Offr Ratnagar. A couple more were ferried in the subsequent days by Fg Offr Arjan Singh and Plt Offr P Reporter. In mid December, a few of the pilots were sent to No.1 Squadron as it was preparing to move to Burma.

Indian Airmen with a Lysander . Though many publications feature this photo as that belonging to No.1 Squadron, a veteran from those days, Wg Cdr HK Patel mentioned that the photo does not appear to feature any airmen from that Squadron. It is possible that this Lysander was from either No.2 or No.4 Squadrons Lysander-burma_Small.jpg (22505 bytes)

After two months of training sorties in army cooperation, the Squadron moved to Secunderabad with the aircrew flying their aircraft hopping airfield to airfield. On the way, Plt Offr F P Amber had an accident at Bhopal on 8th February, when his aircraft L4740 overturned on landing. The undercarriage had got caught in a concealed drain that collapsed under the weight. Both the pilot and the gunner, AC Ramzan Ali survived with minor injuries. The rest of the Squadron arrived at Secunderabad by rail on 23rd February.

Some of the aircraft were still at Kohat, and participating in Coastal patrols at Drigh Road. On 3rd March, Plt Offr K H Motishaw returned from a patrol at Drigh Road, when one of the bombs on the aircraft (L4748) exploded on landing - killing the air gunner Sgt A Algar (RAF). This was followed by another accident on the 16th, when Plt Offr C M Cariappa taxied Lysander N1209 into a parked Wapiti at Drigh Road. The aircraft was badly damaged but it was repaired by the squadron personnel and was put back into service.

After less than a month at Secunderabad, the squadron moved to Poona on 18th March. A few days later, on 28th March, Flt Lt SS Majithia undershot the runway while landing. Plt Offr D R Reddy, who was occupying the observer position was seriously injured in the crash. The aircraft P9194 was wrecked.

After about two months in Poona, the squadron got orders to move to Arakonam by rail. The move was carried out in the middle of May. The pilots engaged in regular army cooperation training during their stay at Arakonam.

On 15th June, Flt Lt S N Goyal led a detachment to Trichy to pick up four Lysanders left behind by No.1 Squadron on their move to Risalpur for Hurricane conversion. The aircraft that they picked up were P9176, P9180, N1255 and L4767. The first three were veterans of the Burma campaign.

During their stay at Trichy, the pilots had various incidents and misadventures. On 7th July, Plt Offr F P Amber taxied his Lysander L4767 into another aircraft P9176. Both aircraft were damaged but were soon repaired. The next day, Plt Offr Kartar Singh Saund landed at Madras in his Lysander to check up on a few details and was immediately detained on suspicion of being an enemy!.

- Fg Offr A R Pandit , of No.2 Squadron climbing into a Lysander at Trichy in June 1941. The Lysander, marked with the No.1 Squadron's Tiger motif under the windshield was one of the four handed over to No.2 at Trichy. The aircraft retained the Squadron codes as well.

On 9th July, the detachment took part in exercise "CLIVE" at Arakonam. About this time Flt Lt Goyal, the flight commander was approached with an unusual request, as he narrates:

"My stint with No.2 Squadron was an uneventful tenure except for one incident. I remember, there was a camp at Arakonam. We were flying around in Lysanders for photography and so on. There were incidents, when local freedom fighters in an agitation were lying in front of a military train to stop it from going. it was happening quite often and the British commander one day came with a startling request - 'Would you fly low over those b...' - he used a terrible word starting with b - '... and frighten them to hell so that they can get out of the way and the train can move on? If necessary you can fire on the side of the tracks but dont go about hurting anybody' . I was shocked - I thought about it - How can I do it against my own people - I am an Indian, a patriot as they are. How can I try and frighten my own people. So I told the commander - "Would you do it in England if it happened there?". He put his head down, and said "no no, its okay" - That was the end of it!"

In September, orders came for the pilots to move to Risalpur for Hurricane Conversion. No.1 Squadron had finished their conversion and it was now the turn of No.2 Squadron. As the B Flight Commander, Goyal left to Risalpur along with the first party on 7th Sept. The remaining pilots took part in Exercise JOVE which started on 9th September. The Squadron still had nine aircraft on its strength. On 14th September, four aircraft were ferried by the Squadron pilots to 321 Maintenance Unit at Mauripur.

Of the remaining aircraft with the Squadron, L4770 was written off when it crashed at Trichinopoly. The crew P/O Salahuddin and Cpl R N Sahai both injured . On 26th Sept 1942, the two last remaining Lysanders, N1299 and L4815 were handed over to No. 28 Squadron RAF.


Lysanders Operated by No.2 Squadron

Serial Remarks
L4740 Overturned Bhopal P/O FP Amber - to 20RAF
L4748 w/o 3.3.42 Drigh road, bomb fell off on landing P/O KH Motishaw , Sgt A Algar
L4767 From 1 Sqn
L4770 w/o 29.4.42 Cr near Arakonam  P/O Salahuddin
L4780 SOC 31.7.44
N1209 From 1 AACF  - Coll with Wapiti 16.2.42  SOC 31.7.44
N1244 DBR 25.10.42
N1255 From 1 Sqn, To 1 ATU  W/O 14.5.43
N1299 To 28 RAF , 20 RAF  SOC 31.7.44
N1318 To 1 ATU W/O 21.10.42 at Bairagarh
P9176 From 1 Sqn, to ATU, SOC 31.7.44
P9180 From 1 Sqn, to 1 ATU , SOC 31.12.43
P9194 W/O 28.3.42 Cr on Ldg at Poona F/L SS Majithia
R2007 From 1 Sqn, To 151 OTU  W/O 16.3.43

No.4 Squadron - (Feb 42 - June 43) 17 Months

- 250lb bombs are armed and readied in the foreground, while other airmen work on the aircraft in the background. No.4 Squadron operated the Lysander in a full fledged combat role against the tribes in Waziristan. Photo Courtesy : Bruce Robertson Collection via 4+ Publications

The longest operator of the Lysander in the Indian Air Force was No.4 Squadron. About the time No.1 Squadron was involved in the thick of the battles over the retreating battle at Burma , No.4 Squadron, IAF was officially raised at Peshawar on 1 February 1942 as the third operator of the Lysander.

The core of the squadron was made up of the pilots who returned via the middle east after an year long stint with the RAF fighter command in 1941 in the UK. Plt Offrs MM Latif, Edwin Nazirullah and MS Pujji were the first to report from this lot, they were followed in later days by Plt Offrs Ranjan Dutt , Shiv Dev Singh and OP Sanghi. Habib Ullah Khan, a Cranwell trained officer formally took command on the 12 February.

Four days later the CO and the other pilots collected the first four Lysanders from RAF Lahore and completed the squadrons move to Kohat by 23 February 42. Here a number of pilots were deputed from the No.2 and 3 Squadrons. A steady influx of officers came into the squadron, and soon the strength was built up to 19 Officers and 40 airmen by the middle of March. However, the squadron had only four Lysanders on its establishment.

On 20 March 42, tragedy struck the unit. Plt Offr Sankar Chakravarthy was on a practice bombing formation flight along with Flt Lt Manchanda when his Lysander went out of control and spun in. It crashed four miles from Kohat and he was killed. The cause of the accident was never found out.

The unit flew their first bombing mission on 29 March, when Sqn Ldr HU Khan led four aircraft equipped with 112lb bombs to Miranshah to bomb Shirani. There wasn't much operational flying after that. However the second fatal accident occurred on 21st April 42 when the Lysander P9121 flown by Plt Offr Dharamraj Goordeen lost power on take off from Kohat and crashed. Goordeen was killed in the accident.

Operations from Miranshah

Towards end of April, 'A' flight, under Flt Lt P C Manchanda moved to Miranshah. The Sqn HQ and 'B' flight remained at Kohat under Sqn Ldr HU Khan. They continued carrying out their normal flying training, viz. Supply dropping, formation flying, Radio Telephony etc.

'A' flight started operations from Miranshah from 1 May 1942 onwards, with a couple of road protection sorties. The first offensive mission was flown on 3rd, when 20lb bombs were dropped by the Lysanders in support of the Tochi scouts at Datta Khel, Ranjan Dutt using the front spat mounted .303 guns to strafe the ground targets to good effect. Dutt repeated the same on the next day by dropping more bombs and strafing the targets for good measure.

On the evening of the 8th, the post at Datta Khel was shelled by an artillery gun used by the tribals. In response, two Lysanders flown by Ranjan Dutt and MM Latif took off in the night to bomb the gun position. 16 bombs were dropped and both aircraft strafed the ground targets - this was the first time a night attack was mounted by Lysanders. Similar sorties were flown on subsequent days. The pilots of the Squadron were skeptical of the effectiveness of these sorties. Ranjan Dutt wrote about these sorties as follows:

I had been posted to the Lysander squadron in Kohat after my return from the UK flying Hurricanes with No. 32 (RAF) Fighter Squadron. The Hurricane was at the zenith of fighters at that time. Even though the Spitfire caught the public imagination and received all the kudos, it was the Hurricane that was the backbone of Fighter Command achieving a greater number of victories against the Luftwaffe. It was therefore a come down, in a way, for me flying Lysanders. I remember feeling that the I.A.F. was being treated rather poorly by the Brits being palmed off with the Lysander.

I also remember quite vividly flying Lysanders from Miranshah airfield in Waziristan against the Faqir of Ipi's tribal warriors in what came to be known as the Datta Khel Operations. The aircraft had only 2X.303 fixed front guns and 1X.303 flexible gun for the observer at the back. In addition the aircraft carried a few 20 pound bombs in stubs attached to the 2 non retractable front wheels. This fire power was quite inadequate and I doubted if any material damage was ever inflicted on the tribesmen who were well dug in. I also had my doubts if their morale was affected by having to face only a limited number of sorties each day. It will interest you to know that during a temporary lull in the operations I was instructed by Group Headquarters in Peshawar to receive and entertain to tea one of the tribal leaders and his entourage. I was then commanding the detachment in Miranshah and it was a most unusual experience for me. The tribal leader appeared very confident and did not appear to be cowed downed by our air attacks. In fact he invited one of the young fresh looking pilots to his village!!!

The Lysander was not a very nice aircraft to fly. It was heavy on the controls and not particularly maneuverable. I did however some loops and barrel rolls just to test the aircraft further. It was not designed for such treatment and I don't believe any one else tried it. I did not, myself, cherish the experience.

I feel an aircraft like the Hurricane would have been more suitable against the tribesmen. It had 8 fixed front guns and was capable of carrying 2X500 lbs of bombs. The airfield in Miranshah would have been adequate.

On 12 May 1942, while flying operations in support of the Tochi Scouts, the Lysander flown by Plt Offr F D A Moses with Plt Offr R A P Larive was seen crashing in hostile area. The other three aircraft in the formation noticed movement by the frontiersmen near the site and promptly bombed positions near the crash site. A Tochi scouts patrol reached the crash site and found that Plt Offr Moses was killed in the crash, but Larive was alive and was rescued. He was seriously injured and was moved to the Datta Khel hospital by the patrol. It would take nearly a month for him to recover from his injuries and get discharged.

On the following days, several support missions were flown by the Lysanders. Plt Offrs Dutt, Nazirullah, Latif excelled themselves during this period and flying sorties all round.

During this time 250lb bombs were received by the Miranshah detachment and these were dropped by an aircraft on the a gun position on the 5 May. Several sorties were carried out by the Miranshah detachment. Usage of 250lb bombs became a regular feature as well as strafing the ground targets by the pilots and observers. The Lysanders had beaten back a major attack on the 21st by dropping 66 bombs, followed by 54 more two days later. Wherever sorties were canceled after the aircraft took to the air, the bombs were jettisoned. The aircraft were also required to carry out emergency sorties - called upon by the army whenever a post came under attack. On the 21st, a typical action, a Tochi patrol at Miranshah came under attack and requested emergency assistance. A lone aircraft took off and attacked the tribes with 20lb bombs, followed by front gun and rear gun strafing to successfully relieve the pressure off the patrol.

- An RAF NCO helps an Indian airman to load the ammunition belts into the chutes built into the undercarriage leg fairing.  Some detail of the Universal bomb carrier fixed to the stub wing can be seen in this image. Photo Courtesy : Bruce Robertson Collection via 4+ Publications

Meanwhile, at Kohat , a few of the squadron pilots were posted away to No.20 Squadron RAF about this time.

On the 27th, a major action occurred when the 500-600 tribesmen besieged Datta Khel. Aircraft from Nos. 3, 4 and 28 (RAF) Squadrons attacked Raghzai and Narakai. The dangers of the proscription sorties in the frontier were illustrated that day when a Lysander from No.28 Squadron force landed in the battle area and both the crew members were lynched by the frontiersmen, their bodies being recovered the next day by a ground party. On that day No.4 Squadron flew twelve sorties.

On 2 June 1942, Plt Offr B S Dastur and Plt Offr K S Chopra joined the detachment at Miranshah. Chopra initially joined the IAF in October 1941 to become a pilot. After finding difficulty during the Initial training, he was earmarked for the Observer stream, where he picked up Navigation, map reading, Radio Transmission and air gunnery at Risalpur. He recalls

"In those days, almost everyone who passed out of Risalpur would end up in Kohat where the maximum concentration of IAF Units and personnel used to be. I was sent to No.4 Squadron at Kohat as my first point where we had the Lysander - a typical single engined two man aircraft, with pilot manually flying the aircraft, and an observer in the behind, who would do other duties.

We mostly flew sorties in the NWFP (now Pakistan) and routinely we would check out the Pathan tribesmen. Quite regularly we would find a lone tribesman walking on the ground and when we would fly low over him in circles to find out who he was, they would pull out a rifle and shoot at us ! pop - pop - pop.

Ofcourse I, as an Air gunner would have a single machine gun in the back, and I would fire back. Not to hit him , but more to frighten him – after all he is firing with a rifle and I have a machine gun!

Among the pilots, I used to fly regularly with Ranjan Dutt, he was a good flier and he was also quite good to me. he would say, come lets go on a sortie, and I would be ready!. We used to fly on to all the remote outposts in NWFP."

The Datta Khel sorties lasted till August 19. Everyday, aircraft from the Indian and RAF squadrons relentlessly flew sorties to attack the tribals. In the final reckoning, the detachment of No.4 Squadron at Miranshah flew over 170 hours in support missions in this short period. The flight commander Manchanda was commended in the report for devotion to duty, excellent work and for setting a fine example to his men.

During this time, the serviceability of the Lysanders was not good. There was a shortage of tires for the Lysanders and No.4 Squadron was forced to improvise by using Audax tires borrowed from No. 3 Squadron. The RAF Squadron (No.28) suffered even more due to the spares shortage. This prompted the Miranshah Station Commander to note that "the part played by No.28 Squadron in the ops was barely warranted by their presence".

There were other technical problems as well. The Light Series (LS) bomb racks and stub wings used by the Lysanders were liable to fracture at root, and sometimes the 20lb bombs would fall off in a hard landing. It is interesting to note that the official narrative of this action by the Station Commander mentions that Lysander spares were very difficult to procure and that the aircraft was reaching "the end of its tether in India". In spite of the foreboding, No.4 would continue to operate this aircraft for another nine months.

Serious shortcomings were also found in the W/T and R/T practices of the Indian squadrons. These were attributed to the enthusiasm of the aircrew in thinking that "fighter" and "bomber" were their primary roles rather than "Army cooperation" which would have put more focus on radio telegraphy and working with forward parties of the scouts.

Back to Kohat

Flt Lt Shiv Dev Singh briefs three other Indian pilots on a map placed on the elevator stabiliser. The aircraft features 'B' Style finflash with narrow white band. The clear window on top of the painted serial shows the 'ballast' stowage bay. Weights are placed in the bay when the aircraft is flown without any passenger in the rear seat to maintain the Center of Gravity. L4801 was one of the four aircraft sent for demonstration flights to State forces in November 1941 . It is possible the photo is from the same publicity tour.  Photo Courtesy :  Bruce Robertson Collection via 4+ Publications -

The Miranshah flight finally returned to Kohat on 2nd September. Sqn Ldr HU Khan was posted out about this time and he was succeeded by Sqn Ldr MK Janjua on 10 September 1942. On the 15th, 'A' flight moved to Hyderabad (Sind) on ward and watch duties against the Hurs. Fg Offr M S Pujji led four aircraft, joined later by a fifth. 'B' flight remained at Kohat, undertaking liaison flights. However when the requirement came for the Hyderabad detachment to carry out photo recce flights, there was no one with experience to undertake them. Flt Lt SS Majithia was the only one with experience and he had to go to Hyderabad on the 21 Sept to carry out the missions.

Back at Kohat, on 22 September, Plt Offr Katrak , while on a sortie to Quetta, lost his way due to clouds and force landed near Fort Sandeman when he ran out of fuel. The aircraft was damaged in the forced landing. It wasn't until 5 October that this aircraft was repaired on site and flown back by Plt Offr Roshan Suri . After this incident the pilots invested some time in practice forced landings.

In the beginning of November, the Squadron took part in major exercises along with the 7th Indian Infantry Division near Risalpur. This exercise gave the pilots an opportunity to truly experience operations on a 'war footing'. The Lysanders were kept on standby all the time in the role of a bomber squadron, and the pilots were required to demonstrate take off for the missions within an allocated time of 30 minutes from receipt of the call. They were able to achieve this in under 20 minutes.

After the completion of this exercise, the Govt of India decided to send a couple of Indian Squadrons to various Indian states for demonstration flights to the State Forces. Nos. 3 and 4 Squadron were selected for this. On 11th November, four Lysanders of B Flight were detailed for a demonstration flight to Indian state forces, but only three aircraft were available and these were led by Flt Lt Shivdev Singh for the tour. The aircraft, followed by a ground party traveling in motor transport proceeded to give demonstration flights at the Indian States of Kapurthala, Patiala, Nabha and Jind. Supply dropping, formation drill, radar telephonic contact, message picking and dropping, and dive attacks were included in the demonstrations. The demo flights to the state forces were done without incident by 22nd November .

Soon after, on 1 December, four aircraft were detailed to Risalpur to provide Army Cooperation to 7th Infantry Div. Over the subsequent days, the detachment under Flt Lt Shiv Dev Singh gave familiarization and training flights to the ALO trainees. The demonstrations included, bombing, strafing , tactical reconnaissance etc. The aircraft returned to Kohat on completion of these exercises.

On 28 December 1942, Plt Offr Katrak had to forceland his aircraft N1242 after loss of oil pressure. The airframe was salvaged, but it is not known whether it was a write off or salvaged for parts.

As the year 1943 dawned, the Lysander was reaching the end of its contributions in the Indian Air Force Squadrons. No.4 Squadron was the lone operator of the aircraft out of the seven existing IAF units. The squadron had only nine aircraft on its establishment - four aircraft were at Hyderabad (with ten pilots and two observers) and five aircraft were at Kohat (13 pilots and 7 observers). One aircraft was recalled from Hyderabad (sind) on 30 January 1943, after it became unfit for operations. Two other aircraft were withdrawn in March. The last aircraft, P1675 crashed at Khipro, 70 miles NE of Hyderabad (Sind), on 24 March while being flown by Plt Offr Noronha.

Flt Lt Shiv Dev Singh flew down one Lysander to take part in the 10th Anniversary Parade of the Indian Air Force at Ambala on 1 April 1943. The squadron was then involved in photo recce missions through out the month. There weren't any significant operations after that. Towards the end of May 43, Orders came for the Squadron to give up its Lysanders and move to Risalpur, where conversion on to Hurricanes was supposed to start. This was completed by 17 June 1943, signifying the end of Lysander's service with the regular squadrons of the IAF.


Lysanders Operated by No.4 Squadron

Serial Remarks
L4786  
L4794 Cr 12/5/42 Plt Offr FDA Moses and RAP Larive
L4801  
L4816  
N1242 Cr 28/12/42 Plt Offr Katrak
N1269  
N1295  
N1296  
P1675 From 1 Sqn Cr L Peshawar 16 Jan 1942 - Repaired Cr 24/3/43 Plt Offr Noronha
P9121 Lost Power on TO Cr on approach to Kohat 21/4/42 Plt Offr D Goordeen
P9131 From 1 Sqn,
P9177 to 221CF
R2004 Went to DumDumCF
R2006  

Other Units - Service in SEAC, Survivor

- The Bristol Perseus XII  Radial engine is clearly revealed in this photo of a  Lizzie undergoing maintenance somewhere in India

One of the lesser known facts of the IAF’s History was that in addition to the regular numbered Squadrons in the 1-12 range, there were also Squadrons 101 to 106 for a brief period of time in 1942. These Squadrons of course actually the Coastal Defence Flights which had been re-designated as General Reconnaissance Squadrons in early 1942.

Thus 104 (GR) Squadron, IAF refers to the establishment that started its life as No.4 Flight, IAFVR (Coastal Defence). The flight was raised in 1940. It saw combat service during the Burma campaign under Flt Lt Sprawson, and lost most of its aircraft early on in one of the Japanese air raids on Akyab. 

4 Flight was reformed at Calcutta with elements of both Nos 3 Flight and 4 Flight in February 1942. The official communication on this was sent on 17 February 1942 from Air HQ, designating this establishment as No.4 Flight, IAFVR. The aircraft operated three Westland Wapitis out of Dum Dum, under the overall command of Flt Lt D L Small RAF.

After two months of Coastal duties, on 2nd April, the Flight moved to Vizagapatam. Within a couple of days, the Flight was in the thick of operations as the Japanese Fleet sailed into the Bay of Bengal and sent bombing raids on Vizagapatam and Cocanada. The Flight was involved in flying numerous recce sorties – They were the first to detect the Japanese Fleet and also rescued the crew of a merchant ship sunk by the Japanese. However the spate of operations showed their toll on the Wapitis and by the end of April, none of them were in Serviceable condition.

On 30th April 42, Air HQ India Order No. ?1?4/10/Org dated 1.4.42 arrived designating the flight as No.104 (GR) Squadron, Indian Air Force w.e.f 1st April 42. The order also stated that the new Squadron will be equipped with 20 Hudsons. (This is the same order that designated all the other flights as Squadrons). It has been a common mistake in many historical literature, including the Official Indian Armed Forces History of WW2 to refer to 104 GR Squadron as either 104 CDF, IAFVR, or 104 Squadron, Royal Air Force.. Both are incorrect. There was a separate No.104 Squadron RAF in existence, which was based in the Middle east at that time flying the Wellington bomber. 

Pending the arrival of the Hudsons, the Squadron was told to collect two Lysanders from No.28 Squadron which was based at Ranchi. On 3rd May, 42, Fg Offr J G Gill RAF led his party to Ranchi to collect these two aircraft. Anticipating the arrival of the aircraft, more personnel were sent to Visagapatam to form the nucleus of the Squadron. On 8th May 42, the first Lysander, N1224 was flown in by Flt Lt Gill with Plt Offr Jaspal as the Observer. The pilots of the Squadron started their solo flights on this aircraft, with Flt Lt Small being the first to do so on the 9th.

On 20th May 42, Plt Offr Joseph crashed while air testing the second Lysander at Ranchi. The aircraft was written off, with the pilot sustaining serious injuries. From then on, No. 104 Squadron had to make do with the single Lysander on strength. On subsequent days, the rest of the Indian pilots on strength, including Plt Offr Belekar, C Singh, and Debra soloed on the aircraft.

To build up the strength, one of the Wapitis was repaired to flight status and used there on in operations. The sole Lysander ran into trouble on 6th June 42, when returning from a patrol over the sea, Flt Lt Gill, with his observer Plt Offr D A Mehta, lost his way. After failing to locate the airfield even after landfall, Gill elected to forceland in a field before darkness set in. The Lysander sunk in soft ground and nosed over. A land party successfully repaired the aircraft on site, and it was flown back to Vizagapatam the next day. However the aircraft was classified as unserviceable pending the replacement of the propeller. The accident cut short the Lysander’s career with the Squadron. For most of the period which 104 Squadron had existed, the aircraft was always AOG. To augment the reduced size of the Squadron, two civilian Tigermoths which were impressed into service were allocated to for operations. An attempt was made to repair the Lysander towards the end of August, but the spares procured for the repair turned out to have been damaged.

On 9th October 42, No.104 Squadron received orders that it will not work up to its full strength but remain at Flight strength till further notice. The Squadron was still continuing its operations using a lone Wapiti and a Tigermoth. On 11th Nov 42, Air HQ Signal 0.69 arrived giving notice of the disbandment of the Squadron at the end of the month. All personnel will be posted to the OTUs for conversion to either fighters or to dive bombers. On completion of training the personnel will be sent to form the core of No.7 Squadron, IAF. 

By this time the lone Lysander N1224 had been returned to flying status. When disposal orders arrived, the aircraft was flown to 301 Maintenance Unit at Trichinopoly on 20th Nov 42 to be handed over. Flt Lt J G Gill RAF undertaking this last flight.

On 30th Nov 1942, No.104 GR Squadron, IAF was officially disbanded. The very next day, the personnel, would form the core of No.7 Squadron, IAF along with personnel from No.353 Squadron.

Other Units

The Lysanders were on the verge of vanishing in the Indian Subcontinent by the end of 1943. After the Indian Squadrons had phased them out, the two remaining RAF's Lysander units, Nos 20 and 28, had also moved onto the Hurricane by the middle of 1943. No. 28 Squadron being the first to do so in late 1942. No.20 completed its conversion to the Hurricane by May 1943.

Many examples were passed onto other training Units in India. No.151 Operational Training Unit (No.151 OTU) at Risalpur received one Lysander on 30th June 42 for Target Drogue Towing Duties. As No.1 Squadron, IAF began Hurricane conversion at that time, Flt Lt Arjan Singh was at hand to ferry the aircraft in from Lahore. A second Lysander was procured a few day slater and a Target Tug Flight was formed with these two Lysanders at Risalpur under 151 OTU.

Other examples went to the No.1 Air Gunnery School (India) at Bairagarh (Bhopal), and a lone example went to No.22 Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit, which had its flights dispersed around the country. Yet others formed part of the Group Communication flights. No.221 Group in Dum Dum operating a few examples on its roster. However the Lysander numbers dwindled as the war progressed. And by 1944, sighting one, either at a training unit or at a communication flight was a rarity.

The last Lysanders in India were flown by C Flight of No.357 RAF Squadron in a Special Duties role. Seen on the right is one of the ten Lysanders that were used by the unit in late 1945. The last of the Lysanders were taxied into a Swamp near Mingaladon in the end. -

Sometime in late 1944, a requirement for a short field landing and take off aircraft was felt for special duties - i.e. dropping of agents behind enemy lines. The Lysander was employed successfully in this role in occupied France in Europe. It was felt a similar unit would be useful in supporting "Force 136" which was operating behind enemy lines in Burma. Accordingly No.357 Squadron RAF (Special Duties) was chosen for this task. The Squadron then consisted of 10 Liberators and 10 Dakotas. A third flight of 10 Lysanders MkIII(SD) variants was formed in January 1945. These Lysanders were specially equipped with a long range fuel tank underneath the fuselage allowing them to make long flights all the way to Siam. This flight undertook extensive operations from May 1945 to October 1945, flying no less than 1310 hours and 405 operational sorties. Four of their Lysanders were lost over the same period.

With the cessation of hostilities, the Lysanders had one last role to play, dropping Japanese soldiers to far away outposts informing them of the surrender! . On 7th November 45, the C Flight with the remaining Lysanders was reformed as the Burma Communications Squadron. No.357 Squadron itself disbanded on 15th November 1945, thus becoming the last Lysander Unit in the Indian Subcontinent as well as within the Royal Air Force itself.


Lysanders Operated by other Indian Units

S No Unit
N1224 No.104 GR Squadron (formerly 4 CDF)
N1295 From 4 Sqn, 151 Operational Training Unit Risalpur.
N1315 1 (India) Anti Aircraft Cooperation Flight (1 AACF) to 28RAF
P9057 22 Anti Aircraft Cooperation Unit (22AACU)
P9196 1 (India) Air Gunnery School
R2006 From 4 Sqn , 1 (India) Air Gunnery School
DG445 3 (India) Anti Aircraft Cooperation Flight (3 AACF)

The Lone Survivor

Today, there are about two dozen Lysanders world wide. The vast majority of the survivors originated from Canada, and atleast one of the survivors is operated in flying condition by the Shuttleworth trust in the UK

No Lysanders survived in India by Independence. For years there was no representation of this aircraft at the Indian Air Force Museum in Palam. However today, a fine example of this aircraft can be seen on display at Palam. How did this happen? Krishan Sree Kumar explains the sequence of events in his article at www.warbirdsofindia.com,

The sequence of events which led to India’s acquisition of this example began with the inclusion, among the many overseas student officers attending the Imperial Defence College (now the Royal College of Defence Studies) in the late 1950s, of one E M Reynolds of the Royal Canadian Air Force (later re-designated simply the Canadian Forces), and Arjan Singh of the Indian Air Force. These two officers grew to know each other well, and by 1967 were the Chiefs of their respective countries’ air forces.

In 1967 Air Chief Marshal (now MIAF) Arjan Singh and Air Marshal (later re-designated Lieutenant-General) E M Reynolds arranged for a Canadian-restored Westland Lysander to be gifted to India, and an Indian-restored Liberator to Canada. The two air forces had both operated these types, and were fortuitously able to fill gaps in each others’ museum inventories.

The Lysander was delivered to India crated; but the Liberator was ferried to Canada under its own power. A Canadian Forces crew of six men, led by Colonel A J Pudsey, arrived in India in May 1968, to ferry the aircraft to Canada.

Lysander 1589 was originally being restored by No.402 (Auxiliary) Squadron RCAF as a centennial project before it generously donated to the IAF. It was flown in an Hercules aircraft to Palam in September 1967. The aircraft today can be seen at the Indian Air Force Museum. Over the years, its accurate color scheme of Green and Brown Camouflage has been replaced with a more recent green and grey combination. The aircraft still retains the Canadian serial.

For the visitors of the Museum, the aircraft may not look as ‘exciting’ as the Spitfire or the Tempest.  Few of them realize that this was not only the first ‘modern’ aircraft in the IAF at that time, but that it provided the first major baptism of fire for the fledgling air force, and that it gave the IAF its first DFC of the war and the first heroes in the fight against the Axis Forces.

Lysander 1589 after its restoration in Canada, before it was gifted to India Lysander1589.jpg (35293 bytes)
- Lysander 1589 seen in Delhi in the early 70s. The aircraft still carries its original brown green camouflage colors with true RAF roundels and markings. The Cowling is painted white.
Lysander 1589 seen in the late 90s after it acquired the highly inaccurate grey-green camouflage scheme with an incorrect fin flash and incorrectly sized roundels. The aircraft has lost its tailwheel over the years and features a locally manufactured spoked version of the same. -

      A more upto-date version of this article is avaiable as a Kindle e-book on Amazon

The Westland Lysander in Indian Air Force Service (Aircraft of the Indian Air Force Book 1)


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND SOURCES

This article is dedicated to all aircrew and ground personnel who flew the aircraft into combat - over sixty five years ago! The Author wishes to acknowledge the help of the following veterans, fellow historians and  sources.

Lysander Veterans
Air Vice Marshal S N Goyal, Late Air Commodore HS Ratnagar, Air Vice Marshal Ranjan Dutt, Late Air Marshal YV Malse, Air Chief Marshal H S Moolgavkar, Group Captain K S Chopra (Former Observer), Wing Commander H K Patel (Ground Crew - later Pilot ) and Ex-Flt Sgt B H Ghyara (Air Gunner)

Logbooks
Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, Air Marshal A R Pandit

Fellow Historians
John Barrett, Gp Capt A G Bewoor, Sqn Ldr R T S Chhina, Pushpindar Singh Chopra, Deepak Singh, Amit Javadekar, James Kightly, Paul McMillan, Mukund Murty, K S Nair, Mark Ovacik, Suresh Panje, Anandeep Pannu,  Naushad Patel, Polly Singh and Frank Powley, 

Books

Lysander-4Plus.jpg (13746 bytes) - - Lysander-Profile159.jpg (16771 bytes)
4+ Publication - Westland Lysander Mks. I, III / IIIA, III(SD), TT Mks. I, II, III  Mark Ovacik MMP Publications Orange #8103 – Westland Lysander 
James D Kightly & Arthur Juszczak
Warpaint Series # 48 – Westland Lysander 
Alan W Hall
Profile Publications # 159 – Westland Lysander Francis K Mason
RIAF-SEAC-Cover.jpg (29794 bytes) Lysander-PictRAF.jpg (29180 bytes)
Birth of an Air Force – The memoirs of Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh Edited by Air Cmde A L Saigal THE EAGLE STRIKES : The Royal Indian Air Force 1932-1950 
Sqn Ldr R T S Chhina
The Royal Indian Air Force at War : An Account of operations in South East Asia 1939-45
Unknown
Pictorial History of the RAF: Volume One 1918-1939
John W R Taylor
Arco Publishing
Lysander-PilotNotes.jpg (15788 bytes)    
Lysander III and IIIA Aeroplanes- Pilot Notes 
Air Ministry Publications.
   

Other Links
http://www.pilotfriend.com/photo_albums/timeline/ww2/Westland%20Lysander.htm   
http://www.burmastar.org.uk/357specialduties.htm#lysander 
http://www.warbirdsofindia.com/ovb24-2.html 
http://www.warbirds.in/Crashes/crpage.php?qacid=7&qafdb=WW2&datesall=ON (Being Updated)