No.1 Squadron “Tigers” and the Imphal Siege

No.1 Squadron Badge

The Battle for Imphal that raged from March to July 1944 was essentially a siege operation by the Japanese against the Allied forces concentrating in the Imphal valley. The British and Indian forces situated in the valley were surrounded by three Japaense Army divisions, and their stand to repel the Japanese offensive  was bolstered only through the massive supply chain by air maintained by the Commonwealth Air Forces and the United States Air Forces. At the time when the offensive started, the Imphal plain was home to the RAF 221 Group, commanded by Air Vice Marshal S F Vincent, which operated from six Airstrips. Imphal Main (present day Koreingi) was to the north and was the most important.  Palel to the south was the second major airstrip that could operate all year round. Additional landing grounds existed at Wangjing, Sapam, Kangla and Tulihal.

Imphal main was the main landing ground for the Air Supply operations. It was also home to two Hurricane Squadrons which operated in a Tac/Recce role.  No.1 Squadron , Indian Air Force under Sqn Ldr Ajran Singh and No.28 Squadron, Royal Air Force under Sqn Ldr H G F Larsen. Another two Hurricane Squadrons, Nos 34 and 42 operated in the Bomber role from Palel airfield. Sapam airfield had another two RAF units, No 5 Squadron on Hurricanes and No.136 Squadron on Spitfire VIIIs.

Another six Dakota Squadrons and a Wellington Squadron of the RAF operated the transport component flying into the Valley.

As the siege progressed, more RAF squadrons would take part in the battle, including five additional Spitfire Squadrons (81,136,152,607 and 615) and  a Beaufighter unit (No.176 Squadron). 

Facing the force of half a dozen Hurricane Squadrons was a Japanese air component of eight ‘Sentais’ (Squadrons).  These consisted of four Sentais flying the Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars. (Nos 50 64 87 204), One unit each flying the Kawasaki Ki48 Lily, Mitsubishi Ki21 Sally, Nakajima Ki49 Helen and the Mitshubishi Ki46 Dinah.

No.1 Squadron, Indian Air Force

No.1 Squadron, Indian Air Force had only arrived in the Imphal valley on 3rd February 1944. Led by the dashing 25 year old Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Arjan Singh, the unit had previously been spending time in watch and war duties at Kohat Air Field on the North Western Frontier.   Arjan Singh had taken over command on 3rd September 1943. He had been the flight commander of A Flight for at least a year before that.  

Squadron Leader Arjan Singh

A month after his taking over command, RAF Kohat was visited by a delegation of senior RAF Officers – Air Marshal Baldwin, Air Commodore Hunter AOC 223 Group and Gp Capt Proud, the IG, IAF. It was during the visit of Air Marshal Baldwin, that Arjan Singh approached the Station Commander Wing Commander Mukerjee with a request. It has been nearly two years since the Squadron had withdrawn from their first tour of operations in Burma. Arjan made a request that No.1 Squadron be moved to the Burma Front to experience combat once again.  Arjan’s enthusiasm paid off, and the Squadron was ordered to move to the Burma Front.

The Squadron at that time was operating the Hawker Hurricane Mk IIB aircraft. The Hurricane was legendary in its role of the defender in the Battle of Britain.  It was a capable aircraft in the early years of the war, but by 1944 in Burma, it was no match for the more nimble Japanese fighters.  While the initial variants of the Hurricane were armed with eight .303 inch calibre Browning Machine Guns, the Mk IIB operated by No.1 was equipped with twelve Browning Machine guns – six in each wing. It could also carry two 250lb bombs, one under each wing, or an extra set of long range fuel tanks. Both the bombs or the tanks degraded the performance of the aircraft and they would be easy meat if they encountered aerial opposition.

 

February – Arrival at Imphal

The move commenced late January 1944, and was completed by 3rd February 1944. The Indian pilots would not know it then, but they had literally landed in what would later become the hornet’s nest.

The Squadron had a ground party reach Imphal to set up camp ahead of the arrival of the air component. Entire party was available when the first of the fourteen Hurricane IIB fighters arrived at Imphal on 3rd February at 1230 hours. The occasion was however marred by an accident when  Flying Officer Sk Ibrahim overturned on landing. He landed on the katcha strip next to the paved runway and the aircraft tumbled over on its back. Ibrahim was one of the few veterans of the first Burma Tour and was noted for his careful and steady flying. His accident was both embarrassing and disappointing.

The next day the AOC, Air Commodore Proud, gave the Squadron a talk that was both a ‘Strawberry’ and a ‘Raspberry’ . He praised the squadron as a ‘Crack Unit of the IAF’ and on the other hand gave a lecture about its accident rate!

Arrival at Imphal - 4th February 1944

 

Imphal – 4th February 1944. A day after arrival at Imphal.  L to R : Fg Offr B R Rao, Fg Offr K N Kak, Fg Offr T A M Andrade, Sqn Ldr A M Sethna, Fg Offr Rajendra Singh, Flt Lt Raja Ram, Sqn Ldr  Hassan Samsi.  Sethna and Samsi were visiting the squadron along with Air Commodore H J C Proud.

 

4th February 1944 - Dinner Get Together

Imphal – 4th February 1944. Dinner Party with the visiting AOC – Air Commodore Proud.

 L to R : U/I,U/I, Herbert “Doc” Gnanivolu , B R Rao, D’Cruz (guitar), Air Cmde Proud , Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh (Top), Fg Offr Talwar, Sqn ldr Sethna, Fg Offr M N Bulsara (Clarinet),  U/I (rear), U/I British Officer, Fg Offr Rajendra Singh, U/I British Officer, U/I

Dinner Party with the visiting AOC - 4th February 1944.

Imphal – 4th February 1944. Dinner Party with the visiting AOC

Left to Right (Left side of the table) – B R Rao, Herbert Gnanivolu, K N Kak, Rajendra Singh, Talwar, ?,?,?,?
Right to Left (Right side of the table) – Arjan Singh, R Rajaram, TAM Andrade, ?, H Samsi,?,?,Bulsara,?,?
Center : Fg Offr S L Atal

 

No. 1 Squadron lost no time in commencing its allotted work. The first sorties of the squadron, flown by Flt Lt Rajaram and  Fg Offr B R Rao was cut short due to R/T Failure.  The second mission of the day, flown by Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh and Fg Offr A C Prabhakaran  to recce the Mowlaik area was successfully completed.

A series of sector reconnaissance were flown on the 5th. During February the squadron flew more than 60 sorties on offensive, tactical, photographic and sector reconnaissance. The main task was the observation of Japanese movements in Chindwin, Kalewa and Tiddim areas. The upper Chindwin area was marked for special observation. Sometimes the pilots went as far east as the Myitkyina-Mandalay railway. On these sorties, they discovered heavy traffic on Japanese lines of communication. Which was a warning of things to come .

By the end of February  141 Operational Sorties were flown. 


 

March

Before the Japanese offensive against Imphal started on 8 March, the aerial operations were directed towards the lines of communication near the Chindwin. No.1 Squadron did recce sorties to bring back information on state of bridges, serviceability of roads, usage of these roads etc along with any tell-tale signs of supply caravans, including elephants and cattle.  With hindsight, this information should have pointed out the intentions of the Japanese plans. But at that time it was thought that the offensive was still months away.

The First loss : On 8 March, the squadron suffered its first casualty.  

A six Hurricane sweep by Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh., with Hafeez, Murcott, Kaisrani, Kapur and Roy took off at 10.45 hours. Somewhere along the sortie, Kaisrani’s Hurricane (BG739)  dropped out of sight. It was suspected he went down due to a glycol leak. He was never found. Muhammad Nawas Kaisrani (1815/IND), hailed from Dera Ghazi Khan. He is commemorated on the Singapore CWGC Memorial. . This was the only loss during the first two months of the squadron's operations. No Japanese aircraft was encountered during this period.

This did not deter the squadron. It kept up the tempo of flying more than a dozen sorties every day .

From 9 March reconnaissance over the areas through which the Japanese were advancing was the principal task. The Japanese were then trying to cut off the 17th Indian Division by establishing road blocks on the Tiddim road along which it was retreating to Imphal.   No. 1 Squadron's task was to locate the position of the retreating troopsand of mechanical transport from day to day, drop mail near the divisional headquarters at milestone 126 and keep an eye on the tracks leading from the Tiddim road for signs of Japanese movement.

Special attention was paid to the Japanese advance to the north east of Imphal, where two divisions were taking part.  The fighting was very confused and positions of allied positions were not very clear.  Effort was placed towards identifying the pace of the Japanese advance.

On 13 March, when Imphal, Kohima and Dimapur were in peril from the Japanese assault, Mountbatten and General Slim had a crucial meeting with Air Marshal Baldwin who commanded Third Tactical Air Force. In view of the crisis in Imphal, Baldwin and Slim supported Mountbatten who, far exceeding his authority, transferred 30 Dakotas from The Hump forces, in order to fly 5th Indian Division from the Arakan to bring reinforcement to the defences of Imphal.

The Imphal valley saw the first air offensives by the Japanese air forces in mid-March. On  March 16th, Tulihal airfield was attacked but a Beaufighter of 176 squadron shot down one of the raiders – a Mitsubishi Sally bomber.

On 17 March, 100 loaded mules and some troops were seen on the road to Minthami Chaung. The aircraft resisted the temptation of mounting an imme­diate attack. They sent a report which brought bombers to the target.

More pilots joined the Squadron in March. Flying Officer A R Pandit was one such pilot who had been left behind at Kohat. He was able to catch up with them in Imphal.  His tour did not start well. On his very first sortie on  March 21st , Pandit had a tyre burst on take off in Hurricane HM139.  He belly landed at Tulihal with his undercarriage retracted.

On March 24th, Six Hurricanes from the squadron strafed Japanese gun positions east of Sangshak., about eight miles south-west of Ukhrul. This was the same area that the Indian Para Brigade took part in trying to hold the Japanese. The day was also significant in WW2 History – This was the day that the B-25 carrying Brigadier Orde Wingate, the Commander of the Chindits, took off from Imphal and soon after crashed in bad weather west of the valley.

The 10 Aircraft Raid: 

29th March was a significant day in the operations of the squadron. On the ground, the Imphal-Dimapur road was cut at milestone 107.   Several offensive sorties were flown by the squadron throughout the day.

One such sortie was by Flt Lt Raza and Flying Officer F P Amber in the Fort Krary area. They found a convoy and strafed it, setting several vehicles on fire. Japanese troops scattered in all directions. Both pilots exhausted their ammunition and came back to base.  Another mission was flown by Murcott and Bulsara at 1620 Hours.  They strafed several enemy positions before returning.

The squadron thought that the day was over, but that turned out to be premature. At 1800 hours, an urgent call for close air support came to Imphal main. All available Hurricanes were ordered to take off and head for the area North of Imphal to attack masses of Japanese troops.  This was in the vicinity of Pukhao village, around 22 miles west of Shangshak. 

All available pilots of four Hurricane squadrons, 28, 34, 42 and No.1 IAF ran to their aircraft and took off. A total of 33 Hurricanes soon headed for the target. Ten of these were from No.1 Squadron – led by Arjan Singh, consisting of R Rajaram, Hafeez, B R Rao, T A M Andrade, N R C Murcott, Prabhakar, H Raza, F P Amber and Bulsara.  Navigating with maps in poor light, the Hurricanes attacked the Japanese troops at the reported villages.  There was return fire by small arms from the troops on the ground from all sides. All the ten Hurricanes landed back safely in the dark skies by 18.30 hours. 12760 rounds of .303 ammunition were expended by the ten Hurricanes. The attack was deemed succesful. Captured Japanese documents later revealed that the combined strike on Pukhao had cost the Japanese 14 officers and 217 men in killed and wounded.

The squadron flew 366 sorties totalling about 530 hour in March.

Haider Raza's B Flight

 

B Flight – L to R : F P Amber , K N Kak, M M A Cheema, H Raza (Flt Cdr), Rajendra Singh, AM Kapur, U/I, M N Bulsara

Flying Officer F P Amber

Left to Right: Unidentified, Flt Lt Raza (Board Game), Unidentified Sgt, Fg Offr M M A Cheema, Fg Offr Rajendra Singh, Fg Offr AM Kapur, Unidentified, Fg Offr F P Amber (Rear), Fg Offr M N Bulsara (Opening Package)

Crew Room at Imphal – Circa 1944. 'B' Flight

B Flight Crew Room at Imphal – Circa 1944.

Left to Right: Unidentified, Flt Lt Raza (Board Game), Unidentified Sgt, Fg Offr M M A Cheema, Fg Offr Rajendra Singh, Fg Offr AM Kapur, Unidentified, Fg Offr F P Amber (Rear), Fg Offr M N Bulsara (Opening Package)

 

April

In April the Allied troops were fighting at Imphal with their back to the wall. The Japanese came so close that the Imphal airfield came within the range of Japanese artillery fire for a brief period. Air operations were carried out to the maximum extent and No. 1 Squadron flew 412 sorties totalling 485 hours in April. Reconnaissance of the Japanese lines of communication was the main task. Tiddim road, Palel-Tamu-Sittaung road, Imphal-Kohima road and the Ukhrul area were constantly visited. In the course of their work the squadron pilots brought information regarding the condition of the roads and bridges in these areas, the movement and position of Indian and Japanese troops, besides carrying out search for evidence of Japanese infiltration. A large number of strafing attacks were made against bashas, mechanical transports, reported gun positions and troops.

Another Pilot MIA:

On 4 April two Hurricanes, flown by Fg Offr N R C Murcott and Fg Offr M N Bulsara were out on a tactical reconnaissance of the Tamu road. They spotted a Japanese tank near Minthami and immediately attacked it. During the attack Bulsara noticed a flash from the target. While taking evasive action his aircraft flew close to a tree and its wingtip was damaged.  Bulsara radioed that he was turning for base and Murcott acknowledged the call. Bulsara returned to force-land at Palel airfield. Murcott continued to attack but that was the last anyone heard about him.  The reason of his failure to return could not be ascertained but the flash from the target seems to suggest that the tank might have been a trap for decoying unwary aircraft. Noel Ruxton Clarke Murcott (1717/IND) was just 22 years old, hailing from Calcutta. He has no known resting place and is commemorated on the Singapore Memorial.

4th April was also notable for the fact that the Imphal main airfield was shelled for the first time. The pilots of No.1 Squadron flew their Hurricanes out to Tulihal airfield.

The Squadron was at the receiving end on the 15th of April, when a force of 9 Japanese bombers, escorted by about 40 fighters attacked the Imphal plane.  Two Hurricanes of the Squadron were destroyed on the ground, and two airmen wounded.  Operations continued unabated. But another loss was suffered on 27th April. Fg Offr Rajendra Singh and  Plt Offr Augustine Roy (IND/2859) went on TaC/R mission of Lessami area.  Roy failed to return as he went in too low shooting up a target at Ukhrul.

For the month of April, No.1 Squadron flew 412 Sorties totalling 485 Hours. Two pilots were lost – both missing believed killed.   


 

May

In May, particularly towards the end of the month, weather was bad. Monsoon had broken earlier and with greater violence than usual, cutting down the hours of flying and making many sorties abortive. Yet No. 1 Squadron flew a total of 372 sorties of which 32 were by night. This was the first time the squadron took part in night operations. The hours flown during May totalled 493. The average sortie duration was increased by roughly 15 minutes as the Hurricanes were now fitted with Long Range tanks. These large tanks with which the aircraft had to be fitted for undertaking long-range tasks reduced their speed rendering them easy targets for opposing fighters. Flying was therefore limited to within 100 miles radius of Imphal.

A Flight Pilots - Rajaram, Hafeez, Prabhakaran

Prabhakaran, Rajaram and Hafeez at Imphal in front of a Hurricane IIB with long range tanks.  Prabhakaran and Hafeez were lost during a single sortie in late July when they went into clouds and crashed after flying into terrain.

Hurricane IIB ready for a sortie

 

 

A Hurricane IIB of the Squadron fitted with long range fuel tanks that were fitted in May 1944

In May,  No. 1 Squadron's aircraft ranged over almost the entire battlefield. In the area north-east of Imphal, the Japanese 15th Division was being gradually pushed back and No. 1 Squadron flew many sorties to locate Allied troops and notice signs of activity on the part of the Japanese. In the Palel area, the 17th Indian Division was locked in combat with the Japanese 33rd Division in the vicinity of a village south-west of Imphal. The fighting was particularly fierce around the Japanese positions south of Bishenpur. No. 1 Squadron's pilots maintained a continuous patrol. Besides the usual tactical reconnaissance of the battle area, the squadron performed other useful tasks.

8th May – Andrade is lost

On 8th May, Flying Officer T A M Andrade was shot down.  His was the penultimate mission of the day – which saw 17 sorties being flown by the squadron.  Andrade and  B R Rao took off at 4pm for a long recce sortie. Somewhere over Homalin, his Hurricane was seen going down in flames – apparently hit by ground fire. 

Six days later, 14th May, Squadron Leader Arjan Singh, flying on a Tac/R mission with Fg Offr Prabhakaran noticed that the Japanese had strung a steel cable across a river at around 50-60 feet height, expecting low flying aircraft to fly into it and crash. They had reported its presence to HQ to warn other pilots.

The DFC :  

On 18th May, the routine schedule of operations was interrupted. No sorties were planned, no aircraft were prepared, infact the orderly room had stopped working and were having tea, as if there was no war going on.  As the day proceeded more and more sections stopped working  and it became clear that the unit was taking the day off – to celebrate. A message from the AOC, Air Marshal Sir John Baldwin  arrived. It stated:

“For the first time in India’s history, Squadrons of fighters and Dive bombers manned by Indian pilots have operated in strength against the enemy. As part fo the third tactical air force, Iwhich I am proud to command, the air and ground crews of the IAF have made a significant contribution to our success. You and your pilots have won honour and glory. Squadron Leader Mehar Singh, who commands No.6 squadron was awarded the DSO for his brilliant exploits, against the Japanese. He is the first of your fellow countrymen in the Indian Air Force to win this decoration.

You yourself have been awarded the Distinguished Fflying Cross and one Indian Air Force Squadron which you command and which participated in distinction in the Burma campaign of 1942, is back again on operations. “

The celebration party that night went into the wee hours of the morning. Copious amounts of liquor was consumed, and many a pilot was rendered grounded by the after effects the next day!

The DFC Celebrations

Reading the DFC announcement - 18th May 1944 The Education Officer 'Tullu' Talwar reads the Telegram from Air Marshal Baldwin confirming the award of DFC to Arjan Singh. L to R: BR Rao, 'Doc' Herbert, Arjan Singh, AC Prabhakaran, A M Kapur (Behind), P N Sanyal (Center), Unidentified Officer (Behind), P S  Gupta, Unidentified Officer (Behind) , Talwar (Reading Telegram), AR Pandit and Hafeez. 

Celebrating the CO's DFC - 18th May 1944

 

Party celebrating the announcement of Arjan Singh’s DFC.  
L to R: U/I, Prabhakaran, Arjan Singh, Talwar, Doc Gnanavolu, U/I, U/I, U/I,M M A Cheema (White Shirt), U/I, Raza (Dark Shirt), U/I, M N Bulsara (White Shirt),U/I, U/I, P N Sanyal (Seated), Rajaram (Seated), U/I,, U/I

Two days after these photos were taken, Sanyal would be badly injured in an accident on the ground

Potsangharn village near Bishenpur was occupied by the Allies on the 19th of May, reports of continued fighting in the neighbourhood on the succeeding days showed that the Japanese were clinging desperately to their positions. Bombers of the Strategic Air Force dropped about 200 tons of bombs between the 5th and the 10th and one of the tasks of No. 1 Squadron was to assess the damage done by the bombs. Addtionally the pilots dropped leaflets in various areas on several occasions. 

On 20th May, Fg Offr P N Sanyal was badly injured when an RAF Spitfire struck the Hurricane in which he was seated. The Hurricane HW806 was written off.  

The First Air Combat:

On 21st May two aircraft of the squadron’s ‘B’ Flight, flown by Pilot Officer N S Masih, and Fg Offr M M A Cheema, encountered Japanese fighters for the first time.  

The pair had taken off at 6:15am to patrol the area near Bishenpur, where the Allied troops have established a presence a few days earlier. They returned due to radio problems and subsequently took off again at 6:40am. As luck would have it, they ran into a massive Japanese formation of bombers escorted by Oscar fighters.  

An army patrol on the ground saw a formation of ten Oscar fighters, out of which six of them swooped down on Masih and Cheema. The Hurricanes were fitted with long-range tanks and were reconnoitring the Bishenpur area at 1,500 feet when they were attacked by the six Japanese Oscars from above. The slow moving Hurricanes had little chance of escape. Masih was shot down first. One of his fuel tanks got hit and caught fire. Cheema had a miraculous escape. His aircraft’s main plane had been hit and the long-range petrol tank had caught fire. He jettisoned the petrol tank and broke into the attackers. He then hit the deck and  though chased up to Tulilial, managed to escape. 

Hearing about the loss, ‘B’ Flight commander, Haider Raza and Fg Offr A M Kapur made another sortie to Bishenpur an hour later.  They spotted Masih’s Hurricane – crashed and still burning on the ground. There was no sign of the Japanese. The wreckage of Masih’s Hurricane was later located on the ground by two RAF Officers sent from Imphal to investigate. The wreck was about 3 miles from where spot where the army positions were witness to the air battles.  Masih’s fighter was just one of the ten Hurricanes lost in that month by the Allied Forces.

Cheema's close escape

 

Flying Officer M M A Cheema, who evaded six Japanese fighters over Bishenpur, narrates his escape to Squadron Leader Arjan Singh, while Flight Lieutenant Raza looks on.

Bullet Holes in the Wing

 

 

 

Cheema points out the bullet holes in the Port wing of his Hurricane after his escape from the Japanese fighters.

London Gazette

On 30th May, the London Gazette officially published the award of the DFC to Squadron Leader Arjan Singh.

 

 

 


June

June saw the squadron starting to re-equip with the Hurricane MkIIc fighter. The IIc variant featured four 20mm Oerlikon cannons in the wings that gave the Hurricane a much stronger punch compared to the puny .303 calibre bullets of the IIb.   The conversion had to be carried out without any interruption in the regular pace of operations.  The Ground crew had to transition from maintaining and handling .303 inch calibre ammunition and machine guns for the IIB to the 20mm cannon shells for the Oerlikons for the IIC.

In addition to the conversion, The monsoon created many difficulties for the pilot. The runways were often waterlogged, storms made flying hazardous, clouds and rains hampered visibility and returning pilots often found it difficult to locate their strips.

Reconnaissance work was however to continue in spite of these handicaps and so there was no rest for No. 1 Squadron. When No. 28 R.A.F. Squadron-the only other fighter reconnaissance squadron-pulled out in the course of June, No. 1 squadron had to assume the sole responsibility for reconnaissance work in this area.

The squadron flew 327 sorties of which 232 were tactical, 70 photographic, 1 special task, 14 artillery, 8 contact and 2 weather reconnaissances.

During the early part of June the squadron's effort was mainly over the Imphal-Kohima road where a battle was raging for clearing the road and establishing communication between Kohima and Imphal. The 5th Indian Division fought its way up the Kohima road from Imphal while the 2nd Division marched down the road from Kohima. Obstacles in their way were many but they were surmounted and the two divisions effected a junction on the morning of 22 June.

The usual type of work including observation of Japanese movements, progress of own troops and occasional strafing was carried out by the squadron. The Ukhrul area also received much attention, while the Palel and Tiddim fronts were less frequently visited. No. 1 Squadron had also to assess the damage inflicted by the bombers which was necessary for future tactical target planning.

With the link up on the Imphal Kohima road, the siege of Imphal was finally broken and the Japanese 15th and 31st Divisions began to disintegrate. While still offering resistance they were definitely on the retreat. But in the Palel area and the area south of Imphal,Japanese 33rd Division hung on grimly to its positions and was the last to admit failure.

July

On 2 July the Japanese discontinued the Imphal operations and devoted their attention to forming a defensive line to check the advance of the Allied forces. But the Japanese still had some last minute cards up their sleeves. On the night of 3rd July,  a Japanese ground force struck Palel airfield. Palel was on a box defensive position. 2 Harvards, 2 Hurricanes and  3 RAF Spitfires were destroyed by the force. The setback was small and it did nothing to diminish the rest of the RAF’s effort. The part played by the RAF in the successful defence of Imphal cannot be overstatedThe RAF delivered 14,000,000 pounds of rations, 1,000,000 gallons of petrol, 43,000,000 cigarettes and 1,200 bags of mail. On the return journey to their bases, RAF aircraft took out 13,000 wounded and 43,000 non-combatants. They also flew in 12,000 reinforcements while the siege was in progress..

In the first week of July, the squadron had a visit from a very important visitor. The Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in India and Burma, Louis Mountbatten  visited the squadron along with Air Marshal Baldwin. He personally pinned the DFC on Arjan Singh’s lapel. It was a proud moment for the Squadron to witness its CO being decorated on the very battlefield that he earned the award.

Mountbatten awards the DFC to Arjan

Lord Mountbatten pinned the DFC award on Squadron Leader Arjan Singh. Air Marshal Baldwin can also be seen in the photograph standing to the right. This visit happened in early July 1944

 

DFC Party with Air Cmde SF Vincent, AOC 221 Group

The Tigers celebrate their CO's DFC. Air Cmde SF Vincent, AOC 221 Group is lying on the ground along with Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh.

L to R Standing (Back Row) Amber (with Bowl), Hafeez (with bottle) , AC Prabhakaran (Standing extreme right).
L to R Standing (Center Row) ??, Flt Lt Raza, Fg Offr M M A Cheema
L to R Sitting on bench: Sanyal (holding Cigarrette), Sarkar, BR Rao, Unidentified British Officer, Rajaram, Talwar and A M Kapur
L to R Sitting on ground second row : Doc Herbert (under Rao) , AR Pandit (under Rajaram), Rajendra Singh (behind Arjan Singh).

 

On July 18th, the Japanese High Command agreed that a withdrawal was required to the River Chindwin on the Burma side of the Burma/Indian border. The Japanese had sustained 53,000 casualties while the British had lost 17,000 men killed and wounded.  By the end of the battle, the RAF had lost 119 aircraft between March and June. They had claimed 33 Japanese fighters and bombers destroyed as confirmed and another 22 as probables . And in the middle of it all, one lone Indian Squadron, led by a legendary officer made sure that the Indian Air Force held its head high and earned the right to count themselves among the defenders of Imphal. They were one squadron that remained in the Imphal valley through the thick of it all. 

PostScript:

No.1 Squadron, Indian Air Force would continue its tour on the Burma operations for another nine months. Taking part in the Allied drive against the Japanese.  Many of the Imphal veterans who distinguished themselves, like Rajendra Singh, Prabhakaran, Hafeez , P S Gupta and Khemendra Kak would make the ultimate sacrifice in subsequent days and months.  By the time the Squadron earned its turn for rest, it had earned nine DFCs and 1 MBE, the most that any of the nine Squadrons in the IAF had achieved till then.

Rajendra Singh

Flying Officer Rajendra Singh (1642/IND) was commissioned in November 1940 in the IAF. He was one of the only two pilots to fly two tours of operations with No.1 Squadron in Burma. He died in a routine flight from Silchar to Imphal in September 1944. The other pilot with two tours with No.1 Squadron was Flt Lt Haider Raza.

Squadron Leader Arjan Singh, ready for a sortie.

Arjan Singh - Ready in Cockpit

Assessing the airfield conditions

Fg Offr Hafeez and Sarkar join Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh in checking out the wet airfield conditions at Imphal in 1944. The Hurricane is a Mark IIB – distinguished from its clean wings (Without cannon barrels protruding out) and the long range tanks fitted..

Flying Officer B R Rao with ground crew who are working on the Camera equipment. Ground crew and Pilot

 


 

Appendix A: Pilots with No.1 Squadron during the Imphal Battle 

Moved in February to Imphal

1.Squadron Leader Arjan Singh (CO)

2.Flight Lieutenant Haider Raza (Flt Cdr)

3.Flight Lieutenant R Raja Ram (Flt Cdr)

4.Flying Officer B Krishna

5.Flying Officer A M Kapur

6.Flying Officer Rajendra Singh (KIA Sept 44)

7.Flying Officer K N Kak(KFA 1945)

8.Flying Officer N R C Murcott (KIA)

9.Flying Officer B R Rao

10.Flying Officer A C Prabhakaran (KIA July 44)

11.Flying Officer Abdul Hafeez (KIA  July 44)

12.Flying Officer F P Amber

13.Flying Officer P N Sanyal

14.Flying Officer N S Masih (KIA)

15.Flying Officer S L Atal

16.Pilot Officer M N Kaisrani (KIA)

17.Pilot Officer Augustine Roy (KIA)

18.Pilot Officer M N Bulsara

Joined in March

19.Flying Officer A R Pandit

20.Flying Officer T A M Andrade (KIA)

21.Flying Officer M M A Cheema

Joined in April

22.Flying Officer M D Suri (KFA 1947)

Joined in May

23.Flying Officer P S Gupta (KFA 1945)

24.Flying Officer Sarkar

Joined in June

25.Flying Officer D F Eduljee (KIA)

 

1-Squadron-Portraits

 

 

 

Appendix B: Flying Effort by No.1 Squadron during the Siege of Imphal

Month

Sorties

Hours

February

141

 

March

366

530

April

412

485

May

372

493

June

327

 

July

310

 
 

1928

 

 

 

Appendix C:  Aircraft and Pilot Losses of No.1 Squadron in the air at Imphal

 

 
DATEACRANKNAMESERVSNOREMARKS
03-Feb-44 Hurricane II B Fg Offr S K Ibrahim 1608 HV415?  He landed on the katcha strip next to the paved runway and the aircraft tumbled over on its back
08-Mar-44 Hurricane II B Fg Offr Mohammed Nawaz Kasrani* 1815 BG739 Caught fire due to possible Glycol Leak Cr Killing
04-Apr-44 Hurricane II B Fg Offr Noel Ruxton Clarke Murcott* 1717 Shot down attacking GroundTargets at Tamu Road
27-Apr-44 Hurricane II B Plt Offr Augustine Roy* 2389 TaC/R mission of Lessami area. Roy failed to return as he went in too low shooting up a target at Ukhrul.
05-May-44 Hurricane II B BN208 Engine cut on take off from Imphal
08-May-44 Hurricane II B Fg Offr Theodore Alex Manuel Andrade* 1703 Shot down in flames Arakan front
20-May-44 Hurricane II B Fg Offr P N Sanyal 1682 HW806 badly injured when an RAF Spitfire struck the Hurricane in which he was seated. Imphal
21-May-44 Hurricane II B Fg Offr N S Masih* 2453 SD by Oscars over Bishenpur Area
29-Jul-44 Hurricane II C Fg Offr Antonil Chuyil Prabhakaran* 2342 LD651 FTR from Tamu/Sittaung Area. Last seen cloud flying
29-Jul-44 Hurricane II C Fg Offr Abdul Hafeez* 1817 LD897 FTR from Tamu/Sittaung Area. Last seen cloud flying



 

Sources:
Gupta, SN, History of the Indian Air Force 1933-45 (Official History of the Indian Armed Forces)
Franks, Norman, Air Battle for Imphal
Shores, Chris, Air War for Burma , Grub Street
Chhina, RTS, The Eagle Strikes, CAFHR
Roopinder Singh, Arjan Singh , Rupa Series
Ranbir Singh, Marshal Arjan Singh

Operational Record Book - No.1 Squadron

Photographs Courtesy: Indian Air Force, Center for Armed Forces Historical Research, Veteran families

Logbooks: Marshal Arjan Singh, Air Marshal  A R Pandit, Air Vice Marshal Haider Raza

This article was first published in an abridged format for the souvenir brought out by the WW2 Imphal society to commemorate 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Imphal.