Air Force Reminiscinces
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- Written by Air Vice Marshal S N Goyal
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AVM S N Goyal 1560 GD(P) was the seventeenth Indian Officer to be trained in Cranwell. After serving with No.1 Squadron in his early years, he was the tenth in seniority among the IAF Officers at the outbreak of the war. He commanded No.1 Squadron briefly in 1943. AVM Goyal is a recipient of the MBE.
Among the less known dates about the Indian Air Force, now a formidable air power is June 1926, when Skeen Committee with public men headed by Motilal Nehru, was appointed to see into "the possibilities of Indianising the armed services"
It was in 1932 that the IAF act was passed. On 1st April 1933 the First flight of the Indian Air Force was formed at Karachi with four Wapiti aircraft and a small family of five pilots and 22 airmen then called Hawai Sepoys. The expansion of the Indian Air Force during 1934-1938 was a painfully slow process and for a number of years only a couple of officers were selected by the Federal Public Service Commission about every two years to proceed to England for flying training before joining the British India's Air Force
Subroto Mukherji and Aspy Engineer were the earliest pioneers who lived to become Chiefs of the IAF successively. Zaidi Awan who was Subroto's timer, opted for Pakistan. TitchNanda and Panda Nanda were the pioneer equippers both dying early in age and rank
Aside of A Singh, B Sirigh, Guptas, Sircar and Daljit of whom few are left to know, the list of pre-war graduates included Jumbo Majumdar, Narendra, Habibullah, RDH Singh, Mehar Singh and lastly the author, then called Goli Ram
The prestigious Groves Memorial Flying Trophy was competed for at Cranwell by Engineer, Mehar Singh and the author while the operational honours during the Second World War went to Jumbo and the last of the Cranwellians; Arjan Singh. Prithi (Pretti ) Pal Singh, the latter's comrade, was the unlucky thirteenth Cranwellian alive for a short while after returning to India
Under the conditions - then existing, aside of the A rmy cooperation roles, air punitive action against the North-west frontier rebel - tribes, was almost a routine job for India's small armada of the air as a part of the their hockey match as the British regiments and the scouts called their training exercises
In 1938 two more flights were raised and the three flights formed No I Squadron of the IAF. The next important step in the development of the IAF came in 1939 when plans had to be drawn up for rapid expansion to meet the impending emergency. "The only Squadron of India's little Air Force entered the war with a meagre strength of a fair dozen officers and less than two gross airmen. Aircraft and spares allotted to Indians were few and sparse. lAF's pilots were hereafter trained in India at Risalpur, Lahore, Begumpet and Jodhpur
By the year 1942-43, the lAF's strength had risen to seven squadrons which included two squadrons of Vengeance dive-bombers and three of Hurricane Fighter Bombers, all of which brought high credit to British India in the Second World War. And when the war ended in 1945, the IAF had nine squadrons with an additional transport squadron in the offing. A large number of training units had been set up to meet the ongoing demands of the war
The IAF had fought side by side with some of the best equipped and trained crew of England and America but this small Air Force had certain inherent limitations which rendered the force almost completely unbalanced with the departure of the Allied Air Forces from this country. In the building up of the IAF during war time, no provision was made for self sustaining transport and bomber wings. The maintenance organisation and industrial backing were most inadequate. These, amongst others, were the problems that faced the IAF of free India
With the partition of the country, the strength of the Air Force was reduced to seven Fighter and one Transport Squadrons. An important step in the history of the Indian Air Force was that it had to fly on its own wings, however clipped. It became an independent Force ready to budget and plan its development in good cooperation with the other two services and the civil sector. It had earned a world-wide reputation lor operational calibre
That was the RIAF, the official nomenclature was throughout the war. On the inauguration of the Republic in 1950, it was re-designated IAF. There were glaring deficiencies which had to be met in priority in spiteof the financial stringency imposed by longplanned national development schemes. Additional Bomber and Fighter units soon became a reality to establish the front line capabilities. It was realised by the state as well as the other services that to achieve operational balance and stability, IAF had to be made first-rate in alI its elements. Then only it deserved the nomenclature of an air power, the vital limb in the overall strategy of the country
Today, the IAF has that strength and stability which renders it capable of standing upto any threat of aggression, while at the same time carrying out training roles, humanitarian tasks and the relief and emergency requirements of peace
The Tigers Karun Krishna 'Jumbo' Mazurndar was a charismatic personality with an obvious punch in his fists. As a young patriot in Darjeeling, he was an ardent follower of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, the motivator of tiger symbolism in the youth of the land: hence the name and the motif for the premier squadron. Jumbo snorted against foreign rule and gave no occasion for any comment from the British seniors. As it were, that was the inherent spirit of the IAF with Daijit, Jumbo, Mehar Singh, Goyal and the later entrant Surjit Majithia displaying it in their own incidental ways. In the first bout of Burma operations, the Tiger Squadron got its name printed in gold letters with Jumbo's daring raids and innovative tactics using the old Lysander under Wavell's overall command against the Japanese forces. Those were the roots of the little air armada when none could imagine the heights to which the next general of aircrew would be soaring in the air and in rank. They are the gems among men, with women now joining for an equal share in the mighty Air Power
To continue with the Tiger, after Jumbo the Number One Command went to the next senior, Henry Runganadhan who unfortunately was lost in an air accident en-route and I took over. That was 2 October 1942 and the base Trichinopoly. Thereafter ensued a series of air and logistic training exercises across the southern and eastern India to prepare the squadron for War-operational readiness with more modern aircraft and equipment for the very first time
The Tigers moved to Bhopal for air firing series, to Charra in Bihar for a taste of the eastern sector and thence on to Allahabad depot for the much awaited re-equipment to Hawker Hurricane aircraft system. Pilots' pride knew no bounds as they soared faster than ever before on to Risalpur for the tactical series of exercises before anchoring at the pre-Burma base, Kohat. Here the Squadron Commander put the newly modernised unit and along with it the station echelons into the operational rhythm. The Tigers had to be prepared for the Far Eastern front. The intensive programming included the all-night operational simulations for the first time, a great experience for many a crew, and a boon for the next CO, Arjan, who was to take the squadron and the Tiger family, thus prepared, for the honours that were waiting for them in the Burma sector
The famous incident of the anti-Indian behaviour of the British CO of Kohat Wing in September 1943 leading to a confrontation with the author, ending with a posting to Air HQs, in promoted rank, the follow-up apology on behalf of the British community, complimented with an award of MBE, are the unrecorded facts of history.
Webmaster’s Note This article first appeared in the Sainik Samachar , October 1993.