Air Marshal Mohan Swaroop Chaturvedi

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This is a short summary of the career of Air Marshal Mohan Swaroop Chaturvedi (IND/1592). It chronicles his service to the nation from a young Observer who fought in the Northwest Provinces and in Burma, through his invaluable role as a Strategist who built the foundations of a strong and successful Air Force, using his able leadership capabilities in many different roles. He held top appointments in all Branches - the Airstaff, Administration and Maintenance and was responsible for augmenting all of them to world-class standards. In short he helped build the structure of a young Indian Air Force that has allowed it to blossom into a mature and highly capable fighting force.

The Early Years

M S  Chaturvedi was commissioned in the Indian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 20th July 1940 . He was one of the first batch of recruits taken directly as 'Observers' into the IAF, in light of his flying experiences as well as academic qualifications. He began his training at the No. 20 Squadron RAF at Lower Topa, Muree Hills and Risalpur in the Northwest Frontier Province. He was assigned to the General Duties Observer Branch as an Observer (as Navigators were then then known).  At that time they flew open cockpit aircraft like the Westland Wapiti and the Hawker Harts. The Navigator had four roles in such aircraft - navigator, air gunner, bomb aimer and wireless operator. The complexity of the role was compounded by the fact that the Navigator was not harnessed to the aircraft but was attached to it by a chain and had to cling tightly to the gun ring during maneuvers.

After his training , Plt Offr M.S. Chaturvedi was inducted into the Coast Defence Flight at Bombay (initially called the Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve). He flew Wapitis and Dragon Rapides. Their main assignment was to exercise vigilance over the coast and escort convoys into and out of the ports. Patrols in the Dragon Rapide offered more than the fair share of excitement to the aircrew. About one of the missions, he wrote :

"Being a twin engined aircraft, the safety margin of the Dragon Rapide was far greater than that of the Wapitis and Audaxes. However, instances of engine falures were not uncommon.  I had a horrifying experience when, once flying with Minoo Engineer on a patrol mission, the oil pressure of one of the engines started dropping rapidly. The engine had to be trimmed and the bombs jettisoned in the sea. We started back-trekking and just made the Juhu airport when the second engine also stopped. The landing was made by Minoo Engineer with both engines dead! It was a touch and go affair and both of us were very badly shaken".

The World War had come to India's Eastern border by 1942 with the Japanese having conquered most of Burma. This led to the formation of new squadrons in the IAF. Chaturvedi joined the newly formed IAF Squadron No. 7 and was trained in the OTU at Peshawar on the Vultee Vengence Dive Bomber aircraft. The Squadron was a mobile squadron, with its own equipment and personnel, to keep it independent of the ground stations. After Peshawar, training was completed in Phaphamau (near Allahabad) to Bairagarh (near Bhopal). Then the Squadron moved to Cambelpore in the NWFP for operations.

He served on the Burma front in 1942-3. He was providing reconnaissance and close air support to the ground troops. Despite difficult operational circumstances due to the monsoon, with slush filled roads and airfields, cloud covered targets and enemy attacks, the Squadron flew almost 100% serviceability doing the maximum possible sorties per aircraft per day. Besides providing invaluable reconnaissance photos of Japanese positions, he took part in bombing enemy dumps, troop concentrations and supply lines.

After the Burma Campaign, M S Chaturvedi was posted in different capacities in Dehradun, Bangalore and Madras. In July 1946 with post War demobilization at its height, he was inducted into the Staff College at Quetta (Baluchistan). His excellent performance led to his joining the Air Headquarters as Squadron Leader Plans II in October of the same year.

He was personally hand-picked by Gp Capt Aspy Engineer for a trip to the UK to study the RAF Record Office in London and Ruislip. This was done so that Chaturvedi can take over the RIAF Record Office on his returning, Chaturvedi returned as Wing Commander to take over as Officer in-charge of Record Office in Red Hills, Madras in 1947. Just after independence, he moved to IAF Records Office in New Delhi.

The Strategist with Foresight

MS Chaturvedi's contribution to the country until now had been in various capacities, but what was to follow would propel him to the highest echelons of the Indian Air Force. In 1949 he was appointed Director of Policy and Plans with the rank of Group Captain. This marks the beginning of his role as the strategist, which lasted through till the end of his career. It was under his leadership that a strong foundation for the modern IAF was conceived and created from scratch, an achievement that merits him a place among the greatest leaders of the Indian Air Force.

At the time Gp Capt Chaturvedi took charge of the post of Director of Policy and Plans, the IAF was in a state of confusion and change. The withdrawal of the British officers and equipment, followed by reduction of squadrons due to the formation of Pakistan and finally the Kashmir conflict had taken their toll on the IAF and planning processes were practically non-existent. Gp Capt Chaturvedi began formulating the strategy of developing an Air Force capable of both offensive and defensive roles to succeed against external aggression. This force also needed the transport & support capabilities and well-trained, well-equipped manpower.

Chaturvedi developed detailed plans to create a balanced Air Force of twenty squadrons (from the six and a half in use then) that would meet the needs of the Air Force for the next several years. This plan was submitted to the Government after approval from the Chief of Air Staff. The government decided due to budgetary constraints to immediately upgrade to a ten squadron Air Force and to build the training and infrastructure for a twenty-squadron force.

The first task in the implementation of the policy was to expand the IAF's training facilities for all branches including Flying, Ground Operations, Technical Training and Armaments. Chaturvedi was involved in planning and setting up a number of these facilities from scratch, even before any ground infrastructure was in place. Initially British instructors were used to tide over the shortage of trained people and gradually replaced by Indian instructors as they became ready to take their place. By about 1951 most of the training infrastructure of the IAF was in place, which would stand it in good stead over the next several decades.

Chaturvedi felt that while normal training of the pilots in squadrons was going on well, the pilots were not getting the proper exposure to live armament firing. He was instrumental in identifying Jamnagar as the location to set up the Armament Training Wing. He personally visited the place for a recce on 28 Sep 50, with a view to set up the ATW. Jamnagar at that time was only a small runway and a civil airport. But Chaturvedi recognised its potential and the possibilities and immediately recommended the place to be developed as the ATW. Soon afterwards, Operations Directorate started the Training Wing which operating under tents at Jamnagar , till the time the construction works were completed.

During 1951 MS Chaturvedi was also a part of the North and North Eastern Border Committee, setup by the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to study the effects of the occupation of Tibet by China and to recommend steps to counter any possible threats. This Committee also included high-ranking representatives from the Army, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Defence Ministry. He was also on a two person Committee with the Deputy Chief of Army Staff to evaluate the situation in Nepal. Both these Committees submitted comprehensive recommendations that unfortunately got lost in a bureaucratic maze, which if put into practice may have reduced the problems India faced in the Chinese conflict of 1962.

By the end of 1952 the government had accepted the IAF's proposal to increase to a 15 squadron force. This shifted Chaturvedi's focus as the Director of Policy and Plans towards procurement of the right aircraft. Until now, the IAF had used British aircraft like the Hurricanes, Spitfires and Tempests all of World War II vintage. For the new fighter aircraft the choice was between the British Meteor and the French Ouragon. Gp Capt Chaturvedi recommended the French Ouragon to reduce the risk to the IAF of having a single supplier (Britain) for all its purchases. Chaturvedi had already felt the risks during the heightened tensions of 1951 with Pakistan, when it was realised that enough spares for the Vampire were not stocked with the IAF, even though it was the frontline fighter. As he would write later " I learned not to put all our eggs in one basket - and thereby depend on only one source of supply"

The Chief of Air Staff (Air Marshal Gibbs) was not in favour of the Ouragon, but nevertheless he acted fairly and asked the Prime Minister to decide on this matter. The Prime Minister after due consideration decided that the Ouragon should be procured from France. Similarly, for purchasing of transport aircraft Chaturvedi chose the American C-119 with Wright cyclone engines. This policy of diversification of procurement from different countries has been used by the Air Force ever since.

The Multi Faceted Leader

After formalizing the policies of the IAF, M S Chaturvedi moved rapidly through a number of leadership roles. In each of these roles his contribution was always as a visionary. In this phase his roles were varied, holding almost all the top positions in Airstaff, Personnel and Maintenance.

In 1954, still in the rank of Group Captain, Chaturvedi took charge as Station Commander, Air Force Station, Tambaram (near Madras), the largest Air Force Station at the time. After serving there for about a year, he returned to Delhi as Station Commander, Air Force Station, Delhi. Many of the Air Force facilities in Delhi that are currently in use owe their existence to Chaturvedi's sting as the Station Commander. In addition to the current Air Force Station he also set up two Air Force Schools - the Air Force Bal Bharti School and the Air Force Central School. Over the next few years Chaturvedi rapidly progressed through the posts of Director of Reserves and Director of Personnel Services.

The Technical and Equipment services of the IAF had lagged behind the rapid development of the technology and introduction of sophisticated equipment that were being introduced into the Air Force. In 1957 he chaired a Committee consisting of the senior-most officers of these branches to reorganize these services and enhance coordination at all levels. The recommendations included setting up of Air Stores Parks near each operational area to reduce the size and response time of the supply lines. The Technical and Equipment services were kept at the same reporting level and were divided by the types of aircraft. To increase cooperation the respective officers at all levels from Air Headquarters downwards were asked to sort any problems by discussing it directly with their counterparts.

In 1958 M S Chaturvedi was promoted to Air Commodore and appointed Air Officer in Charge Maintenance. This gave him the chance to implement the recommendations of the Committee and revitalize the Technical and Equipment services. This task was complicated by the fact that the IAF was servicing more than twenty different aircraft at the time, many of which were obsolete and spares for them had to be procured by cannibalization of other aircraft or local manufacturing. Air Commodore Chaturvedi also put in place the right systems over the next few years to increase the effectiveness of the maintenance services and strengthen them to withstand the pressures of war. These measures ensured the success of the IAF when tested by the war against Pakistan in 1965.

Not soon afterwards, Chaturvedi become Air Vice Marshal at the young age of 48, in 1963 and took charge as Air Officer in charge Administration. After the 1962 war against China the IAF felt the need to develop a strong defense on India's eastern border. During his tenure he set up a number of Air Wings and Stations in North Bengal and Assam. Many of these bases were nothing but World War II airstrips and the entire infrastructure for these bases was developed during his tenure.

Air Vice Marshal Chaturvedi was among the key contributors during the war against Pakistan in 1965 and his work in augmenting the IAF's personnel, aircraft and serviceability gave the IAF a decisive edge leading to air superiority being established very quickly.

With the upgradation of the ranks of the IAF in 1966, he became an Air Marshal in 1966. At that point he was deputed to serve the nation in a different capacity as the Managing Director of Air India. Air India was among the top international airlines at that time, with JRD Tata as its Chairman. During Air Marshal Chaturvedi's seven years at the helm, Air India's revenue and profitability grew rapidly and it became one of the first non-US airlines to acquire the Boeing 747 aircraft. During this period he also served as President of the Aeronautical Society of India, using his vast experience in military as well as civilian aviation to promote the growth of aviators and aerospace technologists in India.


After his retirement in 1973, Air Marshal Chaturvedi used his knowledge and understanding of the IAF to write a book entitled "History of the Indian Air Force". This book is considered a must read for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the evolution of the IAF into the great fighting forces of the world. Much emphasis was given to the evolution of electronics and the description of training units in the book, which is not available anywhere else.

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Air Marshal Mohan Swaroop Chaturvedi, as the Managing Director of Air India.

Air Marshal M.S. Chaturvedi was a great aviator, a farsighted thinker and a capable leader. Many of his policies have withstood the test of time and the framework that he created for the IAF still exists, despite the unimaginable changes that have taken place in technology. This is his legacy to the nation that will endure for a very long time to come.



History of the Indian Air Force by Air Marshal MS Chaturvedi, Vikas Publishing House