Training At Cranwell

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The first five Indian Pilots commissioned into the Indian Air Force were H C Sircar, Subroto Mukerjee, Bhupendra Singh, A B Awan and Amarjeet Singh. A sixth officer, J N Tandon had to revert to the Stores branch as he was too short! All of them were commissioned as Pilot Officers in 1933. Bhupendra Singh and Amarjeet Singh died in an air accident in Sept 33. HC Sircar left the IAF after a couple of years. He was dismissed from service following an unfortunate accident that claimed the lives of soldiers on the ground. Jagat Tandon died during World War Two. A B Awan left the IAF in 1945 as a Wing Commander. It was Subroto Mukerjee, the lone remnant of the batch and the senior most Indian Officer in the RIAF at the time of independence, who went on to become the first Indian Chief of Air Staff in 1954.

The First Batch : Sept 4, 1930 to July 22, 1932
alt The first and second batch of Indian pilots at RAF Cranwell in 1931. From L to R : Unidentified (Either Sircar or Awan), Bhupendra Singh, RAF Instructor, Aspy Engineer (from 2nd Batch), Amarjeet Singh (Circled), Jagat Tandon and Subroto Mukerjee (Circled).  A better version of this photograph can be viewed on Flickr
Bhupendra Singh with one of the Avro training biplanes at Cranwell in 1931. Sadly he would die in an aircrash in 1933 along with Amarjeet Singh. Photo courtesy : Sentinels of the Sky alt
alt A B Awan and Mukerjee standing in the last row at RAF Cranwell 1931 Photo courtesy : Sentinels of the Sky

Aspy Merwan Engineer followed the following year as a ‘Special Admission’ to Cranwell. During his time at Cranwell, he won the prestigous R.M.Groves flying prize whilst flying the Hawker Hart. He was finished his training in July 1933, almost exactly one year after the first batch, he reached No.1 Squadron in January 1934. He also had the distinction of being the first Indian to bale out of an aircraft using a parachute – earning the caterpillar club membership.

Engineer was followed by three more  from  that entered Cranwell. They were K K “Jumbo” Majumdar, Narendra and Daljit Singh. Daljit Singh did not survive long, he fell out with the commanding officer of the Base and resigned his commission soon after.

The Third Batch : Feb 1, 1932 to Dec 15, 1933
The third batch of Indian Pilots in Cranwell consisted of Narendra, Daljit Singh and K K ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar. Seen here in the group photo in 1933. Daljit Singh was wrongly identified as RHD Singh in the original book. Photo courtesy : Sentinels of the Sky alt

The third batch consisted of Henry Runganadhan,  RN Batra and N K Khanna . Of these only Henry Runganadhan made it through commissioning.

Another batch of four cadets went thru Cranwell between Aug 31, 1933 to Jul 26, 1935, however, only two, Habib Ullah Khan and Ravindra Hari Darshan Singh finished training and joined the Squadron.

The “Sixth” Batch : Aug 31, 1933 to Jul 26, 1935
alt Pilots who graduated out of RAF Cranwell were commissioned by the ‘Emperor of India’ under the seal of the Governor General and a Commission certificate issued. Seen here is the scroll of R H D Singh (Later Air Cmde), who was the eight pilot to be trained at Cranwell and commissioned in 1935. Pic Courtesy : Deepak Singh
Flight Cadet Mehar Singh stands out in this 1936 picture of the batch passing out of RAF Cranwell. Click to Enlarge

The 1936 batch consisted of SN Goyal and BK Nanda. This was the last batch that did its ‘full’ course of two years at Cranwell. Nanda had to be grounded after an automobile accident and was commissioned into the Equipment branch, the second such officer after JN Tandon. Goyal was commissioned into the Flying branch and joined No.1 Squadron in Jan 1939.

The final batch of three trainees to Cranwell joined in Sept 1938. They were K M Bahl, Prithipal Singh and Arjan Singh. While Bahl did not complete the training, Prithipal and Arjan were commissioned in December 1939, two months into the Second World War. This batch was done on an accelerated basis, the result being the training lasted only one year, instead of the customary two years.

Prithipal was to lose his life in a tragic crash. It is the latter, Arjan Singh, who would rise to the exalted rank of the Marshal of the Air Force at the end of the century.

The Final Batch : Sept 8, 1938 to Dec 22, 1939
Click to Enlarge Flight Cadet Arjan Singh (circled in white) in his ‘B’ Squadron photograph from Cranwell in 1938.
Field Marshal Lord Viscount Gort, speaks to Flight Cadet Prithipal Singh during an inspection at Cranwell in 1939. _Small.jpg (21670 bytes)

The Final List:

From 1930 till 1939, a total of 23 Indian Officers were admitted into RAF Cranwell for training. While four of these did not complete training, two of the remaining Seventeen were killed in a crash. One was cashiered out of service after a tragic accident, one left the service on his own accord, leaving just fourteen.

A complete list of Indians who were trained at RAF Cranwell between the years 1930 to 1939 has been researched by noted UK Aviation Historian, Mr. Andrew Thomas. The list is reproduced below.

No Name Date of Training Com Dt Rank Remarks
1 Aizad Baksh Awan 04 Sep 30-22 Jul 32 1552 08-Oct-32 W/C Retd PAF . d 1980
2 Subroto Mukherjee 04 Sep 30-22 Jul 32 1551 08-Oct-32 AM CAS d 1960 in service.
3 Amarinder Singh 04 Sep 30-22 Jul 32 08-Oct-32 P/O k 1933 Wapiti Crash
4 Bhupinder Singh 04 Sep 30-22 Jul 32 08-Oct-32 P/O k 1933 Wapiti Crash
5 Harish Chandra Sircar 04 Sep 30-22 Jul 32 08-Oct-32 P/O Left Service 1935 GCM
6 Jagat Narain Tandon 04 Sep 30-22 Jul 32 1553 08-Oct-32 S/L k or d 1944
7 Aspy Merwan Engineer 03 Sep 31-14 Jul 33 1554 15-Jul-33 AM Retd CAS , d 2002
8 Karun Krishna Majumdar 01 Feb 32-15 Dec 33 1555 16-Dec-33 W/C k Hurri Cr 1945
9 Narendra 01 Feb 32-15 Dec 33 1556 16-Dec-33 A/Cmde k Dakota Cr 1951
10 Daljit Singh 01 Feb 32-15 Dec 33 16-Dec-33 P/O Left Service 1935-36
11 Henry Runganadhan 01 Sep 32-28 Jul 34 28-Jul-34 S/L k Hudson-Hurri MAC Oct 1942
12 R N Batra 01 Sep 32-28 Jul 34
13 M K Khanna 01 Sep 32-28 Jul 34 w/d 21 Oct 32 on request
14 Habib Ullah Khan 31 Aug 33-26 Jul 35 1557 27-Jul-35 S/L k Hurri Cr Apr 1943
15 G R Sharma 31 Aug 33-26 Jul 35 w/d 17 Jan 35 Officer Unlikely
16 A Gupta 31 Aug 33-26 Jul 35 w/d 4 Sep 35 Ill health
17 Ravindra Hari Darshan Singh 31 Aug 33-26 Jul 35 1558 27-Jul-35 A/Cmde Retd.
18 Mehar Singh 06 Sep 34-31 Jul 36 1559 01-Aug-36 A/Cmde Retd. K Civilian Crash
19 Surendra Nath Goyal 10 Sep 36-29 Jul 38 1560 20-Sep-38 AVM Retd.
20 B K Nanda 10 Sep 36-29 Jul 38 20-Sep-38 Trnfr to Eqpt – d of illness
21 K M Bahl 08 Sep 38-22 Dec 39 w/d 31 jul 39 Pilot unlikely
22 Arjan Singh 08 Sep 38-22 Dec 39 1577 23-Dec-39 MIAF Retd CAS 1967 MIAF 2002
23 Prithipal Singh 08 Sep 38-22 Dec 39 1578 23-Dec-39 S/L k Hurri Cr 1943

Twenty three Indians were trained at RAF Cranwell between 1930 until 1939, by which time all training-Indians has been stabilised within India.

At the time of outbreak of the Second World War in Sept 1939, the IAF had just 14 Officers and 146 airmen and one Squadron of Wapiti aircraft.

The following comments were noted against the two.
J N Tandon – w/dn 29 Jun 31 unlikely to make safe pilot
S Mukherjee – w/dn 2 Apr 31 – unlikely to make a safe pilot


k – Killed In Operations, In Action
d – Died Natural Causes , Illness
Cr – Crash

Related Bio Links:
Subroto Mukerjee
Aspy Engineer
Jumbo Majumdar
RHD Singh
SN Goyal
Arjan Singh

The Air Force List as on June 1938.

General Duties Branch
Flight Lieutenants
Smith, Clarence Herbert, 27 Jan 36
Rodgers, Alexander Mitchell, 26 Mar 36

Flying Officers
Mukerjee, Subroto, 15 Feb 34
Awan, Aizad Baksh, 15 Feb 34
Engineer, Aspy Merwan, 15 Jan 35
Majumdar, Karun Krishna, 9 Jul 35
Narendra, 9 Jul 35
Runganadhan, Henry, 28 Jan 36
Habibullah, Khan, 27 Jul 37
Ravinder Hari Darshan Singh 27 Jan 38

Pilot Officer
Mehar Singh, 1 Aug 36

Equipment Branch
Flying Officer
Tandon, Jagat Narain, 15 Aug 33

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