The Airlift that saved Kashmir

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Wing Commander Bhatia continued to lead the Squadron through the Kashmir war up to April 1948. For his bravery and gutsy flying in supporting this Airlift and other missions in Poonch during the Kashmir war, He was awarded the Vir-Chakra by the Government. His Vir Chakra and wings are displayed in the squadron museum of No 12 Squadron IAF

11 officers and men of the Squadron were awarded with Vir Chakras during the Kashmir Operations. A record unbroken till today by any Squadron in the Indian Air Force.

He was Station Commander, No.4 Wing Agra from 16th October 1948 to 7th March 1951.

Unfortunately, we lost him and the young age of 34 while he was serving as Director of Personnel (Officers), Air Headquarters.

It is sad to note that while the history of the war in Kashmir has been written by individuals and even by official institutions like the Historical Division of the Ministry of Defence – the role of the Indian Air Force in that war has, at best, received a passing/scanty reference. Perhaps it is due to our Air Force’s cultural traditions of not being historically minded!

In other words, the Indian Air Force itself has not paid adequate attention to its own history. The squadrons themselves have not preserved their diaries of that era and there are practically no photographs in the squadron albums.

This historic first landing by Wing Commander KL Bhatia and his crew and the other two pilots on 27th October, 1947, is not recorded in any official record of the Indian Air Force. Nor is there any mention of this landing in the numerous museums of the Indian Air Force. Sadly, there is also no mention of this landing in the official records (if any) of the squadron and further, it is also missing in the squadron museum of No. 12 Squadron IAF even till today. 

This is perhaps the reason why even today in some texts one can come across such glaring distortions about this airlift. For e.g. “The three RIAF Dakotas took off from Wellington (now Safdarjung) Aerodrome”. In some publications the time of take-off mentioned is 0500 hrs. In some places 0600 hrs.

In some articles it is even mentioned that Mr Biju Patnaik was the first person to land in Srinagar on that day and that too on the explicit instructions of the Prime Minister.  Sadly, such distortions will continue to happen in the absence of official and authenticated records. Yes, three Dakotas did take off from Wellington on 27th October, 1947, but not to Srinagar, but for Jabalpur to pick-up arms and ammunition from the ordinance factory, and these were civil Dakotas.