A Saga Forged in War – History of 7 Squadron. Dec. 1942 to June 1945

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The move from Kumbhirgram to Ranchi.

The squadron wound up operations and began to ferry the 14 Vengeance and one Harvard aircraft to Ranchi with refuelling stops at Dum Dum (Calcutta). The move was made in 2 flights led by Flt Lt. PC Lal and EW Pinto.  The journey to Dum Dum took 2:30 hrs. After re-fuelling, the flights took off for Ranchi.

On the way to Ranchi, the flights ran into very bad weather with rain and very dense and high clouds. Instead of returning to Dum Dum, they decided to land at an airfield they passed on the way to Ranchi. The Airfield had large Bombers parked there.

On landing, the Aircraft were met by heavily armed soldiers in jeeps and the crew were asked by the soldiers to follow them in their aircraft. They were escorted to a remote part of the airfield and asked to park their aircraft there. Flt Lt. PC Lal being the officer in-charge was summoned by the Commanding General of the base and was given a dressing down for having landed there without permission. He informed him that he and his entire flight would be put in the Lock-up.  Much to their surprise and anguish, they  all were collected, put onto trucks and driven to the lock-up.

In the lock-up, they found that there were some senior British officers, some Indian Officers and few Americans too. The flight were shocked to find that they had been placed in a lock-up by a foreign military in their own country without any explanation whatsoever. Nevertheless, there was food, drinks, cinema and a swimming pool too there. But they were not allowed to make any phone calls or communicate with anyone outside. That night they heard the roar of very large aircraft taking-off, but could not see anything.  These aircraft returned sometime after mid-day the next day. After that, the General came to them and apologised for the treatment meted out to them.

He explained that last night the American Air Force mounted their first raid on a target in Japan. The target was an Iron and Steel plant in Yawata, Japan. Until the mission was successfully carried out, they wanted to keep the mission under tight wraps. They were then treated to a sumptuous ‘American breakfast’ of Bacon and eggs. They were released, and thereafter, the squadron aircraft were allowed to proceed to Ranchi for their 40 minute flight.

On reaching Ranchi on the 14th, the squadron found that their CO Squadron. Ldr. AB Awan flying from Calcutta to Ranchi, following the railway line, had got lost. He did turn up at Ranchi a couple of days later and was very angry with all the pilots for not following him. He said that the squadron was not fit for ‘Operational Duty’ and that he was going to report the matter to Air Headquarters. That was the last the squadron saw of him.

At Ranchi, the squadron was supposed to be re-equipped on to the very fast twin engine Mosquito Fighter-Bomber. All RAF Vengeance squadrons too were to convert on to the Mosquito. However at Ranchi they were informed that neither 7 Squadron nor any other squadron was to convert on to the Mosquito as it was falling apart. This aircraft’s fuselage was made up of plywood. In the hot and humid climate of India, the laminations in the plywood started to come apart thus, rendering the aircraft unfit for flying. Eventually it was grounded.

On 21st June, 1944, Flt Lt. PC Lal was promoted to Squadron Leader and took over as Commanding Officer of No. 7 squadron.

Sqn. Ldr PC Lal with the 7 Squadron personnel in Ranchi in June 1944.

Flt Lt. EW Pinto was already Flight Commander of the squadron’s ‘A’ flight with effect from 21st June, 1944, Fg Offr. KL Bhatia was promoted to Flt Lt. and took over as Flight Commander of ‘B’ flight.

On 27th July, the squadron moved from Ranchi to Chharra, near Purulia on the Bengal-Bihar border.

By some quirk of staff planning, just three months before their phase-out, the Vengeance Mk. II of the squadron were replaced by the Vengeance Mk. III on July 28th 1944.

The next three months were spent in normal flying and Army Cooperation exercises with the 225 Tank Brigade were held in Ranchi in August, 1944. Exercises in cooperation with a brigade of the 82nd West African division at Jhalida was for a short period held between August to October, 1944.

Since the Mosquitos were being removed from service in India, the squadron was now ordered to convert on to the Hawker Hurricane II-C’s which were specially modified and tropicalized.

With the news of the forthcoming conversion from Vengeances to Hurricanes, the Navigators and Air Gunners found themselves in a anomalous position. Some of the Navigators were promised pilots courses, while others were to go on the Nav/W course and advanced training which was to be held in The United Kingdom.

On 30th October, 1944, all the remaining 14 Vengeance aircraft were flown to Allahabad for handing over to 308 MU. This was the last flight of the Vengeance.

All pilots were taken to the dispersal area on 4th November, to familiarise themselves with the Hurricane, the aircraft they were going to fly in future. The Squadron’s ORB mentions that: “The pilots were not pleased much by what they heard and saw. This feeling of displeasure was further accentuated by seeing a Hurricane of No. 10 Squadron go over its nose while landing”.

On 11th November, the squadron moved from Purulia by a troop train by rail to Peshawar’s 151 OTU for their conversion to the Hurricanes. They received their first four Hurricane II-C’s on 17th November, 1944, which had been flown in from Risalpur.

The Hawker Hurricane Mk. II-C

The Hawker Hurricane, a British single-seat fighter aircraft manufactured by Hawker Aircraft, Ltd., in the 1930s and ’40s. The Hurricane was numerically the most important British fighter during the critical early stages of World War II, sharing victory laurels with the Supermarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain (1940–41) and the defence of Malta (1941–42). Hurricanes served in all theatres of war where British forces were engaged.

The Hurricane emerged from efforts by Sydney Camm, Hawker’s chief designer, to develop a high-performance monoplane fighter and from a March 1935 the British Air Ministry’s requirement calling for an unprecedented heavy armament of eight wing-mounted 0.303-inch (7.7-mm) machine guns. Designed around a 1,200-horsepower, 12-cylinder, in-line Rolls-Royce engine soon to be dubbed the Merlin, the Hurricane was an evolutionary development of earlier Camm designs, notably the Fury biplane fighter. A low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, the Hurricane, aside from its clean lines and heavy armament, was a conventional design. Its wings, rear fuselage, and tail surfaces were covered by fabric, though the fabric wing-covering soon gave way to aluminium.

The first Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter capable of exceeding 300 miles (480 km) per hour in level flight, the plane had excellent flight characteristics.

The Hurricane II was built in two main variants, one mounting no fewer than 12 0.303-inch machine guns in the wings and the other mounting four 0.8-inch (20-mm) automatic cannons. Hurricane fighter-bombers served in North Africa and remained in front-line service in Burma and India through the war’s end. 

Indian Air Force received the Hurricane Mk.II-C, which were equipped with a slightly longer propeller spinner and the machine gun armament oh the Mk.II was replaced by four 20 mm Hispano Mk II cannons and a slightly modified wing.

The conversion course commenced in earnest in 151 OTU Peshawar with ground subjects, and the squadron took on their new role with gusto. The Hurricane being a single seat fighter with no trainer version, all dual flying was done on Harvards which commenced on 20th November and the ‘Type’ related training was done on the ground in the Officer’s Mess which was turned into a class room. On 23rd November, 1944, flew solo on the Hurricanes. By 19th December, 1944, the squadron received its complete strength of Hawker Hurricanes Mk. II-C’s. The ground crew too worked very hard to keep the aircraft serviceable especially with the terrain’s harsh winter bringing ice-cold rain and sleet. It was a kind of ‘On-the-Job’ training for them too. By 30th November, 1944 all pilots had cleared their Air-Test. By 23rd December, the conversion course was completed. The squadron had achieved flying 1000 hours in five weeks on the new aircraft by flying day and night, by Dec 44. 

The squadron were now to move to Kohat where ‘A’ flight was to undergo the Air-Gunnery course, and ‘B’ flight the Fighter Reconnaince course. That evening in the barracks while discussing the move, Squadron. Ldr. PC Lal was seen smoking for the first time. When asked, he hastily went on to offer an explanation that he was only ‘testing one’ cigarette from a lot of the 8000 odd cigarettes sent to the Airmen as a Christmas present by the Overseas League of St. James in London.

End January, 1945, the squadron was asked to carry out “Battle Inoculation” of the troops. This entailed live firing at smoke markers placed 75 yards from the dug-in troops. All responsibility of injury or death was lifted by the enforcement of the safety orders. The squadron boys were happy to be carrying out its old role of bombing. The average error of 22 yards was a fitting pointer to the squadron’s payload delivery skill.

Although, it was expected, nevertheless, the squadron were somewhat disappointed to learn that their role in the forthcoming Operations in the war theatre in Burma would be limited to Photo Reconnaissance since there was hardly any Ariel sorties by the Japanese Air-Force in that sector.

In February, Flt Lt. EW Pinto was posted out and handed over ‘A; Flight to Flt Lt. HC Dewan.

 Close cooperation with the Army was followed by the allocation of TAC/R Role for the squadron. In March 1945, the Squadron was sent on its second tour of duty on the Burma Front.

4 thoughts on “A Saga Forged in War – History of 7 Squadron. Dec. 1942 to June 1945

  1. Hi,

    Aside from P.C. Lal’s ‘My Years With The IAF’, is there any other book that covers the Indian Air Force operations in WW 2?

    And thank you for all the effort on this website — I enjoy it very much.



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