We continue our series of profiles of the ‘Majumdar Tigers’ – Pilots who served with No 1 Squadron IAF, and went into operations against the Japanese in Burma, in February 1942. The second in these profiles is that of the former Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Yeshwant Malse, who saw two tours of ops on the Burma Front. His story will be told in three parts: the first covers his Second World War experiences, the second will be on his command of No 12 Squadron in the 1950s, and the final part will cover his various assignments as a senior officer.
The meeting with Air Marshal Malse and Mrs Malse took place at his residence ‘Yerandvana’ in Pune. When Gp Capt AG Bewoor, one of our website’s ardent supporters , called him up to find out if he would be able to spend time with us for an interview, Air Marshal Malse graciously agreed. As he himself admitted, Air Marshal Malse was never a person with a keenness to keep a historical record , but since he knew we were coming, he made sure that we would have access to his documents and his old log books! We spent about two hours enjoying the hospitality of the Malses and reliving history throughout that time.
Joining the Air Force
Yeshwant Vinayak Malse came from a professional family. His father was an accomplished civil engineer who had made his name in the civil administration in Pune.
Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, the young Yeshwant Malse was studying in Ferguson’s College in Poona (now Pune). He was also learning flying at the Bombay Flying Club, whenever time permitted. When war broke out in Europe, the still tiny Indian Air Force (mirroring a much larger effort by the Royal Air Force in the UK) approached universities in the country, to find young men interested in commissions as officers in the IAF. And the Poona University had in turn passed on the request to its colleges, to find volunteers willing to join up.
On hearing about the requirements for pilots, Malse applied to join. Malse’s parents were entirely supportive of his joining the IAF. Soon he was called for an interview with none other than the Vice Chancellor of the University. He was one of the five candidates selected from the University, and sent to Ambala for the final stage of the selection process.
In Ambala, the candidates had to sit for a written test, followed by an interview. Malse was, by his own account, never particularly good at book-learning and exams. He had a technical bent of mind (as he was to prove many times later), but he reveals that it was a fortuitous coincidence which helped propel him over this particular hurdle: “How I got through the exam, (was) that the questions that appeared in the paper were fortunately all from one particular book in the 1st year Intemediate stage, which I was reading at that time”.
He came through the test with flying colors, and so did his fellow candidates. The others who were with him included Dadi Mehta from Hyderabad, who subsequently went into the Observers’ stream; and Vevarkar, who never finished the course. Malse, together with Pirojshah Reporter, was sent to Lahore for Initial Training, which was undertaken at a former Scout Training School. The person in charge of this establishment was a former Scoutmaster by the name of Hogworth, who had been running the school prior to the war. Now he had been given a Wing Commander’s commission in the RAF, and the Scout School had become the Initial Training Wing, which imparted pre-flying training to IAF cadets. Malse also recalls Sergeant Major Caddies, who later became the Vice Chairman of a leading bank after the war.
Basic flying training in those days was done through a special arrangement with civilian Flying Clubs. The EFTS at Jodhpur had not yet been established. Malse did some of his flying training on Tiger Moths at the Lahore Flying Club. An RAF officer, along with a Senior NCO, on the rolls of the Club, acted as instructors to the cadets. Malse and Reporter were part of the 4th Pilots Course, which was commissioned on 1st August 1940, the date they joined up at Lahore. This course included a number of then-unknown young men who were to go on to great distinction later in the wartime RIAF and the post-Independence IAF. Prominent among them were Ranjan Dutt, HC Dewan, and MS Pujji who went on to UK in November 1940 and distinguished themselves.
After completing basic training at Lahore, Malse and Reporter went to Ambala where they started flying the Westland Wapiti, which was then still an ‘Operational’ type. On completion of the training, Malse was posted to No 1 Squadron at Peshawar, while Reporter went to No 2 Squadron, which was a newly raised unit.
Early Days Malse’s posting to No 1 Squadron came though in June 1941. The squadron was then at Peshawar and was involved in flying Army Cooperation sorties in the strife-ridden North-West Frontier Province. Malse flew both the Wapiti, which he describes as “having the whole workshop in front of us“, and the Audax.
In the initial days, the squadron’s task was to provide support to Army patrols in the NWFP. This involved flying Recce sorties for Road-Opening parties. The patrols would take position on top of hills overlooking the roads, and the aircraft would fly ahead of the troops and report the positions of hostiles. Communication with the ground troops was done through Popham Panels. Malse recalls that the troops used to indicate the direction and distance of the enemy through the use of these markers, laid flat on the ground. Malse was sent to the squadron’s detachment at Miranshah, from where he flew these missions. The aircraft were known as the morning recce, and would fly from Miranshah to Datta Khel, Razmak and other areas.
“There was lot of firing done on those days and there were a number of times the troops were overrun. Lot of times we help them out, we went over and fired. We had a detachment in Miranshah, Fort Sandeman and all those areas. In those days we were still doing operations in the North-West Frontier, the Fakir of Ipi was a well known person who was creating lot of problems in those days. That was time for them to leave the attack and withdraw. Those sort of operations were going on.”
In October 1941, No 1 Squadron officially took on charge the Westland Lysander. The first lot of aircraft was paid for by a special fund subscribed by the citizens of Bombay. The handing over of the new aircraft was the occasion for a ceremony, in which the Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley, came over to Peshawar and officially handed over the aircraft. This gesture by the citizens of Bombay was reciprocated by giving the title ‘Bombay Squadron’ to No 1 Squadron. The unit remained in Peshawar for the rest of the year, carrying out operational conversion on the new aircraft.
Wink and nudge
The period of training on the Lysander was marked by a series of small mishaps. In those days, No 1 Squadron had an ongoing rivalry with the other Lysander unit based at Peshawar, No 28 Squadron RAF. Any damaged aircraft meant reduced serviceability – and a dressing-down from the Squadron Commander. It was Malse’s bad luck that once, while coming in to land at Peshawar, his Lysander swung on the ground, resulting in a damaged wingtip.
Malse climbed out of his damaged aircraft, feeling miserable about himself and the damage to the aircraft. The Flight Engineering Officer of the squadron, the already redoubtable Warrant Officer Harjinder Singh, had watched the incident unfold.
Warrant Officer Harjinder Singh (later AVM, and AOC-in-C Maintenance Command) was one of the eleven former Hawai Sepoys who had joined up as the very first batch of technical tradesmen, when the first Flight of the Indian Air Force had been raised in 1933. Always referred to as “Flight” by the young officers of the Squadron, Harjinder was a highly capable technical hand, with almost legendary aircraft recovery skills. He was well respected by all in the Squadron, with good reason.
Harjinder saw the young officer emerging from his aircraft, carrying his own parachute and gear. Harjinder was known for taking a fatherly attitude to younger personnel of the Squadron, and ensuring that the pilots in particular were well looked after. He shouted at his airmen, “What is this happening, this pilot is coming carrying his own ‘chute, what the hell is everyone doing, go pick up his parachute and help him”
A couple of airmen approached Malse and took the load of his parachute and gear from him. Harjinder, who had watched Malse’s mishap, then approached Malse and said in a lowered voice ‘Sir, if I were you, I would stop flying, you damaged my aircraft.’
Malse could only respond, “I am sorry, Flight”. He really didn’t know what else to say. Harjinder didn’t say anything either and the two men parted.
Two hours later, Harjinder came looking for Malse. “Sir , what are you doing in the evening?”
“Well, just come to the hangar at 1:30 in the morning.”
Malse, perplexed at the strange request and the odd timing, agreed “OK I will come.”
So at 1:30 in the morning, Malse went to the hangar. He was pleasantly surprised to find his damaged Lysander repaired and fully serviceable. Harjinder Singh had got his airmen together and worked on the aircraft the whole night to make it airworthy again. As soon as he saw Malse, he said in a loud voice to his airmen, “Come on, boys, Pilot Officer Malse has ordered tea and samosas for all of us.”
Needless to say, Malse had no clue at all as to who had organized the tea and samosas, but they appeared from somewhere and were served to the team.
Harjinder then took Malse aside and told him, “Sir, you don’t have to talk to the CO at all about the accident.”
But how could a Pilot Officer not tell his Commanding Officer about an accident? Malse responded that he really should tell the CO. Harjinder was adamant . “Do not tell the CO about the accident. Forget about all this”
So Malse finally relented. It was, in a way, in the interest of the Squadron if the accident was not reported, and besides everything has been worked out, the aircraft was airworthy, no one needed to be any wiser. The only issue left was the bill for the chai and samosas, which the young Pilot Officer gladly picked up!
For many months Malse was happy in the belief that the CO, Squadron Leader K K (“Jumbo”) Majumdar, never knew about his little mishap. Or so he thought. Months later, when the CO was leaving the Squadron, Malse went to Sqn Ldr Majumdar’s office to say farewell. Harjinder Singh was also present in the CO’s office. After general chit chat, Majumdar suddenly asked “Malse, are you sure you had an accident free stay in the Squadron?”
Malse felt as though he had been struck by lightning. He could only look sheepishly at Harjinder, who was at the CO’s side.
Majumdar continued, “Well you know Harjinder mentioned it to me.”
Then seeing the dejected look on Malse’s face, he continued with a grin, “No no, don’t worry about it, we don’t need to tell anyone else”
It was then that Malse realised that the CO had known about the accident all along, but there was a tacit agreement between the CO and the ‘Flight’ that he would look the other way as long as Harjinder could get the aircraft back into the air within 24 hours.
It is probable that this was not the only accident that was not reported to higher authorities – but the aircraft involved were always restored to flying condition within that time, and Service objectives were never compromised. As a bonus, the serviceability record of No 1 Squadron IAF was always well above that of No 28 Squadron RAF.
Recalling the whole episode, Malse says admiringly, “That rascal Harjinder always kept Majumdar in the know.”
The incident also informed Malse’s long-standing belief in the capabilities of the Indian airman, one he held through many appointments in subsequent years in senior maintenance-related positions.
“It was the special type of relationship that the airman had (with others). I tell you one thing (I learnt), in all my service life, is that the Indian airman is a fantastic individual. In the peace, he is the worst character, for all small things he will complain, but technically he is sound, hard-working, just like our tech officers. He is the best at his work.”.
Wearing a tie, Warrant Officer Harjinder Singh stands in front of a Lysander along with ground crew.
Following Pearl Harbour in December 1941, and a series of Japanese military victories in Singapore and Malaya, it was clear that Allied units in India would have to move South East, to face the Japanese. Towards the end of January 1942, the time came for No 1 Squadron to move to Burma. Among the Allied units designated to move to the Burma Front, No 1 Squadron at Peshawar was ordered to move to Toungoo airfield in Burma. This was a significant milestone in the history of the Indian Air Force, the first time that the IAF was being included in a mainstream campaign of war.
The squadron had spent January 1942 in flying training sorties to gain familiarization with navigation techniques and cross-country flying:
“During that time we were sent out for flight training to prepare ourselves for Burma operations. Like air firing, that is Air to Ground firing, all that took place. That preparation was started in December. Somewhere around middle of December or so. Then we left on January 28th via Delhi, Delhi-Kanpur, Kanpur-Gaya and then Dum Dum-Chittagong, Chittagong-Akyab, Akyab-Toungoo. Toungoo was our first base. It was from Toungoo we did our first operations.”
The air party started their move to Burma on 27th January, the ground party having left earlier by rail and ship. The seven long hops amounted to nearly 17 hours of flying – during which the Lysanders of No 1 Squadron traversed the entire sub-continent, flying 1700 miles from Peshwar in the North-West, all the way to Toungoo in Burma, arriving on 1st February.
On their very night in Toungoo, the Japanese air force raided the airfield, but none of No 1 Squadron’s aircraft were lost due to the good dispersal of aircraft. Two days later, on February 3rd, Sqn Ldr Majumdar flew a lone Lysander equipped with a pair of 250lb bombs and carried out a daring daylight attack on a Japanese airfield at Mae-Haungsang. This airfield was believed to be the base from which the Japanese aircraft had attacked Toungoo.
Not to be left behind, the entire squadron wanted to take part in the action. So a larger raid on Mae-Haungsang airfield was mounted on 4th February, led by Sqn Ldr Majumdar. The Lysander IIs with their Bristol Perseus XII engines had a top speed of 220 mph. But they could only cruise at about 160 mph, and would be even slower with two 250lb bombs underslung. In fact, the 100 mile flight to Mae-Haungsang took over an hour.
Pilot Officer Malse was flying Lysander P9120 on this mission, with Sergeant Ghulam Ali as his gunner. He was just behind Jumbo Majumdar during the attack, as he explains:
“The first operation was on the 4th of February, we carried out a raid on Mae-Haungsang. The whole squadron used to go on operations and that time, if I remember right, Majumdar was leading the formation and it (Mae-Haungsang) was attacked by six of our aircraft. I was one of them.
We had no time to look around (at any anti aircraft fire from the ground), Firstly, we were carrying bombs, 250 lbs on each (stub) wing. I was No 2 and (S/L) Majumdar was No 1. When Majumdar (went into a) dive, I dived, released bomb, pulled back and out to He-Ho, I did not even look down. But I could see the burst (from Majumdar’s bomb).
I was told that there was firing, personally I don’t know if I was too excited. There must have been some firing, but I didn’t notice it in the excitement.”
The whole sortie to Mae-Haungsang and back lasted two hours and forty five minutes. Several hangars were claimed destroyed in the raid. The damage from the previous day’s raid by Majumdar was also noticed during the attack.
The raid was a morale booster to the IAF squadron as well as for the other Allied units involved. The effort and the results were deemed important enough to be included in the regular daily dispatches sent to the US President FD Roosevelt by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
|Top: The entry for 4th February 1942 shows the details for the famous Mae-Haungsang raid. Right: – The daily dispatch to the US President Roosevelt carries a mention of the raid.|
The day after the attack, the whole squadron moved to Rangoon. On 7th February, the squadron operated in separate flights. Sqn Ldr Majumdar, together with Flight Lieutenant Prithipal Singh, took one flight north to He-Ho, on the Burma-China border, and later on to Lashio. One aircraft flown by Flight Lieutenant Raza went back to Toungoo. One Flight remained at Mingaladon under Flight Lieutenant Niranjan Prasad.
Malse was with Majumdar’s detachment which went to Lashio. Accompanying Sqn Ldr Majumdar and Flt Lt Prithipal Singh were a number of other young officers. Fg Offr Henry Runganadhan, Rajinder Singh, and the Equipment Officer, TS Nanda (“Shorty”, as Malse would call him), were among them. The NCOs included Taunque in Armament; Rustomjee, an Air Gunner; Sergeant Bhaskaran; Flight Sergeant Kohli; and Corporal Tara Singh, among those that Malse remembers.
“Rangoon (Mingaladon), we were there for a short time. In between there was an airfield called Johnny Walker, near Rangoon. We moved there on the same day. Came back the next day again.
From Mingaldon, we carried out an attack on Moulmein. That bit was washed out. It was after the 7th of Feb. Then the squadron was withdrawn from Rangoon. We were sent from Mingalodon to a place called He-Ho, Northern Burma.
At that time, that there was a force operating on the China border (as I was told). It was not the Chindits, (who came) much later. This force was operating from across the border through the Chinese territory. I forget the name of the General. We were told that we were to operate in support of that force.”
A number of sorties were flown in support of the ground forces. Throughout the many missions flown by No 1 Squadron during this campaign, they never encountered air opposition from the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force. This was just as well, as the only protection the Lysander had was a pair of .303 machine guns in the wheel spats and another pair of machine guns in the rear seat, operated by the Air Gunner. As Malse explains, the value of the gunner was more down to the additional pair of eyes than the effectiveness of the fire.
“We had the Air Gunner who used to watch your tail, they were quite good at their job. Fortunately we were never attacked in the air. The air gunner gave us enough warning time. But afterwards they might have done mighty little. But no doubt, absolutely (no doubt), having a gunner in the back was a morale builder.
We used to proceed…at that time we had wing formation, one aircraft following the other in a set formation. If there was any air opposition, they could have fired, at the very least, it would have deterred the enemy aircraft to an extent. And for that I will give the credit (to the air gunners). My own gunner was Rustomji, a Sergeant. He was with me all the time. Initially it was Ghulam Ali who was the gunner.”
It was not just the gunner who gave the ‘protection’ and ‘psychological boost’ to the Lysanders; Malse mentions what he recalls as a pair of American Volunteer Group fighters, which used to accompany No 1 Squadron’s Lysanders:
“We had two fighters operated by the AVG pilots. They used to escort us. That used to be a great morale builder to see those two aircraft around. In all the operations, these two aircraft stuck with us. They came to Lashio also, when we moved from Mingaladon. ”
The only loss suffered by the squadron was that of a Lysander flown by Pilot Officer Jatain Deuskar in Lashio. Both Deuskar and his gunner, Sergeant Kameshwar Dhora, were killed, the only casualties in No 1 Squadron during its first tour of operations.
“I remember Pilot Officer Deuskar very much, he was from Hyderabad, and hailed from an artist family. He can draw pretty well. We flew together (once). Deuskar was my host once. He was with us (Majumdar’s Detachment) But he was lost, I think on the flight from He-Ho and Lashio. Exact reason for loss I don’t know. It’s very difficult in those days, the weather being what it was. The Lysander was not equipped for bad weather.
“In those days I didn’t even know what a CB was. If you went into a CB cloud, you had no chance. Maybe Deuskar was in a CB, but he had no knowledge. I only remember that all of us took off and he did not come back.”
Jatain Deuskar’s fate is explained in AVM Harjinder Singh’s book. After extending their loiter time over an enemy target, Deuskar ran out of fuel while making for Lashio. Instead of baling out, the crew tried a force landing in a field, possibly in the hope of saving the aircraft. But the aircraft flipped over and both the crew members were killed. A ground party from Lashio later went to collect their bodies and cremated them on the field.
But Deuskar’s was not the only aircraft lost in operations. Malse himself had a close shave later on:
“Somewhere in March, when I was flying out, in between I came to Magwe in my Lysander P9120. Magwe was attacked at that time by the Japanese bombers which were escorted by Zeros (Ed Note: probably Hayabusas). And my Lysander P9120 was blown up in that raid. After we lost that Lysander then I started flying L4797.”
This is the first time that the fate of Lysander P9120 has been clearly established. All wartime records only mention that the aircraft was issued to the Far East, and there is no trace of its fate in British records thereafter. The only other Lysander that was lost by No 1 Squadron was one flown by Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad, who was lost in cloud and baled out together with his air gunner.
The “Indian Volunteer Group” Plan and the Road Party back to India
It is said that the CO of No 1 Squadron, Sqn Ldr Jumbo Majumdar, was unhappy with the British plan for the evacuation of Burma, at the end of that 1942 campaign. Majumdar felt that it was not the right thing to do, and is believed to have made plans to take a part of the squadron personnel to China, to form an ‘Indian Volunteer Group’, on the lines of the AVG, to continue the fight against the Japanese. The only documented source for this assertion is the late AVM Harjinder Singh’s book ‘Birth of an Air Force’.
Did Pilot Officer Malse have any inkling of the plan? Or did he hear about it later on?
“Well I will tell you, (Sqn Ldr) Majumdar’s head was full of ideas. It was very difficult to say what exactly happened, but I tell you, he was a great leader. And I have no doubt he had some ideas on the same line. Because he used to interact with this AVG Group and he may have had some plan to do the same. I have heard of no such plans, but it was quite possible. Majumdar had all sort of plans to attack, and all this sort of thing.
So you see Majumdar was, even as a CO, he was frank with us. We used to talk and discuss. He kept his squadron as a well-knit unit. I can’t personally confirm if he had plans of an Indian Volunteer Group in China, but if anyone can confirm, Prithipal Singh – he was quite a confidant of Majumdar. Niranjan was there (though he was in a different location). The only other person who can confirm this is Harjinder Singh, he was very close to him. In fact those days, Senior NCO, Warrant Officer Technical, he was like a friend of junior officers. You see he had direct access to the CO. He was very good, he would always come and as a Pilot Officer, if he saw us he would always run up and help us out. Yes, Harjinder would know – if there was such a plan.”
All the surviving members of No 1 Squadron agree that Majumdar was a man of extraordinary thinking, a cut above the rest. And it would have been entirely in character for him to plan such a move to China to form an IVG.
One reason that Malse would not have heard about the plan at the time was that as operations went on, he was given the task of leading the first Road Party of the squadron back to India. A party of one officer and twelve airmen was earmarked to go back to Indian as the ‘advance party’. Malse was not happy to leave the squadron , nor were the designated airmen. Malse protested – asking Majumdar “why the hell” he was being sent away. But Majumdar was firm – someone had to do the job and he had his reasons for designating Malse for the task. “No. You have to go and you will be taking these men to Dum Dum.” And that was the final word.
So on 23rd February, Malse and his batch of airmen left for Magwe. Among the airmen was Sgt Bhaskaran, who would later become an Air Commodore and director of HAL; Flt Sgt Kohli, in-charge of the photographic cell of the Squadron; and Cpl Tara Singh, in charge of the MT Section.
The advance party of eight reached Magwe in a transport aircraft. They were to be flown out to India by air. But the Indians were offloaded at Magwe. They found out that priority was being given to British personnel. So Malse and his party were struck in Magwe for some days. Days passed by, aircraft after aircraft was taking off , bound for India; but Malse’s party seemed to have been completely forgotten.
Not knowing what else to do, Malse stayed put at Magwe. When the group began to run short of money, Malse had to resort to selling his flying boots – to raise money for necessities .
At this point, Cpl Tara Singh came to the rescue. Tara Singh was the MT incharge in the Squadron. He had salvaged a discarded 15cwt truck from somewhere, and was operating it as a ‘taxi’ to carry people around. After enduring several days of uncertainty at Magwe, with no transport arrangements in sight, the men were getting frustrated. Then it happened that Tara Singh spotted a flag car approaching. He instinctively jumped into its path, waving his hands and gesticulating frantically.
The car came to a stop, and out stepped Air Vice-Marshal Stevenson, the AOC of Air Forces in India and Burma. Nothing daunted, Tara Singh launched into an impassioned harangue, mixing Punjabi and English words – but making his feelings clear by sheer force of conviction:
“Sir, I famous No 1 Squadron, Indian Air Force, brave, very brave. Our pilots more brave, our airmen more brave. We bomb Japanese, we fight Japanese – not afraid. Your RAF running away from Burma, British not brave. I, my officer don’t go India but you order go. Now you send RAF all RAF home. We Indians not getting aerial, but RAF getting aerial. What hell is this? We wait many days. No Justice, please excuse” 
It would be an understatement to say Stevenson was baffled. He noticed that Malse, an officer , was present and asked him the substance of Tara Singh’s appeal.
Malse confirmed, “Sir, this is quite true, we have been here for days, and we have not been getting any aerial transport.”
Stevenson blew a fuse: “What nonsense is this, no transport?” and he promptly arranged for the party to be evacuated by air at the earliest. According to Harjinder’s account, Stevenson actually stopped an aircraft loaded with RAF personnel, offloaded the RAF airmen and sent the IAF men in their place.
Malse and his airmen were flown to Akyab, and again offloaded. But from Akyab, there were other modes of transport available, and the advance party eventually managed to travel by train right upto Dum Dum in Calcutta.
After detraining at Dum Dum they needed to get to the airport, to bring themselves back under the umbrella of the RAF’s arrangements, but found no transportation available other than commercial taxies. With no money in hand, Malse was worrying about the trip, when Tara Singh came to the rescue again: “Saab, no worry Sir, Tara Singh take you.”
“How?” asked Malse,
“By taxi, Saab.”
“You have gone mad? By taxi? That’s expensive!”
“No”, Tara Singh said. “I hired taxi – Tara Singh take you to airport!”
So, courtesy of Master Tara Singh, the IAF’s No 1 Squadron Advance Party finally reached their destination – RAF Dum Dum.
It was only after reporting to the Duty Officer there that Malse found out the real, tragic reason that Majumdar had sent him back with the Advance Party. Malse’s father had passed away shortly before, in Bombay. His CO, Sqn Ldr Majumdar, and his Flight Commander, Prithipal Singh, had both been advised of the sad news, but they had decided not to tell him immediately. They knew that Malse would have been torn between staying with the squadron and moving back to Bombay. To make things simpler for him, they decided to send Malse back to India as the head of the Advance Party.
R and R
It had already been decided that the Advance Party would go to Secunderabad to await the arrival of the other elements of No 1 Squadron. So all the squadron personnel were given the necessary travel warrants. Malse got his warrant to be issued to Secunderabad – Via Bombay! That way he got to go and visit his mother to console her. He moved on to Secunderabad in good time.
It was March 1942. The first elements of No 1 Squadron had started coming back from the front. Flt Lt Niranjan Prasad, together with Homi Ratnagar and S K Ibrahim, had flown three Lysanders back from the Rangoon flight. Malse’s replacement aircraft L4767 would also find its way back to Secunderabad eventually. The Squadron moved to Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirapalli) for more flying, and was finally earmarked for Hurricane conversion in mid-1942.
|LEFT: Tea Party at the Willingdon Sports Club near Juhu. The Governor of Bombay, Sir Roger Lumley chats with Plt Offr H S Ratnagar, with Plt Offr Y V Malse to his left and watched by Prithipal Singh in the rear.|
|BELOW: The pilots, gunners and other airmen from Bombay in a customary group photograph at the Willingdon’s Sports Club at Juhu.
Top Row: All unidentified – fifth from left (possibly BH Ghyara)
The squadron traveled to Risalpur by special train. Conversion onto the Hawker Hurricane started soon after, in July. All the pilots underwent orientation flying in the Harvard, before moving on to the Hurricane I. After initial type conversion, low level flying and air to ground firing was also taught.
The squadron collected its own Hurricanes from the depot at Karachi, and then flew South to Trichinopoly around October, the same time No 4 Squadron was being raised. The squadron arrived at Trichinopoly on 23 September and stayed on for some time, before going to Bairagarh, Bhopal for Armament Training. At this time, Sqn Ldr SN Goyal was the Commanding Officer. On completion of their training, they moved to Charra.
Around this time, the squadron was earmarked for ‘showing the flag’ at the NWFP. They moved back to Risalpur, and finally settled down at their old base of Miranshah in April 1943. During their stay at Kohat later on, Sqn Ldr Goyal ran into trouble with the Station Commander. This resulted in his being posted out, and one of the Flight Commanders, Flight Lieutenant Arjan Singh, taking over command of No 1 Squadron. This was the only recorded occasion when the British and the Indian officers had some kind of serious confrontation . Otherwise relations between the two services were always cordial and friendly. As Malse would testify:
“There was a problem with the British officers and Goyal. But frankly, the problem was made out of (proportion). I am not witness to what happened ultimately, there was lot of mistaken ideas at that time. I as a Pilot Officer would not know much. But seeing that there was a fight between British officers and Indians …I am not witness to it. As long as training, as far as Indian officers are concerned, I did not find any ill treatment by the RAF. The treatment used to be absolutely on par in the messes. Again I heard of various stories but I wont contribute to that.”
Goodbye to the Tigers
In October 1943, the Tigers were still at Miranshah under Arjan Singh. The Hurricanes flew several operations – Tactical Close Support to Army formations, Offensive Recce, and others. All these operations were undertaken in the October – December timeframe.
In February 1944, the time had come for No 1 Squadron to move back to the frontline in North Eastern India. The Japanese were knocking on the doors to Assam, and various battles were being fought to stem the tide. As No 1 was preparing to move to the frontline, Malse himself was looking forward to return to the fight against the Japanese. He was due for promotion to Flight Lieutenant – and he was expecting to take over one of the flights in No 1 Squadron as soon as the senior most Flight commander, Raza was posted out. But there was a hitch – also due for promotion was Flying Officer Ibrahim who was senior to Malse. Now when the time came for promotion, both were promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant, but Malse was posted out to No 2 Squadron as the Flight Commander. This was a major disappointment to him. He had spent over two years with No 1 Squadron from the day he was commissioned. He had done the first tour in Burma, done two stints in the NWFP, and was looking forward to go back to the Burma front again with No 1 Squadron. Getting posted out just before the move was totally unexpected and a bolt from the blue.
“I had a long stint with No 1. But there was a sad part to it. When the squadron was to move to Burma operations, I was posted out, I understand it now, but I was very upset at that time. I met Arjan Singh and told him that I was not hankering for the Flight Lieutnant rank. He said no. The Air Force is never developed that way, you must expect that.”
Malse finally relented under Arjan Singh’s persuasion. Sixty years later, he still says that watching his old squadron take off for the front without him was one of the saddest experiences of his life.
“The squadron with which you become a Flying Officer and spent two years, it was a sad thing, I saw the whole Squadron take off for operations, and I was sitting on ground watching them take off.”
Move to No 2 Squadron
Though Malse was disappointed at missing a second tour with No 1 Squadron, as he now admits, his posting to No 2 Squadron was not something to regret. No 2 Squadron was also based in NWFP, at Kohat, under the command of Squadron Leader SS Majithia. Malse took over ‘B’ Flight. ‘A’ flight was also under the command of another ex-Tiger – Flight Lieutenant HS Ratnagar. Command of the squadron went to Squadron Leader Kanwar Jaswant Singh in May 1944.
Seated: Mrs Mukerjee, Mrs Malse, Mrs Jaswant Singh and Mrs Mehta.
Standing: Lt Bose, Flt Lt A Hughes RAF, Sqn Ldr K Jaswant Singh OC 2 Sqn, Wg Cdr Subroto Mukerjee, OC Kohat, Flt Lt YV Malse and an unidentified Sikh Officer.
After maintaining vigil on the NWFP, the squadron moved to Kalyan near Bombay around August 1944. Then the time came for the squadron to move to the Burma Front, to take part in the Third Arakan Campaign. Towards the end of November 1944, No 2 Squadron which had moved to Mambur airstrip near Cox’s Bazar by land.
To quote what has already been said elsewhere “From 23rd November 44, when they arrived at Mambur airstrip, till 17 May 45, when their tour ended, the squadron was involved in flying fighter recce missions. The task for the squadron was to collect info on Japanese activity by either visual observation or photographic means. Over the coming weeks, the Squadron would provide recce cover to the army in ops in the Mayu Peninsula, Kaladan Valley and the Invasion of Ramree Island.”
Malse was commanding ‘B’ Flight, and his old squadron-mate Ratnagar was in charge of ‘A’ Flight. Malse and his Flight flew the first operational sortie on 1st December 1944, a Tac Recce mission to the Kaladan Valley. The squadron had split up its work, so that each flight carried out missions on alternate days. Each pilot would carry out two sorties on the days they were assigned to fly.
A look at Malse’s log reveals that he flew 22 operational sorties in December 1944. His sorties were a mixture of Photo Recce and Tactical Recce missions. During the period it was on operations, No 2 flew an average of 500 sorties every month at the height of operations. At least four pilots were lost on operations, and another taken POW. Yet while other squadrons took away a number of laurels and public accolades, the work done by No 2 Squadron went largely unsung. In fact only one DFC was ever awarded to a pilot from No 2 Squadron, to Flying Officer Bhondada Bhaskara Koteshwara Rao.
“One thing I must tell you, this is my personal observation, 2 Squadron did a lot of operational missions. In fact it did extremely well. And somehow if you check the Operational Record, you would see (mostly) all operational missions. It happens in war (that one’s work goes unrecognized). 1 Squadron was well recognized as it was in a particular place and at a particular time. They did a magnificent job and at that time. 2 Squadron did similar work, but it was at a later period. I think 2 Squadron was some how ignored (in terms of awards) for two reasons. First, I think with 2 Squadron’s Public Relations were bad and second, the attitude of our CO Jaswant (towards the gallantry awards) was “Couldn’t care less!”. And Ratnagar’s attitude was similar.
“Then after lot of struggle, one of my junior officers, (Fg Offr) BBK Rao, he was awarded the DFC. In a war zone, in operations, it’s very different (getting the awards done). There are three things required of a decoration. One is that you got to do a good job; second thing someone has to watch you do it and the third is someone needs to put it up. Unless all the three things come in time, you don’t get anything. Rao later died in Jodhpur in an accident.”
In the following months, the Squadron took part in the actions in the Kangaw Area, the invasion of Ramree Island, and other battles. One mission with which Malse was tasked was to search for a Royal Navy ship, HMS Barwin. Barwin was on patrol in a forward area, but had lost radio contact with base. It was suspected that the ship had suffered difficulties with its communications equipment. Malse found the ship, deployed in a forward zone, and dropped a message to it – which instructed the ship to return to base. Later he would meet the grateful captain of Barwin at Akyab.
|‘B’ Flight commander, Flt Lt Yeshwant Malse chats with other pilots, while a ground crew member works with the oblique camera of the Hurricane. This Hurricane is believed to be LD174. Arun Agnihotri Collection|
During those days, the Indian airmen in both IAF as well as RAF units were not eligible to draw beer in their rations, while the RAF airmen were eligible to draw beer and alcohol with their rations. This caused some frustration and resentment among the IAF airmen. Some Indian squadron commanders, like Bob Doe of No 10 Squadron, resorted to administrative jugglery as part of which they would “mistakenly” return all their Indian airmen as British in their paperwork. The result was that the squadron would get beer for all its airmen, British and Indian, as part of its ration for the week.
Malse’s approach, however, was more direct. He took it upon himself to apprise the visiting AOC, Air Marshal Baldwin, during one of the ‘get-togethers’ in Akyab. He told Baldwin openly, “Sir, this is nonsense, all my airmen are not getting any beer ration, while the RAF men next to us are getting it. How is this done?”. The very next day the Indian airmen were placed at par with the RAF men for rations, and were made free to draw beer or alcohol if they wished.
This helped strengthen Malse’s opinion of the essential fairness of the British approach towards Indians. He says:
“In operations they (the British) never let us down. They did their part. Later trouble came in training in Risalpur where we went to the mess. They would get better quarters than us but even that was marginal. Throughout the war, our relations with the RAF could be termed as very very friendly. At that time the RAF came from abroad. The people who lived in India all their time, they were imperialistic. My own instructor a British officer, he took lot of interest (in us). The RAF did not let us down. Even later on (when) I went to Air HQ, we had fairly good relations. ”
Operations tapered off a little after February 11th and flying effort was considerably reduced. The pilots engaged themselves in flying more recce sorties over the coming months. By the end of April, it was clear that No 2 Squadron would again move back from the frontline. By the end of May, the squadron found itself again at Kohat, in the NWFP, for a well-deserved rest.
Post War – Till Independence
The end of the war came within a couple of months of No 2 Squadron’s return to Kohat. The Japanese agreed to surrender in August 1945, with the surrender being signed in September 1945 on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Soon mainland Japan would be under the occupation of the Allied forces.
For its part, the British came up with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, the air component of which would include one IAF unit, No 4 Squadron. Malse was designated to join the squadron in Japan as a Flight commander – for this he would have to convert to the Spitfire first. He was designated to go on a short detachment to No 12 Squadron, to convert onto the Spitfire. But soon after, he fell ill, and hence could not qualify in time to take up the appointment in Japan. After he recovered, he did go to No 12 Squadron, then under the command of Squadron Leader N “Gus” Haider. He converted to the Spitfire, and then as the Squadron was designated to convert to Dakotas, went back to No 2 Squadron, by then under the command of Squadron Leader Maqbool Rabb, flying Spitfires at Miranshah.
His second stint with No 2 Squadron did not last long. Partition was on the horizon, and the assets of the Royal Indian Air Force were being divided between the two countries. Malse received his promotion to Wing Commander – and was posted to Air Headquarters as the BDOC, a technical position related to the development of airbases.
Malse asserts, with a grin, that the only reason that he was sent to the essentially technical post of BDOC was that his father had been an engineer!  In this post, he was part of a team that included an Air Ministry Architect, Group Captain Thomson of the RAF. This team was responsible for commissioning various permanent airfields. Thus even though Ambala was the only permanent air base that would be left in India as the RAF withdrew, the team saw to that other airbases, such as Kalaikunda in the East, Poona in the South West, and Agra in the North, were activated as permanent bases.
During his time with the Air HQ Team, Malse had missed the opportunity to command his own squadron. Now that he was a Wing Commander, commanding a fighter squadron was out of the question. However his seniors had different plans for him, as he would come to know when his next posting came about – as Squadron Commander , No 12 Squadron (Dakotas).
. Most contemporary accounts identify the fighter unit that often escorted No 1 Squadron on its raids as an RNZAF squadron, equipped with Brewster Buffalos. These, rather than the AVG, were probably the escorting fighters that Malse recalls. He initially described the escorting fighters as Thunderbolts, a type which was not in service in Burma during that 1942 campaign; but the RNZAF’s Brewster Buffalo, with its radial engine and barrel-shaped fuselage, is much more likely to have been recalled, 62 years later, as a Thunderbolt, rather than the AVG’s in-line engined and slim-fuselaged Curtis Tomahawk.
 It was ironic that while Malse was selling his personal belongings to raise money for his men, elsewhere in the theatre, other officers from his squadron were burning a fortune in Squadron funds to prevent them from falling into enemy hands!
 Wording reconstructed from AM Malse and AVM Harjinder Singh’s accounts
 What kind of confrontation exactly still eludes us – AVM Goyal alludes briefly to the incident in his personal account – but offers no further details
 As it turned out, however, Malse was to assume responsibility for some major civil engineering works for the IAF later, including the construction of a water reservoir for Eastern Air Command; and also to serve as a Director of a major engineering firm after retiring from the Air Force.
Air Marshal YV Malse (retd) for providing time for a personal interview and access to his logbook
Group Captain AG Bewoor (retd) for arranging the interview with AM Malse
K S Nair for taking the effort to edit this document to weed out all errors and typos.