Maan Par Jaan – Honour unto Death
Birth of the Oorials
No. 4 Squadron, Air Force was formed at Peshawar on 01 Feb 1942 under the command of Sqn Ldr HU ‘Bulbul’ Khan. It was the third IAF Squadron to be equipped with the Westland Lysander Army Co-operation aircraft. Within days of its formation, the Squadron would move to Miranshah, were the first mission against the tribals in NW Frontier was undertaken to bomb Shirani.
NWFP , Hurs and the Hurricane
During 1942 the Squadron operated a Lysander flight from Miranshah for action against insurgent Pathan tribals, while the Squadron HQ with the second flight were still based at Kohat. During this period the Sqn operated its aircraft as bombers, besides carrying out its Army air co-operations role, tactical recce and mail dropping missions. On 17 Sep 42, four aircraft followed by another four on the 19th flew down to Hyderabad in Sind to carry out operations against the Hurs. Some of the tasks entrusted to the detachment in Hyderabad included Photo reconnaissance flights. Flt Lt Majithia was the only pilot available with experience in such kind of sorties carried out a significant number of missions.
By April 43 all the aircraft from Hyderabad made their way back to Kohat. In June , the Squadron was informed of its impending conversion to the Hurricane. The whole unit moved to Risalpur by 17 Jun 43 for a fighter reconnaissance course on Hurricanes. On successful completion of training the Squadron moved to Phaphamau to take charge of their Hurricanes. By September the unit was upto its full establishment of sixteen Hurricanes. By this time the CO, Sqn Ldr MK Janjua was posted out and Sqn Ldr SW Baldie of the RAF came to the unit to take over the Commanding Officer role. However Sqn Ldr Baldie was killed in the move from Phaphamau to Bairagarh on the same day when the Hurricanes got caught in bad weather and three of them were lost of the 12 that took off.
Sqn Ldr Janjua was posted back as the CO in November by which time the Sqn had completed its armament training and moved to Sulur. In Feb 1944, the Sqn moved to Ranchi to carry out special low flying and ground attack training before moving to the front for its operational tour to Burma. On the way they collected their Hurricane IIcs from Allahabad and the role of the Squadron was changed from Fighter recce to Fighter bomber.
In March 1944, the Sqn moved to Feni for operations against the Japanese. The role of the Sqn was to provide close Air support to the XIV Army. The move to Feni was completed by 9 Mar 44. During this time Sqn Ldr GS Sharp of the RNZAF took over command of Squadron when Sqn Ldr Janjua got posted to Air Headquarters.
It was from Feni that the Sqn carried out its first operational sorties by providing fighter escort to Dakota, engaged in supply dropping missions in the northern Burma. By end of June they moved to Cox Bazar to relieve No.6 Squadron. In July 44, they squadron flew 219 sorties comprising of tactical, photographic and offensive sorties over the Arakan front. Notable missions include attacking the Bashas in Mayu valley , strafing of Sampans on the Kaladan river, bombing of Gunpits in Seinnyinbya and offensive recce missions over most of Arakan. The Hurricanes were retrofitted with bomb racks in August 44 and many sorties were flown with aircraft carrying 1000lb bomb loads. August saw 390 sorties flown amounting to 467 hours. In this period they dropped 20,250lbs of bombs on the enemy targets. Sept 44 saw an increase in flying effort again. 454 sorties amounting to 660 hours! Operations were flown in support of the 81st West African division in the Arakan area. Flying effort however had reduced slightly amounting to 336 Sorties in October and 380 sorties in November. As the XIV Army pushed the Japanese forces southwards and moved towards Rangoon, No. 4 Sqn was constantly on the move and kept moving from one advanced landing ground to another. On the eve of the third Arakan campaign, The Squadron received a Spitfire LF Mk VIIIc, which was the first Spitfire to be operated by the Indian Air Force. This lone aircraft operated from Cox’s Bazaar path finding for Allied P-47s and P-51s.
In December 1944, the third Arakan offensive began. The objective being to capture the Maya peninsula Akyab, Ramree island and to contain the Japanese in the Arakan and prevent them from crossing the Arakan Yoma and interfering with the advance of the XIV Army. No 4 Sqn operated in direct support of the land forces and bombed Japanese strongpoint at Haparabyin and Ratheduang. During the Landing of the Indian troops at Kangow, the Squadron laid a smoke screen on the beach to enable safe landing of the troops. The Hurricanes would carry specially fitted barrels under the wings that would stream a chemical that turns into smoke in the slipstream. The smoke screen was laid out with great effort as a Naval bombardment was simultaneously in progress. Bombs were also simultaneously dropped. some failed to explode. But the operation was carried out successfully.
Several other such ‘Smoke laying’ sorties were flown by the Squadron over the course of January – especially in support of the ‘All Indian Brigade’ at Kangaw, then commanded by Brig Thimmayya. Most of the missions were hair-raising, involving flying close to the ground, having to distinguish the imaginary bomb line on the ground and drop the canisters. One of the pilots flying this mission was Fg Offr Neville Gill. (Read more in A World War II Pilots Story).
Feb 45 saw the Squadron based at Akyab. Sorties were flown which involved laying a smoke screen at Kumhataung and bombing Ruywa. These kind of sorties continued well into March 45 when the Squadron was finally ‘rested’. They were dispatched to move back to India and convert to Spitfires. In recognition of the services rendered, the Commanding Officer , Sqn Ldr GS Sharp was awarded the DSO and four other members received the DFC, including the Flight commander Flt Lt MS Pujji and Fg Offr BN Surendra. It was about the same time that the Squadron adopted the Oorial head as it emblem.
In April 1945, No. 4 Squadron was transferred back to India, ferrying back 9 Hurricanes for conversion to Spitfire. By end of May 14 Spitfire Mk XIVs were received and conversion training commenced in June. During the conversion period, the unit lost only one pilot, Fg Offr RG Buchanan, who crashed during Air to Ground firing exercises.
British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan
After the Japanese surrender in August 1945 , the Squadron took part in the Victory over Japan parade at Madras by carrying out a flypast under the command of Sqn Ldr EW Pinto. About this time, the unit was intimated of the possibility of moving to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. This was a singular honour for the Royal Indian Air Force and for No. 4 Sqn in particular. Short take off and landing procedures were practiced in preparation for the move to Japan as it was envisaged that the aircraft would be flown off a carrier onto shore airfields. The Spitfire had pneumatically operated flaps which could be lowered fully for landing or raised fully up. The Sqn devised a method of getting 15 degrees of flaps by inserting wooden wedges.
On 08 Apr 1946, HMS Vengeance sailed with 22 aircraft of No. 4 Sqn, berthed at Singapore for refueling and set course for Iwakuni, a port of Kyushu island. The aircraft carrier finally arrived at Iwakuni and was anchored midstream. The decision taken earlier to fly the aircraft off the carrier was changed since excellent facilities were provided for off loading & transporting the aircraft.
Spitfires – No.4 Squadron’s Spitfire XIVs being serviced at Miho in Japan where the British Commonwealth Occupation Force was based.
The Oorials were given a temporary base at Iwakuni till the rest of the personnel arrived. Shortly thereafter, the unit moved to its permanent location at Miho on Sloustin Island. From here they undertook various flying tasks which were mainly maritime patrol over the sea to ensure there was no subversive activity or smuggling. The stay at Miho was an interesting one and a lot of extracurricular functions were undertaken. The Squadron at that time was under Sqn Ldr Jagdev Chandra, with the Flight Commanders being Flt Lt Nur Khan and Flt Lt Shirpurkar. There were several other notable names – Fg Offrs John Rollo, Donald Michael, Neville Gill, J Martin, GS Sekhon, Janmast Afridi, CHL Digby, AIK Suares etc
The Flt Cdrs Flt Lt Nur Khan and Flt Lt Shirpurkar evolved a pattern of formation flying depicting the letters “IAF”. This being the first time such letters were seen in the sky. There were occasional exercises carried out to display the air strength to the local populations while large formations were flown over the big cities. Command of the Squadron was later taken up by Sqn Ldr Minoo Engineer DFC. When the move to return to India started, Sqn Ldr Maurice Barker was the CO of the Squadron.
Several interesting missions were flown during the stay in Japan. Some aircraft of the Squadron took part in a ‘Fire Power Demonstration’ by the No.11 Squadron of the RAF. The Squadron also took part in the mass USAF ‘Independence Day’ flypast over Tokyo on the fourth of July. (Read more about No.4 Squadron in Japan in ‘In the land of the Mikado‘)
During the entire stay there was only one fatal accident, On 11 Jun 47 a two Spitfire formation consisting of Fg Offrs JA Martin and GS Sekhon on patrol between Miho and Hiroshima failed to return. The wreckage of both the aircraft were found later. Apparently the leader had flown into high ground in cloud cover followed immediately by the wingman. Flt Lt Nur Khan conducted the court of enquiry and submitted the findings later on..
The Squadron started returning to India in September 1947 and relocation was being done at Kanpur. The move was completed by October 1947 when the last of the pilots returned by troopship. The pilots had bought back a Japanese Yokosuka ‘Okha’ – a rocket powered Kamakazi aircraft used by the Japanese against shipping targets. This particular aircraft can still be seen at the IAF Museum in Delhi today. In October 1947, the Squadron was re-equipped with Tempest IIs.
No.4 was designated as a training squadron on the Tempest II. When operations against the Nizam of Hyderabad appeared imminent, the Oorials moved from Kanpur to Gannavaram airstrip, located on the outskirts of Vijaywada. The Squadron flew regular air recce sorties from July 48 onwards.
Operation POLO , the action against Hyderabad, commenced on 13 Sep 48. The Squadron under Sqn Ldr Ghisad, provided airsupport on the Vijaywada – Suryapet – Hyderabad Axis. They aided 2/5 GR Battalion in the capture of Suryapet town. Tempests from the unit straped the airstrip at Warangal town and subsequently at Hakimpet. The operations were on a very small scale. By the end of operations, No.4 had flown only about 32 sorties expending 14 X 500lb bombs, 33 x 60lb Rocket Projectiles and 2302 rounds of 20mm Ammunition.
|[Left] The Oorial head was painted on the Squadron’s aircraft , this example taken from an Ouragon preserved at NDA [Right] A MiG-21 Bis of the Oorials carries the Stylised badge of the squadron
The crest , which was adopted in 1944 consists of an Oorial head with the Ashoka on top and the Sqn Motto ‘Honour unto death’ written below. The Oorial was named after the local mountain sheep present in the Peshawar area where the Squadron used to conduct ops. This was to symbolise the qualities of endurance, strength and the fighting spirit that makes it fight to death rather than lose face and honour by turning away.
After the surrender of Hyderabad forces the unit moved back to Poona (Now Pune) to resume its role as a training unit. Tragically soon after the Hyderabad Ops, Sqn Ldr Ghisad was killed during an Fire Power Display held for the population of Hyderabad. He failed to pull out in time from a strafing dive.
In 1950, fresh pilots off Spitfires from Hakimpet joined No.4 to convert on Tempests before their posting to other units. When the first anniversary of India going republic came up in 1951, an impressive flypast was planned by Operations Command as part of the celebrations for 26 Jan 51. No.4 flew down to Palam on 10 Jan 51 , Ten Tempest IIs in all. They subsequently conducted several rehearsals. Sqn Ldr IH Latif , the CO, took out time to do his solo on No.7 Squadron’s Vampire F3s while at Palam!. The first ever RD flypast by the IAF was carried out without an incident on the 26th with the aircraft of the Oorials maintaining a perfect formation of nine aircraft. They flew back to Poona immediately after the very next day.
The Squadron’s Tempests took part in India’s first ever fire power demonstration on 21 July 1953 at Tilpat range. The Tempest’s career with the Indian Air Force was reaching its twilight, for even though it was an excellent aircraft to fly, its Centaurus Radial engine required heavy maintenance and spares. Reliability and serviceability came down in the early 50s and the aircraft was phased out from almost all units of the IAF. Infact, No.4 Squadron’s ATW Course at Jamnagar for 1953 had to be cancelled ‘because the master cylinder rods of the Centaurus had developed a strong tendency to break away from the crankshaft’. Inspite of such problems, No.4 continued to fly this type well into 1955, being the last unit to fly the Tempest. In September, the Squadron re-equipped with the De Havilland Vampire, which ushered in the Jet Age. In early 1956, the Squadron moved to Adampur, and again to Halwara in the same year.
During 1957, the French Dassault Ouragan replaced the Vampire and the Oorials handed over their Vampires to Kanpur and moved to Ambala to take over the Ouragans of No.8 Squadron. In 1958, the squadron moved to Palam for the IAF’s 25th Anniversary celebrations. The Toofanis of No.4 under Sqn Ldr AK Bose put up a formation flight depicting the letters ’25 IAF’ – which was appreciated by all the top officials who attended the celebration. After a stay of two years at Palam, the Squadron now moved East to Tezpur in 1960. The Squadron would now spend nearly two decades in the Eastern Sector.
In December 61, No.4 Squadron, under the command of Sqn Ldr MA Woodfall moved to Jamnagar to support operations against the action to liberate Portugese held Diu. When the Indian Army commenced operations in Goa , Diu and Daman on 18 Dec 61, the first sorties were flown against the Portugese fort at Diu. A direct hit was scored the destroyed the fort’s arsenal and the garrison surrendered soon after. The Ouragans participated in several strike sorties on Diu airfield knocking out the Runway and the ATC Building with 500lb bombs.
After the operations, the Squadron returned to Tezpur in the north east. During the 1962 Indo China war, The Squadron did not carry out any operations keeping in line with the policy of that time, but several recce missions were flown. Around this time they were called to carry out some Counter Insurgency Missions against the Naga rebels in the North east.
Operations in 1965
When the 1965 Hostilities broke out, the Oorials were under the command of Sqn Ldr P S George and was based at Hasimara. The fighting in the Eastern Sector was very low key. In retaliation to the PAF’s raids of September 6th, both Eastern Command and Central Command of the IAF had planned to carry out a few punitive strikes against targets in East Pakistan.
As part of the EAC’s war plans, No.4 Squadron was called upon to carry out offensive sorties on 7 Sep 65. A four ship mission led by the CO attacked the abandoned airstrip at Lal Munir Hat and carried out some strafing and rocketing of a train they found during the return leg. Another Vampire strike was undertaken in a two seater by Flt Lt Vatal and Fg Offr Gurdeep Singh against the deserted airfield. These were the only missions of the war as orders came soon after to cancel all offensive operations in the Eastern Sector.
Once operations got curtailed, there was not much activity for the Squadron to do. The rest of the war was spent in mounting ORPs and doing CAPs over its area of responsibility.
Post 1965, the IAF went on a massive re-equipment plan to induct the MiG-21FL as the mainstream fighter. No.4 gave up its Ouragons in 1966, and converted to the MiG-21FL. Command of the Oorials at this time passed on to Wg Cdr NF ‘Stumpy’ Watts. However Wg Cdr Watt’s tenure came to an end on 9 Nov 66, when the MiG-21U in which he was flying a conversion sortie with Sqn Ldr Vijayan crashed on the runway at Tezpur. Luckily an airman Corporal Ghosh was at the scene of the accident. Ghosh rescued both Watts as well as Vijayan from the burning aircraft. For his gallantry, Cpl Ghosh was awarded the Kirti Chakra. Both the pilots later recovered from their injuries at the hospital.
Operations in 1971
For the 1971 Bangladesh war operations, No.4 Squadron , under the command of Wg Cdr JV Gole, was based at Gauhati in Assam. Gauhati was the major MiG-21 airbase in the Eastern Sector also housing No.28 Squadron. Between the two units, the Counter Air Strike missions against Tezgaon and Kurmitola airfields were carried out with gusto.
The honour of flying the first missions over Dacca went to the Oorials, when Wg Cdr Gole led a four aircraft escort to a formation of Hunters from No.37 Squadron to attack Tezgaon. The Hunters were intercepted by Sabres and the MiGs mixed it with the enemy to relieve the Hunters. The combat was inconclusive but this gave advance warning to the subsequent strikes of No.28 Squadron on the presence of the Sabres. On a subsequent mission, Flt Lt Jayendra Sukrut Raj was credited with shooting down an F-86 over Dacca – the only air to air kill claimed by a MiG-21 Squadron in the East.
On 6th Dec, both the Squadrons from Gauhati struck Tezgaon and Kurmitola with Runway Busting bombs. Close support missions were flown in support of the Army in XXXIII Corps area and in IV Corps area. During one of these missions, Sqn Ldr D P Rao’s MiG-21 was hit by AAA fire and his drop tanks got hit. Being critically short of fuel, He asked for homing from Gauhati ATC but overshot on the first attempt to land. There was not enough fuel for him to go around and Rao had to eject. The first and the only loss to the Squadron during the war.
More sorties were carried out over the next days, including a two aircraft mission against the Governor’s House on Dec 13th. Dacca University Campus was hit on 14th Dec to flush out Pakistani Army positions. When the war came to an end on 17th December, No.4 Squadron had flown 268 sorties in support of the Army operations. No.4 Squadron received appreciation from all concerned for its participation in the war in this sector. The Squadron ended the war with 2 Vir Chakras to its credit – for Flt Lt J S Raj and Flt Lt H S K Sardesai. The CO was mentioned in despatches.
[Author’s Note: Details about No.4 Squadron’s movements and Commanding Officers in the 1970s and 80s have not been available to us. The Author would appreciate any inputs in this regard]
After the 1971 War, No.4 remained at Guwahati for some years to come, flying the MiG-21 FL. 15 Dec 1979 was a red letter day for the Squadron. The President of India , Shri N Sanjiva Reddy presented the ‘Colors’ to No.4 Squadron as well as No.2 Squadron in an impressive ceremony at Kalaikunda Air Force Base. After some time, the Squadron moved to Pune in the early 80s. It was about this time that the Squadron gave up its FLs and re-equipped with MiG-21Bis.The Squadron had flown the FL for more than a decade and a half and it was time to bid adieu to the ‘Sports’ version of the MiG-21.
In 1983, The Oorials played a ‘starring’ role in the Hindi Movie ‘Vijeta’. Produced by noted film actor Shashi Kapoor, the movie revolved around a young sikh who joins the IAF as a Pilot and takes part in the 1971 War. Much of the movie including the climax involving MiG-21 Bis’ was shot at Pune and No.4 provided the pilots and planes for the film shooting. The movie included good color footage of the Oorials aircraft in flight and in operations. Several pilots were heard wryly remarking about the Bis not being around during the 1971 War but ultimately they were willing to let the director take some artistic license in this regard!
The Squadron moved to 5 FBSU at Uttarlai in Barmer sometime around the year 1985. Operating from the harsh desert climate at the forward base requires constant and continuous effort on the part of ground and flight crew to maintain operational readiness. The Oorials took this task and have commendably carried out several years of readiness from this airbase.
Record level Monsoon Rainfall was recorded in Barmer district in August 1990. This resulted in massive floods and rising waters that soon threatened the airbase. No.4 at that time was under the command of Wg Cdr R Chakravarthy. The pilots and airmen of Oorials put up a tremendous effort and worked round the clock to save the Aircraft from the floods. When it was inevitable that Uttarlai airfield was going to be under water, all the pilots took off in their aircraft to Jaisalmer, saving them from considerable damage.
The Oorials stayed with 41 Wing in Jaisalmer for a short duration of eight months till March 91. They returned to Uttarlai after that. However their stay at Jaisalmer resulted in a couple of tragic losses. The Sqn CO , Wg Cdr Chakravarthy failed to return from a dark phase night sortie on 11 Nov 90. The wreckage of the aircraft could be located only after two nights. Possible disorientation was suggested. A few months later in Feb 91, Fg Offr Sikka was killed when he flew into a hill during approach to land at Jaisalmer. Wg Cdr Bajwa took over the command of the Squadron around that time and moved it back to Uttarlai. Not soon after Fg Offr Kuttappa ejected after from his Bis after going into a G-LOC induced spin.
It was under the command of Wg Cdr Bajwa that the Golden Jubilee of the Squadron was celebrated at Uttarlai in 1992. The Chief of Air Staff, ACM NC Suri was the chief guest for the celebrations. The squadron took part in several exercise in the Rajasthan sector like Aakash Deep and Poorna Vijay. It maintained a high state of operational readiness during the Kargil Crisis.
The Squadron , under the command of Wg Cdr Pradeep Deshpande was all set to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee at Uttarlai in February 2002. It was to be an event to remember. However the December 13 attack on parliament in 2001 put an end to any such plans and the Oorials geared up for operations in the subsequent mobilisation. The Squadron subsequently postponed the event to a later date.
Today, after sixty years since it was raised, No.4 Squadron remains the only fighter Squadron other than No.3 and No.7 to remain continuously in existence and at the service of the nation. It is also the only fighter unit to operate beyond the Indian Subcontinent and Burma for an extended period of duration. Still flying the MiG-21Bis, the squadron is continuing its relationship with the MiG-21 for some time to come, upholding the true traditions of the Indian Air Force.
[Author’s Note: The information on the Commodore Commandants, Commanding Officers and Gallantry Award Winners is incomplete]
|Air Chief Marshal Idris Hasan Latif PVSM||1975|
|Air Marshal Keith David Kingsley Lewis PVSM VM||1993|
|Air Marshal T M Asthana PVSM AVSM VM||Current|
|Hawker Hurricane IIc||1943||1945|
|Supermarine Spitfire IX and XVIII||1946||1947|
|Hawker Tempest II||1947||1955|
|De Havilland Vampire FB52||1955||1957|
|MiG-21 Bis||1980||Till Date|
|Other Types operated by the Squadron as trainer and hack aircraft: Harvard IIb, Vampire T.55 , and MiG-21U|
Locations of the Squadron Post 1947
|Jaisalmer||Aug 1990||Mar 1991|
|Uttarlai||Mar 1991||Till Date|
Aircraft of the Indian Air Force 1933-73 – Mr. Pushpindar Singh
History of the Indian Air Force 1933-1945 by Mr. SC Gupta, Combined Historical Cell, India-Pakistan Armed Forces.
Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the 1971 War by Mr. SN Prasad, Official History Cell
Operation Vijay – Liberation of Goa by Mr. SN Prasad, Official History Cell
My Years with the IAF – Air Chief Marshal PC Lal DFC
Thunder over Dacca – Air Vice Marshal BK Bishnoi AVSM VrC Bar , VAYU
The 1965 India Pakistan Air War Project – Bharat Rakshak http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/history/1965war
The Westland Lysander with No.4 Squadron – Bharat Rakshak
The 1971 India Pakistan Air War Project – Bharat Rakshak
Common Wealth War Graves Commission Website http://www.cwgc.org
Unpublished Recollections of Serving and Retired Air Force personnel
Patrick Ascension KENNEDY (122141), R.A.F.V.R., 4 (R.I.A.F.) Sqn Link