Indian Air Force Anniversary

George Winston


The history of aviation in India certainly started on a rocky note. India gained independence from Britain in 1947. During World War I, the British relied on their colonies for dispersing soldiers into combat. The British Air force (The Royal Flying Corps (RFC)) began recruiting Indians into its ranks and between November 1916 and April 1917, as little as five Indians were recruited to combat as front line pilots. Being a combat pilot was the most dangerous of positions as their life expectancy was only 11 days.

The concept of having Indians join the RFC let alone form an Indian Air Force (IAF) seemed too much for some, which is why the formation of the IAF was met with huge resistance leading up to 1932. However, six Indian officers went for pilot training at Cranwell College in 1930, of which five qualified as pilots while the other one went on to be a logistics officer. Concurrently, twenty-two Indian technicians were also trained within the air force. It is upon this first milestone that India’s air force can claim its origins- thus the birth of the IAF.

Although the IAF established itself in 1932 with only one aircraft at the time, it was only four years later (1936) that they would be deployed to the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) with an additional plane. Subroto Mukherji was the first commanding leader of the squad sent to the NWFP in 1939. By the end of December 1939, a further 23 men had signed up for training at the college, of which 16 remained until World War II. The men that were part of Mukherji’s squadron (Aspy Merwan Engineer and Arjan Singh) served before WWII and made it up the ranks of the Airforce in later years, The Hindu reports.

The Burma Campaign (1944–1945) was a war fought in South-East Asia and allowed the IAF to make their mark. At the battle of Imphal the Indian Air Force showcased some of the most skilled aerial attacking tactics. It was under “Jumbo” Majumdar- a young skilled aviator- that some of the most audacious counter-attack strikes were displayed against the Japanese. “Jumbo” became the first Indian to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the Burma Campaign. In 1940, “Jumbo” joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) and by June 1944, he had flown on more than 64 successful missions and he became greatly revered by his mates within RAF.