Monday, September 18, 2017

Losing the Marshal of the Air Force - 16th Sept 2017

The nation grieves the loss of Marshal Arjan Singh (IND/1577), who died in Delhi on 16 Sept 2017. His loss will be keenly felt. The editor of the IAF site and author of "The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965" recollects his brief but memorable encounter with the Marshal of the AF three years ago..

Losing the Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh yesterday was a sad, but inevitable day. The shock of losing him has been tempered by the response from the nation - the out-pour of feelings , memories and remembrances from people of all walks of life in India. This was not an anonymous air warrior lost to the times but someone loved and adored by many, those in the IAF and outside. Much will be written about him , so I will restrict myself to recollecting my three brief encounters with the Marshal over the years. Personally not meeting the Marshal would have been one of my greatest regrets of my life. Fortunately that was not to be the case.
The Marshal was someone I had always followed and studied for years. Starting in the early 90s as a young rookie researcher - trying to put together a history of the 1965 Air War, which soon blew up into a full fledged research project. Having spent almost a decade researching about a conflict that the Marshal was personally associated with, I would have loved to have met him during the research phase - But the distances involved in India at that time and other constraints meant that there was no direct link that could be established. Fortunatly just before we wrapped our book, my Co-Author Samir Chopra had actually met the Marshal in 2003 for an interview for our book. Some of the content was updated based on his observations and thoughts.
The first time I 'met' him was when I was 'foot slogging' on the grounds of Yelahanka at Aero India 2005. I was told about an event being held by Vayu Aerospace at the press center/ auditorium and I was walking my way over. Just about nearing the event, i saw an airforce blue ambassador pulling in - What caught my eye from a distance was the five star flag and plate on the Ambassador - which was enough for me to start jogging on a slow trot to the auditorium.
2005 01
The Ambassador with the five star plate pulling into the Auditorium.. that was my cue!
I reached just in time to catch the two occupants get out - Legendary Historian Pushpindar Singh - "Uncle Pushy" to us youngsters and the Marshal himself, dressed in a suit. Pushy sir recognised me when i approached - and he gladly obliged my request for a photograph of both of them standing next to each other.  
2005 02
Mr. Pushpindar Singh and Marshal Arjan Singh, just after they alighted out of the car
I forget what I was introduced as - probably some "young.. upcoming... whatever"... the Marshal acknowledged me briefly and moved on for the main event. My memories of the event are blurry - but I did wangle another photo of the Marshal with late Wg Cdr I M Chopra and Air Marshal Mally Wollen. I was so much in awe of that meeting that I didnt even have the thought process to have my own picture with him that I could cherish.. ("Selfie" would have been a disrespect - and it never existed in the dictionary at that time).
2005 03
With Wg Cdr I M Chopra (Left) and Air Marshal Mally Wollen (Right)
Ten months later, in December 2005, I ran into the Marshal again, this time at the Passing Out Parade at AFA Dundigal. At the meet and greet after the main Parade, I was standing in the hangar where the refreshments were served, when the C-in-C Training Command, Air Marshal S Bhojwani graciously pulled me aside and introduced me to the Marshal.  By this time the "India Pakistan Air War of 1965" has been published - and while there was no fanfare behind its launch or publicity, enough copies made their way around that it was known among the 65 war veterans. When Air Marshal Bhojwani introduced me, it took a few seconds but the Marshal recollected - "Ah yes, the 1965 India Pakistan Air War Book - You wrote it?".  I had no idea if he had seen it or read it, but surely he had heard about it. That was that -it was a brief meeting and sadly again no photos in my collection to remind me of that visit. Though I remember managing a video of him as reviewing officer in the Parade. During that time I used to carry my personal copy of the "India Pakistan Air War of 1965" that I used as an autograph book for 1965 war veterans. However I didnt have that book with me on that day - and I cursed myself for not having the foresight! In my defence, I never even thought I would get close to the Marshal on that day. (Though I recall, my friend Sree who was with that time scored his signature on a copy of "Touching the Sky" .. I remember i had to prod him to go back and ask him for it)
Fast forward about seven years, while working on a side project, I emailed Sqn Ldr Rana Chhina pitching a book project I had in mind - The Westland Wapiti in the Indian Air Force. Chhina Sir not only said yes, but mentioned the possibility that Marshal Arjan Singh can be requested to write the foreword and possibly even attend the book launch! That was a thought that never would have crossed my mind - something that wouldnt have been possible in my life even if I had tried hard for it.. now  suddenly it was thrown out there as a possibility , have the Marshal write the foreword, attend the book launch and finally to meet him in person. That offer of meeting the Marshal at a book launch was always at the back of my mind - during the next two years as I flung myself into this book project. The Wapiti book was completed around 2013. Rana sir helped in getting not only the foreword written but also got the Marshal to contribute some of his memories of flying this aircraft that was reproduced in the book.
Finally the book was completed and scheduled to be launched in September 2014 at a CAFHR event in Delhi. I would be flying in from the US to attend this event, and I was keenly looking forward to meeting the Marshal in person. However ahead of the trip there was some disqueting news. It was mentioned that the Marshal was not feeling well, as he had some back problems and that he wont make the book launch. He had cut down on all public appearances and the event will go on without him.
Even before the disappointment of the news could sink in, my mind was feverishly working on alternatives. I knew the book launch was for two books, the other one being "Spitfires in the Sun" - written by Air Vice Marshal Vikram Singh. The Marshal had written the foreword for the Spitfire book as well. I promptly suggested that since the Marshal had written and contributed to these two books, wouldnt it be prudent if both authors could personally meet the Marshal at his residence and present him with copies of the book? The suggestion was accepted and sure enough, a few days later in Delhi, I found myself at the residence of the Marshal , in the company of AVM Vikram Singh and Sree Kumar to present the proof copy of the Wapiti Book to him.
While waiting for him in the study, All three of us were in awe of the memorablia surrounding us. The citations, certificates, mementos etc.. There were bookshelves containing works of Military History. Coffee Table books, The works of Winston Churchill. Some books that were made about the  life of the Marshal himself. And then.. there... tucked in between the many books was a copy of "The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965", right next to R D Pradhan's "Debacle to Revival" - a book that I knew the Marshal personally liked. ... That was it.. can this day get any better?
2013 04
As Sree mentioned - though his Personal Staff Officer, Wg Cdr Rana[1] told us to expect only 10-15 min of the Marshal's time, but the Marshal went beyond that and spent nearly 45 min with us. Both me and AVM Vikram Singh got to spend a few minutes at his side going over some of the contents of each of the books.
2013 01

The Marshal graciously shared some of his memories and thoughts on both these aircraft. He also dwelved a little bit more about his thoughts on the 1965 war - it was after all the 50th anniversary of the war that was approaching within an year.
When time came to leave, we requested if we could take a couple of group photographs with him seated in the center. He would have none of it and insisted he would stand for the photographs! And there we are the three of us, Myself, Sree and AVM Vikram Singh proudly standing next to the Marshal.
2013 03
And before we left, I had one last request. Stuffed in my bag was my personal copy of "The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965". This copy was what i designated "Copy Number 1" and in the nine years I have had it, it had collected over 30 signatures of IAF veterans, including half a dozen WW2 veterans. Having the Marshal sign it would be the icing on the cake.
So I pulled it out and I asked him if I could get his signature on it. I was nervous and apprenhensive. we had already overstayed our visit by some time.. and the Marshal has been standing for the last few minutes despite his bad back. Add to this fact was that our book though assailed as an eye-opening book on the war was a departure from the regular histories on the war - it included criticism of some of the aspects of the war including the handling of the war by the IAF top brass. For all I know the Marshal may not have liked some of the observations in the book that we made. All this was weighing on me but there was no hesitation from the Marshal's side - nor any from his Staff Officer who promptly provided him a pen and set it up on the table. The Marshal could have got away with just putting in a signature and date. But he went all the way and wrote down a long note - "I admire your effort to put on record the 1965 War, I have no doubt it would be of much use to our younger generations - Arjan Singh 6 Sept 2014" .   
2013 05
Even as we walked out of the house, (Thanking his PSO on our way out for making this happen )..  I was in disbelief. I had met the Marshal, presented him my latest book, had him write on my other book. - There is a phrase in Telugu that probably summed up how i felt "Janmam dhanyam aiyipoindi" - for a life long aviation nerd - My "Life long wishes have been fulfilled!"
It has been three years since that meeting, I had been closely keeping tabs on the Marshal's health and progress. In some ways we all knew that his passing away is an inevitable part of our lives. and when it finally happened - I shared the grief with many of my friends, veterans who served alongside him, and fellow historians . I also have an inner peace - The Marshal has to go to the heavenly abode - and he did it after earning the whole hearted love and affection of the forces and the nation. I was also at peace as I had my personal 'meeting' with him - and I am grateful for all the friends[2] who made it happen.

[1] The PSO was Wg Cdr Mohan Rana , who had this post for a few years and had become quite attached to the Marshal over the years - He was a caring and protective person who utmost priority was the Marshal's health. Thus his word was final - when it came to the meeting durations! [2] The friends who made it happen - are three - Sqn Ldr Rana Chhina (Secretary CAFHR), Air Marshal Bharat Kumar (Retd) and AVM Vikram Singh (Author of Spitfires in the Sun)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Where is Warbirds of India?

Warbirds of India | Promote Your Page Too
If you have landed up at this page and wondering what the heck is this, its probably because you typed in "" and ended up here. For those looking for that site - please use the short URL  Warbirds.IN and it will take you to that site.

The original came under a  DDoS attack  a few days ago and the host had suspended the account. the url now points to this blog - temporarily i hope while I look around for solutions.

In the mean time you can get to warbirds by typing the short url or by clicking on the facebook badge on the top and following any of the links to the site.

Sorry for this detour!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An aircraft "type" history of my own - The Westland Wapiti

Books categorized as Aircraft Type Histories are nothing new.  These are books devoted to a single aircraft type, and in cases to even a single mark or variant, that chronicles the technological overview, history, fates and status of these aircraft in great detail.  Look for Spitfire on Amazon and you will find in excess of a thousand titles, spread over a multitude of categories - Aviation History, History, Military History, Transportation etc.  P-51 Mustang retrieves a few thousands! . Even the Hawker Hurricane brings up a respectable 450+ titles.

In this field of surplus titles, I could find only one aircraft type that was addressed by a single title. The Vultee Vengeance by Peter Smith is an example. No Author since or then has ever tried to write a history of this forgotten dive bomber.  There could be others, but searching on obscure types like the Bachem Natter, the Do 335 Pfiel still retrieved two to three titles per type.

Which brings me to the latest book - this is MY aircraft type history - the history of the Westland Wapiti in the Indian Air Force Servicer. The Wapiti was the first aircraft on which the IAF was raised on in April 1933. It went on to serve with two Squadrons, five Coastal Defence Flights, two Army Co-operation Flights/Units and a few training schools.  100s of Indian pilots trained and flew on this type.  The aircraft was so prevalent in the early 30s that half the RAF was on this type. Yet not one book exists on this aircraft other than a couple of small booklet features (Profile Publications for example). Most of the Wapiti litterature exists in terms of articles and sort of keeps repeating the same information again and again.

My book is surprisingly the first and the only full sized book published on this aircraft. Granted it covers only the IAF service, ignoring the RAF's service (in UK and in India and in Iraq) and the Canadian  / Australian service, but this is the only one written that include unpublished technical drawings, colour profiles and 100s of photographs.

Writing this book was an adventure - discovering never before published records and photographs, making sense of them and using them. The final product is a 224 page softbound book published by the Center for Armed Forces Historical Research of the United Services Institute of India.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Testing Google Charts

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The fate of Squadron Leader Vinod Sehgal (R.I.P.1962) now resolved

62-VKSehgal.jpg (6767 bytes)

Squadron Leader Vinod Sehgal is the only Indian Air Force casualty of the 1962 war. He is believed killed and there has always been some mystery about his actual fate. especially as photograph of his helicopter had surfaced that showed it intact and being examined by the Chinese. The photo is reproduced in Air Marshal Bharat Kumars book on the 62 war. (and in the below post)

It was believed  that Sqn Ldr Sehgal and his passenger Major Ram Singh were either killed on landing or were taken POW and later killed.

Even the 62 war book ("Unknown and Unsung") remains ambiguous about what actually happened. 

The answer may have been right under our noses.    This document is a first person account by then 2nd Lt A S Behl (later Brigadier).  This was published in 2008 and linked from the Report My Signal Blog  ( )

He writes

"We saw a helicopter approaching the helipad. By that time small arm fire had also started from the black rock area and shelling was also going on.There was no sign of the helicopter taking-off again. I sent a patrol of two men to see what had happened. They came back and told me that that the helicopter was there, and two persons; one pilot and another person in a redturban were lying dead near the helicopter. Next day, when we buried them as prisoners of war (POWs) I could identify one as Sqn Ldr Sehgal and theother as Maj Ram Singh of Signals."

And there it is - an account by an Indian Army Officer as to what the actual fate of Sqn Ldr Sehgal is. I cannot recollect if Tsangdhar is actually in Indian territory or not, but perhaps an effort can be made to commemorate the graves .

Reproduced below is the photograph and the original caption speculating about the fate

BZ543.jpg (112622 bytes)
ABOVE: In this rare screen capture from a Chinese News Film, Sqn Ldr Vinod Sehgal's helicopter is shown at the Tsangdhar Helipad in Chinese Hands. The close up shot shows the serial as BZ-543. Sqn Ldr Sehgal (right) was presumably killed after he made the landing. The Helicopter was not returned by the Chinese after the war.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The best Westland Wapiti Indian scale model ever! PERIOD!..... BUT....

A couple of years ago, my friend Phil Camp posted photographs of a scratch built 1/48 scale Westland Wapiti IIa in 1930s Indian Air Force Colors. The model was built (by an unknown modeller) and displayed at the IPMS UK's Scale Model World event in 2011.  Its no wonder that this model won the Best Aircraft Award for that year.

The aircraft is an excellent example of attention to detail and ingenuity. The modeller displayed the aircraft with panels removed and with internal components visible.

The aircraft was displayed in the colors of No.1 Squadron, Indian Air Force. The Wapiti bore the serial K1263 and the Dark Blue/Light Blue chequer board markings on the fuselage and on the top of the wings. It featured the painted fin flash and the serial number. Two photographs exist of this Wapiti K1263 showing it being prepared for an operational sortie.  The accompanying plaque purports it to be of a Wapiti that served with the squadron at Drigh Road in the year 1934.

The model had photographs showing the various stage of scratch build process as well as the approach .

While there is no doubt that this is the best ever representaton of a Wapiti , and of one in Indian Air Force colours, and at that time I was totally in awe of the effort, I do in the interest of 'History' point out to a few inconsistencies. In the two years since this model appeared, I had attempted to write a history of the Westland Wapiti in Indian Air Force Service. After studying the records and archives available, and poring over more than a hundred photographs of Indian Air Force Wapitis, tracking the career of each individual aircraft over a decade, I found myself with a better understanding on the aircraft and the markings of the Indian units of that era. Without much ado, the inconsistencies are:

  1. Wapiti K1263 did not serve at Drigh Road in 1934, but rather at Peshawar starting late 1936 and into 1937. At that time No.1 Squadron had 'A' Flight detached to No.20 Squadron RAF for operations in the NorthWest Frontier.  K1263 infact has the distinction of flying the first operational sortie when Flt Lt Awan flew a Pamphlet dropping mission in early 1937.
  2. Though the aircraft features a 3 x 3 Checkerboard Square, Wapitis of that time had a 'wraparound' checker board marking that looks like a square from a distance but actually isn't. The following photograph shows the obvious difference where a small segment of a top row is visible.
    Photograph of K1263, of 'A' Flight, No.1 Squadron  (The Eagle Strikes)
  3. As is visible in the photograph - the aircraft also featured a small "AC" superscript to the serial . This superscript is not on all the aircraft - and K1263 happened to be one such rare example.
As a fellow historian pointed out, the modeller may have been misled by the fact the aircraft had a fin flash painted.  RAF aircraft markings changed sometime in 1934 when the finflash was not painted on the aircraft - they featured plain tails. However many aircraft appeared to have continued in service with the fin flash painted on and K1263 retained its scheme well into 1937.

Ofcourse all this doesnt take away from the model - this post is only to highlight that new information surfaces all the time. What was not available in 2011 will now be on the record in 2013.  Future modellers will have this information to get the next ultimate variant of the Wapiti right!.

All photos of the model are courtesy of Phil Camp

Thursday, August 15, 2013

An evaluation of the Indian National Army by the C.I.A


The above are an evaluation of Subash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA) by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the percussor to the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) . I am not an expert but there isnt much new in this - other than standard fare as given out by British Intelligence.

This document is in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Makhan Lal Chakraborty - REDUX

Years ago I had written about the medals of M L Chakraborty that I had procured. 

I knew little about him. 

Enrolled: 14 Jan 1942
Made a JCO on : 24 Dec. 1944 in JCOs EME, Workshop Branch, Cadre of Craftsmen. 

Now thanks to the Gazette of India website I can add a bit more.

Gazette of India  May 18, 1963

No. 1128, dated 3rd May 1963.-The President is pleased •lo make the following promotions :

To be Subs. Subedar {Arml Art ir Artz eligible categories)
PA Subdr Makhan Lal CHAKRABORTY (52968-JC),

Gazette of India , JUNE 1, 1963, Page 183
He was a Subedar in 1961 and made it into the Special List as a Lt in 1963

The undermentioned J.C.Os. are; granted permt, regular Commission in the Special List as an Electrical and Mechanical Assistant Engineers w.e.f. 15Lh Mar, 1963 in the rank of Lt«. under AJ. 24/59.
Sub. Makhan Lal CHAKRABORTY (JC-52968 now SL-791).  E.M.E. with seniority irotn 15th Mar. 1961 for purposes of pay only under A.I. 222/48.

And ofcourse he was on strength in 1965 - due to the presence of the 1965 Raksha Medal.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Bangladesh Gallantry Medals - Numbers Awarded

Researching the India Pakistan Air War over Bangladesh in 1971 comes up with all kinds of information - part of it has to deal with the gallantry awards set up by Bangladesh.  The Bangla forces set up a four tier award system.. the fourth being something equivalent to a M-in-D.. 

Numbers awarded for the 1971 War 

Bir Sreshto - 7 (4 Army, 1 AF, 1 Navy, 1 Ex-EPR)
Bir Uttom - 68 
Bir Bikrom - 175
Bir Protik - 426

Besides the Army, AF and Navy, awards were also given to "Gono Bahini" (People's Force)

Apparently the list was published in the Bangladesh Gazette Extraordinary Dated December 15, 1973

I extracted this out of the Newspapers of that time.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Kawasaki Bajaj KB100 RTZ Manual

Found the service manual for a KB100 RTZ while doign some cleaning up. I see that there are no manuals available online so I will scan the whole thing as a PDF one day. Till then this should suffice.

I must clarify this is not my bike manual, I bought this from the used books market . I used to have  a later 'de-badged' Bajaj RTZ and its manual was very skimpy in its coverage. The older KB manuals were pretty good.
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