Tuesday, November 02, 2010

RAF India WW2 - Which buiding is that?

An RAF group photo from India - pretty large group. Atleast ten Indian airmen in there, and one WAC(I) in the front row.

No idea as to which unit, year or building it is. Seems to be on of the Delhi based palace type building..

Can anyone identify the building in the background?

Update August 2013:  Readers in the Comments Section have identified this building as "Hyderabad House" which served as the Command HQ for the RAF during the Second World WAr
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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hand Crafted RIAF Toy figures - Shamus Wade

Normally I would go after any curio sold on ebay that has some connection to the Indian Air Force. Imagine my surprise when an item was listed - titled "Nostalgia / Ookjah Privy by Shamus Wade - Indian Air Force" was listed by an ebay seller hobo2150.

Description given as follows:

INDIAN AIR FORCE PERSONNEL - from the companion range "Oojah cum Pivy"
5 Figures beautifully hand painted
2 x Pilots
3 x Ground crew
A great set for your collection very unusual subject and very scarce dating from 1984/5
A set of figures modelled from a photograph of Indian Airforce personnel and intended to be grouped around an aircraft which some of the figures are posed leaning against. Comes with an explanatory biography sheet of each of the figure represensted and is still in Shamus Wade's original packing box (these sets came without a presentation/disply box. Some figures have very minor paint chips from storage, but have never ben displayed so their colours are still bright and

The five "Indian Air Force" figurines , it turns out were based on a famous Second World War photograph of a Vengeance Crew from No.7 Squadron No.8 Squadron. The photograph (reproduced below from "The Eagle Strikes" shows Flt Lt Haveli Shah Chopra (one of the RAF 24) and his Gunner Fg Offr P J Chandran leaning against a Vengeance. They are flanked by three airmen/ground crew Zahir-ud-din, Mathews and Veliram. Shamus Wade took this photograph and modelled their figurines .

Anyways - If I had any thoughts of grabbing this set, I may well have not bothered. When bidding ended on 17th October 2010, the figurines sold for US $125! - five toy figurines - for 125 bucks!..four bidders got into a bidding war ... I must have missed the memo somewhere.

Turns out that Shamus Wade (Company?) was quite famous for its toy soldier figures. Focussing on obscure and exotic subjects - the range of figurines have a strong following. There was no way that I get it as to why they went for such an astronomical figure. With passionate collectors out there I dont think I will even bother the next time.

Update:2 Jan 2011: Towards the last week of December, another set came up on sale on Ebay. The Seller from UK was rather too smart - he broke up the set and sold them individually - piece by piece.. and the bidding went upto 83.12 GBP for the five figures (plus postage)!. Thats $129.80.. beating the previous auction by $4!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: For King and Another Country: An Amazing Life Story of an Indian WW2 RAF Fighter Pilot

Fighter Pilot Biographies are innumerable.. there are thousands of books out there dealing with the lives of World War Two era fliers. But try to locate anything specific to World War 2 pilots from India, and you will be hard pressed to locate one. In that context the availability of the biography of Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji DFC was welcome news. Sqn Ldr Pujji, till recently was one of the last remaining pilots still living from that era. Only 21 Indians ever received the DFC in the Second World War - and Pujji was the rare survivor among them. He had been in the news in recent years, highlighting the contributions of the Indian volunteers to the cause of the Allies. Thus a book that was to be his biography was a much awaited one. Sadly even as I was awaiting reciept of the book, news came in that Sqn Ldr Pujji had passed away in UK at the age of 92. The book arrived just a day after.

The title page of the book gives an idea on what the book is about - Below the main title "For King and Another Country : An amazing story of an Indian WW2 RAF Fighter Pilot" is another sub title - "Recollections of Squadron Leader Mahinder Singh Pujji as told to Graham Russell". This book is just that - Recollections of a ninety year old WW2 RAF Veteran. Unfortunately as many a historian will note - such recollections while welcome, are often cloudy, inaccurate and can muddle the waters. The Author Graham Russell writes in his introduction "A detailed inventory of the Second World War Operations he took part in will not be found in this book - that type belongs to a Pilots Logbook..."

There you have it, it just so happens that was exactly the information I was looking for in the book ... I suspect if this statement had been printed openly in any of the promotional material, there would have been a tad fewer sales than normal. Granted perhaps there is a market among schools as text book, but definitely the hardcore WW2 Aviation reader will surely be disappointed if he had any higher expectations.

Whats inside the book? Well for starters - its about 182 Pages in total. Remove the 10 pages of title, information and author's preface, and the 88 pages of copious illustrations, it leaves roughly 84 pages of text of Pujji's recollections. These 84 pages are equally split between his career before the end of the Second World War, and his career details after that. These 84 pages of text do make a significant contribution - in recording and immortalizing Pujji's words and memories. Certainly not much has been reported about Pujji's aviation career after WW2 and the book does make its contribution in that regard.

But all this doesn't shake off the disappointment of not learning about Pujji's war time operations in detail. While there are several anecdotes directly from Pujji, stories and memories of some of the sorties. The lack of dates and timeline is a distraction. It would have been good if the author had researched Pujjis' WW2 career and rightly annotated the information in sections. By not choosing to do so, the book introduces many inaccurate statements that may set the historian astray.

Among the errors that caught this reviewers eye - "Pujji applied for the RAF and was selected in it" (Pujji volunteered for the IAF - there are several key differences between an IAF commission and an RAF commission). "12 of Pujjis colleagues were killed in UK" (About 7 were killed - 1 died later in Australia). "Pujji Joined 6 Squadron under Sharp" (It was clear that Pujji was confusing his 4 Squadron tenure under Sqn Ldr G S Sharp RNZAF with that of his earlier 6 Squadron tenure under Sqn Ldr Mehar Singh). "CO Sharp went missing for months, Pujji took over command" (The ORBs of 4 Squadron indicated that Sharp went missing only for a week before news was telegraphed to the Squadron that He had been recovered, albeit slightly bruised. Moreover it was Flt Lt D M Finn and later P A Kennedy who assumed command of the Squadron). It was errors like this that distract away from the pages dealing with Second World War days.

Ofcourse I do understand the author's dilemma - how would you correct your subject's recollections knowing they are in error ? But in this case Graham Russell probably didn't know they were wrong in the first place.

The saving grace in the book - are the details of Pujjis life after the war. The photos that accompany the book could have been cut down in place of better researched text - but since the meat on the book is lacking, the additional photographs are a welcome addition.

In final summary, the book is a disappointment to any WW2 Aviation Researcher. Though it may be a good book for the novice reader who wants to learn about the Indian Contribution to the Second World War. In my personal opinion, this book rates two stars at best.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Oldest Officer in the Indian Air Force - Gulmast Khan

We all know that the oldest officer at any point of time in the Indian Air Force is probably the Chief of Air Staff - who retires as soon as he reaches the age of 60. Additionally there could be a Master Warrant Officer who reaches his late 50s before he retires. There have been cases where personnel from the ranks were commissioned into the Officer stream - and some of them pretty late in their career. But most if not all would have retired before hitting the 60 year mark.

Enter the mysterious IND/1721 Flight Lieutnant Khan Bahadur Haji Gulmast Khan, commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 10th October 1941. Gulmast Khan was among the first ever 200 officers in the air force, and was commissioned into the Administration Branch - then known as A&SD. What puts apart Gulmast from the others was that at the time of his commissioning, he was 59 years old! You see, Khan Bahadur Gulmast Khan was born on 1st May 1882!

Not much is known about Gulmast Khan. He seems to have served in the North West Frontier Province as much is known about him. The end of the Second World War found him on the strength of RAF Station Kohat - which at that time was the only RAF Station entirely staffed by Indian Officers. It was from this post that Gulmast Khan was demobilised. On 18th December 1946, Gulmast Khan was sent to No.1 Demobilisation Center at Lahore for release - at which point he was 64 years old!

Gulmast Khan, however, can only claim to be the IAF Officer with the oldest birthdate. The credit of being the oldest officer at the time of commissioning goes to IND/2112 Pilot Offr Edmund George Lazarus of the Signals Branch. Lazarus was born 14th Sept 1882 -- five and a half months after Gulmast. But Lazarus was commissioned as a Pilot Officer on 11th November 1942 - An year and a month after Gulmast Khan! Thus making him the oldest ever person to get a regular IAF Commission - at the ripe old age of 60 years and two months! (nearly). It is not know as to when Lazarus left the IAF.But he is noted as still serving as of October 1945.

No known photographs exist of either Gulmast or Lazarus - but it certainly makes an intriguing story to find out why and how they ended up getting commissioned in the Indian Air Force at such an advanced age. One can say for sure - that neither of these gentlemen will lose thier records in the near future!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Mystery 8 Squadron - Pursoot's Badge from UK

The latest acquisition off eBay - a lovely wooden plaque with the badge of 8 Squadron fixed on it. Two metal plates with the inscription "The the Memory of" , "Jack Foster". The Seller was from UK and he apparently got some items from the Glouchestershire RAF Association. The origin of this plaque is a mystery - my guess is that this was made to honour an RAF WW2 veteran who served in SEAC With 8 Squadron .

Anyways - another procurement to be filed under "if-it-says-Indian-Air-Force---must-buy---"

Friday, July 30, 2010

Khusro Manzil, AC Guards, Lakdi-ka-pul

Khusro Manzil at AC Guards near Lakdi Ka Pul.. I went there today and to my surprise it was still there - I expected it to be knocked down completely and replaced by apartment blocks...

The erstwhile residence of Nawab Khusro Jung Bahadur - the son of Major General Nawab Sir Afsur-ul-Mulk Bahadur, Chief Commander of Regular Forces in Hyderabad State during the period of the Nizam-VI. Khusro died in 1930. The building situated on a hillock between Lakdi-ka-pul and Masab Tank was constructed in 1920. It is divided into several rooms and was housing the Census Department. I was told that the building would be prominently visible from the main road leading from Lkdkapul to Masabtank / Mehdipatnam - now a bunch of apartment buildings and other monstrosities block out any view of it... (Tip of the hat to fellow Aviation Historian Mrs Anu Reddy for letting me know the history of this)

The original owners are apparently trying their best to knock it down..
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

65 Air War Mysteries : The Hunter vs the Starfighter

Its almost five years since the "India-Pakistan Air War of 1965" was published - At that time we had done our best to research most of the facts and stories of the 65 War. We interviewed veterans, procured official records and reports and squeezed whatever information we could to the best of our abilities. We tried meticulously to compare accounts from either side, and to resolve differences in accounts.

However despite all our efforts, we still come across stories that fascinate us, or those tales that we have not been able to resolve. These are what I call 'Mysteries' of the 65 Air War.

Five years on , a couple of these gaps have been filled but most remain so. In a series of posts, I will list out the stories and mysteries that either still require solving or have been solved in these recent years.

The Hunter Vs the Starfighter:

A very fascinating story was narrated by Fricker in his book - about an aircombat between a Pakistani Starfighter and an Indian Hunter. The fight started on an unspecified date, when two F-104s scrambled and visually identified two Hunters ahead of them. Fricker continues the story:

..No.2 Flt Lt Arif Manzoor, picked up the two Hunters on his radar and took the lead. As he began overtaking the Hunters at Mach 0.85, both IAF aircraft broke left, possibly warned by Amritsar Radar.

One Hunter rolled over on its back and pulled through in a split-S manoeuvre, while the other turned so tightly during its break that Flt Lt Manzoor saw it stall and pitch up no fewer than three times. By then the F-104s had been seperated, but Flt Lt Manzoor stayed with the second Hunter, hoping to release a Sidewinder as soon as it became possible to relax the amount of g being pulled in the turn. In th emeantime, he also endeavoured to close the range of the Hunter so that he can use the Vulcan cannon. At about 5000 feet distance, he laid his computing gunsight ahead of the Hunter, but found the target sliding up his windscreen as the IAF aircraft tightened its turn still further.

As he racked the Stargihter round as tightly as possible, Flt Lt Manzoor opened up power to keep his speed above about Mach 0.9, He was therefore unworried about being intercepted in turn despite warnings from his No.1 of other enemy aircraft in the vicinity.

In all, the F-104 made four attempts to nail the determined adversary, but each time the Hunter was able to out-turn the Starfighter, although it stalled out twice more in the process. . Eventually Flt Lt Manzoor realised that the situation was a stalemate.... disengaged by zooming up in afterburner....

...This degree of flying skill was not often demonstrated by the pilots of the IAF....."

It is surprising that Fricker didnt pin a date on this aircombat, even though it is said to be one of the only eight aerial encounters of this type. All the other seven encounters get a date with the exception of this one.
Ofcourse, neither could we figure out the story from the Indian side. Certainly the Battle Axe History does not mention any such encounter. The only other possibility may be 27 Squadron, but no accounts or corraboration appeared from that side as well.

Identifying this Hunter pilot shouldnt be a difficult task. With only 2.5 Squadrons of Hunters taking part, there wouldnt be more than 45 - 50 Hunter pilots who may have taken part in offensive ops. How many of these actually reported encountering a PAF fighter in air combat? There must be some operational report somewhere!
The task would actually be easier if any interprid Pakistani Historian can nail the date of the encounter by referring to the logbook of Arif Manzoor. But apparently Arif Manzoor had passed away long ago. That shouldn't stop anyone from trying to find out more about this combat.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ten Years Old : The History of the Indian Air Force

This is the story of another find on ebay a couple of months ago. I recognised the cover straight away . It was a booklet published for the 10th year anniversary of the Indian Air Force. Infact in a very famous photograph showing the three Engineer Brothers (Below) Aspy Engineer is shown carrying copies of the booklet when he flew down to Risalpur for a reunion with his brothers - Minoo and Ronnie.

To cut a long story short, gotta have it, and yes, i did get it.

Its a 30 page booklet. With a sprinkling of photographs but mostly text oriented throughout. While most of the pictures have already been elsewhere, they appear to be printed with better quality in this booklet. Atleast one photograph was a first - dating from Oct 41 shows Sqn Ldr Majumdar escorting the Governor of NWFP at Peshawar during his inspection of No.1 Squadron. I havent seen it elsewhere.

Once again, I have to make a survey of known copies . One is certainly there at the British Library in the UK - Its record can be accessed here . Other copies? I am not so sure.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The " Tank Bund " Road

Another Gem from the TIME-LIFE archives. Tank Bund Road at Hussain Sagar - with the Naubat Pahad in the center background at the distance. For the Hyderabadi challenged, Naubat Pahad is the hillock on which the Birla Mandir was constructed. To the right of the photo, one can see the chimney stacks of the "Mint" - at the Mint Compound location. And wonder of wonders! - no cars or automobiles on it!

If you look closely behind the third light pole from the right - you can see a strange building - which we used to say was shaped like a steamer ship - it was the Hyderabad Boats Club Building. I thought the building is still there today, but i cannot locate a picture of it anywhere.

I still remember the road being this width when I was a kid. Only after NTR came did he undertake the widening and beautification of the road.

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Sunday, February 28, 2010

The "infamous" Burhan-ud-din of Chitral?

Among the various photos of No.1 Squadron, Indian Air Force from the late 30s, early 40s is this gentlemen - always wearing a uniform that is of a slightly different colour than the rest of the squadron - my take is that he is one of the Indian Army deputed officers who were part of the Squadron at that time. But there weren't many - D A R Nanda, Burhan-ud-din of Chitral, M K Janjua, M S Verdi, Jaswant Singh , Niranjan Prasad, P K Kuriyan and Asghar Khan are a few who are known.

This particular gentleman - I would tend to believe is the colourful Burhan-Ud-Din (spelled sometimes as Burhanuddin ) - later of INA infamy and the brother of the Mehtar of Chitral of that time.

Burhan-ud-din was originally commissioned into the Indian Army in 1935. After some time with the Baluch Regiment, he was one of the Army officers sent for flying training. He joined the IAF Squadron sometime in 1939 and remained with them till atleast January 1941.

The first assignment that Burhan was with the Squadron was to form part of the "Q" Flight - which was sent to Karachi for Coastal Defence Duties. Led by A B Awan, the Q Flight (Ex- A Flight) had Mehar Singh an S N Goyal with them as well.

The words "Colourful" "Infamous" etc are used in context with Burhan Ud Din's name is because he was a controversial figure. Quite a few used to look at him like an eccentric character. Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh has quite a few tales to tell of Burhan - one of which involved Burhanuddin requesting harjinder to teach him how to drive a car. As Harjinder recalls - Burhan-ud-din was an absolutely hopeless case as far as learning to drive a car was concerned. Flying an aircraft was much simpler for him - with the simple throttle and all. But to drive a manual transmission car which requires soem control over the Clutch, Burhan proved absolutely beyond help and infact ended up wrecking his car by reversing into a wall. That was the first time he discovered that his car had a reverse gear!

The 'princeling' from Chitral - as Harjinder puts it - was the 'most eccentric of them all'. He always talked ill of his brother - the Mehtar, and once told Harjinder that he expected his brother to either kill him or imprison him whenever he visited Chitral on his days off. It is said that any ruler of Chitral would feel unimportant if he was not killed by a relative when in power ! Burhan Ud Din ofcourse belonged to the same clan and had his own fears! He was also a suave player - During the Q Flight detachment, Burhan-ud-din worked himself into the Station Commanders inner circle and would get invited to any social event that was there - many times missing out on his duty pilot requirements. Leaving a very frustrated Flight Commander (Awan) stepping in to fill the void!

The harshest critcism comes from Air Marshal Aspy Engineer who would write in 1993 :

Then there were some people who never should have joined any air-force. As the detachment commander at Miranshah, I had the misfortune to have a new posting. I will call him Burhan. Son of a petty chieftain from way up north, he first joined the army but one mess night he threatened to shoot his C.O. after the latter had remonstrated that Burhan’s two dogs would not let him enter the building. Burhan promptly retorted, “Sir, you shoot my dogs and I will shoot you.” Well, that is how I had him in my unit. To cut several hair-raising stories short, I had his pet wolf shot, as the only humane option left after the wolf had severed his tongue by trying to chew through a Wapiti’s spare main plane. So glad to inform you that I am still alive in 1993.

I personally heard from another of Burhan-Ud-Din's peers - Air Vice Marshal Surendranath Goyal, was a Cranwell Trainee from 1938, spent time in the NWFP with No.1 Squadron. He remembered Burhan-Ud-Din to be a great friend of his - but also expressed his dissappointment at the brutality shown by Burhan when he was with the Indian National Army in 1945. As late as Jan 41, Burhanuddin was still with No.1 Squadron as a Fg Offr. One of the above photographs is probably of him during a detachment at Fort Sandeman at that time. Prior to that there is a record of him being with the Squadron in July 40.

Burhan went back to his Baluch Regiment duties sometime in 1941 and was taken POW on the fall of Singapore. He would later join the Indian National Army under Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Burhan Ud Din's actions as an INA Officer were unofficerlike , he ordered several deserters to be flogged without due process - and one of the soldiers died. For this he received quite a bit of attention in most books dealing with the INA Trails. He was supposed to be the first one to be put on trial - but instead Shah Nawaz, Dhillon and Sehgal went up for trial.

Burhan-ud-din was ultimately tried in a Military Court - presided by then Brigadier K M "Kipper" Cariappa - later CinC Indian Army. Cariappa's court sentenced Burhan to seven years rigorous imprisonment . Popular anecdotes recall - that after sentencing him to imprisonment, Kipper walked over and shook hands with him, raising eyebrows among many.

Burhan-ud-din was released on Independence and went back to Chitral. He was supposed to have been quite active during the 47-48 Operations in organising the fighting at Skardu and Zoji La. He then went back to his chieftain days in Chitral till supposedly committing suicide in 1995. As I said, a colourful and infamous figure.

Be that as it may, the early Muslim aviators who were part of No.1 Squadron - like A B Awan, Haider Raza, Burhan-Ud-din appear to have absolutely loved their unit. The link above mentions Burhan-Ud-din signing his name in the guestbook of a PAF Station as "Lt Burhan-Ud-din , 1 Squadron, Indian Air Force!" less than a month after end of hostilities between India and Pakistan!. We know that Haider Raza's Grave Marker too makes an association with the Undividied "Royal Indian Air Force" - even though he served as the Vice Chief of the Pakistan Air Force. These folks absolutely loved their time with the WW2 RIAF.

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Sunday, February 07, 2010

Medal Quotas in WW2

RafCommands Forums - View Single Post - Medal Quotas?

A fantastic post by Canadian Historian Hugh Halliday - on Award Quotas in the RAF during the Second World War.

Worth Archiving.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Republic Day

With Republic Day approaching ahead, lets hope the Government does not repeat the charade from last year where the Ashok Chakra was given out by the ton
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