The Westland Lysander - The IAF's first monoplane bomber
- Category: Retired Aircraft Histories
- Last Updated: Friday, 30 June 2017 21:53
- Written by Jagan Pillarisetti
- Hits: 22337
No.4 Squadron - (Feb 42 - June 43) 17 Months
The longest operator of the Lysander in the Indian Air Force was No.4 Squadron. About the time No.1 Squadron was involved in the thick of the battles over the retreating battle at Burma , No.4 Squadron, IAF was officially raised at Peshawar on 1 February 1942 as the third operator of the Lysander.
The core of the squadron was made up of the pilots who returned via the middle east after an year long stint with the RAF fighter command in 1941 in the UK. Plt Offrs MM Latif, Edwin Nazirullah and MS Pujji were the first to report from this lot, they were followed in later days by Plt Offrs Ranjan Dutt , Shiv Dev Singh and OP Sanghi. Habib Ullah Khan, a Cranwell trained officer formally took command on the 12 February.
Four days later the CO and the other pilots collected the first four Lysanders from RAF Lahore and completed the squadrons move to Kohat by 23 February 42. Here a number of pilots were deputed from the No.2 and 3 Squadrons. A steady influx of officers came into the squadron, and soon the strength was built up to 19 Officers and 40 airmen by the middle of March. However, the squadron had only four Lysanders on its establishment.
On 20 March 42, tragedy struck the unit. Plt Offr Sankar Chakravarthy was on a practice bombing formation flight along with Flt Lt Manchanda when his Lysander went out of control and spun in. It crashed four miles from Kohat and he was killed. The cause of the accident was never found out.
The unit flew their first bombing mission on 29 March, when Sqn Ldr HU Khan led four aircraft equipped with 112lb bombs to Miranshah to bomb Shirani. There wasn't much operational flying after that. However the second fatal accident occurred on 21st April 42 when the Lysander P9121 flown by Plt Offr Dharamraj Goordeen lost power on take off from Kohat and crashed. Goordeen was killed in the accident.
Operations from Miranshah
Towards end of April, 'A' flight, under Flt Lt P C Manchanda moved to Miranshah. The Sqn HQ and 'B' flight remained at Kohat under Sqn Ldr HU Khan. They continued carrying out their normal flying training, viz. Supply dropping, formation flying, Radio Telephony etc.
'A' flight started operations from Miranshah from 1 May 1942 onwards, with a couple of road protection sorties. The first offensive mission was flown on 3rd, when 20lb bombs were dropped by the Lysanders in support of the Tochi scouts at Datta Khel, Ranjan Dutt using the front spat mounted .303 guns to strafe the ground targets to good effect. Dutt repeated the same on the next day by dropping more bombs and strafing the targets for good measure.
On the evening of the 8th, the post at Datta Khel was shelled by an artillery gun used by the tribals. In response, two Lysanders flown by Ranjan Dutt and MM Latif took off in the night to bomb the gun position. 16 bombs were dropped and both aircraft strafed the ground targets - this was the first time a night attack was mounted by Lysanders. Similar sorties were flown on subsequent days. The pilots of the Squadron were skeptical of the effectiveness of these sorties. Ranjan Dutt wrote about these sorties as follows:
I had been posted to the Lysander squadron in Kohat after my return from the UK flying Hurricanes with No. 32 (RAF) Fighter Squadron. The Hurricane was at the zenith of fighters at that time. Even though the Spitfire caught the public imagination and received all the kudos, it was the Hurricane that was the backbone of Fighter Command achieving a greater number of victories against the Luftwaffe. It was therefore a come down, in a way, for me flying Lysanders. I remember feeling that the I.A.F. was being treated rather poorly by the Brits being palmed off with the Lysander.
I also remember quite vividly flying Lysanders from Miranshah airfield in Waziristan against the Faqir of Ipi's tribal warriors in what came to be known as the Datta Khel Operations. The aircraft had only 2X.303 fixed front guns and 1X.303 flexible gun for the observer at the back. In addition the aircraft carried a few 20 pound bombs in stubs attached to the 2 non retractable front wheels. This fire power was quite inadequate and I doubted if any material damage was ever inflicted on the tribesmen who were well dug in. I also had my doubts if their morale was affected by having to face only a limited number of sorties each day. It will interest you to know that during a temporary lull in the operations I was instructed by Group Headquarters in Peshawar to receive and entertain to tea one of the tribal leaders and his entourage. I was then commanding the detachment in Miranshah and it was a most unusual experience for me. The tribal leader appeared very confident and did not appear to be cowed downed by our air attacks. In fact he invited one of the young fresh looking pilots to his village!!!
The Lysander was not a very nice aircraft to fly. It was heavy on the controls and not particularly maneuverable. I did however some loops and barrel rolls just to test the aircraft further. It was not designed for such treatment and I don't believe any one else tried it. I did not, myself, cherish the experience.
I feel an aircraft like the Hurricane would have been more suitable against the tribesmen. It had 8 fixed front guns and was capable of carrying 2X500 lbs of bombs. The airfield in Miranshah would have been adequate.
On 12 May 1942, while flying operations in support of the Tochi Scouts, the Lysander flown by Plt Offr F D A Moses with Plt Offr R A P Larive was seen crashing in hostile area. The other three aircraft in the formation noticed movement by the frontiersmen near the site and promptly bombed positions near the crash site. A Tochi scouts patrol reached the crash site and found that Plt Offr Moses was killed in the crash, but Larive was alive and was rescued. He was seriously injured and was moved to the Datta Khel hospital by the patrol. It would take nearly a month for him to recover from his injuries and get discharged.
On the following days, several support missions were flown by the Lysanders. Plt Offrs Dutt, Nazirullah, Latif excelled themselves during this period and flying sorties all round.
During this time 250lb bombs were received by the Miranshah detachment and these were dropped by an aircraft on the a gun position on the 5 May. Several sorties were carried out by the Miranshah detachment. Usage of 250lb bombs became a regular feature as well as strafing the ground targets by the pilots and observers. The Lysanders had beaten back a major attack on the 21st by dropping 66 bombs, followed by 54 more two days later. Wherever sorties were canceled after the aircraft took to the air, the bombs were jettisoned. The aircraft were also required to carry out emergency sorties - called upon by the army whenever a post came under attack. On the 21st, a typical action, a Tochi patrol at Miranshah came under attack and requested emergency assistance. A lone aircraft took off and attacked the tribes with 20lb bombs, followed by front gun and rear gun strafing to successfully relieve the pressure off the patrol.
Meanwhile, at Kohat , a few of the squadron pilots were posted away to No.20 Squadron RAF about this time.
On the 27th, a major action occurred when the 500-600 tribesmen besieged Datta Khel. Aircraft from Nos. 3, 4 and 28 (RAF) Squadrons attacked Raghzai and Narakai. The dangers of the proscription sorties in the frontier were illustrated that day when a Lysander from No.28 Squadron force landed in the battle area and both the crew members were lynched by the frontiersmen, their bodies being recovered the next day by a ground party. On that day No.4 Squadron flew twelve sorties.
On 2 June 1942, Plt Offr B S Dastur and Plt Offr K S Chopra joined the detachment at Miranshah. Chopra initially joined the IAF in October 1941 to become a pilot. After finding difficulty during the Initial training, he was earmarked for the Observer stream, where he picked up Navigation, map reading, Radio Transmission and air gunnery at Risalpur. He recalls
"In those days, almost everyone who passed out of Risalpur would end up in Kohat where the maximum concentration of IAF Units and personnel used to be. I was sent to No.4 Squadron at Kohat as my first point where we had the Lysander - a typical single engined two man aircraft, with pilot manually flying the aircraft, and an observer in the behind, who would do other duties.
We mostly flew sorties in the NWFP (now Pakistan) and routinely we would check out the Pathan tribesmen. Quite regularly we would find a lone tribesman walking on the ground and when we would fly low over him in circles to find out who he was, they would pull out a rifle and shoot at us ! pop - pop - pop.
Ofcourse I, as an Air gunner would have a single machine gun in the back, and I would fire back. Not to hit him , but more to frighten him – after all he is firing with a rifle and I have a machine gun!
Among the pilots, I used to fly regularly with Ranjan Dutt, he was a good flier and he was also quite good to me. he would say, come lets go on a sortie, and I would be ready!. We used to fly on to all the remote outposts in NWFP."
The Datta Khel sorties lasted till August 19. Everyday, aircraft from the Indian and RAF squadrons relentlessly flew sorties to attack the tribals. In the final reckoning, the detachment of No.4 Squadron at Miranshah flew over 170 hours in support missions in this short period. The flight commander Manchanda was commended in the report for devotion to duty, excellent work and for setting a fine example to his men.
During this time, the serviceability of the Lysanders was not good. There was a shortage of tires for the Lysanders and No.4 Squadron was forced to improvise by using Audax tires borrowed from No. 3 Squadron. The RAF Squadron (No.28) suffered even more due to the spares shortage. This prompted the Miranshah Station Commander to note that "the part played by No.28 Squadron in the ops was barely warranted by their presence".
There were other technical problems as well. The Light Series (LS) bomb racks and stub wings used by the Lysanders were liable to fracture at root, and sometimes the 20lb bombs would fall off in a hard landing. It is interesting to note that the official narrative of this action by the Station Commander mentions that Lysander spares were very difficult to procure and that the aircraft was reaching "the end of its tether in India". In spite of the foreboding, No.4 would continue to operate this aircraft for another nine months.
Serious shortcomings were also found in the W/T and R/T practices of the Indian squadrons. These were attributed to the enthusiasm of the aircrew in thinking that "fighter" and "bomber" were their primary roles rather than "Army cooperation" which would have put more focus on radio telegraphy and working with forward parties of the scouts.
Back to Kohat
The Miranshah flight finally returned to Kohat on 2nd September. Sqn Ldr HU Khan was posted out about this time and he was succeeded by Sqn Ldr MK Janjua on 10 September 1942. On the 15th, 'A' flight moved to Hyderabad (Sind) on ward and watch duties against the Hurs. Fg Offr M S Pujji led four aircraft, joined later by a fifth. 'B' flight remained at Kohat, undertaking liaison flights. However when the requirement came for the Hyderabad detachment to carry out photo recce flights, there was no one with experience to undertake them. Flt Lt SS Majithia was the only one with experience and he had to go to Hyderabad on the 21 Sept to carry out the missions.
Back at Kohat, on 22 September, Plt Offr Katrak , while on a sortie to Quetta, lost his way due to clouds and force landed near Fort Sandeman when he ran out of fuel. The aircraft was damaged in the forced landing. It wasn't until 5 October that this aircraft was repaired on site and flown back by Plt Offr Roshan Suri . After this incident the pilots invested some time in practice forced landings.
In the beginning of November, the Squadron took part in major exercises along with the 7th Indian Infantry Division near Risalpur. This exercise gave the pilots an opportunity to truly experience operations on a 'war footing'. The Lysanders were kept on standby all the time in the role of a bomber squadron, and the pilots were required to demonstrate take off for the missions within an allocated time of 30 minutes from receipt of the call. They were able to achieve this in under 20 minutes.
After the completion of this exercise, the Govt of India decided to send a couple of Indian Squadrons to various Indian states for demonstration flights to the State Forces. Nos. 3 and 4 Squadron were selected for this. On 11th November, four Lysanders of B Flight were detailed for a demonstration flight to Indian state forces, but only three aircraft were available and these were led by Flt Lt Shivdev Singh for the tour. The aircraft, followed by a ground party traveling in motor transport proceeded to give demonstration flights at the Indian States of Kapurthala, Patiala, Nabha and Jind. Supply dropping, formation drill, radar telephonic contact, message picking and dropping, and dive attacks were included in the demonstrations. The demo flights to the state forces were done without incident by 22nd November .
Soon after, on 1 December, four aircraft were detailed to Risalpur to provide Army Cooperation to 7th Infantry Div. Over the subsequent days, the detachment under Flt Lt Shiv Dev Singh gave familiarization and training flights to the ALO trainees. The demonstrations included, bombing, strafing , tactical reconnaissance etc. The aircraft returned to Kohat on completion of these exercises.
On 28 December 1942, Plt Offr Katrak had to forceland his aircraft N1242 after loss of oil pressure. The airframe was salvaged, but it is not known whether it was a write off or salvaged for parts.
As the year 1943 dawned, the Lysander was reaching the end of its contributions in the Indian Air Force Squadrons. No.4 Squadron was the lone operator of the aircraft out of the seven existing IAF units. The squadron had only nine aircraft on its establishment - four aircraft were at Hyderabad (with ten pilots and two observers) and five aircraft were at Kohat (13 pilots and 7 observers). One aircraft was recalled from Hyderabad (sind) on 30 January 1943, after it became unfit for operations. Two other aircraft were withdrawn in March. The last aircraft, P1675 crashed at Khipro, 70 miles NE of Hyderabad (Sind), on 24 March while being flown by Plt Offr Noronha.
Flt Lt Shiv Dev Singh flew down one Lysander to take part in the 10th Anniversary Parade of the Indian Air Force at Ambala on 1 April 1943. The squadron was then involved in photo recce missions through out the month. There weren't any significant operations after that. Towards the end of May 43, Orders came for the Squadron to give up its Lysanders and move to Risalpur, where conversion on to Hurricanes was supposed to start. This was completed by 17 June 1943, signifying the end of Lysander's service with the regular squadrons of the IAF.
Lysanders Operated by No.4 Squadron
|L4794||Cr 12/5/42 Plt Offr FDA Moses and RAP Larive|
|N1242||Cr 28/12/42 Plt Offr Katrak|
|P1675||From 1 Sqn Cr L Peshawar 16 Jan 1942 - Repaired Cr 24/3/43 Plt Offr Noronha|
|P9121||Lost Power on TO Cr on approach to Kohat 21/4/42 Plt Offr D Goordeen|
|P9131||From 1 Sqn,|
|R2004||Went to DumDumCF|