The 1947-48 war with Pakistan brought home to the Indian Air Force the need for a heavy bomber. Thus even before the UN-brokered ceasefire in 1948 came into effect, the IAF had started looking for a long range heavy bomber. At that time the USA offered B-25 Mitchells, and the UK wanted to palm off some war-surplus Lancaster’s. But the deals did not go through
The B-24’s at Kanpur
Senior IAF officers were aware that a lot many B-24 Liberators had been abandoned in the scrap yard at Chakeri airfield, Kanpur, at the end of World War II. These were Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft, which had been provided by the USA under Lend-Lease terms. However their eventual disposal, as per the lend lease terms was the responsibility of the RAF. It was their responsibility to ensure that these aircraft did not fall in any body else’s hands.
Accordingly, the RAF instructed their personnel to damage the aircraft and make them unfit for flying. However the RAF airmen eager to get back home did a half hearted job. Inspections of the Liberators revealed that the aircraft could be made serviceable and meet the IAF’s bomber requirements. They accordingly contacted HAL ((Hindustan Aeronautics ltd)
HAL and the Liberators
HAL had the expertise to restore the Bombers, as they had been overhauling Allied aircraft during World War II. In addition they had also assembled some fighters and bombers of US origin. HAL readily agreed to refurbish the planes.
The first problem was to get the aircraft from Kanpur, to HAL’s factory in Bangalore. The Liberators could not be transported by road, so the only way was to fly them. A team from HAL headed by one Yelappa came over to Kanpur and identified those aircraft that could be made air worthy. They thus did some spot repairs and after cannibalizing parts from other machines, made some of the Liberators air worthy. The Chief Test Pilot (CTP) of HAL, Jamshed Kaikobad (Jimmy) Munshi was asked if he would take on the job. He promptly agreed.
Ferrying the B-24
Jimmy had no experience of any four-engine aircraft. Flying the Liberators was thus a real challenge. But he was up to the task and also the flight manual ready. This was a great achievement.
Jimmy ferried a total of 42 B-24s which were patched-up for flying by Yelappa and his team. All the ferried B-24s were overhauled and refurbished by HAL.
The acquiring of the Liberators surprised the Americans who thought the planes may have been bought clandestinely. But the IAF invited an American team to HAL and they went back impressed and satisfied.
The Bomber squadrons of the IAF
Thus the IAF had its bombers squadrons ready. No 5 and No 6 Squadron were soon equipped with the liberators. They had 16 aircraft each on strength. No 16 Squadron was established with only two or three aircraft on October 15, 1951 as a Liberator- training unit.
In addition, two recovered C-87(Modified Liberators) aircraft formed No 102 Survey Flight. They were used for survey work and one aircraft was also employed for photographing Mount Everest.
No 5 and 16 Squadrons were re equipped with Canberra’s in 1957, but the liberators of 6 squadron continued flying till 1968. They were used for sea surveillance and also dropped surrender leaflets over Goa in 1961. They also carried out maritime patrols during the 1965 war with Pakistan
The saga of the B-24 makes romantic reading. After the aircraft was retired a lot many countries wished to have the liberators for their museums. At least 5 of them are known to be part of air museums all over the world.