Col Satish Singh Lalotra
“Only in the darkness can you see the start”- Martin Luther king
Time-0500 hours. Place- Wellington (Safdarjung) air field, Delhi, 27 October 1947.
Precisely 75 years back in the darkness of the Wellington airfield on a cold autumn morning the propellers of DC- 3 Dakotas of Number 12 squadron, IAF, were whirring fast and furious with Squadron leader KL Bhatia at the controls ready for his maiden and epoch creating sortie to the beleaguered state of Jammu and Kashmir . To be etched into the annals of Indian aviation history as well as history of independent India the first sortie by this Dakota has till date maintained an umbilical cord of emotional attachment with the Indian air force. Welcome to the resurrection and a wonderful saga of Dakota DC-3, tail number VP-905 of number 12 squadron of the Indian air force. The take off by a formation of 3 DC-3 Dakota aircrafts signaled the start of the now famous 1947-48 operations on an SOS call from the marooned Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir HH Maharaja Hari Singh ,who a day prior only had signed the instrument of accession with the dominion of India under pressure from the infamous tribal raid from Pakistan.
Though relatively not known much in the media, the first airlift by the independent India in defence of its state of Jammu and Kashmir has few parallels in the world for its short notice as also the lack of information about the place of landing at the contested Srinagar airfield. Even the then Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten had commended the way country’s fledgling air force rose to the occasion and put to shame even the famous “Berlin airlift ” under the” Marshal plan” undertaken by US/UK to a marooned city of Berlin immediately after the 2 WW.The above action was a testimony to the fact that an independent India could stand on its feet and call shots too. As the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir celebrated its 75 th year of accession with the union of India on 26 th October 1947 ,it ought to be remembered by the people of that area that it was the super human efforts put in by the ‘Proverbial Gods from the skies” the “Dakotas” which gave them the life line to cling to a future of hope as also deliverance from the forces of evil.
Flying in a formation of 3 Dakota aircrafts with the lead elements of the only readily available Indian army unit 1st Sikh,number 12 squadron spearheaded the country’s resolve in all its entirety. Before the end of the day the formation had flown 28 sorties in all. In the days to come the formation had flown sorties with 25 pounder guns in its belly for the saving of Poonch garrison. The importance of any inanimate icon, its shape ,size and colour for resurrection to instill a sense of Déjà vu as also to galvanize the countrymen can’t be overemphasized over a period of time. Generations of countrymen have drawn inspiration from just associating with these iconic inanimate objects.The armed forces of the country being a relic of British India naturally had a large inventory of arms, ammunition and aircrafts of Anglo -American origin.The RIAF (Royal Indian Air Force) too naturally had on its rolls transport and fighter aircrafts of the above mentioned origin i.e a mix of Anglo -American make not to miss the ubiquitous DC-3 Dakota transport aircraft. It was in the year 2008 when Air Vice Marshal Tiny Kumaria and Mike Edwards a British airways pilot with a passion for restoring old aircrafts ,put into motion an initiative that was long overdue. It was to preserve the historical legacy of the Indian Air Force by restoring aircraft that have served it with distinction over the years. Following various presentations and visits to the top air force commanders over the years and after gaining support from the then air chief Fali.H. Major the project was up and running.
In the meanwhile Edwards got selected as a chief advisor to the IAF for restoration of old and vintage aircrafts to their past glory. Reflight air works of UK bit the bullet and took up the cudgels to undertake this onerous task on behalf of the IAF. The IAF on its part too trained a number of test pilots to fly these vintage aircrafts. As per AVM A. Subramaniam(Retd) when handling the vintage aircraft fleet he came into contact with Air Commodore Chandrasekhar who himself being a spirited Dakota pilot brainstormed about how the IAF could accept a Dakota aircraft gift from his son Rajeev Chandrasekhar who was also a member of the Rajyasabha. Rajeev had brought an old Dakota from a group of aviation enthusiasts in Ireland and had roped in Edwards to find a way to fly it to India where he wanted it to gift it to the IAF. The only hitch being the MoD ( Ministry of Defence) was least interested in supporting it.The problems got more complicated with the change of rules which entailed him to completely refurbish the aircraft before flying it out to India ,a no small cost. But things turned for better when in the year 2014, the Modi Government gave the go – ahead and the IAF pitched in vehemently by installing the latest navigation and communication suites as also making it fit for static -line drops that could make it see the IAF sky divers and paratroopers jump out of it.
Hence on a cold spring morning Thursday the IAF in the year 2018 took over symbolically the completely refurbished Dakota aircraft that was part of IAF’s first transport squardon ,12 squardon to be precise. Given a tail number VP-905 that landed in Srinagar on 27 th October 1947 with lead troops from the 1st Sikh and saved the Srinagar airfield from the tribal raiders, this Dakota joined two other vintage aircraft fleet located at air force station Hindon. Flying all the way from RAF Benson a typical airbase tucked away in the Cotswolds, UK not far from the Oxford, the Dakota renamed as ‘Parshuram” the eternal Sage -god of Hindu mythology epitomizes the emergence of good to vanquish the evils from the world when all hope seemed to be lost. The country and in particular Jammu and Kashmir owe the “Parshuram’ their eternal gratitude for coming to their help when slender was the thread of survival .
(The author is a retired army officer)
Col Satish Singh Lalotra