A story about the Kanpur Cantt.
Strictly speaking this is not an MHS story. I have just too many of those. But it is a story of Kanpur Cantt and what happened a long time ago. It is a story of Atma Nirbhar Bharat and clever people with indomitable spirit, who worked to give India some teeth when it was needed. Their names are long forgotten.
The story begins in 1948 during the Kashmir operations. During those desperate days the IAF was in operations to assist 160 Brigade in repelling the Pakistani invaders. India had no heavy bombers except the Tempest a fighter bomber with very low payload in bombs. Improvisation was used and transport Dakotas converted to bombers with bombs literally rolled off the aircraft esp. in assisting the besieged garrisons in Poonch and Uri. After the cease fire in late 1948, there was a serious rethink at Air HQ in Delhi and a strong need was felt for the young country to acquire a heavy bomber in light of the Kashmir operations. But where was this young country to find such an aircraft, it was poor. The British and American aircraft manufacturers demanded a lot of money. Then someone remembered that in Kanpur Cantt. opposite the Traffic Police lines in Mirpur, just before Mirpur Rd. joined GT road in front of the Loco colony there was a large ground that had been converted to an aircraft grave yard. What had happened was that the Royal Air Force and the US Air Force during WW2 had operated the iconic B-24 Liberator heavy bomber out of airfields in India at Ranchi, Panagarh, Dum Dum, Kalaikunda(Kharagpur), Salua(WB) to bomb Japanese military installations in China, Japan, Myanmar and Malaysia. At Indian Independence they could not haul this equipment away, so they broke the cockpit windows, poured sand in the engines and disabled the aircraft so they could never be flown again and dumped all these planes in that big ground in Kanpur Cantt. The ground does not exist anymore, but it was fun to crawl around even in the early 1960s. So Air HQ decided to send a team to refurbish the aircraft. The team came back and reported that some aircraft could be refurbished but since production had ceased on this aircraft by late 1949, no foreign aircraft company was willing to supply spares and if they did so the cost would be enormous for India. No manuals were available and Kanpur had no facilities for making the aircraft airworthy. The aircraft had to be taken to HAL Bangalore for massive overhauling. But the railways had no mechanism to transport the aircraft to Bangalore from Kanpur. The aircraft would have to be patched up to make them flyworthy a bit and flown to Bangalore. Chances were with such a long distance to fly maybe about 10% of the aircraft would make it rest crashing and killing pilots and who would undertake this suicide mission. Foreign pilots were contacted and the price they charged for each ferry flight was atrocious. India would become bankrupt. At this stage two Parsi brothers and a dedicated HAL team stepped in. HAL sent a team to Kanpur under a Mr. Yellappa to patch the aircraft as best as one could. Cockpit windows were taped up, some rough maintenance done on the engines so that the massive 4 engined plane would start up and yes the CTP(Chief Test Pilot) HAL one Jamshed (Jimmy)Kaikobad Munshi and his brother agreed to fly the aircraft out from Kanpur non-stop to Bangalore on these suicide missions. I will not talk much about Shri Munshi, there is an excellent book, Flying in the Hyderabad Dominions read it if you get a chance. The younger Munshi brother died in an air crash. The temporarily refurbished aircraft were taken by truck on the GT road from Kanpur Cantt to Chakeri. Yellapa and his men would patch the plane up as best as they could.
The heating system was inoperative on the B-24 at that time. Mrs. Munshi would wear a heavy fur coat, get into the plane with her husband.
Then Jimmy already had some familiarity with the Pratt & Whitney 1800-43 engines of the Liberators, as they came from the same family as engines of the DC-3s he had flown before. It is said that he would open full power on the four engines, and if nothing blew up, do some fast taxying to check that engines were delivering adequate power and that the brakes functioned properly. He was then off on a direct flight from Chakeri to Bangalore with undercarriage left down throughout. Only one flight is known to have been scary. There was a small fire in the fuselage just behind the pilot’s seat. Fortunately the HAL crew was serving coffee at the time. The entire contents of the flasks were poured on the fire, to successfully put it out. A flight was described by two IAF flight cadets who hitched a ride in one of the B-24s, with no understanding of what they were getting into. Their first surprise was that the co-pilot’s seat was occupied by Jimmy’s wife in a fur coat. She was well prepared for the draughty and cold cabin of the B-24. As the aircraft taxied out a front windshield glass cracked. Jimmy taxied back for quick repairs. HAL’s engineers put some dope on the glass, stuck fabric on it and declared the aircraft flyable. Fortunately nothing worse happened and the cadets slept all the way through to Bangalore.
Rest is history. India fully refurbished at least two squadrons of B-24s, a beautiful heavy bomber. 5 squadron Tuskers and 6 squadron Sea Dragons operated B-24s right until 1969 when they were retired. So India got teeth.
Jimmy ferried a total of 42 B-24s patched-up for flying by Yelappa and his men. All the ferried B-24s were overhauled and refurbished to long-term flyable standard. Jimmy then tested and cleared them for service. According to some HAL engineers, a visiting American pilot once flew one of these aircraft and complimented HAL on the quality of work done on it. He said that the refurbished aircraft was even better than some he had flown earlier. All this was done by Munshi on his regular salary. Nothing extra was asked by him and nothing extra was given. Possibly Rs 100 a month.
When the Americans discovered that India had acquired serviceable Liberators there was consternation and a suspicion that they had been bought clandestinely. They were unhappy that they had no logistics or other control over these fairly potent bombers No one could figure out who had sold them to India. An American team was invited to see what IAF and HAL were up to. The team went away satisfied that there were no underhanded dealings. Soon afterwards, the RAF graciously offered any help that India might need in handling the refurbished aircraft. Two experienced teams came to Poona to help convert and train IAF crews in operations on B-24s.
The first 6 refurbished B-24s from the Kanpur graveyard was handed over to Tuskers 5 squadron on 5th Nov 1948.
India owes a debt to Shri Yellappa and his men and Jamshed Mistry. It is rather strange that such a mass-produced bomber that took part in the Black Sunday Raid Benghazi(Libya) to Ploesti Rumania with almost 60% of aircrew lost to bomb and disrupt Hitler’s oil and petrol production a famous USAF raid not many planes were left to put in museums or even in flying condition after the war except what the IAF had. So soon after the IAF started to deinduct these aircraft, many air museums clamoured to get them. All flying B-24s in the world today (there are only 3 of them in flying condition) are from the Kanpur graveyard.
In case you are interested in seeing these planes. Here is a small list.
1. In India Air Force Museum Palam, closed on Monday. B-24 is there.
2. In the US, Pima Air Museum, Tucson, Arizona. It bears the emblem of 6 squadron IAF, Sea Dragons on one side and USAF emblem on the other side. Flew a ferry flight from IAF station Lohegaon Pune to Tucson. Gift of the Government of India.
3. Collings Foundation, USA, owns a flying B-24 from the Kanpur graveyard. Bought from the IAF. About 20 years ago, I took my small children inside it and told them that they were standing inside history connected to Kanpur. Later we watched it fly. I remember the deep roar of the B-24 engines that would be heard over school lessons in MHS as they would sometimes come to Chakeri for overhaul and maintenance.
4. United Kingdom, RAF Museum. I am attaching a in picture of the hand off ceremony of the B-24 to the RAF museum. Air Vice Marshal Rikhye MD, HAL seen in the photo had a son, Paramraj Singh Rikhye, finished ISC Class XI in 1966 from MHS, do you people remember him?
Look at US Propaganda, take a plane that IAF refurbished and not say a word about its amazing history, this is what the Collings Foundation has done,
Comments welcome from anyone who has further information on this wonderful historical piece