Subroto Mukerjee


Subroto Mukerjee

OBE
SubrotoMukherjee.jpg
Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee
(pictured wearing Group Captain's insignia c. 1947)
Born 5 March 1911
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
Died 8 November 1960 (aged 49)
Tokyo, Japan
Allegiance  British India (1932–1947)
 India (1947-1960)
Service/branch  Indian Air Force (1932–1947)
 Indian Air Force (1947–1960)
Years of service 1932–1960
Rank India-AirForce-OF-8-collected.svg Air Marshal
Unit No. 1 Squadron IAF
Commands held Air Force Station Kohat
No. 1 Squadron IAF
Battles/wars Annexation of Hyderabad
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948
World War II
Waziristan campaign (1936–1939)
Awards Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.png Order of the British Empire
Relations See Nibaran Chandra Mukherjee family and Das Family

Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, OBE (5 March 1911 – 8 November 1960) was the first Indian Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Indian Air Force. He had an illustrious career spanning almost three decades and had been awarded with many honours until his untimely demise in 1960. He has been called the "Father of the Indian Air Force".

Born in a Bengali family of repute, he was educated in India as well as England. He joined the Royal Air Force and later was one of the first recruits of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1933. He flew with the No. 1 Squadron IAF from 1933 to 1941. He attended the Staff College, Quetta in 1941 before returning to command No. 1 Squadron in 1942.

He had many firsts to his credit: the first Indian to command a flight, in 1938; the first Indian to command a squadron, in 1939; the first to command a station, in 1943; and finally, the first to Indian to command the Service itself, in 1954.

Early life and education

Mukerjee was born in Calcutta on 5 March 1911 in a well-known Bengali family, to Satish Chandra Mukherjee, an early Indian officer in the Indian Civil Service, and Charulata Mukherjee, a social worker. His paternal grandfather, Nibaran Chandra Mukherjee, a Brahmo, was a pioneer in social and educational reforms in the country and a member of the Brahmo Samaj. His maternal grandfather, Prasanna Kumar Roy of the Indian Education Service, was the first Indian Principal of the Presidency College, Calcutta. His maternal grandmother Sarala Roy, an educationist and social worker, was the founder of the Gokhale Memorial Girls' School. The youngest of four children, Mukherjee was taken to England when he was three months old. However, he spent his childhood in Krishnanagar and Chinsura in Bengal. From his very early days, he had shown an aptitude for a military career, probably infused by his uncle, Flight Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy, who had joined the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. Roy was the first Indian to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and was the only Indian flying ace.

Mukerjee's elder sister Renuka Ray was a prominent freedom-fighter. She was a member of parliament, cabinet minister and an ambassador. She attended the Cambridge University and the London School of Economics.[1]

Mukerjee was educated in a diocesan school in Nainital (today known as Sherwood College) and Loreto Convent in Calcutta and also in a school in Hampstead in England. He subsequently joined Birbhum Zilla School and passed the matriculation examination in 1927. He was also a student of Howrah Zilla School. He attended the Presidency College, Kolkata for a year and then went to Cambridge University.

Military Career

Early career

The first batch of Indian pilots at RAF Cranwell in 1931. From Left to Right: Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and Subroto Mukerjee.

In 1928, the Government of India agreed to the entry of Indians to the Royal Air Force College Cranwell . While, initially only two vacancies were recommended, it was later increased to six. This was done so that a Flight of a Squadron would be completely Indian.[2] Mukerjee took the Cranwell entrance examination and the London Matriculation in 1929 and was one of the first six Indians selected to undergo two years of flying training at the RAF College Cranwell. The other five were H C Sirkar, A B Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and J N Tandon.[3]

With the Indian Air Force Act being passed by the Central Legislative Assembly, the IAF was established on 8 October 1932 as an auxiliary air force of the Royal Air Force.[4] Mukerjee was commissioned as a Pilot Officer.[5] After completing their training at Cranwell, the Indian pilots passed through the Army Cooperation School at Old Sarum in Wiltshire. Mukerjee served with the No. 16 Squadron RAF for about a year before coming back to India.

On 1 April 1933, "A" Flight of the No. 1 Squadron IAF was formed at Drigh Road in Karachi with Flight Lieutenant Cecil Bouchier, DFC in command. Mukerjee was one of the five Indian pilots who made up the flight. The flight was equipped with four Westland Wapiti biplanes. On 15 February 1934, Mukerjee was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.[6]

In 1936, a rebellion took place in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), led by the Pukhtoon tribes. The Indian Air Force would play a major role in controlling the rebellion in the harsh terrains of the region. Mukerjee, part of the A Flight, flew into Mukerjee was awarded the India General Service Medal with the clasps 'North West Frontier 1936-37', and 'North West Frontier 1937-39'.

In July 1938, 'B' flight of the No. 1 Squadron IAF was formed and Mukerjee took command of the flight. He was one of the three flying officers of the three flights of No. 1 Squadron.[7] On 15 February 1939, Mukerjee was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. He took command of the No. 1 Squadron on 16 March 1939, the first Indian officer to command a squadron. In June 1939, under Mukerjee, the squadron converted to Hawker Hart aircraft with a few Hawker Audax aircraft on its inventory.[8] He led the squadron into action at Miramshah in NWFP.[9]

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Coastal Defence Flights (CDFs) of the Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve (IAFVR) were formed. Mukerjee was the senior-most Indian commissioned officer in the IAF. He was promoted to the acting rank of Squadron Leader on 25 August 1939.[10] On 7 August 1940, he observed a beleaguered army picket. The troops indicated that they were running out of ammunition. Mukerjee and his gunner removed ammunition from the rear cockpit-mounted Lewis machine gun and stuffed it in pairs of socks. The ammunition was dropped to the troops in a low-pass, under concentrated fire . The picket held out until another aircraft air-dropped a large cache of ammunition.[11]

In June 1941, Mukerjee relinquished command of No. 1 Squadron, handing over to Squadron Leader Karun Krishna Majumdar. He was selected to attend the Staff College, Quetta. Due to the war, the staff course was reduced to a duration of six months.[12] By this time, the No. 1 Squadron had moved to Secunderabad and was re-equipped with the Westland Lysander.[13] In March 1942, Mukerjee took command of the squadron for the second time.[14]

In December 1942, Mukerjee was Mentioned in dispatches for service during the operations in the NWFP.[15] On 28 August 1943, he became the first Indian officer to command an airbase. He commanded the RAF Station Kohat from August 1943 to December 1944. During this time, the British Indian Army officer and author, Major Francis Yeats-Brown, DFC, praised the professionalism and the efficiency of the IAF based on his experience at the Kohat airbase in his book Martial India.[16]

After handing over command to Aspy Engineer, Mukerjee subsequently moved to Air Headquarters having been appointed Director of flying training. In June 1945, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).[17] As the senior-most Indian officer in the Royal Indian Air Force, on 15 May 1947, Mukerjee was promoted to the acting rank of Air Commodore and became the first Indian air officer. He was appointed the Deputy Assistant to the Air Officer-in-charge Administration at Air headquarters.[18]

Post-Independence

On 15 August 1947, with the partition of India, a new Air Headquarters of the Dominion of India was formed. Mukerjee was appointed the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO), in addition to being appointed Deputy Air Commander, Royal Indian Air Force.[19] The assets of the Indian Air Force (like other branches of the military) had to be divided between the Dominions of India and Pakistan. Mukerjee led the air force part of this committee.[20]

After the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, Mukerjee was promoted to the acting rank of Air Vice Marshal on 15 November 1947. In the Poonch sector, the road link was under threat of being cut-off. An air-bridge had to be established so that provisioning the supplies for the besieged troops could take place. The first aircraft to land at Poonch Airport was piloted by Air Commodore Mehar Singh, Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Operational Group with Mukerjee as a passenger. The airstrip was surrounded by streams on three sides and has a steep approach. Against heavy odds, he landed a Douglas with three tons of load against normal rated load of one ton. Moreover, the landing was done without any landing aids, the airstrip being lit with the help of oil lamps.[21]

On 15 March 1948, the Chief of the Air Staff and Air Marshal Commanding RIAF, Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst left to the United Kingdom on deputation and Mukerjee took over as the officiating Chief. He served as the officiating C-in-C for about a year.[22]

Air Mshl Mukerjee saluting as the President of India, Rajendra Prasad presents the colours to the Indian Air Force in 1954.

In September 1948, India initiated a police action against the Hyderabad State. Mukerjee controlled and aided air operations in aid of the troops during the annexation of Hyderabad.[23][24] In September 1952, he was selected to attend the Imperial Defence College and in early 1953, proceeded to United Kingdom. He attended the course with Captain (Later Admiral & CNS) Ram Dass Katari, the senior-most Indian Naval officer.[25] After completing the year-long course, he returned to India in early 1954. Having tenanted multiple appointments in the Air Headquarters from 1944, and having served as the SASO and Deputy C-in-C under the first three Chiefs of Independent India, helped him groom himself for the top post.[26]

Commander-in-Chief, Indian Air Force

On 1 April 1954, Mukerjee took over as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Air Force, in the rank of Air Marshal. When the Change in Designation Act, 1955, was passed, the title of "Commander-in-Chief" was replaced by Chief of the Air Staff. Thus Mukerjee became the first Indian Commander-in-Chief as well as Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.[27] On the same day, the President of India, Rajendra Prasad presented the colours to the Indian Air Force in recognition of its service to the nation.[28][29]

On 22 July 1955, with the retirement of the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Charles Pizey, Mukerjee took over as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He is the longest serving Chairman in history, having served for more than five years, until his untimely demise in 1960.[30]

During his tenure, the IAF transformed into an all-jet force and was re-equipped with trans-sonic jet fighters and bombers. It witnessed all-round expansion and modernisation. In August 1958, Mukerjee was given a second tenure for a period of four years, starting 1 October 1958.[31]

Awards and decorations

Dates of rank

Insignia Rank Component Date of rank
UK-Air-OF1B.svg Pilot Officer Royal Indian Air Force 1 September 1932
UK-Air-OF1A.svg Flying Officer Royal Indian Air Force 15 February 1934[6]
UK-Air-OF2.svg Flight Lieutenant Royal Indian Air Force 15 February 1939[33]
UK-Air-OF3.svg Squadron Leader Royal Indian Air Force 25 August 1939 (acting)
15 February 1942 (substantive)[34]
UK-Air-OF4.svg Wing Commander Royal Indian Air Force 1 October 1943 (acting)[34]
15 August 1948 (substantive)[34]
UK-Air-OF5.svg Group Captain Royal Indian Air Force 16 August 1947 (acting)
15 November 1947 (substantive)[34]
UK-Air-OF6.svg Air Commodore Royal Indian Air Force 15 May 1947 (acting)[18]
15 August 1948 (substantive)[34]
UK-Air-OF7.svg Air Vice Marshal Royal Indian Air Force 15 November 1947 (acting)[35]
Air Vice Marshal of IAF.png Air Vice Marshal Indian Air Force 26 January 1950 (recommissioning and change in insignia)[36]
1 October 1951 (substantive)
Air Marshal of IAF.png Air Marshal
(CAS)
Indian Air Force 1 April 1954 (acting)
1 October 1954 (substantive)

Personal Life

In 1939, Mukerjee married Sharda Mukherjee (née Pandit), who was from a prominent Maharashtrian family. They had one son. Sharda was active in social work, and after her husband's death, she became active in public affairs. In 1977, she was appointed Governor of Andhra Pradesh.[37] She was subsequently appointed Governor of Gujarat. She was the first woman Governor of both states.[38] Sharda Mukerjee died 2007 in Mumbai at the age of 89.[citation needed]

Death

In November 1960, Air India inaugurated its service to Tokyo, Japan. Mukerjee and Air Commodore (later ACM) Pratap Chandra Lal, then General Manager of the Indian Airlines Corporation were passengers on this flight. After landing in Tokyo, on 8 November 1960, Mukerjee was having a meal in a restaurant with a friend, an officer in the Indian Navy. A piece of food got lodged in his windpipe, choking him to death. Before a Doctor was called for and could attend, Mukerjee had passed away. The next day, his body was flown to Palam Airport, New Delhi.[39]

Mukerjee was cremated with full military honours. From Palam Airport, a hearse carried him to the Air House. On 11 November, numerous visitors offered their respects. As his body was leaving the Air House, a 15-gun salute, at one minute interval, was fired. His body was carried in a gun-carriage to the Nigambodh Ghat, with servicemen lining the whole route. He was paid a final tribute with a fly-past of forty nine aircraft, one for each of his forty nine years.[40][41] The death came as a shock to the nation and to the Indian Air Force. A black-bordered extraordinary Gazette of India was issued on 9 November.[42] Tributes poured in from across the world, conveyed by the ambassadors and military attaches in New Delhi.[43]

Legacy

Mukerjee is considered the foremost pioneer of military aviation in India. He was a much-loved figure in the Air Force.[44] Aspy Engineer, a close associate of Mukerjee, assumed the role of CAS from 1 December 1960. He issued a Special Order of the Day paying tribute to Mukerjee and called him the "Father of the Indian Air Force".[45]

Mukerjee, an eminent football lover and a regular member of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, had conceived the idea of an inter-school all-India football tournament. This was implemented after his death. The tournament, known as Subroto Cup Football Tournament still helps find talented players from Indian schools.[46] In July 1949, the RIAF introduced the Mukerjee Trophy for the 'Airmen's Mess and Dining Competition', in order to improve units to further improve messing conditions and amenities of airmen.[47]

Subroto Park in the Delhi Cantonment is named for Mukerjee. An important locality, the headquarters of the Western Air Command, the Army Hospital (Research & Referral) and The Air Force School are located here.[48] The Centre for Air Power Studies organises the Subroto Mukerjee International Seminar annually.[49][50]

See Also

References

  1. ^ "Life Lived in an Age of Extrmemes". www.telegraphindia.com.
  2. ^ Nationalisation of the Indian army, 1885-1947. Allied Publishers. p. 92. ISBN 978-8170235552.
  3. ^ "The Saga of a Soaring Legend". indianairforce.nic.in. Retrieved 10 August 2006.
  4. ^ "HC Deb 3 April 1933 vol 276 cc1473-501". Hansard. Parliament of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  5. ^ "Untitled Document". sainiksamachar.nic.in. Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  6. ^ a b The Air Force List: January 1938. HM Stationery Office. 1938. pp. 1275–1276.
  7. ^ Services chiefs of India. Northern Book Centre. p. 151. ISBN 978-8172111625.
  8. ^ Marshal Arjan Singh, DFC : life and times. Ocean Books. ISBN 978-8188322046.
  9. ^ Services chiefs of India. Northern Book Centre. p. 151. ISBN 978-8172111625.
  10. ^ The Air Force List: June 1940. HM Stationery Office. 1940. p. 702.
  11. ^ Marshal Arjan Singh, DFC : life and times. Ocean Books. ISBN 978-8188322046.
  12. ^ Combat lore : Indian Air Force 1930-1945. ISBN 978-9383649259.
  13. ^ The Westland Lysander in Indian Air Force Service. Jagan Pillarisetti. p. 13.
  14. ^ The Westland Lysander in Indian Air Force Service. Jagan Pillarisetti. p. 23.
  15. ^ "No. 35825". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 December 1942. p. 5497.
  16. ^ Yeats-Brown, Francis. Martial India. ISBN 978-1406733976.
  17. ^ "No. 37119". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 1945. p. 2947.
  18. ^ a b "First Indian Air Commodore" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India - Archive. 9 May 1947. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  19. ^ "RIAF Appointments" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India - Archive. 14 August 1947. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  20. ^ Combat lore : Indian Air Force 1930-1945. ISBN 978-9383649259.
  21. ^ "1948 OPS | Indian Air Force | Government of India". indianairforce.nic.in.
  22. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 15 March 1948.
  23. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 18 September 1948.
  24. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 18 September 1948.
  25. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 13 September 1952.
  26. ^ Services chiefs of India. Northern Book Centre. p. 151. ISBN 978-8172111625.
  27. ^ "Press Note" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 31 March 1954.
  28. ^ "IAF Museum | Indian Air Force | Government of India". indianairforce.nic.in.
  29. ^ "Untitled Document". sainiksamachar.nic.in. 22 April 1958.
  30. ^ "Government Tribute To Air Marshal Mukerjee" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 9 November 1960.
  31. ^ "Fresh Tenure for Air Chief" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 14 August 1958.
  32. ^ "Vintage photo of Air Marshal S. Mukherjee in a portrait". www.amazon.com.
  33. ^ The Air Force List: June 1939. HM Stationery Office. 1939. p. 871.
  34. ^ a b c d e "Service Record for Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee 1551 GD(P) at Bharat Rakshak.com". Bharat Rakshak.
  35. ^ "Part I-Section 4: Ministry of Defence (Air Branch)". The Gazette of India. 6 August 1949. p. 1080.
  36. ^ "New Designs of Crests and Badges in the Services" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India – Archive. Archived (PDF) from the original on 8 August 2017.
  37. ^ Parker, Cecil (7 October 2012). "Gubernatorial grace". The Hindu.
  38. ^ "List of Governors". ap.gov.in.
  39. ^ My years with the IAF. Lancer Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 978-8170620082.
  40. ^ My years with the IAF. Lancer Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 978-8170620082.
  41. ^ "Late Air Marshal S Mukerjee" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 10 November 1960.
  42. ^ "The Gazettte of India Extraordinary" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 9 November 1960.
  43. ^ "Late Air Marshal Mukerjee" (PDF). pibarchsive.nic.in. 11 November 1960.
  44. ^ My years with the IAF. Lancer Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 978-8170620082.
  45. ^ "Air Marshal Engineer's order of the day" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 1 December 1960.
  46. ^ "Durand Schools Tournament Opens Tomorrow – Army Chief to Inaugurate" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 14 November 1960.
  47. ^ "Mukerjee Trophy for Best Airmen Mess and Dining Hall" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 6 July 1949.
  48. ^ "AIR MARSHAL ENGINEER'S PRESS BRIEFING" (PDF). pibarchive.nic.in. 17 January 1973.
  49. ^ "13th Subroto Mukherjee Seminar" (PDF). capsindia.org. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  50. ^ "15th Subroto Mukerjee Seminar" (PDF). capsindia.org. Retrieved 20 December 2018.

External Links

Military offices
Preceded by
Admiral Mark Pizey
Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee
1955–1960
Succeeded by
General K S Thimayya
Preceded by
Sir Gerald Gibbs
As Commander-in-Chief
Chief of the Air Staff
1954–1960
Succeeded by
Aspy Engineer
Preceded by
Karun Krishna Majumdar
Commanding Officer No. 1 Squadron IAF
1942–1942
Succeeded by
Henry Runganathan
Preceded by
C H Smith
Commanding Officer No. 1 Squadron IAF
1939–1941
Succeeded by
Karun Krishna Majumdar

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