No.1 Squadron Air Force was raised on 01 April 1933 at Drigh Road, Karachi and equipped with 04 Westland Wapiti aircraft. The Indian element consisted of 06 officers and 09 technicians then known as Hawai Sepoys.
The early history of 1 Squadron is synonymous with the history of the Indian Air Force. It was formed on the day the Indian Air Force received its first batch of trained pilots from RAF Cranwell. The first batch of Indians at Cranwell were HC Sircar, Subroto Mukherjee (later Air Marshal and the first Indian Chief of the Air Staff), AB Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjit Singh and J N Tandon. They had started training in 1930 and were commissioned in late 1932. Plt Offr Tandon was too short to qualify for flying training and joined as the Equipment officer. Flt Lt CA Bouchier, DFC from the RAF was the first Commanding Officer of the Squadron.
The first batch were later joined by AM Engineer,DFC (later Air Marshal and the Chief of the Air Staff), KK Majumdar, DFC & Bar, Narendra, R H D Singh, Prithipal Singh, "Baba" Mehar Singh , SN Goyal and Arjan Singh (Later Marshal of the Air Force).
The years 1933 to 1937 were basically the formative years for the Squadron when it trained in its primary role of Army Co-operation from Drigh Road, Peshawar, Chaklala and Sialkot. The rigorous training was to pay handsome dividends in Sep 1937 when the Squadron was inducted into operations against hostile tribesmen in North West Frontier province. Fg Offr AM Engineer was "Mentioned-in-Despatches" for gallantry during this operation. Soon after Fg Offr Subroto Mukherjee was appointed Flight Commander of "A" Flight. By the time "B" Flight was formed and the three flights came together for the first time in Ambala, all three Flight Commanders were Indians. These were Fg Offrs Subroto Mukherjee, AM Engineer and KK Majumdar.
On the historic day of 16th March 1939 Flt Lt Subroto Mukherjee took over the Command of the Squadron from Sqn Ldr CH Smith, thus becoming the first Indian to Command a flight, a Squadron, later a Station and finally, of course, the Indian Air Force itself.
On various ocassions, the Indian pilots were required to carry out operations against the tribesman in the NWFP. Several times the pilots had to face the brunt of hostile fire. In 1937, Fg Offr Mehar Singh was attacking a tribal post at Shaider, when his fuel tank was hit by rifle fire. He had to crashland the Wapiti in rocky terrain and had to evade the hostile tribesman searching for them to make it back to the Army lines. On another ocassion, Fg Offr Arjan Singh had to forceland his Audax in tribal territory. Even he was able to evade the tribesman and make it back to safety. qn Ldr MukherjSee on one sortie on learning that a besieged Army post was running out of ammunition, instructed his gunner to stuff thier socks with the ammunition from the lewis guns. He then flew lowe over dropped the ammunition in the post, thus giving them just enough ammunition to hold out long enough to be relieved.This was the beginning of air maintenance in a rather ingenious form.
In June 1939, the Squadron was re-equipped with Hawker Hart aircraft with a few Hawker Audax aircraft on its inventory. In August 1941, the Squadron was re-equipped with 12 Lysander aircraft financed as a gift from the citizens of Bombay. Since then the squadron is considered to have been adopted by Bombay and became known as the Bombay Squadron. The Squadron got into its element straight away. In November 41, the squadron moved enmasse for an air display to Calcutta. When they returned they even picked up a wrecked Lysander of No.28 Sqn RAF and repaired it as thier 13th aircraft!
December 41 saw the outbreak of the war in the far east. That month, the Squadron lost Pilot Officer Namgyal Paljor who undershot the runway at Peshawar and got killed. Towards the end of December, It was known that the Squadron would soon move to Burma to provide support in Ops against the Japanese. The ground party left for Burma in the middle of January by train. The Squadron flew its Lysanders across the country towards the end of January.
On 01 Feb 42, No.1 Squadron under the Command by Sqn Ldr KK Majumdar was moved to Toungoo in Burma to stem the Japanese offensive. The Lysanders were assigned to fly tactical recce missions. On the day of the induction, the area came under heavy air raids by the Japanese forces. But due to effective dispersal, none of the Squadron's aircraft were lost.
The Squadron personnel immediately swung into action and their courage and ingenuity saw them hanging pairs of 250 lb bombs on the bomb racks slung on the modified Lysanders. On 3rd February, Sqn Ldr Majumdar went up in a solitary aircraft escorted by two Buffaloes of 67 Sqn RAF and attacked Mae-Haungsuan airfield. He dropped his bombs on a Hangar containing an aircraft inside and came back safely. The next day, the whole squadron repeated the strike on Mae-Haungsan. On 5th Feb, the Tigers moved to Mingaladon airfield near Rangoon. More retaliatory strikes were launched against the principal Japanese air bases at Mae-Haungsuan, Cheingmai and Chiangrai in Thailand. The missions were flown unescorted at low-level and the results were evident from the reduced air activity the following day. The Lysander was basically an army co-operation aircraft without a bomb sight. However, the squadron pilots perfected the techniques of dive bombing and carried out pin-point attacks. On one occasion, Sqn Ldr Majumdar carried out a 'Touch and Go' over an enemy airfield to prove a point to his passenger, an Intelligence officer, who was refusing to believe it was an enemy airfield!
After a few days in Mingaladon, Majumdar led one flight with Flt Lt Prithipal Singh to Lashio to support the Chinese army operations. Flt lt Niranjan Prasad stayed back with his flight in Mingaladon. One solitary aircraft under Flt Lt H Raza went to Toungoo. Throughout the operations, the recce sorties brought important intelligence reports of troop concentrations and movements which were crucial to ground operation. The Squadron performed exceedingly well and so endeared themselves to the Chinese troops, that in appreciation they were presented a "Gold Wing" by the Chinese - a rare honour indeed.
During the entire campaign Sqn Ldr KK Majumdar personally led his pilots on recce missions in adverse weather and over inhospitable terrain. For this exhibition of exceptional courage, leadership and fighting spirit in the face of the enemy he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross [DFC], the first such award to an Indian officer in World War II. WO Harjinder Singh had improvised a wooden tailwheel that was used on the Lysanders when the spares ran out. He was awarded MBE for his imaginative improvisation and for maintaining very high aircraft serviceability inspite of poor logistic backing.
Throughout its span of operations, the Squadron lost only one Lysander during operations, piloted by Fg Off J K Deuskar, when the aircraft flipped over during a landing. The gunner Sgt Dhora was also killed. Atleast one Lysander was lost in Japanese bombing and another lost during a ferry flight. One of the last missions was flown on 7th March by Fg Offrs Rajinder Singh and Raza. They flew two RAF Pilots to Rangoon airfield to help evacuate two Hurricane fighters left behind at the airfield. The squadron handed over all but three of its Lysanders to the Burma Air Force that was newly raised.
The Squadron had come back to Secunderabad in March 42. On return from the fighting, command was taken over by Sqn Ldr Subroto Mukherjee once again. In June 42 14 Pilots under Sqn Ldr Mukerjee went to Risalpur for conversion to Hurricanes. After conversion, the Squadron moved south to Trichy for some time.
Flt Lt Henry Runganadhan was to suceed Sqn Ldr Mukerjee in Oct 42. However just before taking over command, he was killed in a Crash. The Lockheed Hudson in which he was travelling was hit in the tail by a Hurricane which was escorting it.
Sqn Ldr S N Goyal, another Cranwell trained officer took over command. However, there was some conflict with the British Station Commander who was ill-treating the Indian Officers. There was a controversy and Goyal was posted out in Aug 43 on promotion to Wg Cdr rank at Air HQ. In September 43, Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh took over command.
On 3rd February 1944, after converting onto the Hurricane Mk IIIE and mothering the raising of an additional Indian Air Force squadron, it went back to Imphal for operations against the Japanese under the Command of Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh. Equipped with Hurricane III E aircraft the Squadron was tasked to carry out recce missions to gauge Japanese intentions. They carried out 60 sorties in Feb 44 reconnoitring the upper CHINDWIN area right upto the Mytkyina - Mandalay rail-road. These aerial recces discovered enemy army concentrations and river crossing equipment thus giving away Japanese ground offensive plans. The vital information provided by these missions was later to change the whole course of the war.
During the battle for Imphal, The Tigers were tasked to provide close air support to the 17th Indian division. The squadron provided the much-needed close air support and helped the Allied forces to finally break through on 14 Mar 44. In the meanwhile, No.1 Squadron continued to launch Counter Air missions to thwart the Japanese advance. The first operational casuality occurred on 8 March, when Fg Offr Kasrani crashed after his engine caught fire due to a Glycol leak.
As the squadron pilots flew dawn to dusk and at times during the night, the technicians slaved to minimise the time any aircraft spent on the ground. As a result, the Squadron flew a record 360 sorties/530 hours during the campaign. The month of April was critical to Japanese forces as they were within the Arty fire range of Imphal. The indefatigable Tigers fighting ferociously, flew 450 hrs during this month to attack everything Japanese. This devastating effort sapped the enemy’s strength.
The battle continued through the difficult monsoon month of May and Jun 44 inspite of which the Squadron flew 950 hours providing valuable offensive support for the hard pressed 17th Indian Division and also for the 2nd division fighting its way from Kohima to open the road to Imphal. On 22 Jun 44 the Japanese siege of Imphal was finally lifted.
The Japanese defeat was turned into a rout with the Squadron aircraft pursuing them relentlessly through the jungles of Burma in Jul 44. Advancing Allied armies subsequently found ample evidence of the destruction caused by No.1 Squadron in its raids. Destroyed tanks, bombed transport columns, smashed guns and charred vehicles littered the road to Chindwin. The defeat at Imphal has been chronicled as the worst suffered on land in Japanese history. The stupendous air effort by No.1 Squadron for the defence of Imphal totalled 1034 sorties averaging 1 hr 30 mts per sortie. By Mar 45 the Squadron had been in Burma Ops continuously for 14 months, the longest for any squadron, during which it had flown 4813 sorties totalling 7219 hrs.
For his tireless bravery, dedication, valour and unflagging enthusiasm Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh was decorated with the DFC on the field personally by Lord Mountbatten. Five more officers were awarded the coveted DFC. They were Flt Lt R Rajaram, Fg Offr a R Pandit, Fg Offr P S Gupta, Fg Offr B R Rao and Fg Offr Khemendra Nath Kak. However, a price was paid too. Atleast fourteen Officers lost their lives in operational losses or accidents, including Fg Offr P S Gupta and Fg Offr Khem Nath Kak, both DFCs.
The Tigers after their return from Burma continued to fly Hurricanes till November 1945 before converting to Spitfires. In a farewell message, Air Marshal SF Vincent, CD, DFC, Air Officer Commanding 221 Group, complimented the pilots and airmen of the squadron about thier reliablity as 'second to none in this world'.
The Squadron command was under Sqn Ldr Rajaram when they returned from Burma. The Tigers moved to Peshawar and remained there for the next two years. Towards the begining of 1947, under the command of Sqn Ldr Ranjan Dutt, the Tigers converted to the Hawker Tempest II fighter bomber.
In 1947 during partition, the shocking news that the Squadron was to go as the share for the newly partitioned Pakistani Air Force was received. Accordingly, the Squadron assets were transferred to the Pakistan Air Force. What was surprising was that there was no No.1 Squadron in the Pakistani Air Force. The assets received by the PAF was used for a No.5 Squadron. Though on paper, No 1 RIAF Squadron was allocated to Pakistan, it ceased to exist on 14th August 1947, as the newly born nation never continued the lineage. Thus, the Tigers heritage remained exclusive to India throughout its life.
The premier Squadron of the Air Force could not be kept dormant for too long. The Tigers soon made a fresh beginning. On 26th January 1953, No 15 Squadron was renumbered as No.1 Squadron, IAF at Halwara, with Spitfires on its inventory under the command of Squadron Leader EJ Dhatigara. Dhatighara had earlier raised No.15 Squadron in 1951 on Spitfires. To him went the honour of being the first post Independence Commanding Officer of the Tigers.
In February 1953, the Tigers entered the jet age with re-equipment onto the De Havilland Vampire. By August 1953, No. 1 Squadron had reached its full unit establishment of 16 Vampire FB.52's.
In September 1953 Tigers moved from Halwara to Palam. With the move came a change in command, with Squadron Leader TS 'Timky' Brar taking over the reins of the squadron. On 3 April 1956, Squadron Leader GD 'Nobby' Clarke took over the command of the Tigers. The squadron continued to operate from Palam with the Vampires until it was designated to be re-equipped with the Mystere-IV A, an aircraft of French origin.
On 15th February, the aircraft, personnel and CO of No.1 Squadron were designated as No.27 Squadron. and No.1 metamorphised itself away at Kalaikunda as a unit to be equipped with Mystere IVa fighter bombers. Squadron Leader Dilbagh Singh took over the Command of the Squadron on 14th February 1957 and converted the Squadron to Mystere IVa aircraft when they arrived by sea in May 57. Sqn Ldr Dilbagh Singh was given the the honour of carrying out the first Supersonic dive over India on 17th May 1957 in Mystere IVa (IA-950). Kalaikunda was also the base for the newly raised 3 and 8 Squadrons equipped with the Mystere. It was in this aircraft that the Tigers were to participate in the next two operations.
Goa Liberation-Op Vijay
The Squadron took part in the 1961 operation for liberation of Goa. Commanded by Sqn Ldr S Bhattacharya and equipped with Mystere-IVa aircraft, the Sqn operated from Santa Cruz airport. Also known as Op Vijay, this was the first battle for the Tigers after Independence. The Squadron carried out fighter sweeps and strike missions over Goa, Daman and Diu. In the face of relentless offensive air strikes, the Portuguese capitulated. Liberation of Goa was a swift operation. The Squadron not only provided air superiority but also became a deterrent to force the Portuguese for an early surrender. A four-aircraft mission against the Daman fort on 10 Dec 61 found the traditional surrender signal fluttering on top. Inspite of the short operation, Tigers had fired 586 Rockets and released 176 Bombs during Op Vijay. Sqn Ldr S Bhattacharya was awarded the VM.
In 1963, the squadron had moved to Adampur, an airbase that was to remain its home for the next 17 years! When hostilities broke out in 1965 the unit was under the command of Wg Cdr OP Taneja.
The first mission was flown on the morning of September 6th, when a strike of four Mysteres attacked a railway train at Ghakker. The formation was intercepted by an F-104 Starfighter, but the aircraft came back unscathed flying at low level.
A pre-emptive air strike by PAF against our forward air bases was carried out on Sep 6th evening. Adampur happened to be one of them. The next day the squadron was tasked to hit the PAF's main airbase of Sargodha. A target of major importance housing nealry half of the enemy's strength of aircraft. Thus No.1 Squadron had the honour of being the first unit to fly against a PAF Airfield in the war.
The first wave was to consist of twelve aircraft. However due to confusion and technical snags, six aircraft dropped out and the remaining six were joined by a seventh Mystere which was on standby. The Mysteres led by Wg Cdr Taneja attacked Sargodha at 0550 hours. The Boss destroying a large four engined aircraft with the rest of the formation strafing fighters on ORP. A Starfighter was observed burning furiously as they exited. A patrolling Starfighter tried to intercept the Mysteres and got into a dogfight with Squadron Leader AB Devayya. Tubby managed to shoot down the Starfighter in an amazing feat, but failed to return from the sortie. His gallantry was recognised by the IAF with a posthumous award of the Maha Vir Chakra two decades later.
The second wave against Sargodha was sent in broad daylight. Sqn Ldr Sudarshan Handa led the strike which was quite sucessful. One F-86 was destroyed by Handa on the ground and several targets attacked by his formation members. The Mysteres recovered back to base sucessfully. Sqn Ldr Handa and his Sub Section leader, Flt Lt DMS Kahai, both were awarded the Vir Chakra for this mission. A third strike against Sargodha in the evening was intercepted by Sabres. Fg Offr Babul Guha was lost to a Missile fired by a patrolling Sabre.
Thereafter the Tigers were tasked with the airfield Air Defence, offensive strike missions against heavily defended Pakistani airfields and interdiction of major lines of communication. Several strikes were flwon against ground targets and aircraft recovered damaged due to ground fire. Only one other aircraft was lost on these missions. Sqn Ldr RK Uppal was shot down over the Lahore front on September 11th. Targets attacked included the BRB Canal, Sialkot sector, Pasrur airfield and numerous targets of Oppurtunity. When the paratrooper menace was at its hight and the tall sarkanda grass in the airfield was providing good hiding places for the enemy snipers, Sqn Ldr Handa had the privilage of taking off in a Mystere and strafing the grass in the outlying areas with his cannon, thus becoming the only pilot to strafe his own airbase! There were other unique happenings too. Flt Lt JP Singh once came back from a low-level strike with telephone wires wrapped around his rocket pods!
In the course of the war, the squadron flew a total of 128 strike missions and 46 Combat Air Patrol sorties. In recognition of their outstanding contribution to the war effort the Tigers were awarded 1 MVC(Posthumous), 3 VrCs, 2 VMs and 2 VSMs. The Maha Vir Chakra came over two decades later, based on reports and eyewitness accounts it was firmly established that Sqn Ldr Devayya had in fact shot down the enemy Starfighter in aerial combat before going down himself. The richly deserved MVC was awarded to the gallant officer posthumously on 26 Jan 88. The Vir Chakra awards went to the CO Wg Cdr Taneja, Sqn Ldr Sudarshan Handa and Flt Lt DMS Kahai as narated earlier. Sqn Ldr PR Earle and Flt Lt VK Verma recieved the VMs.
In July 1966, still under the Command of Wing Commander OP Taneja, the Tigers were re-equipped with the supersonic Mach-2 class, all weather interceptor- the MiG-21 FL. Even though the squadron had only two Qualified Instructors, the conversion to the FL proceeded with Gusto and at a pace that left even the neighboruing 28 Squadron, the pioneers of the MiG-21 gasping for breath. Wg Cdr Taneja handed over command to Wg Cdr SK Dahar VrC, a well decorated pilot who flew the first sortie of the 1965 War. Dahar, however was lost in a MiG-21 crash immediately after the Republic day flypast of 1968. The command of the squadron was passed onto Wg Cdr Mishra.
18th October 1968 was a red-letter day for the squadron. It was singularly honoured on that day, when the President, Dr Zakir Hussain, presented the Tigers, the President's Colours at an impressive ceremony held at Air Force Station, Adampur. The Tigers had clocked another First.
When the 1971 Indo-Pak War, the squadron was under the command of Wg Cdr Upkar Singh and based at Adampur. The squadron was tasked with the Air Defence of Punjab sector and providing air cover to our own attacking formations deep inside enemy territory.
Operating from Adampur, the Tigers defended the air space assigned to them so well that but for one unsuccessful pre-emptive strike on Dec 3rd, not a single enemy aircraft could penetrate into our territory. On that day two MiG-21s were scrambled to intercept PAF Mirages attacking Amritsar's Rajasansi airport, but the enemy aircraft scurried back without giving a fight.
In addition, all strike missions escorted by the Tigers achieved their objectives and returned safely. Wg Cdr Upkar Singh led a strike against Chander and Rahwali which went unopposed. On December 6th, The MiG-21s escorted Su-7s on a strike in Sialkot. The PAF was not encountered in any of these missions. The first encounter happened on December 8th. Two MiG-21s escorting Su-7s were bounced by Mirage IIIs. The MiGs broke into the attackers and were getting onto the tails of the attackers when a confused call resulted in the Mirages going into escape maneuvers and going out of the fight.
The next day on December 9th, four Mirage IIIs attacked Pathankot and as they were exiting the area were bounced by the Tigers. Two K-13s were launched and one proximity hit was recorded. The enemy aircraft dissappearing over the horizon and off the radar scope. The Squadron was given a 'probable' kill.
Several night sorties were flown. The only loss occurred on one of these sorties on 11th Dec 71, when Flt Lt Ashok Balwant Dhavle was lost to friendly fire in a case of mistaken identity. The Squadron also operated a detachment of two aircraft that were sent regularly to Pathankot.
The sorties put out by the Tigers was phenomenal, a grand total of 513 sorties! Wg Cdr Upkar Singh was awarded the AVSM. In addition, one Vr C was awarded to Sqn Ldr S Subburamu. 3 VMs and 9 Mention-in-Despatches were awarded to the Squadron.
Post 71-85: a period of consolidation
No.1 Squadron continued to be based at Adampur for the next ten years with Wg Cdr Upkar Singh as commanding Officer till 24 Sep 1973 when he handed over the Tigers to Wg Cdr Brijesh Jayal. After Wg Cdr Brijesh Jayal's tenure, the reins of No.1 were assumed by Wg Cdr Keith Lewis on 17 Feb 1976 for over two years, and then by Wg Cdr P R Jaindass from Jan 1981 to May 1983. It was in this tenure that the Tiger's celebrated their Golden Jubilee, the Squadron meanwhile having been relocated at Gorakhpur in Feb 1982, after a record period of stay at Adampur. The Commodore Commandant on 1st April 1983 was Air Marshal TS 'Timky' Brar, who had commanded No.1 Squadron in 1953.
Shortly thereafter, Wg Cdr TJ Master took over and commanded the Squadron till 24th August 1984, when he handed over to Wg Cdr GM Viswanathan, who was at the helm when the Tigers moved further east, to Hashimara, in the eastern Dooars, in 1985.
Due to the personal intervention of the CAS, Air Chief Marshal Katre, No.1 was designated as one of the two units to re-equip with the state of the art Mirage-2000 in 1985, its older MiG-21s being operated "transferred" to the newly-raised No. 52 Squadron.
The first seven Mirage -2000s arrived on 21st June 1985. After six months of operations in India, on 1st January 1986, No. 1 Squadron formally came into being at Gwalior with Wg Cdr PS Ahluwalia taking over as the first CO of the Mirage-2000 equipped Tigers. Normal flying operations were commenced the very next day. The Squadron flew a total of 220 Hrs in the very first month of operations with this new class of fighters. Under the able guidance of Wg Cdr P S Ahluwalia the Squadron played a very active role and was instrumental in development of tactics for the new weapon platform, most of which are in vogue even to this day. He also took up the formidable task of formulating the syllabus and SOPs for this new induction.
Wg Cdr PS Ahluwalia handed over the reins of the Tigers to Wg Cdr SU Apte in May 88. Wg Cdr Apte commanded the Squadron till April 1990 after which Wg Cdr NA Moitra led the Tigers for another two years before handing over to Wg Cdr Anil Chopra in April 1992 in whose able hands the squadron flew into the Diamond Jubilee of its destiny.
The Tigers celebrated their Diamond Jubilee in a grand manner in 1993. Incidentally, the Air Force too celebrated its Diamond Jubilee this year and the Squadron celebrations saw the who's-who of the entire Air Force under one roof. Wg Cdr SS Dhanda took over the command of Tigers in May 94 and he was succeeded by Wg Cdr Daljit Singh in Nov 95 who commanded the Squadron till Dec 97, after which the reins of the Squadron were handed over to Wg Cdr Neelakanthan.
In May 99, the Tigers, now with Mirage-2000's ASF's, were deployed at Ambala for Op Safed Sagar. From Ambala, the Tigers were tasked for Elint and AD Escorts missions to PR/ ARC ac and strike missions. A total of 234 operational sorties were flown from Ambala which included a few missions at night.
As a contingency, a few aircraft moved to Jodhpur, where the squadron flew 153 sorties consisting of AD Escorts missions and trials. Air Commodore Ahluwalia, then the Air Officer Commanding of Air Force Station Gwalior under took several trials which went on to pave the path to one of the greatest successes for any Air Force operating in mountainous terrain. Throughout the operations, the Tigers maintained a high serviceability of aircraft and only one mission was aborted during the entire duration of Op Safed Sagar, which lasted for more than two months. Once again, the Tigers lived up to the true traditions of the Air Force and executed the job with flawless professionalism. Wg Cdr S Neelakantan, VM was awarded the YSM for Op Safed Sagar. In addition, seven Mention-in-Despatches were awarded to the squadron.
Not allowing their recent achievements to slow them, the Tigers tirelessly continue to train for even higher operational standards. Presently under the command of Wg Cdr Neeraj Yadav the squadron personnel relentlessly work to attain higher standards of professional excellence. The Tigers performed exceptionally well in Exercise VAYUSPRADHA and were declared the "Best Fighter Sqn" for the year 1999-2000. Thus, the Tigers continue to carry the baton well into the Twenty First Century