Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee : Legend Of Indian Air Force

Hello Defence Lovers, Some men are born to greatness. Others carve their part to it. Subroto Mukerjee was one of the latter category who paved the way to his own tryst with destiny and laid the foundations of Indian Air Force in the process.

  • Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, OBE  (5 March 1911 – 8 November 1960) was the first Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
  • 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.
  • He had an illustrious career and had been awarded with many honours until his accidental death in 1960.
  • He has been called the “Father of the Indian Air Force”.
  • The story of his life is one of determination, dedication and total commitment to the cause of the service that he guided from its inception till its transformation into the Air Arm of independent India.
  • In the early 1930’s, when the British government in India could no longer ignore the growing demands of the Indian people for greater representation in the higher ranks of the defence services, it grudgingly began the process of ‘Indianisation’ of the services.
  • As a result, the Indian Air Force (IAF) came into being on 08 October 1932.
  • While the older services were marked for partial Indianisation, the IAF became the first truly Indian service, as only Indians could be granted commission or enrolled in it’s ranks.
  • In those early days, a career in the Air Force was an uncharted path for Indians, made all the more difficult by the prevailing discriminatory and obstructive mindset of the majority of the British in India who were extremely sceptical of the ability of the ‘natives’ to fly military aeroplanes.
  • Subroto was one of the six Indians selected for training as pilots at the RAF College, Cranwell.
  • The date of commission of this small pioneering band coincided with the date of formation of the Indian Air Force.
  • Over the next twenty eight years, Subroto was to lead the fledgling service through it’s trials and tribulations, taking it from strength to strength, till it was ready to take it’s place amongst the leading Air Forces of the world.
  • Tragically, Subroto Mukerjee brilliant career was cut short in its prime in 1960. Yet, his legacy lives on, and forms the cornerstone of the hallowed traditions of the service whose very foundations he laid, and whose edifice he built in the early years of its history.
Also Read, IAF Awards Pilot Who Refused To Eject From His Stricken Plane And Saved Lives On Ground
Birth of an Air Force

  • It was at this time that the Government of India decided that a few Indians would be taken, for the first time, into the Air Force, and Subrotos father sent him a copy of the press notification.
  • Subroto jumped at the idea but his mother was not quite happy about it. Subroto however, was elated and was very confident.
  • He would never have an air crash, he assured her. Years later Subroto was involved in a train accident and his worried mother received a telegram : Who says flying is dangerous.
  • In 1929 he wrote the London Matriculation and the Cranwell entrance examination almost simultaneously, and was ecstatic when he heard of his success in the Cranwell examination – a career he had been longing for. At the age of 18 he was one of the first six Indian boys selected to undergo two years of flying training at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. Subroto Mukherjee, HC Sirkar, AB Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and JN Tandon were the six young men who embarked for England from India in 1930.
  • These young men were embarking not only on a journey to a distant land, they were in fact laying the foundations of a new Air Force; which as yet existed on paper along, and which many believed would never materialise into reality.
  • The six Indian cadets were among the pick of Indian sportsmen, and soon made a name for themselves at Cranwell.
  • Sirkar captained the hockey team in which Awan, Amarjit Singh and Mukerjee also played and Amarjit Singh also captained the tennis team.
  • Subroto had finally made his tryst with destiny. As a cadet he told his mother ‘Thank God, I didn’t take up medicine.’ During his training at Cranwell he often wrote to her.

Genuine Conviction
  • After long years of struggle, Indian Independence became a reality on the 15th of August 1947.
  • However, freedom came at a cost and the partition of India into the dominions of India and Pakistan was part of the price that the people of the long-suffering sub-continent had to pay.
  • Along with the Army and the Navy, the assets of the Indian Air Force were also divided between the two new countries.
  • A heavy burden of responsibility descended upon the shoulders of young officers like Subroto Mukerjee, who suddenly were faced with the enormous task of reconstruction in the face of the sudden vacuum created by the departure of the British.
  • However, to Subrotos great credit, in all the decisions to be made, the interests of the country and the service were ever uppermost with him. When the Governor General, Lord Louis Mountbatten asked Mukerjee, the senior-most officer in the IAF, as to how long British officers should remain with the IAF, Mukerjee replied, For five to seven years. Though this was a decision which delayed his own promotion by a good seven years  it showed how genuine in conviction and action were the thoughts and deeds of the man.
The First Indian Air Chief

  • April 1st 1954 was a red-letter day in the history of Indian Air Force. On this day, the only surviving officer of the first batch of six Indian cadets trained at Royal Air Force Flying College, Cranwell, London, commissioned in 1932, Subroto Mukerjee took over the reins of Indian Air Force.
  • It was also on this day that, with the departure of the third British Air Chief, Air Marshal Sir Gerald Gibbs, the last links of the IAF with the British Raj came to an end.
  • On this memorable day, while getting into the car to take the salute at Air Force Day, which also coincided with his taking over as Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Air Force, Subroto told his wife, Believe me Sharda, I don’t deserve all this at forty three, it is all God grace”. It was the finest prayer anyone could offer his Deity.
  • This unassuming, humble man took over as Commander-in-Chief of the IAF at a turning point in its history
  • On assumption of this high office Air Marshal Mukerjee brought with him the intimate understanding of the problems of the Air Force, with the full import of responsibility, having been with it since its inception in 1932.
  • Having held all types of appointments from Pilot Officer to Air Marshal, he was fully equipped with abundant maturity and an incisive insight, of which he made full use in the six years that he was the Air Chief. Years later, Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, DFC, wrote of him in his memoirs.
  • “Imagination, improvisation, quick reaction were characteristic of him.
  • Remarkably even tempered, he showed hardly any signs of stress even under the most trying circumstances, such as the partition riots in Delhi, the Kashmir fighting of 1947-48, the Hyderabad operations or working with a strong personality like Mr Krishna Menon as Defence Minister. Perhaps the only sign of stress was his incessant smoking  and stubbing out the cigarettes after a few puffs. He smiled often and spontaneously.”
Jai Hind