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I Indo-Pakistani War, 1947-1949
By Tom Cooper
Oct 29, 2003, 04:42

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India, at the time consisting of some 500 states of different size and ruled mainly by different royalities, gained independence on 15 August 1947, but was immediately divided into the Indian Federation, with a population mainly consisting of Hindus, and two entities with majority of Muslim population, West and East Pakistan. Several large states and provinces were left to decide which side they are going to join. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), at the time the richest and almost the largest state in the former British colony, had a population of a Muslim majority but a Hindu Maharaja as a ruler, who was actually interested in creating an independent country. Severe pressure from Pakistan and the recruitment of Pathan tribes to start an uprising and try to gain the control over Srinagar, the capital of J&K, however, spoiled this plan, and in turn the Maharaja asked India for help. Concerned about the advance of the Pathans the Indians were more than glad to offer help, but, they could not send their troops without Jammu and Kashmir joining the Indian Federation. On 26 October 1947 finally, the Maharaja of J&K agreed to join the Federation.

While leaving India the British have left large amounts of weapons and equipment back in order to enable a creating of an independent (Royal) Indian Air Force (RIAF). Many Indians – regardless Hindu or Muslims – were trained by the RAF during the WWII, and by 1947 the then Royal Indian Air Force had ten fighter-bomber and transport squadrons, with well-trained and combat-proven officers, pilots, and technicians.

As India partitioned so was also the air force followed the pattern. As the country divided so also the RIAF was to be divided respective to the personnel being either Hindu or Muslim. 896 officers, 10.350 airmen, and 820 technicians or non-combatants of the RIAF remained in India, while 224 officers, 2.189 airmen, and 407 technicians or non-combatants were assigned to the RPAF.

Even without the units given over to Pakistan, the RIAF became a sizeable force, with well-trained and experienced personnel organized in seven fighter- and one transport-squadrons. However, most of its airfields were on the Pakistani soil, and consequently there were immense problems with basing and proper deployment around the borders of the freshly independent country. The first commander-in-chief of the IAF, Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst (a former RAF officer) immediately started a reorganization and acquisition of new aircraft, but this process needed time. On the other side, the newly-organized Pakistani Air Force (PAF) had only two fighter- and one transport-squadron, but a plethora of airfields and training facilities around the country.

Both the RIAF and the PAF were originally organized according to RAF structure, based on the squadrons of between 12 and 25 aircraft that were assigned to different wings or commands according to needs. The areas over which they had to operate were huge, and extremely different, spreading from very long coasts to the Indian Ocean, over the sand- and rock-deserts, via huge valles along large rivers, right up to the Himalayas, the highest mountains on the Earth.

Saving Srinagar

In 1947 India and Pakistan were not yet completely established as independent countries, and the military services of both countries were still in turmoil resulted by the British pull-back. Nevertheless, the Pakistanis were already preparing several actions that were to considerably influence the future of their country. In the northern Pakistan they had a strong interest to put Jammu and Kashmir under their control. As there were no significant units of the Pakistani Army in the area, and there was also attempt not to get directly involved into the situation, the Pakistanis recruited Pathan tribesmen, armed them and organized into several larger groups that were poured into Jammu and Kashmir with the target of capturing Srinagar. Consequently, when the desperate Maharaja of Kashmir decided requested help from India the Pakistanis and their supporters were already present in force, and capturing one place after the other, even if the Pathans appeared foremost interested in looting, killing, and ransacking instead of a serious military action.

In response the Indians to acted immediately. The distances the Indian Army had to cover in order to enter Jammu and Kashmir were immense, the terrain terrible, and there were hardly any paved roads so the RIAF was badly needed in order to establish a full air-bridge to Srinagar. As the force was still mid-way through reorganization and acquisition of additional aircraft when the crisis in J&K developed, the RIAF had to use quite a number of different transports taken from civilian companies in order to be able of completing the task of bringing Indian troops into Kashmir.

Nevertheless, already on 27 October 1947 the Dakotas of the No. 12 Sqn RIAF – a unit originally slanted to become a fighter-squadron, when formed in 1945 – and the first of more than 100 chartered C-47/Dakota transports flew the 1 Battalion of a Sikh-regiment to Srinagar. When taking off, the crews did not even know if the airfield at Srinagar was already captured by the Pakistanis or not, but they went on. The trust of the Indian Army in the IAF was such that Maj. Gen. Thimmayya - later the Chief of the Army Staff - was aboard the leading aircraft, accompanying Air Commodore Mehar Sing. One Dakota crashed underway, killing 42 (wreckage was found only 40 years later!), but the remaining aircraft landed safely and the Indian troops secured the airfield, positioned at no less but 11.540ft above the sea level. From that moment on the RIAF transports were the only means of communication between J&K and the rest of the world. The air bridge was continued for the next three weeks, and in this time the RIAF transports flew a whole brigade of 1.500 Indian troops to Srinagar, together with their whole equipment and all the needed supplies. The Indians were in hurry: the Pathans were still busy with murder, looting, and burning-down of the villages in the area around Baramulla – but they continued a slow advance on Srinagar and it was clear that there would be a major battle in the area.

Already on 28 October a decision was taken the RIAF to also deploy two Supermarine Spitfires to Srinagar, as due to their short range they could not reach deep enough into J&K from the only RIAF airfield nearby, that in Ambala. On the same day the Hawker Tempest IIs of the No. 7 Sqn saw some action nevertheless, strafing the enemy in the Pathan area. Few days later the two Spitfires based in Srinagar were reinforced by two Tempests of the No. 10 Sqn. The fighters were soon to be badly needed, then on 3 November the Pathans suddenly attacked at Baghdam, only few kilometres away from the Srinagar airfield. The onslaught was stopped in the last moment – with some support of the Spitfires, the fuel for which repeatedly had to be taken from directly from the tanks of the transport aircraft. On the next morning the Indians started a local counteroffensive, and in a series of bloody clashes, culminating in the battle of Shalateng – repeatedly supported by Spitfires and Tempests – they captured Uri Bowl, Kot, and Tittwalla in the following days: at least one RIAF fighter (Tempest or Harvard) was shot down over the last place.

The photographs of the IAF Spitfires deployed to Srinagar are usually poor and there are only few of them, so that the details of markings remain unknown. But, they were Griffon-equipped, and should have consequently been Spitfire Mk.XIVs. If thes indeed wore the "Chakra" as roundel remains unclear as well, but it is sure that they had a narrow "anti-glare" black pannel in front of the cockpit.

Meanwhile, the RIAF was able to deploy the rest of the No. 10 Sqn’s Tempests to Ambala, while the Dakotas flew a whole battery of 25-pdr Howitzers to Srinagar. With the help of Tempests and howitzers the Indian troops captured Baramulla, on 8 November, followed by Uri, on 13th, where their advance was finally stopped due to precarious supply situation. In turn, the Pathans captured and held Rawalkot, Bagh, and Rajauir, putting most of Jammu under their control, and with this the first phase of this war was over.

After the partition of India the Royal Indian Air Force's assets were divided between India and Pakistan, resulting in creation of two air forces, both of which had similar equipment and organization. The RIAF was to acquire large number of Hawker Tempest Mk.II (later Tempest F.Mk.2), most of which were transferred from RAF stocks in theatre: like HA626 (ex-RAF MW391) - shown here wearing the sign of the No 10 Sqn - they were typically painted in an overall silver finish. Note also the RIAF national marking used only in 1947-1949. (all artworks by Tom Cooper)

During the second phase of this war the Indians were foremost busy resupplying and reinforcing several of garrisons put under a siege by Muslim irregulars and also some Pakistani troops, as well as recovering as much of terrain captured by their enemy. The situation was foremost critical in Mirpur and Ktoli, both of which were supplied by air-drops of food and ammunition in dozens of missions flown by Dakotas of the No. 12 Sqn, but frequently also by Tempests of the No 7 and No 10 Sqns. The RIAF also built a new airfield at Armritsar, where additional Spitfires and Tempests were stationed.

On 16 November 1947 the RIAF fighters flew a series of effective strikes against forward Muslim positions, and then the Indian Army advanced into Jammu. Only few days later, the Muslims were left only in posession of Bimbar and the area around the hill-town of Poonch, where an increasing number of refugees and the remnants of the State Force battalion were supported only by the Indian 1st Kumaon Regiment. Although Poonch was subsequently put under a siege that was to last for almost a year, even the deployment of the 7th Pakistani Army Division’s artillery could not help the Pathans to take the place. As there was no airfield nearby the city and the troops inside were heavily dependable on supplies dropped by Dakotas of the No. 12 Sqn, but much of this was lost. Consequently the defenders were finally forced to improvise a small landing strip, which was put into service on 12 December. In the following eight days the Dakotas were able to land 73 times there, bringing-in the much needed relief.

The winter forced both sides to discontinue the fighting, even if the Indians attempted to advance in several sectors. Due to very harsh conditions the maintenance and operations of aircraft became immensely problematic, and only few Spitfires and Tempests were able to support the Indian troops when these captured Jangar, on 18 December, and then Rajauri, few days later. The situation then literally “froze” for the following three months, and the RIAF used the time to continue its reorganization and acquire many new aircraft. By the early 1948 the Indian air force was in the middle of a reorganization that was to see it being increased to 20 fighter squadrons equipped with 100 Spitfires and Tempests, purchased from the UK. Additionally, the Indian technicians salvaged, and then refurbished and brought to operational condition no less but 40 B-24J Liberator bombers left behind by the USAAF at the Cawpore airfield at the end of the WWII.

Winter Pause

The Pakistani Army was not able to respond in force to Indian intervention, especially after in December 1947 a large uprising broke out in the area called “North-West Frontier” (NWF), along the Pakistani border to Afghanistan. Even before becoming independent, Pakistan attempted to continue the British politics of exercising influence in the area and also into Afghanistan, and this caused quite some resentments on the other side. By early 1948 the situation in the NWF was such that most of the RPAF and a better part of the Pakistani Army were busy there. The Tempests of the newly-formed No. 5 Sqn RPAF (formed mainly from former No 1 and No 2 Sqn RIAF) were deployed to Peshawar already since December 1947, and the C-47s of the sole PAF transport unit of the time, the No. 6 Sqn, were foremost busy ferrying men and material from Razmak to Miranshah and Peshawar. In short, at the time the crisis in J&K erupted, the PAF was busy elsewhere.

Nevertheless, by early 1948 the Pakistan Army had several small garrisons in Jammu, especially in the area called “Gilgit Agency”, directly on the basis of the Himalayas. The main garrisons were in Skradu, Astor, Chilas, and Gilgit. Their keeping was possible only under most complicated circumstances, then there were no roads and they could only be supplied from the air. In order to reach these places the PAF C-47s had to fly deep through a labyrinth of valleys between many 6.000, 7.000, and 8.000m high mountains – a task complicated enough in good weather, not to talk about the situation during the winter.

The third phase of the Kashmir War came in the spring of 1948, and was again initiated by strikes of Indian fighter-bombers. On 24 April in a daring low-level raid the Indian Tempests destroyed the bridge at Kishangana and thus cut off the main route used by the Pakistanis to bring reinforcements and supplies into the Kashmir valley. The Indian Army then advanced towards Tittwalla, which was captured on 23 May. Poonch was still under a siege so the next offensive went into this direction. The Dakotas of the No. 12 Sqn flew a whole battery of 25-pdrs into the city, and these – together with several Dakotas equipped as make-shift bombers – were decisive in forcing the Pathan tribes to finally give up. Nevertheless, Poonch was not completely safe from their attacks until November 1948.

The Pakistanis were meanwhile doing their best in order to make their own air force operational so that this could participate in the war as well. Under immense problems, in dozens of supply missions, enough equipment was delivered to finally build small landing strips near every of four Pakistani garrisons in Jammu, which improved their situation considerably. The Indians, however, were closely monitoring Pakistani movements, and the RIAF Tempests soon flew several strikes against the landing strips near Gilgit and Chilas, damaging both and destroying several installations, including two radio stations.

In May 1948 a Pakistani column set from Gilgit towards Leh, in Karakhorum, east of Srinagar, and captured Kargil and Dras. The Indians detected this deployment and were swift to react. On 24 May the Dakotas of the No. 12 Sqn RIAF deployed a whole reconnaissance company to Leh: after disembarking the troops did not even try to establish a defensive parameter, instead rushing to build an airstrip needed for the RIAF transports to bring in reinforcements and supplies. The small strip was prepared in record tempo, and in the following days elements of a Ghurka brigade were flown in: the Ghurkhas were swift to stop the Pakistani advance, but the Indian efforts to interdict the enemy supply lines towards the south – both from the air and on the ground – were in turn spoiled by the Pakistanis. Only in November 1948, once they managed to finally secure Srinagar and establish a large base there, could the Indians attempt a new drive on Kargil and Dras. Both towns were eventually captured, and the Pakistanis in turn forced to leave the area.

Appearance of the PAF

It was not before the summer of 1948 that the No. 9 Sqn PAF was also sent to Peshawar in order to reinforce the No. 5 Sqn. This move proved decisive in so far that the Pakistani Army finally secured the strategically important Khaiber Pass in the NWF. Reportedly, the pilots of the No.9 Sqn proved so successful during the fighting in the area that in turn the unit was left equipped with Tempests for a number of years to come – even after most of the PAF was re-equipped with jet fighters – with the main task of COIN. After the loss of the Khaiber Pass, the uprising in the NWF was considerably weakened and the Pakistanis could now finally concentrate on the developments in J&K.

The No 5 Sqn RPAF, that came into existence when the former No. 1 and No 2 Sqns RIAF were given to Pakistan, also flew Tempest Mk.IIs, deploying to Peshawar in December 1947. The unit was actively involved against tribes on the North-West Frontier, and its participation in the war in Kashmir was therefore minimal. Contrary to RIAF Tempests, most of the Pakistani Tempests were painted in middle stone and dark earth (like bellow) or olive green over, and sky under.

Meanwhile, the situation became critical for Pakistanis in the air over Jammu and Kashmir. As many of their transport aircraft were underway over J&K (in 1949 the PAF flew no less but 437 supply missions over Jammu alone, carrying over 5.000ts), the RIAF Tempests mounted constant combat air patrols in attempt to intercept them. On 4 November 1948 two RIAF Tempests, flown by Sqn. Ldr. Masallamani and Flt. Lt. Dogra, detected several RPAF C-47s in the Chilas area, and attacked one of these using 20mm guns. Although the RIAF later claimed that only warning shots were fired, the Pakistanis claimed that one of their transports was damaged but the crew managed to escape by flying a series of evasive manoeuvres deep between the sky-high mountains. The pilot of the C-47 in question was subsequently awarded Sitara-e-Jurat for his feat. After this incident, the Pakistanis started establishing a net of forward posts, each of which was equipped with radio stations, with the sole purpose of detection and tracking of RIAF interceptors. The PAF transports, however, were nevertheless forced to continue operating only by night, which was making the job only more difficult for the crews of the No. 6 Sqn.

By late 1948 both sides were exhausted, and the Indians realized that they were reaching the limits of their military and supply capabilities in J&K. Consequently, Delhi requested from the UN to intervene, and on 31 January 1949 a cease-fire was agreed. With the time, the front-lines from that day became eventual border between the Indian and Pakistani-held parts of Jammu and Kashmir: for all practical purposes they remain front-lines until today.

Order of Battle


RIAF/IAF, 1949
- 1 Sqn: aircraft and personnel transferred to Pakistan, where they formed the No. 5 Sqn; new No. 1 Sqn formed with the IAF only in 1951
- 2 Sqn, aircraft and personnel transferred to Pakistan; new No. 2 Sqn formed with the IAF only in 1951
- 3 Sqn, Tempest II, based at Kolar, used in Hayderabad sector
- 4 Sqn (OCU), Tempest II, based at Cawpore, used in Hayderabad sector
- 5 Sqn, B-24J Liberator, Cawpore, later Poona
- 6 Sqn, C-47/Dakota, aircraft and personnel transferred to Pakistan, where they formed the No. 6 Sqn; new No. 6 Sqn reformed with IAF only in 1951 and equipped with B-24Js
- 7 Sqn, Spitfire FR.XIV and Harvard, later Tempest II, based at Risalpur, then Palam
- 8 Sqn, Spitfire FR.XIV, later Tempest II, based at Poona
- 10 Sqn, Tempest II, based at Ambala, and later at Srinagar and Armritsar
- 12 Sqn, C-47/Dakota, based at Agra and Palam
- AFS, Spitfire FR.XIV, based at Srinagar
- 1st AOP Flight, Auster AOP.V/VI, based at Adempur
- 101st Flight, Spitfire PR.XIX, based unknown

The Spitfires of the RIAF in 1947-1949 wore a camouflage pattern in dark green/dark sea grey over, pale grey under, taken over from the RAF. All had also white bands around the rear fuselage and the fin, and a black RIAF serial on the fin (like MV304 in the case of a Spitfire RF.XIV of the No. 6 Sqn).

Indian Tempests were silver-grey overall, and carried only a black serial on the rear fuselage (like HA554, of the No. 3 Sqn, or HA729 of the No. 7 Sqn).

The B-24J Liberators were bare-metal overall, with a black “anti-glare” panel in front of the cockpit and large codes on the rear fuselage (for example, G, I, L, etc.), as well as the RIAF serial over the fin flash on the fin. By late 1948 quite a few aircraft have got squadron insignia, although only few details of these are known.

RIAF C-47/Dakotas were mainly left bare metal overall, and wore small black serials on the fin or the rear fuselage (example: VP903, of the No. 12 Sqn).

RPAF/PAF, 1949
- 5 Sqn, Tempest II, later Sea Fury Mk.60, formed with RPAF in 1947 and based at Peshawar
- 6 Sqn, C-47/Dakota, later Bristol Freighter 21, based at Mauripur and Chaklala
- 9 Sqn, Tempest II, based at Miranshah, later Peshawar
- 11 Sqn, Brigand, based at Mauripur, formed only in January 1949, did not participate in the fighting
- 14 Sqn, Tempest II, later Sea Fury Mk.60, formed in November 1948, based at Miranshah and then Peshawar, and disbanded in 1949
- 1st AOP Flight, Auster AOP V/VI, based at Peshawar

The Pakistani Tempests were painted sand and olive green or dark earth over, sky under, and wore black serials on the rear fuselage (like A132 and A141, of the No. 9 Sqn, or A145, of the No. 14 Sqn). Some were also painted in silver-grey overall, or silver-grey over, sky under, but the serials were still applied in the similar manner like usually (example: A160, belonging to the No. 5 Sqn). Some Tempests of the No 9 Sqn had their spinner painted in red.

Pakistani C-47/Dakotas were usually still wearing the camouflage in light olive drab overall, sky under, applied to them during the WWII. Black serials were carried on the rear fuselage (example: H705, belonging to the No. 6 Sqn).

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