|Warbird Discovery of the Year 2002
believing! The unmistakable Nazi Cross on tail and the black cross on the fuselage shows
the lineage of this aircraft, a Messerchmitt 109E which was found in Gulbarga, Karnataka. Photo: A A Laxman
Wait! did i read that
right? Did it say "Messerchmitt"? MESSERCHMITT? As in WW2-
German , As in Dr. Willi MESSERCHMITT? Is that a Swastika that I am seeing in that photo?
My God! It is!
One of the unofficial features of
the site was what I termed as a "Warbird discovery of the year" award. This was
basically to signify the discovery of a hitherto unreported vintage aircraft of
importance. In the year 2001, the Award went to a gentleman who reported the
derelict airframe of a Percival Prentice in Chennai. The Prentice was the only known
example still surviving in India outside the Indian Air Force Museum. For the year 2002, I
had only one nomination going on , A Firefly was reported to be on its way to restoration
and display at INS Hansa in Goa. The decision was almost taken to appoint the Firefly as
the Warbird discovery of the year when one fine day in May, I received an
email from Laxman Anataramu.
Laxman, I knew was a scientist working in the
Aerospace Industry. He was a vintage aircraft enthusiast and also an Aviation History
enthusiast. We had started our correspondence about an year back and we never had an
opportunity to meet, though we had exchanged detailed notes on various aspects. Laxmans
mailed started out as thus:
"My dear Jagan
I have a photograph with me that will blow
your mind. I am sure I will get the Warbird discovery of the year , maybe the
Warbird Discovery award of the decade? . Please take a look at the photograph and tell me
you are interested in it
One look at the attached JPEG knocked me off my
chair. In front of me on the monitor was not the Dakota I was expecting Laxman to send,
but a rare second world war warbird that boggles one mind on how it got there. The classic
lines of the german fighter were unmistakable. The Black Nazi crosses and swastika on the
tail were faded but still clearly discernable. It was a Messerschmitt Bf-109!
Since I had Laxmans number I promptly put in
a long distance telephone call. I was excited as hell, and Laxman seemed to enjoy my
giddiness about his discovery. Where, What How, when? Were the questions that went thru
our discussion. Laxman told me the following.
The story began five years back, when Laxman went
for the wedding of a friends at a place called Gulbarga in Southern India. At the
wedding, one of the local acquaintance of the friend mentioned an aircraft that was lying
in their town for several years. It is displayed at the Poojya Doddappa Appa College of
Engineering, and is quite dilapidated and on way to the scrap dealer. Laxmans
curiousity got aroused and he asked for help to see it.
The next day the acquaintance took him to the
place and there it was! Laxman himself was knocked out and the host could barely
understand why Laxman was hopping excited and screaming out of his breath "Its
a Bf-109! Its a Bf-109!". No one could understand his excitement or joy.
The aircraft was in a dilapidated condition, but
all the parts and components were there. It was displayed with its undercarriage resting
on three propped up stones. The Cockpit canopy was missing. The engine bearers had broken
off and the engine was dragged to one corner and dumped. Some one had fixed a iron bracket
that lashed both its main undercarriage legs together to prevent them from collapsing. The
engine cowling panels were also missing.
||The aircraft as it was when i saw
it. The Fuselage (left) was isolated and kept in between chairs and tables, with the
engine (right) kept elsewhere on wooden planks and boxes.
Laxman came back to the town once again and did
some ground work. He asked the aircrafts apparent owners -- The College trustees, to
sell it to him or to donate it to a body which would take care of it. At that time, there
was no HAL Museum, or the Navy Museum or interests groups dedicated to vintage aircraft
preservation, so the choices were limited. The owners can donate it only to the IAF Museum
if they wanted or they could sell it to Laxman or any enthusiast who came their way.
The talks dragged on for a couple
of years till about an year back, the Hyderabad Karnataka Education Society (HKES) said they will not part
with the aircraft because 1. Its government property, it was given to the HKES by the
government, to be more specific, the Gulbarga Muncipal Corporation, and it will be
given back to them 2. That any restoration will be carried out by HKES themselves
with volunteers. Apparently it turned out that they were misleading Laxman all along.
This created some panic with Laxman. The HKES were
not related to the aviation industry and they could not do anything but botch up an
attempt in trying to fix the aircraft back together. During the years, the aircraft was
further stripped. The wings were removed and dumped at another place. The aircraft was
dragged and dumped among some old furniture tables and benches. The engine prop and hubs
were still there in another location. Someone had already stolen the main wheels from the
aircraft. However the real reasons for the dismantling of the aircraft was to be known
Thankfully the officer in charge of the place
failed to deliver on his promise. There was no attempt to restore the aircraft
or dump it. Laxman could do nothing for a year and a half. He had also lost touch and had
no idea as to what happened to the aircraft.
Now after making acquaintance with me he mulled
over the prospect of trying to get help from me because I knew a couple of senior IAF
officers who were also vintage aircraft enthusiast. He gave me the directions and details
over the phone. He was also gave me a word of caution Dont ask around for the
aircraft, these guys were already suspicious and Laxman himself was persona non-grata
I made the trip to the place in the beginning of
June. It was a horrible twelve hour journey by bus one way. And I must have spent less
than an hour at the place. It was quite difficult to pick up the aircraft in the junk that
was lying at the place, but once I saw it I was mesmerized by its presence. A
Messerchmitt, In India! How was this possible? I noticed the Engine and prop hub at one
place. Since I had two cameras with me, a 35mm Point and shoot and a Digital Camera that
can take 1 Mega Pixel pics, I went on the job straight away. The aircraft was exactly in
the state that laxman said. I used the digital camera to take the close ups of the Number
imprinted on the Engine casing and also the numbers painted just before the tail assembly
on the fuselage. The fuselage paintings had a Black 5 that was closed to form
a 6 , albeit with a square top edge. So what was this? Black 5 or Black 6?
Once I got back from my photo expedition, I just
could not wait to get the photos developed and scanned and sent to some important bigwigs
in India. The reactions were as expected. My eyes popped out when I saw the
picture said a very senior officer in the IAF. He was disbelieving was
the reaction of another officer when he passed on the information to another senior
The photographs were circulated to
about 6 officers of Air Marshal Rank in the Air Force and Navy. The course of action was
quite clear. First the aircraft was to be bought under the antiques act, which would
prevent it to be sold outside India. (It is illegal to export Motor Cars that are more
than 50 years old in India) Since it was a government establishment [The Gubarga Municpal Corporation] that owned the Me-109, its a matter of mere formality to procure it. If
required, a retired Gnat/Kiran/Hunter/Sea Hawk can be given in exchange. The aircraft will
be bought to Bangalore or Delhi. Bangalore has the advantage of having access to a huge
pool of aviation fitters and riggers who also set up the HAL museum. However all the
grand plans came to naught - which in itself will make a very interesting story.
How did the Aircraft end up in India? After some
deliberation, the most likely explanation is that it was gifted by one of the RAFs
presentation squadrons to the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Nizam had paid for 152 and 253
Squadrons which flew and fought in the Battle of Britain. Probably this Me was one of
those shot down by either of the squadrons and sent to India as a gift to be displayed to
the loyal subjects of the Nizam. The fact that 152 squadron spent the latter years of the
war based in India indicated a strong possibility that they might have shipped the
aircraft to their sponsor. But others have indicated that the aircraft need not
necessarily be one bought down by the Nizams squadrons, but one that was merely shipped
here to indicate the Nizams contribution to the war. Whatever it may be, we are still
looking for answers.
Lynn Ritger who runs the 109lair
website studied the photographs and the history of captured Me-109 to come up with a well
thought out and researched page on this aircraft's history. The page can be seen at 109 Lair at Hobbyvista
Where is the aircraft now?
However it turns out that we were not alone in our
discovery. A particular gentleman from Bangalore had made an exchange offer to HKES where it was and the aircraft in question was promptly
transported. Last known, it is on its way to UK for restoration to fly.
Several people has asked a question "How is
relevant to Indian Aviation ? It has not served with the IAF or by any civilian
organization. What has it got to do with India?". It should be noted that there is a
Japanese Yokosuka Okha on display at the IAF Museum in Delhi. Neither is the Okha related
to Indian Aviation , but it is there, to give a taste of aviation heritage to the average
Indian. The Messerschmitt will also fulfill the same role. Besides, it will also give a
glimpse of the opposition faced by several Indian Pilots who flew with RAF Fighter Command
and the 2 TAF during the years 1941-44 when they were deputed to the United Kingdom. But
alas, now it will be a long time since an indian aviation enthusiast can actually see an
axis aircraft without travelling overseas.