April 23, 2024
The Frozen Tear War Memorial featuring Gnat E-1051 at Ambala Air Force Base. 34 Names of IAF pilots who died in operations both in peace as well as wartime are etched on the obelisk. Photo Courtesy : Jagan Pillarisetti / Kaleido India Ltd

Ambala was one of the oldest and largest airbase inherited from the British for the IAF. The then Advanced Flying Training School operating from there used to operate Harvards and Spitfires. Later on, Ambala AFS operated Vampires, Toofanis, Mysteres and Hunters in a combat role. It was from this airbase that Spitfires and Harvards flown by Instructors took part in the early days of fighting in the Srinagar valley in the 1947-48 Kashmir Operations. Today the Airbase houses 7 Wing operating Jaguars and MiG-21 Bisons.

HAL Gnat E-1051 seen from the rear at the Memorial. Photo Courtesy : Jagan Pillarisetti / Kaleido India Ltd Click to Enlarge

Subsequently Ambala was the front line airfield for many years. It was home to various aircraft being inducted into the Indian Air Force. Vampires, Ouragans, Hunters etc all flew from this base. The airbase was briefly attacked in 1965 by PAF’s B-57 bombers. However apart from damage to a cathedral that was on one side of the airfield, no damage occurred.

Ambala airfield has a war memorial called ‘Frozen Tear’ dedicated to pilots who flew operations from this airfield. A HAL Gnat [E1051] forms the backdrop for this monument which is in the shape of an elongated tear resembling a small pyramid. The memorial is located just behind the ATC Building.

Click to Enlarge The Gnat E-1051 is silhoutted against the horizon at Ambala. The St Paul’s Cathedral which was bombed is just behind the Gnat, though not visible in this photograph. Photo Courtesy : Jagan Pillarisetti / Kaleido India Ltd
The Gnat was earlier in an interesting ‘Blue’ scheme with white tail numbers as can be seen in this older picture. Though we are not able to put a date or year when this photograph was taken. Photo Courtesy : Indian Air Force Click to Enlarge

The Obelisk carries the names of all aircrew who lost thier lives in times of war and peace flying missions from the airfield. When we visited the airbase in October 2003, there were 34 names etched on the memorial. The Gnat is mounted on a pole and is shown dipping a wing towards the memorial.

The other interesting ‘warbird’ are the remains of Supermarine Spitfire MkVIII MV-459, which resurfaced from an Ambala river bed in February 2003. Subsequently the IAF recovered the remains of the aircraft and shifted them to Ambala Air Force Station. Photographs and a report on the recovery as well as WarbirdsofIndia’s exclusive photographs of the Spitfire are available.

The eastern face of the obelisk is etched with 21 Names of fighter pilots who died in ops in the 50s and 60s. Photo Courtesy : Jagan Pillarisetti / Kaleido India Ltd Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge The Southern face of the memorial has 13 more names including two pilots from the 1971 Operations. Photo Courtesy : Jagan Pillarisetti / Kaleido India Ltd

There are no other known warbirds on display at Ambala, atleast none visible to the general visitor whatsoever. The airbase currently houses two Jaguar Squadrons and another Squadron flying the latest MiG-21 Bison upgraded aircraft.

Aircraft Type Serial Remarks
HAL Gnat E1051 ‘Frozen Tear’ War Memorial
Spitfire VIII MV459 Wreck – Escavated and preserved at AFS Ambala
Spitfire HS365 Rumour – No Details.

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