“LORD, LET THY SERVANT GO IN PEACE NOW” *
Designed by RJ Mitchell, famed for his previous Schneider Trophy floatplane designs, the prototype Spitfire first flew on 5 March 1936. The first Spitfires entered service at Duxford with 19 Squadron RAF in August 1939. It thus became the only Allied fighter to have entered production before the war and continued to be produced until after 1945. Spitfires served in every theater during World War II and with every Allied Air Force at some time. Almost 40 marks and a host of minor ones came into being with the last Spitfire being delivered on 20 February 1948 to the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. In all 20,351 Spitfires and 2,408 Seafires had been built. The Mks V were produced in the largest quantity (Total 6,479) followed by the Mark IX (5,665).
The IAF and the Spitfire
The IAF was one of the last Commonwealth Air Forces to receive Spitfires in October 1944 (8 Squadron) while most Squadrons re-equipped only in June 1945 with the aircraft remaining on RAF charge with the RAF serials replaced with IAF ones only after Independence (all were re serialled in the HS—batch). This is the main reason why so little is known about their history with the IAF. Coming so late in the war, the Indian Spitfires saw little action during the Second World War, but AFS(I) and No.1 PR Flight's Spitfires saw some action during the opening months of the desperate defense of the Kashmir valley in the Oct-Nov 47 battles of Badgam and Shelatang).
[Left] RIAF pilots pose by their Mk VIII s at Jammu with Wg Cdr AR Pandit during his visit to J and K during the 1948 war over Kashmir.
[Below] Mk XIVe s/XVIIIe s taxi back after a mission at Srinagar in 1948 Picture Courtesy : PN Sharma / Blitz
After partition the IAF began officially taking over Spitfires from RAF inventory (hitherto loaned to the IAF) on 29/31 December 1947. Most of these aircraft were relinquished by RAF Squadrons disbanding and going home.
The RAF Spitfire Squadrons that served in India were:
|Sqn No.||Mark||Time Period||Located at||Sqn Code|
|11||Mk XIV||Jun 45-Sep 45||Madurai.|
|34||PR XIX||Aug 46 to Jul 47||Stood Down Kohat.|
|67||Mk VIII||Dec 44||Double Moorings,||'RD'|
|81||Mk VIII||Jun 45||Amarda Rd||'FL'|
|131||Mk VIII||Jun 45||Dalbumgarh,||‘NX’|
|132||Mk XIV||Aug 45||Madurai,||‘FF’|
|136||Mk VII||Jun 44||Chittagong||HM’|
|152||Mk VIII||Dec 44||Tulihal||‘UM’|
|155||Mk VIII||Jan 45||Palel,||‘DG’|
|273||Mk VIII||Jul 44||Cox Bazaar||‘MS’|
|607||Mk VIII||Jan 45||Tulihal||‘AF’|
|615||Mk VIII||Jun 45||Cuttack||‘KW’|
In June 1945, Nos 81, 131 and 615 Squadrons were disbanded and their aircraft loaned to the RIAF as were those of 17 Squadron which re-equipped with the Mk XIV. As other Squadrons disbanded, their aircraft went to the RIAF on loan or to storage units to be issued later. The remainder were gradually scrapped. For instance 34 Squadron handed over its PR XIs to the RIAF in August 1946, but its PR XIXs were scrapped a year later instead of being handed over to the IAF.
After the partition of Pre-independence India into Pakistan and India, the IAF set out to rapidly expand the force with deliveries of Spitfires commencing 29/31 December 1947. However, by the end of the first India-Pakistan war (1947-1948), the IAF had already commenced acquiring the Tempest II. Spitfires were generally phased out by 1955 with only No 1 PR Squadron and 14 Squadron continuing to use them till 1957/58.
Spitfire deliveries to the IAF were as follows.
|Time Period||No Delivered||Mark||Serials||Comments|
|29.12.47||14||LF VIIIc||No RIAF Serials|
|29-31.12.47||20||F/FR XIVe||HS 351-370||Serials Allotted but not painted on aircraft – retained RAF Serials|
|29.12.47||58||F/FR XVIIIe||HS 649-986|
|Mid 49||42||F/FR XVIIIe||HS 649-986||Range included other types|
|31.12.47||1||PR XI||Gl No M342|
|03.06.48 to 15.11.48||10||T IX||HS 534-543||Direct Deliveries from Vickers to India|
|02.06.49||13||PR XIX||HS693-HS 705|
|1953||1||PR XIX||HS 964|
All RIAF/IAF Spitfire serials were in the HS— series. A brief description of each operated type follows:
Mk Vc/Trop: This was the main fighter version powered by the 1,440hp Merlin 45 with many detail changes. The Mk Vc had the ‘universal’ wing with choice of armament plus two 250 lb (130 Kg) bombs. Many sported clipped wings with the tropical filter. This variant was among the slowest Spitfires ever used. Total produced 2,447. All the Mk Vs used by the IAF were powered by the Merlin 66 and arrived Bombay from August 1943. Four served with No 4 Squadron while at least one served with No 1 SFTS (India) in 1946 with the code “88” painted on MA 368 (SOC – 25.4.46.). All IAF Vc were serialled MA—. MA 364 a Vc/Trop is known to have had an incident with then Flg Offr H Moolgavkar (later Air Chief Marshal and Chief of the Air staff). This aircraft taken on charge by the RAF on 25 July 1943, arrived Bombay on 27 September 1943 for 136 Squadron RAF. Its date of transfer to 4 Squadron IAF is not known. However, on 15 January 1945 at Murdania (a beach strip), while aborting take off after an engine failure at 30 ft, Moolgavkar landed wheels down and ran into shallow water and overturned. Moolgavkar was rescued just in time before drowning. The aircraft was SOC on the same date.