Tempestous Times By K Sree Kumar
|Hawker Tempest II HA-623 is one of the eight surviving Tempests in the world. This example is preserved in the IAF Museum in Palam. Pic Courtesy: Simon Watson|
Okay, here’s this month’s Indian Warbird Trivia quiz question. It might appeal specially to those of you who lived or studied in the Deccan town of Warangal, in peninsular India; particularly the numerous alumni of the Regional Engineering College there. Here it is: Which World War 2 aircraft type, in its time, actually bombed Warangal? Could it have been a long-range Japanese bomber, perhaps operating concurrently with the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft that bombed Colombo and Trincomalee in 1942? Nope. Answer: The World War 2 era aircraft that bombed Warangal – to be accurate, only its airstrip – were IAF Tempests, during the Hyderabad police action.
The Hawker Tempest II is of special interest to Indian warbird historians. It was the first relatively high-performance aircraft to come into the pre-Independence Indian Air Force (then still the RIAF) reasonably early in its production history – RIAF squadrons received their first examples just two years after the RAF did. (Previous high-performance types, such as Hurricanes and Spitfires, did not reach the IAF until five or six years after the RAF.) This was partly because the atom bomb ended the war against Japan just as the Hawker production line was beginning to churn out Tempests in quantity. But whatever the reasons there was no doubting the satisfaction in IAF squadrons, a sense that they were coming-of-age at last, when they got their hands on this powerful Sydney Camm design so soon after it had first flown.
That said, the Tempest did first arrive in India with the RAF. Four RAF squadrons then based in India had begun receiving Tempests, from December 1945 onwards. The aircraft of these squadrons made up the first Indian acquisitions of the type, being passed from RAF to RIAF squadrons as the RAF wound down in India.
RIAF conversion was rapid. The first Indian squadron to convert to the Tempest was No 3 Squadron at Kolar in September 1946, followed by No 10 Squadron two months later. No 4 Squadron was next, re-equipping with Tempests on its return from Japan, and Nos 7 and 8 followed in mid-1947. Nos 1 and 9 also converted later in the year, but were almost immediately number-plated within the RIAF, as their aircraft and other assets were transferred to Pakistan on Partition. By Independence all but one of the RIAF’s fighter squadrons had converted to the Tempest.
On 15 August 1947 itself, twelve Tempests carried out a flypast over the ramparts of the Red Fort, as Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the national flag that historic day. This ceremonial formation was personally led by Arjan Singh, later CAS and now Marshal of the IAF.
RIAF Tempests were called on for grimmer purposes soon afterwards, during the Kashmir operations. They carried out offensive support sorties in support of the RIAF’s airlift operations during that period, and provided close air support to the Indian Army. During this period, and indeed throughout its service in India, the Tempest II was quite the combat mainstay of the IAF. It served with seven squadrons, almost the entire combat element of the IAF, at a time when the service was less than a quarter the size it is now.
|Hawker Tempest II HA-591 was previously MW-810 in its RAF Life. This aircraft is seen here in a picture taken in 1989. Currently the aircraft is in the USA. Pic Courtesy: Dan Pescoe Via Christer Landberg|
However, the Tempest’s service in the IAF was relatively brief. In its later years it suffered a somewhat nefarious reputation; its engine being prone to sudden catastrophic in-flight failures and sometimes bursting into flames. Several factors, including the limits to piston-engine technology which were being pushed by its Centaurus engine design, and perhaps the IAF’s own willingness and determination, to push its types harder than anyone else, probably contributed. Some very distinguished Indian pilots have had to abandon Tempests in a hurry – for an interesting story (with a happy ending!), see Air Vice-Marshal Cecil Parker’s account at http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/History/1950s/Parker.html. But then, as now, the IAF made do with what it had.
No 3 Squadron, the first Tempest operator, was also the last to use it in front-line service, retaining it until 1953. Tempests remained in service until around 1956 at Hakimpet and Jamnagar, at what were then operational and armament training units. Others continued to be used for ground instruction. Finally, in the Tempest’s last contribution to active IAF service, they were to serve as airfield decoys at operational airbases during wartime.
A total of around 1,400 Tempests were built, 233 of which served in the RIAF and the IAF. About a dozen, including two or three of the Tempest V variant, survive worldwide today. At least eight of these survivors are former Indian Air Force aircraft, or have significant IAF content. Indeed, during the 1960s and 1970s, India was a regular source of Tempest airframes and spares for the rest of the world. One batch of substantially complete airframes was sold to a colourful character who was later accused of having buried some of his stock to enhance the rarity value of the rest! (This site has no idea of the accuracy of this allegation.). There are more unconfirmed rumours on Tempest airframes lying derelict around IAF airbases like Pune and Kanpur. None of the current survivors are airworthy, but two groups are attempting restorations to airworthy condition.
One Tempest remains at the Indian Air Force Museum, just outside Delhi; and is in fact the subject of the fine Simon Watson photograph at the top. The only other Indian veteran currently on public display is the RAF Museum’s example, which is the subject of the following page. Other Indian veterans are in storage or under restoration, as set out in the table below.
The old Tempest operating squadrons of the Indian Air Force, Nos 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10 Squadrons, all remain active today; operating types including the Mirage 2000H and the MiG-27ML. Their squadron diaries, and the photo albums of virtually anyone who served in an IAF fighter unit in the early 1950s, still retain sepia-toned images of this Hawker design, against Indian backgrounds.
And that, boys and girls, is the Indian chapter of the story of this World War Two aircraft type that once had the temerity to bomb Warangal. Personally, I am willing to forgive it – its last act of service in the Indian Air Force, offering itself as a target to draw fire away from its younger comrades-in-arms, ought to redeem it – even in the eyes of the most unforgiving old resident of Warangal!
Serial numbers of former Indian Air Force Tempest fighters currently on static display in India and worldwide or under restoration.
|Serial No||RAF Serial No||Current Location|
|HA-623||MW-848||Indian Air Force Museum, Palam, India|
|HA-457||PR-538||Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, UK|
|HA-557||MW-404||Stored in UK|
|HA-564||MW-376||Stored in France|
|HA-580||MW-758||Stored in UK|
|HA-586||MW-763 (G-TEMT)||Under restoration with Tempest Two Ltd, UK|
|HA-591||MW-810||Stored Texas, USA|
|HA-604||MW-401 (G-PEST)||Tempest Two Ltd, UK|
Sources: The information on these pages was collated from the following sources:
1. Seth, Vijay: “The Flying Machines: Indian Air Force 1933 to 1999”. Seth Comm., New Delhi, 2000
2. Butler, Anthony L: “What a Beauty!”. FlyPast, August 1998
3. Chopra, Pushpindar Singh: “The Battle-Axes: No 7 Squadron, Indian Air Force, 1941-1992” Society for Aerospace Studies, New Delhi 1992
4. The Warbirds Resource Group, at http://www.warbirdsresourcegroup.com
5. Landberg, Christer, “The Hawker Tempest Website” – The Best resource on the Internet.
6. Parker, Cecil Vivian, Air Vice-Marshal : “The Caterpillar Club”.
7. Recollections of former IAF Tempest aircrew and groundcrew.
Text Contents of this page are copyright © K Sree Kumar