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The History of the Liberator( B-24) Heavy Bomber in the Indian Air Force

An air warrior, MG has a checkered and also wields the pen forcefully with two novels and over 100 short stories

The beginning


As a young boy I used to pass the Air force Technical College at Jallahalli in Bangalore. A sight that used to catch my eyes was an old B-24 popularly called the Liberator that was parked in a hanger. The plane fascinated me with its snout nose and gigantic wingspan.

Much later when I grew up, I dug up the history of the B-24 with the Indian Air Force. It’s indeed a romantic tale and any flyer will be enthused with it. The B-24 was a US made heavy bomber that used to operate from the airfield of Assam in India against the Japanese positions in China. The Liberators operated from Chubua, Kumbhigram and Jorhat air fields.

Abandoned B-24's at Kanpur


The B-24 was a strike bomber of the US Air Force and saw service during World War II. It is not as famous as the B-29 but in its own right it was a formidable machine. It was a heavy bomber with 4 piston engines and a range of 3000 miles. Tens of liberators were operated by the USAAF in India during the war. After the war the US handed over the planes to RAF and exited from India.

Most of these planes were collected by the RAF at Kanpur air field and dumped there. The RAF technicians were responsible to make the machines unfit for flight as per the lend lease agreement. At the end of the war in 1945/46, the RAF airmen were eager to get back home and just abandoned the machines at Kanpur by making some minor defects in the machines to make them unfit for flying. The machines remained at Kanpur till 1948.

Resurrection of B-24


During 1948 war with Pakistan, when the IAF had to use the C-47(Dakota) as a bomber, the need for a heavy bomber dawned on the IAF air staff. No heavy bomber was available as the Western countries denied a heavy bomber to the IAF. At that time in 1948 information came that the Royal Air force had abandoned about 70 B-24’s at Chakeri air field near Kanpur in 1946. These planes were part of the lend lease pact and one of the terms of the contract was to make the planes unfit for flying. The RAF technicians had disabled the machines as they could not be taken back to the UK. They had not done a thorough job and as the RAF men were eager to get back to the UK. The machines were just parked and left with some minor defects.

The IAF technicians surveyed the airfield and were wonderstruck at the treasure made available to them.

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Making the Liberator's fit for flight

The planes were examined by engineers from the IAF and they were of the opinion that the planes could be made fit for flying by cannibalization. A team of aero engineers now came from Hindustan Aeronautics and work began in earnest to make the machines airworthy. It is a tribute to Indian skills that about 50 B-24 were made air worthy and inducted into the IAF. All credit to Jamshed Kaikobad (Jimmy) Munshi the chief test pilot of HAL who played a major part in testing the machines. The liberators were made air worthy and flown to Bangalore where at the HAL factory they were made fully serviceable. No parts were imported as parts from about 20 B-24s were cannibalized and used. In all the IAF could make about 50 liberators air worthy.

News of the Liberators in service with the IAF reached the Americans. This surprised them and they suspected that the Indians may have purchased them from some rogue nation. To allay their fears a team from the USA Air Force was invited to have a look. The team came in 1951 and was impressed with the way the Liberators had been restored.

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Liberator in service with IAF

The IAF promptly equipped No 5 and 16 Squadrons with the Liberators and these continued to serve the IAF till 1968. They were used in the Goa operations in 1961 but missed out on operations against China in 1962 as the IAF was not used then as per instructions of Nehru, who did not want the conflict to be escalated.

The Liberator was also used to photograph Mount Everest. These were the first aerial photographs of the mighty mountain ever from the air. During the 1965 war the liberators were used for sea surveillance of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The plane was ideally suited for this work because of its immense range of operation.

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Final Moment


In 1968 the Liberator was phased out of the IAF inventory and a machine was preserved at the Air Force Museum at Palam.

The B-24 has a special place in Indian aviation history and more so as making the planes air worthy was a stupendous achievement of Indian airmen and technicians. This was no mean task and brought out the inherent genius of the India technician.

Last word

The Liberator is now history but a startling fact emerges. It has been the only long range heavy bomber used by the IAF. No plane has served with the IAF with a range of 3000 miles. The heyday of the B-24 was World War II. It was getting obsolete in the fifties and by the time IAF phased it out it was only a relic.

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Comments

tom on October 05, 2020:

just 5 b24s crashed in iaf serivce ,very safe ,

tom on October 05, 2020:

pc lal says 100 b24,us refused b25 michel ,uk offer lancaster in 1948.i b24 gift to canada ,few lost in crashes,1965 war did maritime recee sorties

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 04, 2020:

yes, there were almost 60 B 24 lying at Chakeri.

tom on October 03, 2020:

book spitfire singh by mike edwards on harjinder ,hawai sepoy to air vice marshal

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 03, 2020:

Yes, he was a technical officer.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 27, 2020:

Tom, the liberator was a wonderful plane and it's to the credit of the Indians that they could salvage and put so many of them into service. Thank you for your comment.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 22, 2020:

Thank you, Lovnish Thakur, for soaring time and commenting

Lovnish Thakur from Solan, Himachal Pradesh, India on June 21, 2020:

Loved reading it Sir

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 13, 2020:

Thank you Kelly, I look forward to your article

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on June 13, 2020:

Interesting article! I didn't know the IAF used old B-24s for decades after the end of WW II. As for airplanes, in general, I wrote a hub about the 17 greatest airplanes of all time, but I didn't include the Liberator on this list. Sorry! My bias toward fighter planes was obvious, I suppose. Later!...

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 10, 2020:

Thank you, Denise, it's a pleasure to read a comment from a person who loves planes.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on May 10, 2020:

What a great story and legacy for these older planes. My dad was a navigator in a B 52. He would have loved this story and new life for the old planes.

Blessings,

Denise

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 22, 2019:

Thank you Kelly for commenting. Yes the B-24 served for over 2 decades with the IAF till 1968

Kelley Marks from Sacramento, California on December 22, 2019:

Thanks for the article about the B-24 Liberator. I had no idea India continued using them into the 1960s. Of course, all warplanes become obsolete eventually, though the B-52 is still usable, though it's been retrofitted to a great degree. The B-17s and the B-29s were great bombers too. Later!

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 26, 2017:

Thank you Tamara

Tamara Moore on April 30, 2017:

I do not know a lot about these types of things, but I respect a person, such as yourself, who does! Thank you for providing this great information!

Big Hugs,

Tamara

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on December 01, 2015:

Well Unnamed Harald, the IAF used it for 2 decades. Thanks for commenting

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 01, 2015:

This a very interesting article. I've always thought that the Liberator was unfairly eclipsed in the media by the Flying Fortress and the Super Fortress.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 04, 2015:

Thank you friend

madugundu krishna from Yemmiganur on October 03, 2015:

Indian Air Force service is the great.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 16, 2015:

Thank you lawrence01, yes it was a great effort from the engineers

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on June 16, 2015:

Thank you RonElFran for reading and commenting

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on June 15, 2015:

Great story. The liberator was a great plane but the real story is the ingenuity of the engineers putting them back together.

Lawrence

Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on June 15, 2015:

What a great story. This is a piece of history I was totally unaware of. I enjoyed reading it.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 17, 2015:

Nice of you to have liked and commented

Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 17, 2015:

This is such an informational post. Voted up.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 12, 2015:

Thank you Susan. I have flown planes all my life and I also love them

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on May 12, 2015:

Interesting article, well written. My dad has always been interested in airplanes and my husband is quite interested in history, particularly of the World War II era. I guess a lot of that has rubbed off on me over the years. I can understand why you are very proud of your country's technicians who were able to make the B24 fleet usable again.