Indian pilots played stellar role in WWII: Somnath Sapru

'In wars, men matter more than machines,' observes Somnath Sapru

BENGALURU: “In wars, men matter more than machines” observes Somnath Sapru, author of “Combat Lore” (Indian Air Force 1930-45), and an expert on military aviation, on the eve of the Air Force Day. This veteran journalist, who authored two other books “Skyhawks” and “Armed Pegasus” earlier, describes in his latest book how pilots and technicians of IAF imbibed the discipline of the air force and performed magnificently in the North West Frontier Province during World War II. The book is a saga of the IAF coming of age after being bloodied in war.

“The name given to this book needs to be explained. Every country’s culture begins sometimes with myths and legends, for every society has a tradition coming down the ages through the centuries. This folklore becomes a part of its heritage. “Lore” is the short form of folklore, but in the case of IAF, it is facts that become part of heritage and can be called lore. Combat essentially refers to battles, wars and such services in which the army, navy and the air force participate,” explains Mr Sapru in the book.

He has reported on activities of the three services and specialized in the history of military aviation in India. A recipient of several awards including the Asian Journalist of the Year (1988), his published works also cover a variety of subjects such as communication studies, country profiles such as of Japan, and biographies. The latest book has several first person accounts by veteran IAF pilots, including some on combined operations along with pilots of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

His first book – ‘Skyhawks’ was about four young Indians who flew with the Royal Flying Corps in Europe during World War I. Among these four was Lt. I L Roy who was the first Indian to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The second book ‘Armed Pegasus’ was about how military aviation first came to India in December 1915 and how the RFC/RAF set up the service in India and how IAF benefited from it later.

Here are excerpts from the book:

How do you describe your new book?
My third book on military aviation deals primarily with the history of Indian aviation and armed services. The book has a unique record of battle by ‘first person accounts'. From the dates on the accounts in 'Combat Lore' one can surmise correctly that this was a long-term project.

What prompted you write the book?
The reason for writing this book was that no book on the Indian Air Force mentions enough about individuals who actually took part in action and give readers a graphic idea of what it was like back then during World War II. A narrative in their own words adds flavour to the message that Indians also took part in facing a formidable enemy. Reading the exploits of men who actually took part in war will certainly inspire youngsters to emulate them.

What was the role of Indian combat pilot during the British rule?
The British in the thirties of the last century did not want Indians in the flying service and hence spread the canard that Indians were unfit to lead and therefore could not become commissioned officers. Added to that, they said Indians lacked technical knowledge to fly and maintain an air force and even if it they had the knowledge, it was just theoretical. Both these charges were proved baseless as Indians proved themselves both as officers and pilots on the battlefield in the coming years.

What you think about defence forces of India and their future?
The IAF today is a modern, superb fighting machine, but future wars will involve all the three services. The air force and navy have to join the army to face the challenges of modern warfare as is being witnessed in other countries.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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