Birth and the Second World War
Though the Indian Air Force was born with the raising of No.1 Squadron in 1933, it was to take another eight years before the second squadron could be raised. The outbreak of the second world war and the rapid influx of trained pilots and personnel saw to the availability of enough aircrew to equip a second squadron. Accordingly on 1st April 1941, No.2 Squadron, IAF was raised at Peshawar under the command of Flt Lt AB Awan.
Equipped with the Westland Wapiti, the same aircraft on which No.1 was raised, it had a unit establishment of 20 officers and 164 men. Six officers from No.1 were seconded to the squadron and another seven arrived from No.1 SFTS Ambala. Flt Lt SN Goyal and Flt Lt MK Janjua were the flight commanders of 'A' and 'B' flights respectively. the Adjutant was Flt Lt HU 'Bulbul' Khan. Flt Lt Aspy Engineer took over command of the squadron in Jun 41 and soon a detachment was sent to Miranshah to provide operations in the Tochi Valley in the NWFP. The remaining part of the squadron continued training at Peshawar before moving to Kohat in September 41, where they were joined by the Miranshah Detachment which has completed its tour of operations. Meanwhile the Squadron has given up its Wapitis to the Coastal Defence Flights and requipped with Audax aircraft.
Towards the end of 1941, No.2 received relatively modern aircraft in the form of the Westland Lysander, which was also the equipment of No.1 Squadron. For the whole of 1942 the unit was involved in Army Cooperation exercises and moved over parts of Southern India over the course of its operations. In Sep 42, the unit was tasked to move to Risalpur to convert itself to the Hawker Hurricane IIc aircraft. The conversion being finished by December and the unit proceeded to Ranchi for advanced fighter tactics.
Meanwhile the command of the unit has passed onto Sqn Ldr HU Khan, under whose command the unit flew to Bhopal for Operational Training Wing. About this time, the Winged Arrows saw their first taste of action. A detachment of Seven Hurricanes were sent under Flt Lt Nazirullah to the Imphal sector to provide recce and support missions to the Chindits. The detachment distinguished itself during its stay until May 43. On one occasion, a pilot flying over Chindwin successfully attacked a small Japanese army patrol and saved a wounded Gorkha soldier who was lying helplessly at a river bank. During this tour, the Squadron had two casualties. Flt Lt Latif and Pt Off JS Bhullar both had to forceland behind enemy lines and were taken POW by the Japanese.
However back at Ranchi, on 26th April 43, the Squadron lost its CO when Sqn Ldr HU Khan crashed in his Hurricane while ferrying a Hurricane from Imphal to Ranchi. His engine cut out during the flight and the Hurricane toppled over when Khan tried to attempt a Wheels down landing in a field to save the aircraft. Sqn Ldr Dunsford Wood, an RAF Officer was posted to take over command of the squadron, but things were not quite hunky dory. Fg Off Murkot Ramunny who was just then posted to the squadron observed "I served with an RAF Squadron before No.2 and that was quite alright, but an RAF CO in an IAF Squadron with a few RAF NCOs and men is not always the best combination - especially when the CO had a high opinion of his race and color". Not soon after, Sqn Ldr Surjit Singh Majithia took over command of the Squadron.
A detachment of the squadron was attached with the Indian Air Force Exhibition unit in mid 1944 at Peshawar. Most of the activity was in frontier duties from Kohat. In October 44, whilst under the command of Sqn Ldr K Jaswant Singh, the unit received orders to move to Burma for Operations. From 23rd November 44, when they arrived at Mambur airstrip, till 17 May 45, when their tour ended, the squadron was involved in flying fighter recce missions. The task being to collect info on Japanese activity by either visual observation or photographic means. The unit took part in the third Arakan campaign and in operations in Kangaw Valley. The rate of sorties put out by the squadron was phenomenal. For example, the month of January 1945 saw the unit putting up 548 sorties by its pilots. The next month saw an effort of 866 flying hours! earning it a congratulatory message from the GOC 26 Indian division who sent it to the AOC HQ, 224 Group RAF. On 17th May 45, the squadron was stood down and bought to Samungli. Over the course of its raising upto Independence, the unit had lost Fourteen of its gallant pilots to operations and accidents. One of the tragic losses included Fg Off BBK Rao DFC, who came in from No.1 Squadron.
The unit was once again moved to Kohat in the NWFP in 1946 where it re-equipped with the Spitfire VIII and was still based there in Sep 47, by which time it had converted to the Hawker Tempest II under the command of Sqn Ldr A Murat Singh. Due to the division of assets during partition after independence, the Squadron left its assets to the newly born Pakistan Air Force and was promptly number-plated in Dec 1947. It was ironic that No.2 Squadron would join No.1 in being disbanded leaving the Indian Air Force without its two senior most units!
No.2 was re raised again at Palam on 15 Jul 51 under the command of Sqn Ldr Randhir Singh VrC. The unit was now equipped with Spitfire XVIIIs and a Harvard trainer. For about two years, the activity was run of the mill, flying normal sorties, including dive bombing with 250 pounders. Lot of photo work was done by the unit. Several young pilots were posted about this time to convert to operational flying. Plt Offr NC Suri being one of them. In October 1953, the unit converted to the De Havilland Vampire FB52 single seater jet fighter. At that time Sqn Ldr Rointon Engineer DFC was the CO. The Vampires were with the squadron for a short period. Another three years later in May 1956, the Winged Arrows converted to the Dassault Ouragan fighter, also known as the Toofani in the IAF service.
The unit pioneered the aerobatics flying of the Ouragan. One particular maneuver it was called repeatedly to perform was the Tricolor Loop, which was done for the first time on 1 April 58. There onwards, it was a frequent display over the skies of Delhi on every republic day parade. The last such performance was on the Republic Day Parade in 62. In that year, the unit also won the coveted Mukherjee Trophy for best gunnery at the Squadron Gunnery meet. In April, the Squadron received its first Folland Gnat fighter. The unit now shed its Ouragans to become the 'real fighter' squadron.
Wg Cdr Bharat Singh took over as the CO in Sep 63 and soon after, the Squadron took part in Exercise SHIKSHA, in which IAF fighters exercised with the USAF and RAF fighters. No.2 in particular mounted sorties from Ambala against USAF F-100 Super Sabres operating from Palam. The unit gave a good account of itself.
Conversion to the Gnat was beset with the problems that were occurring during the course of operations. In one freak occurrence on 7th April 64, a Gnat undergoing engine run tests jumped its chocks and slammed into a hangar wall writing itself off! April 64 proved a bad month with one of the pilots being killed in a Gnat crash on 15-Apr-64. 17 Oct 64 resulted in another aircraft being lost. On 13th May 65, a Gnat coming into land overshot the runway, the pilot ejecting safely for the first time using the 0-0 Mk-2G seat.
When the outbreak of the 1965 conflict was imminent, the Squadron was distributed between Ambala and Agra. A detachment under Wg Cdr Bharat Singh soon moved to Halwara airbase on the flare-up of the hostilities. Another detachment was flown to Adampur while a third was maintained at Ambala under Sqn Ldr Jit Dhawan. Throughout the war, the Squadron was involved in not only flying escort missions to Canberra and Hunter raids, but also in close support missions in the aid of the army.
The first encounter with the enemy was on 13th September, when a section of Gnats were bounced by Sabres. Flt Lt AN Kale found himself behind a Sabre, but his guns jammed at the right moment. His aircraft was badly damaged in aircombat and he had to eject near Ferozepur. The very next day, the Squadron suffered its first fatality in conflict, when Sqn Ldr NK Malik crashed during recovery to base due to a technical malfunction. His aircraft was supposed to have sufferred a 'Trim Override'.
The Winged arrows drew first blood on Sept 14th, when a Canberra formation being escorted by the Gnats were bounced by Sabres. Wg Cdr Bharat Singh chased one Sabre at low level. The Sabre pilot tried various maneuvers in trying to escape the Gnat, but crashed in his attempt to do so. This chalked up the first combat kill for No.2 Squadron.
Several escort missions were flown by the Gnats of No.2. These included Hunters of No.7 as well as Canberras of No.5 Squadron undertaking day light raids over the Lahore Kasur front.
This was followed by a major action on Sept 20th. Flt Lt AK Majumdar and Fg Offr K C Khanna took off with a mixed formation of Hunters over the Lahore sector. In the ensuing aircombat with Sabres, two of the Hunters were hit and shot down. However, Mazumdar scored against the Sabres by shooting down one aircraft flown by Flt Lt AH Malik of the PAF.
The 1965 War earned the first laurels for No.2 Squadron. Both Wg Cdr Bharat Singh and Flt Lt AK Mazumdar were awarded the Vir Chakra medals. The Flight commander, Sqn Ldr R Dhawan was awarded the VSM for his contribution.
After the war the squadron reverted back to its regular duties at Agra and Barielly after the war. Wg Cdr Bharat Singh was succeeded by Wg Cdr KK Malik. He inturn was succeeded by Wg Cdr Johnny Greene VrC in Nov 69. The Squadron took part in various Fire Power Displays and Weapons meet during this period. The Squadron also sent a detachment to operate from Amritsar airfield.
1971 India Pakistan War
When the 1971 War broke out on 3rd Dec 71, the entire squadron was moved to Amritsar airfield. The task being to defend the airfield which has become a major launching pad for Ground Attack and Counter Air Missions. The PAF fighters on many occasions refused to put up a fight against the doughty little fighters of No.2. The first interception occurred on 4 Dec, when Wg Cdr Johnny Green on a dawn patrol at 0645 Hours intercepted an incoming F-104. The F-104 punched its tanks and sped away with afterburner with Greene chasing it futilely. Only thing that Greene could do was film the fast disappearing Starfighter.
On 7 Dec , Fg Off Rana and Fg Off AK Singh intercepted two Mirage IIIs coming in to attack. Both the Mirages declined combat , engaging reheat and flying away. There were no further interceptions at Amritsar. The only action was for the Squadron's aircraft to conduct high altitude CAPs deliberately allowing them to be noticed by the enemy radar. This deterred the enemy from sending in B-57s.
When the war ended, No.2 had flown 279 sorties. For its efforts two Vayusena Medals and four Mentions in Dispatches were awarded. The CO Johnny Greene being one of the VM recipients.
After the war : The 1970s and the Presidents Colors
The unit maintained a regular detachment at Amritsar and a number of detachments at other places including Srinagar, Nal, Gorakhpur and Palam. Johnny Greene carried out high altitude landing trials of the Gnat from Leh airfield for the first time. In Feb 75, the Squadron made its first major move and shifted permanently to Srinagar. This was a unique and novel experience for the squadron. flying in primitive conditions and adverse weather, the Winged Daggers took up their task cheerfully and happily. The Gnat aircraft were modified in 1977 and fitted with the Ajeet Phase 1 conversion kits. For sometime briefly the Squadron operated from Awantipur airfield further south in the Kashmir valley while Srinagar runway was being resurfaced. The facilities at Awantipur were limited. Most of the officers and crew operated from makeshift Tents.
The Squadron was tasked to move to Kalaikunda in 1979, a move which was completed by October of the same year. On arrival at Kalaikunda hectic preparations were made for the presentation of colors ceremony. In Dec 79, in recognition of the outstanding service to the country, the Winged Arrows were presented with the coveted 'Presidents colors' by Mr Neelam Sanjeev Reddy, the President of the Republic of India. The CO at that time was Wg Cdr Menezes VM.
The advent of the eighties saw the squadron based at Kalaikunda but carrying out various gunnery sorties at Dhudkundi Range, flypast sorties over Gauhati, Tezpur, Barrackpore and Gangtok.
In Feb 83, the Gnats of the squadron flew their lost sorties. The aircraft were due to be replaced by the Ajeet which were the upgraded version of the Gnat. However the Ajeets did not arrive until nine months later in November 83. The whole squadron was excited at resuming flying after a long period of nine months. More Ajeets followed in the month of December. The squadron had a friendly rivalry with the adjoining 22 Squadron who also flew the Ajeets. In 1985, the unit carried out the first Air to Air firing by the Ajeet aircraft at Chabua.
When the AOC Kalaikunda , Air Cmde TK Sen challenged the squadron to fly 300 sorties in Jan 86, the squadron did it with gusto. Flying Ajeets extensively, the 300th sortie was clocked on Jan 29th, with a day to spare!. They accumulated nearly 310 hours in the effort. The next month, the squadron again participated with their arch rivals, No.22 in the EKALAVYA gunnery meet. During the flying , the AOC, Air Cmde Sen whilst flying one of No.2's Ajeet had a flameout over DDK Range. He ejected with a fracture to his leg. This was the first Ajeet lost by the squadron after its induction.
More exercises followed and No.2 notched up several firsts, including the first night flying sorties by the Ajeet. The Ajeet being a heavier cousin of the Gnat had all the nuances and problems of it. The squadron suffered its first fatality on 30 Sep 86. The next year during landing approach, Fg Offr R Radhish had to eject as the aircraft suffered severe control problems and started rolling to the right. Fg Offr TJA Khan had to eject after his Ajeet flamed out during a sortie in March 88. One of the Naval pilots attached to the squadron for conversion training, Lt Uday Kumar Sondhi had to crash land his aircraft outside Kalaikunda. He was awarded the Shaurya Chakra for deciding to stick to the aircraft and not ejecting over a populated area. Two civilians who helped him on the ground out of the burning wreckage were also awarded the Shaurya Chakra. 11th May 89 saw another sad loss when Fg Offr Shivraj crashed and was killed during a low level sortie by four aircraft.
In Oct 88, the unit flew two Ajeets to Ambala to form the 'Mammoth' formation. The formation consisted of all the combat aircraft of the IAF . The photographs of which were published in many coffee table books and aviation magazines. Noted Aviation photographer Peter Steinmann was involved in the photography along with other IAF photographers. Stienmann was also involved in separate shoots with the Ajeets of No.2 and many of his excellent photographs are now popularly circulated in various circles.
This was not the only media exposure for the squadron, It participated in the widely televised Fire Power display at Tilpat in May 89. In October 1990, a TV Crew arrived at Kalaikunda to film the final episode of the series 'Param Vir Chakra' . The filming centered on the PVC won by Fg Offr NS Sekhon in the 71 war and as by that time No.2 was the only squadron flying the Ajeet which externally resembled the Gnat, it was chosen to provide the aircraft for the filming. The enemy 'Sabres' were played by the Hunters of No.20 Squadron.
About this time, the squadron received two 2-seater Ajeet Conversion Trainers from HAL. However these aircraft could not be utilised fully as the twilight of the Gnat/Ajeet fighter was fast approaching. On 31 Mar 91, the last Ajeet to be phased out was flown by Wg Cdr R Rajaram, the CO to the IAF Museum in Palam and handed over to the AOC Palam. The Squadron was now slated to be converted to the MiG-27 ML Ground attack fighter aircraft.
Wg Cdr DN Ganesh took over the squadron in Apr 91 and soon a core team of 7 pilots and 2 engineering officers joined the unit. The first MiG-27s arrived in Jun 91, fresh from HAL Ozhar. These consisted of four MiG-27s and one two seater MiG-23UB trainer. The arrival of the MiG-27s was slow because of their turnover from HAL. four more fighters were collected from HAL in Sep 91, but one aircraft was lost when Fg Offr HRP Sharma during a conversion sortie had to eject from a spin. The induction of the MiG-27s was not completed till Feb 92,when the 16th aircraft arrived. The conversion to the MiG-27s now completed, the Squadron was now fully geared up to provide the teeth to the Eastern Air Command's offensive component.
During the nineties, the Squadron lost five MiG-27s in three different accidents during the course of its flying. The worst accident was on 31 August 98, when the aircraft flown by Fg Off PS Rana crashed on top of two other aircraft on the ground. The pilot as well as two other personnel on the ground were killed in this terrible event.
The Squadron won the best Squadron trophy for the year 1990. The late 90s saw a new role for the Squadron. it was designated to carry out training for Maritime Strike Operations which was the first time that a MiG-27 squadron was tasked to do so. In no time at all, the Squadron's pilots qualified for the specialist Maritime strike role. A Proud moment came at the Air Force Day 2002. Not only was the CO, Wg Cdr RK Mendiratta awarded the VM, but also the Squadron was adjudged the 'Best Fighter Squadron' in the IAF for the year 2002. A Great achievement indeed!
It is now nearly sixty years since the squadron has been raised and it continues to provide service and commitment to the country.