First Air Marshal of the Indian Air Force
5 March 1911|
Calcutta, British India
8 November 1960|
British India (1932-1947) |
India (from 1947)
Royal Air Force|
Indian Air Force
|Years of service||1932–1960|
Waziristan campaign (1936–1939)|
World War II
Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee, OBE (Shubroto Mukharji) (5 March 1911 – 8 November 1960) was the first Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Born in a Bengali family of repute, he was educated in India as well as England. He joined the Royal Air Force and later was one of the first recruits of the Indian Air Force. He had an illustrious career and had been awarded with many honours until his accidental death in 1960. He has been called the "Father of the Indian Air Force".
Subroto Mukerjee was born in Kolkata (then Calcutta) on 5 March 1911. His paternal grandfather, Nibaran Chandra Mukherjee, a Brahmo, was a pioneer in social and educational reforms in the country and a member of the Brahmo Samaj while his maternal grandfather, Prasanna Kumar Roy of the Indian Education Service, was the first Indian Principal of the Presidency College, Calcutta. His maternal grandmother Sarala Roy was the founder of the Gokhale Memorial School. His father was Satish Chandra Mukherjee, an early Indian ICS officer and mother was Charulata Mukherjee, daughter of Dr. P. K. Roy. Youngest of four children, Subroto was taken to England when he was three months old. However, he spent his childhood in Krishnanagar and Chinsura of Bengal. From his very early days Subroto had shown an aptitude for a military career – probably infused by his uncle, Indra Lal Roy, who had joined the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War. Roy was the first Indian to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the only Indian flying ace.
Subroto was educated in diocesan school and Loreto Convent in Calcutta and also in a school in Hampstead in England. Later Subroto joined Birbhum Zilla School and passed matriculation examination in 1927. He was also a student of Howrah Zilla School . He studied in Presidency College, Calcutta for one year and then went to Cambridge University.
Subroto Mukherjee's elder sister Renuka Ray (1903–1995) was a prominent personality. She was a parliamentarian, cabinet minister and an ambassador. She studied in Cambridge University and London School of Economics.
Joining the Air Force
About this time the Government of India (under British rule) decided to take some Indians in the Royal Air Force. Subroto wrote the Cranwell entrance examination and London Matriculation in 1929 and was one of the first six Indian males selected to undergo two years of flying training at the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. The other five were H.C. Sirkar, A.B. Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and J.N. Tandon.
On 8 October 1932, the six Indians cadets were commissioned in the Royal Air Force. On the same day, the Indian Air Force Act was passed by the Indian Legislative Assembly, and the Indian Air Force was born. Subroto was commissioned as a pilot. After completing their training at Cranwell, the Indian pilots passed through the Army Cooperation School at Old Sarum in Wiltshire. They served in RAF squadrons before coming back to India to serve Indian Air Force. On 1 April 1933, "A" Flight of the No 1 Squadron, Indian Air Force, was formed at Karachi. Subroto was one of the five Indian pilots who made up the flight. The flight was equipped with four Westland Wapiti biplanes.
Operations at North West Frontier
A rebellion took place in North West Frontier region (India–Afghanistan border) in 1936, led by the Pukhtoon tribes. The Indian Air Force would play a major role in controlling the rebellion in the harsh terrains of the region. Subroto Mukerjee was awarded India General Service Medal with clasps "North West Frontier 1936-37", and "North West Frontier 1937-39" and "Mentioned-in-Despatches" in 1942 for service during the operations in North West Frontier Province.
Subroto Mukerjee was one of the three flying officers of the three flights of No. 1 Squadron of IAF in 1938. Coastal Defence Flights (CDFs) of the Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve were formed with the outbreak of World War II. At the outbreak of war in 1939, Mukerjee was the senior-most Indian commissioned officer in the IAF. By June 1940, he had been promoted to the acting rank of Squadron Leader and taken over command of No 1 Squadron, IAF. He had many "first"s to his credit: the first Indian to command a Flight, a Squadron, a Station (Kohat), and finally, the Service itself. He was also the first IAF pilot to carry out an airdrop over a beleaguered army picket. He commanded RAF Station Kohat from August 1943 till December 1944. In June 1945 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (Military Division).
India became independent from British rule on 15 August 1947. However, due to partition of India, assets of the Indian Air Force (like other branches of the military) had to be divided between the new countries of India and Pakistan. The first three Air Chiefs of independent India, Air Marshals Sir Thomas Elmhirst KBE, CB, AFC, Sir Ronald Ivelaw Chapman, KBE, CBE, DFC, AFC, and Sir Gerald Ernest Gibbs, KBE, CIE, MC, were from the RAF. The IAF had to reorganise itself after the partition. Subroto assisted the Air Chiefs in reorganising the IAF. He went to the Imperial Defence College in England for further training in 1952.
On returning to India in 1954, Mukerjee took over as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Air Force on 1 April 1954, in the rank of Air Marshal. When the Change in Designation Act, 1955, was passed, the title of "Commander-in-Chief" was replaced by Chief of the Air Staff, IAF. Thus Mukerjee became the first Indian Commander-in-Chief as well as Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.
Death and commemoration
Subroto Mukerjee was one of the passengers in Air India's first ever flight – to Tokyo – in November 1960. On 8 November 1960, Mukerjee was having a meal in a restaurant in Tokyo with a friend, an officer in the Indian Navy. A piece of food lodged in his windpipe, choking him to death. The next day his body was flown to Palam Airport, New Delhi, and on 10 November 1960 he was cremated with full military honours. He was paid a final tribute with a fly-past of forty nine aircraft, one for each of his forty nine years.
Aspy Engineer, a close associate of Mukerjee, assumed the role of Chief of Air Staff of IAF from 1 December 1960. He issued a Special Order of the Day paying tribute to Subroto Mukerjee and called him as the "Father of the Indian Air Force". Mukerjee, an eminent football lover and a regular member of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, had conceived the idea of an inter-school all-India football tournament. This was implemented after his death. The tournament, known as Subroto Cup Football Tournament still helps find talented players from Indian schools.
In 1939, Subroto Mukherjee had married Sharda Pandit, from a prominent Maharashtrian family. They had one son. Sharda Mukherjee was active in social work, and after her husband's death, she became active in public affairs. She was later appointed as the Governor of Gujarat and the Governor of Andhra Pradesh. Sharda Mukherjee died 2007 in Mumbai at the age of 89.
- Pilot Officer, RAF: 1 September 1932
- Flying Officer: 15 February 1934
- Flight Lieutenant: 15 February 1939
- Squadron Leader: April 1942
- Wing Commander, RIAF: December 1944
- Group Captain: 6 March 1946
- Air Commodore: 15 August 1948
- Acting Air Vice-Marshal: 27 September 1948
- Air Vice-Marshal: 1 October 1951
- Air Marshal (Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force): 1 April 1955
Honours and Medals
- Mentioned in dispatches in 1942 for service during the operations in Waziristan, NWFP.
- Yugoslavian People's Army Medal, 1st Class-1954
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- "The Saga of a Soaring Legend". indianairforce.nic.in. Retrieved 2006-08-10.
- The Air Force List: June 1940. HM Stationery Office. 1940. p. 702.
- The Air Force List: January 1938. HM Stationery Office. 1938. pp. 1275–1276.
- The Air Force List: June 1939. HM Stationery Office. 1939. p. 871.
- Bharat-Rakshak: Service Record
- and Decorations
- The Saga of a Soaring Legend - by Sqn Ldr Rana Chhina (Retd)
- Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee, OBE - by Jagan Pillarisetti
Sir Gerald Gibbs
| Chief of the Air Staff