The Great Canberra

An IDC Tribute


New Delhi, 02 May 2006

RAF Canberras flying in formation

The Canberra aircraft –– the backbone of the Indian Air Force for bombing raids and photo reconnaissance had provided a unique service for the Indian Navy too, as one Squadron in Pune replaced the Liberators and flew over the sea. In the 1971 war they flew a very important sortie and hit the Karachi Kemari oil tanks and a then Wing Commander described it in detail in ACM PC Lal's book, ‘My Years with the IAF’. The attack helped the Navy to carryout their missile boats’ attack with impunity –– INS Talwar under Capt Curly Nair escorted then LCDR Vijay Jerath and the IAF set the Keamari tanks on fire again just when the Pakistani's had doused the fires that were set on 4th December 1971. The Canberras are to be phased out and we wish them a fond farewell. 

The Canberra Bomber

The English Electric Canberra was a first-generation jet bomber manufactured in large numbers through the 1950s, and remain in service till today.

English Electric Canberra B-2

The Canberra had its origins in 1944 as thoughts turned to developing a replacement for the unarmed high speed, high altitude de Havilland Mosquito bomber. Several long-established high-profile British aircraft manufacturers submitted proposals. Among the companies short listed to proceed with development studies, however, was a surprise new entrant –– English Electric.

In May 1945 a contract was signed, but with the post-war military wind-down, the prototype did not fly until May 1949. It was a deceptively simple design, looking rather like a scaled-up Gloster Meteor with a shoulder wing. The fuselage was circular in cross section, tapered at both ends and, cockpit aside, entirely without protrusions; the line of the large, low aspect ratio wings was broken only by the tubular engine nacelles.

Although jet powered and of all-metal construction, the Canberra design philosophy was very much in the Mosquito mould –– provide room for a substantial bomb load, fit two of the most powerful engines available, and wrap it in the smallest, most aerodynamic package possible; rather than devote space and weight to defensive armament that could in any case never hope to overcome purpose-designed fighter aircraft, simply make it fly fast enough and high enough to avoid air-to-air combat.

The Canberra was originally designed for a crew of two under a fighter-style canopy, but delays in the development of the intended automatic radar bombsight resulted in the addition of a bomb aimer's position in the nose. Wingspan and length were almost identical at just under 20 metres, maximum takeoff weight a little under 25 tonnes. Power was provided by a pair of 30 KN axial flow Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets.

Conversion to Canberras

In January 1957 the English Electric Canberra was selected by the Indian Air Force, to equip its bomber and strategic reconnaissance units. IAF aircrew and ground crew received initial training in the UK, with the RAF at Basingstoke, and also with English Electric and Rolls Royce particularly for the ground crew. These crews began ferrying Canberras to India in May 1957. On 1 September 1957 No 5 Squadron, under the command of Wing Commander WR Dani (Later Air Commodore, now in his 80s and residing in Pune), became the first IAF squadron to re-equip with the B(I)58 bomber-interdictor version of the Canberra, the version that was to be most widely operated by the IAF. (No 106 Squadron, specialising in strategic reconnaissance, had formed on a PR variant of the Canberra shortly before, nominally becoming the IAF's first Canberra unit.) The squadron had moved to Agra, which was to become the IAF's main Canberra base, in May of that year.

Operational Service

The Canberras first went into action in 1961 when it got its first operational assignment during the liberation of Goa It's aircraft took part in the attack to disable Dabolim airfield in Portuguese held Goa. A few sorties were also mounted in support of operations against Diu. Canberras were moved north during the confrontation with China in 1962. In the event that no air action was authorized during the conflict no combat sorties were flown by any Canberra units. The squadron's first sustained combat operations occurred during war against Pakistan in 1965. In 1971 it was part of the main strike force and took an active part in the pre emptive strikes.

The English Electric Canberra bomber aircraft was first inducted into the Indian Air Force at POONA in 1956 when No.16 Squadron was formed as a conversion squadron, and subsequently Nos.5 Squadron and No. 35 Squadron were also formed and equipped with the Canberra B(I)Interdictor Bomber and later No101 PR Squadron. The Canberras took part in all operations, Goa, 1965 and 1971 as also UN Operations in CONGO in 1961. The Canberras last saw action in the Kargil war when one of its engines suffered a missile attack

Through all these years of service in the Indian Air Force the Canberra has been flown and loved by all the crews that flew in this now venerable aircraft. The Canberra aircraft renowned the world over for its versatile capabilities, has served in nearly all the Air Forces of the world in one role or the other. In the Falkland war the Argentinians had put the Canberra to very effective use against the Royal Navy. Canberra Bomber Old Boys Association has been established here in Pune, the birth place of the first Canberra bomber squadron as a representative of all the IAF crews that flew and fought in the elegant and stately machine with flying characteristics that rivaled in its time the fighters of that age.

To commemorate this historic occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the induction of the Canberras into the Indian Air Force service and before its gallant crews fade into history the Pune chapter of the Canberra Old Boys Association hoisted a GOLDEN JUBILEE REUNION on 31 March 2006 at the Air Force Station Lohegaon, Pune for all the Canberra veterans both past and present.

In a tribute to the men and their flying machines and to mark this occasion for posterity a souvenir was released on the occasion. The Chief of the Air Staff and two retired Chiefs who flew the aircraft, also graced the event.

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