East of Suez

High mobility of air power is relied upon to defend the long coastline of India. Indian youth prove splendid pilot material.

After the failure of their first attack on Ceylon, the Japanese advance towards India appears for the moment halted; but in view of their considerable conquests it must be assumed that this is a natural pause. Nevertheless, it has provided valuable time for strengthening India's defences. Protection of the long coastline from sea invasion presents considerable difficulties; but given adequate maintenance facilities air power is highly mobile and can be concentrated rapidly at any point of danger. Directing the air forces in India is Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, KCB, DSO, AFC, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Air Forces in India, former Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command.

Sir Richard has held a number of important posts, including those of Deputy Director of Operations and Intelligence at the Air Ministry and of Air Officer Commanding British Forces in Palestine and Transjordan. He has been Deputy-Chief and Vice-Chief of the Air Staff. He served during the greater part of the last war in the Royal Naval Air Service and was awarded the DSO. in 1915, for carrying out repeated attacks on German submarine bases at Ostend and Zeebrugge.

Within a few days of the actions off Ceylon, enemy naval forces were successfully attacked by US Army Air Force units operating Boeing Flying Fortresses, and since then the docks at Rangoon have been raided whenever conditions were favorable. Extensive air patrols for reconnaissance and protection of shipping have also been established. Meanwhile, the rapid expansion of the India Air Force continues. Founded in 1932, it has since made highly creditable progress for it has inexhaustible resources of first class manpower on which to draw. The youth of India has always excelled in sports demanding quickness of eye and deftness of touch. They have proved to have a natural aptitude for flying. For some years India Air Lines have successfully employed India pilots, and flying clubs have always been popular.

What India airmen could accomplish was shown during the Waziristan revolt when they operated with the RAF over what is perhaps the most difficult flying country in the world. In maintenance work they show the same skill. Tributes paid to their efficiency have been abundantly justified. As for courage, some hint was given by an Indian pilot who led the attack on Burma and, in face of stiff opposition, accurately bombed the target from less than 500 feet.

While the selection of personnel presents no difficulties — the Indian Air Force was overwhelmed with applications as soon as lists were opened — equipment is another matter. Lines of supply are long and difficult. But the industrial resources of India are being mobilized and expanded. Aircraft factories already are in the first stages of production and the Government of India representative is a member of the British Supply Board in the United States. Machine tools and other manufacturing equipment have been bought in very considerable quantities. As for the supply of skilled labor this has proved more than adequate both in numbers and in its standard of technical accomplishment. Given time, India may produce a quantity of material for her own defence.

The Japanese advance must be held and their lengthening communications subjected to damaging attack from air and sea. Meanwhile, aircrews from the training station at Risalpur and mechanics from Ambala will be helping form an air force of power which can operate decisively when the time comes for a general offensive to be undertaken.

It is useless to overlook the possibility that before these words are in print the enemy may have struck further serious blows at the cause of free nations. But none who have seen the India Air Force in action can doubt that defence of their country from the air will be conducted in conjunction with the Royal Air Force with gallantry and determination. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsees and Bengalis fight side by side in its ranks. In the fellowship of the air differences of race and creed are forgotten. That the forging of this weapon in which the highest tactical and spiritual unity is demanded may aid the forging of that greater national unity of which it is a symbol must be the earnest hope of men of good will.

This article was originally published in the September, 1942, "Special Royal Air Force Issue" of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 31, no 3, pp 78, 270.
The original article includes a thumbnail photo of Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Peirse and 3 captioned photos.
Photos are not specifically credited but seem to be from the British Air Ministry.

Photo captions: