Eagles of Destiny - Volume 1: Birth and Growth of the Royal Pakistan Air Force 1947 - 1956
Helion’s latest book in the Asia @ War series is a square back soft cover includes 76 gloss paper pages. The cover color illustration by Pablo Albornoz depicts A116, one of the Royal Pakistan Air Force’s 35 Tempest IIs. Here, she is seen flying over the mountains and lakes of Kashmir in 1949. Tom Cooper’s color side-profile is of L973, a Hawker Sea Fury T.20 serving in a target-tow role. Her undersides were painted yellow with diagonal black bands. The white fuselage band was applied in the field by the squadron’s maintenance personnel. The rear cover features a color side-profile by Peter Penev of a de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth in British standard trainer yellow. Compare this with the color side profile of this aircraft on Page 34i where she was painted in high-speed silver from the factory, and passed down through the RAF, the Indian Air Force, and finally to the Royal Pakistan Air Force. This aircraft was manufactured by Dockers Brothers Aircraft of Birmingham, England. The color side profile of the Supermarine Attacker by Tom Cooper portrays R4015. Low serviceability limited the Attacker to just one squadron where the Attacker flew as a Fighter-Bomber in addition to its Interceptor role with the addition of two rocket launch rails per wing. I counted 68 black and white photographs. There are also 21 color side aircraft profiles by Tom Cooper, Peter Penev, Luca Canossa, and Goran Sudar, two black and white maps and one color map.
Volume 1 in this mini-series covers the Royal Pakistan Air Force in 1947 up to 1956 when Pakistan declared itself a republic and the Royal was dropped. Volume 2 will cover the Pakistan Air Force from 1956 to 1971. Usman Shabbir and Yawar Mazhar start off with the origins of Indian air power in World War I and quickly takes the reader to the separation of Pakistan from India. The strong influence of Britain carried through, and many Royal Air Force personnel stayed to support the transformation of both Pakistan’s and India’s leap into the future. British aircraft that were already based in both countries essentially remained. This transfer of assets and transformation of an operating organization is the crux of this first volume.
The Independence of Pakistan from British India in August 1947 led to the transfer of former British India aircraft to Pakistan. In 1947, there were 460 aircraft in the British Indian Air Force. Pakistan’s share of these was 122. Unfortunately, these aircraft were scattered across India and very few were in flyable condition. The other major issues were qualified personnel and an operational organization. Page 11 shows off three examples with a Tiger Moth trainer and two Tempest II fighters. All three aircraft are still in British colors but do show off updated national markings. Page 34iv shows off three color profiles of Hawker Tempest II fighters that denote the camouflage evolution. The top profile shows off the standard RAF camouflage of medium sea grey and dark green over medium sea grey. The second profile depicts a Hawker Tempest II in a desert scheme of middle stone and dark earth over azure blue. The bottom profile shows off the High Speed Silver, or silver dope, of the the third batch of Tempest II fighters. Note that on the bottom profile that the yellow outline of the national insignias has disappeared.
The Royal Pakistan Air Force began transitioning to Hawker Fury fighters in the early fifties, primarily since they were an easy transition from the Tempest II fighters. An order was placed for fifty ex-Sea Fury single seaters and five two seaters. Page 26 shows off the first Fury trainer that was diverted from Syria. The other four Fury trainers featured one large canopy covering both seats, but this one shows off the dual canopies.
The introduction of jets into the Royal Pakistan Air Force came in the form of the Supermarine Attacker. This was due to strong pressure and guidance from Britain. It was seen as a way to support British industry as the Attacker fighter was not successful in British service, seeing front line service from August 1951 to 1954. Pakistan was the only other nation to see the Supermarine Attacker in service where it lasted until they were replaced with North American F-86F Sabres in 1956. Page 50 shows off an advertisement of the Supermarine Attacker featured as part of the Royal Pakistan Air Force’s Air Display. These air shows were successful as they attracted personnel to join the service where pilots and mechanics were in extremely short supply. A lineup of Supermarine Attackers can also be found on Page 60 prior to delivery to Pakistan.
The sections include:
- The Genesis
- The Advent of Airpower in Colonial India
- The Skeen Committee
- Creation of the Indian Air Force
- The Early Years
- Second World War
- Post-Second World War
- Pakistan’s Birth
- The Birth
- The Birth of the Royal Pakistan Air Force [Page 11]
- Number of Aircraft Allocated to the RPAF, 1947 [Table 1]
- RPAF Organization, 15 August 1947 [Table 2]
- RPAF Order of Battle, 31 March 1948 [Table 3]
- RPAF Aircraft, March 1948 [Table 4]
- Allocation of Aircraft per Squadrons, March 1944 [Table 5]
- Security Context
- Share of Military Assets and Receipt [Table 6]
- India’s Air Power Growth
- Fighter Aircraft Acquisitions [Page 26]
- The Heavies
- Miscellaneous Aircraft
- Personnel and Infrastructure
- Units and Organization
- Color Profiles [Page 34iv]
- Doctrinal Issues
- Watch and Ward Duties and Kashmir
- Weapons Used in Operations Against the Faqir [Table 7]
- Availability of PAF Aircraft, 22 December 1948 [Table 8]
- Operational Flying [Page 50]
- Maintenance Manpower Allocation Per Aircraft Types [Table 9]
- Multi Engines
- Force Structure and Planning
- Conclusions [Page 60]
- Appendix I: Tail Numbers of Aircraft That Served with Royal Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Air Force [Table 10]
This introduction to Pakistan’s Air Force is very well done and includes a lot of first person perspectives in the form of interviews or letters. Although Pakistan received support from the RAF, this fledgling air power struggled hard to obtain enough operational aircraft and the organization to support them. What I found most interesting was the formation of the Red Dragons, a Royal Pakistan Air Force aerobatic team flying Hawker Fury fighters. Fred Isaacs, the slot member of this team, provides a detailed introduction to this team and the issues they faced. They would become the first aerobatic team on the sub-continent.
The contemporary photographs, many never published before, support the text, and certainly give you a good perspective of the early life of the Royal Pakistan Air Force. The nice color illustrations by Tom Cooper, Peter Penev, Luca Canossa, and Goran Sudar provide additional details on the Royal Pakistan Air Force aircraft. Volume 2 will cover the Pakistan Air Force from 1956 to 1971 and will detail the first Pakistan – India wars. If you own one the previous releases in the Helion @ War series, you know what you are getting. If this is your initial entry into this series, you will be quite pleased.
Usman Shabbir was born in Pakistan in 1978 and after his early schooling at Lawrence College, completed his engineering education from IT University of Denmark. He is an avid aviation enthusiast with his primary focus on Asian air forces. He has contributed to numerous aviation publications over the years. Currently, he resides in Copenhagen, working for Deloitte as a manager.
Yawar Mazhar was born in Pakistan and has worked in the corporate sector for all of his professional life. Military aviation and especially the history of the Pakistan Air Force has been a passion for him all through his life. Over the years he has collected information on PAF's history and developments and in the process has met and interviewed dozens of PAF officers, most of whom were key part of important developments of PAF. His other interests include philosophy, history and Urdu poetry.
My thanks to Helion & Company, Casemate Publishing, and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.
Frank Landrus, IPMS# 35035