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Battle Lines of the PAF

PAF Base Faisal History: 1948-1988

The history of PAF Base Faisal, perhaps the oldest air base in Pakistan, is a rich one since the RAF used it as their primary maintenance base to serve units throughout British India.

Soon after the India Command of the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, with a projected deployment of 8 squadrons on the subcontinent, an aircraft repair depot was established at Lahore with a detachment at Karachi and a port depot at Bombay. In 1922 the main unit was shifted from Lahore to Drigh Road, where the first commanding officer of what was called 'Aircraft Depot, India', was Wing Commander Charles D Breese, RAF. The change to Karachi was logical because knocked down aircraft could be off loaded from British ships at this closest sub continental depot, assembled, test flown and ferried away to the squadrons based inland. This was to remain the station's chief function until RAF Drigh Road was handed over to the Royal Pakistan Air Force in 1947.

Early in 1927, among a draft of RAF airmen who arrived from the UK was an AC2 T E Shaw. In 1914, when he was 26 years old, he had been commissioned as an officer in the British Army, and after earning Worldwide fame as 'Lawrence of Arabia' for his expeditions against the Turks, had retired as a lieutenant colonel. Now he was embarking upon a second career, as an ordinary airman recruit in the RAF. From his letters can be gained an authentic description of what Drigh Road was like at that time. He was assigned to the ERS (Engine Repair Shop) and wrote that although there was no hot water, the food was excellent and Karachi City was only 7 miles away. In the evenings he would go out to listen to the music of the camel bells along Drigh Road. He wrote to his mother on 24 February 1927 that the camp was "new, stone-built and spacious", and that his job was "to follow the various engines as they pass through the shops, and record what changes and repairs and adjustments each requires". On 24 February 1942 the Aircraft Depot was redesigned No 1 (India) Maintenance Unit and on 20 February Group Captain J McFarlane assumed command of the unit. With the entry of the Japanese into WW II, the role of Drigh Road had expanded; it was now the main supply base not only for the RAF in India but also for all the squadrons and units engaged in the Burma and Malaya campaigns. Records show that in the early months of 1942 the greater number of aircraft dispatched by the Maintenance Unit were Hurricane and Mohawk fighters. On 29 June 1943, work was started by the North Western Railway Company on a new rail siding in the dispersal area to expedite deliveries of aircraft which arrived by sea in crates, as well as to replenish the bulk fuel tanks. The new sidings were completed on 22 August and a test train was successfully operated. The first Spitfires reached Drigh Road during August 43 and on 4 September, the operations record book (ORB) notes, "Wing Commander R L F Boyd, Air Headquarters Bengal, reported to the unit with 9 other pilots to collect the first consignment of Spitfires. The arrival of these aircraft in India was to prove a decisive factor in the air campaign against the Japanese. On 21 November 1943, repaving of the runways with concrete blocks was begun; these were laid at night to avoid any interruption of flying. Among the aircraft types flown by the T&D (Test and Dispatch) flight in December 44 were: Hurricane, Spitfire, Vengeance, Defiant, Harvard, Fairchild, Blenheim, Liberator, Wellington, Moth and Dakota. This reflects the magnitude and variety of work undertaken by the station at that time. In January 1944, no fewer than 260 crated aircraft arrived at the Karachi docks to be assembled, test flown and dispatched; and on 2 February the first of the most significant type after the Spitfire, arrived - 2 Republic P-47 Thunderbolts which had been transported from the United States by sea as deck cargo. On 27 April, another 35 P-47s arrived in the same manner; most of the aircraft were towed to the unit along a desert track. During June 1944, RAF Drigh Road accepted 111 aircraft after tests, and 109 of these were dispatched; there were 426 test flights. The ORB for December recorded that "the year 1944 finished up with 1,660 aircraft having been dispatched from this unit". On 10 March 1945 Group Captain N C S Rutter left Drigh Road for Bombay prior to embarkation for the UK on repatriation: he had commanded the station since December 1942. The previous day Wing Commander A Hauglin had assumed temporary command pending the arrival of the new station commander, Group Captain C E Williamson Jones, DFC. In that month, 2 new types of aircraft were flown from the T&D Flight - 4 experimental P-51 Mustangs and a complement of Spitfire XIVs. The assembly of Spitfire XIVs was begun and the first Mustang passed to the servicing flight. At 1500 hours on 8 May 1945 the station commander announced the news that the war in Europe was over. On 18 June 1945 the new east-west runway 26 was opened. The airfield was now taking all reinforcement aircraft flown into India. No 202 Staging Post moved in from Mauripur. At the end of that month some Tempest main planes were received and on 10 August the assembly of the first Tempest II was completed. On 15 August the station commander announced the cessation of hostilities in the Far East. To celebrate the end of the war against the Japanese the station remained closed from 16 August until 0830 hours on the 18th. In its entry for 19 January 1946, the Drigh Road Operations Record Book said: "A small number of airmen expressed their dissatisfaction with service conditions and the slow pace of demobilization by means of a small demonstration. Not more than 250 men were involved who, after being addressed by the CO, returned to their normal duties. On the 21st, Air Commodore A L Freebody, AOC 226 Group paid a flying visit from Delhi and addressed the men. Conditions had now returned to normal and continued so until the end of the month. On 21 February, however, a mutiny in the Royal Indian Navy which had broken out in Bombay spread to Karachi; on the following day the majority of Indian airmen on the station refused to go on parade in the morning as a gesture of sympathy with the RIN mutineers". With the termination of British rule on 14 August 1947, and the creation of India and Pakistan with their separate armed services, Drigh Road was handed over to the Royal Pakistan Air Force with effect from 30 October 1947 - after having been a Royal Air Force station for twenty five years, having supported RAF operations on the northwest frontier in the 1920s and 1930s and the Allied air offensive against the Japanese in World War If. In October 1947, Group Captain S C Elworthy, RAF, took over as the first commanding officer of RPAF Drigh Road. After his return to the RAF in the years to come he would rise first to become Chief of the Air Staff of the RAF and later Chairman of Britain's joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the Chief of Defence Staff. Also in October 1947, a colour hoisting parade was held in front of the station headquarters and the Pakistan flag was hoisted at the air base for the first time. Technical Training School (TTS) and Recruits Training School (RTS) were the first RPAF units to be established at the stations: these subsequently moved to Lahore and Kohat respectively. In December 1947, a contingent of 100 selected trainees, commanded by Squadron Leader Omar, took part in a combined services parade held at the Karachi polo ground; the Quaid-e-Azam took the salute. Present behind him on the dais were Admiral Jefford of the navy, Major General Akbar Khan of the army and Group Captain S.C.Elworthy of the air force. On 15th August 1950, an air display was held in aid of the RPAF benevolent fund. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, after reviewing the squadrons, addressed the officers and men of the RPAF, telling them that he was glad to record that not only expansion of the forces but a very great advance in technical efficiency had also been made. About 150,000 people witnessed the air display (the first of its kind in the capital) described by experts as a demonstration of the highest order; precision bombing, rocketry and supply dropping were highly appreciated. The spectators were amazed to see Bristol Freighters disgorging their 28,000 lbs. of supplies, including 3 jeeps and 30 soldiers each, in less than three minutes. The best item on the programme was an aerobatics display in a Fury fighter Piloted by Flight Lieutenant F S Hussain. An unfortunate incident during the same display was a crash in which Pilot Officer Akther Hussain lost his life. At about this time, the foundations were laid for the growth of major units of the future like 101 Maintenance Unit (101 M U) and 102 Maintenance Unit (102 M U ). Simultaneously efforts were being made to make the people, especially the youth of Karachi air minded. A University Air Squadron was formed and air displays were held regularly. The first Pakistani jet fighter squadron (No. 11) equipped with Attackers was established at this station in 1951 and continued to be based here till 1956. Jet aircraft from America started arriving in early 1955, T-33s being the first.

The defence minister, General Muhammad Ayub Khan and the C-in-C RPAF visited the station on 6 May 1955 and inspected the T-33 trainers as well as No. 11 Squadron which was commanded by Squadron Leader F S Hussain. The first PAF investiture ceremony after the introduction of Pakistani awards was held at Drigh Road on 13 November 1959. Ten days later, another historic event took place: a B-57 aircraft piloted by the C-in-C PAF, Air Marshall Asghar Khan landed at Drigh Road for the first time.

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