B-24 Liberator 11130 as displayed at the National Aviation Museum, Rockville, Canada. It is displayed in a separate hangar and not in the public display area.
The Liberator currently on display at the Canada Aviation Museum in Rockcliffe, near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, was formerly HE-773 “M” of the Indian Air Force. It was built by the Ford Motor Company’s plant at Willow Run, Michigan, one of five factories making up the Liberator Production Pool. It was allocated to the RAF under the Lend-Lease programme, and assumed the RAF serial KN820.
It was ferried to India and delivered on 30 July 1945, serving with No 355 Squadron. Although it arrived in the theatre too late to play an active bombing role in the Burma Campaign, it continued to serve, in an aerial photographic survey role for the Government of Bengal, until mid-1946.
In May 1946 No 355 Squadron RAF disbanded. In common with other Liberators in the theatre, KN820 was delivered to No 322 Maintenance Unit, Kanpur, for storage and disposal. As described in the Introduction page, there was a specific requirement for disposal, as the aircraft had been made available to the RAF under Lend-Lease terms, which specified that at the end of hostilities it was to be either returned to the US or disposed of.
The aircraft was refurbished and restored to flying condition by the Indian Air Force and HAL. It was allocated the IAF serial HE773 and the identification letter “M”. Like most Indian Liberator survivors, HE773 was serving with No 6 Squadron at the time she was selected for preservation. However, as confirmed by the logbook of Douglas (“Dinky“) Augier, a former IAF Liberator pilot, she was as of June 1956 serving with No 5 Squadron, the heavy bomber unit. This number was first used for an IAF unit only in 1948, to avoid confusion with 5 Squadron RAF which was based in India until shortly before Independence.
During its IAF service this aircraft, like all IAF Liberators, would have flown in a natural metal finish, wearing IAF roundels and fin flash, and sporting her squadron badge on her nose – the Charging Elephant while with No 5 Squadron, and the Flying Dragon with No 6. It would have spent the bulk of its IAF service based in Pune; but while with No 5 Squadron it is likely to have detached periodically to Jamnagar for bombing exercises. Once it was transferred to No 6 Squadron, it would probably have been fitted with a rudimentary ASV radar set, for its MR role.
The sequence of events which led to Canada’s acquisition of this example began with the inclusion, among the many overseas student officers attending the Imperial Defence College (now the Royal College of Defence Studies) in the late 1950s, of one E M Reynolds of the Royal Canadian Air Force (later re-designated simply the Canadian Forces), and Arjan Singh of the Indian Air Force. These two officers grew to know each other well, and by 1967 were the Chiefs of their respective countries’ air forces.
In 1967 Air Chief Marshal (now MIAF) Arjan Singh and Air Marshal (later re-designated Lieutenant-General) E M Reynolds arranged for a Canadian-restored Westland Lysander to be gifted to India, and an Indian-restored Liberator to Canada. The two air forces had both operated these types, and were fortuitously able to fill gaps in each others’ museum inventories.
The Lysander was delivered to India crated; but the Liberator was ferried to Canada under its own power. A Canadian Forces crew of six men, led by Colonel A J Pudsey, arrived in India in May 1968, to ferry the aircraft to Canada. This was a volunteer crew, experienced at flying multi-engine aircraft, but with no Liberator experience – the Canadian Forces had ceased operating Liberators some considerable time before 1968! Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh handed over HE-773 to the Canadian High Commissioner at a formal ceremony on 27 May. Meanwhile the Canadian crew began conversion training with No 6 Squadron in Pune. The AOC Pune at the time was Air Commodore (later Air Chief Marshal and CAS) I H Latif; and the CO of No 6 Squadron was Wing Commander J B Lal. Instruction for the conversion training was personally delivered by Sqn Ldr Y S Marwah, the Flight Commander of the Liberator flight (the other flight of No 6 Squadron had already converted to the Super Constellation), and by MWO Kandaswamy, an experienced Flight Engineer.
While the Canadian crew was undergoing their conversion training, HE-773received a number of mods, to enable it to make the long journey to Canada. These included the installation of radio and navigation equipment for trans-Atlantic travel, oxygen equipment and winter flying gear – none of which the aircraft had ever required during its 20 years’ operations in the warm weather and low altitudes of the IAF’s maritime air ops environs! The aircraft was also given Royal Canadian Air Force markings, but retained the Flying Dragons badge of No 6 Squadron on the nose, and the side letter “M” that the aircraft had worn throughout its Indian Air Force service.
On 5 June HE-773 left Pune. Sqn Ldr Marwah accompanied the Canadian crew for their first two legs, from Pune to Agra and on to New Delhi for customs clearance. The Canadian crew flew HE-773 next day to Jamnagar, for an overnight halt. No 6 Squadron technicians had been pre-positioned at New Delhi and Jamnagar, and dealt efficiently with minor snags relating to blown fuses. The Station Commander at Jamnagar, who hosted the Canadian crew for their last night on Indian soil, was Group Captain (later Air Commodore) P M “Pete” Wilson, one of India’s most distinguished bomber pilots.
After leaving India HE-773 staged through Bahrain, Nicosia, Athens, Decimomannu (now home to NATO’s annual live-firing exercise), Lahr (where it was buzzed by German F-104 Starfighters – now there’s a dissimilar formation to appeal to aviation enthusiasts!), and Prestwick, until Keflavik, Iceland was reached on 15 June. An attempt to reach Goose Bay, Labrador, the same day had to be abandoned because of the cumulative adverse effects of icing and cold weather on engines, pitot tube, and turret perspex – factors HE-773 had never had to cope with, over the previous quarter-century! However, sound airmanship and temporary repairs on the ground overcame these problems. The leg to Goose Bay was completed next day, in company with a Canadian Forces Canadair Argus; and HE-773 was on Canadian soil. On 17 June the crew was joined by a Canadian Forces liaison officer, and flew the remaining leg to Trenton, carrying out a low pass for the waiting press and families, before touching down on schedule. The ferry flight had covered nearly 17,000 km in 69 flying hours.
Colonel Pudsey described the story of this flight in the Canadian Forces magazine Sentinel. (Reproduced at the end of this page)
Over the years that this aircraft has been on display at the Canada Aviation Museum, it has worn several different schemes. When it arrived it was still in the natural metal scheme that it had worn in India. It was later re-finished in a maritime scheme, consisting of white with dark sea-grey topsides. Interestingly, as can be seen from photographs available on-line at the Canada Aviation Museum’s archive site, the Canadians appear to have retained the Flying Dragons badge of No 6 Squadron on the nose, for some time after the aircraft had taken up residence at Rockville, through re-paintings in different schemes. They also retained the side letter “M” that the aircraft had worn in Indian Air Force service. Pure whimsy, perhaps; but also perhaps a nod of respect to the Indian connection!.
HE-773 stood for some time in a representative olive drab and grey camouflage scheme and World War Two RCAF markings, with the authentic RCAF serial 11130. It now stands in the maritime scheme represented by the photograph at the top of this page. Like all former Indian Air Force Liberator survivors, it remains an evocative memorial to its American builders and its Indian re-builders. In its present finish, it is also a particular tribute to the thousands of young Canadians who crewed and serviced Liberators during World War Two.
© K Sree Kumar