Liberator BV1 KH 284 (‘K’ of 356 Squadron)


Colour drawing of the above KH 284 by JEHF

 All who have studied the history of why the main four engine aircraft used in SEAC by the RAF were B24 Liberators know it was because of the Roosevelt and Churchill decision put simply, "Hitler and Nazi Germany must be defeated first." This meant the British four engine bomber’s home production being devoted to the Bomber Command attacks against European targets until the unconditional surrender of Germany.

SEAC needed an up-to-date four engine aircraft urgently as all they had were obsolescent twin-engine aircraft for the task. Fortunately, Lend-Lease gave them a choice and as stated, the B24 was chosen.

In the early stages, the Liberators were used for 231 Heavy Bomber Group Squadrons and later for the Coastal Command and Special Duty and Transport Squadrons. There were a lot of Liberators operating in various roles in SEAC by 1944.

At first when numbers were small R&SU (Repair and Salvage Units) were attached to various Squadrons and 135 RSU is a good example of this kind of work doing the servicing of two Squadrons in the Digri area. When the numbers of Liberators became more numerous due to the formation of many Squadrons spread all over SEAC the RSU, s became too small to handle the large maintenance and the major overhaul repairs. It was therefore decided a large maintenance Unit was needed and this was 322 MU Chaberi which was near to Cawnpore (now called Kanpur) where the massacre of the British contonment had taken place during the Indian Mutiny

Every trade of aircraftsmen was assembled and a large hanger built so the airmen could work out of the blazing hot sun, which often heated up the metal of the aircraft so hot that they were too hot to touch and could actually burn flesh in high summer. That large hanger is still there to day and houses Hindustan Airworks.

Many Liberators were sent to 322 MU for their major services and for their overhauls. When this was done, the aircraft were re-issued to squadrons but not the ones who had sent them in the first place. Take for instance, KH284, this Liberator had been an original 215 Squadron, later a 99 Squadron and finally a 356 Squadron BV1 Liberator. The photograph clearly shows where the code letter D of 99 has been painted out and K put in its place the fin is still black where 99’s white dot had been. Clearly, in an other of the photos can be seen the fin with a 99 dot on it and the code KH168 and the black rudder were its previous black and white stripes of 355 Squadron had been. If you look through Robert Quirk’s Squadron a/c lists you will see many Liberators that are re-issues to several squadrons and other units.


Armourers disarming KH99 ‘B’ of 99 Squadron

Once proud ‘S’ of 356 with guns and propellers removed

  The demolition and rendering unserviceable again began almost immediately hostilities ceased. The staff at 322 MU was increased and 135 RSU personnel were part-of it. The sheer numbers to be involved of Liberators made it an awesome task and were felt by many of the aircraftsmen who had worked so hard to keep them flying. Sgt Tom Hay of 322 MU told me they were torn between the feelings about the aircraft and the hope of ‘Demob’.135’s RSU had looked after aircraft of 99, 355, 356, and 159 Squadrons from their base near Digri, not all at one time of course, and in the early days when spares were in short supply had lived up their unit name by going into the jungles which were in that area and rescuing any spares from crashed Liberators which could be used to replace damaged or unavailable parts for the repair work they needed at the time. Later, as the Liberators came in large numbers to SEAC there was an abundance of spares ands stores at 322 MU for issue where needed. The Liberators were ferried to India from Montreal by 6 FU Transport Command in stages.

The first signs of the intended demolition came in October’ 45 when the United States ended Land Lease and ordered all armament (.05mgs) removed from the Liberators, as can be seen in the photographs of KH 399 ‘B’ of 99 Squadron with armourers removing the guns from it. Then the US ordered the demolition of all Liberators in SEAC at the end of October and the Squadrons 159 and 355 were allowed to continue to do a photographic survey of Bengal for the then Bengali government. These two squadrons were re-equipped with Liberators MK V111, in serial number ranges, KL, KN, & the KP. See Z and Q in the photos KL 678 and KN771, ‘U’ was

KP136. However, once the survey task was completed they were also sent for demolition in March 1946, still virtually new aircraft.


KL 629 ‘X’ in night colour scheme of 99 Squadron

Colour drawing of KL 629 by JEHF

 135 personnel were sent to 322 MU to take part in the impending destruction of the Liberators at Chakeri. As stated earlier, all types of trades were at 322 and the numbers were now increased. Their part was to remove all equipment useful to the aircraft: instruments, radios, control wires cut, armament ammo chutes destroyed, turret motors broken, even the first aid boxes were removed. Magnetos were removed from the engines rendering all engines useless.

Then all Liberators had a number roughly painted on their sides, KH284 was number 82 and by the time ‘Q’ KN 771 got there the numbers on its side was 216, it was its ‘doom’ number.

The tail of KH 168 of 99 showing the black rudder of when it was with 355 Squadron

B1V KL 611 ‘W’ of 356 in night colours note number of aircraft to be destroyed

 Once the aircraftsmen had immobilised the equipment inside the aircraft and the engines the army moved in with tractors and tugged the aircraft in order of their doom numbers for final destructions, smashing up the turret Perspex making holes in the Alclad (Aluminium outer skin) with picks and the dropping the aircraft to the ground by smashing one undercarriage leg, leaving the aircraft like a stranded whale.


BV111 KN771 of 355 Squadron newly arrived at Chakeri March 1946

Colour drawing of KN 771 by JEHF

 By the time the time the Coastal and the Special Duty Squadrons arrived at Chakeri, hundreds of Liberators were awaiting destruction in what had now become the

‘Elephant’s Graveyard’ for the SEAC Liberators.


BV111 KL678 of 159 Squadron, plus others.

BV1’s and BV111’s of 159 &355 Squadrons

 When India gained independence in August 1947, British Forces had to leave, which meant the complete task of the demolition of the Liberators was not quite finished.

The Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) later to become the Indian Air Force (IAF) formed the Maritime Reconnaissance, 6(MR) Squadron. The Indians proved to be brilliant engineers and managed to keep 6 MR flying for twenty years, 1948 – 68. Hindustan Airworks managed to supply the squadron with 39 Liberators over the 20 years by cannibalising other Liberators at Chakeri. The IAF had no fatal accidents during the 20 years Liberator service. Their bases were Poona and Palam with Poona as the main base.

When the Squadron gave up flying Liberators, they graciously gave one to the RAF museum at Cosford. One to the CAF (Formally the Royal Canadian Air Force) and three were given to the United States. The Liberators were KN751, KN820, KH304, KH401, and KH191. See ‘The Survivors’ On Robert Quirk’s web site, where the story is told in full.


Aerial photo of Chakeri, there are at least 100 Liberators awaiting destruction



Although the photos used are from the J.E.H. FAIL collection, I owe thanks to Sgt Tom Hay (ex 322 MU) for some. Apparently, the airmen used to photograph Liberators at 322 and get an old Indian photographer to develop them, then swap them amongst other 322 personnel.

Interesting Note: Agitators spread rumours around 322 that their ‘Demobs’ were to be postponed so they could service civilian Airliners (all lies of course). Angered and frustrated, the aircraftsmen refused to work. The CO was a very tough regular officer and he had all personnel paraded on the parade ground where he said that the actions amounted to mutiny. He said he had the right under KR’s to shoot one man per-day and he would do it if all airmen were not back on duty by 9am the next day. The mutiny collapsed and all returned to work. Maybe there is something in the air at Cawpore? ‘Demobs’ went as normal throughout SEAC