Subroto Mukerjee
সুব্রত মুখোপাধ্যায়
Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee
(pictured wearing Group Captain's insignia, c. 1947)
4th Chief of the Air Staff and Commander-in-Chief, Indian Air Force
In office
1 April 1954 – 8 November 1960 (redesignated as Chief of the Air Staff from 1 April 1955)
Preceded byGerald Ernest Gibbs
Succeeded byAspy Merwan Engineer
Personal details
Born(1911-03-05)5 March 1911
Calcutta, Bengal Presidency, British India
Died8 November 1960(1960-11-08) (aged 49)
Tokyo, Japan
RelationsSee Nibaran Chandra Mukherjee family and Das Family
AwardsOrder of the British Empire
Military service
Allegiance British India (1932–1947)
 India (1947–1960)
Branch/service Royal Indian Air Force (1932–1947)
 Indian Air Force (1947–1960)
Years of service1932–1960
RankAir Marshal
UnitNo. 1 Squadron IAF
CommandsAir Force Station Kohat
No. 1 Squadron IAF
Battles/warsAnnexation of Hyderabad
Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948
World War II
Waziristan campaign (1936–1939)

Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee OBE (Bengali: সুব্রত মুখোপাধ্যায়) (5 March 1911 – 8 November 1960) was an Indian military officer who was the first Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Indian Air Force. He was awarded several honours during the course of a three-decade-long career, ended by his untimely demise in 1960. He has been called the Father of the Indian Air Force.

Born in a Bengali family of repute, he was educated both in India and in the United Kingdom. He joined the Royal Air Force and later was one of the first recruits of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1933. He flew with the No. 1 Squadron IAF from 1933 to 1941. He saw extensive action in the North-West Frontier Province during this stint and was mentioned in dispatches. He attended the Staff College, Quetta in 1941 before returning to command No. 1 Squadron in 1942. He commanded the RAF Station Kohat from 1943 to 1944 before moving to Air HQ as director of flying training. He was awarded the OBE in 1945.

Following the partition of India, he was appointed Deputy Air Commander, Royal Indian Air Force. After completing the higher command course at the Imperial Defence College, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the IAF in 1954. He oversaw the transformation of IAF into an all-jet force. From 1955, he also served as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He died while on a visit to Tokyo in 1960. His accidental death came as a shock to the Air Force and the nation and he was cremated with full military honours in New Delhi.

He had many firsts to his credit: the first Indian to command a flight, in 1938, the first Indian to command a squadron, in 1939, the first to command a station, in 1943, and finally, the first Indian to command the Service itself, in 1954.

Early life and education

Mukerjee was born in Calcutta on 5 March 1911 in a well-known Bengali family. His father was Satish Chandra Mukherjee of the Indian Civil Service, and his mother, Charulata Mukherjee, was a social worker. His paternal grandfather, Nibaran Chandra Mukherjee, pioneered several social and educational reforms in India and was a member of the Brahmo Samaj. His maternal grandfather Prasanna Kumar Roy of the Indian Education Service, was the first Indian Principal of Presidency College, Kolkata. His maternal grandmother, Sarala Roy, was an educationist and social worker who founded the Gokhale Memorial Girls' School.[1]

The youngest of four children, Mukherjee was taken to England when he was three months old. However, he spent his childhood in Krishnanagar and Chinsura in Bengal. As a boy, he displayed an aptitude for a military career, probably inherited from his uncle, Flight Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy, who had joined the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. Roy was the first Indian to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the only Indian flying ace.[1]

Mukerjee's elder sister Renuka Ray was a prominent freedom fighter, who became a member of the Indian parliament, cabinet minister and ambassador. She attended the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics.[2]

Mukerjee was educated at Nainital Diocesan Boys' High School in Nainital, at Loreto Convent in Calcutta, at Howrah Zilla School, and also at a school in Hampstead in England. He completed his secondary education at Birbhum Zilla School in 1927. He then attended Presidency College, Calcutta for year, before studying at the University of Cambridge.[1]

Military career

Early career

The first batch of Indian pilots at RAF Cranwell in 1931. From Left to Right: Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and Subroto Mukerjee.
The first batch of Indian pilots at RAF Cranwell in 1931. From Left to Right: Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and Subroto Mukerjee.

In 1928, the British Government agreed to permit Indians to enter the Royal Air Force College Cranwell. While initially only two vacancies were recommended, the number was later increased to six. This was done so that a flight of a squadron could be completely Indian.[3] Mukerjee sat for the Cranwell entrance examination, becoming one of the first six Indians selected to undergo two years of flying training at the Royal Air Force College.[1]

With the Indian Air Force Act being passed by the Central Legislative Assembly, the IAF was established on 8 October 1932 as an auxiliary force of the Royal Air Force.[4] Mukerjee was commissioned as a pilot officer.[5] After completing their training at Cranwell, the Indian pilots received further training at the Army Cooperation School at Old Sarum Airfield in Wiltshire. Mukerjee served with the No. 16 Squadron RAF for about a year before returning to India.[1]

On 1 April 1933, "A" Flight of the No. 1 Squadron IAF was formed at Drigh Road in Karachi with Flight Lieutenant Cecil Bouchier, DFC in command. Mukerjee was one of the five Indian pilots who made up the flight. The flight was equipped with four Westland Wapitis. On 15 February 1934, Mukerjee was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer.[6]

In 1936, a rebellion erupted in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), led by the Pukhtoon tribes. The Indian Air Force were forced to play a major role in containing the rebellion, due to the harsh terrains of the region. Mukerjee was awarded the India General Service Medal with the clasps 'North West Frontier 1936–37', and 'North West Frontier 1937–39'.[1]

In July 1938, 'B' flight of the No. 1 Squadron IAF was formed and Mukerjee took command of the flight. He was one of the three flying officers of the three flights of No. 1 Squadron.[7] On 15 February 1939, he was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.[8] He took command of the No. 1 Squadron on 16 March 1939, the first Indian officer to command a squadron. In June 1939, under Mukerjee, the squadron converted to Hawker Hart aircraft with a few Hawker Audax aircraft on its inventory.[9] He led the squadron into action at Miramshah in NWFP.[7]

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Coastal Defence Flights (CDFs) of the Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve (IAFVR) were formed. Mukerjee was the senior-most Indian commissioned officer in the IAF. He was promoted to the acting rank of Squadron Leader on 25 August 1939.[10] On 7 August 1940, he observed a beleaguered army picket, with the troops indicating that they were running out of ammunition. Mukerjee and his gunner removed ammunition from the rear cockpit-mounted Lewis machine gun and stuffed it into pairs of socks. The ammunition was dropped to the troops in a low-pass, under concentrated fire. The picket held out until another aircraft air-dropped a large cache of ammunition.[9]

In June 1941, Mukerjee relinquished command of No. 1 Squadron, handing over to squadron leader Karun Krishna Majumdar. He was selected to attend the Staff College, Quetta. Due to the war, the staff course was reduced to a duration of six months.[11] By this time, the No. 1 Squadron had moved to Secunderabad and was re-equipped with the Westland Lysander.[12] In March 1942, Mukerjee took command of the squadron for the second time.[13]

In December 1942, Mukerjee was mentioned in dispatches for his distinguished service during the operations in the NWFP.[14] He commanded RAF Station Kohat from 28 August 1943 to December 1944, becoming at that time the first Indian officer to command an airbase. During this time, the British Indian Army officer and author, Major Francis Yeats-Brown, DFC, praised the professionalism and the efficiency of the IAF, based on his experience at the Kohat airbase.[15]

After handing over command to Aspy Engineer, Mukerjee subsequently moved to Air Headquarters, having been appointed director of flying training. In June 1945, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE).[16] As the most senior Indian officer in the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF), on 15 May 1947, Mukerjee was promoted to the acting rank of Air Commodore and became the first Indian air officer. He was appointed the Deputy Assistant to the Air Officer-in-charge Administration at Air headquarters.[17]


On 15 August 1947, with the partition of India, a new Air Headquarters of the Dominion of India was formed. Mukerjee was appointed the Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO), in addition to being appointed Deputy Air Commander, RIAF.[18] The assets of the Indian Air Force (like other branches of the military) had to be divided between the Dominions of India and Pakistan. Mukerjee led the air force part of this committee.[11]

Air Marshal Mukerjee saluting as the President of India, Rajendra Prasad, presents the colours to the Indian Air Force in 1954
Air Marshal Mukerjee saluting as the President of India, Rajendra Prasad, presents the colours to the Indian Air Force in 1954

After the outbreak of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, Mukerjee was promoted to the acting rank of air vice marshal on 15 November 1947. In the Poonch sector, the road link was under threat of being cut off. An air bridge had to be established so that provisioning the supplies for the besieged troops could take place. The first aircraft to land at Poonch Airport was piloted by Air Commodore Mehar Singh, Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Operational Group, with Mukerjee as a passenger. The airstrip was surrounded by streams on three sides and has a steep approach. Against heavy odds, he landed a Douglas with three tons of load against a normal rated load of one ton. The landing was done without any landing aids, the airstrip being lit with the help of oil lamps.[19] On 15 March 1948, Mukerjee took over as the officiating Chief of the Air Staff and Air Marshal Commanding RIAF when Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst left to the United Kingdom on deputation. He remained in command of the RIAF for about a year.[20]

In September 1948, India initiated a police action against the Hyderabad State. Mukerjee controlled and aided air operations in aid of the troops during the annexation of Hyderabad.[21][22] In September 1952, he was selected to attend the Imperial Defence College. He attended the course during 1953, along with Captain Ram Dass Katari, the senior-most Indian Naval officer at that time.[23] After completing the year-long course, he returned to India in early 1954. His military service in the Air Headquarters from 1944, and having served as the SASO and Deputy C-in-C under the first three Chiefs of Independent India, fully qualified him for the top post.[7]


On 1 April 1954, Mukerjee took over as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Air Force, with the rank of Air Marshal. When the Change in Designation Act, 1955, was passed, the title of "Commander-in-Chief" was replaced by Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). Thus Mukerjee became the first Indian Commander-in-Chief as well as Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.[24] On the same day, the President of India, Rajendra Prasad presented the colours to the Indian Air Force in recognition of its service to the nation.[25][26]

On 22 July 1955, with the retirement of the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sir Charles Pizey, Mukerjee took over as the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He is the longest serving such Chairman in history, having served for more than five years, until his untimely death in 1960.[27]

During his tenure, the aircraft of the IAF were replaced with transonic jet fighters and bombers. It witnessed all-round expansion and modernisation. In August 1958, Mukerjee was given a second tenure for a period of four years, starting 1 October 1958.[28]

Awards and decorations

Indian Independence Medal
Order of the British Empire
India General Service Medal
1939-1945 Star
War Medal 1939-1945
(1945; with MID oak leaf)
India Service Medal
King George VI Coronation Medal
Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal

Dates of rank

Insignia Rank Component Date of rank
Pilot Officer Royal Indian Air Force 1 September 1932[30]
Flying Officer Royal Indian Air Force 15 February 1934[6]
Flight Lieutenant Royal Indian Air Force 15 February 1939[31]
Squadron Leader Royal Indian Air Force 25 August 1939 (acting)
15 February 1942 (substantive)[30]
Wing Commander Royal Indian Air Force 1 October 1943 (acting)[30]
15 August 1948 (substantive)[30]
Group Captain Royal Indian Air Force 6 March 1946 (acting)
15 November 1947 (substantive)[30]
Air Commodore Royal Indian Air Force 15 May 1947 (acting)[17]
15 August 1948 (substantive)[30]
Air Vice Marshal Royal Indian Air Force 15 November 1947 (acting)[32]
Air Vice Marshal of IAF.png
Air Vice Marshal Indian Air Force 26 January 1950 (recommissioning and change in insignia)[33]
1 October 1951 (substantive)
Air Marshal of IAF.png
Air Marshal
Indian Air Force 1 April 1954 (acting)[24]
1 October 1954 (substantive)[30]

Personal life

In 1939, Mukerjee married Sharda Mukherjee (née Pandit), who was from a prominent Maharashtrian family. They had one son. Sharda was active in social work, and after her husband's death, she became active in public affairs. She was elected to Lok Sabha twice. In 1977, she was appointed as the governor of Andhra Pradesh.[34] She was subsequently appointed the governor of Gujarat. She was the first woman governor of both states.[35]


In November 1960, Air India inaugurated its service to Tokyo, Japan. Mukerjee and Air Commodore (later ACM) Pratap Chandra Lal, then General Manager of the Indian Airlines Corporation were passengers on this flight. After landing in Tokyo, on 8 November 1960, Mukerjee was having a meal in a restaurant with a friend, an officer in the Indian Navy. A piece of food became lodged in his windpipe, causing him to choke. Before a doctor was called for and could attend, Mukerjee had died. The next day, his body was flown to Palam Airport, New Delhi.[36]

Mukerjee was cremated with full military honours. From Palam Airport, a hearse carried him to Air House. On 11 November, numerous visitors offered their respects. As his body was leaving Air House, a 15-gun salute, at one minute interval, was fired. His body was carried on a gun carriage to the Nigambodh Ghat, with servicemen lining the whole route. He was paid a final tribute with a flypast of forty-nine aircraft, one for each of his forty-nine years.[36][37] The death came as a shock to the nation and to the Indian Air Force. A black-bordered extraordinary edition of The Gazette of India was issued on 9 November.[38] The Indian Government received tributes from around the world, conveyed by the ambassadors and military attachés in New Delhi.[39]


ACM Pratap Chandra Lal considered Mukerjee the foremost pioneer of military aviation in India. He was a much-loved figure in the Air Force.[36] Aspy Engineer, a close associate of Mukerjee, assumed the role of CAS from 1 December 1960. He issued a Special Order of the Day paying tribute to Mukerjee and called him the "Father of the Indian Air Force".[40]

Mukerjee, an eminent football lover and a regular member of Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, had conceived the idea of an inter-school all-India football tournament. This was implemented after his death. The Subroto Cup Football Tournament still helps find talented players from Indian schools.[41] In July 1949, the RIAF introduced the Mukerjee Trophy for the 'Airmen's Mess and Dining Competition', in order for units to further improve messing conditions and amenities of airmen.[42]

Subroto Park in the Delhi Cantonment is named after Mukerjee. The Air Force School, the headquarters of the Western Air Command, and the Army Hospital (Research & Referral) are all located here.[43] The Centre for Air Power Studies organises the Subroto Mukerjee International Seminar annually.[44][45]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Air Marshall Subroto Mukerjee, OBE – The Saga of a Soaring Legend". Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  2. ^ "Life Lived in an Age of Extremes".
  3. ^ Sharma 1997, p. 92.
  4. ^ "HC Deb 3 April 1933 vol 276 cc1473-501". Hansard. Parliament of the United Kingdom. Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2009.
  5. ^ "1932: Birth of IAF". Retrieved 15 January 2009.
  6. ^ a b The Air Force List: January 1938. HM Stationery Office. 1938. pp. 1275–1276.
  7. ^ a b c Abidi & Sharma 2007, p. 151.
  8. ^ "(400) – Air Force lists > Air Force list > Monthly > 1940 > May – British Military lists – National Library of Scotland".
  9. ^ a b Singh 2002.
  10. ^ The Air Force List: June 1940. HM Stationery Office. 1940. p. 702.
  11. ^ a b Sapru 2014.
  12. ^ Jagan Mohan 2011, p. 13.
  13. ^ Jagan Mohan 2011, p. 23.
  14. ^ "No. 35825". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 December 1942. p. 5497.
  15. ^ Yeats-Brown, Francis (March 2007). Martial India. ISBN 978-1406733976.
  16. ^ "No. 37119". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 1945. p. 2948.
  17. ^ a b "First Indian Air Commodore" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India – Archive. 9 May 1947. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  18. ^ "RIAF Appointments" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India – Archive. 14 August 1947. Retrieved 26 January 2019.
  19. ^ "1948 OPS | Indian Air Force | Government of India".
  20. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). 15 March 1948.
  21. ^ "Press Information Bureau" (PDF). 18 September 1948.
  22. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). 18 September 1948.
  23. ^ "Press Information Bureau (Defence Wing)" (PDF). 13 September 1952.
  24. ^ a b "Press Note" (PDF). 31 March 1954.
  25. ^ "IAF Museum | Indian Air Force | Government of India".
  26. ^ "Untitled Document". 22 April 1958.
  27. ^ "Government Tribute To Air Marshal Mukerjee" (PDF). 9 November 1960.
  28. ^ "Fresh Tenure for Air Chief" (PDF). 14 August 1958.
  29. ^ "Vintage photo of Air Marshal S. Mukherjee in a portrait".
  30. ^ a b c d e f g "Service Record for Air Marshal Subroto Mukerjee 1551 GD(P) at Bharat". Bharat Rakshak.
  31. ^ The Air Force List: June 1939. HM Stationery Office. 1939. p. 871.
  32. ^ "Part I-Section 4: Ministry of Defence (Air Branch)". The Gazette of India. 6 August 1949. p. 1080.
  33. ^ "New Designs of Crests and Badges in the Services" (PDF). Press Information Bureau of India – Archive.
  34. ^ Parker, Cecil (7 October 2012). "Gubernatorial grace". The Hindu.
  35. ^ "List of Governors".
  36. ^ a b c Lal 1986, p. 85.
  37. ^ "Late Air Marshal S Mukerjee" (PDF). 10 November 1960.
  38. ^ "The Gazettte of India Extraordinary" (PDF). 9 November 1960.
  39. ^ "Late Air Marshal Mukerjee" (PDF). 11 November 1960.
  40. ^ "Air Marshal Engineer's order of the day" (PDF). 1 December 1960.
  41. ^ "Durand Schools Tournament Opens Tomorrow – Army Chief to Inaugurate" (PDF). 14 November 1960.
  42. ^ "Mukerjee Trophy for Best Airmen Mess and Dining Hall" (PDF). 6 July 1949.
  43. ^ "Air Marshal Engineer's Press Briefing" (PDF). 17 January 1973.
  44. ^ "13th Subroto Mukherjee Seminar" (PDF). Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  45. ^ "15th Subroto Mukerjee Seminar" (PDF). Retrieved 20 December 2018.


Military offices Preceded byAdmiral Mark Pizey Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee 1955–1960 Succeeded byGeneral K S Thimayya Preceded bySir Gerald GibbsAs Commander-in-Chief Chief of the Air Staff 1954–1960 Succeeded byAspy Engineer New titleAppointment created Deputy Chief of the Air Staff(Deputy Air Commander, RIAF till Jan 1949) 1947–1952 Succeeded byAspy Engineer Preceded byKarun Krishna Majumdar Commanding Officer No. 1 Squadron IAF 1942–1942 Succeeded byHenry Runganathan Preceded byC H Smith Commanding Officer No. 1 Squadron IAF 1939–1941 Succeeded byKarun Krishna Majumdar