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The History of the Liberator( B-24) Heavy Bomber in the Indian Air Force

Updated on June 8, 2019
emge profile image

An air warrior, MG has a checkered history and also wields the pen forcefully with two novels and over 100 short stories

The beginning

As a young boy I used to pass the Air force Technical College at Jallahalli in Bangalore. A sight that used to catch my eyes was an old B-24 popularly called the Liberator that was parked in a hanger. The plane fascinated me with its snout nose and gigantic wingspan.

Much later when I grew up, I dug up the history of the B-24 with the Indian Air Force. It’s indeed a romantic tale and any flyer will be enthused with it. The B-24 was a US made heavy bomber that used to operate from the airfield of Assam in India against the Japanese positions in China. The Liberators operated from Chubua, Kumbhigram and Jorhat air fields.

Abandoned B-24's at Kanpur

The B-24 was a strike bomber of the US Air Force and saw service during World War II. It is not as famous as the B-29 but in its own right it was a formidable machine. It was a heavy bomber with 4 piston engines and a range of 3000 miles. Tens of liberators were operated by the USAAF in India during the war. After the war the US handed over the planes to RAF and exited from India.

Most of these planes were collected by the RAF at Kanpur air field and dumped there. The RAF technicians were responsible to make the machines unfit for flight as per the lend lease agreement. At the end of the war in 1945/46, the RAF airmen were eager to get back home and just abandoned the machines at Kanpur by making some minor defects in the machines to make them unfit for flying. The machines remained at Kanpur till 1948.

Resurrection of B-24

During 1948 war with Pakistan, when the IAF had to use the C-47(Dakota) as a bomber, the need for a heavy bomber dawned on the IAF air staff. No heavy bomber was available as the Western countries denied a heavy bomber to the IAF. At that time in 1948 information came that the Royal Air force had abandoned about 70 B-24’s at Chakeri air field near Kanpur in 1946. These planes were part of the lend lease pact and one of the terms of the contract was to make the planes unfit for flying. The RAF technicians had disabled the machines as they could not be taken back to the UK. They had not done a thorough job and as the RAF men were eager to get back to the UK. The machines were just parked and left with some minor defects.

The IAF technicians surveyed the airfield and were wonderstruck at the treasure made available to them.

Making the Liberator's fit for flight

The planes were examined by engineers from the IAF and they were of the opinion that the planes could be made fit for flying by cannibalization. A team of aero engineers now came from Hindustan Aeronautics and work began in earnest to make the machines airworthy. It is a tribute to Indian skills that about 50 B-24 were made air worthy and inducted into the IAF. All credit to Jamshed Kaikobad (Jimmy) Munshi the chief test pilot of HAL who played a major part in testing the machines. The liberators were made air worthy and flown to Bangalore where at the HAL factory they were made fully serviceable. No parts were imported as parts from about 20 B-24s were cannibalized and used. In all the IAF could make about 50 liberators air worthy.

News of the Liberators in service with the IAF reached the Americans. This surprised them and they suspected that the Indians may have purchased them from some rogue nation. To allay their fears a team from the USA Air Force was invited to have a look. The team came in 1951 and was impressed with the way the Liberators had been restored.

Liberator in service with IAF

The IAF promptly equipped No 5 and 16 Squadrons with the Liberators and these continued to serve the IAF till 1968. They were used in the Goa operations in 1961 but missed out on operations against China in 1962 as the IAF was not used then as per instructions of Nehru, who did not want the conflict to be escalated.

The Liberator was also used to photograph Mount Everest. These were the first aerial photographs of the mighty mountain ever from the air. During the 1965 war the liberators were used for sea surveillance of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The plane was ideally suited for this work because of its immense range of operation.

Was restoring the B-24 a great feat by Indian engineers

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Final Moment

In 1968 the Liberator was phased out of the IAF inventory and a machine was preserved at the Air Force Museum at Palam.

The B-24 has a special place in Indian aviation history and more so as making the planes air worthy was a stupendous achievement of Indian airmen and technicians. This was no mean task and brought out the inherent genius of the India technician.

Last word

The Liberator is now history but a startling fact emerges. It has been the only long range heavy bomber used by the IAF. No plane has served with the IAF with a range of 3000 miles. The heyday of the B-24 was World War II. It was getting obsolete in the fifties and by the time IAF phased it out it was only a relic.


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      2 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you, Denise, it's a pleasure to read a comment from a person who loves planes.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      2 weeks ago from Fresno CA

      What a great story and legacy for these older planes. My dad was a navigator in a B 52. He would have loved this story and new life for the old planes.



    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 months ago from Singapore

      Thank you Kelly for commenting. Yes the B-24 served for over 2 decades with the IAF till 1968

    • Kosmo profile image

      Kelley Marks 

      5 months ago from California

      Thanks for the article about the B-24 Liberator. I had no idea India continued using them into the 1960s. Of course, all warplanes become obsolete eventually, though the B-52 is still usable, though it's been retrofitted to a great degree. The B-17s and the B-29s were great bombers too. Later!

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you Tamara

    • profile image

      Tamara Moore 

      3 years ago

      I do not know a lot about these types of things, but I respect a person, such as yourself, who does! Thank you for providing this great information!

      Big Hugs,


    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Well Unnamed Harald, the IAF used it for 2 decades. Thanks for commenting

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 

      4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      This a very interesting article. I've always thought that the Liberator was unfairly eclipsed in the media by the Flying Fortress and the Super Fortress.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you friend

    • 10000001 profile image

      madugundu krishna 

      4 years ago from Yemmiganur

      Indian Air Force service is the great.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you RonElFran for reading and commenting

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Great story. The liberator was a great plane but the real story is the ingenuity of the engineers putting them back together.


    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      What a great story. This is a piece of history I was totally unaware of. I enjoyed reading it.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Nice of you to have liked and commented

    • Akriti Mattu profile image

      Akriti Mattu 

      5 years ago from Shimla, India

      This is such an informational post. Voted up.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you Susan. I have flown planes all my life and I also love them

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Interesting article, well written. My dad has always been interested in airplanes and my husband is quite interested in history, particularly of the World War II era. I guess a lot of that has rubbed off on me over the years. I can understand why you are very proud of your country's technicians who were able to make the B24 fleet usable again.


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