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Morton & Eden to sell only 'Double' distinguished flying cross ever awarded to Indian airman
Squadron Leader Karun Krishna ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar was additionally and uniquely awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. for further acts of skill and courage, but he was killed less than a month later and, therefore, he never received it.

LONDON.- The first Distinguished Flying Cross ever awarded to an Indian pilot, later to be dubbed the ‘Father of the Indian Air Force’, is to be sold by specialist coins and medals auctioneers Morton & Eden in a sale in London on Wednesday November 26. With his India General Service Medal, Flying Logbook and other items, it is expected to realise 20,000-30,000 and is being offered on behalf of his family.

In fact, Squadron Leader Karun Krishna ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar was additionally and uniquely awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. for further acts of skill and courage, but he was killed less than a month later and, therefore, he never received it.

Similarly, his death during an air display in India meant his Second World War service medals, which would have been prepared in India and issued in the 1950s, were never claimed.

Jumbo Majumdar’s seeming disregard for his own safety on solo bombing raids and leading others against what appeared to be insurmountable odds made him a legendary figure both in the Royal Air Force and among his own countrymen. It is generally agreed that had he lived, his example and vision for Indian airpower would have seen him rise to the highest level in the post-Independence Indian Air Force.

The London Gazette, of November 10, 1942 recorded the award of his D.F.C. The official citation reads in part: “Early this year this officer commanded the squadron during its activities in Burma. He led two unescorted attacks on enemy airfields in Thailand and attacks in support of the army in Tennasserim; he also completed valuable reconnaissances during the retirement from Rangoon to the Prome positions”.

The official citation the award of a Bar to his D.F.C., recorded by the London Gazette, of January 23, 1945, reads in part: “This officer has completed many tactical reconnaissance and photographic sorties. His keenness for operational work and his skill on difficult and dangerous missions has always been outstanding. Before the advance northwards in France, he completed exceptionally valuable photographic reconnaissances of the Seine bridges, in the face of heavy ground defences. He has also participated in long tactical reconnaissances on which he was several times intercepted by superior formations of enemy aircraft. His skill and courage have always been outstanding”.

Majumdar was killed on February 17, 1945. While participating in an air display designed to raise public awareness and improve recruitment to the I.A.F., he decided to perform an aeronautical display in a Hurricane, even though he knew the particular aircraft he was using had a history of mechanical problems.

Roaring into the air before a large audience, he executed some high-level turns and then produced a manoeuvre involving a dive, during which one of the undercarriage legs became unlocked from the wheel-well and deployed down. The Hurricane’s stability was upset and it stalled and crashed, killing Majumdar instantaneously.

The medal will be accompanied by Majumdar’s India General Service Medal 1936, with clasps for the North West Frontier 1936-37 and 1937-39 campaigns with associated miniatures and ribbons; his dog tags; original log book and another covering the period January 9, 1941 to February 2, 1945; pairs of I.A.F. khaki issue epaulettes, one with rank of Squadron Leader and one of Wing Commander, and pairs of R.A.F blue issue epaulettes, one with rank of Pilot Officer, the other of Wing Commander; I.A.F Wings and pilot officer’ neckwear bands; R.A.F. Reconnaissance patch and an ‘INDIA’ shoulder patch. Associated archive material includes extensive photocopied and recorded documentation, including previously unpublished material. It comprises Majumdar’s personal diary for 1944- 1945, much of which makes chilling reading.

The entry for June 24, 1944, reads: ‘Just as I finished my recce 4 M.E. 109s attacked us from astern and 600 feet above. Turned into them & started a very tight turn.’

10 June : ‘Went to Rouen, Some light flak. Feel I can cope all right; Burma was tougher…’

July 7: ‘Finished job in absolute hail of FLAK, like Dewali night. Got back OK…’

July 12: ‘Intense and accurate FLAK from the Fret de Laigle - like red billiard balls…’

August 13: ‘Did a special photo job…Photos very successful. (Later annotation…My photos were required for the battle of Falaise)’

August 26: ‘Flak around Rouen got boxed in by 88mm fire at one time but managed to wriggle out by diving and climbing...’

August 28: ‘Went through an absolute hail of Flak to get photos of the rail bridge over the Seine at Rouen...’

1 September: ‘I seem to have a charmed existence and have not been hit once so far (touch wood)...

September 5: ‘Ran into very heavy flak and got hit in the rudder. Got away by climbing into cloud..’

September 12: ‘Two P.R. people from group came and took particulars of my career and photographed me in a Typhoon…’

September 13 ‘Had my portrait done in pastels by a man named Dring. Excellent to watch him at work. This, apparently, is under Air Ministry instructions for the National Gallery..’

September 20 ‘Did my last operational flight. Very trick low level obliques of bridges on the Neder Rhine and Waal. Weather extremely bad…’

January 28 1945: ‘Display Day. Went very well A.O.A. arrived. Says I have been given a bar to my D.F.C. Nothing official yet…’

January 30: ‘Official signal came through via Kohat of the bar to my D.F.C. Kooiee (his wife) will be pleased…’

The archive also includes ‘A Coin of Indian Metal’, by K.N. Dutt, a substantial 185-page biography of Majumdar originally published in India in 1949 and three DVD recordings: one of Majumdar’s speech given in February 1945, emphasising the importance of airpower and looking to the future of the Indian Air Force (with printed copy of the text); another titled “Legends of the I.A.F.”, a brief biographical film of Majumdar’s career; and ‘Glimpses of I.A.F. history through the eyes of Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh” in which Majumdar (a close friend of Singh) features prominently in the section covering the period to the end of the Second World War.

Karun Krishna Majumdar was born in Calcutta on September 6, 1913. He was educated at St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling, before sailing from Bombay aboard the S.S. Rawalpindi for England, to train at R.A.F. Cranwell from February, 1932. He passed out in December 1933, sixth out of the list of 30, was gazetted as a Pilot Officer and posted to Old Sarum. After finishing his course there, he was posted briefly to No. 2 Squadron R.A.F. before returning to India to join the recently-formed No. 1 Squadron, Indian Air Force, in November 1934.

In May 1935 Majumdar was in Quetta when the earthquake struck and, with other members of the Squadron, he took part in the rescue work. On July 9, 1935, he received his commission as Flying Officer, subsequently becoming Flight Commander ‘C’ Flight, No. 1 Squadron, which moved to Fort Miransah, Waziristan (where he remained until September 1939, when the policing of the Frontier was handed over to the I.A.F. Volunteer Reserves).

Promoted to Squadron Leader, Majumdar took command of No. 1 Squadron in June, 1941. In the following January, equipped with Lysanders, the Squadron arrived in Burma and was based at Tuogoo Airfield from February 1, 1942. It was to be an eventful month. On the very next day the airfield was attacked by the Japanese and most of the existing Allied installations and aircraft were destroyed with only the I.A.F.’s Lysanders being left unscathed.

Majumdar immediately planned a retaliatory raid and on the following day, February 3, he settled himself into a Lysander armed with two 250 lb. bombs attached to improvised racks. Asking one of the boys to give the ‘fan a turn’, he received the retort: ‘Where are you going?’ to which he replied: ‘Just for a little outing - I’ll be back soon!’

The use of Lysanders in offensive bombing missions had previously been unheard-of but, with an escort of two N.Z.A.F. Buffalos, Majumdar flew at treetop level in the direction of the Japanese base at Mae-Huangsu. Managing to achieve complete surprise, he dropped his bombs on an aircraft hangar, destroying both it and the aircraft it contained.

On the following day he led the entire squadron on a further bombing mission when they succeeded in destroying several buildings, wireless installations and ground aircraft. On the next day No. 1 Squadron was called to Mingaladon, just outside Rangoon, and joining with 28 Squadron, they carried out a raid on Moulmein Dockyards under Majumdar’s leadership. Direct hits were scored on the railway station and various dockyard buildings.

By the end of the month the situation in Burma had deteriorated to the extent that the R.A.F. and No. 1 Squadron were ordered back to India, with the exception of a few I.A.F. pilots, including Majumdar who quickly became accustomed to frequent solo reconnaissance flights over Thailand.

During one such foray he spotted a new Japanese airstrip. He reported it to the Intelligence Officer who refused to believe him, so the I.O. was invited to take a ride in his Lysander. On pointing out the feature, the I.O. still refused to believe Majumdar, claiming the strip was not straight enough to land on. Immediately Majumdar pulled his aircraft over and performed a touch-and-go landing, thus finally convincing the I.O.

On another occasion Majumdar had to make a forced landing in the Shan jungle, and after four days alone, he was fortunately rescued by a group of Shan tribesmen. Finally, at the beginning of April, he was amongst the last Allied pilots to leave Burma when he managed to get out of Rangoon aboard a Flying Fortress on March 11. During a frenetic and eventful three months No. 1 Squadron I.A.F. had lost just one pilot and one air gunner, and for his leadership of the Squadron during the Burma Campaign Majumdar was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross - the first Indian Officer to be so decorated.

For the next two years Majumdar remained in India, employed in various staff and flying assignments. By this time a Wing Commander, he sought permission to take part in the European war, especially the anticipated operation which would become known as D-Day.

He arrived in England in mid-March 1944 and took up active flying duties at the beginning of June when he was attached to 268 Squadron in a reconnaissance role. His first operational flight took place (after two days’ cancellation due to bad weather) on the June 10, a reconnaissance over the River Seine, and included an attack on enemy ground targets.

By the end of his operational tour on September 20, he had flown 65 operational sorties in 100 days. Of particular significance were Majumdar’s reconnaissances of the heavily- fortified Falaise Gap, photographs of which were vital for the progress of the Allies. Majumdar immediately volunteered for this hazardous operation and his photographs were later used by Montgomery in the Battle of Falaise. For his work in North Western Europe he was awarded a bar to his D.F.C., thus becoming the only Indian Officer to receive a second award.

Majumdar returned to India late in 1944. Early in the New Year, he was given the task of awakening the air-mindedness of the public, especially amongst college students, as recruitment to the I.A.F. had fallen dramatically and it was felt that a high-profile figure of his stature could boost the prospects for India’s future air power. He was asked to lead air displays throughout India and the job also included talks, broadcasts and personal appearances.

From the start the ‘Flying Circus’ seemed doomed, with three pilots losing their lives during training at Kohat. Majumdar’s display flight arrived at Lyallpur on February 15. He died two days later.

The medals and archive can be seen during the public view for the sale, which is at Morton & Eden’s offices at 45 Maddox Street, London, W1S 2PE on Friday November 21, Monday November 24 and Tuesday November 25 from 10am-4.30pm or by previous arrangement.

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