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The Expansion of the Royal Indian Air Force in World War II, 1939-46

June 8, 2017, 6:30pm BST - 8:00pm
Royal Air Force Museum

Wulfruna Street
Wolverhampton WV1 1LY
United Kingdom

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In this lecture, Aashique Iqbal will explore the expansion of the Royal Indian Air Force during the Second World War.


The establishment in 1933 of the Indian Air Force (IAF) was a consequence of the colonial Government of India’s policy of handing Indians token military control to forestall popular calls for greater Indian control of the Indian armed forces. The outbreak of the Second World War, however, led to the reversal of earlier policies and saw the tenfold expansion of the single squadron IAF. Though the Indian Air Force would go on to perform well in the war, earning the prefix ‘Royal’ in 1945, the suddenness of wartime expansion had severe consequences. Plagued by a shortage of equipment and personnel the RIAF struggled to expand. Though equipment shortages were eventually overcome by Allied wartime production, personnel shortages remained a problem throughout the war. The RIAF responded to these in a variety of ways including drawing on foreign personnel, lowering recruitment requirements, increasing pay and embarking on the largest recruitment propaganda programme launched by any wing of the Indian military during the Second World War. The rushed expansion of the RIAF would have two key consequences. First, it would result in the RIAF strikes of 1946. Coming on the heels of the RAF strikes, the Indian National Army trials and the Royal Indian Navy mutiny, the strikes had a destabilising effect on British military control in the subcontinent. More critically it revealed the divide between Indian officers and ranks that had emerged during the war. Further, the process of ‘Indianisation’ or the replacement of foreign personnel with Indians remained incomplete as it became increasingly difficult for the RIAF to tap India’s limited pool of educated labour. This would have significant consequences, not the least of which was independent India’s reliance on British personnel to command the RIAF long after the achievement of formal independence.


Please note that this lecture will be held in the main lecture theatre (MC001) at the University of Wolverhampton, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton, WV1 1LY at 18:30PM on Thursday 8 June 2017.


This lecture is free of charge however; we do ask that you pre-book a free ticket, as seats are limited. Booking is quick and easy, we just need some basic contact information.


Aashique Iqbal is a DPhil candidate in History at the University of Oxford. He has received his Bachelors and Masters degrees in history at Loyola College, Chennai and Jawaharlal Nehru University. His thesis ‘Sovereign Skies: Aviation and the Indian State 1939-53’, funded by the Felix Scholarship and the Royal Historical Society Marshall Fellowship, is being supervised by Dr Yasmin Khan and Dr Robert Johnson. The thesis traces the role played by aviation, both civil and military, in the decolonisation of South Asia. Among the first academic histories of aviation in the region ‘Sovereign Skies’ argues that the aeroplane played an important part in the transfer of power from British to Indian hands and was critical to the formulation of notions of sovereignty in independent India and Pakistan. With its blend of intellectual and institutional history, Aashique’s work has implications for military, technological, legal and transport histories.


The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies form part of the RAF Museum's Research Programme. This programme consists of the First World War in the Air and Cold War Lunchtime Lectures and other events such as conferences.

For more details about the RAF Museum’s research programme, please email our Historian, Dr Ross Mahoney at

The Trenchard Lectures in Air Power Studies are held in conjunction with the Royal Aeronautical Society and the War Studies Department at the University of Wolverhampton.

Please note that lectures are subject to change.

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June 8, 2017, 5:00pm BST

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