Reviews

1.) Admiral RH Tahiliani (Retd) in ‘Quarterdeck’ (The Navy Foundation Magazine)

Vice Admiral Pasricha has compiled a fascinating book titled ‘Downwind, Four Green’ with his usual untiring efforts. In India, most of us are not historically minded, since over the ages Hindus have been led to believe that life itself is transitory and there is no reality in anything. This has resulted in most people paying scant regard; even those who have contributed much. Pasricha is an exception to this rule.

In his book, ‘Downwind, Four Green’, VAdm Vinod Pasricha (Pasha) has given an excellent history of India’s first carrier-borne aircraft, the Seahawk. With his association of over forty years with Naviation (a word coined by Pasha) and his memory and penchant for collecting valuable data, he has been able to make this book most interesting. He has added many personal experiences, along with those of other senior Naviators, who have seen our naval aviation evolve to its present level. In fact, his first four Chapters on the history of Indian Naviation, right from its birth to the time that INS Vikrant and her two embarked squadrons (INAS 300 and INAS 310) commissioned in 1960/61, are of great historical value.

His book has also researched the purchase of 28 German Seahawk Mk 100/101s by the Indian Navy. This happened in 1964, when our CNS, VAdm BS Soman, met his German counterpart in India and they discussed the possible sale of some German Seahawks to India. The deal thereafter was done in total secrecy and at a time when western countries had put a total embargo on the sale of any military weapons/equipment to both India and Pakistan. The account of how these Seahawks were then crated in containers and came to NARO (Kochi) a year later, makes very interesting reading. In 1978, VAdm Johnson, himself a first commission 300 Sqn pilot, was our Naval Attache in Bonn. With his assistance, Pasha was able to collect information, as well as the experiences of the German CNS, VAdm Günter Luther, who was one of their first officers to fly Seahawks.

Other interesting episodes in Pasha’s book relate to:

a) The four Navies that flew Seahawks. In fact, Seahawk landing trials were also done on the Canadian and Australian carriers, though eventually they settled for newer aircraft, rather than the Seahawks.
b) The work-up of Vikrant and the two squadrons off England, France and Malta and the journey to India in 1961.
c) Their participation for the liberation of Goa in December 1961, soon after being welcomed to India by Pandit Nehru.
d) The remarkable story of how a young sailor decided to take off in a Seahawk from Meenambakkam airport. Since he had neither been briefed nor knew how to fly a jet, he had to finally ditch off the coast.
e) The wonderful account of six really long ferries from England to Sulur by 16 Seahawk pilots, with no maintenance crew/logistic support accompanying them.
f) Just prior to the possible outbreak of war with Pakistan in 1965, how the Fleet Commander permitted two pilots to be launched in Seahawks, from Vikrant at sea, for a night-out at Bangalore and Santa Cruz. All arrangements had been made earlier for their weddings, but at the last minute Vikrant had been ordered to sail out with her squadrons embarked.
g) Vikrant’s operational role in the North Bay of Bengal during the 1971 Bangladesh War and how the German Seahawks were of great value, since nearly all British Seahawks had finished their life.
h) The emergency that resulted when RAdm Peter Debrass was being launched from Vikrant and his Seahawk got disengaged just before the Catapult fired.
i) The joint exercises between Vikrant and HMAS Melbourne in 1977.

Despite my knowledge and long association with Naviation, a few incidents appeared new even to me. This book is not merely a collation of historical data, but also an interesting collection of human interest stories. Pasha’s apt descriptions make his book invaluable, not just for all Naviators and their families, but also for all others who are interested in Military History and in flying operations from an aircraft carrier.

2). Cmde Anne van Dyke, Dutch Navy

Downwind, Four Green gives a complete oversight with a lot of interesting details, stories and photographs.

I read it with great pleasure and was especially triggered to read the story of a succesful ejection with the Martin Baker seat!

I can use this story in the explaining of a fatal accident in 1959 on board of HMNLS Karel Doorman to the relatives. The widow of the unfortunate pilot asked me last year to reveal (after more than 50 years!) how it was possible that the ejection seat during take off suddenly partly broke loose. The drag chute was thereby freed and caused so much drag that the pilot (stuck with his helmet against the only sligtly opened canopy) could no longer control his Seahawk. The aircraft ditched and he drowned in front of his fellow pilots (he was the last of the disembarking formation).

Neither the pilot nor the aircraft were ever recovered. The investigators thought that the pre take-off checks were not carried out properly. Also, the manufacturer (Martin Baker) could not find a better explanation.

3). Jagan Pillarisetti

Sometime ago, the Managing Editor of a National Newspaper lamented the dearth of well researched books related to Indian Military History across all the three branches of the armed forces. The sad conclusion that was reached by this reviewer was that the article was mostly right. In recent years, the armed forces and some of the authors are more interested in bringing out glossy coffee table books, rather than any works of good historical research. This trend is more prevalent when you notice that various units, whether Army, Air Force or Navy, in trying to commemorate milestones like the Golden or Diamond Jubilees of their existence, have succumbed to the practice of bringing out ‘Histories’ that are actually smaller version of Coffee Table Books – thin on substance and on research.

Fortunately, this practice is a little less prevalent in the field of ‘Aircraft Histories’. Aircraft histories tend to have a better foundation in terms of coverage of events, units and personnel. A beginning has been achieved with the publication of histories on the HAL Gnat and the HAL HF-24 Marut. Both the books had been commissioned by HAL, as part of a broader event commemorating 50 years of induction and are replete with veteran stories, technical details and photographs.

However, setting a high bar in this field in research, coverage and authority is a surprising history of a Naval Jet Fighter in the service of Indian Naval Aviation. This history, titled ‘Downwind, Four Green’, by Vice Admiral Vinod Pasricha (Retd) covers the history of the Hawker Seahawk naval jet fighter in the service of the Indian Naval Air Arm. The book is a wonderful tribute to the aircraft, put together by a veteran pilot, who not only had over a 1000 flying hours on the type, but also the distinction of commanding the very unit that operated this type.

The results of his efforts are impressive. The book has first person contributions from dozens of Navy veterans, who were associated with it. Through them, you learn interesting stories involving the aircraft, like the case of a Naval Surgeon/Doctor who not only completed flying training, but also became ‘Deck Landing Qualified’ (DLQ) on the Seahawk, or that of the Naval rating who ‘stole’ a Seahawk for a joy ride! Stories of the aircraft procurement, ferry flights, deployments and operations in the 1971 War, sum up the entire career of this aircraft and of the important personalities who flew, maintained and commanded them. An important chapter in this book relates to the part played by India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant and by the Seahawk aircraft during the formation of Bangla Desh in 1971. The details of their participation, with facts and reviews by those who were an integral part of this war, are of great historical value. Rare photographs of the aircraft and aircrew, facsimiles of documents and records round up the detailed coverage.

Where the book departs from a ‘typical’ history book is the way it treats the individual aircraft. Whereas in many histories, aircraft are treated as a nameless piece of equipment, the author had taken the pains of ‘identifying’ every aircraft and its career in the Indian Navy. This is the first ever in the Indian market that individual airframes have had their stories told. The appendices have a section in which every individual airframe’s potted history is provided.

The book chalks up another first, when it documents all individual surviving airframes that are currently preserved around the country and in some cases sets the record straight on the misidentifying numbers that have been painted on them. Add to this a roster list of all the naval pilots who are qualified on the Seahawk, as well as a list of Seahawk Accidents and Incidents in service.

This level of detail was previously seen only in books bought out in the west, especially by authors in Great Britain. That an Indian author had attempted this amount of detail is not only commendable, but worth emulating over and over again. If more Indian authors follow his example, then the British are going to have tough competition in their aircraft histories!

At the risk of repeating myself, what was bowled me over is his treatment of individual airframes and tracing the history of each tail number. This is the type of history I love to read and this book does not disappoint.

4). Ray Williams (An expert historian, who has done tremendous research on aviation)

Thank you very much for the copy of your wonderful book, which arrived this morning. It is a superb book and I am eager to get the opportunity to study it in much more detail. Your book is very attractive and will take pride of place on my bookshelves.

I am pleased to hear that your book is doing well. You deserve every success with it, as it really is excellent. I have not noticed any errors and have read it in some detail. I have nothing to add to the information already given by you.

I noticed in your book that your officers spent some time in Coventry. Although the first batch of Sea Hawks was built by Hawker at Kingston-upon-Thames, the remainder were built by AWA, at what is now Coventry Airport (Baginton). These were then transported to Bitteswell near Rugby for final assembly and test flying. The cause of the move was that at that time Baginton was a grass airfield and the Sea Hawk with its high pressure tyres was unable to operate off grass. All final assembly and flying was subsequently transferred to Bitteswell and this included Hunters, Javelins, Gnats, Vulcans, Shackletons and Argosies.

5). RAdm Wolfgang Engelmann (A senior aviator of the German Navy, who flew the Seahawks)

What a wonderful book you have created, covering the White Tiger story and the history of the Seahawk in four navies. I read your book and in particular the article where the Seahawk experiences of VAdm Günter Luther have been related, with much interest and great pleasure.

6). Sandesh Kanchan (An enthusiast of aviation)

This may be the first book, which goes into so much detail about any aircraft. The chapters are neatly arranged period-wise, right from the acquisition of the initial FGA 6 Seahawks (preceded by a small chapter on the Seahawk development), the troubles faced during operations, Carrier operations during the 1971 War from INS Vikrant and the acquisition of the German Seahawks and how the Mk 100 & 101 differed from the FGA 6.

Each of these chapters is punctuated by mini chapters from many former Seahawk pilots. There are also chapters on Cdr Debrass’ underwater ejection (written by the man himself) and the helo pilot who took off to rescue him. Another interesting chapter is on a sailor, who wasn’t a qualified pilot, but flew a Seahawk. He just couldn’t figure out how to land it and ended up ditching on a Chennai beach.

All chapters are highly detailed, with lots of never seen before pictures, correspondence and letters.

7). Admiral John Treacher (A very senior RN aviator, who was responsible for the initial aviation training on INS Vikrant, soon after she commissioned in England)

What a pleasure to get in touch with you and learn about the excellent research that you have done. As a starter, I do not know if it would still be possible to contact George Black and hear from him about the first DLQ by Naval Pilots in 1960 on HMS Victorius.

300 Squadron was at that time working up at RNAS Brawdy, where the Commander Air was George Black, who had recently served in Victorious as the Sea Venom Sqn Cdr. I put my proposal to him and after discussion with the CO of 300 (Balbir Law) he said they were keen to take part. Black duly led a flight with Law and Acharya, the Senior Pilot to Victorious, where they each successfully completed four landings and catapult launches.

8). Admiral John Treacher (A very senior RN aviator, who was responsible for the initial aviation training on INS Vikrant, soon after she commissioned in England)

What a pleasure to get in touch with you and learn about the excellent research that you have done. As a starter, I do not know if it would still be possible to contact George Black and hear from him about the first DLQ by Naval Pilots in 1960 on HMS Victorius.

300 Squadron was at that time working up at RNAS Brawdy, where the Commander Air was George Black, who had recently served in Victorious as the Sea Venom Sqn Cdr. I put my proposal to him and after discussion with the CO of 300 (Balbir Law) he said they were keen to take part. Black duly led a flight with Law and Acharya, the Senior Pilot to Victorious, where they each successfully completed four landings and catapult launches.

9). Commodore Sarvotam Handa, IN (Retd).

What a delightful compendium of the Seahawk, with so much naval history thrown in. I do not think there has been another book that can come close to the quality of data provided. Reading through its pages has been a slow process for me. No, it is not because the book is heavy reading, but each page brings back a host of memories of people and events that it is hard to proceed at a faster pace.

The incidents related are so fresh, with each one triggering off a number of associated memories. Thank you for re-creating through your pages, a very accurate and complete recount of a very splendid period in the history of naval aviation that will be long remembered.

In fact, besides remaining a very special gift to the naval fraternity of four countries, your book could easily initiate new persons to the wonders of naval flying at sea!

10). Capt. Balbir Law (A very senior naval aviator and the first Sqn Cdr of INAS 300)

Thanks for sending me a copy of your splendid book.

What a triumph in producing such a historical account of the development of the Indian Naval Aviation! It is not only praiseworthy but a unique collection of facts and detailed accounts, of which the Indian Navy as a whole should be proud. We aviators must all congratulate you for your very original concept in putting together this excellent work.

11). Capt RN Ghosh (The first Air Warfare Instructor of INAS 300)

I have really enjoyed reading Downwind, Four Green, which you sent through my son Robin. I spoke with Admiral Tahiliani the other day and we both were all praise for your book. Your earnest effort and hard work of research has now been recorded in a book and I have to convey my profound thanks to you for undertaking a most challenging and brilliant task.

12). Capt RN Singh (A senior naval aviator)

I have just read Downwind, Four Green. It is indeed a lovely book! No doubt that it must have taken an enormous effort to collect so much of information about the Seahawks, other naval aviation matters and of course the lovely photographs which bring back lovely memories.

It must not have been easy to fill up 400 pages of very useful, informative and interesting material. Heartiest congratulations to you and full marks on this superb effort.

I am sure your book will not only be enjoyed by all aviators, but much more so by those who want to read about flying at sea and its intricacies!