Subroto Mukerjee was the first Indian ever to command a flight and a squadron in the Indian Air Force. He later on rose in the annals of the air force and became the first Indian Chief of Air Staff of the free India's Air Force.
Mukerjee was one of the six recruits selected for training at RAF Cranwell, when the decision to give commissions in the RAF to Indians was taken. After training at Cranwell, Mukerjee and four other officers were inducted as pilots when the first Indian Air Force Squadron was formed on 01 April 1933. Mukerjee served with the squadron as Pilot Officer for sometime. In July 1938, he was put in command of 'B' Flight of the No.1 IAF Squadron in the rank of Flying Officer. Mukerjee became the first Indian Officer to command a squadron when he took over No.1 on 16 March 1939. After converting to the Hawker Hart, the squadron now moved to Miranshah in the NWFP. It was here that Mukerjee led the squadron into action against the tribals of the NWFP.
When the war broke out in the east, Mukerjee was in the Air HQ as a Wing Commander. He served in various staff assignments during the war and for his services, during World War 2, Mukhejee was given the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1944. At the time of Independence, Mukerjee was the senior most Air Commodore serving with the IAF. The only other Air Commodores being Air Commodore Mehar Singh and Air Commodore Narendra.
On 15 August 1947, when India achieved Independence, the armed forces too became independent forces. They were no longer under the British Army or the King. However, as there was a lack of senior officers, it was decided to put serving British Officers as Commanders. Accordingly Air Marshal Sir Thomas Elmhirst became the Air Force Chief. Air Commodore Mukerjee was promoted to Air Vice Marshal and posted as the Deputy Chief of Air Staff at Air HQ. Mukerjee served as the Vice Chief for over 6� years. Working under three different British Chiefs helped him groom himself for the top post.
On 01 April 1954, Mukerjee took over from Air Marshal Gerald Gibbs as the Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force. At that time he was just about 43 years old. Upon him fell the task of reequipping and restructuring the Air Force with newer aircraft & equipment. Under his tenure, the Air Force inducted a variety of state-of-the-art aircraft. The Dassault Mystere, the Hawker Hunter, the BAe Canberra and even the Folland Gnat was inducted during his tenure.
Mukerjee took care to see that even the personnel and human resources planning and development received much attention. His task was commendable for he had to deal with the post independence non-violence driven defence policy. And to make his task tough, he had to deal with the then Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, who was well known for his stubbornness and intolerance towards the service chiefs. Mukerjee had a non-controversial and dignified role as Chief.
In November 1960, Air India International airlines made its first inaugural flight to the city of Tokyo, Japan. Mukerjee accompanied with other IAF Officers were on this flight. The officers stayed back at Tokyo for some days. On 08 November 1960, Mukerjee accompanied by one of his friends from the IN went for dinner at a Tokyo Restaurant. While having dinner, Mukerjee choked on the food which blocked his air passage. In minutes he was dead. A tragic & needlessly unnecessary death that took away one of the pioneers of Indian Aviation in the prime of his life. Mukerjee was hardly forty nine years old when he died.
He was cremated with full military honours and the air force flew a fly past of forty-nine aircraft. One each for each year of his life. Mukerjee's death was much mourned in the Indian Air Force. He was genuinely loved and respected by all ranks. Subroto Mukerjee had a very special place reserved in the hearts of every air force man at that time.