What was the Royal Air Force Mutiny of 1946?

Introduction

The Royal Air Force Mutiny of 1946 was a series of demonstrations and strikes at several dozen Royal Air Force stations in the Indian Subcontinent in January 1946.

Mutiny?

Background

As these incidents involved refusals to obey orders they technically constituted a form of “mutiny”. The protests arose from slow demobilisation and poor conditions of service following the end of World War II. The “mutiny” began at Karachi (RAF Drigh Road) and later spread to involve nearly 50,000 men over 60 RAF stations in India and Ceylon, including the then-largest RAF base at Kanpur and RAF bases as far as Singapore. At its height, the 1946 strike extended beyond South-East Asia through the Middle East to Egypt and North Africa, and as far west as Gibraltar.

The protests lasted between three and eleven days at different places and were peaceful. The main grievance of the men was slow demobilisation of British troops to Britain, use of British shipping facilities for transporting G.I.s, and other grievances. For their part, the British Government argued that the amount of shipping available was insufficient to permit immediately repatriation of the large numbers of personnel eligible. However, later declassified reports have shown that British troops were deliberately retained in India to control possible unrest over the course of the independence movement, and the grievances of the RAF men may have also included significant political views and sympathy with the communist Party of India.

The initial protests in Karachi took the form of a collective refusal to prepare kit for inspection and going to the parade ground at the normal time but in casual khaki drill rather than the “best blue” uniforms required when on morning parade.

The issues causing the RAF unrest were ultimately resolved, and some of the airmen involved faced courts-martial. However, the precedent set by this event was important in instigating subsequent actions by the Royal Indian Air Force and later, the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 in which 78 of a total of 88 ships mutinied. Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India, commented at the time: “I am afraid that [the] example of the Royal Air Force, who got away with what was really a mutiny, has some responsibility for the present situation.”

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