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This article (since deleted, backup here) came to my eye recently. The article glosses over the exploits of a citizen of British India who, purportedly, rose from utter obscurity to becoming an ace flier. A quote of some of the article is as follows:

Dattatray Laxman Patwardhan was born at Ratnagiri on 10th July, 1883. [...]

1914 The First World War Starts

When the First World War started in 1914, Dattu went to Britain's "War Office" and secured an assignment in "Ambulance Corps." Considering his sincerity, he was promoted as a "Soldier" in "Sussex" Brigade. He got trained in handling the latest weapons, guns and cannons. So he was dispatched to France to fight on the actual battlefield. Afterwards, he was promoted to Royal Air Force and acquired skill to fly Cargo and Bomber aircrafts and became an ace pilot.

Bombing Berlin in the Mist

Taking advantage of thick mist, Dattu bombed Berlin directly. Ducking the anti-aircraft fire, Dattu played havoc and straightway bombed the "Kaiser Palace." He was honoured as the first Bomber Pilot in the world to bomb Berlin! King George the Fifth himself decorated Dattu by pinning on his coat the Military Award and Award of Valour. He was presented with "Sword of Military Honour." At that time, Dattu informed King Majesty of England that he was in fact Dattatray Laxman Patwardhan and gained entry in the army by adopting the Anglo-Indian name of "D Lacman Pat"!

The article only cites names, and obscure/ambiguous decorations - nothing concrete.

A google search to match the name against the place during World War I - failed to yield a positive result. The language used in the article too somehow doesn't ring true; could simply be poor linguistic skill on the part of the journalist though.

Was this Indian, in fact, the first allied aviator to strike Berlin during the Great War? As a corollary, who was the first allied aviator to strike Berlin?

Links:

  • 3
    That's not a particularly notable source. The Wiki page for this person has also been deleted on more than one occasion as a hoax. – serendip.in Apr 19 '15 at 17:01
  • Only prompts more scepticism that :) – Everyone Apr 19 '15 at 17:16
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    I strongly suspect that you're misusing the phrase to gloss over. – TRiG Apr 20 '15 at 10:15
  • @TRiG You may be right. I used the phrase to mean of 'dwell on the unimportant and ignore accurate/necessary detail'. – Everyone Apr 20 '15 at 18:33
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    I have contacted the editor of the website referenced and he has said he will take this article down. There are in fact rather few other versions of this article, so I'm linking to a few so the question continues to make sense. – DJClayworth Apr 20 '15 at 20:57
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Although the person named existed and served in the Royal Flying Corps, the story itself is very likely not true.

First the good news. "Dattabraya Laxuman Patwardhan" certainly existed and was apparrently a member of the Royal Flying corps. The London Gazette of 25 March 1919 records his appointment to the temporary honorary rank of Second Lieutenant. The Spring 2008 edition of Air Power Review quotes Somnath Sapru from his 2006 work 'Skyhawks' that "During the latter part of the war, he [Patwardhan] was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and was on a number of missions over enemy territory. ". However the Air Power Review author states that he has been unable to find any more details of his service. This record of First World War service shows the enlistment in 1915 of "Dattatreya Laxman Patwardhan", unit (RAF/RFC), but lists his place of birth as United Kingdom.

Unfortunately there are also many reasons to discard the specific story in the question.

  1. Google has revealed no other official sources of the story, although there are a number of online tellings of the story (mostly of the self-editing kind), they cite no official sources.
  2. Records show that there was no RFC/RAF bombing raid on Berlin during WWI. In fact the Handley Page V/1500 was introduced specifically to give the RAF the capability to bomb Berlin, but the Armistice was signed before it could make its first attack.
  3. The Hindu writes about Indians in the RFC and says: "Of the five Indians who applied for a commission into the RFC between November 1916 and April 1917, Lieutenant Srikrishna Welingkar, Lieutenant Eroll Chunder Sen, Lt. Indra Lal Roy, DFC and Lt. Hardit Singh Malik saw action on the Western front." Our man Patwardhan is not one of the four named. The fifth is not named, but if he did not 'see action on the Western Front" he could not have bombed Berlin.
  4. The Times of India calls Sardar Hardit Singh Malik the first Indian pilot

Additionally the story as told in the article has many suspicious errors:

  1. It is claimed he was promoted to "soldier". Soldier is not a rank in the British military.
  2. It is claimed he was part of the "Sussex Brigade". There was no such brigade in the First World War
  3. "acquired skill to fly Cargo and Bomber aircrafts". There was no such thing as a cargo aircraft in World War I.
  4. "became an ace pilot" Nobody with this name appears in the list of ace flyers from India. (And it is vanishingly unlikely that a bomber pilot becomes an 'ace')
  5. It is claimed that Dattu was awarded the "Military Award, the Award of Valour and the Sword of Military Honour". No such decorations exist in the British military.
  6. When any medal is presented personally by the King, there is an official record of it. No record of this occurrence exists.
  7. The story ends by saying "J. R. D. Tata is always referred to as "India's First Pilot.". In fact J. R. D. Tata was only the first licensed pilot, and plenty of wartime pilots predate him.

As per The Hindu article, there certainly were Indian pilots during WWI. Lt Indra Lal Roy joined the RFC in 1917 and became India's first flying ace, being awarded the genuine, existing medal of the Distinguished Flying Cross.

  • 21
    Excellent answer. This is one of the reasons why this site exists and needs to exist. – matt_black Apr 19 '15 at 20:17
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    In regards to your point about "ace pilot": there are non-figher aces (eg. B-17 tail gunner Michael Arooth with 17 kills), but they're vanishingly rare, and for crew-served aircraft, it's the gunner, not the pilot, that gets credited with the kill. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_ace#Non-pilot_aces – Mark Apr 20 '15 at 5:18
  • Your (first) point number 2 is a search for the wrong name. – user7920 Apr 20 '15 at 9:53
  • @coleopterist: How so? – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 20 '15 at 9:57
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    @coleopterist: Yes it's the alleged Anglicised nickname given in the lie^H^H^Harticle. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 20 '15 at 10:52

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