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Memorial service for dead airmen held at Rasgovindpur airstrip

Rasgovindpur, July 26: A memorial service was held at the Rasgovindpur Airstrip on Wednesday for the fourteen airmen who had died in a crash here on the July 26, 1945.

War historian Anil Dhir, eminent Gandhian Aditya Patnaik the Staff of the Gandhi Eye Hospital at Rangamatia and locals, including school children paid homage to the dead airmen by laying wreaths for each of the dead airmen.

Very few people know that the skies of Odisha had seen the crash of two aircraft which has collided against each other and resulted in the deaths of 14 airmen. On July 26, 1945, two British Royal Air Force B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers, EW225 and EW247, collided at low altitude. The aircraft were based at the Amarda Road airfield and were part of a six-plane contingent from the Air Fighting Training Unit engaged in a formation flying exercise. Fourteen airmen – the crews of the two aircraft died in the crash.

The Rasgovindpur Airstrip, (as it is known today) has a short but secret illustrious history which has never been made public. It had the longest runway in Asia, more than 3.5 km long. The total runways, taxiways, aprons, etc. were more than 60 km. Today, when one looks at the silent runway lying mostly vacant apart from a few odd cows grazing, one would find it difficult to associate the  Airport with activities of any kind. But, this airstrip has played a very important role in the defense of India during the 2nd World War. Today all is forgotten, no details of   the activities that happened here between 1943 and 1945 exist, not even in government and military records. The station came into existence during the war as a forward airfield against the Japanese conquest of Burma. The large strip served its purpose well as a landing ground for planes and also as a training space for special bombing missions.

The Amarda Road airstrip, as it was called in war terminology, spreads across an area of nearly 900 acres. Built in the 1940’s at a cost of Rs 3 crore it was eventually abandoned after the war. It was probably named as the Amarda Road Airfield due to the nearby Amarda Road railway station. 

Even today, seven decades after the base was made, one can still see the remains of the airfield, their 11,000 feet concrete runway still intact, though the buildings that once cluttered the edges are gone.  The offices, hangars, mechanic sheds and plaster walled barracks with thatched roofs that the soldiers called bashas have been ripped down. Instead, local women dry laundry and farmers their grain on the warm tarmac. The cows and goats crop weeds along the runway edges.

On the occasion, war historian Anil Dhir requested the Odisha and West Bengal Governments to erect small memorials for these airmen at Amarda Road and the crash site.

Gandhian Aditya Patnaik proposed that he would give ample space in the Gandhi Gurukul at the airbase for setting up a small museum which will highlight the importance of the airbase during World War II.  Dhir has promised that he would contact the British and USA authorities for material to be displayed at the Museum, and also said that a book on the history of the base the and crash would be released on the next commemoration day.

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