Tata Airmails. 1932-1946.


This article was originally published in India's Stamp Journal in January, 1975.  I have added to the original article with inputs from Jeffrey Brown's book on Indian Airmails 1911-47. 

Thanks to Mr. Piyush Khaitan for permission to include scans from his collection.

A vast country like India with undeveloped areas, one might suppose would be ideal to attract airway pioneers to set up air links all over the country.  But this was not so in reality.  For many years air service development was a rather haphazard off-shoot of the Imperial Airways Service to Australia.  Many pioneers passed through the "halfway house of world fliers" as India was known, only for flying honors.  But, for the initiative of a few people - airline development might never have got off the runway.

Before that Tata Sons Ltd had submitted a plan for a Karachi-Madras Air Service in 1929 but it was approved only in July 1932.  The man instrumental for the plans was Mr. Nevill Vintcent who approached Mr. J. R. D. Tata with a plan for an inter-city airline.  The first service started from Karachi to Madras on 15th October, 1932.  J R D Tata left in a De Havilland DH80A Puss Moth VT-ADN from Dirigh Road, Karachi and flew the plane to Bombay with a halt at Ahmedabad.   Mr Nevill Vintcent took over from Bombay for Bellary where an overnight stop was made.  

An official cover designed by Stephen Smith and approved by Tatas was put on Sale.  The design was in red & blue with the Union Jack above the map of India.  However, this was withdrawn after eleven days as the design was considered unpatriotic.  It was reissued  with the same design without the Union Jack but colors changed to blue and yellow. 

Red & Blue cover with Union Jack flown from Karachi to      Bombay Signed by Mr. J.R.D. Tata.                                Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

Reverse of the above collection signed by Mr Stephen H. Smith.
 Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

The re-designed cover signed by Mr. J.R.D. Tata.   Flown from Ahmedabad to Bombay        Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

Cover flown on the return first flight from Madras to Bombay. Signed by Mr. Nevill Vintcent.                                                Image Courtesy: The Khaitan Collection.

A boxed cachet was applied to all mails in black.  A complete set of all stages consists of 40 covers. 

In May 1933 Poona was substituted as a halt in place of Bombay due to flooding at Juhu aerodrome.  This was a temporary monsoon halt.  No cachets or postmarks were used.

Cover flown from Poona to Madras on the temporary route change.  Cover has the newspaper cutting pasted on it.   Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

From 4th January, 1935 the flight was re-routed through Hyderabad instead of Bellary.  The Nizam of Hyderabad granted a subsidy of Rs.20,000/- to attract Tata Sons Ltd. to do so.   The new route was Karachi-Ahmedabad-Bombay-Hyderabad-Madras.  Covers flown on the first flight from Bombay received  a one line cachet:   FIRST FLIGHT "BOMBAY-HYDERABAD".     No first flight covers from other stages seen.

Cover flown from Bombay to Hyderabad.  Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

A demonstration flight to Calcutta from Bombay was made by Tatas on 25th February, 1935.  Nevill Vintcent flew a De Havilland DH83 Fox Moth VT-ADZ.  

The route was Bombay - Nagpur - Tatanagar - Calcutta.  Special souvenir covers were issued with an outline of an aeroplane in pink over the map of India.  A special square tata adhesive label was printed and used for the first time on this flight.  A commemorative octagonal cachet in red and violet was applied to mails.  On the return flight the plane made a halt at Raipur instead of Tatanagar. 

Official Tata cover flown Bombay to Calcutta on the Demonstration Flight.                         Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

Reverse of above cover
Cover flown from Bombay to Tatanagar on the Demonstration Flight to Calcutta.                                                               Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection
Cover flown from Bombay to Calcutta on the Demonstration Flight bearing the scarce "Use the Tata Airmail"

On 29th October, 1935 Tata Sons extended the Karachi to Bombay stage of the Karachi-Madras service to Trivandrum.  This was established with the  co-operation with the Government of HH the Maharajah of Travancore as a weekly service, using a Miles Merlin.  Though it was advertised as being through Goa & Cannanore mail for or from these places was not accepted on the first flight.  The first flight to Cannanore took place on 26th November, 1935 and the return flight from Cannanore on 29th November, 1935.  Special covers were printed by Tata Sons Ltd only 50 of which were carried from and to Bombay and 25 on the later flight.

Official cover flown Bombay to Trivandrum.   Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection
Official cover flown on the first return flight from Trivandrum to Bombay

Tata's first through airmail to Ceylon was made in December, 1936 as a special Christmas flight.  Two flights were made on the route Madras - Trichinopoly - Colombo.  These were special flights only, following an agreement between the postal authorities of India and Ceylon.  Tata Sons Ltd were given permission to fly Christmas mails from Madras to Colombo via Trichinopoly in December 1936.  The Karachi - Madras route was by the normal Tata service.  The flights to Colombo were made by Mr Homi Bharucha in a Miles M4A Merlin VT-AHC.  Covers are known signed by him.


The Imperial Airways flight that left London on 16th December, 1936 carried mails for the special flight, but due to some delay reached Madras late.  The flight that left Madras on 23rd December carried only Indian mails.  The return flight was made by the same plane on 24th December and, the English mails had arrived by the time it reached Madras.  So a second flight was made from Madras carrying the English mails reaching Colombo the same evening.  No mails were carried on the second return flight.

Tata's issued special covers besides which private covers were also printed.  A large rectangular cachet was applied in black to Indian mails and a circular cachet was applied in Colombo to all mails both incoming and outgoing.

Official cover flown on the Indo-Ceylon Special X'Mas Air Mail

On 16th April, 1937 Tata Sons Ltd. extended their Madras-Karachi air service with a new fair season halt in the Kathiawar state of Bhuj. The Bombay - Bhuj flight was via Ahmedabad, Cutch Mandvi, Anjar & Mandra.  Jal Cooper states that less than 24 hours notice was given for this flight so consequently few covers were flown.  The rare circular cancellation 'Ahmedabad AIR' was introduced on this flight.  A complete set of all the stages comprises of 16 covers and only one set is believed to be in existence.
Cover flown from Ahmedabad to Bhuj with the scarce "Ahmedabad AIR" postmark.  Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection   Image courtsey: The Khaitan Collection
Cover flown Bhuj to Madras.     Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection.                             

The next development in providing a net-work in India was the inauguration of the Delhi-Bombay service on 8th November, 1937.  The route was Delhi-Gwalior-Bhopal-Indore-Bombay by Waco Yac-6 biplane VY-AIX piloted by J.R.D. Tata and Nevill Vintcent.  This service was made possible by the support of the three Indian states of Gwalior, Bhopal and Indore who paid subsidies and provided aerodrome facilities.

A special cover was designed for the first flight and a 3 lined boxed cachet reading: 'FIRST FLIGHT DELHI-BOMBAY 8TH NOVEMBER, 1937' was applied to mails.  This was used as a canceller at Bhopal.  At Lashkar, Gwalior a four lined boxed cachet in violet was applied as a canceller reading 'FIRST FLIGHT DELHI-BOMBAY 8TH NOVEMBER, 1937 LASHKAR G.P.O.' The return flight left Bombay on 19th November and similar cachets were used with the destinations reversed and dates changed.

Official Cover from Bombay to Delhi on the first flight.  Signed by pilot: F.Lt.H.S. Mayes.                                                 Image courtsey: The Khaitan Collection

An official exception to the rule banning use of convention states stamp to airmail letters was made and Gwalior state stamps were affixed to 11 letters to Bombay and 23 letters to Delhi.  

With the introduction of Stage 2 of the All-Up Empire Air Mail Scheme a service to Ceylon was required.  Tata's were awarded a ten year contract on the Karachi-Colombo route.  The first regular India-Ceylon air mail was inaugurated on 27th February, 1938, the route being Karachi-Bhuj-Ahmedabad-Bombay-Hyderabad-Madras-Trichinopoly-Colombo.  The rare circular 'BHUJ AIR' circular cancellation was introduced on this flight.  Covers were flown from each of the stages to Trichinopoly & Colombo.  A complete set consists of 26 covers.  The air fee was one anna in addition to the normal postage of one anna and an airmail label  was required. A few covers were signed by the pilot Mr. H.D. Banecha.    A two lined cachet "First Regular Air Mail India-Ceylon"  was applied in violet. The destination was reversed on the return flight.  A three lined cachet is also known applied to some mails both to and from Colombo. The return flight from Colombo took place on 28th February, 1938.

Cover flown from Bhuj to Colombo bearing the scarce "BHUJ AIR" postmark.
Cover flown from Madras to Colombo bearing the two lined cachet
Cover flown from Madras to Colombo bearing the three lined cachet
Cover flown from Colombo to Bombay bearing the two lined cachet.

Cover flown from Colombo to Bombay bearing the three lined cachet.

A further extension of the All-Up Air Mail Scheme was from Trichinopoly to Trivandrum on 3rd March 1938. 

The route to Ceylon was again changed during the monsoon months June to September 1938 when flights were routed through Poona.  This was the first time mail was carried from Poona to Trichinoploy and Colombo.  No cachets were used.

Cover flown from Poona to Trichinopoly.
Cover flown from Poona to Colombo
Cover flown from Colombo to Poona
Cover flown from Trichinopoly to Poona

The last service to be introduced by Tata Airlines was the Bombay - Calcutta service via Nagpur on 1st April, 1946.  The pilot was Mr. M.V. Bunshe and the plane was a DC3.  Special large covers giving a foretaste of the type of covers to come were printed.

Official cover flown from Bombay to Calcutta.   Image courtesy: The Khaitan Collection

On 29th July, 1946, Tata airlines was converted into a Public Company and renamed Air India Limited.


1 comment:

komal verma said...

Nice and interesting information and informative too.
Can you please let me know the good attraction places we can visit: Ahmedabad To Delhi Flight