“To find us, you must be good. To catch us, you must be fast, but to beat us….you must be kidding” - Indian Air Force
Clouds of War over India in 1962
The People’s Liberation Army under Chairman Mao incorporated Sinkiang (Xinjiang) in 1949 into the People's Republic of China and now had set his eyes on Tibet, a vast area of plateaus and mountains. The Indian government under Nehru did not foresee any threat coming from China at the time. Mao’s China annexed Tibet in 1950 and Nehru, in order to woo the Chinese stopped selling arms to the Tibetans in 1950 and pulled the Indian Army out of strategic Indian outposts of Shigatse, Gartok and Yatung in the Tibetan plateau which British India had established after the Treaty of Lhasa in 1904.
The ‘Hindi-Chinni bhai bhai’ period ended when Mao backstabbed India by building the Tibet-Xinjiang highway which passed through the disputed Aksai Chin region. The Chinese had moved inside Indian territory but it wasn’t until 1958, the Nehru government realized that the PLA was positioned on Indian soil. Mao saw Tibet as its palm and Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) as its five fingers and that it was China’s responsibility to liberate them. Caught unawares, the Indian government soon realized that they’ve entered a state of territorial dispute with a neighbor whom they considered a ‘friend’.
Covert aerial reconnaissance flights were conducted over Tibet, Xinjiang between 1960-1962 to assess the Chinese build up and position of troops in Aksai Chin. Here’s one such story of Wing Commander (then Squadron Leader) Jag Mohan Nath, who holds a rare distinction of being the first of six officers to have been decorated twice with the Maha Vir Chakra.
Flying High Over Tibet
The No. 106 Squadron (Lynx) of IAF was a newly raised squadron in 1957 in Bareilly but was moved to Agra, and its role was to provide military aerial photography and aid in other operations. Wing Commander ‘Jaggi’ Jag Mohan Nath flew his twin-engine English Electric Canberra PR.57 high-altitude long-range reconnaissance aircraft for this tough mission. The aircraft was fitted with one camera for surveillance and four cameras for pictures. While flying over Tibet, Xinjiang, he saw many Chinese soldiers positioned and the pictures clicked by his camera were sent directly to the HQ in Delhi.
According to Iqbal Chand Malhotra, author of Red Fear: The China Threat, over 180 airspace violations took place, according to the IAF from March-June 1962 and none according to the Chinese military. They raised multiple objections to these violations but couldn’t do anything, an indicator of no presence of Chinese airpower in the region but still, IAF was not used for offensive operations in 1962.
During one of his flights, when he was almost at stall speed, the Chinese saw him clearly and tried to shoot the aircraft down, but couldn’t. They did not even have anti-aircraft guns to counter air raids, let alone scrambling jets for the same.
Since 1960, Jag Mohan Nath had filmed the enemy buildup in Aksai Chin. In one of his interviews, he narrated his meeting with the then Defence Minister VK Menon - “Later I was taken to meet the Defence Minister to show all the evidence and a junior officer doesn’t go to meet the Minister ill-prepared”. He added that all that Menon asked him was if he did indeed see Chinese soldiers. When he answered ‘Yes sir, I saw them’, Menon’s reply was, ‘That’s alright, you can go now. He further added that even after he told them that the Chinese were there, that was it. ‘It was amazing. They (the government) did not know how to handle the situation.’
Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for successfully conducting a hazardous task over high altitude hostile terrain. He was fully aware of the threats but made sure that the nation and his task came first over anything else.
Call of Duty in 1965
The wounds from 1962 had not fully healed and the country found itself in another conflict with Pakistan. India learned from its mistakes and this time around, offensive Air power was used. The 1965 Indo-Pak War gave the Indian Air Force its first kill since Independence when on Sept 4, 1965, Squadron Leader Denzil Keelor shot a Pakistani fighter jet in air-to-air combat.
Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath had earned a distinction for his heroics in 1962, was given another task to fly low over Pakistani territory and do aerial reconnaissance which would help the Indian Army carry out ops across the International Border. This information would help the army know the position of fortifications and bridges in the Punjab region of Pakistan, and the strength of troops.
Entering an unknown territory during the war is almost like walking blindly on a minefield. There’s a constant threat of being ambushed from any direction. Reconnaissance is essential during war; the information regarding enemy positions, the number of troops deployed, the kind of armor, artillery, etc. being used. This task of moving behind enemy lines is extremely essential to devise a sound plan for attack.
He flew low to dodge the Pakistani radar and when he used to see something that needed to be captured, he would climb in broad daylight over 12,000 feet for a clear picture. The unescorted missions over well-defended airfields and installations during daytime with a high risk of exposure would lead to Pakistani jets being scrambled, but it was a risk he had to take to successfully complete the mission. Over his 30+ recon flights, the information he gathered helped the IAF obliterate a radar in Badin, Karachi and helped the Indian Army cross the International Border to almost reach Lahore. There were close calls where Jag Mohan Nath’s aircraft would run low on fuel and he had to fly back to re-enter Indian territory with Pakistani jets hot on his tail. Nath talked about how he once evaded Pakistani jets and came back, but almost got shot by Indian MiGs who mistook him for the enemy.
He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for the information gathered by him during his missions which proved vital to Indian air efforts during the wars. The missions enabled our Air Force to attack vital enemy targets and this adversely affected the enemy's war effort.
Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath retired in 1970 and later joined Air India as a commercial pilot
Wing Cdr. JM Nath taking the vaccine, Credits: India Today
Contested Lands: India, China And The Boundary Dispute, Pg. 86