Jag Mohan Nath was born in Laya village in Punjab province of British India (now in Pakistan) and relocated to India after Partition. His family members were all doctors, but the young lad had a passion for planes from an early age. Growing up in his village, he would spend hours watching the planes high in the sky. Nath got an opportunity to follow this passion in 1948 when he joined the Air Force Administrative College in Coimbatore for his initial training in the IAF. Dedicated and hard-working, he was soon selected for daring maneuvers and covert operations in hostile territory.
His tryst with history would begin a few years later with the 1962 debacle on the China border. It was during the beginning of this stand-off that Nath was given the risky task of covertly assessing the Chinese build-up in the Aksai Chin area and Tibet. He took to skies in his Canberra, a twin-engine jet bomber that had been fitted with cameras. During his survey missions, Nath was often detected and fired at by the Chinese despite flying high to avoid radar detection. Undaunted, the courageous pilot continued to fly into hostile territory and return with invaluable strategic inputs on the ground situation and enemy troop activities in Aksai Chin and Tibet, both before and during the Indo-China conflict.It was this outstanding effort of flying in hazardous conditions that earned Nath his first Maha Vir Chakra.
His missions proved immensely useful to learn everything about the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Nath’s conclusions were that China had NO Air Force on the Tibetan plateau in 1962. Wing Commander explained: “If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out and everything could have been different in the 1962 War. The political leadership did not believe me that China had no Air Force. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had used the IAF at that time? The Chinese would have never dared do anything down the line.” It is one of the greatest tragedies of India’s modern history.
Three years later, he repeated the feat in 1965 after war erupted between India and Pakistan. Back then, the Himalayan battlefield had no radar. As such, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had set up observation posts pitched atop ridges of the mountainous terrain. Pakistani Sabres would also patrol the skies to lookout for Indian intrusion. During his low down maneuvers in enemy territory, Nath would fly his English Electra Canberra at extremely low heights, almost skimming the trees so that Pakistani radar could not detect his aircraft. Then, when he caught sight of something that needed to be captured on camera, he would climb (in broad daylight) to 12,000 feet to get clear pictures of well-defended airfields and installations. This five-minute period of exposure was the riskiest part of the mission. Easily visible to Pakistani outposts and aircraft, Nath would often have to dodge and duck between the peaks at dizzying speeds to avoid being shot down by the furious PAF Sabres in hot pursuit. The 30-odd low down maneuvers conducted by Nath yielded a treasure trove of strategic pictures and information. It was this crucial intelligence that helped IAF aircrafts destroy a powerful radar in Badin (near Karachi), and that the Indian army almost reached Lahore. He was again conferred the ‘Maha Vir Chakra’ for his act of bravery, complete disregard of his personal safety and a high degree of professional skill.
He is the first of the six Indian officers to have twice been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra. A living legend, (91 years old) Jag Mohan retired from the Indian Air Force in 1969.