Air Commodore Mehar Singh – A Legendary Dare-Devil Pilot Who Was Known for His Bravery, Daring Feats and Brilliant Leadership

Air Commodore Mehar Singh MVC DSO, affectionately called ‘Baba’ Mehar Singh by his associates and admirers in Indian Air Force, was a legendary pilot and a flying prodigy. His exploits with the flying machines are well known and much celebrated. He was a born leader of men and a team man who always led from the front. Mehar Singh was immensely successful in earning respect of men he commanded by his bravery, daring feats and brilliant leadership. He was a role model for the young fliers in the IAF. The legend of Baba Mehar Singh is replete with splendid examples of professionalism dedication, devotion to duty, courage and commitment indeed true characteristics of an ideal Air Warrior.

After qualifying as a Service pilot from Cranwell, Mehar Singh was commissioned and posted to No.1 IAF Squadron in April 1935. From the outset, Mehar Singh came to the notice of his superior officers as “outstanding”. By the hazardous air operations carried out by him in the NorthWest Frontier of undivided India, and later in 1942, the evacuation of stranded women and children, first in Habbaniyah and then in Burma, Mehar Singh earned the admiration of his commanding officers and colleagues alike.

For his “find leadership and high example” and for carrying out many successful operational sorties in the Arakan while commanding and IAF hurricane fighter-reconnaissance Squadron Mehar Singh was awarded the DSO, the only officer in the IAF to earn that distinction. 

A dare—devil pilot, Mehar Singh made history when, during the critical early days of the Jammu and Kashmir operations, ‘he •pioneered. the flights over the Himalayas across unchartered ‘mountainous routes. It will be recalled that he was the first to land at the hurriedly constructed airstrip in the beleagured town of Poonch and thereafter established the long—drawn airlift operations, thus saving the town from being overrun by the enemy and evacuating over 30,000 refugees to safety.

During the post-partition period, Mehar Singh and the team of pilots serving under him, flew day and night to pull out thousands of refugees from unsafe areas and dropping food and clothes for those who could not be reached.

Mehar Singh’s flight to Leh in Ladakh has been well chiseled into annals of the Indian Air Force’s legend. When the remote district of Ladakh was in a danger of being cut off and overrun by a Pakistani force from Skardu along the Shyok Valley, a decision was taken to fly troops by air to Leh, which had an airfield at an altitude of 11,540 feet. flying an uncharted route, over hills and peaks ranging from 15000 feet to 24000 feet, Mehar Singh flew the first Dakota to Leh and landed it at the highest airstrip in the world. The faith in this man was re-imposed by none other than the commander of land forces in the Srinagar Valley sector, Major General K.S. Thimmayya, DSO, who accompanied Mehar Singh on the pioneering flight.

In September 1948, Air Commodore Mehar Singh was, at his own request, placed on the retired officers list. But he still carried on the profession he loved…flying. Mehar Singh moved onto civilian flying. He returned to the spotlight for a brief moment in 1950, when he received the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) from a grateful nation, when the gallantry awards were instituted.  The citation making the Maha Vir Chakra awarded to Mehar Singh reads, “Throughout his tenure as over—all Commander of air operations in Jammu and Kashmir, Air Commodore Mehar Singh showed great devotion to duty at great personal risk and set an example to those serving under him”. The citation adds: “Many tasks were not part of his duty, but in view of the fact that they were hazardous, he carried them out to infuse confidence in his junior pilots. The leadership shown by Air Commodore Mehar Singh in the early days of the Kashmir operations was invaluable to the IAF”.

Indian Aviation suffered one of its most tragic losses on 11 March 1952, when Air Commodore (retd.) Mehar Singh, MVC, DSO, was killed in a civilian air crash.

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