Marshal of IAF Arjan Singh dead


Led campaign against Pakistan in ’65

Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, one of independent India’s most celebrated soldiers, passed away in the national capital on Saturday. He was 98.

A statement from the Ministry of Defence said Singh was admitted to the hospital on Saturday morning following a cardiac arrest, and breathed his last at 7.47 p.m.

One of the heroes of the 1965 war with Pakistan, Arjan Singh became the chief of IAF when he was just 44.

Born on April 15, 1919, in Lyalpur, now Faisalabad, modern day Pakistan, Singh was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at RAF Cranwell, at the age of 19. He was commissioned to fly Westland Wapiti biplanes in the North Western Frontier Province as a member of the No.1 IAF Squadron, and was involved in operations against the tribal forces. He returned to the same squadron and flew the Hawker Hurricanes later.

During World War II, Singh flew close support missions during the Imphal Campaign and also was part of the team that assisted the advance of allied forces into Rangoon. For his role in successfully leading the squadron during combat, Singh received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944.

Historic honour

As India declared Independence on August 15, 1947, Singh led the fly-past of more than a hundred IAF aircraft over the Red Fort.

After Independence, he took command of the Air Force station in Ambala, and later in 1949, he took over as the Air Officer Commanding of Operational Command, which later became the Western Air Command, based in Delhi. Singh led the Command during from 1949 to 1952 and again from 1957 to 1961, thus setting a record for leading the crucial command for the longest period.

After the Air Force sat out the 1962 war with China, during which India was humiliated, Singh was appointed the Deputy Chief of Air Staff and became the Vice Chief of Air Staff by 1963.

On August 1, 1964, Singh took over as the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) in the rank of Air Marshal.

In September 1965 when Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam, in which an armoured thrust targeted the vital town of Akhnur, Singh was summoned to the Defence Minister's office with a request for air support. When asked how quickly the IAF will be ready for operations, Singh said in his characteristic nonchalance, “in an hour”. And the IAF did strike the Pakistani offensive in an hour.

Throughout the 1965 war, Singh showed exemplary leadership, and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership and subsequently the rank of the CAS was upgraded to that of Air Chief Marshal. Singh thus became the first Air Chief Marshal of the Indian Air Force.

After his retirement in July 1969, he was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland. In January 2002, he was conferred the rank of the Marshal of the Air Force in recognition of his unparalleled contribution. Till date he is the only Air Force officer to have been promoted to the five-star rank.

In his unparalleled career, Singh flew over 60 different types of aircraft from pre-World War II era biplanes to the more contemporary Gnats & Vampires, besides transport aircraft.

Questions over the death

The legendary career’s end was marred by some questions over the way the government announced his death.

Minister of State for External Affairs Gen. (Retd.) V.K. Singh had tweeted about his death, only to be contradicted by the IAF earlier on Saturday evening. Both the Prime Minister and Defence Mnister visited Singh in the hospital.

A photograph of Modi next to Singh gave rise to much speculation. Independent doctors pointed out that the photo showed that Singh’s heart was not functioning with ECG reading at zero in the photo, thus he was clinically dead when Mr. Modi visited him.

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Printable version | Jan 30, 2020 3:23:05 AM |

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