War hero Marshal Arjan Singh, famous for spearheading the Indian Air Force during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, passed away on Saturday at the Army’s Research and Referral hospital. He was 98. Singh was rushed to hospital this morning after suffering a cardiac arrest, the defence ministry said. He was being treated at the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Sciences Centre of the hospital.
Born on April 15, 1919 in Punjab in undivided India, Singh was the only IAF officer to be elevated to five-star rank, equivalent to a Field Marshal in the Army. He was only a 44-year-old when he led an emerging IAF in the 1965 Indo-Pak war with courage, determination and professional skill. He deftly guided his forces through the war when Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital town of Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir.
When asked how quickly the IAF will be ready for operations, he replied with his characteristic nonchalance,”…in an hour”. And true to his word, the Air Force struck the Pakistani offensive within an hour.
The fighter pilot was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, in 1965. He had inspired the IAF despite constraints on the full-scale use of air combat power. His father, grandfather and great grandfather had also served in the cavalry.
Singh was educated at Montgomery, British India (now in Pakistan) and had joined the RAF College, Cranwell in 1938. Subsequently, he was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in December the following year.
Having led an IAF squadron into combat during the 1944 Arakan Campaign, Singh was rewarded with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) that year. He served as the IAF chief from August 1, 1964 till July 15, 1969.
Following his retirement from the air force, Singh was appointed as the India’s Ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and concurrently served as the Ambassador to the Vatican. He also served as the High Commissioner to Kenya in 1974.
Singh was a member of the National Commission for Minorities and was also the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. He was made Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002.
Last year, the fighter aircraft base at Panagarh in West Bengal was named in his honour on his birthday.
With PTI inputs