Arjan Singh, Marshal of the Indian Air Force and the only officer of the force to be promoted to five-star rank, died Saturday at the Army Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi. He was admitted to the hospital in a critical condition after he suffered a cardiac arrest this morning, the Defence Ministry said. He was being treated at the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Sciences Centre of the hospital.
Singh, who led the IAF during the India-Pakistan war in 1965, is considered an icon and a war hero. He was visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and chiefs of three forces in the hospital. The Punjab government has declared three days of mourning as mark of respect to the Marshal of IAF.
“India mourns the unfortunate demise of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. We remember his outstanding service to the nation. Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh’s determined focus on capacity building in the IAF added great strength to our defence capabilities. India will never forget the excellent leadership of Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh in 1965, when the IAF saw substantial action,” said PM Modi in a series of tweets.
“Sometime back I met him, who despite his ill health tried to get up to salute even though I said no. Such was his soldier discipline. My thoughts are with his family & those mourning the demise of a distinguished air warrior & fine human, Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh. RIP,” he added.
Singh was born on April 15, 1919 in undivided Punjab and went on to be selected for the Empire Pilot training course at RAF Cranwell in 1938 when he was just 19. He flew Westland Wapiti biplanes in the North Western Frontier Province as a member of the No.1 IAF Squadron as part of his first posting. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944 and received the Distinguished Flying Cross the same year for successfully leading the squadron during combat. On 15 August 1947, he was given the honour of leading the fly-past of more than a hundred IAF aircraft over the Red Fort in the national capital. In August 1964, Singh took over as the Chief of Air Staff (CoAS) in the rank of Air Marshal.
“A testing time came in September 1965 when Pakistan launched Operation Grand Slam, in which an armoured thrust targeted the vital town of Akhnur, he was summoned into the Defence Minister’s office with a request for air support. 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 in an hour. He led the IAF through the war showing unparalleled leadership,” a government release said.
Known to be an officer who has flown over 60 aircraft throughout his service, he remained a flyer until the end of his illustrious career.
Following his retirement, Singh served as an ambassador to Switzerland in 1971, concurrently serving as the ambassador to Vatican as well. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership during the 1965 war.
“Arjan Singh was and remains a source of inspiration to generations of Indians,” the government release said.