Arjan Singh, India’s first ever IAF Marshal, passes away

Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh during the book release function of ‘History of IAF’ in New Delhi. (File Photo) | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

He was admitted to the hospital on Saturday morning following a cardiac arrest

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 he was admitted to the hospital on Saturday morning following a cardiac arrest, and breathed his last at 7.47 PM.

Arjan Singh: The flying officer who escaped a court martial

One of the heroes of the 1965 war with Pakistan, Arjan Singh became the chief of IAF when he was just 44. Born on 15 April 1919, in Lyalpur, now called Faisalabad, in today’s Pakistan, Singh was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at RAF Cranwell, at the age of 19 in 1938.

Mr. Singh 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 Hurricane.

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

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

After Independence, he took command of 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. He led the Command during 1949-1952 and again from 1957-1961, thus setting a record for leading the crucial command for the longest period.

After the Air Force sat out of 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”. IAF struck the Pakistani offensive in an hour.

Throughout the 1965 war, Singh showed exemplary leadership, and was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership during the war 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 Indian ambassador to Switzerland.

In January 2002, he was conferred the rank of the Marshal of the Air Force in recognition of his unparalleled contribution to India. 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 went about announcing his death.

Minister of State for External Affairs General VK Singh had tweeted about his death, only to be contradicted by the IAF 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 Modi visited him.

India mourns the demise of Mr. Singh, tweets Modi

The Prime Minister said that India mourns the demise of Mr.Singh. He tweeted “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.”

Reminiscing about their meeting, the PM said “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.

General VK Singh tweeted “Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC, Padma Vibhushan, passed away at 7.47 pm today at Army Hospital. RIP. Salute to him.”

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