With the passing away of Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh on Saturday, India lost its last five-star officer.
The 1965 War hero enjoyed a distinguished career in the Indian Air Force and later also had a stint in diplomacy and public affairs. As we mourn the marshal's death, let us look back at his illustrious life.
Born on 15 April, 1919 in Lyallpur (now Faislabad) in Punjab in undivided India, his father, grandfather and great grandfather too had served in the cavalry.
Educated at Montgomery (now Sahiwal), now in Pakistan, he joined the RAF College, Cranwell in 1938 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in December the following year.
As World War II began in Europe, Singh joined squadron 1 in Ambala. His first assignment on being commissioned was to fly Westland Wapiti biplanes in the North-Western Frontier Province.
After a brief stint with the newly formed squadron 2 where the Marshal flew against the tribal forces, he later moved back to Squadron 1 as a Flying Officer to fly the Hawker Hurricane. In 1943, he became the Commanding Officer of the squadron.
Singh came into limelight in 1944, when he led an IAF squadron into combat during the Arakan Campaign against the rampaging Japanese, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
Singh had the honour of leading the fly-past of over a hundred IAF aircraft over the Red Fort on 15 August, 1947.
Apart from being a competent officer, Singh was also considered a gentleman, as he served as a mentor to many of his juniors. Intrestingly, Singh once came very close to getting court-marshalled by the British authorities.
According to The Hindu, in the early days of World War II, Singh and a corporal flew at a low altitude over a house in Kerala, inviting the wrath of the authorities. But he escaped extreme scrutiny owing to the fact that there were not many trained pilots back then, the article noted.
After his promotion to the rank of Wing Commander, he attended the Royal Staff College in the UK. Immediately after India's Independence, he commanded Ambala in the rank of Group Captain.
In 1949, he was promoted to the rank of Air Commodore and took over as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of an operational command, which later came to be known as Western Air Command.
Singh had the distinction of having the longest tenure as AOC of an operational base, initially from 1949-1952 and then again from 1957-1961.
After his promotion to the rank of Air Vice Marshal, he was appointed as the AOC-in-C of an operational command.
Towards the end of the 1962 war, he was appointed as the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and he became the Vice Chief of the Air Staff in 1963. He was the overall commander of the joint air training exercise "Shiksha" held between IAF, RAF (Royal Air Force) and RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force).
As IAF chief
Perhaps, the high point of Singh's career came in 1964, when he was appointed the Air Chief Marshal at the age of 45. He is still the youngest-ever officer to head the air force.
Singh remained the IAF chief from 1 August, 1964 to 15 July, 1969.
In 1965, when Pakistan had launched Operation Grand Slam with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital Jammu and Kashmir town of Akhnoor, Singh led the air force through the war with courage, determination and professional skill. He inspired the Indian Air Force to victory, despite the constraints imposed on a full-scale use of air force combat power.
Notably, the Indian Air Force denied success to the Pakistanis though they were better equipped with American support.
"His most outstanding contribution was during that war," said former Vice Chief of IAF Kapil Kak.
Commending his role in the war, YB Chavan, the then Defence Minister wrote, "Air Marshal Arjan Singh is a jewel of a person, quiet efficient and firm; unexcitable but a very able leader."
For his leadership during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan.
After retiring from the air force in August 1969, Singh was appointed as the India's ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and concurrently served as the ambassador to the Vatican. Singh was also the High Commissioner to Kenya in 1974.
After returning to India, Singh served as a member of the National Commission for Minorities in the late 1970s and early 80s.
At the height of militancy in Punjab, he was part of a five-member committee that would go door to door in the state and try to bridge the differences between Hindus and Sikhs.
In 1989, the Janata Dal government appointed him the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, in an attempt to apply balm to the wounds of the Sikh community.
The crowning glory of his life came in January 2002, when Singh was made the Marshal of the Air Force. Ater the death of Sam Manekshaw in 2008, Singh remained the only five-star military officer.
On his birthday last year, the fighter aircraft base at Panagarh in West Bengal was named in his honour.
Singh's passion for the air force was such that he flew more than 60 aircraft and remained a pilot till his career with the air force ended.
His passing is surely the end of an era in India's military history.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Sep 17, 2017 11:08 AM | Updated Date: Sep 17, 2017 11:32 AM