Armed forces

Indian Air Force Marshal, 1965 War Hero Arjan Singh Dies at 98

Singh was the only officer of the Indian Air Force to be promoted to five-star rank, equal to a Field Marshal in the Army.

Arjan Singh

Air Marshal Arjan Singh. Credit: Shome Basu

New Delhi: War hero Marshal Arjan Singh, who led the Indian Air Force (IAF) during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, died Saturday at the Army Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi. He had been hospitalised this morning in critical condition after he suffered a cardiac arrest, the defence ministry said.

Ninety-eight-year-old Singh was the only officer of the IAF to be promoted to five-star rank, equal to a Field Marshal in the Army.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned Singh’s death and said India will never forget his leadership in the 1965 India-Pakistan war, when the IAF saw substantial action. “India mourns the unfortunate demise of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. We remember his outstanding service to the nation,” he tweeted. President Ram Nath Kovind condoled his demise as well.

An icon in the country’s military history, Singh had led a fledgling IAF in the 1965 Indo-Pak war when he was just 44 years old. As Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital town of Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir, he led the IAF through the war.

The fighter pilot, who inspired the IAF despite constraints on the full-scale use of air combat power, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, in 1965.

Born on April 15, 1919, in Lyallpur in Punjab in undivided India, his father, grandfather and great grandfather had served in the cavalry. Educated at Montgomery, British India (now in Pakistan), he had joined the RAF College, Cranwell, in 1938 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in December the following year.

Singh had led an IAF squadron into combat during the 1944 Arakan Campaign and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross that year. He was the IAF chief from August 1, 1964 till July 15, 1969. Field Marshals Sam Manekshaw and K.M. Cariappa of the Army were the two other officers with five-star ranks.

After his retirement from the air force, Singh was appointed as India’s ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and concurrently served as the ambassador to the Vatican. He was the high commissioner to Kenya in 1974. Singh also served as a member of the National Commission for Minorities and as the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. He was made Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002.

The fighter aircraft base at Panagarh in West Bengal was named in his honour on his birthday last year.

(With PTI inputs)