Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh is a military legend.It was a year after taking over as the Chief of the Indian Air Force that Arjan Singh got a golden opportunity to use his leadership and flying skills to bring glory to the country.
When Pakistan attacked India in September 1965, the then Defence Minister Y B Chavan wanted to know how long it would take for the Indian Air Force to provide air support. Arjan Singh is believed to have famously said, “Within an hour”. He not only kept his word but also ensured that the air support that was provided helped the Indian Army in thwarting Pakistan’s attack in a decisive manner.
Such was his and the Indian Air Force’s role in the 1965 war that the rank of the Indian Air Force Chief was upgraded from Air Marshal to Air Chief Marshal. He retired from service in August 1969 but continued to be active as a flyer for many more years. Arjan Singh was conferred with the rank of Marshal of the Air Force in 2002. Only two other military officers, former heads of the Indian Army Sam Manekshaw and K M Cariappa who were made Field Marshals, had been awarded a five-star rank before him.
Early Life And Career
Born in Lyallpur (now in Pakistan) on 15 April 1919, Arjan Singh was selected to train as a pilot at the Royal Air Force facility in Cranwell, United Kingdom, when he was barely 19 years old. He was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1939 and joined operations in the North-Western Frontier Province, flying Westland Wapiti biplanes as part of the No.1 Indian Air Force Squadron. In 1944, he became a Squadron Leader and led operations flying Hurricanes against the Japanese as part of the Arakan Campaign in Burma.His commendable role in the 1944 operations ensured that he received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).
When India became Independent on 15 August 1947, it was Arjan Singh who was chosen to lead the fly-past of over 100 Indian Air Force planes over Delhi. He was only 44 when he was appointed the Chief of Air Staff in 1964.
The 1965 War
The 1965 Indo-Pak War, when Pakistan launched an attack in the Akhnoor sector, gave then Air Marshal Arjan Singh a golden opportunity to utilise all his flying experience and leadership skills. The Indian Air Force was not as well as equipped as the enemy when it came to the variety of aircraft in use. But thanks to his leadership and planning, it played a crucial role in ensuring that Pakistan’s Operation Grand Slam in Jammu and Kashmir was thwarted. Recognising his leadership and the contribution of the Indian Air Force in the 1965 War, the designation of the Chief of Air Staff was upgraded to Air Chief Marshal from the existing Air Marshal.
He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his services during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. After retiring from the Indian Air Force in 1969, he served as the Indian Ambassador to Switzerland and as the High Commissioner to Kenya. He was also the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi from 1989 to 1990.In 2016, to mark his birthday, the fighter aircraft base at Panagarh, West Bengal, was named in his honour.