Tribute to an Icon

The Late Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, a rare gift of God to the nation, is tragically no more with us; but his memory will live on forever!

Issue No. 19 | October 1-15, 2017By Air Marshal B.K. Pandey (Retd)Photo(s): By IAF

On the evening of September 16 this year, Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh Padma Vibhushan, DFC, an iconic figure and one of most celebrated soldiers of independent India who was and continues to be the pride of not only the Indian Air Force (IAF), but of the nation as well, passed away at the age of 98 at the Research and Referral (R&R) Hospital of the Indian armed forces located in Dhaula Kuan, New Delhi. He was admitted in the R&R Hospital earlier in the day following a cardiac arrest.

Born on April 15, 1919 in Lyalpur, a city in Punjab of undivided India, now Faislabad of modern day Pakistan, he completed his school education from Montgomery. At the age of 19 when he was still in college, he was selected for training as an air force pilot at Royal Air Force (RAF), Cranwell. On successful completion of training in 1939, he was commissioned as an officer and was posted in No 1 Squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF) where he flew Westland Wapiti biplanes and took part in operations against the tribal forces in the North Western Frontier Province. Graduating to Hawker Hurricanes, during the Second World War, he flew battlefield air support missions during the Imphal Campaign and provided air support for the advance of the allied forces into Rangoon in Burma. For his role in successfully leading the Squadron during combat, in 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), a rare honour for a young pilot in the IAF. In 1947, he took over command of Air Force Station Ambala, a premier fighter base and then in 1949, moved on to head Operational Command at Delhi which was later renamed as Western Air Command (WAC). He headed WAC for a total of seven years spread over two tenures, thus setting a record for leading for the longest period, the most important Command in the IAF.

During his threedecade long service with the IAF, he worked relentlessly to nurture and strengthen the foundations of the service

After the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 in which the IAF was not employed, he was appointed as the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and in 1963 as the Vice Chief of the Air Staff. On August 1, 1964, he was promoted to the rank of Air Marshal and appointed as the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) of the IAF. Under his inspiring leadership, the IAF came out with glory in the war with Pakistan in 1965, the very first large scale conflict the IAF of independent India was involved in. The rank of the CAS was upgraded and Arjan Singh became the first officer in the history of the IAF to hold the rank of Air Chief Marshal. On retirement from from service in July 1969, he was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland. Subsequently, in January 2002, he was conferred the rank of the Marshal of the Indian Air Force in recognition of his unparalleled contribution to the nation. So far, he has been the only officer of the IAF to hold this five-star position.

During his three-decade long service with the IAF, he worked relentlessly to nurture and strengthen the foundations of the service, displayed exemplary leadership and emerged as a role model for every air warrior. During his career, he had flown more than 60 different types of aircraft and had played a major role in transforming the IAF into one of the most potent air forces in the world. In recognition and appreciation of his exceptional and distinguished service as also his selfless devotion and contribution to the nation, in 1965, he was conferred the second highest civilian award of Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India. Even after handing over charge of the IAF, he continued to serve and support the organisation through the creation of a Trust funded entirely by his personal resources, for the welfare of serving and retired personnel of the IAF and their families. To honour and perpetuate his memory, in a touching gesture on its part, the IAF has named a newly established air base at Panagarh in West Bengal as “Air Force Station Arjan Singh”.

The Late Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, a rare gift of God to the nation, is tragically no more with us; but his memory will live on forever!