MIAF Arjan Singh
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Born on April 15, 1919, in what is now Pakistan's Faisalabad, Singh joined the IAF in 1938 and went on to command it during the 1965 war with Pakistan. India's third air force chief earned a Padma Vibhushan for his exceptional leadership that saw the IAF shake off initial setbacks and counter Pakistan in air battles.
Singh, the original “air warrior“, inspired the IAF to achieve great heights during his service. After retirement, he remained an awe-inspiring figure for the armed forces as a whole and was a highly respected public figure.
The IAF's history of its operations acknowledges it “suffered disproportionately higher losses“ than the Pakistan air force in 1965. But the force, under Singh, showed “resilience and determination“ to gradually turn the tables with effective counterstrikes till the ceasefire came into effect on September 22.
Singh oversaw the transition of the IAF from propeller craft to a jet fleet, and was given diplomatic assignments after he retired at the early age of 50 years.
The Indian armed forces have had only three Marshal rank officers, the highest honorary rank possible, till now. The first, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, regarded as the architect of the swift military operation to liberate Bangladesh in 1971, died in 2008 at the age of 94. Field Marshal K M Cariappa, the first commander-in-chief of the Army , died in 1993 at the age of 94. Arjan Singh was IAF chief from 1964 to 1969, and, in December 1965, became the first one to be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal after he successfully steered his force during the Indo-Pak war.
Commissioned into the Royal Indian Air Force in December 1939, Singh's similarities with Manekshaw, in fact, are quite striking. Both won their military spurs during the Burma campaign of World War-II.
If Manekshaw won a Military Cross, Singh was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Later, conducting themselves with rare elan, both reached the very top in their service.
Singh was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Louis Mountbatten, then supreme Allied commander, Southeast Asia, who described him as “a fearless and exceptional pilot“.
In 1971, he became India's ambassador to Switzerland, and then the high commissioner to Kenya in 1974. He also served as India's ambassador to the Vatican.
Later on, he returned to India and served as the lieutenant-governor of Delhi in 1989-90. In 2002, Arjan Singh became the only IAF veteran to be given the five-star rank.
Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, 98, passed away, marking the end of a life and career closely intertwined with events that shaped India after Independence. Born on April 15, 1919, in what is now Pakistan's Faisalabad, Singh joined the IAF in 1938 and went on to command it during the 1965 war with Pakistan. India's third air force chief earned a Padma Vibhushan for his exceptional leadership that saw the IAF shake off initial setbacks and counter Pakistan in air battles.