AR­JAN SINGH – an epit­ome of mil­i­tary lead­er­ship

The Free Press Journal - - MUMBAI/ESTATE -

In­dia’s old­est serv­ing sol­dier Mar­shal Ar­jan Singh, who died in hospi­tal af­ter a mas­sive heart at­tack on Saturday, was hardly 44 when he took over as the chief of a young In­dian Air Force (IAF) in 1964, a year be­fore lead­ing the fledg­ling In­dian air power in the 1965 war with Pak­istan.

That was the pin­na­cle of the ca­reer of a pi­lot, who grew up in the an­nals of the Air Force as the first In­dian chief to lead the force into a war.

In recog­ni­tion of his ser­vices, he was con­ferred the rank of the Mar­shal of the Air Force in Jan­uary 2002, thus be­com­ing the first and the only “Five Star” rank of­fi­cer with the In­dian Air Force.

In his many firsts, one was lead­ing the fly-past over the Red Fort on Au­gust 15, 1947 – on the morning of the day In­dia got in­de­pen­dence.

In­ter­est­ingly, the man, who rose to be the first Mar­shal of the air force, al­most got him­self court-mar­tialled in 1945 dur­ing World War II, re­ports IANS.

Ac­cord­ing to an ac­count by a re­tired IAF of­fi­cer, Ar­jan Singh flew very low over the houses that were said to be that of the cor­po­ral and his rel­a­tives. The low sor­tie brought al­most the en­tire vil­lage out of their homes. While the Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tion took se­ri­ous note of it, he es­caped as there was a short­age of trained pi­lots at a time when the war was go­ing on.

Born in Lyallpur (now Pak­istan’s Fais­labad) on April 15, 1919, Ar­jan Singh hailed from a fam­ily where three gen­er­a­tions be­fore him had served the Army.

He was se­lected to the Em­pire Pi­lot train­ing course at RAF Cran­well when he was 19. His first as­sign­ment on be­ing com­mis­sioned was to fly West­land Wapiti bi­planes in the North-West­ern Fron­tier Prov­ince as a mem­ber of the No.1 Royal In­dian Air Force Squadron.

He was pro­moted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944 and led the squadron against the Ja­panese dur­ing the Arakan Cam­paign – fly­ing close air sup­port mis­sions dur­ing the cru­cial Im­phal Cam­paign and later as­sist­ing the ad­vance of the Al­lied Forces to Ran­goon.

For his role in suc­cess­fully lead­ing the squadron in com­bat, Ar­jan Singh was awarded the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross (DFC) in 1944.

Af­ter his pro­mo­tion to the rank of a Wing Com­man­der, he at­tended the Royal Staff Col­lege in Bri­tain.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter In­de­pen­dence, he com­manded Am­bala Air Force Sta­tion in the rank of Group Cap­tain.

In 1949, he was pro­moted to Air Com­modore and took over as Air Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing of an op­er­a­tional com­mand that later came to be known as West­ern Air Com­mand.

Ar­jan Singh had the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the long­est ten­ure as the AOC of an Op­er­a­tional base, ini­tially from 1949-1952 and then again from 1957-1961.

Af­ter his pro­mo­tion to 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 Air Staff and be­came the Vice Chief in 1963.

On Au­gust 1, 1964, in the rank of Air Mar­shal, he took the reins of the IAF at a time when the force was still re­build­ing it­self and was gear­ing up to meet new chal­lenges.

Ar­jan Singh was the first Air Chief to keep his fly­ing cur­rency till his Chief of the Air Staff rank.

Hav­ing flown over 60 dif­fer­ent types of air­craft from preWW-II era bi­planes to the more con­tem­po­rary Gnats and Vam­pires, he also flew in trans­port air­craft like the Su­per Con­stel­la­tion.

In 1965, when Pak­istan launched Op­er­a­tion Grand Slam with an ar­moured thrust tar­geted at the vi­tal town of Akhnoor in Jammu and Kash­mir, he led the In­dian Air Force through the war, de­spite the con­straints im­posed on the full-scale use of the air com­bat power.

He was awarded the Padma Vib­hushan for his as­tute lead­er­ship of the Air Force dur­ing the war.

Sub­se­quently in recog­ni­tion of the Air Force’s con­tri­bu­tion dur­ing the war, the rank of the CAS was up­graded and Ar­jan Singh be­came the first Air Chief Mar­shal of the In­dian Air Force.

He re­mained a flyer to the end of his ten­ure in the IAF, vis­it­ing for­ward bases and units and fly­ing with the squadrons.

He re­tired in Au­gust 1969, there­upon ac­cept­ing am­bas­sador­ship to Switzer­land. He was Lt Gov­er­nor of New Delhi from De­cem­ber 1989 to De­cem­ber 1990.

Hav­ing been a source of in­spi­ra­tion to all per­son­nel of the Armed Forces through the years, the gov­ern­ment con­ferred the rank of the Mar­shal of the Air Force upon him. With his grow­ing age, the Mar­shal made fewer pub­lic ap­pear­ances but still re­mained ac­tive and con­tin­ued to meet a num­ber of peo­ple, in­clud­ing young and old Air Force of­fi­cers.

In 2015, at the age of 96, the na­tion watched as the Mar­shal of the IAF reached the Palam Air­port on July 28 where the body of for­mer Pres­i­dent and In­dia’s mis­sile man A.P.J.Ab­dul Kalam was brought. The wheelchair­bound Ar­jan Singh, to ev­ery­one’s awe, stood up to sa­lute the man who gave In­dian de­fence a de­fined edge.

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