Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh short story.


On Wings of Courage



Air Force Marshal Arjan Singh, an icon of India’s 
military history, will always be remembered as a war 
hero who had successfully led a young IAF during the 
1965 Indo-Pak war.
The only officer to attain the highest post of 
Marshal, the Air Force equivalent to the Army’s five 
star field marshal, Singh was a fearless and exceptional 
pilot who had flown more than 60 different types of 
aircraft.
He played a major role in transforming the IAF 
into one of the most potent air forces globally and 
the fourth biggest in the world. “His contribution to 
the Indian Air Force is monumental to the least. The 
IAF grew with him. He was the epitome of military 
leadership in classical sense and it is, therefore, not 
surprising that he was honoured with the rank of Air 
Force Marshal,” former Vice Chief of IAF Kapil Kak 
said.
Singh was honoured with the rank of Marshal 
on the Republic Day in 2002. Sam Hormusji Framji 
Jamshedji Manekshaw and K M Cariappa were the 
only two army generals honoured with the rank of field 
marshal.
Known as a man of few words, Singh was not 
only a fearless pilot but also had profound knowledge 
about air power and applied it in a wide spectrum of 
areas. Singh had assiduously led the IAF during the 
1965 war and denied success to Pakistani air force 
though it was better equipped with American support. 
“His most outstanding contribution was during that 
war,” said Kak.
Commending his role in the war, Y B Chavan, the 
then Defence Minister had written: “Air Marshal Arjan 
Singh is a jewel of a person, quite efficient and firm; 
unexcitable but a very able leader.”
In 1944, the Marshal had led a squadron against 
the Japanese during the Arakan Campaign, flying 
close air support missions during the crucial Imphal 
Campaign and later assisted the advance of the Allied. 

In recognition of his feat, he was awarded the 
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on the spot by the 
Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia, the 
first Indian pilot to have received it. Singh was selected 
for the Empire Pilot training course at Royal Air Force 
(RAF) Cranwell in 1938 when he was 19 years old. 
He retired from service in 1969.
Singh was born on April 15, 1919, in Lyalpur 
(now Faislabad, Pakistan), and completed his education 
at Montgomery (now Sahiwal, Pakistan). 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 RIAF Squadron.
After a brief stint with the newly formed No. 2 
RIAF Squadron where the Marshal flew against the 
tribal forces, he later moved back to No.1 Sqn as a 
Flying Officer to fly the Hawker Hurricane. He was 
promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944.
For his role in successfully leading the squadron in 
combat, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross 
(DFC) in 1944. On August 15, 1947, he achieved the 
unique honour of leading a fly-past of over a hundred 
IAF aircraft over the Red Fort in Delhi.
After his promotion to the rank of Wing Commander, 
he attended the Royal Staff College at the UK. 
Immediately after Indian independence, he commanded 
Ambala in the rank of Group Captain. In 1949, he was 
promoted to the rank of Air Commodore and took over 
as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of an operational 
command, which later came to be known as Western 
Air Command.
Singh had the distinction of having the longest 
tenure as AOC of an operational base, initially from 
1949-1952 and then again from 1957-1961. After his 
promotion to the rank of 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 the Air Staff and he became the 
Vice Chief of the Air Staff in 1963. He was the overall 
commander of the joint air training exercise “Shiksha” 
held between IAF, RAF (Royal Air Force) and RAAF. 

On August 1, 1964, in the rank of Air Marshal, 
the Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh took over 
reins of IAF, at a time when it was still rebuilding 
itself and was gearing up to meet new challenges.
Singh was the first Air Chief to keep his flying 
currency till his CAS rank. Having flown over 60 
different types of aircraft from pre-World War II 
era biplanes to the more contemporary Gnats and 
Vampires, he has also flown in transport aircraft like 
the Super Constellation.
In 1965, when Pakistan launched its Operation 
Grand Slam, with an armoured thrust targeted at the 
vital town of Akhnoor, Singh led IAF through the war 
with courage, determination and professional skill. He 
inspired IAF to victory, despite the constraints imposed 
on the full-scale use of Air Force combat power.
Singh was awarded 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 
IAF, visiting forward bases and units and flying with 
the squadrons. He retired in August 1969, thereupon 
accepting Ambassadorship to Switzerland. He was 
Lieutenant Governor of Delhi from December 1989 toHaving been a source of inspiration to all the
personnel of Armed Forces through the years, the
government conferred the rank of the Marshal of the
Air Force upon Arjan Singh in January 2002, making
him the first and the only ‘Five Star’ rank officer with
Indian Air Force.
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