Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh turns 97

Arjan Singh was the first Indian Air Force chief to lead a young force into war.

New Delhi: Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh turns 97 on Friday.

Arjan Singh was the first IAF chief to lead a young force into war.

He was Chief of Air Staff when the IAF saw action in 1965, and was hardly 44 years of age when entrusted with the responsibility of leading the IAF.


The Marshal was born on April 15, 1919, in Lyalpur (now Faislabad in Pakistan), and completed his education at Montgomery (now Sahiwal in Pakistan).

At the age of 19, he was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at RAF Cranwell. His first assignment on being commissioned was to fly Westland Wapiti biplanes in the North West Frontier Province as a member of the No 1 RIAF Squadron.

After a brief stint with the newly formed No 2 RIAF Squadron where he flew sorties against the tribal forces, he moved back to No.1 Squadron as a Flying Officer to fly the Hawker Hurricane. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944.

Arjan Singh 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, 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 in Delhi, over the Red Fort.

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

Immediately after independence, he commanded Ambala IAF station in the rank of Group Captain.

On August 1, 1964, in the rank of Air Marshal, Arjan Singh took over the reins of the IAF.

He steered the IAF through the India-Pakistan war of 1965, when Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam, with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital town of Akhnoor.

He inspired the IAF to victory, despite the constraints imposed on the full-scale use of the IAF combat power.

Then defence minister YB Chavan wrote about him: "Air Marshal Arjan Singh is a jewel of a person; quiet, efficient and firm; unexcitable but a very able leader."

The IAF, in a statement, said it "salutes the Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, an iconic figure and wishes him all the best and grateful to him for guiding and inspiring through the years".