Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh Passes Away at 98

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Arjan Singh Aulakh, Marshal of the Indian Air Force, passed away on Saturday at the age of 98 following a cardiac arrest. The Air Force officer, famous for his role in the 1965 India-Pakistan war, was hospitalized at the Army R&R hospital in New Delhi in a critical condition on Saturday morning.

With gleaming eyes, a daunting personality, and a history of valour, Arjan Singh had been the revered father figure for the Indian Air Force. Known for leading his men from the front, he was highly celebrated by the country for his contribution to the 1965 India-Pakistan War.

Singh was born on 15 April 1919 in Lyallpur (now Faisalabad in Pakistan). After completing his education in Montgomery (now Sahiwal in Pakistan) and then at the Government College in Lahore, Arjan Singh joined the newly-formed Indian Air Force in 1938 at the mere age of 19. Singh was also a notable alumnus of the RAF College.

Arjan Singh’s two operational tenures on the Burma Front during World War 2 served as landmark achievements in his enviable flying career. He was honoured with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the citation read:

Squadron Leader Arja11 Singh is a fearless and exceptional 
The pilot, with a profound knowledge of his specialised branch of tactical reconnaissance and he, has imbued those under him with the same spirit. The success of No. 1 Squadron Indian Air Force reflects the greatest credit on him.  

When India became independent, Arjan Singh was detailed to undergo a number of prestigious courses in the United Kingdom in RAF Staff College, Bracknell, Joint Services Staff College, UK and Imperial Defence College, London.

Achievements

Arjan Singh, at an age of 45, had taken over as the IAF’s third Indian Chief of Air Staff On 1 August 1964. An icon of Indian military history, Singh had led a young IAF into the war in 1965 when he was hardly 45 years of age.

In 1965, when Pakistan had launched its Operation Grand Slam with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital town of Akhnoor, Singh had led the Indian Air Force through the war with courage, determination and professional skill. His team members remember him as the man who never led from the headquarters but from the field.

In an interview he said:

Whenever we lost somebody, I always went to condole their families.Because that is the
best you can do.

Singh was the only officer of the IAF to be promoted to five-star rank.He inspired the IAF to victory, despite the constraints imposed on a full-scale use of air force combat power.

In 1971, he was appointed as the Indian Ambassador to Switzerland. He concurrently served as the Ambassador to the Vatican.

Between 1989 to December 1990, he was appointed the Lt Governor of Delhi.

In honour of Singh’s service, in 2016, the then Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Anup Raha announced that the air base at Panagarh would be renamed after Arjan Singh. The announcement was made on his 97th birthday.

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