Marshal of IAF Arjan Singh turns 90

The Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, India's only living five-star general, turned 90 today.

His family marked the event with private celebrations, Air Force sources told NetIndian.
Air Marshal Arjan Singh at the event yesterday marking his 90th birthday.
Air Marshal Arjan Singh at the event yesterday marking his 90th birthday.

The Indian armed forces have had only three officers who have reached the rank of Marshal, the highest honorary rank possible.

The first was Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who is considered as the architect of the swift military operation that saw the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. He died last year at the age of 94.

The second was Field Marshal K M Cariappa, the first Commander-in-Chief of the army, who died in 1993, also at the age of 94.

Arjan Singh was Chief of the Air Staff from 1964 to 1969 and the first to be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal in December, 1965.

He was born on April 15, 1919 at Lyallpur. He was educated at Montgomery and later at Government College, Lahore.
Air Marshal Arjan Singh at the event yesterday marking his 90th birthday.
Air Marshal Arjan Singh at the event yesterday marking his 90th birthday.

In 1938, he was selected for Pilot’s training at Cranwell, UK and was commissioned as a pilot in the Royal Indian Air Force in December 1939. He joined No. 1 Squadron in September 1943. He was awarded the ‘Distinguished Flying Cross’ in 1944, for his outstanding leadership in the Burma Campaign during World War II. At that point in time, the country was still under the British rule and for an Indian to be awarded such a high honour was indeed a matter of immense pride for the nation.

He was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander in 1945 and attended the first course at Royal Staff College, Bracknell. After partition, as a Group Captain, he commanded Air Force Station Ambala. In 1949, as an Air Commodore, he was appointed as the Air Officer Commanding Operational Command and in 1952, he was appointed the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Operational Command. Subsequently, he held key appointments such as Deputy Chief of Air Staff and Vice-Chief of Air Staff. During 1960, he was specially selected for the Imperial Defence College, UK (later named as the Royal College of Defence Studies).

In recognition of his services of an extremely high order, and for his leadership during the 1965 War against Pakistan, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest national award. He retired from the Air Force in July 1969. During his tenure as the Chief of Air Staff, he brought about significant changes in the structure and functioning of the Air Force, to charter it towards a path of strong professional growth.

After retirement, he served as the Indian Ambassador to Switzerland from 1971-74 and then as High Commissioner to Kenya from 1974-77. Later, he was appointed as Member of the Minorities Commission and the Lt Governor of Delhi State in 1989.

Many officers and airmen, who served with him, still fondly remember the Marshal as a hands-on, non-formal, incisive and humane person, who flew himself to visit stations and units in his Canberra.

An avid aviator all his serving years, he flew all the types of aircraft in the IAF during his time, from its inception till the jets and supersonic types.

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