War hero Marshal Arjan Singh, who led the Indian Air Force during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, today passed away at the Army's Research and Referral Hospital here. He was 98. He breathed his last at 7.47 pm, marking an end to a glorious era of the IAF, the Defence Ministry said.
Singh, the only officer of the IAF to be promoted to five-star rank, equal to a Field Marshal in the Army, was admitted to the hospital earlier this morning after he complained of uneasiness. Hospital officials had told media that his condition was critical. Reports even claimed that he had suffered a cardiac arrest.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the three Service chiefs -- Gen. Bipin Rawat, Admiral Sunil Lanba and Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa -- visited Singh at the hospital.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute to Marshal.
Sad at demise of a great air warrior & Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. Condolences to his family & IAF community. Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh was a WW II hero & won our nation's gratitude for his military leadership in 1965 war, the President tweeted.
PM Modi tweeted: Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh’s determined focus on capacity building in the IAF added great strength to our defence capabilities. India will never forget the excellent leadership of Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh in 1965, when the IAF saw substantial action. Sometime back I met him, who despite his ill health tried to get up to salute even though I said no. Such was his soldier discipline. My thoughts are with his family & those mourning the demise of a distinguished air warrior & fine human, Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh.
India mourns the unfortunate demise of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. We remember his outstanding service to the nation. pic.twitter.com/8eUcvoPuH1— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 16, 2017
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman termed Singh's demise as a great loss. She said that the conduct and exemplary nature in which Marshal of IAF Arjan Singh conducted himself will be remembered for generations.
An icon in the country's military history, Singh had led a fledgling IAF in the 1965 Indo-Pak war when he was just a 44-year-old. As Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital town of Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir, he led the IAF through the war with courage, determination and professional skill. The fighter pilot, who inspired the IAF despite constraints on the full-scale use of air combat power, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, in 1965.
Born on April 15, 1919 in Lyallpur in Punjab in undivided India, his father, grandfather and great grandfather had served in the cavalry.
Educated at Montgomery, British India (now in Pakistan), he had joined the RAF College, Cranwell in 1938 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in December the following year.
Singh had led an IAF squadron into combat during the 1944 Arakan Campaign and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) that year. He was the IAF chief from August one, 1964 till July 15, 1969.
Field Marshals Sam Manekshaw and KM Cariappa of the Army were the two other officers with a five-star rank. After his retirement from the air force, Singh was appointed as the India's Ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and concurrently served as the Ambassador to the Vatican. He was also the High Commissioner to Kenya in 1974.
Singh served as a member of the National Commission for Minorities and was also the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. He was made Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002. The fighter aircraft base at Panagarh in West Bengal was named in his honour on his birthday last year.