New Delhi, Sept 16: Marshal of Indian Air Force, Arjan Singh, arguably the most iconic figure in Indian military history, died on Saturday. The 98-year-old former IAF chief was the only five-star ranked officer, equivalent to the Army’s Field Marshal. Singh breathed his last at the Army R&R Hospital in Delhi, where he was admitted after suffering cardiac arrest.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the nation would always remain indebted towards him for the “outstanding service in 1965 war” against Pakistan.

Former Vice Chief of IAF Kapil Kak said that the Indian Air Force would not have reached the mark where it is today if it hadn’t been led by Marshal Singh. “The IAF grew with him. He was an epitome of military leadership in classical sense and it is, therefore, not surprising that he was honoured with the rank of Air Force Marshal,” Kak told PTI.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while recalling the contributions of Marshal Singh, highlighted the early days of his military career, along with the fact that his family was deeply rooted in military service.

“Marshal Arjan Singh comes from a strong military background. His grandfather and father had served in the Defence. Ever since his early days in the IAF, Marshal Singh earned the reputation of being an upright soldier,” she said, while speaking to ANI.

Born on April 15, 1919, in Lyalpur (now Faislabad, Pakistan), Singh completed his military training by the age of 19. He was selected for the Empire Pilot training course at Royal Air Force (RAF) Cranwell in 1938. The subsequent year, he was selected into the IAF.

Singh’s role first came into prominence during the Second World War, when 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 Forces to Yangoon.

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 receive it.

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. Upon Independence, he was promoted to the rank of West Wing Commander. After serving three long-terms as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) between 1949 to 1961, he was elevated as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff in 1962.

In 1964, he was appointed as the Chief of Air Staff. The subsequent year, he led the forces into the war with Pakistan, which marked the greatest feat of his military career.

Widely regarded as the tallest hero of 1965 war, Marshal Singh led a valorous counter-attack over the strategic town of Akhnoor in J&K, where the Pakistani forces attempted to lay siege.

He inspired IAF to victory, despite the constraints imposed on the full-scale use of Air Force combat power, recalls Kak, the former Vice Chief of IAF.

Marshal Singh’s courage, determination and professional skill thwarted the Pakistani aerial forces, despite them being equipped with state-of-the-art technologies provided by America.

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, quiet efficient and firm; unexcitable but a very able leader.”

Marshal Singh’s role in the 1965 Indo-Pak war was also admired by the Britain’s Royal Air Force, which called him an “exemplary leader”.

He retired from the forces in 1969, thereupon accepting Ambassadorship to Switzerland. In the subsequent year, he was appointed as the envoy to Vatican, followed by Kenya in 1974. Later, he also served as the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and a member of the National Minorities Commission.

The rank of Marshal was accorded to him on Republic Day, 2002.

He retired in August 1969, thereupon accepting Ambassadorship to Switzerland. He was Lieutenant Governor of Delhi from December 1989 to December 1990.

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.

“His contribution to the Indian Air Force is monumental to the least. The IAF grew with him. He was 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, making him the first and the only ‘Five Star’ rank officer with the Indian Air Force. His participation in public life continued till almost his demise, with him being last seen at former President Pranab Mukherjee’s felicitation ceremony before demitting Office.