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Our Heroes

Air Marshal Shivdev Singh

THE SIKH REVIEW

 

 

Air Marshal Shivdev Singh, who died in January, 1994, was the last of the survivors of the batch of 24 Indian Air Force fighter pilots who were seconded to the Royal Air Force, as part of the reinforcement the British desparately needed in 1940 to fight the "Battle of Britain".

Flying Sterlings over occupied France and Germany - including daring attacks on their submarine pens - he was decorated for gallantry in a campaign that had many casualties. He was rushed back home when the Japanese besieged the South-East Asian region and flew the Hurricanes in the Arakans within Burma.

One of the pioneers of the Indian Air Force ("IAF"), Shivdev Singh, was responsible for the evacuation of his squadron from Kohat to Chaklala at the time of Partition in 1947. He later moved to Agra to found the transport squadron. Besides flying the political leaders of the day, Shivdev and his men organized the massive airlift to Srinagar in time to save the Kashmir Valley from Pakistani raiders.

What makes his contribution to the IAF unique is that he was perhaps the most operationally experienced commander. He was in-charge of the IAF's role in "Operation Vijay" in the liberation of Goa. The IAF fighter pilots played no major role in  the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. But the subsequent training for air defence operations named "Operation Shiksha", again had Shivdev Singh in command.

The crowning glory was his role as the Vice-Chief, when he master-minded the entire air operations in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Although, the Chief, P.C. Lal was given the credit publically, the man at the head of the operation table was Shivdev Singh.

The story going in the IAF circles is that Shivdev Singh almost made it to the top job as Lal's successor. The then Defence Minister, Jagjivan Ram was even supposed to have telephoned him saying, "Let me be the first to congratulate you" - after the appointment had been cleared at the highest level.

But things changed overnight for reasons well beyond the reach of the high-flying IAF brass - as often happens in a corrupt India. Shivdev Singh retired - but without any rancour - to his home in Chandigarh, contributing gracefully to public service in Punjab.

 

April 2, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Ajay Singh (Rockville, U.S.A.), April 02, 2010, 11:52 AM.

Thank you for sharing this story. It has a very familiar ring to it. Same fate was meted out to General Harbaksh Singh of 1965 fame. He also was cleared for the C-in-C for the Army at the highest level, in his case he was actually informed by the authorities ... and then someone else was appointed. There is no question that in the 20th century, Sikhs accomplished more than any other Indian/ Pakistani group in every field - freedom fighters both for India and their institutions, economy, defence, sports, etc., etc. - there isn't any part of the sub-continent or group that is even close to them and no doubt Sikhs are on par with their accomplishments in the previous centuries. Our setbacks are that we have failed to write our 20th Century history and capture the Sikh pioneer spirit for the generations to come. I guess, 1947 - and the, 1984 - may have a lot to do with that. Hopefully we can recover and change direction. I see signs and tremendous hope for that change.

2: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), April 02, 2010, 3:27 PM.

If any author or publisher is reading this article about Sikhs sacrifices, he/she should collect all the stories of Sikhs who served in the Army, Air Force and Navy, and publish a collective book on Sikhs in the Armed Forces. These Sikhs Officers are seen in various papers and articles as isolated stories. But they should be preserved collectively, otherwise they will be quickly lost. We need to give their due to the hundreds of thousands of Sikhs who have laid down their lives to protect freedom for all.

3: Raj (Canada), April 02, 2010, 4:19 PM.

Gurjinder Ji, it's already been done by Capt. Amarinder Singh. He has authored four books on military history of the subcontinent from the Sikh view-point. His accounts of Gen. Harbaksh Singh and his contemporaries is worth reading as he served under him. Every intelligent Sikh should have his books at home, a great military historian he is.

4: S.S.N. (U.S.A.), April 02, 2010, 7:26 PM.

Short, crisp and descriptive. One question to ask here: with so much contribution to India, why do we see so little of these distinguished men and women in their history books, or their popular honour rolls?

5: G. Rao (U.S.A.), April 04, 2010, 10:58 AM.

Where can I get the book by Amarinder Singh?

6: Devinder Pal Singh (Delhi, India), April 05, 2010, 1:53 AM.

Yes, like Arjan Singh, Sihvdev Singh was heard of by us in our Sikh community. He was a born leader and although I cannot mention his legendary deeds, I am sure many of his contemporaries and also his staff would recall his integrity and zeal. The Indian establishment shies from acknowledging deeds of valor and true nationalistic flavor, but has all ears and sign boards for those who do little and blow their bugles loud and repetitiously. Thank you for this article. However, do not expect the Indian sub-continent to change because there does not exist a will to practice truth in the establishment but instead malice and maligning rule the roost. That is true for the government, the public sector and even the private sector in India.

7: Jesspal Haar (Texas, U.S.A.), December 21, 2011, 9:10 AM.

One of my heroes! My father used to tell me about his brave exploits.

8: Shiv Sharan Singh (New Delhi, India), December 31, 2011, 8:03 AM.

Hi, Jesspal: Sat Sri Akal! I am the late Air Marshal's son and it's great to hear from someone who considers him his hero! I would like to know your father's name as I do remember most of his contemporaries.

9: Kelvin T. Youngs (Norwich, England), April 13, 2014, 2:14 AM.

I would dearly love to place more pages on our website with these great people. Very little is written and despite appeals via friends in India, no one has responded. http://aircrewremembered.com I have a photo of P/O. Shivdev Singh in front of a Stirling bomber that he was co-pilot of. A page will be published with this featured. Perhaps his son would like to contact me or others who would like someone remembered?

10: Reeta Kaur Suri  (India ), November 22, 2016, 9:37 PM.

My brave dad. How we miss his stories of his numerous escapades.

11: Sarvpal Singh (New Delhi, India), November 23, 2016, 9:56 AM.

Great man. Soft spoken. He and his wife Sardarni Sharan Kaur were my guardians in school in Patiala. Looked after me like their own child. Salute!

12: Jaspal Singh (Canada), June 06, 2017, 12:35 PM.

My uncle (Masserr ji) - I remember numerous occasions visiting him in Delhi, Patiala and then later in Chandigarh. A true gentleman! My Maasi (RIP), was a beautiful, loving, gracious and graceful person.

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