Air Marshal Shivdev Singh
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, 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 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, like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Shivdev and his men organised 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 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 war. Although, the Chief, P.C. Lal got the well-deserved credit, 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, Babu 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. Shivdev Singh retired – without any rancour – to his home in Chandigarh, contributing gracefully to public service in resurgent Punjab.