Indian Navy: The starting and First things after independence

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Jun 22, 2021 - 20:46
Indian Navy: The starting and First things after independence

The Starting

Early History


Harrappa Rig Veda Atharva Veda Varuna Devas Danavas Aditi Kashayapa Chandragupta Aryabhatta Vijaynagaram Kalinga Portuguese Vasco da Gama Moghuls Shivaji HMS Hindostan Cornwallis Bombay Dock.

India's maritime history predates the birth of western civilisation. The world's first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2300 BC during the Harappan Civilisation, near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast.

Malan ni pothi. 19th century Kutchi mariner's log bookThe Rig Veda, written around 2000 BC, credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes commonly used by ships and describes naval expeditions which used hundred-oared ships to subdue other kingdoms. There is a reference to Plava, the side wings of a vessel which give stability under storm conditions: perhaps the precursor of modern stabilisers. Similarly, the Atharva Veda mentions boats which were spacious, well constructed and comfortable.

In Indian mythology, Varuna was the exalted deity to whom lesser mortals turned for forgiveness of their sins. It is only later that Indra became known as the King of the Gods, and Varuna was relegated to become the God of Seas and Rivers. The ocean, recognised as the repository of numerous treasures, was churned by the Devas and Danavas, the sons of Kashyapa by queens Aditi and Diti, in order to obtain Amrit, the nectar of immortality. Even today the invocation at the launching ceremony of a warship is addressed to Aditi.


The influence of the sea on Indian kingdoms continued to grow with the passage of time. North-west India came under the influence of Alexander the Great, who built a harbour at Patala where the Indus branches into two just before entering the Arabian Sea. His army returned to Mesopotamia in ships built in Sind. Records show that in the period after his conquest, Chandragupta Maurya established an Admiralty Division under a Superintendent of Ships as part of his war office, with a charter including responsibility for navigation on the seas, oceans, lakes and rivers. History records that Indian ships traded with countries as far as Java and Sumatra, and available evidence indicates that they were also trading with other countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Even before Alexander there were references to India in Greek works, and India had a flourishing trade with Rome. The Roman writer Pliny speaks of Indian traders carrying away large quantities of gold from Rome, in payment for much-sought exports such as precious stones, skins, clothes, spices, sandalwood, perfumes, herbs and indigo.

Trade of this volume could not have been conducted over the centuries without appropriate navigational skills. Two Indian astronomers of repute, Aryabhatta and Varahamihira, having accurately mapped the positions of celestial bodies, developed a method of computing a ship's position from the stars. A crude forerunner of the modern magnetic compass was being used around the fourth or fifth century AD. Called Matsya Yantra, it comprised an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed North.

Between the fifth and tenth centuries AD, the Vijaynagaram and Kalinga kingdoms of southern and eastern India had established their rule over Malaya, Sumatra and Western Java. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands then served as an important midway point for trade between the Indian peninsula and these kingdoms, as also with China. The daily revenue from the eastern regions in the period 844-848 AD was estimated at 200 maunds (eight tons) of gold. In the period 984-1042 AD, the Chola kings despatched great naval expeditions which occupied parts of Burma, Malaya and Sumatra, while suppressing piracy by the Sumatran warlords. In 1292 AD, Marco Polo described Indian ships as " ...built of fir timber, having a sheath of boards laid over the planking in every part, caulked with oakum and fastened with iron nails. The bottoms were smeared with a preparation of quicklime and hemp, pounded together and mixed with oil from a certain tree which is a better material than pith."


A fourteenth century description of an Indian ship credits it with a carrying capacity of over 100 people, giving a fair idea of both the shipbuilding skills and the maritime ability of seamen who could successfully man such a large vessel. Another account of the early fifteenth century describes Indian ships as being built in compartments so that even if one part was damaged, the rest remained intact, enabling the ship to complete her voyage — a forerunner of the modern day subdivision of ships into watertight compartments; a concept then totally alien to the Europeans.

The crest of the second "Cornwallis"

The decline of Indian maritime power commenced in the thirteenth century,andIndian sea power had almost disappeared when the Portuguese arrived in India. The latter imposed a system of licence for trade, and set upon all Asian vessels not holding permits from them. A Naval engagement in Bombay Harbour in 1529 resulted in Thana, Bandora and Karanja agreeing to pay tribute to the Portuguese, and a grand naval review was held by them in 1531. They took complete control of the harbour in 1534 and finally ceded it to the British in 1662, under a treaty of marriage between Charles II and Infanta Catherine of Braganza.

The piracy by the Portuguese was challenged by the Zamorin of Calicut when Vasco da Gama, after obtaining permission to trade, refused to pay the customs levy. Two major engagements were fought during this period. The first, the Battle of Cochin in 1503, clearly revealed the weakness of the Indian navies and indicated to the Europeans an opportunity for building a naval empire. The second engagement off Diu in 1509 gave the Portuguese mastery over Indian seas, and laid the foundation of European control over Indian waters for the next 400 years.

Indian maritime interests witnessed a remarkable resurgence in the late seventeenth century, when the Sidis of Janjira allied with the Moghuls to become a major power on the West Coast. This led to the Maratha King Shivaji creating his own fleet, commanded by able Admirals like Sidhoji Gujar and later Kanhoji Angre. This Maratha fleet along with the legend of Kanhoji held sway over the entire Konkan Coast, keeping the English, Dutch and Portuguese at bay. The death of Angre in 1729, left a vacuum in leadership, and this resulted in the decline of the Maratha sea power.

Despite the eclipse of Indian kingdoms with the advent of western domination, Indian shipbuilders continued to hold their own well into the nineteenth century. Ships displacing 800 to 1000 tons were built of teak at Daman and were superior to their British counterparts both in design and durability. This so agitated British shipbuilders on the River Thames that they protested against the use of Indian-built ships to carry trade from England. Consequently active measures were adopted to cripple the Indian industry. Nevertheless, many Indian ships were inducted into the Royal Navy, such as HMS Hindostan in 1795, the frigate Cornwallis in 1800, HMS Camel in 1806 and HMS Ceylon in 1808. HMS Asia carried the flag of Admiral Codrington at the Battle of Navarino in 1827 — the last major sea battle to be fought entirely under sail.


Treaty of Nanking being signed onboard 'Cornwallis' on 29 Aug 1842Two Indian-built ships witnessed history in the making: the Treaty of Nanking, ceding Hong Kong to the British, was signed on board HMS Cornwallis in 1842, whilst the national anthem of the United States of America, "The Star Spangled Banner," was composed by Francis Key on board HMS Minden when the British ships were at war and attempting to reduce Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland.

Numerous other ships were also constructed, the most famous being HMS Trincomalee, which was launched on 19 October 1817, carrying 46 guns and displacing 1065 tons. This ship was later renamed Foudroyant, and is reputed to be the oldest ship afloat built in India.

The Bombay Dock was completed in July 1735 and is in use even today. The period of 4000 years between Lothal and Bombay Dock, therefore, offers tangible evidence of the seafaring skills the nation possessed in the days of sail. Thus, in the early seventeenth century, when British naval ships came to India, they discovered the existence of considerable shipbuilding and repair skills, and a seafaring people—an ideal combination for supporting a fighting force.

The genesis of Indian Navy


The history of the Indian Navy can be traced back to 1612 when Captain Best encountered and defeated the Portuguese. This encounter, as also the trouble caused by the pirates, forced the British East India Company to maintain a small fleet at Swally, near Surat(Gujarat). The First Squadron of fighting ships arrived on 5 September 1612, forming what was then called the Honourable East India Company's Marine. It was responsible for the protection of the East India Company's trade in the Gulf of Cambay and the river mouths of the Tapti and Narmada. The officers and the men of this force went on to play an important role in surveying the Arabian, Persian and Indian coastlines.

Although Bombay had been ceded to the British in 1662, they physically took possession of the island on 8 February 1665, only to pass it on to the East India Company on 27 September 1668. As a consequence, the Honourable East India Company's Marine also became responsible for the protection of trade off Bombay.

By 1686, with British commerce having shifted predominantly to Bombay, the name of this force was changed to Bombay Marine. This force rendered unique service, fighting not only the Portuguese, Dutch and French, but also interlopers and pirates of various nationalities. The Bombay Marine was involved in combat against the Marathas and the Sidis and participated in the Burma War in 1824.

In 1830, the Bombay Marine was renamed Her Majesty's Indian Navy. With the capture of Aden by the British and the institution of the Indus Flotilla, the Navy's commitments grew manifold, and its deployment in the China War in 1840 bears adequate testimony to its proficiency.

Whilst the Navy's strength continued to grow, it underwent numerous changes of nomenclature over the next few decades. It was renamed the Bombay Marine from 1863 to 1877, after which it became Her Majesty's Indian Marine. At this time, the Marine had two divisions, the Eastern Division based at Calcutta under the Superintendent, Bay of Bengal, and the Western Division at Bombay under the Superintendent, Arabian Sea. In recognition of the services rendered during various campaigns, its title was changed to Royal Indian Marine in 1892, by which time it consisted of over 50 vessels. The Royal Indian Marine went into action with a fleet of minesweepers, patrol vessels and troop carriers during the First World War when mines were detected off Bombay and Aden, and was utilised mainly for patrolling, ferrying troops and carrying war stores to Iraq, Egypt and East Africa.

The first Indian to be granted a commission was Sub Lieutenant D.N Mukherji who joined the Royal Indian Marine as an engineer officer in 1928. In 1934, the Royal Indian Marine was re-organised into the Royal Indian Navy, and was presented the King's Colour in 1935 in recognition of its services. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy consisted of eight warships. By the end of the war, its strength had risen to 117 combat vessels and 30,000 personnel who had seen action in various theatres of operations.

On India attaining Independence, the Royal Indian Navy consisted of 32 ageing vessels suitable only for coastal patrol, along with 11,000 officers and men. The senior officers were drawn from the Royal Navy, with R Adm ITS Hall, CIE, being the first Post-independence Commander-in-Chief. The prefix 'Royal' was dropped on 26 January 1950 with India being constituted as a Republic. The first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Navy was Adm Sir Edward Parry, KCB, who handed over to Adm Sir Mark Pizey, KBE, CB, DSO in 1951. Adm Pizey also became the first Chief of the Naval Staff in 1955, and was succeeded by V Adm SH Carlill, CB, DSO.

On 22 April 1958 V Adm RD Katari assumed office as the first Indian Chief of the Naval Staff.

Firsts in Submarine Arm of IN

S. No Events Remarks
1. The Pioneers of Submarine Arms The first group of SM trainees trained at HMS Dolphin in 1962.
2. First Indian Submarine INS Kalvari - 08 Dec 1967 under Cdr KS Subramanian.
3. First Submariner awarded MVC (Maha Vir Chakra) Cdr MN Samant
4. First Submariner awarded VrC ( Vir Chakra) Then Cdr VS Shekhawat (later CNS) 
5. First Submarine which participated in 1971 War-Operations (a) INS Karanj under Cdr VS Shekhawat (later CNS)
(b) INS Kursura under Cdr A Auditto
(c) INS Khanderi under Cdr Roy Milan
6. First Sindhughosh-Class Submarine of IN INS Sindhughosh, on 30 Apr 1986 under Cdr KC Verghese
7. First SSK-class Submarine IN INS Shishumar on 22 Sep 1986 under Cdr PM Bhate.
8. First Nuclear Submarine to operate under IN ensign. INS Chakra under Capt RN Ganesh (Jan 1988 to Jan 1991) 
9. First Indigenous SSK submarine constructed INS Shalki on 06 Feb 92, at MDL(MB) under Cdr KN Sushil.
10. First Missile Capable Submarine inducted INS Sindhushastra on 19 Jul 2000 under Cdr R Sarin
11. First SM Launched Missile Firing By INS Sindhushastra on 22 Jun 2000 off Russian coast
12. First Submarine Base commissioned INS Virbahu on 19 May 1971 under Cdr KS Subramanian
13. First Submarine Training Establishment INS Satavahana on 21 Dec 1974 under Cdr KN Dubash
14. First Director of Submarine Arm (DSA) Capt BK Dang 06 Jan 1966
15. First Director of Submarine Operations Cmde BS Uppal 01 Jul 1986
16. First Flag Officer Submarines Rear Adm A Auditto 01 Apr 1987
17. First ACNS(SM) Rear Adm AK Singh 14 Oct 1996
18. First Submariner to be CNS Admiral VS Shekhawat
19. First Submariner to command a nuclear submarine Capt RN Ganesh (INS Chakra)
20 First submariner to command an aircraft carrier Capt RN Ganesh (INS Vikrant)

Brief History of Navy Day


On 21 October 1944, the Royal Indian Navy celebrated Navy Day for the first time. The idea behind celebrating Navy Day was to foster greater outreach and increase awareness about the Navy among the public. This involved conducting parades at various port cities, as well as holding public meetings at inland centres. This was met with considerable success and aroused great enthusiasm among the public.

Seeing its success, it was decided to organise similar functions every year on a larger scale and later in the season when the weather was cooler. Accordingly, Navy Day 1945 was celebrated at Bombay and Karachi on 01 December.

In due course and until 1972, Navy Day came to be celebrated on 15 December and the week in which 15 December fell was observed as the Navy Week.

At the Senior Naval Officers Conference in May 1972, it was decided that Navy Day would be celebrated on 04 December to commemorate the very successful naval actions in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal during the Indo Pakistan War and Navy Week would be observed from 01 to 07 December.

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