The history, philosophy and pedigree of a Navy matters. India’s Navy began as the Honourable East India Company’s Marine on 5th Sept, 1612, and after many designations, a Royal Charter designated it the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) operating from Bombay on 2nd October 1934 as a daughter Navy of the Royal Navy. The RIN got blood lined with its parent victorious Royal Navy by fighting alongside in the Second World War with heroic actions on ships manned by officers and ratings from India, and those seconded from the Royal Navy. Few served on RN ships in the Atlantic too.

From 18 ships the strength of RIN rose to 50 odd small RIN sloops and minesweepers by 1941, manned by some 20,000 hurriedly trained ex Merchant Navy officers and ratings in UK, Cochin, Bombay and Karachi, where schools were set up and operate even today. Indian Navy treats training as its forte, and now simulation. It has converted and regularly updated RN and NATO books on Signals (ANSB) and Tactical Procedures (ATPs) into Indian Publications by the Rule Writing Groups exposed to the Soviet Navy for tactics,  and recently United States Navy for strategy.

 In WW II the secular RIN with Brits, Hindus, Muslims, Anglo Indians and Parsees, eating out of each other’s plates as one operated in the Indian Ocean, off Burma and in the Red Sea. Many were decorated by the King with DSOs and MBEs and Mentioned in Dispatches to mention later Admirals Soman, Krishnan and Karmarkar who was the first Indian Commander to command HMS Cauvery and later INS Delhi briefly with British ratings and officers under him. He was an Ex Dufferin Merchant Navy Captain who joined RINVR as a reservist so was superseded by Katari, Soman, Chakravty and Chaterjee in the Navy List and opted to serve on.

RIN’s war actions are chronicled in Timeless Wake by the Maritime History Society of India. The sinking of the armed Japanese raider Hokuko Maru (10,000 tons) and chasing away of the second Aikoku Maru (8,000 tons) by 650 ton Bathurst class minesweeper HMIS Bengal with its 15 pounder gun while escorting a convoy under Lt Cdr WJ Wilson, RINR on 11th January, 1942 from Australia is also vividly described in An Underhand Affair. The Royal Navy down played RIN’s actions in the Naval history of the Royal Navy despite being its daughter Navy, because the 1946 Indian Naval Mutiny coloured the impression of the Royal Indian Navy as mutineers in the eyes of the British Admiralty. The mutiny heralded India’s Independence. The details are in the novel by Ranjit B Rai titled An Underhand Affair The Travails of a Dalit Girl and a Sacked RIN Sailor. Variety/Adhyyan Books/ ISBN 9-789388-644167 Rs 250 on Amazon. Money back if you do not enjoy it. 

When India gained Independence on 15th August 1947 the RIN retained its name, and its ceremonials including flags with the St George’s cross(even today), and continued with the RN traditions and operational philosophy as a Dominion Navy within the Commonwealth and exercised with the Commonwealth Navies including Pakistan in JETs off Colombo. IN and RIN links had grown stronger when HMS Achilles of the Battle of River Plate fame was commissioned as HMIS Delhi on 5th July 1948 at Birkenhead, under Captain HNS Brown RN, with 17 British officers and petty officers and the large 700 crew was Indian. Commander RD Katari was her Executive Officer while Lieutenant SM Nanda was her First Lieutenant. Both became Chiefs of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy. Nanda steered the Navy as the Bomber of Karachi in the 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh.

 Between 1950-60  11 frigates joined from UK. These included the 3 Type II Hunt-class destroyers led by HMS Bedale in 1953. Then followed the 3 new Leopard Brahmaputra class AA frigates with CPP propellers and FPS 5 gunnery system from Vickers at New Castle on Tyne; 2 Whitby anti-submarine Trishul class frigates from Cammell Laird, at Birkenhead, and 3 anti submarine Blackwood 2nd Rate Khukri class frigates from J Samuel White at Cowes on the Isle of White. The Whitbys were later refitted with P-15 missiles aping the Soviet ships.

In 1961 the aircraft carrier HMS Hercules with British Sea Hawk and French ASW Alize planes joined the Indian Navy as INS Vikrant. Later in bold move Indian Navy decided to make a 3,000 ton Leander at Mazagon Docks in Bombay. Spares and machinery began being shipped out from Yarrow in Glasgow for India’s first Leander the INS Nilgiri which is the base design for all ships that followed with improvements and Soviet Navy weapons. The West restricted supply of arms to India. The last nail in the coffin was when Britain refused to supply the Oberon class submarines after training Indian submariners at HMS Dolphin. Links with the Royal Navy came under strain which Lord Mountbatten lamented in writing.

In that period Pakistan tilted to the United States and joined the Baghdad Pact and SEATO. India professed non-alignment but was dependant on Soviets in UN too. USA leased Pakistan a Tench class attack submarine PNS Ghazi, Patton tanks and F-86 Star fighters which emboldened it to start a 17 day war in September of 1965. Navy was not allowed to participate.

Only from 1967 Soviet Union supplied 8 Foxtrot class class submarines with tender INS Amba and 8 Petya class ASW ships and 8 IL-38 Maritime Patrol aircraft. As Liaison Officer to Admiral of the Fleet Sergie Gorshkov during his three visits to India between 1964-1985, this writer as Director of Naval Operations was witness to changed IN’s operational and fighting strategy to be ready for war and was given commanded a Soviet supplied Petya INS Kavaratti. In the 1971 war 8 OSA class P-15 missile firing boats from USSR were ingeniously towed off Karachi in Op Trident and Python respectively. The IN heralded missile warfare on land from the seas and the Navy became and is missile centric.

The Soviets supplied ten Kilo class submarines and two Nuclear submarines INS Chakra, the first operated from 1987 to 1991, and an Akula in 2014 which is currently operating with the IN and helped build nuclear submarines in India under the Advanced Technology Vehicle(ATV) project. The 6.000 ton INS Arihant equipped with K-15/B-05 nuclear tipped 750 km range got commissioned in 2016. The missiles and Indian built nuclear reactor are the pride of the Nation’s Triad.

On 14TH June, 2014 Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated the Russian re-furbished $ 2.3 bill 44,400 ton aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (Ex Gorshkov) with MiG-29K fighters and Ka-31 AEW helicopters to the nation, and declared, “Indian Navy’s Potential Must Be Harnessed For India To Rise”.


A thaw commenced in military relations with USA post 9/11/2001 terror attacks in New York. Navy begun exercising with the US Navy and more officers began to go to USA for Naval training including aviators for carrier flying training and acquired 10,00 ton LPD INS Jalashwa on FMS. Six former naval Chiefs graduated from the US Naval War College. The series of Malabar exercises became annual and India was no longer non aligned, but advocated Strategic Alignments. The IN was exposed to USN and other Navies’ operations and procedures. In Malabar the Navy carried US Navy’s CENTRIX system for digital internet communications and maritime domain awareness(MDA) and Navies exchanged officers. Navy’s expansion took on a larger strategic approach with the Government declaring the IN as the Net Security Provider(NSP) in the Indian Ocean Region(IOR) in 2013, on Robert Gates goading. The US Navy philosophy of ‘big brother’ was being adopted. Eight modern P8i Boeing 737 Maritime Reconnaissance planes out of 12 ordered equipped with a CAE AN/ASQ-508A magnetic anomaly detection (MAD) system, APS-143C(V)3 multimode radar and a global version of the Raytheon APY-10 surveillance radar have joined. They are armed with MK 84 Harpoons and MK 48/58 torpedoes and the planes are operating from INS Rajali near Chennai.


The Navy’s philosophy has calumniated in Mission Based Deployments and strategy is like the US Navy with ready ships and aircraft along critical sea lanes of communications and choke points in FONOPS, and in International exercises. Indian Navy is aware of an expansionist China backed by its rapidly rising naval and military muscle with economic power, to assist Pakistan in the $56 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to gain access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean which of course, presents a much bigger challenge for India, if Navy is not funded and its strength increased with long term support. The Indian Navy, however, is quite confident of its dominance in its strategic IOR backyard for now. The IN knows the Chinese PLA Navy is here to stay, but it faces the tyranny of logistics in the IOR which Navy can shear. Shan No Varuna.

A larger version of this article has been published in NAVAL REVIEW UK November issue considered the acme of Naval writing in History and analysis and maritime thinking.

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