HMS Achilles was the first British cruiser to be acquired by India since the end of World War II. The 7000-ton Leander class, cruiser, renamed INS Delhi, transferred to the Indian Navy in 1948. The Delhi was independent India's first major ship. Up to that time the Navy consisted of small ships; frigates, corvettes and minesweepers. Delhi was the first cruiser and the start of Indian Navy's blue water capabilities. The occasion was so important that Pandit Nehru himself went to Mumbai to receive the ship.
The Delhi came to India with excellent pedigree. She was one of the many Leander class cruisers built by the Royal Navy between the two world wars. They were fast 6" gun cruisers and most of them gave a good account of themselves during the Second World War. The Delhi gained fame as the 'Achilles' during the Battle of the River Plate. The Achilles along with the Exeter and Ajax cornered the pocket battleship Graf Spee in the South Atlantic near the River Plate. Although outgunned by Graf Spee's 10" guns, the ships with the help of some excellent manuvering inflicted damage on the Graf Spee and made her run for cover into Montevideo harbour. Subsequently the Graf Spee scuttled herself rather than give battle to the waiting British Squadron. The Achilles, then commanded by Captain Parry, later to become Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Navy when Achilles became Delhi and came to India, received considerable damage during the battle and those who served in her were never tired of showing the dent in the 6" Director just behind the bridge where she had received a shell.
In May 1950 the 8000-ton Indian Naval Flagship, INS Delhi, was specially "dressed up" to accommodate a distinguished guest, Sardar patel, Deputy Prime Minister, who was going on a voyage for the first time on board the INS Delhi from Bombay to Cochin. The 'day and night" cabin on board INS Delhi, usually occupied by the Commanding Officer, was reserved for the Deputy Prime Minister.
The cabin, adjoining the tarpaulin-covered quarter-deck, was equipped with radio and other amenities, and special furniture including easy chairs. Shortly before embarking, on May 11, Sardar Patel inspected a guard of honour furnished by the personnel of the Indian Naval Barracks at Gateway of India. After reaching the ship in a special launch, he inspected another guard of honour provided by the Officers and men of the INS Delhi. Incidentally, Sardar Patel's voyage coincided with combined routine exercises of the Navy and the Air Force in the Arabian Sea.
On the forenoon of May 11, off the coast of Bombay, Sardar Patel witnessed from the quarter-deck of the ship exercises by the Flagship INS Delhi and 1700-ton Destroyer Ranjit, and a bomber and two fighters of the IAF.
The exercises, which lasted three hours, included an "attack" on the Delhi by a bomber and later a torpedo "attack" by the Ranjit on an ''enemy" cruiser represented by the Delhi. The destroyer, the bomber and the two fighters then returned to their base and the cruiser continued its journey to Cochin.
"It was an interesting experience watching the exercises", said Sardar Patel in an interview. He added : "The destroyer, speeding to and away from us, was a majestic sight as she rode the waves with froth and foam. The fighters, the bomber, the torpedo attack and the smoke-screen, all lent a touch of reality to the manoeuvres. I enjoyed every bit of it and parted with the Ranjit with genuine regret."
Commodore G Barnard, Commodore Commanding, the Indian Naval Squadron, expressed his satisfaction at the tenor of the exercises. He said : "The combined exercises between the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force were only recently introduced. The first one was held in Bombay about a month ago. I was very much satisfied with the way the exercises were held, and that shows that we are now at a stage where the Indian Navy can co-operate most successfully with shore based air-craft, both bombers and fighters."
During the exercises, the Ranjit came abreast of the Delhi and sent to Sardar Patel a message "shot" through a carton gun which read: "All on board the ship wish you 'bon voyage'. Your coming with us has been a great honour to the Indian Navy. We shall be highly honoured if you could favour us with an autographed photograph of yourself."
Sardar Patel immediately responded and sent to the Ranjit an autographed photograph of his with the following message : "Many thanks for your message, which I warmly appreciate. I am proud of the Indian Navy and am sure will be prouder still at the end of my voyage. I wish you all best of luck and feel so glad in sending you my autographed photograph."
Addressing 650 officers and men on the quarter-deck of the Flagship INS Delhi on May 12, 1950, Sardar Patel called upon the men of the Indian Navy to build up the infant navy into one which would make its mark among the great naval nations and which could hold high the prestige and honor of the country.
When the Mysore arrived in India in 1958 the Flag transferred to the new flagship and the Delhi became a 'private' ship. There was intense rivalry between the two cruisers and the Delhi inevitably got the better of the deal. She won the Fleet regatta both in 1958 and 1959. Mysore outlasted the Delhi by just a few years.
Provocative action against Indian nationals in the vicinity of Anjadip Island, and Portugal's belligerent attitude to the problems of its colonial possessions in this country, resulted in the Government of India's decision to liberate Goa. Operations were launched on the night of 17/18 December 1961.
The Naval task was to gain control of the seaward approaches to the Bays of Marmagao and Aguada, prevent interference by Portuguese naval units, occupy Anjadip Island and provide fire support to the troops. At first light on 18 December 61 the Navy went into action under the command of Rear Admiral BS Soman, then Flag Officer Commanding, Indian Fleet. The ships conducted their mission in three geographical areas.
INS Delhi was assigned to play the stellar role of Diu. On spotting two Portuguese vessels, she opened up with her guns and sank one of them, while the other was scuttled by her crew. Delhi also supported the Indian Army's advance into Diu, neutralizing the citadel and the airfield's control tower with her bombardment.
Since the 1950's, the sea training of officer cadets had been undertaken in the Second World War frigates KISTNA, CAUVERY and TIR. The primary requirement was the endurance to undertake long cruises at sea. By the end 1960's, these three ships had begun to age. The Navy examined whether the three old Second World War destroyers RAJPUT, RANA and RANJIT could be converted to the training role. It was found that their remaining life did not justify the cost of conversion.
It was therefore decided to convert the ageing cruiser DELHI to the training role. DELHI underwent a major refit from May 1971 to August 1972. DELHI, KISTNA, CAUVERY and TIR comprised the Training Squadron till the end 1970s.
The Delhi served the Indian Navy with distinction for 30 years. Out of that she was the fleet flagship for 10 years until the Mysore and later the Vikrant arrived in India and took over that job. During those early years the Indian Navy was quite small and more than 50 per cent of the officers had served the ship in one capacity or another. Some of the Chiefs of the Navy had gone through the ship. Admiral Katari, the first Indian CNS, was the first executive officer. Admiral Nanda was the commissioning First Lieutenant. Admirals Chatterji and yours truly were commanding officers and Admirals Cursetji and Pereira were XOs. Admiral Dawson had been the FNO. Post their heroics during war of 1971, Admirals Arun Prakash and Sureesh Mehta earned their watch-keeping tickets on board and many others might have served as cadets and midshipmen. Others like Admirals Kamath and Ghandhi had been Gunnery Officers.
Some ships are born lucky and they bring good luck to all who serve in them. The Delhi was one of those ships. She never let anyone down. For a ship which served the Navy for 30 years she never had an 'incident'.
Before Delhi was auctioned and towed off for scrapping however, there were bids for her three turrets. The New Zealand government bid for one and took it away. The second went to the School of Artillery at Deolali. The third was kept in the Naval Dockyard before being sent to the Gunnery School at Cochin. Later it transpired that this turret never got to its destination. It was 'eaten by rats' in the dockyard.
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