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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.

While 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 Royal Indian Marine was reorganized in the late 1920's on a combatant basis. In 1928 it hoisted the White Ensign for the first time, and from 1934, after the passage of the Indian Naval Discipline Act, was designated the Royal Indian Navy. The Royal Indian Navy 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. In September 1939, when the Second World War started, the Royal Indian Navy had only five sloops, one trawler, one survey ship and one patrol craft. It had 114 officers and 1732 ratings (sailors were called ratings). All the six rating training schools were concentrated inside the Naval Dockyard in Bombay - Gunnery, Seamanship, Signals, Anti-submarine, Boys Training Establishment (BTE) and Mechanical Training Establishment (MTE). There were no rating training schools for Torpedo, Electrical or Radar. Officers went to Britain for basic and advanced training in all disciplines. Eighty percent of rating recruits came from the Punjab and from the Bombay Presidency - mainly Konkan, and of them, seventy five percent were Muslim and nine percent Hindu.

During the war, the Royal Indian Navy underwent a phenomenal expansion. Thirty one small vessels were immediately requisitioned to serve as minesweepers and patrol craft until newly built ships could enter service. The first Basset class trawler built in Garden Reach Workshop Calcutta entered service in 1941 - it was followed by five more. The first Bangor class fleet minesweeper built in India entered service in 1943. Six new sloops came from Britain and were named after Indian rivers. Bathurst class minesweepers came from Australia. Numerous minor vessels like motor minesweepers, harbour defence motor launches and landing craft came from Britain, America and Australia. The naval base and Naval Dockyard at Bombay were modernised. Three new branches were created - Electrical, Education and Medical. By the end of the war, its strength had risen to 117 combat vessels and 30,000 personnel who had seen action in various theaters of operations.

On India attaining Independence in August 1947, 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.

After partition, the minimum force recommended was two aircraft carriers, three cruisers, eight destroyers, four submarines and miscellaneous small ships to be built up in 10 years. The plan envisaged gradual development of the Navy to form two fleets, each to be built around a light fleet carrier. The plan clearly reflected the Indian Navy's aspiration for regional pre-eminence.

In December 1948, another revised plan spelt out the `The Role of the Navy' and proposed a smaller 47 ship Navy comprising two aircraft carriers, three cruisers, eight escort destroyers, four fleet destroyers (British Battle Class/Weapon Class), four submarines, four A/A frigates, two A/S frigates, six fleet minesweepers, one survey vessel, five motor launches, seven minor landing craft and two squadrons of aircraft per carrier (one each for fighter and strike and one for SAR). The fleet of 1950 included the 7,030-ton cruiser Delhi (ex- Achilles), 3 destroyers (Rajput [ex-Rolherham], Rana [ex-Raider], Ranjit [ex-Redoubt]), 4 frigates, formerly sloops (Jumna, Sutlej, Kistna, Cauvery); the boys' training frigate Tir (ex-Bann) ; the surveying vessels Kukri (ex-Trend) converted from a frigate, and Investigate; 6 fleet minesweepers ; 4 motor mine-sweepers; 4 motor launches; the tank landing ship Avenger ; and 6 tank landing craft. The Government planned to launch a comprehensive program of expansion of the Navy within the following 10 years and to build up a balanced naval force. The establishment of the Indian Navy in 1950 was 1,000 officers and 10,000 ratings. The partition resulted in the loss of the R.I.N.'s three best training establishments, which were situated in Karachi, i.e., the boys' training establishments, H.M.I.S. Dilawar and H.M.I.S. Jjattadur, and the gunnery and radar school, H.M.I.S. Himalaya. The Government of India intended to build modern training establishments for the Navy. A new boys' training establishment (I.N.S. Gircars) was established at Vizagapatam. By 1950 the Indian Navy has thd following training establishments for ratings in Indian territory: (a) Communication school; (6) torpedo and electrical school; (c) mechanical training establishment ; (d) physical training school; (e) seamanship, damage control and disciplinary school; (/) anti-submarine school ; (g) supply and secretariat and cookery school. Gunnery, navigation and radar schools are planned. Since 1939, the R.I.N. dockyard, Bombay, has been expanded. New machinery was installed and much work in repairing R.I.N., R.N. and Allied naval vessels carried out during the war. With the acquisition of the cruiser, further developments in the dockyard were expected.

In 1954, agreements were signed for the acquisition from Britain of eight new frigates (3 anti aircraft, 2 first rate anti submarine, 3 second rate anti submarine) and 6 minesweepers (4 coastals and 2 inshores). As part of the Naval Replacement Programme, the Government also sanctioned two Fleet tankers. A second hand tanker had been purchased from Italy in 1953 and commissioned as SHAKTI in 1954. The Government sanction stipulated that the second tanker should be built in India.

In April 1956 Government approved the development of combatant naval aviation. The light fleet carrier HMS HERCULES was purchased from the British Navy. In 1957, the Navy proposed to the Government the retention of existing ships in commission. If approved, this together with the new acquisitions under construction in Britain would double the number of ships in the Fleet and enable it to cope with the increased size of the Pakistan Navy.

After the military reverses during China's attacks in end 1962, India sought defence assistance from America, Britain and the Commonwealth. The year 1963 was a major milestone in Indian naval planning. The Government initiated an exhaustive review of defence requirements. China was viewed as the primary threat. The Government decided that the Army's strength should be raised to 825,000 men and the Air Force's strength to 45 squadrons. The resources required to achieve this meant that the Navy could not be strengthened. Whereas the Navy had proposed a force level of 130 ships, the Defence Plan for the Navy envisaged "a phased programme for replacement of over-aged ships".

Despite the disinclination to increase defence expenditure and even after meeting the pressing needs of the Army and Air Force, the Navy's percentage share of the defence budget rose from 4 per cent in 1950/51 to 9 per cent in 1956/57 and 12 per cent in 1959/60. From 1961 onwards, the Navy's allocation steadily declined to 4% in 1964/65, mainly because of the over-riding need to swiftly modernise the Army and Air Force after the Chinese aggression of 1962.

The first efforts at naval rearmament emerged in the 1964-69 Defence Plan, which called for the replacement of India's aging fleet and the development of a submarine service. Between 1947 and 1964, fiscal constraints had prevented the implementation of ambitious plans for naval expansion. Consequently, many of the vessels were obsolete and of little operational value.

Frigates play a pivotal role in Naval warfare by performing a variety of functions in both offensive and defensive roles. The Emergency Committee of the Cabinet decided in 1964 that the Navy should maintain a force level of 28 frigates. Indigenous production of frigates started in 1966. As part of this expansion program, the British helped develop the Mazagon Dock shipyard for the local production of British Leander-class frigates.

The Navy was reluctant to go in for Soviet ships/submarines on several counts. All ships and craft of the Navy were of British origin. Spares held in ships and depots were for the British ships. There was much commonality of equipment between various ships originating in the same country which minimise the holdings of spare-part inventories. The dockyards and shore maintenance facilities were geared up for looking after British ships.

With the Navy's primary concern having now become the defence of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and in view of the concern voiced by the Indian Delegation in August 1964 regarding the operability in monsoon conditions of the small ships then offered, in August 1965 the Russian side offered the larger Petya class anti submarine vessels and Landing Ships.

The Soviets were willing to support all phases of the planned naval expansion. Accordingly, they supplied naval vessels, support systems, and training on extremely favorable terms. By the mid-1960s, they had replaced Britain as India's principal naval supplier.

By 1968, the Design Organisation had successfully designed and handed over to the Navy numerous auxiliary vessels: 200 ton water boat AMBUDA (1966), 500 HP Tug BALSHIL (1966), Hopper Barges SEVAK and SAHAYAK (1967), Bucket Dredger NIKARAKSHA (1967), and Victualling Barges PANKAJ and AMRIT (1967/68). Under construction were Landing Craft Utility (LCU's Mk1), an Ocean Going Tug (GAJ), Avcat Tankers (PURAK and POSHAK), HSD Tankers, 150 men Ferry Craft, Harbour Cargo Boats and diverse types of pontoons. At the design stage were Oilers, Tugs, Ammunition and Water Barges and Diving and Water Boats. In 1966, the Design Organisation had also assisted in the construction of the new Fleet Tanker DEEPAK in Germany.

The infamous "Topass Mutiny" of 1970 occured when some sailors in the Western fleet refused to clean latrines after the abolition of the navy's Topass branch. The Topass performs the more menial tasks for the crew. The Topass mutiny led to the repeal of the unpopular decision to abolish the Topass branch. The term Topass or topaze was first applied to the offspring of Portuguese men and South Asian women. At one time these Euro-Asians formed a sizeable proportion of the population of Goa and other Portuguese colonies. Many assumed their father's religion and profession as soldiers. Referred to as 'black Christians', they were highly valued in infantry and artillery units.

There were many significant spinoffs after the 1971 war with Pakistan. Within India, for the first time since independence, there was public jubilation at the Navy's startling contribution to victory. There was the Government's realisation of the effectiveness of seapower. Both of these dispelled the doubts about the "relevance of a Navy for a peace - loving country like India which had no vital interests overseas". The maritime world accepted India's naval predominance in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.

The Russian acquisition program between 1965 and 1975 could have been managed better. There were strong pressures from the Material Branch to slow down the pace of acquisitions because the shortage of technical artificers and lack of repair facilities could not keep the acquisitions going. There were, also, other underlying causes.

These stresses and strains were compounded by the inability of the Navy to overcome the constraints of austere usage for which the Russian equipment had been designed. This followed from the need to give sea time to every officer and sailor by rotating ships crews every year. A Navy which was used to unrestricted usage of steam propelled ships ignored the repercussions of not adhering to the limitations laid down regarding the operating hours of critical machinery like diesel engines and diesel generators. The Russian view, stated to every Indian delegation which complained about the non availability of critical operational spares, was that the shortage derived more from what, by Russian norms, was "excessive usage" and "beyond what the equipment was designed to do".

There persists a widespread misperception that the reason why the operational availability of ships was unsatisfactory in the 1960's and 1970's was because the Navy acquired too many ships too quickly and funnelled the budget to acquisitions, thereby delaying the setting up of repair and refit facilities. The reality was different. There will always be a time lag between the induction of vessels and the setting up of their special to type maintenance, repair, refit and logistic support facilities.

When vessels are acquired from abroad, it is economical to acquire them in sufficient numbers, rather than one at a time. Inescapably, the bunching at the time of their acquisition leads, years later, to the bunching of their major refits. Since refit facilities always lag, operational availability diminishes.

Certain number of frigates of the Nilgiri Class and Godavari Class were constructed at Mazagaon Docks Ltd., (MDL) between 1972 and 1988. Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) approved construction of 9 more frigates from time to time under three projects namely Project 15, 15-A and 16-A. Project 15 and 15-A were entrusted to MDL whereas Project 16-A was entrusted to Garden Reach Ship Builders & Engineers Ltd., (GRSE).

During the 1980s, Indian naval power grew significantly. During this period, the naval facilities at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, in the Nicobar Islands, and in Lakshadweep were significantly upgraded and modernized. A new line of Leander-class frigates was manufactured at Mazagon Dock in collaboration with Vickers and Yarrow of Britain. These frigates, redesignated as the Godavari class, have antisubmarine warfare capabilities and can carry two helicopters. During the 1980s, plans were also finalized for the licensed manufacture of a line of West German Type 1500 submarines (known as the Shishumar class in India). In addition to these developments at Mazagon Dock, the naval air arm also was upgraded. India purchased nearly two squadrons of the vertical and short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) Sea Harriers to replace an earlier generation of Sea Hawks.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:42:36 ZULU