History of the Indian Navy

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Early history[edit]

India has a rich maritime history dating back 5,000 years.[1][2] The world's first[3][4] tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2300 BCE during the Indus Valley Civilization, near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast.

The Rig Vedas written around 1700 BCE, credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes and describes naval expeditions. There is reference to the side wings of a vessel called Plava, which give stability to the ship under storm conditions. A compass, Matsya yantra, was used for navigation in the 4th and 5th century AD.

The earliest known reference of an organization devoted to ships and sailing in ancient India is from the Mauryan Empire of the 4th century BCE. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya's Prime Minister Kautilya's Arthashastra devotes a full chapter on the state department of waterways under navadhyaksha (Sanskrit for Superintendent of ships) [1]. The term, nava dvipantaragamanam (Sanskrit for sailing to other lands by ships, i.e. Exploration) appears in this book in addition to appearing in the Buddhist text, Baudhayana Dharmasastra using the term, Samudrasamyanam (Sanskrit for sea voyage).

Chola territories during Rajendra Chola I, c. 1030

Sea lanes between India and neighboring lands were the usual form of trade for many centuries, and are responsible for the widespread influence of Indian Culture on other societies, particularly in the Indian Ocean region. Powerful navies included those of the Maurya, Satavahana, Chola, Vijayanagara, Kalinga, Maratha and Mughal empires.[5] The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia.

Chola expeditions[edit]

The Imperial Cholas initiated their grand naval conquests during the reign of two of its most illustrious monarchs, Raja Raja Chola (ruled 985-1014) and his son Rajendra Chola (ruled 1012-1044). Under Rajendra Chola, the Cholas expanded their empire with the use of their strong navy and subdued many kingdoms of South-East Asia and occupied the region which included Myanmar, Malaya, Sumatra etc., and sent ambassadors to countries as far off as China.

Indian Navies of the Post-Classical Age[edit]

A panorama of Calicut, on the Malabar coast, shows several types of ships, shipbuilding, net fishing, dinghy traffic and a rugged, sparsely populated interior. BRAUN AND HOGENBERG, CIVITATES ORBIS TERRARUM, 1572 (2)

Kozhikode[edit]

Manavikraman, Samoothiri Raja of Kozhikode began the naval build-up in 1503 in response to Portuguese attempts at extracting trading privileges. He commanded and appointed Mohammed Kunjali as Marakkar (admiral) of his fleet. Over the course of the next century, the Samoothiri Rajas successfully repelled various attempts by the Portuguese to overthrow their rule, with each side enlisting various allies over time. 4 generations of Kunjali Marakkars served the Samoothiri Rajas.

However, over time differences between Mohammed Ali, Marakkar IV, and his masters increased, culminating with his self-declaration as the "Lord of the Indian seas". The Samoothiris then collaborated with the Portuguese to defeat Mohammed Ali in 1600. Later, they allied with the Dutch East India Company to defeat the Portuguese.

Maratha Navy[edit]

A painted scroll depicting different types of ships of the Marathan Navy including some captured English ships.

The Maratha Empire was established by Chhatrapati Shivaji in 1674. From its inception, the Marathas established a Naval force, consisting of cannons mounted on ships.

The dominance of the Maratha Navy started with the ascent of Kanhoji Angre as the Darya-Saranga by the Maratha chief of Satara.[6] Under that authority, he was master of the Western coast of India from Mumbai to Vingoria (now Vengurla) in present day state of Maharashtra, except for Janjira which was affiliated with the Mughal Empire. Until his death in 1729, he repeatedly attacked the colonial powers of Britain and Portugal, capturing numerous vessels of the British East India Company and extracting ransom for their return.

On 29 November 1721, a joint attempt by the Portuguese (Viceroy Francisco José de Sampaio e Castro) and the British (General Robert Cowan) to humble Kanhoji also failed miserably. Their combined fleet consisting of 6,000 soldiers in no less than four Man-of-war besides other ships led by Captain Thomas Mathews of the Bombay Marine failed miserably. Aided by Maratha naval commanders Mendhaji Bhatkar and Mainak Bhandari, Kanhoji continued to harass and plunder the European ships until his death in 1729.

The 'Pal' was a three masted Maratha man-of-war with guns peeping on the broadsides.

Colonial Indian Navy[edit]

Main article: Royal Indian Navy

Establishment of the Bombay Marine[edit]

The English East India Company was established in 1600. In 1612, Captain Thomas Best encountered and defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Swally. This encounter, as well as piracy, led the English East India Company to build a port and establish a small navy based at the village of Suvali, near Surat, Gujarat to protect commerce. The Company named the force the Honourable East India Company's Marine, and the first fighting ships arrived on 5 September 1612.

This force protected merchant shipping off the Gulf of Cambay and the rivers Tapti and Narmada. The ships also helped map the coastlines of India, Persia and Arabia.

In 1686, with most of English commerce moving to Bombay, the force was renamed the Bombay Marine. The Bombay Marine was involved in combat against the Marathas and the Sidis and participated in the Anglo-Burmese Wars. The Bombay Marine recruited many Indian lascars but commissioned no Indian officers until 1928.

Expansion of Her Majesty's Indian Navy[edit]

Sailors of the Indian Navy breaching the Delhi gates during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

In 1830, the Bombay Marine became Her Majesty's Indian Navy. The British capture of Aden increased the commitments of Her Majesty's Indian Navy, leading to the creation of the Indus Flotilla. The Navy then fought in the China War of 1840.

Her Majesty's Indian Navy resumed the name Bombay Marine from 1863 to 1877, when it became Her Majesty's Indian Marine. The Marine then had two divisions; the Eastern Division at Calcutta and the Western Division at Bombay.

In recognition of the services rendered during various campaigns, Her Majesty's Indian Marine was titled the Royal Indian Marine in 1892. By this time it consisted of over 50 vessels.[7]

The Royal Indian Marine in World War I[edit]

When mines were detected off the coasts of Bombay and Aden, the Royal Indian Marine went into action with a fleet of minesweepers, patrol vessels and troop carriers. Besides patrolling, the Marine ferried troops and carried war stores from India 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.

The Royal Indian Navy in World War II[edit]

In 1934, the Royal Indian Marine became the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). Ships of the RIN received the prefix HMIS for His Majesty's Indian Ships. At the start of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy was very small and had eight warships. The onset of the war led to an expansion. Additionally Indian Sailors served on-board several Royal Navy warships. The large number of Indian merchant seamen and merchant ships were instrumental in keeping the large stream of raw material and supplies from India to the United Kingdom open.

The sloops HMIS Sutlej (U95) and HMIS Jumna (U21) played a key role in Operation Husky – the invasion of Sicily.[8]

The sloop HMIS Godaveri (U53) sunk the German submarine U-198 on 12 August 1944 near the Seychelles.

Indian sailors started a rebellion also known as The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, in 1946 on board ships and shore establishments, which spread all over India. A total of 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors were involved in the rebellion.

Partition and Independence of India[edit]

In 1947, British India was partitioned and the Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan gained independence from the United Kingdom. The Royal Indian Navy was split between India and Pakistan, with senior British officers continuing to serve with both navies, and the vessels were divided between the two nations.

When India became a republic on 26 January 1950, the name was changed to the Indian Navy, and the vessels were redesignated as Indian Naval Ships (INS).

Vice Admiral R. D. Katari was the first Indian Chief of Naval Staff, appointed on April 22, 1958.

Indian Navy operations[edit]

Annexation of Goa, 1961[edit]

The first involvement of the Navy in any conflict came during the 1961 Indian annexation of Goa with the success of Operation Vijay against the Portuguese Navy. Four Portuguese frigates - the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, the NRP Bartolomeu Dias, the NRP João de Lisboa and the NRP Gonçalves Zarco - were deployed to patrol the waters off Goa, Daman and Diu, along with several patrol boats (Lancha de Fiscalização).

Eventually only the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque saw action against Indian Navy ships, the other ships having fled before commencement of hostilities. The NRP Afonso was destroyed by Indian frigates INS Betwa and INS Beas. Parts of the Afonso are on display at the Naval Museum in Mumbai, while the remainder was sold as scrap.

Indo-Pakistani war of 1965[edit]

There were no significant naval encounters during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

On September 7, 1965 a flotilla of the Pakistani Navy carried out a small-scale bombardment of the Indian coastal town and radar station of Dwarka, 200 miles (300 km) south of the Pakistani port of Karachi. Codenamed Operation Dwarka, it did not fulfill its primary objective of disabling the radar station. There was no significant Indian retaliation, since 75% of the Indian naval vessels were undergoing maintenance or refitting in the harbor. Some of the Indian fleet sailed from Bombay to Dwarka to patrol the area and deter further bombardment. Operation Dwarka has been described as an "insignificant bombardment"[9] of the town was a "limited engagement, with no strategic value."[10]

Indo-Pakistani war of 1971[edit]

INS Vikrant played a crucial role in the 1971 war by a successful blockade of East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh.

The Indian Navy played a significant role in the bombing of Karachi harbour in the 1971 war. On December 4, it launched Operation Trident during which missile boats INS Nirghat and INS Nipat sunk the minesweeper PNS Muhafiz and destroyer PNS Khyber. The destroyer PNS Shahjahan was irreparably damaged. Owing to its success, December 4 has been celebrated as Navy Day ever since.

The operation was so successful that the Pakistani Navy raised a false alarm about sighting an Indian missile boat on December 6. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) planes attacked the supposed Indian ship and damaged the vessel before it was identified as being another Pakistani Navy ship, PNS Zulfiqar which suffered numerous casualties and damage as a result of this friendly fire.

During Operation Python on December 8, the frigate PNS Dacca was severely damaged by INS Veer and the oil storage depot of Karachi was set ablaze. On the western front in the Arabian Sea, operations ceased after the Karachi port became unusable due to the sinking of Panamian vessel Gulf Star. An Indian frigate, INS Khukri was sunk by submarine PNS Hangor.

On the eastern front, the submarine PNS Ghazi was sunk outside Vishakhapatnam harbor. Indian naval aircraft, Sea Hawks and Alizés, from the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant were instrumental in sinking many gunboats and merchant navy vessels in the Bay of Bengal. The successful blockade of East Pakistan by the Indian Navy proved to be a vital factor in the Pakistani surrender.

Type of Vessel Indian Navy losses Pakistan Navy losses
Destroyers 0 2, PNS Khaibar and PNS Shahjahan* (damaged)
Frigates 1, INS Khukri** 3
Submarines 0 1, PNS Ghazi
Minesweeper 0 1, PNS Muhafiz
Navy Aircraft 0, (Alize) 0
Patrol boats and Gunboats 0 4 Gunboats and 3 patrol boats
Merchant navy and others 0 9 (including one US ammunition ship)

*PNS Shahjahan was presumably damaged beyond repair.

Operations after 1971[edit]

The Indian Armed Forces initiated Operation Cactus to prevent a coup attempt by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by about 200 Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries from the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in Maldives in 1988. After Indian paratroopers landed at Hulhule and secured the airfield and restored the democratically-elected government at Malé, the Sri Lankan mercenaries hijacked the freighter MV Progress Light and took a number of hostages, including the Maldivian Transport minister and his wife. The Indian Navy frigates INS Godavari and INS Betwa captured the freighter, rescued the hostages and arrested the mercenaries near the Sri Lankan coast.[11]

During the 2006 Lebanon War, the Indian Navy launched Operation Sukoon to successfully evacuate 2280 persons from Lebanon, including Indian, 436 Sri Lankan and 69 Nepali and 7 Lebanese citizens.[12]

Since November 2, 2008 an Indian Navy frigate INS Tabar accompanied by the destroyer INS Mysore has been on an anti-piracy mission off the Gulf of Aden.

References[edit]