Hello defence lovers! In this article, we are going to tell you the untold history of the underwater arm of the Indian Navy. In simpler words, we are going to discuss the story of how submarines were inducted into the Indian Navy. Today the Indian Navy is one of the largest navies on earth which has operated almost every type of naval vessel. But the procurement of the submarines was an exceptional feat. In this article, we will look at how it was achieved and what obstacles were surmounted in achieving it.
Note: A significant portion of this article has been taken from the book “The man who Bombed Karachi” by Admiral SM Nanda
Submarine: A Crucial Naval Technology
Although the submarine as a weapon platform of war made its appearance much earlier in the American War of Independence, it really came to establish its potential in the Second World War almost after a century wherein the German U-boats nearly brought the Allied forces to their knees.
As the technology progressed, these silent predators which lurked beneath the waves got even deadlier. The discovery of nuclear propulsion revolutionized the submarine technology as with this technology the submarine did not require to the surface where it was most vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks.
The ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) reshaped the world order by introducing the concept of the nuclear triad: the capability to launch nuclear weapons from land, air, and sea.
Formation Of The Underwater Arm Of The Indian Navy
Soon after Independence, when the Plans of the Indian Navy were drawn up, the submarines did not find a place in the Indian navy as these plans were by the British. The Britishers felt that submarines were offensive platform thus Indian Navy didn’t require them as it was supposed to be a defensive force only.
The British felt that submarines, being advanced platforms, were beyond the competence of the Indian Navy to handle. But the Indian Navy officers had very well understood the importance and strategic advantages of having submarines in the Navy. So few high-ranking officers like Admiral SM Nanda kept persuading the government. At that time resources were scarce and the government had a nation broken by slavery to build. The army was the top priority followed by the airforce back then as the government believed the primary threat was from neighbor Pakistan, not from the sea.
With resolute efforts, the naval planners were successful when the Government agreed to send the first batch of officers and men to the UK for submarine training in 1961 with the final aim of setting up the very own submarine arm for the Indian navy.
However, the British would not agree to give the Indian Navy their latest Oberon class boats but offered their vintage WW II era T-class submarines, which were to be decommissioned and hence which were of no use to the Indian navy. During his visit to the Soviet Union, Admiral Nanda along with the Naval delegation convinced the Soviets to offer their latest Foxtrot-class boats of (I) 641 design, the letter I denoting the export version along with various other vessels including the Osa class missile boats and Petya class corvettes.
Birth Of The Arm
After negotiations and contract conclusion for four boats of the Kalveri class (foxtrot class), the first batch of Indian officers and sailors were to Vladivostok in 1966 under the charge of Commander K Subramanian. The Indian Navy’s submarine arm finally came into existence on 8th December 1967 with the commissioning of INS Kalveri under the command of Cdr K Subramanian. With this, a new dimension was added to the capabilities of the Indian Navy.
Simultaneously, the deal for a submarine depot ship and a submarine rescue ship was also signed. The Soviets also helped Indian Navy to set port facilities at INS Virbahu. Over the next few years, the three remaining submarines which are the INS Khanderi, the INS Karanj and the INS Kursura under the command of Commander MN Vasudeva, Commander MN Sawant and Commander A Auditto were also inducted.
The submarine depot ship, INS Amba was commissioned in December 1968 and the submarine rescue ship INS Nistar in 1971. The submarine base INS Virbahu, situated at Vishakhapattanam was commissioned on May 19, 1971. The 8th submarine Squadron comprising these four submarines was stationed at INS Virbahu in Visakhapatnam under the charge of Captain K Subramanian. Khanderi and Karanj under the command of Lt Cdr Roy Milan and Lt Cdr VS Shekhawat played their part in the 1971 war and both the commanding officers were decorated with Vir Chakra
So this was the story of how the Indian navy got its underwater arm. In the next article, we will discuss how these silent assassins dominated the Arabian sea during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war and how the Indian navy modernized its submarine fleet.