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Chapter 2: The Eve of War

International Situation

Between the two world wars, there had been an alteration in the world geographical distribution of naval power. Britain and France did no longer possess a monopoly. Germany emerged as a strong contender of their supremacy. The USA and Japan also possessed strong and modern battle-fleets and the Italian naval power became a force to be reckoned with. Both Japan and Italy who were Britain’s allies in the First World War were now no longer dependable, and the danger was that, in the event of a war, any naval conflict with these powers would pose a threat to India. Also, in case of a breakdown in Britain’s naval strength in the Indian Ocean, sea communications would be disrupted and the effectiveness of the army which depended for supplies and equipment on the United Kingdom adversely affected.

U.K. Government and Indian Naval Defence

In January 1938, the British Government agreed to forego the annual subvention of £100,000 and miscellaneous annual charges of £15,000 to £20,000 on condition that the Government of India maintained a sea-going squadron of not less than six modern escort vessels which would be free to co-operate with the Royal Navy in the defence of India and that India would, in addition, undertake responsibility for the local naval defence of Indian ports. The contributions accordingly ceased from 1 April 1938:

Nine Year Plan

In order to implement this agreement, the Flag Officer Commanding, Royal Indian Navy submitted in March 1938, a plan known as the Nine Year Plan. He made the following proposals:–

The active service strength to be increased:–

Commissioned Officers from 101 to 169

Warrant Officers from 52 to 104

Ratings from 1,140 to 2,562

Reserve officers and men to man auxiliary vessels and form defence complement:–

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RINR Officers 252
RINVR Officers 71
RINR Ratings 912
RIFR Ratings 593
Communication Reserve 286

Adequate training cadres for Boys and Apprentices in skilled trades which would be separate from those allowed for active service.

The Hindustan and the Indus (sloops) were to be re-armed; the Cornwallis, the Lawrence and the Clive (sloops) to be replaced. One further new escort vessel was to be built to bring the number up to six.

Six small minesweepers and eight motor torpedo boats were to be provided for local naval defence.

Provision was to be made for taking up 48 auxiliary vessels in the event of war. Of these, 25 were to be fitted as minesweepers and 23 as anti-submarine vessels.

Training establishments and instructional equipment were to be provided. It was considered that the main training and manning depots should be situated at Bombay, Cochin and Vizagapatam with sub-depots for subsidiary training of Reserve officers at Calcutta, Madras and Karachi.

Provision was to be made for the replacement of ships by means of a sinking fund.

Recommendations of the Chatfield Committee

Spread over a period of nine years, the proposals entailed a capital expenditure of Rs. 733.3 lakhs and a recurring annual cost of Rs. 64.1 lakhs. This scheme was re-examined by the authorities in India, who considerably amended the proposals which had the agreement of the British Naval Staff. Later, the whole problem was studied afresh by the Chatfield Committee (February 1939) which recommended expansion of the Royal Indian Navy by the construction of four ‘Bittern’ class escort vessels, four ‘Mastiff’ class trawlers and loan of four ‘Halcyon’ class,1 besides the coming of the Indus and the Hindustan. These measures were to be completed in five years, instead of nine; but the outbreak of war in September 1939, although not leading to any deviation from the

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principles of the Chatfield Report, greatly increased the tempo of the expansion of the Royal Indian Navy.

Naval Headquarters Organisation

On 1 October 1939, the Royal Indian Navy was manned by only 114 Officers and 1,732 ratings, as the naval defence of India was primarily the responsibility of the British Government. The Headquarters of the tiny Royal Indian Navy was confined to the dockyard area in Bombay and was organised on the lines of a Naval Squadron afloat, though it remained permanently ashore. The Headquarters, under the FOCRIN, was staffed with only sixteen Officers.2

The NHQ, organisation worked adequately during peace as the Service administered was small and was based upon only one port, Bombay. Until the outbreak of war forced the creation of appointments at outports with the increase and dispersal of ships, this staff was sufficient. It was quite inadequate, however, to cope with the volume of expansion which took place in the first few months of the war, when more ships and shore establishments were added to the Navy, and closer touch with the other two Services and with the Government of India became necessary. Occasional visits were paid by the FOCRIN to New Delhi. As he had to maintain close control over the operational and organisational aspects of the Royal Indian Navy at Bombay, he was less in a position to visit New Delhi at frequent intervals to improve his contacts with the Government. Urgent matters of policy and of financial sanction, however, would come up for decision every day, and often involve wasteful and vexatious signalling between Delhi and Bombay. Cases requiring financial sanction, for example, went from the Naval Headquarters at Bombay to the Deputy Financial Adviser, Air Force and Navy, at New Delhi. Whereas the Air Headquarters, being on the spot, could obtain financial advice immediately by personal discussion, the Naval Headquarters, owing to its being in Bombay, found itself greatly handicapped in securing expeditious disposal of cases. The situation had not substantially improved by the appointment of a Naval Liaison officer with the Government of India in October 1939 and in March 1941 the Naval Headquarters was transferred to New Delhi.3

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Ships in Commission

The following table gives brief particulars of the Royal Indian Navy ships on 1 September 19394:–

Name Type Date of completion Displacement (in tons) Main Armament


Sloop 1921 2,021 Two 4”, four 3-pdr., Two 2-pdr.


Sloop 1917 1,383 Three 4”, four 3-pdr., Two 2-pdr.


Sloop 1930 1,190 Two 4”, four 3-pdr.


Sloop 1934 1,190 Two 4.7”, four 3-pdr.


Sloop 1919 1,225 Two 4”, Four 3-pdr., Two 2-pdr.


Target Towing Trawler 413 1 QF 12-pdr. 12 cwt. (low angle)


Patrol vessel 695 2 QF 12-pdr. 12 cwt. (low angle)


Survey ship 1924 1,572 1 QF 4” Mk IV (low angle)

With the exception of the Indus and the Hindustan, no ship was capable of steaming at 16 knots. Close-range weapons consisted of Lewis Multiple 5” guns and single “pom-poms”, inadequate for effective defence against modern air attack, and in 1942, the Indus was actually lost in one such attack. It may be noted that the main armament of all vessels consisted of hand-worked low-angle (L/A) guns. When the Hindustan was built in 1930, high-angle (H/A) guns were being fitted in the Royal Navy sloops but under the impression that the Indian ratings did not possess the requisite physical strength to handle H/A ammunition, the Hindustan

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was fitted with L/A guns only. When the Indus was built in 1934, the Admiralty policy was to fit two 4.7” L/A and one 3” H/A gun into the sloops then under construction. Owing to the modification in design, however, to fit the Indus as a Flag-ship, the 3” gun was not fitted.

By 1936-37, the physical standard of the Indian rating was viewed differently and the question of re-arming the Indus and the Hindustan with high and low angle guns was taken up with the Admiralty. But difficulties arose from the need to carry out the work either at Singapore or Malta. The supply situation had also become acute with the re-arming of the Royal Navy ships, and as a result, in 1939 the Indus and the Hindustan still carried their old armament.

Plans were made to fit the Royal Indian Navy ships with Type 123 Anti-submarine Detection sets but were not carried out. HMIS Pathan was fitted with this set. Even this was then obsolescent. The Investigator was fitted with an echo-sounding set; there was no hydrophonic or radar equipment.

Due to the lack of a progressive replacement policy, the Royal Indian Navy at the outbreak of war possessed only two reasonably modern ships, the Indus and the Hindustan, but even these were overdue for re-arming and refitting. As regards the Naval Armament Supply Organisation before the war, the arrangements for the supply of ammunition, and repairs to guns and other armament stores for the small fleet were controlled by the army. The only depot available was in Bombay. It consisted of an ammunition storage depot at Butcher Island and a small section on the mainland, with store for guns and spare parts and an Ordnance Workshop for repairs. The Officer-in-Charge of the area was known as “Ordnance Officer, RIN Group, Bombay.” This system proved to be unsatisfactory early in the war, and was replaced later.

Training Establishments

When war broke out in September 1939, all the RIN’s Training Establishments were concentrated inside the RIN-Dockyard, Bombay. These consisted solely of the Seamanship School, the Signal School, the Gunnery School, the Mechanical Training Establishment, the Boys’ Training Establishment and the Anti-submarine School. There were no Officers’ Training courses at all; no torpedo or electrical school and no radar training. The total number of personnel engaged on instructional duties did not exceed 16 officers and a dozen Warrant officers. Officers were trained in the United Kingdom in Royal Navy Establishments,

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It is interesting to note, in brief, the types and manner of training conducted in the Training Schools and Establishments before the outbreak of war.

a. Boys’ Training. – The hulk HMIS Dalhousie moored alongside the breakwater in Bombay was the RIN Boys’ Training Establishment from 1928 to 1940, but it was not satisfactory from the accommodation or equipment points of view; and in 1937 Vice-Admiral A. E. F. Bedford, CB, CSI, evolved a scheme for a new Boys’ Training Establishment at Karachi. The foundation stone was laid by Vice-Admiral Sir H. Fitzherbert, KCIE, CB, CMG, in 1938 and HMIS Bahadur was finally completed and commissioned in May 1940. Instruction began there in the same month.

b. Seamanship Training. – Before describing the training of seamen, it may be mentioned that there were three types of ratings in the RIN:

i. Continuous Service Ratings who had engaged, normally as Boys in peace-time for 10 years’ Active Service and 10 years in the Royal Indian Fleet Reserve;

ii. Special Service ratings who had engaged for 5 years’ Active Service and 5 years in the RIFR; and

iii. ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings who were ex-Merchant Service professional Seamen, Stokers, etc., recruited to man requisitioned ships. At the outbreak of war, recruitment for Continuous Service ratings (except Boys and Artificer Apprentices) temporarily ceased. ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings were regarded, at recruitment, as being fully trained and experienced professional seamen, and were given no training other than that received on the ship on being drafted to sea.

It was therefore only the training of Special Service ratings that received attention. Recruitment of Special Service ratings in the Seamen and Stoker branches began in early 1938. To meet the expansion of the Service and to cope with the training requirements for these men, construction of an RIN Depot on the site of the old Bombay Castle, then in use as an arsenal, was planned. In September 1939, however, this Depot was still a long way from completion and instruction of Special Service ratings had to be carried out in the RIN Barracks inside the dockyard.

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c. Gunnery Training. – When the war broke out in 1939, the RIN Gunnery School was situated in HMI Dockyard, Bombay. It had been established there in 1928 when it consisted of a shed used as a Battery, together with a small hut. A small open area behind the Sawmill was the only space available as a parade ground. Ratings under training were accommodated in the Depot Barracks and officers either lived in the Dalhousie or ashore. In 1934 special arrangements were made with the Admiralty for limited number of RIN officers to qualify in Gunnery at HMS Excellent, Portsmouth. These officers spent brief periods on their return instructing in the Gunnery school. Till 1939, Gunnery requirements of the RIM and RIN were small, and the number of Gunnery ratings under training needed only one or two Specialist officers and about four Gunners Mates for instruction. One Gunners Mates’ class per year and three or four other Gunnery non-substantive courses kept the squadron up to strength with Gunnery rates.

It was, however, realised that should hostilities break out, the facilities existing in 1938 would be wholly inadequate for training purposes. A scheme was put up before the Government in 1939 for the construction of a Gunnery School capable of training Gunnery ratings for the new ships but when war broke out, it had not been carried out.

It was not till 1939 that the first tangible Gunnery expansion since the end of World War I took place when an Ordnance Artificer section was constructed very near the old Boat Slip in the Dockyard. A Range Finding Director with Fuse Keeping Clock and Fire Control Board equipment was installed in this section for training ratings for ultimate new construction.

d. Anti-Submarine Training. – Before July 1939, Anti-Sub-marine training was not catered for at all in the Royal Indian Navy, but in that month an Anti-Submarine School on a very small scale was opened in the RIN Dockyard and remained in operation on that site for about one and a half years. There was at first only one qualified instructor available. As the war progressed, and it became clear that the submarine was once more the enemy’s principal weapon at sea, considerable expansion in Anti-Submarine training became essential. For this

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reason, and in conformity with the policy of moving out of the Dockyard an Anti-Submarine School was opened in Castle Barracks early in 1941.

e. Signal Training. – Up to the end of 1940, Signals Training was also concentrated in the Dockyard. It suffered like other branches from extreme shortage of space, shortage of instructors and shortage of equipment and instructional handbooks. Accordingly, in January 1941, it was decided to build a new Signal School in Colaba and this new school was commissioned on 1 April 1941 as HMIS Talwar.

f. Mechanical Training Establishment. – The RIN Mechanical Training Establishment was situated inside the Dockyard, Bombay, forming part of the RIN Depot and attached to HMIS Dalhousie. This establishment was a development of the former RIN Stokers’ Training School. It consisted of a covered hall of 100 feet by 30 feet in dimension. Half a dozen lathes, one each of slotting, planing, milling and shaping machines, about a score of vices, two coppersmiths’ hearths and a class room comprised its whole training equipment. There was no separate barrack for Stoker ratings undergoing courses. Leading Stokers and Stoker P.Os. were given a qualifying course for mechanicians.

In 1936 this school was renamed the Mechanical Training School and in the following year it was designated the Mechanical Training Establishment. An Engineer Officer who had qualified in Mechanical Training Establishment at Chatham was appointed Officer-in-Charge (Lt. Coverdale Smith, RN). Between 1936 and 1939 rapid strides were made in the development of the Establishment. Modern machinery and other training equipment were installed and instruction was undertaken on set syllabi entailing a higher standard of theoretical instruction and practical workmanship. In 1938, Acting Leading Stokers’ courses were started; owing to the acute shortage of mechanicians in the Service, an Advanced Leading Stokers’ class was also commenced from which about ten ratings qualified and were promoted Acting Mechanician II class (temporary). A scheme was also introduced for the training of Artificer Apprentices, as well as Direct Entry Artificers. Expansion of this

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Establishment was based on the Nine Year Plan, as adopted by the Chatfield Committee.

At the outbreak of war, the position was as follows: The ship’s company of the Mechanical Training Establishment consisted of six officers and some 25 ratings; under instruction there were 50 Artificer Apprentices, 25 Direct Entry Artificers, 20 Acting Leading Stokers, 25 Stokers II (Special Service) and 30 Stoker Boys – a total of 150 trainees.

Scale of Threat Envisaged

The nature of threat to Indian ports envisaged in the event of war with Japan was as follows:–

a. Surface attack and minelaying by cruisers or armed merchant vessels.

b. Attack by submarines, (i) by gunfire at moderate and close ranges, and (ii) by mine or torpedo on shipping in the harbour or immediate approaches.

c. Attack from the air by light seaborne forces.

Elaborating upon this danger, the Chatfield Committee pointed out that such raids “could inflict much material damage and cause serious alarm among the civilian population”. In addition to the risk of sporadic attacks on her coasts, the Committee recognised the other great danger to India, namely interruption of her vital sea communications by either hostile naval or air forces. It was pointed out that “such risks emanate not only from Japan but also from Italy in the event of a World War in which Italy was engaged against the Empire”. The Committee’s concern with this aspect of India’s defence is seen not only in the Naval section but in other parts of the report also.

Local Naval Defence

Priority for local naval defence was recognised as early as 1923 by the Committee of Imperial Defence. In 1938, as stated earlier, the British Government agreed to forego the annual subvention with a view to provide an adequate defence of Indian ports. The reason for this emphasis on local naval defence is not far to seek. Both for India’s own internal security and defence and for a vital link in the Imperial war effort, protection of India’s great ports – Bombay, Karachi, Calcutta, Madras, Cochin and Vizagapatam – was an obvious necessity. Bombay, being the base of the RIN itself, contained the main repair facilities available to British and Allied war vessels

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serving on the East Indies Station. In addition, it was realised that all these ports would, on the outbreak of war, assume major importance as convoy assembly ports, emergency routing ports, ports of refuge for merchant ships, centres for the fitting out of armed merchant cruisers and the defensive armament of merchantmen, and military embarkation and disembarkation and supply ports.

Recommendations in Sections B and G of the Chatfield Committee’s report were designed to protect the defended ports and their immediate approaches against attack by mine or torpedo. But it still left the problem of attack of these ports by hostile air bombardment either by seaborne aircraft or land based aircraft. It was not considered that local naval defence vessels could offer effective defence against these forms of attack. _ All H.M. and HMI ships would have other duties to perform, and would therefore not be available for permanent stationing for this purpose. The counter-measure against the air attacks mentioned above was defence by coastal batteries, with assistance, where possible, by aircraft. The Chatfield Committee examined the situation in detail and formulated recommendations upon the type and calibre of guns which would be installed at sites in the various ports. It was proposed that two of the bomber squadrons of the Air Force were to be specially trained and equipped to undertake the dual role of duties on the frontier and for coast defence. It was also proposed that five flights of aircraft should be raised on a volunteer basis to assist in the defence of the ports. It was considered that with these defences, so long as the scale of attack was no greater than that of a cruiser or armed merchant vessel operating some thousands of miles from its base, bombardment of the ports would be unlikely.

Local Naval Defence Plan

The Nine Year Plan provided for the taking up in the event of war of 48 merchant vessels, 25 to be fitted out as auxiliary minesweepers and 23 as auxiliary anti-submarine craft. These were to be distributed among the ports as follows:–

Karachi 3 Auxiliary Minesweepers. 2 Auxiliary A/S Vessels.
Bombay 4 -do- 6 -do-
Calcutta 15 -do- 10 -do-

and the remaining 8 vessels were to be used for similar duties at Madras, Cochin and Vizagapatam. Those vessels on being taken were to be manned by their peace-time mercantile crews signed on under the T-124 (India) Agreement, or by other local personnel,

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plus Naval Reserve Officers and ratings as and when available. The vessels intended to be used for this purpose were earmarked beforehand and appropriate lists maintained.

In addition to these active measures against hostile attack, a number of standardised precautionary measures were prescribed for the ports in respect of control of shipping, entry into the ports, etc. Thus arrangements were made for the immediate operation of an Examination Service functioning under a Chief Examining Officer, the work in each port to be carried out by members of the local Pilot Service in addition to their normal duties, assisted by the personnel and craft of the respective Port Trusts. This Service was naturally to work in close co-operation with the Examination Battery at each port, and with the assistance of the Port War Signal Station. Examination anchorages had also been defined. Uniform regulations governing the conduct of the Examination Service, procedure regarding the detention of ships and cargoes and ‘Droit de Prince’, (Rights of the Prince) had been laid down in CB 1818 (R) (Hand-book on the Examination Service and Issue of Local Traffic Regulations 1938) and in DOI1935 [Detaining Officers War Instructions (India) 1935] whilst the regulations governing the entry of British and Allied warships and British, Allied and neutral merchantmen into Indian ports and procedure of Port War Signal Stations were tabulated in CB 1618 Q. (Instructions for entry into British Defended Ports 1938).

Defence Scheme

It was obvious that these precautions could not be put into effect swiftly and with uniformity at each of the defended ports on the outbreak of war without the existence of some pre-arranged administrative machinery. It may be of interest to study how the precautionary plans fitted together in respect of any one port. Bombay, being the most important from a naval point of view, will be the best example.

The anticipated local naval defence plans for Bombay were:–

1. A minesweeping flotilla of four auxiliary minesweepers to maintain a swept channel (as defined by Admiralty Instructions marked by buoys).

2. An anti-submarine flotilla of six auxiliary vessels to provide a swept channel to harbour and also act as patrol ships.

3. A harbour patrol of two launches or motor boats covering the area within the harbour limits. These were to be

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armed with Lewis or machine guns and were to patrol the harbour by day to see that no country craft were under way without a pass, and to keep a look out on all vessels at anchor, and by night to maintain a specific patrol on the eastern side of the harbour.

During the precautionary and war stages, the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Bombay, and staff were responsible for the following duties:–

1. To request the Government of India to authorise the requisitioning of all vessels required for local naval defence duties.

2. To arrange to fit out and equip such vessels.

3. To request the Bombay Government to take steps to keep secret the movements of His Majesty’s and merchant ships.

4. To apply to the Bombay Government for authority to requisition accommodation required.

5. To request the Bombay Government to instruct marine engineering and shipbuilding firms for a prior claim to their services.

6. To arrange with the Naval Stores Officer to purchase such naval stores as would be necessary for the probable requirements of auxiliary vessels to be based on the port.

7. To arrange to engage civilian personnel to assist in ‘ coding and ciphering until such time as Volunteer Reserve Personnel were detailed for these duties.

8. To put in hand arrangements for buoying the searched channel.

9. To inform the Port War Signal Station of the expected time of arrival of ships supplied with the “private” signal, and also of the current reply.

Organisation and detailed plans at other ports were of a similar nature differing mainly in degree and in local requirements. Thus at Calcutta, an integral part of the port defence scheme lay in shifting the positions of the normal navigation buoys; it was considered that in view of the great navigational difficulties presented by the Hooghly, this in itself was a considerable measure of defence, though the FOCRIN was of the opinion that too great a reliance should not be placed on this fact.5

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At Karachi, the officer responsible for making the necessary defence arrangements during peace-time and during the precautionary and initial war stages was the Sea Transport Officer, and at Calcutta, the Principal Officer, Mercantile Marine Department. In each case, upon mobilisation being decided upon, these officers assumed the duties of Naval Officer-in-Charge at their respective ports.