Chapter 3: The Early Stages of War
Declaration of War and Early Developments
On the outbreak of war in September 1939 the Viceroy of India, Lord Linlithgow, declared India to be at war without consulting Indian political leaders. India was thus committed to war and her forces joined the Allies in various theatres of war without undergoing any radical alteration either in numbers or equipment. Suggestions for reorganisation and modernisation had not been implemented yet. The Chatfield Committee’s, recommendations were obviously not intended to meet the challenge of immediate hostilities. At the same time, subsequent expansion of the Royal Indian Navy up to September 1943 did follow to a great extent the principles and suggestions laid down in the report. The task of the Royal Indian Navy remained the defence of India’s ports and protection of her sea communications and it was to this end that all measures to expand this Service were geared.
When war broke out, it was found possible to take up only 31 out of the 48 vessels required for local naval defence, and for some months the Royal Indian Navy made shift with these alone. In May 1940, the Admiralty intimated that should the war at any time spread to the Far East, “it will be necessary considerably to augment the small craft at present available for minesweeping, anti-submarine and patrol duties at defended ports in the Indian Ocean and China seas.” The Admiralty further considered that if Germany found it possible to operate U-boats in the Indian Ocean “as a result of either Russia or Japan affording her base facilities”, the minimum number of small craft required at Indian ports in addition to existing local naval defence vessels, would be as follows:–
|-3- 105 ft.||Mine-sweepers||-10- 110 ft. Fairmiles for A/S duties, and 4-72 ft. motor launches for local patrols.|
|-3- 105 ft.||Mine-sweepers||-do-|
|-8-105ft.||Mine-sweepers||-10-110 ft. Fairmiles for A/S duties.|
|-4- 105 ft.||Mine-sweepers||-10- 110 ft. Fairmiles for A/S duties and 4-72 ft. motor launches for local patrols.|
|-4- 105 ft.||Mine-sweepers||-4- 110 ft. Fairmiles for A/S duties.|
|-4- 105 ft.||Mine-sweepers||-do-|
These requirements were subject to further increases if Japan or Russia entered the war against the Allies.
In June 1940, the Commander-in-Chief, East Indies, pointed out that India’s extensive waters were “easily mineable, and contained attractive targets for submarines”, and recommended that such numbers of fast anti-submarine and minesweeping vessels should be provided as would allow continued sweeping and patrol at each port; and in a signal in August 1940 he advised that the Government of India should provide at least two Bangor class mine-sweeping vessels, fitted for both anti-submarine and minesweeping work, at each of the six major ports – these vessels being fast enough to comprise an efficient hunting force. The FOCRIN thereupon drew up a construction programme envisaging the provision of a force of 18 fast anti-submarine minesweeping vessels – being the allowance of two per port, plus the necessary margin for refitting and boiler cleaning and for war eventualities – together with 43 Basset trawlers (slower anti-submarine and minesweeping vessels), 19 Fairmile launches, 8-105 ft. minesweepers and 12 patrol launches.
Supply and shipbuilding facilities assumed importance at this stage; Australia, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Singapore as well as India’s own yards, were all investigated as potential sources of supply. Two Bangors were sanctioned for building in India, and four Bathursts (vessels of largely similar type) in Australia in the autumn of 1940, but it was not till August 1941 that nine more Bangors were sanctioned for construction in United Kingdom and three more Bathursts in India, thus making up a total of 18. In April 1941 two additional Bangors were sanctioned to be built in India.
The remainder of the construction programme was also subjected to some modification, the number of Fairmiles sanctioned being ultimately 24, that of 105 ft. minesweepers 11, and patrol launches 28,
Acquisition of Ships
Due to the dependence on the British Navy, the extent of India’s weakness in her own naval arm was never fully appreciated. It needed the threat of a World War for steps to be taken to plan the expansion of the Royal Indian Navy even on a modest scale. The practical application of the plans lay in the expansion of the navy to meet wartime requirements. It was only in 1939 that sanction to expand the service was obtained. As it was, the foundation and expansion had to be provided for simultaneously. With a few more years of peace the RIN would have had a skeleton organisation to meet the emergency of the war.
It was a matter of grave concern that the “minimum insurance” of six escort vessels proved far below the ultimate requirements of war. The inadequacy was closely linked up with the question of finance. With her long coastline vulnerable to attack and her far-flung sea supply lines, the proportion of expenditure as recommended by the Chatfield Committee on Naval defence was insufficient. Out of a total net capital cost of Rs. 45.09 crores, the RIN’s allocation was Rs. 2.62 crores which was 5.8 per cent of the whole, representing only one-third of the expenditure recommended for the Indian Air Force and about one-fourteenth of that recommended for the Army. This was, of course, because of the expectation that the Eastern Fleet of the British Navy would guard the Indian Ocean.
On the outbreak of war the following vessels from the trade were taken up:–
Badora Bhadravati Chandbali Haideri Hiravati Kutubtari Lady Craddock Lilavati Nulchira Oostacapelle Padmavati Prabhavati Rukmavati Sandip Sandoway Satyavati Selama Sophie Marie Sitakhoond Victoria Marie
Dipavati Hashemi Irrawadi Kalavati Netravati Pansy Parvati Ramdas Ratnagiri Sibavatu St. Anthony
To man the vessels and to run the port offices, transfers of Active Service officers were made and a great increase in Reserves took place. An indication of the manning situation provided by the immediate taking up of the 31 auxiliaries named, is found in the figures of the complement of a representative auxiliary minesweeper of average strength:–
|Officers||1 Lieutenant RINR (in command)|
|1 Lieutenant RINVR|
|1 Sub-Lieutenant RINR|
|Warrant Officers||1 Boatswain RINR|
|1 Warrant Chief Engineer RINR|
|2 Warrant Engineers RINR|
|Ratings||Active Service||‘Hostilities Only’ Service|
|Artificers & Artisans||–||8|
At the outbreak of the war, only two ports, Bombay and Calcutta, were in a position to carry out the change-over from merchant ship to auxiliary warship. It was necessary, therefore, to concentrate all the ships selected either at Bombay, which took two-thirds of the total number, or at Calcutta which took the remainder. About ten companies were concerned and among them the Bombay Steam Navigation Company, the Scindia Steam Navigation Company Calcutta, and the River Steam Navigation Company, Calcutta, were the important ones engaged in the task of reconstruction. As fast as the ships were taken over, each ship was required to be manned at the same speed on a scale similar to that already given, according to its size.
The following figures will indicate the strength of the RIN prior to the outbreak of war and soon thereafter in 1939:–
|Prior to the outbreak of war||On 31 December 1939|
|Officers (including Warrant Officers)||209||343|
It is clear from these figures that the strength of the RIN was nearly doubled within three months. This increase was unique in the naval history of the world, and indicated the utter inadequacy of the existing establishments and the importance of the pre-war schemes of expansion.
As regards the recruitment of officers, out of the mercantile marine officer serving in the ships acquired for war purposes, only a few were recruited on T124 (India) agreement into the R.l.N.R. The Engineer officers were mainly British subjects and were recruited easily enough, but they were on different rates of pay according to the rates prevalent in the respective companies and had to be brought to a uniform and acceptable scale.
The problem in respect of ratings was no easier. Deck crews from Daman were Portuguese subjects and could not be recruited while the remainder of the seamen crews of the ships taken over, were usually Hindus, not willing to serve in a Service consisting of mainly Englishmen and Muslims at that time. In consequence, entirely new crews had to be found and signed on at the Shipping Masters’ Office in Bombay and Calcutta. These men refused to engage at coastal rates of pay and would serve only on deep sea rates plus a war bonus. At this time the mercantile rates of pay were increasing rapidly under the stimulus of competition between companies for the services of men who were insufficient in number for all the berths available. The battle of rates became a tug of war with the Marcantile Marine gaining the upper hand, absorbing to itself good seamen and leaving those of a low standard to be recruited by the Royal Indian Navy.
The recruitment of ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings was the outcome of this rate war. These recruits were of exceptionally low physical standard and more than two-thirds of each batch sent before a medical officer were rejected. This was in spite of lowering the standards of physical fitness in an endeavour to speed up manning the ships. The volume of rejections even under the lower standards of physical fitness continued to remain high and therefore the task of manning the ships became more difficult. The problem of rates of pay which was another reason for the unwillingness of the ratings to enlist in the Navy has been treated in other chapters,
The original agreement T124 (I) upon which Warrant officers and ratings were signed, was similar to the merchant shipping agreement in that it was a contract between each ship and her own crew for twelve months. As the rate war raged between the shipping companies, the pay of ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings continued to lag far behind and there was little inducement for a rating to renew his agreement on its lapse. In this way the second year of war commenced with considerable time being taken up in renewing agreements and recruiting afresh where this was not possible.
To meet this particular difficulty, on 30 May 1942, a new agreement, T124 (I) was introduced between each man and the Government of India for the duration of the war. By this agreement, the man could not claim release as a matter of right but Government could discharge him at 24 hours’ notice. At the same time a new rate of pay was introduced. In respect of pay, not only had the conflicting rates of Bombay and Calcutta for ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings to be reconciled, but Government sanctions also had to be obtained, and Calcutta brought into line with the rates authorised.
Accommodation existed in Naval Barracks, Bombay for about 270 men, including that of ratings standing by the two ships periodically under refit. This was speedily swamped by men recalled from leave, with overflows under sheds and wherever a man could be squeezed in. The ‘Hostilities Only’ recruits were bundled aboard their ships in quick time, but even then the situation was completely out of control in respect of living quarters. It was at that time that work commenced rather at a slow pace upon new quarters in Bombay Castle. As these were not available for occupation before January 1941, the position remained unsatisfactory for some time.
Clothing was provided to some extent from Depot Clothing Store, but as the requirement was double of that before the war, heavy demands became necessary upon the Sail Loft for new garments, on a large scale. This problem of providing clothing in adequate quantities persisted for a long period. The following Royal Indian Naval Barracks Staff managed all rationing, clothing, accommodation and pay in the first instance.
|Executive Officer, Depot (who was also the Drafting Officer)||Lt. Cdr. RIN|
|General .. ..||One Chief Petty Officer Writer One Petty Officer Writer Four Writers|
This staff also recruited all Special Service ratings and dealt with the kitting up of all recruits, medical inspection and similar duties. Some 1,400 individual Dockyard passes had to be issued to recruits. The entire burden of providing rations to the new entrants fell upon the Executive Officer and the Chief Petty Officer. Any breakdown in this section brought discontent and possibly desertions in the Service.
Training and Equipment
A special problem that faced the R.I.N, was the insufficiency of Gunnery rates for the gun crews for the 31 new auxiliary vessels. The Gunnery rates required by an auxiliary vessel varied with her armament in this manner:–
|4-inch Breech Loading Gun||7 ratings||4 ratings|
|4-inch Quick Firing Gun||7 ratings||5 ratings|
|12-Pounder Gun||5 ratings||3 ratings|
The Breech Loading Gun was not in use in the Royal Indian Navy before the outbreak of war, and no training had been arranged for it. The more efficient Quick Firing Gun was not available in sufficient quantities to equip the newly taken up auxiliaries, so that the older gun had to be used. In any case, insufficient nuclei existed of trained Gunnery rates for gun crews and organisation of training courses became imperative. Further, as the deficiency of trained personnel was experienced, Able and Ordinary Seamen had to be trained as seamen gunners, and seamen gunners from the Special Service were requisitioned for training as Active Service gun-layers. Allowing for wastage it meant training some 200 men for the 31 new ships’ during the first two months of the war, with teams of four standing by for duty as fast as the ships were refitted.
On account of their illiteracy and low standard of education, it was not possible to train ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings in this way. Full complements of gun crews being out of the question, ‘Hostilities Only’ ratings had to be licked into shape on board as loading numbers. In the case of HMIS Bhadravati who had a gun crew of seven ratings four were new draft Active Service, and the remaining three were ‘Hostilities Only’ raw recruits.
In September 1939, the maximum possible expansion of the Gunnery School took place in the space available, namely the RIN Dockyard. Fire Control, ammunition, land fighting and director sections were added in a building adjacent to the battery. In due course, another temporary battery was added, giving a total of five
guns (4” MK IV Quick Firing; 4” Mark IX Breech Loading and 6” Breech Loading-the latter for training gun crews for armed merchant cruisers fitting out in Bombay) available for training. In 1940, when the RIN office moved out of its premises in the dockyard, a number of classrooms became available for theoretical and educational instruction, but at the same time the increased flow of naval stores caused part of the already small parade ground to be absorbed for storage purposes. Some slight relief was afforded by the Western Indian Football Association, who allowed their ground at Cooperage to be used for company drill once a week. Instructors consisted of one qualified gunnery officer as officer-in-charge, two gunners and two gunners mates .
In mid-1940 it became obvious that some provision would have to be made at once to increase the number of instructors, and the officer-in-charge inaugurated a long course of RINVR officers to fit them for gunnery instruction. At the same time Reserve Officers’ short courses were commenced (of three weeks’ duration) thereby throwing a further heavy burden on an already overstrained organisation. About the same time, ratings were multiplying in numbers, and Castle Barracks was opened up.
In the middle of 1940, the policy of clearing all training establishments out of the dockyard came into operation. In any case, the Gunnery school was now so hopelessly crammed for space that a move to more commodious premises was essential if efficient training was to be carried on. A new gunnery school became necessary and potential locations at Colaba, Dongri Point, Marve and Madh Island were considered. Several objections to any site in the Bombay area were raised by the Government of India such as proximity to residential areas and hospitals, high rentals of land, etc., hence the location finally chosen was on Manora Sandspit, Karachi, on the site of the old fort. Some difficulties and delays were experienced in the initial stages and it was not till early in 1942 that serious building operations were commenced.
About the same time, the Boys’ Training Establishment, formerly situated in HMIS Dalhousie, was moved to Karachi and the ship was then utilised as training establishment for Special Service ratings. The total number of ratings that it was thus possible to train and accommodate there varied with the season. During winter it was possible to train 36 classes of 30 men, i.e., 1,080 men plus 3 classes (90 men) on-sea training. During the monsoon the latter number had to be reduced to 60 men. Accommodation was the limiting factor; the figures given above were worked out (a) for the monsoon when 6’×3’ was allowed for sleeping, all men
being under cover and, (b) for fine weather when the upper deck, etc. was available for sleeping purposes. The total sanctioned ship’s company was 26 officers and 145 ratings.
As the expansion of the service continued and recruitment gained momentum, the Dalhousie was found to be too small. A situation ultimately arose when the intake by recruitment had to be curbed directly owing to the limited accommodation in the training schools and this at a time when the service urgently required more men. As Castle Barracks was completed, the initial training of Special Service ratings was moved there, but this afforded only momentary relief, as space there also was extremely limited.
A word about the training of the Reserve Officers may not be out of place here. Up to 1924, selection of officers of the regular R.I.N, was made from officers of the Royal Naval Reserve who had obtained at least a Second Mate’s Certificate. There were very few exceptions to the rule. After 1924, officers entered as cadets and were trained as Special Entry Cadets with the Royal Navy before going for service in India. There were again a number of exceptions to this rule, where necessary strength was made up by admitting officers from the Royal Naval Reserve.
Prior to 1938, there was no reserve of officers in the RIN, but with the threat of war, both RINR and RINVR were formed, on lines similar to those in the United Kingdom, the RINR officers being those who had seafaring experience, and at least a Second Mate’s Certificate. First entries to this cadre began in March 1939.
On the outbreak of war, the training of Reserve Officers presented a difficult problem. R.I.N, had no officers’ training school. There was also shortage of instructors. Existing training facilities were already taxed to their maximum capacity to cope with the expansion of the lower deck. Instruction started in the RIN Barracks (Dockyard) towards the end of 1939, all courses being of three weeks duration, except anti-submarine course which lasted one week, till 1941 when the officers training was transferred to Castle Barracks, Bombay.
Operational Arrangements and Bases Available in India and Abroad
On the outbreak of war, the following appointments were created at the ports of Bombay, Calcutta, Cochin, Madras and Karachi:–
Extended Defence Officer
Base Engineer Officer
Base Accountant Officer.
So far no mention has been made of the Royal Naval Force stationed in the Eastern waters upon which rested the task of defending India against any naval attack by the Japanese. It controlled sea communications in an immense area. The area of responsibility of the Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet, covered not only the waters of South-East Asia but also Aden, the Persian Gulf and the east coast of Africa as far south as Madagascar.
In planning for the defence of India and calculating the size of a Japanese attack, military thinking was influenced by the conception of Singapore as a sea-girt citadel – an impregnable bastion of Imperial defence. It had been pointed out in 1933 by the General Staff while formulating a scheme for the defence of the port of Karachi that the nearest foreign naval bases to that city, apart from Persia’s few gun-boats were:–
|Diego Suarez (Madagascar)||2,450 miles|
|Saigon (Indo-China)||3,480 miles|
|Manila (Philippines)||4,250 miles|
|Keelung (Formosa)||4,560 miles|
|Nagasaki (Japan)||5,255 miles|
It was upon these figures that India’s defence by sea was planned. It was estimated that in the event of all the ports named above except the first falling into enemy hands in addition to Hong Kong, Singapore and small harbours on the Malayan and Burmese coasts, the enemy would be placed within the reach of India’s coast-a distance of 700 miles. Against such attack, the RIN if unsupported by other forces would be powerless. The importance of the forces maintained by the Royal Navy in the Far East was thus evident.
Abroad, the war activities centred around the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, East Africa, Burma and the South-East Asian waters and the bases were Aden and Perim for the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf areas and Rangoon, Trincomalee, Colombo and Singapore for the Arakan Coast and the Malayan waters.
India’s naval forces were, in accordance with the Chatfield Committee’s recommendations, required to play their part in remote areas where the safety of India’s bastions was concerned. In accordance with the revised conception of India’s defence role as
devised by that Committee, close liaison was at all times maintained with the Naval Commander-in-Chief, East Indies, and at the outbreak of war five sloops of the R:I.N. were placed under his command for service in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf waters. These forces later played an important part in the operations against Italian East Africa and in the brief campaign in Iran.
On the outbreak of war with Germany, HMIS Hindustan (Commander G. V. G. Beamish, RIN) in company with HMIS Indus (Commander E. G. G. Hunt, RIN) left Bombay for their war stations and on 5 September 1939 joined the Persian Gulf Division of the East India Squadron under the Senior Naval Officer, Persian Gulf. The ships were employed in patrolling the Straits of Hormuz with the object of protecting British and Allied shipping in the Gulf, preventing the entry of hostile raiders and the escape of interned German ships from Iran.
HMI Ships Clive (Commander H. P. Hughes Hallet, DSC, MBE, RIN) and Lawrence (Lt. Cdr. F. W. King, RIN) sailed on 3 September for their war stations at the Island of Masira off the north-east Arabian Coast where patrols were established. At the end of October 1939 both ships joined the Persian Gulf Division.
Owing to the necessity of keeping HMIS Cornwallis (Commander H. C. Beauchamp, RIN) on the Bombay patrol, she did not sail for her war station in the Gulf of Aden until 24 September 1939 and arrived in Aden on 1 October where she was ordered to join the Perim Patrol.
HMIS Indus, after a short refit in Bombay, arrived in Aden on 7 February to reinforce the Perim Patrol. By the end of March 1940, she had steamed over 33,000 miles, and had investigated 435 British and foreign ships. Except for a short period in May when she returned to the Persian Gulf, the Indus took part in nearly all naval activities in the Red Sea.
For strengthening the local naval defence of India in. accordance with the scheme outlined in the previous chapter, merchant ships were requisitioned at a very rapid rate and employed for local naval defence duties. The following ships were employed for local naval defence at the various parts in India on 10 October 1939:–
Pathan Masdras Hashemi
Ramdas Bhadravati Haideri
Rukmavati Sonavati Padmavati Dipavati
More ships were added after their completion either at Bombay or Calcutta. Besides these local naval defence ships, the following ships were converted as armed merchant cruisers:–
|Completed conversion as the first armed merchant cruiser||on 10-10-1939 at Bombay|
|Completed conversion as an armed boarding vessel||on 21-10-1939 at Bombay|
|Completed conversion||on 22-10-1939 at Bombay|
|Completed conversion as ABV||on 24-10-1939 at Calcutta|
|Completed conversion as AMC||on 28-10-1939 at Calcutta|
|Completed conversion||on 10-11-1939 at Calcutta|
|Completed conversion||on 25-11-1939 at Bombay|
|Completed conversion||on 6-12-1939 at Calcutta|
|Completed conversion||on 23-12-1939 at Calcutta|
|Completed conversion||on 21-12-1939 at Bombay|
Of these Cheshire, Ranpura and Carthage were sent to Colombo and Chakla to Aden.
All these war preparations and the early assignments for the R.I.N, were not without some justification. As early as 4 September 1939 the Intelligence Centre, Bombay received the first report from a War Watching Station when Bimlipatam reported a submarine in the vicinity. During the same week three German merchantships (Bram Fels, Drachen Fels and Ehren Fels) were known to be in Marmagoa and five German ships in the Persian Gulf and eight at Massawa. Again on 21 October 1939 nine German ships were reported at Massawa. There was a warning from the Admiralty on 3 November 1939 of potential minelaying. The Admiralty decided that the re-arming of the Indus and the Hindustan should be deferred but that they should be fitted as soon as possible with Asdic. On 9 November 1939 warning was received of the approach of the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer in the Indian Ocean. By 8 December 1939 the total number of submarines reported round the coast of India was to the tune of 40, but none of these reports had been substantiated. The German radio announced giving details of convoys leaving Bombay within twelve hours after their departure.
Loss of “Pathan”
It has been mentioned earlier that HMIS Pathan was employed in the local naval defence duties at Bombay after the declaration of war. Before the hostilities started, it was a tender to the training establishments at Bombay. Its displacement was 695 tons; SHP 5,500; Guns: one 4” and two 12-pdr. After the retubing of her boilers she resumed her duties off the coast of Bombay. On 23 May 1940 she shadowed the Italian Comte Verde into the harbour as a precaution against mining. She did not live long and was lost on 23 June 1940, while on anti-submarine patrol in the vicinity of Bombay harbour (just outside the swept channel at a distance of 26 miles from the harbour).2
Except for this incident which added to the general misfortunes of the Allies at the time, the stage was now well set for operations by the Royal Indian Naval ships in the Arabian Sea, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf.