Com­modore K.S. SubraMa­nian, Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of the first In­dian sub­ma­rine, INS Kal­vari

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It speaks vol­umes about the worth, ded­i­ca­tion, de­ter­mi­na­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion of our of­fi­cers and sailors that they were able to qual­ify in all the tests and tasks given to them in a com­pletely for­eign lan­guage in the short time of one year and there­after op­er­ate their sub­ma­rine not only with­out any mishap but with con­fi­dence and pro­fi­ciency

in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view for SPÕs Naval Forces to com­mem­o­rate the Golden Ju­bilee of the Sub­ma­rine Arm of the In­dian Navy, Com­modore K.S. Subra-Ma­nian, Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of the first sub­ma­rine, In­dian Naval Ship Kal­vari has rem­i­nisced sev­eral chal­lenges braved with sheer pro­fes­sional pride by the pi­o­neers of the Sub­ma­rine Arm of the in­dian navy SPÕs Naval Forces (SPÕs): Be­ing the pioneer Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of the first In­dian naval sub­ma­rine, would you like to rec­ol­lect the pangs and chal­lenges in estab­lish­ing Sub­ma­rine Arm for the In­dian Navy? Com­modore K.S. Subra-Ma­nian ( Cmde KSS): i would not call them pangs but cer­tainly there were chal­lenges. We were tasked with some­thing which most of the 16 of­fi­cers and 104 sailors who formed the first batch had not faced be­fore, hav­ing served only in sur­face ships with lit­tle or no ex­po­sure to a life un­der­wa­ter. The fol­low­ing sig­nal i re­ceived from the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Ad­mi­ral A.K. Chat­terji on June 20, 1966 em­pha­sised these chal­lenges:

“Per­sonal from CNS for the Of­fi­cer-in-Charge and all mem­bers of the first Sub­ma­rine Party. With your de­par­ture for the USSR the In­dian Navy em­barks on a new era of growth and ex­pan­sion. you have a very dif­fi­cult task ahead but know­ing the ex­tremely strin­gent tests that have been ap­plied to your se­lec­tion I am con­fi­dent of your suc­cess. I am sure that you will do your best to mas­ter the dif­fi­cult art of sub­marin­ing and con­duct your­selves in the best tra­di­tions of the ser­vice. On your ef­forts will de­pend the fu­ture of the Sub­ma­rine Arm.”

So we were un­der no il­lu­sions about the na­ture of the chal­lenges be­fore us. Some like my­self had some prior ex­pe­ri­ence of sub­ma­rine life, hav­ing trained and served in Bri­tish sub­marines for short pe­ri­ods. For the ma­jor­ity, it was their first ex­po­sure to sub­marin­ing. Fur­ther­more, they had to learn about this to­tally dif­fer­ent art in a hos­tile cli­mate, in a new lan­guage and within a mere 16 month train­ing pe­riod, in­clud­ing three months learn­ing Rus­sian. In other navies of Bri­tain, USA, Rus­sia and Ger­many, it took 10-12 years of train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence to be­come a Sub­ma­rine Cap­tain! SPÕs: Would you like to share the mem­oires of train­ing of sur­face navy of­fi­cers and men to con­vert as sub­mariners for the In­dian Navy.

Cmde KSS: Our first task be­fore we ac­tu­ally started sub­ma­rine train­ing was to en­sure that the course of in­struc­tion and the syl­labi for the var­i­ous cat­e­gories of our sailors was suit­able and ap­pro­pri­ate for us. The or­gan­i­sa­tion and sub-spe­cial­i­sa­tion struc­tures in the Soviet and in­dian navies were dif­fer­ent. Fur­ther­more, Soviet sailors were mostly con­scripts with much less ser- vice, do­ing manda­tory ser­vice for a short pe­riod, un­like our sailors with more than five to six years’ ser­vice and some spe­cial­i­sa­tion. There­fore, the pat­tern and syl­labi of train­ing in the Soviet navy for these con­scripts could not be ap­plied to the train­ing of our sailors, and re­quired ex­ten­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tion. All this could have been sorted out ear­lier at a much higher level, but it was left to us even as we com­menced train­ing, be­cause there was no sub­mariner at this higher level for ad­vice.

With some dif­fi­culty and af­ter con­sid­er­able dis­cus­sion, we suc­ceeded in per­suad­ing them to agree to get the syl­labi mod­i­fied and there­after nom­i­nated spe­cific sailors for spe­cific train­ing. All these dis­cus­sions, of course, were go­ing on be­tween at­tend­ing lan­guage classes and look­ing af­ter the ad­min­is­tra­tion and dis­ci­pline of an in­dian Navy shore es­tab­lish­ment of 120 per­son­nel — by it­self a full time job. In hind­sight, I can now say that we made a sound de­ci­sion to take what was best and suit­able for us in the train­ing, or­gan­i­sa­tion, pro­ce­dures and drills from both our ex­ist­ing model of bri­tish ori­gin, and that of the Sovi­ets and to have a new model for our­selves, not an im­i­ta­tion of ei­ther. The rest of the Navy, with more ac­qui­si­tions from Rus­sia, did like­wise later on. So now we have our own model — nei­ther Western nor Rus­sian, but In­dian. SP’s: What kind of dif­fi­cul­ties and chal­lenges were en­coun­tered while in­duct­ing and com­mis­sion­ing the first Sub­ma­rine, INS Kal­vari?

Cmde KSS: be­fore the De­cem­ber date of com­mis­sion­ing, in Oc­to­ber 1967 I went from Vladi­vos­tok to Moscow, and from there by train with my en­gi­neer and Elec­tri­cal of­fi­cers to the White Sea in the north for the deep div­ing fi­nal trial of the Kal­vari inside the Arc­tic Cir­cle. These were com­pletely suc­cess­ful and the sub­ma­rine eas­ily ex­ceeded her de­signed max­i­mum depth, in­spir­ing con­fi­dence in her ca­pa­bil­ity and ro­bust­ness of her con­struc­tion. I en­coun­tered no dif­fi­cul­ties in com­mis­sion­ing INS Kal­vari, ex­cept for the fact that af­ter we com­mis­sioned her on De­cem­ber 8, 1967, at Balderoi, Riga in Latvia we had to do our workup in the Baltic, in the ice and snow con­di­tions of win­ter. On the day of com­mis­sion­ing, the tem­per­a­ture was a brac­ing mi­nus 17 de­grees Cel­sius! De­spite the bit­ter cold, our sailors and of­fi­cers chose not to wear the shoddy over­coats of coarse ma­te­rial is­sued to them, as they wished to look smart on this his­toric oc­ca­sion, even if it re­quired stand­ing for about two hours in the cold. Af­ter the cer­e­mony one young sailor of the hon­our guard ac­tu­ally fell down un­con­scious, re­vived only af­ter an hour with med­i­cal at­ten­tion. Such was the re­solve and de­ter­mi­na­tion of ev­ery­one.

As Kal­vari was be­ing com­mis­sioned into the In­dian Navy, we were fully aware that his­tory was be­ing made with the navy ac­quir­ing its third di­men­sion of op­er­a­tion. In ad­di­tion to op­er­a­tions of ships and naval air­craft on and above the oceans, we now could op­er­ate un­der the ocean and as such had ac­quired true blue wa­ter ca­pa­bil­ity. Sig­ni­fy­ing this fact, the rank of the CNS was up­graded to full Ad­mi­ral, at this time and the eastern and Western naval Com­mands came into be­ing un­der Com­man­ders-in-Chief. My own feel­ings at this time can best be ex­pressed by quot­ing from my let­ter to my wife dated De­cem­ber 7, 1967 — “I write to you on the eve of our great day. To­mor­row morn­ing is the com­mis­sion­ing cer­e­mony when the Soviet flag will be low­ered and the In­dian flag will be hoisted on­board for the first time in a sub­ma­rine of our own and i shall read my com­mis­sion­ing war­rant or­der­ing me to as­sume com­mand of our first sub­ma­rine. I shall pray tonight for God to di­rect me to per­form my duty ef­fi­ciently and al­ways re­main hum­ble, strong and vig­i­lant.”

With the tem­per­a­ture at riga con­tin­u­ing to drop, and the prospect of the whole har­bour freez­ing over, on De­cem­ber 21, 1967, I took Kal­vari about 200 miles south in the Baltic to Baltisk in Lithua­nia where we con­tin­ued our workup. SPÕs: What were lev­els of adapt­abil­ity of the com­mis­sion­ing crew to op­er­ate in to­tally new tech­no­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment? Cmde KSS: ear­lier i had enu­mer­ated the chal­lenges and the prob­lem of lan­guage. It speaks vol­umes about the worth, ded­i­ca­tion, de­ter­mi­na­tion and ap­pli­ca­tion of our of­fi­cers and sailors that they were able to qual­ify in all the tests and tasks given to them in a com­pletely for­eign lan­guage in the short time of one year and there­after op­er­ate their sub­ma­rine not only with­out any mishap but with con­fi­dence and pro­fi­ciency. The In­dian sailor had con­vinc­ingly proved his stoic, cheer­ful and will­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and ver­sa­til­ity in the face of odds and chal­lenges, given trust, op­por­tu­nity and proper di­rec­tion.

Aside from this, the sailors of the first sub­ma­rine con­tin­gent made a name for them­selves in the city of Vladi­vos­tok. The lo­cal peo­ple had not come across many for­eign­ers, let alone In­di­ans of whom they knew lit­tle. They were there­fore pleas­antly sur­prised by the cour­te­ous and good man­ners of our sailors who made many friends be­cause of their newly ac­quired rus­sian lan­guage ca­pa­bil­ity. In the 16 months we were there, I did not have a sin­gle dis­ci­plinary case in­volv­ing mis­be­haviour by any of our sailors. One of our of­fi­cers who had gone to Vladi­vos­tok years later in a sub­ma­rine for a re­fit re­ported that the peo­ple there still re­mem­bered our sailors of the first party as ‘Kul­toorni’, mean­ing cul­tured or well man­nered.

So now af­ter all these years and hav­ing in­ter­acted and served with of­fi­cers and sailors of other coun­tries, I can­not cease to ad­mire and re­spect such ster­ling qual­i­ties and per­for­mance in the true tra­di­tion of the Ser­vice Most Silent (the Sub­ma­rine Ser­vice). True to this tra­di­tion, this per­for­mance and level of achieve­ment is un­known and un­recog­nised by many even in the Navy, let alone the pub­lic. Many of them have since faded away to obliv­ion, un­recog­nised even

as they did not seek any­thing. It is they who have laid the foundation for the struc­ture of the Sub­ma­rine Arm as it ex­ists to­day. If this struc­ture is strong now, it is be­cause of its foundation, and they de­serve all credit and ap­pre­ci­a­tion. The mes­sage from Ad­mi­ral Chat­terji on June 20, 1966, had said ÒOn your ef­forts will de­pend the fu­ture of the Sub­ma­rine ArmÓ. By their ef­forts and per­for­mance, these of­fi­cers and sailors en­sured that fu­ture and fully re­deemed the pledge I made in my re­ply to Ad­mi­ral Chat­terji: ÒWe as­sure you that we shall strive our ut­most to jus­tify your con­fi­dence in us”. SPÕs: What were the con­di­tions and de­gree of chal­lenges dur­ing the maiden pas­sage of INS Kal­vari from Vladi­vos­tok to Visakhapatnam?

Cmde KSS: The year 1968 started omi­nously for sub­marines all over the world. The French sub­ma­rine Min­erve and the Is­raeli Dakar had gone down in the Mediter­ranean with all hands early in Jan­uary. Some months later the US nu­clear at­tack sub­ma­rine Scor­pion was lost with all hands in the At­lantic in very deep wa­ter.

The maiden pas­sage of Kal­vari was not from Vladi­vos­tok to Visakhapatnam, but from Riga in the Baltic via the North Sea, the English Chan­nel, North and South At­lantic Oceans and the In­dian Ocean.

We sailed from Riga on April 18 and ar­rived at Visakhapatnam on July 6, 1968, Ð 79 days to cover about 12,000 miles with good­will calls en route at Le Havre (France), Casablanca (Morocco), Las Pal­mas (Ca­nary Is­lands), Con­akry (New Guinea in West Africa) and Port Louis (Mau­ri­tius). The leg from Con­akry to Port Louis was the long­est, be­ing con­tin­u­ous 29 days in most foul weather, par­tic­u­larly while round­ing the Cape of Good Hope with moun­tain­ous seas sub­merg­ing the whole sub­ma­rine even while she was on the sur­face. Off South West and South Africa the weather con­di­tions were ex­treme. The of­fi­cer of the watch and the lone look­out with him had to be lashed to the sub­ma­rine to pre­vent be­ing swept over­board and the hatch from inside to the top had to be kept closed to pre­vent wa­ter flood­ing the sub­ma­rine. In fact, a 40,000 tonnes tanker ÔWorld Glo­ryÕ broke up and sank not far from us af­ter we had rounded the Cape. No cook­ing was pos­si­ble and only dry meals could be pro­vided. When we fi­nally ar­rived at Port Louis on June 20, most of the sub­marineÕs paint had gone and only the un­der­coat of red lead paint was left. We were truly Red! As we could not en­ter a for­eign port in this state, the weary crew set to work to paint ship while an­chored out­side for the first two days with light grey paint, the only colour avail­able even though black was our colour.

With this ex­pe­ri­ence, it can be seen that if the deep div­ing trial that I at­tended ear­lier proved the sub­marineÕs abil­ity to with­stand the enor­mous sea pres­sure at great depth, her per­for­mance in foul weather con­di­tions proved her sea­wor­thi­ness. Her endurance at sea was also proved as we cov­ered the dis­tance of 12,000 miles with­out hav­ing to re­fuel even once, and still had re­serve fuel left when we reached Visakhapatnam. SP’s: How did you find the home-com­ing ar­range­ments for bas­ing the first Sub­ma­rine; such as shore sup­port, maintenance, es­sen­tial re­pairs, prod­uct sup­port, etc? Cmde KSS: On our way from Port Louis to Visakhapatnam, we met IN ships Mysore and Brahma­pu­tra who had come to look at the new­est ad­di­tion to the Navy. I had been in­formed ear­lier by Naval Head­quar­ters that there would be no pub­lic­ity for the his­toric event of the first In­dian sub­ma­rine en­ter­ing the first In­dian port for the first time, and that at the in­stance of the Sovi­ets even pho­tograph­ing the sub­ma­rine would not be al­lowed. This sounded far­ci­cal to us, as any­one could have taken photographs of the sub­ma­rine when in or near the var­i­ous for­eign ports we had vis­ited and also when shad­owed by the South Africans (then un­der apartheid regime) while round­ing the Cape and ear­lier in the North Sea, the English Chan­nel and the At­lantic by the Bri­tish, Amer­i­can and NATO coun­tries. So while ev­ery­one could have a good look at us, our own peo­ple could not!

Hav­ing left In­dia in June 1966 re­turn­ing in July 1968, the crew had been away from home and their fam­i­lies for over 25 months. The small chil­dren they had left be­hind barely re­mem­bered their fa­thers when they re­turned! My own son and daugh­ter who were aged three and 1 when I left, did not know me when I came back and called me Un­cle.

My im­me­di­ate fo­cus was to plan the well-de­served leave for my shipÕs com­pany, en­sur­ing that those who were mar­ried went first and then find them places to live. The FOC-in-C, Rear Ad­mi­ral K.R. Nair in spite of se­vere con­straints of avail­abil­ity of fam­ily ac­com­mo­da­tion, had done what­ever pos­si­ble with what was avail­able. Shore based tech­ni­cal and other sup­port was also needed af­ter the long voy­age. Sub­marines re­quire sup­port from their base when they re­turn to har­bour to ease the bur­den from the crew in need of rest. The diesel en­gines were due for the manda­tory maintenance af­ter the many thousands of hours of op­er­a­tion. To pro­vide such sup­port, a dock­yard with nec­es­sary equip­ment and fa­cil­i­ties is es­sen­tial. In our case this was still in the early stages of be­ing set up. There was a Maintenance and Lo­gis­tics team ashore com­pris­ing the naval and civil­ian tech­ni­cal dock­yard per­son­nel trained in the USSR as well as some mem­bers of the first con­tin­gent. A Sub­ma­rine Head­quar­ters was there­fore set up at Visakhapatnam to co­or­di­nate such sup­port, with me in ad­di­tional charge as the Of­fi­cer in Charge, SMHQ and be­ing C.O. Kal­vari. The sailors of Kal­vari who could not be sent on leave also pitched in, fore­go­ing their wel­learned break. This was the case for the next few years, till in­creased base and dock­yard sup­port be­came avail­able.

Two months of rest, re­union and leave and we were back in busi­ness. Even though I needed time to eval­u­ate and workup the sub­ma­rine, and pro­duce all or­ders per­tain­ing to the sub­ma­rine such as the Cap­tainÕs, ShipÕs and De­part­men­tal Stand­ing Or­ders (all of which had to be cre­ated from scratch as there were no prece­dents) and get the crew back in shape af­ter their leave break, this was not to be. As the only sub­ma­rine in the In­dian Navy, we were in demand. From Septem­ber to Novem­ber 1968, we were op­er­at­ing with ships of the Western Fleet in the Ara­bian Sea from Bom­bay. In 1969 also we were op­er­at­ing in the Ara­bian Sea while based at Visakhapatnam. In be­tween such ex­er­cises, when­ever we could, I con­ducted our own train­ing, as such train­ing needs to be con­tin­u­ous, in a con­stant en­deav­our to im­prove. For the next 18 months, till other newly com­mis­sioned sub­marines ar­rived and more shore sup­port be­came avail­able, it was in­evitably cease­less op­er­a­tion for Kal­vari, re­ly­ing mainly on self-help. When set­ting up any new or­gan­i­sa­tion from scratch, this is un­avoid­able de­spite ear­lier plan­ning.

Hav­ing left In­dia in June 1966 re­turn­ing in July 1968, the crew had been away from home and their fam­i­lies for over 25 months. The small chil­dren they had left be­hind barely re­mem­bered their fa­thers when they re­turned! My own son and daugh­ter who were aged three and 1 when I left, did not know me...

Com­modore K.S. Subra-Ma­nian, Com­mand­ing Of­fi­cer of the first In­dian sub­ma­rine INS Kal­vari

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