A FORCE COMES INTO BEING
The day of the inception of the Indian Navy's Submarine Arm dawned cold and blustery on 8th December 1967, in Riga, USSR. There was a freezing northerly wind and the mercury stood at – 15 degrees Celsius. But the crew of the Kalvari were indifferent to the discomfort.They were too deeply and emotionally involved in the historic occasion that they had the good fortune to be participating in.
It was a memorable moment as the Commissioning Warrant was read out by the Commanding Officer, Commander KS Subra-Manian, and the Indian Colours were hoisted on a submarine for the first time in the history of the Indian Navy. The Soviet Ensign, which had been hauled down earlier, was ceremonially presented to the Indian Ambassador, Mr Kewal Singh. The CO walked on board, and the Indian Navy marched into the submarine era.
> Leading Telegraphist KC Reddy had the honour of hoisting the national flag on India's first submarine
After a few weeks of trials and work-up INS Kalvari departed for home waters. It was an arduous passage, that was also under taken by the next seven boats that followed. The Suez being closed because of the Arab-Israeli war, the passage from Riga to Visakhapatnam was a long haul of nearly 19,000 miles through some of the heaviest seas that many of the crews would ever see in their lives. In Kalvari's case, there was a grim reminder to her crew of the seriousness of the profession that they had chosen. By a cruel coincidence, three submarine losses were to shock the world in the space of the three months that India's first submarine was in transit to her home port. The first was the USS Scorpion lost in the Atlantic, the second the French submarine Eurydice in the Mediterranean, and the third was a Soviet Golf class submarine that sank in the Pacific. It was as if the Indian crews were being told by a higher power that they had chosen a profession that brooked no mediocrity, where danger was clear and ever present.
< Cdr OS Dawson, Commanding Officer INS Talwar had the task of escorting Kalvari from Riga to Vishakhapatnam. In this picture he and the submarine LO, Lcdr Inderjeet Singh, look on while the submarine's CO signs the ship's visitors book
INS Kalvari entered her homeport of Visakhapatnam for the first time on 6th July 1968. She was received with great fanfare and the Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral AK Chatterjee came down to Visakhapatnam to receive her. The then Flag Officer East Coast, Rear Admiral KR Nair, had the distinction of becoming the Navy's first Submarine Operating Authority. On the day of her arrival in India, the CNS laid the foundation stone of the submarine base building. The entire submarine base had been planned and the project implementation well under way by the time the first submarine arrived. The prior planning of the infrastructure is one of the features of the Submarine Arm's development, and the newly formed Directorate of the Submarine Arm, staffed by submarine trained officers and headed by Commodore BK Dang, had worked meticulously to ensure that infrastructural facilities were initiated, despite being hampered by total lack of experience.
> Crossing the (Equator) Line- Khanderi on passage observes the traditional naval ceremony. In the picture Cdr MN Vasudeva, CO, with "Lord Varuna", LCdr Narinder Singh, the submarine Engineer Officer.
The remaining three submarines of this class were commissioned in the next two years- the Khanderi under the command of Commander MN Vasudeva in December 1968, Karanj under the command of Commander MN Samant in September 1969, and Kursura under the command of Commander A Auditto in December 1970. All three submarines successfully completed their work-up and performed the long passage home without undue incident, despite the worst of seas. The fury of the South Atlantic was some thing that had never been experienced by our submariners before. Being compelled to transit on the surface, the bridge personnel had frequently to be lashed to the structure with belts and harnesses, and were forced to don their rubberised escape suits. The 'upper lid' was kept shut and the submarines had to keep their snort masts raised to supply air to the diesels.
< The CNS, Adm AK Chatterjee, with the CO Cdr KS Subra-Manian in the wardroom of INS Kalvari on the arrival of the first Submarine in her home port. Also seen are Mrs Chatterjee, LCdr VS Shekhawat and Surg LCdr A Abraham
As was expected, the first few years of the Submarine Arm were years of extreme hard work for the crews. There were maintenance schedules to be formulated, operational procedures to be worked out, and a host of issues that cried out for immediate attention. There was no squadron staff or base staff, nor was there a training school, and replacements were urgently required. The average day could be as much as 14 hours long with work on board till lunchtime, office work and correspondence till about four, and dogwatch instructions for trainees till eight thirty in the evenings. But the submariners shouldered the burden cheerfully, and met every task that fell to their lot with the zeal and the thoroughness that is part of the proud submarine tradition today.
As the next three submarines arrived, the Indian- trained officer and men began to take their places alongside their Soviet trained brother submariners, and availability of a spare crew complement was established. The first four submarines were constituted into the 8th Submarine Squadron, with Captain KS Subra-Manian as the first Captain (S/M). This squadron was based at Vishakhapatnam. The submarine base had meanwhile been constructed at Vishakhapatnam and was commissioned on 19th May 1971, as INS Virbahu – 'The Heroic Arm'.
The Fifth to the Eighth submarines follwed in the early Seventies and constituted the 9th submarine squadron. They were supported and based on the West coast of India in Bombay. India now had four submarines each on the East and West coasts.