INS VIRBAHU – HOME OF THE DOLPHINS
Submarines, in comparison with surface ships, have very small crews, notwithstanding the greater complexity of machinery and more demanding maintenance requirements. This is because every square inch on board is needed for equipment that will enhance the fighting capacility of these potent underwater warships. It follows that submarines are heavily dependent on shore support. Our early submariners, understanding this, had planned for a submarine support base, whose foundation stone was laid on the very same day that INS Kalvari, the first Indian submarine , arrived in Visakhapatnam.
For nearly four years after Kalvari’s arrival submarines continued to operate from make shift arrangements in temporary barracks near the old Base Repari Organisation premises. At last, in 1971, a spacious building was completed and the submarine base began functioning from there. The first officer in charge of this base in its new premises was Commander KA (Raju to his friends) Menon, an electrical officer who had undergone training with the dockyard team in Vladivostok, USSR. Subsequently the submarine base operated under the direct command of the Chief of Staff of the Eastern Naval Command, the first of whom was Commodore MS Grewal.
A view of the Commissioning ceremony of INS Virbahu on 19th May, 1971. It appears simple by today's standards. In the foreground one can see the pilings being sunk for the new jetty >
The submarine base was commissioned as a full-fledged establishment under the command of Commander KS Subra-Manian, on 19 May 1971, with the name of INS Virbahu- " The Heroic Arm". To mark the importance of the occasion, the Defence Minister, Shri Jagjivan Ram, flew down from the Capital to be present at the commissioning ceremony.
From the very beginning, Virbahu has had a very cherished place in the hearts of all submariners. The reasons are historical. Initially all training, maintenance, operational, and logistic matters pertaining to submarines were dealt with by Virbahu. As the Arm expanded, the training role was taken over by INS Satavahana, and the Class Authority functions by Submarine Headquarters under the Flag Officer Submarines. But the attachment to the old Alma Mater persists, and Virbahu continues to be regarded as the ‘Home of the Dolphins’, even today.
In Mumbai, shore support was provided to the 9th submarine squadron from a multi storied building that came to be known as the Submarine Complex. Many years later, the submarines based on the West Coast got their own commissioned establishment - INS Vajrabahu.