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Dominant powers in present-day India have possessed navies for many centuries. Pre-colonial dynasties such as the Cholas used naval power to extend Indian trade and influence overseas, particularly to Southeast Asia. The Marakkar Navy under Zamorins during 15th century and the Maratha Navy of the 17th and 18th centuries fought against British and Portuguese colonisers. The British East India Company organised its own navy, later known as the Bombay Marine. With the establishment of the British Raj during the 19th century the naval force became "His Majesty's Indian Navy", then "Her Majesty's Indian Marine", and finally the "Royal Indian Marine". This navy transported large numbers of Indian troops overseas during World War I, and – as the Royal Indian Navy – took part in combat and protected communications during World War II. When India became independent in 1947 part of the Royal Indian Navy was allotted to the new state of Pakistan; the remaining Indian force took the title of Indian Navy in 1950. The Indian Navy took part in the annexation of Goa in 1961, in wars with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, and in more recent smaller-scale operations.


Early historyEdit

Three-mast sailship, c. 5th century

India has a rich maritime history dating back 5,000 years.[1][2] The world's first[3] tidal dock may have been built at Lothal around 2300 BCE during the Indus Valley Civilisation, near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast.

The Rig Vedas written around 1700 BCE, credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes and describes naval expeditions. There is reference to the side wings of a vessel called Plava, which give stability to the ship under storm conditions. A compass, Matsya yantra, was used for navigation in the 4th and 5th century AD.

Chola territories during Rajendra Chola I, c. 1030

Sea lanes between India and neighbouring lands were the usual form of trade for many centuries, and are responsible for the widespread influence of Indian culture on other societies, particularly in the Indian Ocean region. Powerful navies included those of the Maurya, Satavahana, Chola, Vijayanagara, Kalinga, Maratha and Mughal empires.[4] The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia.

Chola expeditionsEdit

The Imperial Cholas initiated their grand naval conquests during the reign of two of its most illustrious monarchs, Raja Raja Chola (ruled 985–1014) and his son Rajendra Chola (ruled 1012–1044). Under Rajendra Chola, the Cholas expanded their empire with the use of their strong navy and subdued many kingdoms of South-East Asia and occupied the region which included Myanmar, Malaya, Sumatra etc., and sent ambassadors to countries as far off as China.

Indian Navies of the Post-Classical AgeEdit

A panorama of Calicut, on the Malabar coast, shows several types of ships, shipbuilding, net fishing, dinghy traffic and a rugged, sparsely populated interior. BRAUN AND HOGENBERG, CIVITATES ORBIS TERRARUM, 1572 (2)


Manavikraman, Samoothiri Raja of Kozhikode began the naval build-up in 1503 in response to Portuguese attempts at extracting trading privileges. He commanded and appointed Mohammed Kunjali as Marakkar (admiral) of his fleet. Over the course of the next century, the Samoothiri Rajas successfully repelled various attempts by the Portuguese to overthrow their rule, with each side enlisting various allies over time. Four generations of Kunjali Marakkars served the Samoothiri Rajas.

However, over time differences between Mohammed Ali, Marakkar IV, and his masters increased, culminating with his self-declaration as the "Lord of the Indian seas". The Samoothiris then collaborated with the Portuguese to defeat Mohammed Ali in 1600. Later, they allied with the Dutch East India Company to defeat the Portuguese.

Maratha NavyEdit

A painted scroll depicting different types of ships of the Marathan Navy including some captured English ships.

The Maratha Empire was established by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in 1674. From its inception, the Marathas established a naval force, consisting of cannons mounted on ships.

The dominance of the Maratha Navy started with the ascent of Kanhoji Angre as the Darya-Saranga by the Maratha chief of Satara.[5] Under that authority, he was master of the Western coast of India from Mumbai to Vingoria (now Vengurla) in present-day state of Maharashtra, except for Janjira which was affiliated with the Mughal Empire. Until his death in 1729, he repeatedly attacked the colonial powers of Britain and Portugal, capturing numerous vessels of the British East India Company and extracting ransom for their return.

On 29 November 1721, a joint attempt by the Portuguese (Viceroy Francisco José de Sampaio e Castro) and the British (General Robert Cowan) to humble Kanhoji failed. Their combined fleet consisting of 6,000 soldiers in four Man-of-wars, besides other ships led by Captain Thomas Mathews of the Bombay Marine, did not achieve its goals. Aided by Maratha naval commanders Mendhaji Bhatkar and Mainak Bhandari, Kanhoji continued to capture and defeat the European ships until his death in 1729.

The 'Pal' was a three masted Maratha man-of-war with guns peeping on the broadsides.

Colonial Indian NavyEdit

Establishment of the Bombay MarineEdit

The English East India Company was established in 1600. In 1612, Captain Thomas Best encountered and defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Swally. This encounter, as well as piracy, led the English East India Company to build a port and establish a small navy based at the village of Suvali, near Surat, Gujarat to protect commerce. The Company named the force the Honourable East India Company's Marine, and the first fighting ships arrived on 5 September 1612.

This force protected merchant shipping off the Gulf of Cambay and the rivers Tapti and Narmada. The ships also helped map the coastlines of India, Persia and Arabia.

In 1686, with most of English commerce moving to Bombay, the force was renamed the Bombay Marine. The Bombay Marine was involved in combat against the Marathas and the Sidis and participated in the Anglo-Burmese Wars. The Bombay Marine recruited many Indian lascars but commissioned no Indian officers until 1928.

Expansion of Her Majesty's Indian NavyEdit

Sailors of the Indian Navy breaching the Delhi gates during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

In 1830, the Bombay Marine became His Majesty's Indian Navy. The British capture of Aden increased the commitments of Her Majesty's Indian Navy, leading to the creation of the Indus Flotilla. The Navy then fought in the China War of 1840.

Her Majesty's Indian Navy resumed the name Bombay Marine from 1863 to 1877, when it became Her Majesty's Indian Marine. The Marine then had two divisions; the Eastern Division at Calcutta and the Western Division at Bombay.

In recognition of the services rendered during various campaigns, Her Majesty's Indian Marine was titled the Royal Indian Marine in 1892. By this time it consisted of over 50 vessels.[6]

The Royal Indian Marine in World War IEdit

The Expeditionary Forces of the Indian Army that travelled to France, Africa and Mesopotamia to participate in World War I were transported largely on board ships of the Royal Indian Marine. The convoy transporting the first division of the Indian Cavalry to France sailed within three weeks of the Declaration of War, on 25 August 1914. At the outset of the war, a number of ships were fitted out and armed at the Naval Dockyard in Bombay (now Mumbai) and the Kidderpore Docks in Calcutta (now Kolkata). The Indian Marine also kept the harbours of Bombay and Aden open through intensive minesweeping efforts. Smaller ships of the Indian Marine, designed for operations in inland waters, patrolled the critical waterways of the Tigris, the Euphrates and Shatt-al-Arab, in order to keep the supply lines open for the troops fighting in Mesopotamia. A hospital ship operated by the Indian Marine was deployed to treat wounded soldiers.[7]

By the time the war ended in 1918, the Royal Indian Marine had transported or escorted 1,302,394 men, 172,815 animals and 3,691,836 tonnes of war stores. The Royal Indian Marine suffered 330 casualties and 80 of its personnel were decorated with gallantry awards for service in the war. The Royal Indian Marine played a vital role in supporting and transporting the Indian Army throughout the war.[7]

The first Indian to be granted a commission was Sub Lieutenant D.N Mukherji who joined the Royal Indian Marine as an engineer officer in 1928.

The Royal Indian Navy in World War IIEdit

In 1934, the Royal Indian Marine became the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). Ships of the RIN received the prefix HMIS for His Majesty's Indian Ships. At the start of the Second World War, the Royal Indian Navy was very small and had eight warships. The onset of the war led to an expansion. Additionally Indian Sailors served on-board several Royal Navy warships. The large number of Indian merchant seamen and merchant ships were instrumental in keeping the large stream of raw material and supplies from India to the United Kingdom open.

The sloops HMIS Sutlej (U95) and HMIS Jumna (U21) played a key role in the allied invasion of Sicily in 1943.[8]

The sloop HMIS Godavari (U52) sunk the German submarine U-198 on 12 August 1944 near the Seychelles.

Indian sailors started a rebellion also known as The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny, in 1946 on board ships and shore establishments, which spread all over India. A total of 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 sailors were involved in the rebellion.

The Royal Indian Navy retained its name when India gained independence in August 1947 as a dominion within the Commonwealth. It was dropped when India became a republic on January 26, 1950.

Partition and Independence of IndiaEdit

In 1947, British India was partitioned and the Union of India and Dominion of Pakistan gained independence from the United Kingdom. The Royal Indian Navy was split between India and Pakistan, with senior British officers continuing to serve with both navies, and the vessels were divided between the two nations.

When India became a republic on 26 January 1950, the name was changed to the Indian Navy, and the vessels were redesignated as Indian Naval Ships (INS).

Vice Admiral R. D. Katari was the first Indian Chief of Naval Staff, appointed on 22 April 1958.

Indian Navy operationsEdit

Annexation of Goa, 1961Edit

The first involvement of the Navy in any conflict came during the 1961 Indian annexation of Goa with the success of Operation Vijay against the Portuguese Navy. Four Portuguese frigates – the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque, the NRP Bartolomeu Dias, the NRP João de Lisboa and the NRP Gonçalves Zarco – were deployed to patrol the waters off Goa, Daman and Diu, along with several patrol boats (Lancha de Fiscalização).

Eventually only the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque saw action against Indian Navy ships, the other ships having fled before commencement of hostilities. The NRP Afonso was destroyed by Indian frigates INS Betwa and INS Beas. Parts of the Afonso are on display at the Naval Museum in Mumbai, while the remainder was sold as scrap.

Indo-Pakistani war of 1965Edit

There were no significant naval encounters during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965.

On 7 September 1965 a flotilla of the Pakistani Navy carried out a small-scale bombardment of the Indian coastal town and radar station of Dwarka, 200 miles (300 km) south of the Pakistani port of Karachi. Codenamed Operation Dwarka, it did not fulfill its primary objective of disabling the radar station. There was no significant Indian retaliation, since 75% of the Indian naval vessels were undergoing maintenance or refitting in the harbour. Some of the Indian fleet sailed from Bombay to Dwarka to patrol the area and deter further bombardment. Operation Dwarka has been described as an "insignificant bombardment"[9] of the town was a "limited engagement, with no strategic value."[10]

Indo-Pakistani war of 1971Edit

INS Vikrant played a crucial role in the 1971 war by a successful blockade of East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh).

The Indian Navy played a significant role in the bombing of Karachi harbour in the 1971 war. On 4 December, it launched Operation Trident during which missile boats INS Nirghat and INS Nipat sunk the minesweeper PNS Muhafiz and destroyer PNS Khyber. The destroyer PNS Shahjahan was irreparably damaged. Owing to its success, 4 December has been celebrated as Navy Day ever since.

The operation was so successful that the Pakistani Navy raised a false alarm about sighting an Indian missile boat on 6 December. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) planes attacked the supposed Indian ship and damaged the vessel before it was identified as being another Pakistani Navy ship, PNS Zulfiqar which suffered numerous casualties and damage as a result of this friendly fire.

During Operation Python on 8 December, the frigate PNS Dacca was severely damaged by INS Veer and the oil storage depot of Karachi was set ablaze. On the western front in the Arabian Sea, operations ceased after the Karachi port became unusable due to the sinking of Panamian vessel Gulf Star. An Indian frigate, INS Khukri was sunk by submarine PNS Hangor.

On the eastern front, the submarine PNS Ghazi was sunk outside Vishakhapatnam harbour. Indian naval aircraft, Sea Hawks and Alizés, from the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant were instrumental in sinking many gunboats and merchant navy vessels in the Bay of Bengal. The successful blockade of East Pakistan by the Indian Navy proved to be a vital factor in the Pakistani surrender.

Type of Vessel Indian Navy losses Pakistan Navy losses
Destroyers 0 2, PNS Khaibar and PNS Shahjahan* (damaged)
Frigates 1, INS Khukri 3
Submarines 0 1, PNS Ghazi
Minesweeper 0 1, PNS Muhafiz
Navy Aircraft 1, (Alize) 0
Patrol boats and Gunboats 0 4 Gunboats and 3 patrol boats
Merchant navy and others 0 9 (including one US ammunition ship)

*PNS Shahjahan was presumably damaged beyond repair.

Operations after 1971Edit

The Indian Armed Forces initiated Operation Cactus to prevent a coup attempt by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi and assisted by about 200 Sri Lankan Tamil mercenaries from the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) in Maldives in 1988. After Indian paratroopers landed at Hulhule and secured the airfield and restored the democratically elected government at Malé, the Sri Lankan mercenaries hijacked the freighter MV Progress Light and took a number of hostages, including the Maldivian Transport minister and his wife. The Indian Navy frigates INS Godavari and INS Betwa captured the freighter, rescued the hostages and arrested the mercenaries near the Sri Lankan coast.[11]

During the 2006 Lebanon War, the Indian Navy launched Operation Sukoon to successfully evacuate 2280 persons from Lebanon, including Indian, 436 Sri Lankan and 69 Nepali and 7 Lebanese citizens.[12]

Since 2 November 2008 an Indian Navy frigate INS Tabar accompanied by the destroyer INS Mysore has been on an anti-piracy mission off the Gulf of Aden.


  1. ^ Interesting facts about India Archived 6 December 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Maritimbi/asst001/fall97/2chd.htm Economics of the Indus valley civilization Archived 11 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Indian seabed hides ancient remains
  4. ^ History of the Indian Navy Archived 3 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 January 2011. Retrieved 29 October 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ a b Indian Navy (9 March 2015). "Role of Royal Indian Marine in World War I". Retrieved 10 March 2015. External link in |website= (help)
  8. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (30 November 2011). World War II at Sea: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1 (2011 ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, LLC. p. 374. ISBN 9781598844573. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  9. ^ India's Quest for Security: defence policies, 1947–1965 By Lorne John Kavic, 1967, University of California Press, pp 190
  10. ^ South Asia's Nuclear Security Dilemma: India, Pakistan, and China By Lowell Dittmer, pp 77
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 June 2009. Retrieved 26 July 2009. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^