EVOLUTION OF WESTERN NAVAL COMMAND – The western coast of Indian subcontinent records the first naval action at Revati Island off the Konkan Coast and at Elephanta Island near Mumbai at the dawn of the Sixth Century A.D. The Aihole Inscriptions chronicle these maritime military expeditions by Pulakesin I (597-608 A.D.) and Pulakesin II (608-642 A.D.). Maritime activity primarily related to trade existed in the North Arabian Sea since the Harappan Civilisation in 3000 BC. However, only in the Sixteenth Century major military action at sea ensued with the Battle of Calicut (in 1503) involving the Portuguese Colonists which witnessed one century’s period of Arab pirates launching attacks on Haj ships as well as skirmishes as an outcome of the Portuguese imposition of ‘Cartaz’ or sea tax in the region.
A formal constitution of a naval force catalysed in 1612 as the ‘Indian Marine’ when Captain Thomas Best arrived at Surat on 05 September 1612, leading a Squadron of English Ships. The English were formally given permission by the Mughal Emperor to establish what would subsequently become the predecessor of the Indian Navy. Indigenous naval forces of the Mughals, Marathas and the Sidhis did make a valiant maritime attempt to thwart the consolidation of colonial seapower, but by 1685 Bombay became fully established as the new base of the Indian Marine. The exception was the period of 1699 to 1756 when Kanhoji Angre and his successors dominated the seas off Konkan and associated coastal forts at Kanhoji Angre Island, Vijaydurg and Andheri.
Manor House was rebuilt into the Bombay Castle in 1710, housing the Castle Barracks. This served at various times as the Bombay Headquarters of India’s Naval formations right up to the onset of World War II when the Naval Headquarters shifted to New Delhi in March 1941.
By 1716, Indian Marine was redesignated as the Bombay Marine with a Commodore as the Commander-in- Chief. On 12 June 1827, ships of the Bombay Marine were given permission to fly the Red Ensign as distinct from the White Ensign of the Royal Navy. Most of the crew were Indians in the form of ‘Lashkars’, also spelled as ‘lascars’, primarily hailing from the Konkan Coast. In acknowledgement of its stellar contributions, the force was given the designation of Indian Navy in 1830! A major period of growth and augmentation followed over the next three decades. Warship production commenced in a major way and training schools were established at Bombay.
After transfer of power from East India Company to Britain, the naval service in India was renamed as Bombay Marine and Bengal Marine. In 1877, the naval organisation was integrated into Her Majesty’s Indian Marine with a division each at Bombay and Calcutta. In 1892, Queen Victoria bestowed on this service the title of Royal Indian Marine (RIM) and the force grew in influence from East Africa to Burmese waters. During the WW I, the RIM made significant contributions, primarily in the Persian Gulf and in the Suez.
The efforts of visionaries such as Admiral of the Fleet Lord Jellicoe, Rear Admiral Mawby and Lord Rawlinson ensured that on 02 October 1934, there was the inauguration of Royal Indian Navy (RIN) in an impressive parade at the Castle Barracks, Bombay. Naval Headquarters was established at Bombay under a Flag Officer Commanding Royal Indian Navy (FOCRIN). Establishments were also being built at other ports. Indians joined the navy in the officers’ cadre beginning with Engineer Sub- Lieutenant DN Mukherjee on 06 January 1923. Officers mainly joined through selection to the Training Ship Dufferin, based at Mumbai. The pioneer Indian officers and sailors had opportunities to serve in various theatres of World War II, ranging from the North Atlantic to Mediterranean and even in Singapore.
Post Independence, the Indian Navy underwent some organisational changes. At the time of partition Rear Admiral JTS Hall was the head of the service with title Flag Officer Commanding, Royal Indian Navy. FOCRIN was directly responsible to the Indian Defence Minister of the Interim government. In Jun 1948 Rear Admiral JTS Hall was designated Commander-in-Chief Royal Indian Navy. He was relieved on Aug 1948 by Vice Admiral E Parry as the C-in-C, RIN. On India becoming a republic on 26 Jan 1950, the word Royal was omitted and the post was re-designated as C-in-C Indian Navy. Subsequently, in 1955, the designation was changed to Chief of Naval Staff and the President of India was constitutionally mandated to be the supreme commander of Armed Forces. Until April 1958, the Service was headed by officers of Royal Navy taken on loan. On 22 Apr 1958 Vice Admiral R D Katari became the first Indian to assume command of the Navy as Chief of the Naval Staff.
With augmentation of warships the naval fleet grew in size and role. The ships were constituted into the Indian Naval Squadron under the Commodore, Indian Naval Squadron (COMINS). The force commander’s designation was upgradedfirst to Rear Admiral Commanding Indian Naval Squadron (RACINS) then to Flag Officer (Flotilla) Indian Fleet (FOFIF). The administrative authority at Bombay originally under the Commodore-in-Charge Bombay was now under the Flag Officer Bombay (FOB). The Flotilla was expanded to be called the Indian Fleet under a Flag Officer Commanding Indian Fleet (FOCIF). The FOCIF was senior in service to the Flag Officer, Bombay and just below in protocol to the CNS.
The post of CNS was upgraded to the rank of Admiral in 1968. The shore commands also underwent some changes and the division confirmed to geographical sea areas. At the same time, FOCIF was now called the Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet (FOCWF) with a second fleet sanctioned to be based at Visakhapatnam under the Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet (FOCEF). Flag Officer, Bombay was later upgraded to Flag Officer Commandingin- Chief, Western Naval Command in 1968. The Commodore Superintendent, Training Establishment was redesignated Commodore-in-Charge, Cochin and thereafter to Commodore-in- Charge Southern Naval Area and finally up-graded to Flag Officer Commandingin- Chief, Southern Naval Command. The Western Naval Command with responsibility for the defence of the entire West Coast of India and operations on the western sea board was thus fully in place.
Since 1968, the WNC has grown steadily in accordance with the evolving strategic approach of the navy and in response to our growing maritime interests. The Flag Officer Commandingin- Chief Western Naval Command oversees operations ranging from the east coast of Africa (including both the Gulfs) in the West to well south of the equator, making the WNC a premier international naval entity. Truly it forms the maritime sinews of a resurgent India in every conceivable way!