November 8, 2020 saw a number of images by veterans from Commonwealth countries sporting red poppies as a symbolic recall of the close of the Great War on November 11, 1918. Commemorated as Remembrance Day on the second Sunday of November it is often a silent reminder of the lesser known contribution of nearly 4 million Indians in the two World Wars including almost 161,187 dying in action. The red colour of the poppy flower symbolises the blood spilt in the war. India had a significant part in the naval battles of the First World War. Known as the Royal Indian Marines then, India went into action with a fleet of minesweepers, patrol vessels and troop carriers. The Royal Indian Navy, as it was called after 1934, played a very important part during the Second World War; which brings us to our HMIS Bengal and other of her sister ships and their exploits during the war.
HMIS Bengal, a 650-ton Minesweeper of the Bathurst class Warship in its maiden passage, manned by a significant Indian Crew, partook in a David vs Goliath battle in the middle of the Indian Ocean on 11th November 1942. Today we celebrate 78 years of this astounding feat of bravery projected by the Indian and Merchant Navy. Cmde Srikant Kesnur’s article published in The Daily Guardian on 02 October 2020, which explores Indian Navy’s Pre-Independence journey drew attention to the exploits of Royal Indian Navy in the World War II. Known as Royal Indian Marine prior to 1934, The Royal Indian Navy was relatively small until the midst of the World War II when it was substantially expanded, with the enactment of Indian Navy (Discipline) Act, with the ships prefix being HMIS (His Majesty’s Indian Ship). It is the during the World War II that the Woman’s Royal Indian Navy was established, which involved women in Indian Navy for the very first time.
During World War II, the cruisers that operated against the Merchant ships were known as ‘Surface Raiders’. These raiders wreaked havoc on the British and allied Merchant ships. HMIS Bengal was commissioned in Royal Indian Navy on 8 August 1942. One of the most daring feats that this warship faced was the battle against two Japanese raiders twice her size, under the Captainship of Lt Cdr WJ Wilson. Till today this event stands as an example of gallantry of the naval personnel. We at MHS, going through our exhaustive archives, discovered the entire saga of Royal Indian Navy including an account of the Tiger Tale of Bengal Bravery commemorated in Maritime History Society’s 17th publication, ‘Timeless Wake: The legacy of the Royal Indian Navy during World War II’ written by Director MHS Cmde Odakkal Johnson. We are happy to share an account of events from the same book which are as follows.
“On a warm Wednesday morning, 11 November 1942, HMIS Bengal a British Indian corvette, was escorting the oil tanker MV Ondina on passage from Freemantle to Diego Garcia. When they had reached half the way an unknown vessel was seen steaming straight for them. Since it was too far away its identity could not be established. Bengal started to sound the alarm gongs and the ship’s company went to ‘Action Stations’. The strange ship was directly approaching Bengal. She altered course to starboard and the tanker was told to follow. This brought the strange ship on their port beam.
Suddenly they saw one more ship over the horizon heading over to her port bow. Both the ships were quite larger in size than Bengal. Her armament comprised of only one 12-pounder gun and a few close-range anti-aircraft guns. When it came closer it was clear that both the shops were of Japanese origin- Raider No.1 of about 10,000 tons and Raider No.2 of about 8000 tons. (How much was our ship?)
The tanker was told to act independently and to tryst at a certain position the following day. Bengal then increased to full speed and was getting ready to engage the first raider. She thought that the tanker would get enough time to get away from the scene but the Master of Ondina would not leave her to face the two raiders alone. With her four-inch gun, mounted aft, she returned the fire. When she reached in the range of about 3500 yards, Raider No.1 opened fire. The first shell landed about 400 yards ahead. Shells were showered on her but she with her 12-pounder gun crew fired salvo after salvo and about sixth found its mark. It hit Raider No.1 aft and exploded in her after-magazine or may be in ‘Ready Use’ stowage on deck, for a terrific explosion was observed, flames leaping up in the air. The crew of Bengal cheered at this scene but the gun’s crew kept to its job and kept on firing on the raider.
At this view, Raider No. 2 came closer and started firing on Bengal. Shells were bursting everywhere. A piece of shrapnel from a near miss holed Bengal in the forward provision room just above the water line. She was expecting a direct hit at any moment. The enemy was able to bring to bear four 5.9 inch or 6-inch guns per ship to this one 12-pounder. Raider No.1 was still burning. An estimate of over 200 rounds was fired on Bengal by Raider No.1. Bengal now had very few rounds of ammunition and she was injured very badly. So, she broke off the attack and steamed away at full speed. All this time the tanker had been steaming away as fast as she was able and it was not until after Bengal stopped attacking that the enemy opened fire on her. Raider No.1, which had considerably slowed down, concentrated her port guns on the tanker and her starboard ones at Bengal. Meanwhile Raider No.2 was also chasing them and firing continuously. The tanker was seen to be hit just abaft the bridge and clouds of smoke went up another terrific explosion was seen aboard Raider No.1. The fire had presumably crept forward to the main magazine for this explosion was much greater than one previous. The flames leapt hundreds of feet into the air and when the smoke cleared away nothing could be seen.
Raider No. 2 was chasing Bengal and firing continuously. She got a direct hit on the stern, luckily just above the waterline. A fire started but was promptly brought under control. She steamed in full speed under cover of a smoke screen. Raider No.2 continued to chase her and fired at her for about 15 minutes. Then she ceased and after another 15-20 minutes, when the smoke was cleared, the enemy was not in sight. Raider No.2 would have gone back to pick up any survivors from the sunken raider.
The tanker was last seen disappearing over the horizon and made her escape. Even though Bengal received a direct hit and innumerable near misses, it is incredible that no one was even slightly injured.
Those who took part in this action will never cease to marvel at the result. To think that a small ship, with only one 12-pounder gun, should engage two raiders, both more than 10 times her own size and each with about twenty times her gun powder, and so enable the tanker to escape, sink one raider and then get away herself is almost miraculous.
HMIS Bengal was clearly proven to be a “Bengal Tiger”. Despite a little twist in the ‘tail’ and some scars, she was set to recoup and roar all over again!” The battle ended in an unexpected way! Just like the biblical tale of David and Goliath, this incident too proves that showing precision, confidence, and sheer courage in face of a seemingly unbeatable situation can pivot the unfavourable into a favourable situation. The battle caused much sensation during the Second World War. HMIS Bengal and her company were received with great honour at Bombay. The ship’s company, her 75 officers and men received a public reception and were honoured during a lunch at the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Hall.
The Captain of the ship, Lt Cdr WJ Wilson, was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), a military decoration of the United Kingdom awarded typically for meritorious services rendered during actual combat situations. Along with the commendable efforts of the ship’s Captain, his second in command Jai Mehra was awarded an MBE, a British order of chivalry and two famous 12-pounder gun crew, Leading Seaman Ismail Mohammed was awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal (IDSM) and Petty Officer Mohammed Ibrahim was awarded the Indian Order of Merit (IOM).
HMIS Bengal not only survived to tell the tale, she recovered well and went on to play a role in a few other battles as well. After the iconic battle, HMIS Bengal was repaired in Bombay and served as an escort vessel in Indian waters. She was a part of the 37th Minesweeping Squadron during Operation Dracula that was executed on 2nd May 1945 for capturing Burma. Immediately after the Second World War ended, HMIS Bengal, as part of the 37th Minesweeping Flotilla, went into action as a dan-layer ship for clearing the passage in the Malacca Strait.
Taken into service on 8th August 1942, by Lieutenant Commander W.J. Wilson, HMIS Bengal was decommissioned in 1960 and sold as scrap. The “Bengal Tiger” that roared on 11th of November 1942 clearly was a testimonial of courage and perseverance.
Just like having a Second World War connection, did you know that 11th November is a significant date in the First World War too? This date is also observed as ‘Remembrance Day’ in the United Kingdom in honour of all the soldiers and people who died in the wars. It was an event started to remember the soldiers fallen of the First World War that ended on 11th of November 1918. People wear poppies as a mark of remembrance.
Leafing through our archives at MHS we found many of such maritime tales of India. Sadly, most of them are not a part of popular narratives in our country’s history. India’s maritime space is as aspect that is not realized from the land. India’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean Region has ensured that we have a list of maritime stories and heroes that have left an impressive wake. We at MHS are striving for past four decades to open our fellow countrymen’s eyes towards the maritime world that India’s vast coastline has to offer.
Staying true to the mission of ‘awakening maritime consciousness’, Maritime History Society holds an Annual Maritime History Seminar each year on a selected Maritime Theme. This year’s 42nd edition is envisaged as a National Maritime Heritage Conclave (NMHC). MHS is organizing the NMHC 2020 in collaboration with Gujarat Maritime University, Gandhinagar, All India Marine Pilots Association and The Daily Guardian. The theme for the Conclave is “Unsung Frames in Indian Maritime History”. Celebrating the lesser known narratives and sections of India’s maritime world, we hope to promote sea mindedness, incite a curiosity, and create awareness about India’s maritime heritage. For more information about the event visit our website www.mhsindia.org. and for updates of the other events follow our social medias.
Maritime History Society has been doing the work of promoting sea mindedness for past 42 years since our founder, Late Vice Admiral MP Awati envisaged this as our mission. We invite other organizations and enthusiasts to partner with MHS and partake in our endeavours to dive deeper into the Maritime Heritage. The sea is a vast medium of opportunities and collaborations. Together we can achieve a resurgence of interest, scholarship and attention towards the Maritime Heritage of India.
Ashwini Nawathe is Archives & Collection Associate and Saba Purkar is Academic Assistant.
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Two Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists killed in the J&K encounter
Ansar Ghazwatul Hind (AGH), an Al-Qaeda-linked terror outfit in Kashmir, has suffered a major setback. In an encounter on the outskirts of Srinagar, security forces killed two more AGH terrorists.
The AGH terrorists were apprehended after the army and police received specific information about their presence.
During the exchange of fire, forces killed two local Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists from AGH. Both terrorists are Pulwama residents who have been involved in a number of terrorist attacks.
According to police, the terrorists were also involved in an attack on a migrant worker in Pulwama.
N. Korea enacts law on preventive nuclear strikes, France calls “threat to peace”
France criticised North Korea’s adoption of a law announcing its preparedness to launch preventive nuclear strikes on Friday, calling it a “threat to international and regional peace and security.”
The announcement from the foreign ministry came after North Korean state media earlier on Friday reported that Pyongyang had enacted a law authorising preventative strikes, including in the event of conventional attacks.
“This new escalation on the part of the North Korean authorities represents a threat to international and regional peace and security,” said a ministry spokeswoman.
France “notes with great concern the increasingly aggressive declarations from North Korea,” she added.
The decision by Pyongyang practically puts an end to the possibility of denuclearization talks after leader Kim Jong Un said that the nation’s nuclear status is now “irreversible.”
The announcement comes at a time when the North and South are experiencing greater conflict.
In addition to conducting a record number of weapons tests this year, Pyongyang has blamed the COVID-19 outbreak in its territory on Seoul.
China has successfully tested its first solar-powered drone capable of acting as a satellite
A Chinese government official informed in a tweet that China has successfully tested its first fully solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), named Qimingxing-50, which can fly for months and can function even as a satellite if required.
What is the significance of this test flight?
The Qimingxing-50, with a wingspan of 50 m, is a high-altitude long-endurance drone that is capable of high-altitude aerial reconnaissance, assessing forest fire and can also be used for communications.
This technology will bolster Chinese defences in space and at sea. It can be used in the fields of renewable energy, new materials, and aeronautical engineering. The Chinese official also asserted that this test flight is an important step towards sustainable development.
Use of the UAV as a satellite:
The UAV, whose name translates as “Morning Star-50” in English, is claimed to be capable of functioning uninterrupted for months. This capability of having a long-endurance flight gives it a use case of operating as a satellite.
Like satellites, it is fully electric-driven, powered by solar energy and can operate at 20 km above the Earth’s surface for an extended period of time continuously. It is also referred to as a “High Altitude Platform Station” or a “pseudo-satellite.”
It can be used when there is unavailability or disruption in satellite services. The report says that compared to the cost and complexity of installing a satellite in orbit, this UAV is much more cost-effective and easy to operate.
Strict security measures have been taken at the Central Vista ahead of the inauguration by PM Modi
As Prime Minister Nrendra Modi is going to inaugurate the newly revamped Central Vista on Thursday, over 1,500 police personnel have been deployed for security over there.
A senior official of Delhi Police who is aware of the security arrangements said that the area has been divided into eight zones, which will be manned all day by eight deputy commissioners of police (DCPs) and additional deputy commissioners of police (ADCPs).
The officer, on condition of anonymity, said, “Besides 17 assistant commissioners of police (ACPs), 43 inspectors and nearly 1,200 upper and lower-rank staff of Delhi Police will be patrolling in the areas. While ten Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) companies will patrol the area during the day, two additional CAPF companies have been deployed for security arrangements during the evening shift.As many as five patrolling teams in 10 mobile patrolling vans (MPVs) will be keeping a constant watch on all the public movement in the area.”
Another officer said that, “The Multi Zone Door Frame Metal Detectors (DFMD) have been installed at 90 points in 25 locations in the area. Apart from one anti-drone gun, one counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) has also been installed in the area, to detect, track, and ultimately disrupt and destroy any suspicious aerial intrusion. While five teams of spotters will keep a strict vigil in the area, another five traffic decongestion teams have been deployed there to immediately remove any traffic bottlenecks in the area. As many as five SWAT teams have been deployed in the area to avert any emergency crisis.”
The official added that drones will not be permitted near Central Vista on Thursday.
Pakistani rangers opened fire on BSF patrolling party in J&K
As per the reports, Pakistani rangers opened fire on a Border Security Force (BSF) patrolling party in Jammu and Kashmir’s Arnia sector on Tuesday morning, prompting the BSF to respond appropriately to the “unprovoked firing”.
“Today morning the alert BSF Jammu troops gave a befitting reply to the unprovoked firing by Pak rangers on BSF patrolling party in Arnia Sector. No loss (of lives) or injury (reported) to the BSF troops,” a statement issued by a BSF spokesperson said.
On February 24, 2021, India and Pakistan agreed to strictly adhere to all agreements and understandings concerning cross-border firing along the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir, among other sectors.
Other incidents of firing by Pakistani troops have occurred in the last year and a half, but Tuesday’s incident was “a major one” and occurred on a day when Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was in India for talks, an officer anonymously said.
According to a second officer, the Indian Army and BSF respond immediately and effectively to unprovoked firings and ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the LoC and IB.
Before the agreement in 2021, there were 5,133 ceasefire violations in 2020, 3,479 in 2019, and 2,140 in 2018. However, this number dropped to around 700 last year. Statistics for 2022 are not yet available.
The Indian government has maintained that it is Pakistan’s responsibility to create a conducive environment by taking credible, verifiable, and irreversible action to ensure that no territory under its control is used for cross-border terrorism against India in any way.
India sends the body of Lashkar terror operative via LoC in Poonch
Pakistan accepted the body of Tabarak Hussain, Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist operative via Chakan Da Bagh on the Line of Control in Poonch district on Monday.
“Officials of the Indian Army and civil administration took the body of slain terrorist in an ambulance to Chakan Da Bagh where it was handed over to Pakistani army officials,” said a senior official.
Tabarak Hussain, son of Mistri Malik of Sabzkote in PoK, was apprehended in an injured state by the army on August 21 in the Jhanger area of the Nowshera sector in Rajouri.
Tabarak was apprehended while allegedly infiltrating with a fidayeen terror group to attack Indian army posts along the LoC.
However, Indian army troops noticed the movement and opened fire on the intruding terror group, injuring Tabarak while other infiltrators fled to PoK.
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