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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INSPECTOR GENERAL M.V. PATHAK TAKES OVER AS THE COMMANDER OF COAST GUARD REGION NORTH EAST
Inspector General MV Pathak took over as the Regional Commander, Coast Guard Region North East, Kolkata from Inspector General AK Harbola on Monday. Inspector General Pathak is an alumnus of the US Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut, having undergone the IMO Course from this academy.
During his illustrious career of more than three decades, Inspector General Pathak has commanded all classes of Coast Guard Ships. The shore appointments held by the flag officer include Chief of Staff to Coast Guard Commander (Western Seaboard) Mumbai, Commander Coast Guard (Kerala and Mahe), Principal Director (Administration), and Director (Manpower, Recruitment and Training) at Coast Guard Headquarters, New Delhi.
Before taking over the reins of Coast Guard Region North East, Inspector General Pathak was the Regional Commander, Coast Guard Region (Andaman & Nicobar) at Port Blair for three years. The flag officer is a recipient of the ‘Tatrakshak Medal’. Inspector General Maneesh Pathak on taking over said that his priority will be strengthening the Coastal Security mechanism through coordination with all State and Central Agencies and to make the seas safe for all fishermen and seafarers. He further added that the Indian Coast Guard is committed to in motto “Vayam Rakshamah” which means “We Protect”.
INDIAN ARMY CONDUCTS RAIL TRIALS ON DEDICATED FREIGHT CORRIDOR
The recently developed “Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC)” by the Indian Railways provides faster movement of freight across the Country. The Indian Army, on Monday, conducted a successful trial by moving a military train loaded with vehicles and equipment from New Rewari to New Phulera validating the efficacy of the DFC. The intricate and synchronised coordination by the Indian Army with Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd (DFCCIL) and Indian Railways will significantly enhance the mobilisation capability of the Armed Forces. These trials were part of the “Whole of the Nation Approach” for optimising national resources and achieve seamless synergy among various ministries and departments.
Interactions by the Indian Army with all stakeholders including DFCCIL and Indian Railways will now assist in leveraging the DFC and allied infrastructure into the mobilisation matrix of Armed Forces. Development of infrastructure at certain locations to support mobilisation and trials to validate move of defence owned rolling stock on Roll On-Roll Off (RO-RO) service is being formalised and modalities are being evolved. These trials herald the first step in this process to pave the way for enhancing the operational readiness of the Armed Forces. This initiative would set in place processes to ensure that military requirements are dovetailed in the national infrastructure development at the planning stage itself.
NORTHERN ARMY COMMANDER FELICITATES ‘VEER NARIS’ AND WAR HEROES OF 1971 INDIA-PAK WAR
NEW DELHI: Lt Gen YK Joshi, GOC-in-C, Northern Command laid a wreath to Swarnim Vijay Mashaal and paid tributes to fallen heroes at the Warrior’s Grove War Memorial, Crossed Swords Division, Akhnoor as a part of Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations. The Army Commander accompanied by Lt Gen MV Suchindra Kumar, GOC White Knight Corps was briefed on the saga and valour of gallant soldiers of Indian Armed Forces during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. A documentary on the 1971 Indo-Pak War was screened for the audience.
The General officer felicitated Veer Naris and war heroes of the 1971 Indo Pak war at Akhnoor. The GOC-in-C, a war hero and Vir Chakra awardee, appreciated the veterans for their invaluable services for the motherland. He also expressed deep gratitude for the sacrifices of the Veer Naris. Lt Gen YK Joshi, GOC-in-C, Northern Command interacted with all veterans and Veer Naris following Covid protocol. He expressed gratitude and acknowledged the contributions of the populace of Jammu & Kasmir who have played a pivotal role during various operations. He assured Veer Naris and veterans of full support at all times as was extended during the Covid pandemic. He motivated them to take maximum benefits from the facilities rendered by the Indian Army at their doorstep including Covid Care Facilities, Covid vaccination, Covid preventive measures, and government schemes, etc.
RAFAEL’S BNET SDR COMMUNICATION SELECTED BY ASIAN AIR FORCE
Yoav Wermuth, head of Rafael’s C3I directorate, said that this new contract strengthens its position as a major supplier of aerial communication systems.
Rafael Advanced Defense Systems has been selected by an Asian Air Force to equip its fleet of aircraft with the BNET-AR communication solution. The BNET Family of SDR provides a robust voice and data-link solution and supports simultaneous services of data, voice, and video services with multiple auto relays. The BNET is operational and combat-proven with a number of air forces around the world, featuring a unique, patented software-defined radio and network architecture, delivering wide-band communications with low delay and reliable connectivity.
The variant that will be supplied is the BNET-AR, a modular multi-band SDR for airborne platforms, integrated onboard fighters and helicopters as well as Ground Control Stations equipped with the same BNET-AR, enabling net-centric operations and real-time situation awareness. The BNET Family is a Spectrum-Aware SDR — utilising the spectral arena of the battlefield to the fullest in a cognitive way, thus addressing the challenges of the modern battlefield (e.g. limited spectrum, connecting multiple sensors and shooters, etc). All this is achieved by BNET-patented technology — Multi-Channel Reception (MCR), which enables it to receive and analyse information from numerous frequency channels, simultaneously, using a single RF head. VP Yoav Wermuth, head of Rafael’s C3I directorate said, “This new contract strengthens our position as a major supplier of aerial communication systems as vital enablers, required to be agile, allow fast deployment, be highly scalable, and remain robust in the face of the chaos of battle, all the while operating under constant jamming and cyber-attacks”.
TRIBUTES PAID TO THE BRAVEHEARTS ON ‘SWARNIM VIJAY VARSH’ CELEBRATIONS
The ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh Victory Mashaal’, symbolic of India’s 1971 war victory over Pakistan, reaches Kashmir Valley, given a grand reception at Wuzur.
The ‘Swarnim Vijay Varsh Victory Mashaal’, symbolic of India’s 1971 War Victory over Pakistan has reached the valley, was given a grand reception at Wuzur. To commemorate 50 years of India’s victory over Pakistan in the epic war of 1971, on 16 December 2020, Prime Minister lit the ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’ from the hallowed and the eternal flame of the National War Memorial that marked the commencement of this Golden Jubilee Year. Four such ‘Mashaal’ travelled in the four cardinal directions, reaching the remotest corners of the nation to include villages of our valiant and intrepid warriors who participated in the war and received PVCs and MVCs for their gallant actions. Today, one of these ‘Mashaal’ entered our beautiful Kashmir valley through the newly constructed Navyug Tunnel and was received by Brigadier Vivek Singh Thakur, Commander 2 Sector Rashtriya Rifles at the northern portal of the tunnel.
The presence of 1971 War Veterans, Veer Narees and ESMs during the event made it all the more memorable and magnificent. Carrying of the Mashaal by these esteemed guests during the event added all the more glory to this sacred torch. Hundreds of school children from Army Goodwill Schools of Wuzur and Behibagh, dressed in saffron, white and green attires symbolising our national flag, marching to the beat of an impeccably turned out Military band playing martial tunes, left everyone witnessing this splendid event in awe. The grand reception of the Mashaal was followed by a very solemn ceremony held at Wuzur Garrison to pay homage to the fallen heroes of that war and to remember the sacrifice they made in honour of their beloved motherland.
The ceremony is being conducted with full military honours resulted in high emotions running through the crowd like never before, swelling their hearts with patriotism and love for their nation. The NCC cadets in attendance drew inspiration from the ceremony, further strengthening their resolve to join the Armed Forces and serve their motherland. The ceremony concluded with the felicitation of the War Veterans and Veer Narees as a mark of respect for the sacrifices they made and hardships they endured all these years, without ever complaining, personifying courage and resilience.
The event was also attended by prominent civil dignitaries to include Dr Bilal Mohd-ud-din Bhat, DC Kulgam and other senior military officers. The school children deserve a special mention here for the enthusiasm and energy they exuded during the event and for brightening the entire atmosphere through the incandescence on their faces. Their happiness knew no bounds when they got the chance to go for a joy ride on the Ho-Ho buses, waving the national flag and singing patriotic songs.
Speaking to the media persons present, Brigadier Vivek Singh Thakur paid homage to all the brave soldiers of the 1971 war who laid down their lives in the finest traditions of the Indian Army and expressed his gratitude to all the War veterans, Veer Narees, and Ex-Service Men who made this event possible by their benign presence. He said that the Indian Army continues to move forward with its ethos of honour, valour and tradition and is always prepared and ready to defend the nation and give a befitting reply to any adversary.
1971 WAR: NORTHERN COMMAND PAYS HOMAGE TO SWARNIM VIJAY MASHAAL
To commemorate the decisive and historic victory of Indian Armed Forces over Pakistan Army in December 1971 and to pay homage to the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal (Victory Flame), a solemn Wreath Laying Ceremony was held at ‘Dhruva Shaheed Smarak’ at Headquarters Northern Command in the Udhampur Military Station. Lt Gen YK Joshi, Army Commander, Northern Command laid the wreath to honour the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal lit in remembrance of the valiant soldiers who have given the ultimate sacrifice in service of our nation. The event was attended by Veterans, NCC Cadets and senior Army officers of Udhampur Military Station.
The Swarnim Vijay Mashaal had arrived at Udhampur on 13 Jun 2021 from Nagrota & was received with full ceremonial honours. The Victory Flame was then escorted to the local unit quarter guard. After the customary ‘Last mile run’ the Victory Flame was handed over to the Station Commander, Udhampur Military Garrison who placed the Victory Flame at Dhruva War Memorial. Wreath laying was thereafter carried out by JCOs / OR and Veterans followed by Wreath Laying by the Army Commander, Northern Command. On culmination of the Wreath Laying Ceremony the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal was further handed over to Counter Insurgency Force (Delta) where it will be taken to various units to commemorate the unforgettable victory of 1971.
The year 2021 has been named as “Swarnim Vijay Varsh”, by the government of India and the Nation started the celebrations of the 50 years of Indo-Pak War which had resulted in the largest military surrender after World War-II. The inaugural event was held at the National War Memorial (NWM) in New Delhi on 16 Dec 2020 where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff and Tri-Services Chiefs laid wreath and paid homage to the fallen soldiers. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi lit the ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashaal’ from the eternal flame of NWM on the occasion. Four Victory Mashaals (flames) lit from the Eternal Flame of NWM were then carried to various parts of the country including to villages of Param Vir Chakra and Maha Vir Chakra Awardees of 1971 War. Soil from the villages of these Awardees and from areas where major battles were fought in 1971 are being brought to the NWM.
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