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TIGER TALE OF BENGAL BRAVERY

Ashwini S Nawathe & Saba Purkar

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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.

Timeless Wake

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.

Artistic recreation of the battle

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.


Ship’s company of Bengal at a ceremonial March Past: 8th December 1942

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).

The famous 12 Pdr crew honoured in a newspaper

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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Defence

24TH INDIA-USA EXECUTIVE STEERING GROUP MEETING IN DELHI

Ashish Singh

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The 24th edition of the India-USA Executive Steering Group (ESG) meeting was held at New Delhi from 22 to 24 February. The meeting was attended by a 12-member delegation from the US Army in person and virtually by 40 officers from different locations from the US. Major General Daniel McDaniel, Deputy Commanding General, US Army Pacific (USARPAC) was the Head of delegation from the US side. Indian Army delegation comprised of 37 officers. 

The forum is an Army to Army engagement that meets every year alternately in India and the US to discuss Army to Army cooperation.

A number of contemporary issues of mutual interests where discussed with an aim to enhance the engagements in diverse fields. For the first time the meeting was held both in person and through virtual mode owing to restrictions of Covid-19.

Relevant issues of defence cooperation and common subjects of Interest where discussed between both sides during the meet.

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Defence

Amid India-Pak ceasefire, a look at cross-border firings & terrorist attacks

Ashish Singh

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Jammu and Kashmir is affected by terrorism sponsored and supported from across the border for the last three decades.

The ceasefire violations by Pakistan are reported from the International Border(IB)/ Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir only.

India has adopted a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism. Immediate and effective retaliation is undertaken by the security forces in cases of ceasefire violations/ cross border firings. There has been a substantial decline in the terrorist attacks over the last three years, due to a slew of pre-emptive measures undertaken by the Army, paramilitary and the government.

The details of the incidents of ceasefire violations, terrorist attacks, civilians and security force personnel killed/injured in ceasefire violations and terrorist attacks along with the number of terrorists killed in counter attacks during each of the last three years in Jammu and Kashmir are as under:

 The last DG level meeting of BSF and Pakistan Rangers was held from 8-10 November, 2017 at New Delhi. During this meeting, the issue of cross border firing was discussed, in which it was agreed upon by both sides to ensure that no such firing takes place. In case of any firing, the other side must exercise maximum restrain and immediate contact through all available means of communication be established to avoid further escalation. Flag meetings are also held on ground, on need basis, between Commanders of different level.

No assessment is made to ascertain the losses to the exchequer due to such attacks. However, compensation is provided to the civilians, security force personnel, etc. for the losses due to such attacks.

The government has been consistently raising the issue of cross border terrorism and has placed high emphasis on international cooperation in combating the menace of terrorism including in bilateral, regional and international fora. Some of the steps taken by the Government to curb terrorist activities are:

Kinetic operations: actively identifying the terrorists and their tactical supporters, seeking them through operations like cordon and search giving proper response if they resort to violence while being arrested etc.

Preventive operations: actively identifying the strategic supporters of terrorism and initiating investigations to remove the camouflaging layers and exposing their mechanisms of aiding and abetting terrorism such as funding, recruiting etc.

Night patrolling has been intensified and nakas have been set up on all likely infiltration routes. The vehicles coming from borders areas are being thoroughly checked.

Coordination meetings are being regularly conducted and high-alertness is being maintained by all the forces deployed in the area.

Sharing of Intelligence inputs on real time basis among all Security forces operating in J&K. 

Further to expose Pakistan’s connection with various terrorist outfits in the international arena, the Government of India is also using the various evidence collected during investigations of terror attacks for inclusion in bilateral and multilateral discussions.

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Defence

MULTIPLE MILITARY DOMAIN ENGAGEMENTS BETWEEN INDIA AND BANGLADESH

Ashish Singh

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Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Indian Air Force (IAF) embarked on an official goodwill visit to Bangladesh earlier this week on an invitation from Air Chief Marshal Masihuzzaman Serniabat, Chief of Air Staff, Bangladesh Air Force (BAF). Chief of Air Staff Bangladesh recently represented his country at the Chiefs’ of Air Staff Conclave 21 at Air Force Station Yelahanka where he led a delegation to Aero India 2021 earlier this month at Bengaluru.

During the course of the four-day visit, the CAS and delegation are scheduled to interact with senior dignitaries and visit key operational bases of BAF. They will discuss the progress made in areas of shared interests and explore avenues to further mutual military cooperation. The visit of the CAS to Bangladesh comes at a significant period for both Bangladesh and Indian Armed Forces as the two celebrate 50 years of the 1971 war. It will enhance the existing professional ties and bonds of friendship between the two Air Forces.

BANGLADESH NAVY SHIP VISITS WESTERN NAVAL COMMAND HQ

Bangladesh Navy Ship (BNS) Prottoy was on a two day visit to Mumbai last week. The ship commanded by Captain Ahamed Amin Abdullah with a crew of 137 personnel docked at Mumbai Port Trust.

Due to Covid-19 imposed restrictions, routine courtesy call-ons, social get togethers, exchange visits and other sports fixtures between the visitors and host naval personnel were avoided. This visit of BNS Prottoy to Mumbai is significant in the backdrop that the two countries celebrated 50 years of Bangladesh independence recently. To commemorate the occasion, for the first time, a marching contingent and military band from Bangladesh participated in India’s Republic Day Parade. Since the formation of Bangladesh, both India and Bangladesh have come a long way in nurturing strategic and defence relationships and these bonds are gradually growing in mutual trust and confidence.

ARTISTS COME TOGETHER TO COMMEMORATE WIN

Continuing the commemorative events as part of “Swarnim Vijay Varsh” this year, an “Art Carnival” based on theme “1971: Retrospective Through an Artist Eye” was organised at Fort William, Kolkata, last week. The event was conceptualised as a live workshop wherein renowned artists from India and Bangladesh displayed their creativity on canvas.

Participation of renowned artists from Bangladesh and India added colour to the marquee event which showcased the contribution, valour and sacrifices of armed forces and common people from both sides including the valiant “Mukti Jodhas” towards birth of Bangladesh. The event also witnessed participation from the students of Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata who got an opportunity to work alongside veteran artists while young minds including the NCC cadets and school children were exposed to new vistas.

     The event organised in the lawns of “Vatika” near Vijay Smarak of Fort William was inaugurated by Army Commander, Eastern Command. The two day event which was open to all art enthusiasts witnessed a stream of visitors mesmerised by exceptional art work. During the closing ceremony, Chief Guest Isha Mohammad, former Principal of Government Art College, Kolkata, and President of Asiatic Society spoke about the role people of Bengal and armed forces leading to the war. He also recalled various incidents of the Liberation War 1971 and highlighted a moving instance when Sikh soldiers of Indian Army took off their turbans to cover the mutilated bodies of young children and women

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INTERVENTION IS NOW ALSO USED FOR COMMON GOOD: JAISHANKAR

Effectiveness, success and legitimacy key to intervention, says strategic affairs expert C. Raja Mohan.

Ashish Singh

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Dr C. Raja Mohan, director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, delivered the 2021 edition of The K. Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture on the topic of ‘When to Intervene: Using Force Beyond Borders’ on Thursday. The lecture was organised by the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) as a tribute to the memory of a distinguished scholar and one of India’s foremost strategic thinkers, K. Subrahmanyam, who also long served as the Institute’s Director in its formative years. Dr S. Jaishankar, Minister for External Affairs, and the son of K. Subrahmanyam, delivered the Vote of Thanks.

In his Welcome Address, Director General, MP-IDSA, Ambassador Sujan R. Chinoy, highlighted the contributions of Subrahmanyam to the Indian strategic discourse and described him as a man who stood for robust national security structures and postures. Subrahmanyam was one of the first to articulate the notion of “guns and butter” as against “guns versus butter, observed Amb Chinoy. Subrahmanyam was an early advocate of defence reforms, the nuclear option, improved intelligence inputs, and the dexterous engagement of great powers. His advocacy of the nuclear deal with the US also stands out.

In his Lecture, Dr C. Raja Mohan also paid rich homage to Subrahmanyam, describing him as the principal voice that explained the world to India and vice-versa. One of his biggest contributions to the strategic discourse was to free the debate in India from ideological shackles, he observed.

Speaking about the complexities faced by India on the use of force beyond borders, and about carefully managing the unavoidable and dynamic interaction between the domestic political processes of India and other countries, Dr Raja Mohan said that effectiveness, success and legitimacy should all be considered in analysing interventions. India’s decision to use force beyond borders should be based on its judgment of the situation, as it cannot afford to either stand apart, or intervene in every domestic conflict in the neighbourhood, he added. 

Drawing a parallel between India’s traditional and current foreign policy stance, Dr. Raja Mohan said that the country now seems to have moved away from the ‘presumed centrality of non-intervention in foreign policy’ and out of the collective amnesia about the Indian role in the two World wars which the current government has brought to the fore.

Offering the Vote of Thanks, Dr S. Jaishankar recalled many personal episodes in his late father’s life and the impact that his father’s strategic thought had on an entire generation of scholars and practitioners including Dr Raja Mohan and himself.

He added that the use of force abroad may no longer be considered a completely defensive move. Intervention is now also used for the common good, such as humanitarian and disaster relief operations or the development of maritime domain awareness.

Dwelling further on his father, Jaishankar noted that Subrahmanyam was tempered by experience, learnt from the intersection of his thoughts with politics, and gradually evolved with the times. Over the years, his interest expanded beyond the use of narrow military force towards issues such as knowledge economy, supply chains, dependency, leveraging trade, etc. Subrahmanyam also had the opportunity to apply all his rich knowledge and experience during his chairmanship of the Kargil Review Committee and the National Security Advisory Board.

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Defence

ASSAM RIFLES FELICITATES COVID-19 WARRIORS

Ashish Singh

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The Covid warriors worked hand in hand in spreading the awareness and fighting the deadly pandemic. These warriors have worked selflessly to save the humanity. With nationwide rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination drive, these warriors are reaching out to all sections of the society to spread the message about vaccination and its effects.

In its efforts to reach out to the society along with these warriors, 44 Assam Rifles under the aegis of 22 Sect Assam Rifles (AR)/ Inspector General Assam Rifles (IGAR)-EAST in a unique way felicitated these Covid warriors at Tamenglong. Since 16 January Covid-19 vaccination drive has been launched in the state of Manipur. Its prerequisite for the doctors, nursing and other medical staff to be thoroughly aware of the procedures and peculiarities of this vaccination drive. On the sidelines of this function the District Health Society, Tamenglong organised a training session for the medical staff of 44 Assam Rifles in Tamenglong.

The soldiers, being front line workers, are required to be vaccinated timely so that they can discharge their duty well without any risk to their health as well as the without endangering the lives of local populace, especially children and the elders of the society. The interactive and practice session conducted by Dr Sunil Kamei, DIO Tamenglong and his team of four doctors enabled the para medical staff of the unit to conduct vaccination at the unit hospital as well as at the remote outposts.

The CMO and medical team of 44 Assam Rifles felt much more confident in handling and carrying out of vaccination drive for the unit in times to come. Speaking on this occasion the Commandant 44 Assam Rifles thanked Dr Chambo Gonmei, CMO Tamenglong and his medical team for the enriching session and assured them to work hand in hand with them to battle the deadly pandemic till the time it is not fully eradicated from society. He also highlighted various awareness campaigns being undertaken by unit troops in various parts of the district. The troops through posters, banners, plays, interactive sessions, consultive meetings and medical camps are engaged in awareness against Covid-19.

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Navy appoints new FOMA & FOCWF

Ashish Singh

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Rear Admiral Ajay Kochhar took over as the Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet (FOCWF) from Rear Admiral Krishna Swaminathan, at a formal ceremony held onboard the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya on Wednesday.

Rear Admiral Ajay Kochhar, a specialist in Gunnery and Missile Warfare, was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 1 July 1988. In a career spanning 32 years, he has commanded five warships on both the Western and Eastern seaboard including the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

On promotion to the Flag Rank, he assumed charge as Assistant Controller of Carrier Projects & Assistant Controller of Warships Production & Acquisition overseeing all aspects related to construction and acquisition of warships for the Indian Navy both from Indian as well as foreign shipyards including the indigenous aircraft carrier.

Rear Admiral Atul Anand has assumed the office of Flag Officer Commanding Maharashtra Naval Area earlier this week. The formal handing/ taking over ceremony was held at INS Kunjali, where Rear Admiral Atul Anand was presented a guard of honour at a ceremonial parade. The Flag Officer Maharashtra Area, or FOMA, is responsible for administration, coastal security and other maritime operations of the Maharashtra Naval Area. On behalf of the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy, the FOMA liaises with the State Administration as well as the Army and the Air Force in the state of Maharashtra on a regular basis across a wide spectrum of issues.

Rear Admiral Atul Anand was commissioned on 01 Jan 1988, in the Executive Branch of the Indian Navy. He is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla, the Defence Services Command and Staff College, Mirpur, Bangladesh and the National Defence College, New Delhi. He has also attended the prestigious Advance Security Cooperation Course at the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies, Hawaii, USA. His educational qualifications include an M Phil, M Sc (Defence and Strategic Studies), Masters in Defence Studies and a B.Sc degree. A recipient of the Vishisht Seva Medal, the Admiral has held several key command appointments in his naval career including the command of Torpedo Recovery Vessel IN TRV A72, Missile Boat INS Chatak, Corvette INS Khukri and the Destroyer INS Mumbai.

He has also served as the Navigating Officer of IN Ships Sharda, Ranvijay and Jyoti. In addition, he was the Direction Officer of the Sea Harrier Squadron INAS 300 and Executive Officer of the destroyer INS Delhi. His important Staff appointments include Joint Director Staff Requirements, Directing Staff at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Director Naval Operations and Director Naval Intelligence (Ops). He has also served as the Principal Director Naval Operations and the Principal Director Strategy, Concepts and Transformation at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy). As a Flag Officer, he has served as Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Foreign Cooperation and Intelligence) at IHQ MoD (N) and Deputy Commandant & Chief Instructor at the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla.

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