With Rear Admiral Arun Auditto
Retired As: Rear Admiral in July 1988
Years in the Navy: 37
Medals, Awards and Achivements:
- An alumni of the National Defence Academy belonging to the 5th Course.
- Volunteered and was selected for the Submarine Arm (first batch) in 1961.
- Trained in the UK and the USSR.
- Was the first admiral in charge of the Submarine Arm in 1987-88 (Flag Officer Submarines or FOSM).
- Won various medals including the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM), the Nau Sena Medal (NM) for Gallantry and a Wound Medal.
How has the role of the Indian Navy changed over the years?
A vast majority of Indians do not have a seafaring nature in spite of the large expanses of oceans surrounding India. People know little about the sea and next to nothing about the Navy! Even the great maritime nations like Britain, having ruled half the world for 200 years and earned the title of Great Britain, named the Navy the Silent Service for no one saw the Navy operating at sea in distant waters. The Navy has always had to experience hardships and unimaginable adversities over prolonged periods.
In the days of the sailing ships, the fleets would return to the home port after a period of two years. Each family had at least two members enrolled into the Royal Navy or Merchant Navy. Family members would wait to meet the men at sea, as there was no way of communicating with those who were sailing other than through letters sent to ports by long sea routes, which hopefully they read when they docked.
The most dangerous, trying and challenging service is working on a submarine. This arm of the navy was called the Silent Arm of the Silent Service. The name stems from the fact that submarines are not easily detected nor seen at sea and seldom seen at the harbour. Service in this arm was thus purely voluntary!
It has taken over 40 years for our leadership to realise the importance of this arm and we now have signed one of the biggest defence contracts ever. With this we will expand and modernise the arm and also commission the first indigenous nuclear submarine–the deadliest war machine ever–the Arihant.
Besides our potential adversaries, in recent times there is a growing threat from modern-day pirates. They patrol the sea lanes in high-tech and fast vessels and hijack large ships and tankers. Constant patrolling of the waters is required and this is done by the coordinated efforts of many Navies, Coast Guards and reconnaissance aircrafts.
Last, but not the least, is the ability to provide help and succour in times of natural disasters, like tsunamis, earthquakes and typhoons, and help friendly nations in case of internal uprisings and terrorist activities.
In all these cases, the Navy has a great advantage over the other services by being multi-dimensional and being able to carry and land troops, tanks and weapons in distant territories.
Why is a good naval base important to India?
For a country with over 7,000kms of coastline and island territories both in the Bay of Bengal to the East and the Arabian Sea to the West, vast areas need to be defended. The Indian Navy has the task to keep the sea safe from any threat, be it from the surface, air or from beneath the waves. Unlike the Air Force and the Army, the Navy has to operate in three dimensions - above the water, below the water and in the air. I chose to join the Submarine Arm and was the first Admiral in charge of the Submarine Arm.
Talking of submarines reminds me of an anecdote. The fleet was exercising at sea when a majestic Destroyer proudly steamed past a submarine at 40 knots (about 80kmph) and sent a signal to the submarine slowly chugging along at 10 knots. The message read, "Can you follow me?" The submarine promptly dived and replied, "Can you follow me?"
Tell us about your experiences on the warfront.
I was part of a mission during the Goa war in 1961. We had to stay very alert all the time and plan our strategy. We stayed for a day on a very small island and waited for the right time. At the onset of dawn, we started our mission and attacked our enemies.
As a young Lieutenant, I commanded the Landing contingent tasked to capture the Portuguese fortress island of Anjadiv off Karwar. In normal circumstances, the troops would be army soldiers. Although we suffered many casualties and I was shot in the arm, we continued to fight till victory. This is the only opposed landing carried out by the Indian Navy.
In the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, I was in command of the Submarine Kursura and was tasked to blockade Karachi. We remained divided for 26 days and, together with the missile boat raids on Karachi, kept the Pakistan Navy bottled up for the duration of the conflict.
As a Lieutenant Commander in 1967, I was fortunate to be the Liaison Officer for the great Admiral Gorchakov who commanded the Soviet Navy from 1956 to 1985. It was his first visit to India. He was the architect of the most powerful Navy opposing the Americans. No other Admiral in history has been in command for 30 years! It was a fascinating experience accompanying him all over the country.
Life in the Navy has been a succession of adventures and fascinating events like having a school of dolphins accompanying you, curious whales viewed at close range and albatrosses, the friendly birds of the sea, reminding you of the 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.