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‘Transition to Triumph’ — Indian Navy’s Triumphs And Weaknesses During Indo-Pak War

‘Transition to Triumph, History of the Indian Navy 1965-1975’ by Vice Admiral G M Hiranandani is a sequel to the earlier two volumes, ‘Under Two Ensigns’ and ‘Blue Print to Blue Water’ covering the period 1945-1965 authored by Rear Admiral Satiyandra Singh.

Vice Admiral GM Hiranandani who retired as the Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy participated in 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak Wars, is amply qualified to chronicle the present volume of the history of the Indian Navy being privy to major events which took place during 1965-1975.

Admiral Sushil Kumar, Chief of the Naval Staff, Indian Navy claims in his foreword that, ‘the period 1965-1975 has been an important milestone for the Indian Navy as it joined the missile league and also graduated to a three dimensional force’. This was the period when the Leander Frigate Programme paved the way for self-reliance through indigenous ship construction. This book has been published by the Director Personnel Services (DPS), NHQ, New Delhi in association with Lancer Publishers, Spantech and Lancer, London and USA.

It is interesting to note that while this book has been published by NHQ and obviously bears the official stamp on the events recorded, the author claims that the book “in no way reflects the views of the Indian Navy or Government”. Similarly, it is intriguing that the author claims the responsibility for any omissions or commissions. Nevertheless, it is a painstaking effort since it is by no means an easy task to document the events of tumultuous period which witnessed two major wars between two arch-rivals.

The author claims to have conducted over 250 interviews with people who were directly involved with the Navy during that period. The core material for the book is drawn from these interviews.

A glimpse on the list of the contents testify that out of twelve chapters only five have been devoted to other areas whereas the rest dwell on 1965 and 1971 conflicts. The first chapter “The growth of the Navy till 1965” discusses the phased plans of development of the Navy which is extremely informative. It accredits the individuals who brought the structural and monumental strides as far as the Navy Plans were concerned.

An overview of the Navy’s growth 1947-65 reveals that the growth was moderate, slow and steady. It marked the new construction of ships from UK replacing those of WW H vintage, the indigenous construction of ships gradually gaining momentum.

In the third chapter “The 1965 Indo-Pakistan War”, the writer has relied upon the account of 1965 Indo Pak War (Naval Operations) given in the second volume of the official history of the Indian Navy “From Blue Print to Blue Water” and official records made available.

It is a well-written, concise and coherent account which helps even a lay reader to appreciate the text. Notwithstanding the hurried expression, one immediately jumps to the conclusion the author wants to bring home. Indian Navy was not permitted by the government to act in an offensive role and the then Army Chief who was the defacto Chief of Staff Committee did not include the Navy in the contingency Plans. Various reasons are quoted for the Navy being bottled up in the Bombay harbour, it seems like an effort to create an image of the Navy by claiming that though the officers and men were itching to take revenge of DWARKA Operation, they were restrained and restricted due to government decisions.

The attack on DWARKA by the Pakistan Navy is surprisingly not highlighted in its true perspective rather an effort has been made to conceal the truth and the dare devil action in the Indian waters. Though detailed, the accounts present in this volume, however, appear to be quite apologetic and defending the Navy’s inactive role. The justifications present in the account are not convincing and it appears that the Navy through its official version, tries to convince the readers that its failure is attributable to other reasons than faults or shortcomings of its own.

In chapter four ‘the Russian acquisitions 1965 to 1971’ it is mentioned that earlier the Indian Navy was not interested in acquiring Russian platforms, but after 1957 there was a gradual change in the attitude of Indian government officials. The chapter provides an insight and interesting reading as to how the Indian Navy transformed from all Royal Navy to Russian, how the problems of indenting of spares and the supply of ‘Repair Technical Documents’ in English were tackled.

Chapter five, ‘Mazagon Docks and the Leander Project’ seems to be an epic story of how the Indian Navy integrated and exploited the heavy industrial base it had inherited after independence to the best advantage. What can be seen is that the continuous and sustained efforts of both the civilian hierarchy and the Navy produced the desired results.

At the same time, the long tenures of the top management also proved invaluable in the decision making process. Recollections of the Chairman MDL (1966—73) are noteworthy and should be read with care and caution by our managers at PN Dockyard. The Leander Frigate Project is also mentioned which provided the Indian Navy with an opportunity to go for indigenous construction in the ‘60s. It has been quoted in this chapter by the Chairman and MD of Bharat Electronics that ‘the quick decisions that were taken and the freedom that one had in many things, I think, today is very difficult.’

Chapter six, ‘The 1971 Indo Pak War’ narrates the developments in the Pakistan Navy between 1965-71 mainly drawn from “The Story of the Pakistan Navy”. However, the author’s conclusion and appreciation regarding the performance of the Russian acquired OSA missile boats are far from the facts and needs clarification.

The chapter while describing the development in the Indian Navy after 1965, highlights decisions which later affected operations in 1971 war. A section of this chapter, ‘the Evolution of the Navy’s Plan of operations’ is an eye opener and according to the author, “several lessons were learnt from the 1965 operations”.This is the lengthiest chapter spanning over almost 75 pages and even the minutest detail has been discussed threadbare.

The events have been reconstructed either from the available written material or interviewing the officers who participated in the events. The reconstruction is in chronological order and provides sufficient material for the general reader. The chapter besides presenting the events also aims at glorifying the Indian Navy in the eyes of the readers and also justifying the inaction of the Navy in 1965.

While describing the events which led to the sinking of GHAZI, the author has relied on the recollections of those who took part in the post sinking operations. There is a lot of repetition at times which leads to confusion and is difficult to keep track of. Had these events been reconstructed with the help of official records, it would have been easier for the readers to comprehend the text.

An attempt has been made to seek probable causes for the sinking of GHAZI wherein claims have been made that bodies were recovered. What is not understood is why this information has been revealed so late if the Indian claims are at all true. As regard to the sinking of KHUICRI, the author with the help of the post war inquiries and Admiral Kohli’s account in his book ‘We Dared’, mentions that the sinking was attributable to ‘KIIUKRI’S AIS team’s non—compliance to laid down AIS procedures’.

In doing so, he undermines the heroic action of HANGOR which resulted in suffering a great loss to the Indian Navy.

The rest of the chapters are about the Naval assistance to Bangladesh after the 1971 war, the Russian acquisitions from 1972 — 1975, the Submarine and Air arm, and the growth of the Indian Navy between 1965-»1975. ‘The chapter’s question whether the Russian acquisitions could have been managed better and the operational and technical limitations. These chapters are based mostly on facts, statistical figures from official documents and are chronological accounts of the induction of various equipment into the Indian Navy.

In conclusion, the author’s reliance on gathering information and collection of materials from the primary sources in the earlier part of the book, is understandable and laudable, but then one must be very careful and should maintain a balance between the truth and the biased or prejudicial nature of these interviews.

In such case, truth is the first casualty and sufferer is the objectivity of writing history in its correct perspective. The author besides going to the primary source should have relied more on the secondary sources i.e. official records and documents. There is a need to present balanced and neutral view of the events, as the history of both the countries is riddled and marred with suspicions.

The history of the two Indo-Pak wars has already been written upon by various Indian military leaders after their retirement. The author would have done justice to the subject if some more areas or had some fresh information or evidence regarding the wars been included.

It seems as if the thrust of the writing 011 the conflicts is a deliberate attempt with official stamp. The citing and references from already published material is an effort in vain; hence boredom. The earlier volumes for 1945-65 are fairly comprehensive and carry a detailed accounts of events though they are one-sided and heavily biased. Even then they provide an interesting view of the Indian perspective to a reader. Thus the tone of this book is monologue and monotonous.

After reading this book, it can be said that there is a need for independent historians to record history the way it took place; with reference to events and not individuals/personages. At the same time, we also need to create an atmosphere where we should correct and distinguish between the truth and prejudicial or biased perspectives.

After reading this book, those who had participated in the two wars should issue clarifications/rebuttals to data which is either exaggerated or incorrect. In this manner, not only shall we be able to clearly analyze ourselves but will also contribute in setting the records straight.

The book is highly recommended to all naval officers in general and particularly to those who aspire to study naval history in greater depth, analysts and all participants of staff courses.

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