‘THREE WAR CAPTAIN’ -INDIA’S ’S NELSON ADMIRAL RKS GHANDHI BREATHED HIS LAST MUMBAI
“Admiral Ghandhi was one of the grand stalwarts of our Navy. A flamboyant and an extremely courteous gentleman belonging to the ‘old school’ he will be missed by all of us who had the privilege of serving under him”. Commodore Rajan Vir. President Indian Maritime Foundation who dedicated his all after retirement to augment MARITIME INDIA through IMF !
By the words ‘old school, IDF assumes Vir alludes to the professional lot who knew training, the divisional system, non–religious attitude and to love your men first, and then push them to limits was the old Anglo Indian, Parsi and UK trained attitude of the Navy which saw RIN achieve glory in WW 2, then braved the disbandment of the Navy after 1946 mutiny which hastened Independence; and then finally the 1971 war witnessed Navy’s Finest Hours. Admiral RKS Ghandhi was awarded VrC in command of INS Mysore as the Flag Captain in the Western Fleet in 1971.
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Louis Mountbatten called Rustom Khushro Shapoorjee Ghandhi, ‘ India’s Nelson’ after he learnt how Ghandhi handled INS Betwa in Goa operation in 1961. Ghandhi was Viceroy Mountbatten’s Flag Lieutenant at Independence in India, nicknamed Russi and there grew a bond of professionalism and friendship between them. Ghandhi prided his photograph in Parliament standing next to Pandit Nehru and Mountbatten when Nehru delivered the ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech on the midnight 14th August of Independence and established a long lasting friendship with the Mountbatten family which was enduring. It helped the Indian Navy.
Mountbatten noted Russi as a Commander had become the first Captain of the Indian Navy to take part in battle and cripple the Portuguese destroyer “NRP Afonso de Albuquerque”, off Mormugao Harbour in 1961 by superior gun action and by maneuvering Betwa in the restricted Goa harbor when Albuquerque tried to hide behind merchant ships.
Operation VIJAY annexation of Goa by force in December 1961 when political attempts failed, was Indian Navy’s first test in battle and like Lord Nelson at Trafalgar who looked through his blind eye and said he saw no signal and acted, Russi denies he saw the White Flag claimed to have been put up by Captain Antonio da Cunha Aragao in command of the Albuquerque who grounded the ship ashore under fire and abandoned her when he was wounded by Betwa’s accurate 4.5 inch gunfire. Ghandhi went to meet da Cunha in hospital who handed over his cabin key to Ghandhi in surrender.
When Aragao told him he had surrendered after the first shot, Ghandhi replied , “ Sorry Ole Captain I think your white flag got entangled in the yardarms arm and we did not see it “. It is historically recorded that the loss of Albuquerque so early in Op VIJAY led to the total Portuguese surrender one day earlier than anticipated by the advancing Army. Then only a Commander, Ghandhi sent messages via his Royal Navy contacts and Mountbatten to inform Portugal and family of Captain Antonio da Cunha Aragao that he was well and in good care. The Maritime museum in Lisbon recounts the whole sea action with photos and a short film in which Betwa fitted with the modern 4.5 inch FPS-5 computer controlled guns with gun fire noise is seen maneuvering in Goa harbor to get at Albuquerque. That event played a decisive role in the 1961 liberation of Goa. Soon after, Betwa won the Fleet regatta twice and the ship was known as the Cock of the Fleet. The result hinged on the last officers race and this writer in Mysore’s officers whaler team saw a ruddy Ghandhi shout to his team, ‘ If you lose do not came back on board !”.They won by a whisker and one learnt what is inspiration and confidence.
Ghandhi was one of the Indian Navy’s most decorated , colourful, gregarious, and courageous officers who rose to the rank of a Vice Admiral and commanded the Eastern Fleet and the Western Naval Command with aplomb and professionalism. He did his Long G ( gunnery) course at HMS Excellent at Whale Island in UK in 1949 and excelled.
It grew stronger when as a Rear Admiral the Navy appointed RKS Ghandhi as India’s Naval Adviser in London at India House in Aldwych from 1972 to 1974 to serve under High Commissioner BK Nehru. The Ghandhis spent weekends at Mountbatten’s country home and This writer as a Lt Cdr undergoing the Royal Navy Staff Course at Greenwich vividly recalls meeting Deputy High Commissioner Natwar Singh, at a dinner hosted by the Ghandhis where Deputy Defence Minister Frank Judd from Scotland was the Chief guest. Natwar Singh was holding fort in a history lesson, which is his forte, when the Admiral came up to me, “Young Rai, if you cannot change the subject, you will fail RNSC, now do it !” With trepidation I began butting in to speak of Scotch whiskies my forte, while offering the Minister a drink, and that is when Frank Judd took over extolling the waters of Scotland and the India-Scotland connection, and it became a splendid evening, and I got my request to study nuclear subjects despite 1974 ban after Pokhran. That was quintessence Russi the man, the Navy loved and admired who breathed his last few days before Xmas 2014 after a prolonged period of recovery after a stroke he suffered a few years ago. He had lost his wife earlier a generous hostess and an affectionate senior officer’s naval wife. He is survived by his son Sandy and daughters Delna head of Shell in India and Yasmin.
PART TWO OF TRIBUTE – 1965 & 1971 WARS ETCETRA MAY INTEREST NAVY
Ghandhi was in the prestigious Western Naval Fleet as the Flag Captain in command of INS Mysore in the 1971 war under Rear Admiral Chandy Kuruvilla another Gunnery officer. Russi’s heroic actions in that war earned him a Vir Chakra. He, like CNS Admiral SM Nanda, the Admiral who bombed Karachi, always regretted that INS Mysore could not go on to attack ships off Karachi with the Osa missile boat that was in tow with the Fleet, and bombard the Pakistani coast with its long range 6 inch guns on the night of December 4th 1971 when Mrs G s declared war and heard on AIR. The Western Fleet Operations Officer, another gunnery specialist felt the fleet had been spotted that evening by a Pakistani Cessna and he advised the Fleet Commander Chandy to desist from approaching Karachi, and applied Radio Silence. That’s when Adm Kohli ordered Op Trident to Karachi 4th night and by luck IAF Hunters from Jamnagar hit KEMARI oil tank farm 4th Dec morning, but Navy claimed it. Primary war research is not possible in India.
Many of the 14th NDA Course on their first sea training ship INS Tir ( Lt VPS Shekhwat on board) recall Lt Cdr Ghandhi as the Commanding Officer of INS Cauvery ( In Red pyjamas his favourite colour, at Both Watches) which ship was in company (with Lts L Ramdas and Baby Anand) in the late 1950s when we joined as a callow cadets. Tir under Cdr Dolly Mehta and Cauvery were on an extended Flag showing cum training cruise to South East Asia. But for his Parsi fair complexion as against the British ruddy white complexion, he could easily have been mistaken for a Royal Navy officer , perfectly turned out, perfect in diction and master of the kind of dripping sarcasm which often achieved more results than any other form of admonishment would like the one that won Betwa the cock.
In the pre 1965 war days Ghandhi was a four ringer Captain in command of , INS Khukri as the Senior officer of the 14th Frigate ASW squadron with INS Kuthar and Kirpan and patrolled the Kutch sea border itching to get the Pakistani submarine PNS Ghazi (EX USS Diablo on lease) till an order was passed on 6th Sept by Joint Secretary S C Sarin from the Ministry of Defence to CNS Vice Admiral BS Soman that the Indian Navy was not to patrol above Porbunder latitude or take on the Pakistan Navy unless attacked. Soman protested but was told by DM Y B Chavan, it was a Cabinet decision.
Ghandhi was Parsi by religion and was son of Khushro Shapoorjee Ghandhi and Dina Dhunjishah Amroliwalla, and was born at Jabalpur,(in Central India) on 1st July 1924. He graduated from St Joseph’s Nainital 1941 with an Intermediate Science degree and after a year of advanced studies at Allahabad University fired by the desire to serve the nation, joined the RIN, and earned a permanent commission on 1 January 1943 and after 2 years Subs courses in UK served under Lt N Krishnan DSO later VADM on board INS Shamsher as a Sub Lt during the 1945 mutiny and told Krishnan to bomb Royal Bombay Yacht Club. Krishnan cleverly kept Shamsher away from Bombay by pretending the ship was detailed a ditched aircraft 80 nm from Bombay and asked Ghandhi to supervise ! Information warfare (IW) that wily Krishnan again used in 1971 explained in Warring Nuclear Nations –India Pakistan 2015 (RR Publications) just released.
On 15th August 1949 Russi led the Indian Independence day contingent in London in the parade while doing Long G . He had just married Khorshed “Bubbles” Kharegat (deceased 2011), daughter of Sir Pheroze and Lady Kharegat who owned coal mines and an electricity plant in Nagpur on 1 January 1949,and she told many a tale of the days in UK when Royal Navy officers came over for Indian curries and she barely coped but made her mark with her immaculate command of the English language and was a voracious reader. She read all my books, and supported ‘Russi’ as the Admiral was known in the Navy and joined him in all his postings and always invited young officers to join their table.
On one occasion this writer as a Sub Lt in 1963 was invited with three other Sub Lts of the 14th frigate Squadron, PS Das (later VADM), Stubby Subberwal and late Oberoi to dinner at the Ghandhi’s home in Juhu in Bombay. As we arrived early by train to Santa Cruz where Captain Ghandhi was to collect us in his Jaguar we had a few plates of chat(savouries) . Bubbles served a five course dinner and one of us blurted, “ Ma’m I cannot eat any more. We had ‘chat’ before coming”. The Admiral was mad and nearly made us walk back to the Santa Cruz station.
Ghandhi as the Indian Naval Adviser in the High Commission in UK from 1972 to 1974 had . later Vice Admiral PC Bhasin India’s nuclear submarine builder, a Lt Cdr under him in London who had this to say. “The Indian Navy was transforming rapidly with technological induction of new Electronic Warfare (EW) systems, SATNAV and Command and Control systems. We were able to help the Naval Headquarters (NHQ) with decision making. Admiral Ghandhi, having served as ADC to Lord Louis Mountbatten, was an added plus to open doors in the UK Admiralty”. Ghandhi also forced RNSC to include me in the NUCLEAR PROPUSION Course.
Ghandhi was in line and hopeful with his unblemished service record to become Chief of Naval Staff but Admiral Oscar Stanley Dawson piped him as he was just senior in the Navy list and Chiefs in India are invariably made by seniority. But soon Ghandhi was appointed as Chairman of the Shipping Corporation of India and he attended to the task with zeal and contributed to bring about discipline and pride in the ships by visiting them regularly.
His Navy career in bullet points.
1957: Commanding Officer of the INS Cauvery when I was a cadet on INS Tir Seen first in Red Pyjamas
1961: Commanding Officer of the INS Betwa and gunned down Alphonso Albuquerque and went on to win the Fleet regatta 1961 -62 (The Cock of the Fleet) and piped another fine ship tem of INS Mysore under Capt St John Cameron when his officers boat just beat Mysore’s the deciding last race by yelling, ‘ Get Mysore’s officers boat go get Mysore and the Cock by its what nots or do not came back !”
1963: Attended US Naval War College, Newport R.I. but stuck to RN Style of working Indian Navy’s pedigree. Was CI IN DSSC. No complicated long verbose papers but practical ones.
1965: Commanding Officer of the INS Khukri and F 14 and sad he could not fight in the war as Government had no idea how to use the Navy ….IDF served in INS Kuthar and all Midshipmen in squadron including Prem Vir Das later VADM were invited to a five course meal in Ghandhi’s Juhu house.
1968: Director of Naval Operations a post IDF held later and took advise how to see all went well. His advice was Trust What The Commanding Officers’ say,,,,,They are the Navy’s Gold ! It helped IDF later as a green horn Fleet Operations Officer Western Fleet.
1969: Commanding Officer of the INS Mysore. 1971 Victorious War
1972: Naval Advisor to the India High Commission in London, U.K.
1974: Fleet Commander, Eastern Fleet. Bubbles joked. ‘The Bubbles in the fleet waters excite Russi more these days !’ alluding to his dedication.
1975: Fleet Commander, Western Fleet
1977: Commander-in-Chief, Western Naval Command
1979: Retired with the rank of Vice Admiral of the Indian Navy
He was the only officer to have commanded ships in all wars fought by India:
– the 1961 war to annex Goa as Commander of the INS Betwa
– the 1965 war with Pakistan as Commander of the 14th frigate squadron as Captain of the INS Khukri
– the 1971 war with Pakistan to create Bangladesh when he commanded the INS “Mysore,” the flagship of the Western Naval Fleet
Upon retirement from the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral Ghandhi enjoyed a short stint as technical consultant for the movie, “Sea Wolves,”[ and played a cameo role as the Governor of Goa in it. He was appointed Chairman of the SCIIN 1981 and served in that capacity until 1986.
During April 1986 to February, 1990, when Rajiv Gandhi was Premier of India, Vice Admiral Ghandhi was awarded the Param Visishti Seva Medal or meritorious service of the highest order, and served as governor of Himachal Pradesh in Raj Bhawan in Shimla built in 1815, and formerly known as Barnes Court. In addition to governmental duties, he made many improvements to the building, including a complete restoration of the billiard room and the Durbar Hall, as well as the construction of a gazebo on the premises. He was a Member of the National Commission for Minorities from 1993 to 1996.
In the end let IDF quotes the signal Fleet Commander Ghandhi made to Rear Admiral D S Paintal another fine officer IDF served briefly in Eastern Fleet and INS Nilgiri as his second in Command.
“I hand you a fine worked up Eastern fleet ……try chief cook Barua’s lobster thermedior …it is the best”. That was what an Admirals should be, not ones writing voluminous strategies, doctrines and capabilities and grandiose plans that the Government never reads but go listen to Commanding Officers and ASDs and discuss their issues in Commanders Conference and send classified TIME BOUND action copies to MOD, PMO and NSA for infrastructure and acquisitions which is shaking and copies for limited circulation ………Then have training, exercises, parties revise war orders and ROEs and the Indian Navy will run is IDF’s view to honour the memory of Adm Ghandhi ! . Keep it simple not like USA and make every one an Engineer –who will fight ?
Ranjit B Rai in Admiration and an IDF Salute to RKS !