Last Battle before Independence: Royal Indian Navy Mutiny (1946)


Have you heard about the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny? Most probably, yes. But no details are known. Nowadays the historians are giving utmost importance on this revolt in which Hindus and Muslims fought together for the last time against the Britishers. Let us know about this Revolt.

Nowadays the uprising of 1857 is called the first movement for independence although even before that, Indian people rose in revolt against the British. But due to its pan-Indian character, the uprising of 1857 is being given the honour of the First Movement for Independence. Now let us know about the Last Battle before Independence.

All of us have read about the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny which took place in 1946. But it was only a passing reference. No importance was given to this mutiny and we did not try to gather information on this mutiny, probably because it was not considered important for examination purpose. But the new research throws lights on this mutiny and many new facts are coming in front of us. Considering its importance, the modern historians are mentioning this mutiny as the Last Battle before Independence.



First, let us know the background

Due to the Second World War (1939-45), the Royal Indian Navy saw a rapid expansion and in 1945, the strength of this force was ten times than its strength in 1939. But the service conditions, food, and promotional channels for the Indian personnel were terrible. The Indian Naval soldiers were very angry. At the same time, in 1946, three INA greats, General Shah Nawaz Khan Colonel Prem Sehgal and Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon were brought back to Delhi, and the British started their trial at Lal Quila. This further united the Indians and the patience of the Navy personnel crossed all limits.

Immediate provocation

A contingent of 67 Indian personnel returned to Fort Mumbai on 16th January, 1946 after their training at HMIS Akbar. They complained of sub-standard food. They refused to take the meal and this was treated as an open act of defiance. Later the revolt was spread to HMIS Hindustan, stationed at Manora Island outside Karachi and HMIS Bahadur.

Revolt spread like wildfire

Indian Navy personnel (known as 'Ratings') formed a central strike committee on 19th February, 1946 under MS Khan and Madan Singh. The revolt was centered at Bombay but spread from Karachi via Visakhapatnam to Calcutta. They were incensed by the HMIS Talwar Commander FW King who addressed the Indian personnel as 'sons of coolies and bitches'. All work was stopped. The revolting Ratings shouted slogans demanding independence, release of INA soldiers and asked the British to quit India. People of Bombay, Karachi and Calcutta came out in support of the revolting Navy personnel.1000 Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) soldiers came out in support of the Navy personnel in Bombay. At one stage, more than seventy-eight ships, shore installations and more than 20,000 Navy personnel joined the revolt.

Stand of the political parties

Both Congress and Muslim League were strongly against the revolt. Gandhiji strongly criticized soldiers in his statement dated 3rd March, 1946. Ballabhbhai Patel in Bombay and Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Calcutta also strongly criticized the Navy personnel. Only Communist Party formally supported the revolt.

The revolting Indian personnel at one side and British, Canadian and Australian contingents at the other side prepared for an armed showdown with artillery guns of various calibers in Bombay. However, after intense negotiation with the leaders, Ballabhbhai Patel finally managed to convince the personnel to surrender by 22nd February, 1946. After assurance by Patel, all the Indian personnel surrendered. Eight personnel died and thirty-three were wounded.



Summing up

The revolting personnel were court-martialed and 476 soldiers were summarily discharged from service. However, it is a matter of great regret that even after the independence, neither the Indian Navy nor the Pakistan Navy re-inducted these brave Navy personnel. Although this revolt has been generally ignored by the Congress, the momentous event has been portrayed in some films like Bhowani Junction and Iyobinte Pushtakam (Malayalam). A Bengali play named Kallol based on this revolt became very popular.

After long last, this revolt is getting its due recognition and the historians have accepted that this was the Last Battle before Independence.


Article by Partha K.
“Those who will not reason, are bigots, those who cannot, are fools, and those who dare not, are slaves.” - George Gordon Byron

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