On the occasion of the 108th birth anniversary of Admiral Adhar Kumar Chatterji, the National Maritime Foundation pays its willing tribute in honour of this great stalwart and guide of the development of the modern Indian Navy. We recall, with gratitude and pride, the late Admiral’s indomitable spirit and selfless service to his navy and his nation.
As the sun rose in Dhaka (now the capital of the Republic of Bangladesh) on the 22nd of November of the year 1914, it greeted the birth of Adhar Kumar Chatterji, who in later years would rise to great national and international acclaim and garner richly-deserved accolades and honours from the highest office in the land — that of the Honourable President of India himself — in the form of an Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) and the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) for service of an exceptionally high order to the nation. Having chosen a naval career for himself, the young Adhar rose — inexorably and almost inevitably — to not only become the Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) — an office that he graced from March 1966 to February 1970 — but also became the first incumbent to don the rank, insignia and regalia of a full Aadmiral of the Indian Navy.
Even as a young man, he shone amongst his peers and contemporaries and, in 1933, was one of the first Indian cadet-entry officers to join the Royal Indian Navy, obtaining his commission as a Sub Lieutenant on the first day of September 1935.
His rise through the ranks of the naval officer-corps was meteoric. Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 01 September 1938, he was selected to specialise in the cutting-edge naval-specialisation of ‘Torpedo and Anti-Submarine (TAS) warfare’. He proved his mettle in combat in the Second World War, while serving aboard a variety of Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy warships, both in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. So impressive was his performance, that he was appointed as an ‘Instructor’ in the Royal Navy’s shore-establishment HMS Osprey, which was, at the time, the Royal Navy’s professional-training school for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) — the only Indian officer to be so chosen. In 1944, he assumed command of the Fleet Minesweeper, HMIS Kathiawar, and participated in the Burma Campaign. At the end of the war, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on 01 September 1946. Thereafter, he embarked upon an arduous journey of intellectual development that would prepare him to be a competent senior naval officer. Accordingly, in 1947, having successfully completed his course at the Naval Staff College, UK, he found himself — a newly promoted Commander — in New Delhi, the capital of the newly independent and proud, sovereign nation of India, where he had just been appointed Director in the ‘Directorate of Naval Plans and Intelligence’ at India’s Naval Headquarters.
However, it was not solely duty ashore that fate and an expectant India had in store for this brilliant and upcoming naval officer. In 1950, he was promoted to the rank of Captain, Indian Navy, and with his four gold rings glittering upon his sleeves and epaulettes, he assumed command of the Indian Navy’s pride and joy, the light cruiser INS Delhi — which proudly displayed, amongst her battle honours, the one of the ‘Battle of River Plate’, in which this famous warship, in her earlier avataras the HMS Achilles, had stamped her name upon naval history.
Selected to undergo the Senior Leadership Course at the Imperial Defence College, London, he demonstrated exceptional competence and, on 05 March 1959, shortly upon the completion of the course, was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and appointed as the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (DCNS). In May of 1962, he demitted the office of the DCNS and once again put to sea — this time as the Flag Officer Indian Fleet (FOCIF). In January of 1964, he was promoted to the acting rank of Vice Admiral and took over as the Commandant of the National Defence College.
As spring and ‘March flowers’ broke into bloom in the national capital, he was promoted by his grateful government to the rank of full Admiral on 01 March 1968, and four days later, was appointed the seventh Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of the Indian Navy. He immediately set about executing his deeply considered and well-formulated plans for the augmentation of the Indian Navy through a vigorous process of acquisition and induction of ships and weapon systems required for a Blue Water Navy — a role that he had already envisaged for the Indian Navy and refined several years earlier while he was heading the ‘Directorate of Naval Plans’. The missile boats inducted from the Soviet Union during his tenure were fondly called ‘AK boats’ after his initials. These boats played a crucial role in the victory of Indian Arms in the 1971 armed-conflict between India and Pakistan, and were instrumental in sinking a number of Pakistani naval and mercantile ships, and left the Pakistani port of Karachi in flames.
Admiral Chatterji retired on 28 February 1970, after 37 years of extraordinarily meritorious service. Even after his retirement, he lent his very considerable support to the several endeavours of the Indian Navy and strongly advocated naval intellectual development as the foundation for the sustained and coherent resurgence of India as a maritime power. The admiral left for his heavenly abode on 06 August 2001, but right up to the day of his passing, he remained a fervent and eloquent advocate of India’s maritime growth and the development of naval and maritime leadership of the highest possible level.
He was a thorough professional and a strict disciplinarian and ran all his ships as taut but happy examples of what a truly professional set-up ought to be. Several generations of Indian Naval commanding officers, senior officers, and flag officers have striven to emulate him in their own lives. His personality is succinctly described by his grandson, “He was a real extrovert. He got energy from being around people. His life was never focused upon himself.”
An epitome of multifaceted talents and vision, the late Admiral Adhar Kumar Chatterji was truly a man for all seasons and the contemporary Indian Navy continues to ride upon the shoulders of officers such as him.
To honour the multitudinous achievements of the late Admiral, his family has instituted “The Admiral A K Chatterji Fellowship”at the National Maritime Foundation (NMF) to promote his vision of effervescent yet well-grounded research that would propel maritime thinking in India and, in so doing, serve to dispel the curse of ‘sea-blindness’ with which India — once a great and historically-established maritime power — has long been afflicted. Under this fellowship, four books, namely, “Prosperous Nation Building through Shipbuilding: In Pursuit of Leadership” (Commander S Navaneetha Krishnan 2012), “The Game Changer: Game Theory and Low Intensity Maritime Operations” (Commodore Arun P Golaya, 2014), “Deep Seabed Mining in the Indian Ocean: Economic and Strategic Dimensions (Captain [Dr] Nitin Agarwala, 2017) and, “Leveraging High Technology Developments by China in the Military and Maritime Domains: Impact on Indian Ocean Regional Security”, (Captain Kamlesh Kumar Agnihotri, 2021) have already been published, while a fifth, tentatively entitled, “Operationalising the Security Pillar of the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative [IPOI]” is presently under completion by Commodore Purushottam Verma. The four books already published can be accessed at https://maritimeindia.org/projects/
The Indian Navy’s leaders of today, recalling and referring-to the achievements of the late Admiral Adhaar Kumar Chatterji, could hardly do better than to repeat the words of Sir Isaac Newton, who in a 1675 letter to his fellow scientist Robert Hooke, had famously said, “If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
About the Authors
Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM, IN (Retd), is the Director-General of the National Maritime Foundation (NMF). He is a prolific writer and a globally renowned strategic analyst who specialises in a wide-range of maritime affairs and related issues. He may be contacted at email@example.com
Dr Chime Youdon is an Associate Fellow and a ‘Vice Admiral KK Nayyar’ Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation. She is deeply engaged in a set of major studies relating to resilience-assessments of urban agglomerates in the face of climate change. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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