Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 01 September, 1938, he specialised in Torpedo and Anti-Submarine (TAS) warfare and fought 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. He was also the only Indian officer to be appointed as an ‘Instructor’ in the Royal Navy’s shore-establishment HMS Osprey, which was, at the time, the British Royal Navy’s professional-training school for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). In 1944, he assumed command of the warship HMIS Kathiawar, which was a Fleet Mine-Sweeper, and participated in the Burma Campaign. An acting Lieutenant Commander at the end of the war, he was promoted to substantive Lieutenant Commander on 01 September 1946. In 1947, after attending the course at the Naval Staff College, UK, he was appointed as the Director of the ‘Directorate of Naval Plans and Intelligence’ at Naval Headquarters, New Delhi, in the rank of Commander. It is fair to say that he drew-up the first comprehensive blueprint for the transition from the Royal Indian Navy to the Indian Navy and the future growth of the latter. With his recent first-hand experience of the Second World War, the Navy that he envisaged for independent India would function in major roles: to safeguard Indian shipping, to ensure delivery of supplies, to prevent any landing by the enemy, and to support the Indian Army in seaborne and amphibious operations. It would comprise two fleets, each centred upon a Light Fleet Cruiser, and would incorporate naval-aviation and submarine assets. Sadly, the fledgling India of the time could not afford the naval assets needed, particularly in the face of an extraordinarily condescending attitude adopted by the British admiralty, which saw the Indian Navy solely as a coastal-defence force that would continue to rely upon the Royal Navy for oceanic and comprehensive maritime defence. From November of 1950 to January of 1953, he served as the Naval Adviser in the High Commission of India in London, before returning to India and taking-up the command of the Indian Navy’s pride and joy — the light-cruiser, INS Delhi.
He was then appointed as the Commodore-in-Charge, Bombay, with the acting rank of Commodore, a position he held for two years. (The ‘Bombay Command’ eventually evolved into the present ‘Western Naval Command’). Upon completion of the senior-leadership course at the Imperial Defence College, London, Commodore Chatterji was appointed the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (DCNS) on 08 February, 1958. While tenanting this prestigious appointment, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral (on 05 March, 1959). In May of 1962, he demitted the office of the DCNS and assumed command of the Indian Fleet. In January 1964, he was promoted to the acting rank of Vice Admiral and took over as the Commandant of the National Defence College.
On 04 March, 1966, he was appointed the seventh Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS) of the Indian Navy. He was confirmed in the rank of Vice Admiral on 22 November 1966 and was promoted to the rank of Admiral on 01 March 1968. As the Chief of the Naval Staff, he brought several of the plans he had drawn-up two decades earlier to fruition.
Admiral Chatterji retired on 28 February 1970, after 37 years of meritorious service. Even after his retirement, Admiral Chatterji continued to support the several endeavours of the Indian Navy and strongly advocated naval intellectual development as the foundation to the sustained and coherent resurgence of India as a maritime power. Right up to the day of his passing (the admiral left for his heavenly abode on 06 August 2001) he remained a fervent advocate of India’s maritime growth and the leadership that the Indian Navy needed to give to the intellectual development and encouragement of Indian maritime thought.
It was to honour this drive for intellectual growth and research-based rigour that the family of the late Admiral Chatterji instituted “The Admiral A K Chatterji Fellowship” in 2011.
The fellowship, which has since been entrusted by the Indian Navy to the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), financially supports sequential research projects, each of 18-month durations, relevant to India’s maritime development. Under this fellowship, which is offered to serving naval officers or young academics, three research-projects have been completed and published in the form of full-fledged books, while the fourth is currently in progress.