By Cmde Ranjit B Rai (Retd.)
New Delhi. 11 April 2020. This bunch of engineers above, belonged to the 1978-1980 batches of Technical Direct Entry topper graduates who joined a, ‘make shift’ Naval Academy(NAVAC) in Cochin dependent on the mercies of INS Venduruthy, Garuda and Schools which proved a boon for training. Admiral OS Dawson a bachelor, and a hard task master loved taking rounds, which kept Night Duty Officers alert, making the Commander’s task easy. Admiral Dawson took the odd lecture too on OLQ, so MES kept the Academy in shape.
No one dreamt, that six of them were destined to make India’s secret nuclear submarine dream come true, by successfully running INS Chakra’s reactor for 430 days on the 670 Charlie class K-43 Navy took on a three year lease from 1988 to 1991 signed by Capt RNGanesh. They praised Ganesh but lament, they worked in cocooned nuclear related appointments. Sadly they faded away unsung by the Navy, as all was kept classified. Some history has been written by an Admiral, and Capt Ternov.
A wife of one, claims her husband died of radiation. However she was told in confidence, that every time a officer keeps watch in a submarine nuclear reactor and comes out, he is tested with Rontgen meters and shown her husband’s records, never showed it. But she always joins the brotherhood of what this writer calls, The Chakradharians. The families lived on an island sharing rice, chappatis and dal meals and drank Vodka and Old Monk to live in minus 20 degrees for long durations in a cramped but a very well heated Hostel build by the Soviet Navy in the district of in Vladivostok. It fostered brotherhood in trying times of the Soviet Union. Russians introduced officers to hot saunas in the nude, and dips in cold water to keep fit to drink Vodka after ! Bachelors met charming maids !
This writer learnt of their service only last year, having parted company with the Navy in 1988. The Chakradharians with others of their batch which included Cmde CD Balaji of LCA fame, invited us to a three day get together to relive their days in Cochin and the Allepy trip we did in 1979. Their wives wanted to meet my wife who had introduced them to table laying and table manners, etiquette and ballroom dancing and produced a Shakespearean play, not easy for college students with varied dialects. I learnt this later. All this writer contributed in NAVAC not being an Engineer, was drilled them once a week and gave a lecture what the Navy is all about. They remember me for, “ I am from NDA and you must make NAVAC proud, and do better than NDA walas, like US Naval War College teaches ! “ Alma-Matar.
Their story, began when Adm Mihir Roy, was selected by his UK room mate Dr Raja Ramana to be DG Advanced Technology Vehicle(ATV) Project, a subterfuge for a Nuclear Submarine technology demonstrator and formed a group of officers and sailors for the Systems Analysis and Operations Research course, conducted very secretly in Bombay’s Mud Island. This group was tutored in Russian and in the fundamentals of nuclear energy, reactors and under water propulsion, supported by Dr Sethna of the Bhabha Atomic Reactor Centre with visits.
The group included officers and sailors who were unaware they were going to man the Chakra, further doctrined by Vice Admiral Bharat Bhushan. They were involved in the niche area of operation of the propulsion reactor power plant and the diving surfacing systems of the submarine. And my memory fades.
Cmde Prakash Parwardhan – As a Lt/ Lt Cdr, trained on the “Kluch” diving/surfacing system operation as the KeDe3, in-charge for operation and maintenance of engineering systems. He took responsible certain critical damage control actions in a fire under water which resulted in the savings of all lives. He also served in DMDE, SBC and ATVP for about 8 years, all classified.
Cdr Sudhir Dua trained for the same functions as Prakash and served on Chakra, looking after the conventional systems. He works in Muscat on power plants. Cdr Ramamoorthy Alavandar and Lt Cdr Lakshminarayan Satyanarayan were again propulsion plant operators for three years, soon as the submarine came to India after commissioning, till it was handed over to Russians in 1992. They both were part of the team which created Vizag support facilities called SSS (Special safety Services) in the Dockyard before the arrival of Chakra. Post returning of Chakra, Alavandar, to his credit, was in ATVP for seven years.
Cdr Bharat Chauhan, post 1992, served in various capacities in DGNP and SBC, actively contributing the yard SBC creation. He recently completed the 21 km Chennai half marathon run. Cdr Surendrakumar Rana was an upper yard man in Naval Academy
These fine watch keeping officers and turbine specialists kept the 90 mega watt plant going.They were tested in stringent of psychological tests by the Russians and then put through the rigorous training process, excelling in theory, practice and emergency responses. One day when India is a power with nuclear submarines future generations may be looking to write about the pioneers in golden letters of gratitude, and report despite their Commandant they did their duty for the Nation and the fine Indian Navy . Apolgies for missing some. Shan Na Varuna.
(The author Cmde Ranjit B (Retd.) is a defence expert and author of WARRING NUCLEAR NATIONS-INDIA AND PAKISTAN (ISBN 978-93-5158-638-0). The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at email@example.com)