UPSC Exam Preparation: This Day in History – Feb 18

18 February 1946

Royal Indian Navy Mutiny

What happened?

The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny began at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946 and soon spread to other parts of British India. Over 10000 sailors came to be involved in the mutiny which was suppressed by the British using force.

Royal Indian Navy Mutiny Background

In today’s edition of This Day in History, you can read all about the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny of 1946. This is an important chapter in the Indian freedom struggle and so, you must know the basic facts behind it for the IAS exam.

Note on Naval Revolt of 1946

  • The Royal Indian Navy Mutiny started as a strike by ratings (a designation for a sailor subordinate to officers) demanding better food and accommodation.
  • The Indian sailors were treated badly by their British commanders and there were stark differences in the pay, living conditions and basic amenities of Indians and British sailors in the navy.
  • The strike started in Bombay harbour where a contingent of ratings had arrived. The ratings of HMIS Talwar, a shore establishment also had seething discontent against their seniors for similar reasons.
  • On 19 February a Naval Central Strike committee was formed with Leading Signalman Lieutenant M.S. Khan and Petty Officer Telegraphist Madan Singh elected as president and vice-president respectively.
  • The strikers were inspired by the INA trials and the persona of Subhas Chandra Bose. Soon, the strike evolved into open revolt with many cities joining the Bombay sailors. Sailors from Karachi, Calcutta, Poona, Vizag and Cochin joined involving 66 ships and shore establishments.
  • Ratings were not obeying their officers and they conducted demonstrations in the city of Bombay leaving their posts.
  • The city of Bombay particularly was tense. Hundreds of protestors targeted the British residents and officers of the city. They even took control of Butcher Island where the entire ammunition of the Bombay Presidency was stored.
  • The rebels also found support from the Royal Indian Air Force men from Bombay and from the Gurkhas in Karachi who, known for their loyalty, refused to fire at the strikers.
  • The open revolt struck at the heart of the British establishment who now realised that the armed forces, which was one of their key tools in maintaining their mastery over the subcontinent, could no longer be relied upon.
  • The sailors displayed a strong unity cutting across lines of religion and region despite the impending partition of the country on communal lines.
  • The revolt, however, failed to see support from the Indian leadership who perhaps saw a mutiny, so close to independence, as a danger. Only the Communist Party of India and the INC’s Aruna Asaf Ali openly supported the sailors.
  • The mutiny came to an end with the intervention of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The mutineers surrendered on 23 February 1946.
  • A total of 7 sailors and 1 officer were killed. 476 sailors were discharged as a result of the mutiny. They were not taken into the Indian or Pakistani navies after independence.
  • It is noteworthy to point out that there was massive public support for the mutineers. During the violence in Bombay that ensued because of the strike, over 200 civilians had died.

Also on this day

1486: Birth of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Bhakti saint.

See previous ‘This Day in History’ here.

Also read: