Indian Navy (lN) Submarine VAGLI (commissioned on 10 August 1974), the last of the Foxtrots (Project 64 Ii) was decommissioned on 09 December 20 I 0, after 36 glorious years of service to the nation and the Navy. Indeed INS Vagli was the seventh of the eight Foxtrots to be commissioned at Riga (formerly in the erstwhile USSR and presently in Latvia), and her decommissioning marked the end of an era, which started on 08 December 1967, with the commissioning of INS KAL VARI, India’s first submarine, also at Riga. During the next 43 years, the Foxtrots trained generations of Indian submariners, who then went on to man the next generation of conventional submarines; viz. the German Shishumar (Type 1500 or SSK), the Russian Sindhughosh (Kilo) class and our first nuclear submarine, the Russian Charlie class SSGN, INS CHAKRA. Indeed, even after the induction of the Kilos and SSKs, the Foxtrot remained the ‘Basic’ Submarine for training all submariners (Basic course, PCO’Q’ and CO’Q’) for another decade.
The great thing about the Foxtrot was its simplicity of design, based on the reliable Second World War German type 21 submarines (In 1995, I saw a Type 21, a submarine monument in Germany, and it bore an uncanny resemblance to the Foxtrots). The Foxtrot was absolutely reliable, and all its initial teething problems had been resolved in the Soviet Navy, which deployed it in large numbers, on long-range missions, before the advent of nuclear submarines. While it was not basically a training sub, the Foxtrot, did forgive some mistakes, which in other more advanced subs could have been disastrous. I would like to recount a few anecdotes about these legendary boats.
In 1970, IN Submarine KARANJ, whilst dived at periscope depth, suffered an unfortunate collision with the 1700 ton destroyer, the original INS RANJIT. The ship had to be towed back to harbour, whilst the sub made it back under own power, and was as good as new in a few months after a new fin was constructed, in time for KARANJ to take part in the IndoPak war of 1971. Incidentally, I later served on KARA NJ as a Navigator and EXO, and discovered that the reconstructed bridge was not exactly aligned fore and aft. A similar incident involving INS VELA and the 5000 ton destroyer, the new INS Rana occurred at sea in 1989, with somewhat similar results. Once again the robust VELA made it back to port under own power. Many years later, when commanding the new 5000 ton destroyer, INS Ranjit, I remember mentioning these incidents to my OOWs, so that they would realize the serious consequences of colliding with a Foxtrot.
There are a few humorous anecdotes too. The crew designate of a yet-to-be commissioned Foxtrot, was undergoing work up on INS KURSURA in 1974, prior to departing for Riga, when the CO designated suggested, perhaps in a lighter vein, to the CO INS KURSURA, that they attempt an urgent dive while going astern! When this proposal was rightly turned down, the response was that the first dive of the newly commissioned Foxtrot would be with stemway on. This particular Foxtrot did not do a stem first dive, post commissioning, but many still remembered the precommissioning promise. When the sub entered Mumbai, after a three month passage around the Cape of Good Hope, the CO smartly saluted the Captain SM 9 “Reporting the safe arrival of IN Submarine-sir!” The Captain SM, aware of the earlier anecdote said “Thank God!”