Naval Mutiny, 1946



  • The Royal Indian Navy mutiny or revolt, also called the 1946 Naval Uprising, was an insurrection of Indian naval ratings, soldiers, police personnel and civilians against the British government in India.
  • The mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy (RIN), which broke out on February 18, 1946 in only five days, delivered a mortal blow to the entire structure of the British Raj.


Background to the Mutiny

  • The Second World War changed geopolitics
    • The war had caused rapid expansion of the RIN
    • In 1945, it was 10 times larger than its size in 1939.
  • As the campaigns carried the soldiers across the seas during WW2, they saw the world, read the newspapers and learnt that the war was for ‘restoring democracy and freedom’.
    • So, this made the Indian Soldiers question as to when their country would be free.
  • Due to the war, recruitments began occurring beyond the confines of the “martial races” composed of demographics who were politically segregated
    • Exponential rises in the price of goods, famines and other economic difficulties eventually forced many of them to join the expanding armed forces of the British Raj
    • So, over a period, a large number of Indian Section underwent a transformation in mind-set.
  • Despite Indian soldiers and technicians, being skilled at par with the British, Indians received a lower hand treatment from the British.
    • This smouldering resulted in at least 9 minor mutinies between Mar 1942 – April 1945


The RIN revolt

  • So, at the behest of such a transformed scenario in India, after WW2 came the most serious of all the direct anti-imperialist confrontations of the post was phase – the revolt of the Royal Indian Navy.
  • Having served abroad, and being familiar with the ways of world outside, the ratings of the RIN were resentful of the racist behaviour of their English superiors.
  • Besides, at the same time, there were unrest building up in the country, especially over the INA trials.
  • Eventually, on February 18, 1946, the ratings of ”Talwar” in Bombay harbour, went into hunger strike to protest against bad food and worst racial arrogance.
    • Others in 22 ships in the neighbourhood, followed suit on the following day, and it soon spread to the Castle and the Fort Barracks on the shore
  • Further, they elected a Naval Committee headed by MS Khan, and drew up their demands, highlighting as much the national ones as their own. They demanded:
    • Release of INA prisoners
    • Freedom of all other political prisoners
    • Withdrawal of Indian troops from Indo-China and Java
    • Better food
    • More civilised treatment
    • Equal pay for European and Indian Sailors alike
  • On 20th February, the ratings in Barracks were surrounded by armed guards, while their Comrades in the ships found British members threatening them with destruction.
    • By 22 February, the revolt had spread to all the naval bases in the country, involving 78 ships, 20 shore establishments and 20,000 ratings.
  • As natural in the electrifying circumstances of 1946, the mutineers evoked unprecedented popular response.
    • In Karachi, the Hindu and Muslim students and workers demonstrated in support of the ratings, and engaged the army and police in violent clashes.
    • Bombay witnessed emotional expressions of public sympathy-people hailing the ratings, rushing in food for them and shopkeepers insisting on their taking whatever articles they liked.
    • The Communists, with the support of the Congress Socialists, gave a call for a general strike on 22 February.
    • Defying the Congress and the League directives to the contrary, 300,000 workers came out of the factories and mills and took to the streets on that day.
    • On the contrary, Several hundred died in the delirious two days, and thousand suffered injuries


Why the rising could not make much headway?

  • The overwhelming military might of the Raj which was put in action.
  • The mutineers in the armed forces received no support from national political leaders and were themselves largely leaderless. Mahatma Gandhi condemned the riots and the ratings’ revolt
  • Vallabhbhai Patel and Jinnah jointly persuaded the ratings to surrender on 23rd February. An undertaking was given by the Congress and the League that they would prevent any victimisation of the ratings. But soon this assurance was forgotten. Thus, ended the Revolt of the RIN.
  • The Muslim League made criticisms of the mutiny, arguing that unrest amongst the sailors was not best expressed on the streets, however serious their grievances might be.
    • According to them, Legitimacy could only, probably, be conferred by a recognised political leadership as the head of any kind of movement.
  • Similar direct anti-imperialist confrontations though not of the same magnitude and significance as those of the INA and the RIN agitations also continued to take place contemporaneously in different parts of the country. Some of these were:
    • The popular outcry against the government decision to cut down the rational supplies to the civilian population was one such example, over which 80,000 demonstrated in Allahabad in mid-February 1946.
    • Another was the widespread police strike in April 1946 under the aegis of the leftists in Malabar, Bihar, eastern Bengal (in Dacca in particular), the Andamans and even in Delhi.
  • In July 1946 the postal employees decided to defy the authorities and actually struck work for a time. Sympathising with their cause, and at the call of the Communists, the people in Calcutta observed a total and peaceful general strike on 29 July 1946.
  • Thus, Strikes and industrial actions had in fact become in 1946 the order of the day.

Aftermath of RIN revolt

  • Between 25 and 26 February 1946, the rest of the mutineers surrendered with a guarantee from the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League and none of them would be persecuted
  • Number of precautionary measures were taken against possibilities of a second rebellious outbreak.
    • Firing mechanisms were removed from the warships, small arms kept under lock by British officers and army troops were deployed as guards on board warships and at the shore establishments.
  • In British circles, the confidence in the loyalty and reliability of Royal Indian Navy was shattered



  • Clement Attlee announced the Cabinet Mission to India following the mutiny.
  • The British authorities in 1948 branded the 1946 Indian Naval Mutiny as a “larger communist conspiracy raging from the Middle East to the Far East against the British crown”.
  • In 1967 during a seminar discussion marking the 20th anniversary of Independence; it was revealed by the British High Commissioner of the time John Freeman, that the mutiny of 1946 had raised the fear of another large-scale mutiny along the lines of the Indian Rebellion of 1857
    • Thus, the mutiny had accordingly been a large contributing factor to the British deciding to leave India.