“You are what you are because of your nation. Never forget that.”
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Cdr Vijay Vadhera, NM (Gallantry) is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Pune. He has had an outstanding Naval career as a Submariner that spanned across 25 years till, he retired in April 1996. Cdr Vadhera was the first Skipper of Indian Navy’s yacht Samudra for around the world in 1998-99 for which he was awarded Nau Sena Medal (Gallantry) by the President of India. He is currently the President of the Navy Foundation, a non-political organization that aims at looking after the welfare of Veterans including Veer Naaris and Octogenarian members. Read on to know the details of his spectacular career in uniform.
What was the reason you chose to join the Armed Forces, specifically, the Indian Navy?
When I was a youngster in school, my uncle was serving in the Indian Army. During holidays, we would often visit him wherever he was posted. That was my first brush with the disciplined, regimental life that was filled with sport and cultural activities. I saw the kind of respect uniformed officers received from civilians and that left a big impression on me. Infact, after I joined the Defence Forces, my younger brother (who is 20 years younger to me) was inspired by seeing me in my white uniform and he also joined Army Aviation. So, I got inspired by my uncle and I, in turn, managed to inspire my brother!
You are an alumnus of the esteemed National Defence Academy. Could you tell us a little about your experience there?
National Defence Academy is one of those unique institutions that makes a boy into a man. You are trained in a way that helps you take on any task and makes you result oriented. In fact, the first three service chiefs- Army, Navy and Air Force - were all from the 1st NDA Course and now history has repeated itself magnificently such that the present service chiefs are all from the 56th NDA Course.
The routine at the NDA is, rightly so, very tough and demanding. Get up in the morning at 5:30 am, rush for PT, come back and change, go for a drill, come back and rush for breakfast. Here I have to mention how luxurious the breakfast was at the NDA- toasts, omelettes, juices, milk- all of these were gulped down because we were so exhausted and hungry. Again, go running to class. Usually, cadets cycle to class. But while going to class, if you fail to salute a senior cadet/officer, then you must pick up the cycle in your hands and go to class with the cycle on top of your head. After a little rest, it's back to games in the evening. At NDA, most cadets are so short on sleep that when you’re given liberty on Sunday, we lock ourselves up in our rooms on Saturday afternoons, catch up on our sleep and wake up directly at 5am on Monday morning!
Once you got commissioned into the Indian Navy, where did you get posted and what was that experience like?
After passing out from the NDA, my first posting was on INS Krishna. It was a very fruitful tenure that went a long way in getting us used to the Naval way of life. The idea was to get us to do all the basic things ourselves so that once posted as an officer, we knew how to guide our sailors in the best manner possible. This was also the period where you are acquainted with naval drills- you get accustomed to the engine room, boiler room, navigation techniques and so on. After INS Krishna, we moved to our good old lady, aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. My time on INS Vikrant taught me several tricks of the trade that has helped me throughout my career. After that, I was posted to INS Kirpan for another 6 months. I got commissioned on July 1, 1971 after which we have a stint in Cochin for our technical courses or sub-courses for a year or so. After its completion, you get posted on a ship for your Watchkeeping certificate- it implies that you, as an independent officer, can take charge of the situation at sea during your watch. I was posted onboard old Mysore in Bombay. Just three months into that, there was a call from Naval Headquarters asking for volunteers for the Submarine Arm. I was quite fascinated by the tough and adventurous life that submariners have. So I landed up in Visakhapatnam for my training. While pursuing that, I got a call stating that I was selected to be a commissioning crew in INS Vagli, a submarine of the Indian Navy in the erstwhile USSR. Post my USSR stint, I was the first Skipper for Naval Yacht Samudra that went around the world in 1998-99.
Cdr Vijay Vadhera, NM (Gallantry)
Sir, a lot of our readers are civilians. Could you explain to them how submarines work and what their significance is?
A submarine is a platform that can go and stay underwater for a certain duration and while underwater, she can fire torpedoes. In a conventional submarine, you cannot run your diesel engine without air. So every 18 to 24 hours, we have to come up to the surface, take out our periscope and suck in air and run generators to charge your battery. After charging, you can go down again. However, conventional submarines have an inherent disadvantage that they have to come to the surface to recharge; here, they are susceptible to attacks from enemy aircrafts or ships. To overcome this limitation, nuclear submarines came in. Now, nuclear submarines have uranium that heats up the water and produces steam which runs a turbine. Through this method of steam propulsion, they are able to travel underwater at great speeds for a large period of time. These days, our nuclear submarines are also equipped with Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that acts as a huge deterrent to the enemy. In that aspect, our sea power is instrumental in preventing wars because of the sheer power of destruction that we possess.
He has been decorated with a Nau Sena Medal (Gallantry) during his tenure
Sir, on a lighter note, I’ve always wondered- why are ships and submarines always referred to with the prefix, ‘she’?
There is an explanation for that (laughs). Ships generally have something called buoys- a type of object that acts as a marker or locator for ships at sea. Since the ships go around the buoys, it has been christened as a female (laughs). This is just one of the several Naval traditions that have been followed for decades now.
Could you tell us about your experience with the Naval yacht, Samudra?
When I was in Port Blair, the fortress commander and I had gone to Indira Point, the southernmost point of Port Blair. From the helicopter, we saw an idle yacht lying alongside a jetty. After checking, we learnt that a German couple had brought the yacht here 2 years ago and left it there after which no one knew what to do with it. That was also the time when the Indian Army Yacht, Trishna was finishing the final leg of her world tour by passing through Indira Point. Since sailing was the Navy’s forte, we thought we should at least be the second ones to do it. So we prepared the yacht and decided to set sail. I was called on to be the First Skipper and Training Officer for Samudra. It took about 10 months to get the yacht ready and when we were about to sail, the then Chief of Naval Staff Late Admiral Nadkarni came to see us off. We had a GPS navigator with us to ascertain our location at sea. The Admiral looked at us and said, “No, you're going without the GPS navigator. Let me do what I’m doing, you’ll thank me later”. Though we were quite surprised, we went with it because there was no question of disobeying the orders of senior officers.
However, in the heavy schedule of packing and setting sail, we forgot to watch the barometric pressure that warns you about possible storms. As our bad luck would have it, there was a low pressure building up in the Bay of Bengal. Because we had already sailed out, we had to battle it out. The next two days were spent fighting with strong winds and heavy waves. For successfully accomplishing the task of battling out the storm, I was given the Nau Sena Medal (Gallantry)- for saving the yacht and its crew. During the sea passage, I remembered Admiral Nadkarni’s words. Without a GPS navigator, we were forced to do astronavigation- navigation based on the position of the sun and the stars- which kept us occupied all day and also gave us satisfaction of navigation at sea.
Cdr Vadhera was the First Skipper of Indian Navy’s yacht, ‘Samudra’
Sir, what is the longest time you’ve spent on a submarine at a stretch? What was that experience like?
Submarines are usually sent out for War patrol. You’re supposed to intercept enemy ships leaving their harbour, gather their sound signatures and intelligence of the enemy vessels. Longest I have been out at sea, underwater for 18 days. In a submarine, there is no water for bathing, it is only for drinking and brushing your teeth. Therefore, we have a system of disposable clothing that we discard every 3 days. Naturally, that wasn’t the most effective method. So when we returned home, even before welcoming us with a hug, the first thing our families would say was, “Go have a bath, you’re smelling!”
Cdr Vadhera is an alumnus of the esteemed National Defence Academy.
We’d like to know more about the Navy Foundation. What does it do and how does the Foundation work?
Absolutely. The Navy Foundation is the brainchild of Late Admiral Nadkarni himself. The sole objective of the Foundation is the welfare of the retired Naval fraternity- Veterans and Veer Naaris. We ensure that they receive all their mandated benefits in a hassle-free and smooth manner. Something as small as sending a box of sweets on Diwali to a Veer Naari could mean so much to them. We also conducted India’s first ever Tri-service Veterans’ March on the Marine Drive on 12th January 2020. It was attended by more than 600 retired personnel of the Army, Navy and the Airforce as well as members of the National Cadet Corps, Sea Cadet Corps and Mumbai Police’s Commando Unit. Apart from this, the Navy Foundation organizes several sporting events like a cricket match and yachting race between the Headquarters WNC and the Veteran officers during the Veteran’s week in January 2020. The HQs cricket team thought that as oldies veterans would lose the cricket match but it turned out to be the other way around.
Left: The Navy Foundation conducted India’s first tri-services march on January 12, 2020
Right: Navy Foundation, Mumbai Chapter.
What is your message for the youth of today?
You know, youngsters today are actually very intelligent; they know the world, they are focused and they know what they want for their future. My only message to them is no matter what you do, always think of your country. It’s normal to want to go abroad, live there, earn money and live a comfortable life. But after that, come home and give back to your country. You are what you are because of your nation. Please don't forget that.