The first military establishment to be set up in India by the British, the Naval Dockyard, Mumbai has a glorious history spanning over two-and-half centuries. It began with the British shifting their operations from Surat to Bombay in 1686 after they acquired it from the Portuguese and gradually developed ship-building and repair facilities. In addition to a mud basin set up in 1693-94, covered marine store houses, carpenters shed, smithy shop, offices and quarters were progressively set up. With this, the yard became a wholesome facility and this historic milestone signified the birth of the 'Marine Yard' in 1735.
The yard's facilities were developed to keep pace with the ship-building requirements which included construction of Dry Docks namely Bombay dry dock in 1750-65 (the first dry dock built in Asia) followed by Duncan Dry Dock in 1808-10, a break water in 1830, four slipways, Torpedo Dry Dock in 1892-93 and Wet Basin in 1889, along with a support infrastructure. Most of these facilities are still in use.
From building smaller ships, the yard graduated to build bigger ones. Some ships were fitted with as many as 84 guns while the largest ship built was a 2591-ton HMS Madras (renamed HMS Meanee). As many as 275 ships were built during 1761 - 1860. HMS Minden was the first ship built in Bombay Dockyard to be directly commissioned in the Royal Navy. HMS Trincomalee built in 1817, is the second oldest ship still afloat. The history of shipbuilding and Bombay Dockyard is synonymous with the history of the Wadia Master Builders. Nine Master Builders and 15 Assistant Builders of the Wadia family rendered distinguished service during 1735-1884.
Since 1880s, a combination of political, technological and financial factors led to the downslide in shipbuilding at Bombay Dockyard which continued only with wooden hull ships the last of which was built in 1932.The dock transformed into a ship repair yard for Royal Navy ships. During World War-II, this was the only dock East of Suez that the British could rely on to repair and refit the battle damaged ships.
The dockyard was renamed Naval Dockyard, Bombay post-Independence. New facilities were set up to meet the needs of the newer ships and submarines which were inducted into the Indian Navy. Today this yard has transformed into a formidable and professional ship repair yard of the Indian Navy and the largest establishment of the Western Naval Command employing highly skilled and committed work force of over 12000 personnel, both uniformed and civilian. It is a vibrant organisation which has initialised new management technologies and fully capable of meeting the ships requirements.
The Naval Dockyard, Mumbai marked its 275th anniversary this year with a range of activities. A seminar on 'Life Cycle Support for ships and Submarines' was held on October 6 which was inaugurated by the Governor of Maharashtra. The Minister of State for Defence, Dr MM Pallam Raju inaugurated an exhibition on October 7. The personnel of the dockyard undertook a cycle expedition to Jamnagar and back while the Adventure Club members scaled Mount Chamser Kangri. A motor-car expedition touching various states was flagged off on November 7 which will terminate at Mumbai on Navy Day.
- Capt M Nambiar from Mumbai