The Navy Mutiny
THE NAVY MUTINY
Musings of a Navy Veteran by Vikram Karve
WHAT IS A NAVY MUTINY…?
You must have heard of the famous Mutiny on the Bounty and probably read books and seen the movies made on this mutiny too.
Mutinies have happened on various Navies of the world from time immemorial.
What is a mutiny…?
DEFINITION OF MUTINY
Section 42 in The Navy Act, 1957
Mutiny defined. —
Mutiny means any assembly or combination of two or more persons subject to Naval Law, the Army Act, 1950 (46 of 1950), or the Air Force Act, 1950 (45 of 1950), or between persons two at least of whom are subject to naval law or any such Act, —
(a) to overthrow or resist lawful authority in the Navy, regular Army or Air Force or any part of any one or more of them or any forces co-operating therewith or any part thereof; or
(b) to disobey such authority in such circumstances as to make the disobedience subversive of discipline or with the object of avoiding any duty or service against, or in connection with operations against, the enemy; or
© to show contempt to such authority in such circumstances as to make such conduct subversive of discipline; or
(d) to impede the performance of any duty or service in the Navy, regular Army or Air Force or any part of any one or more of them or any forces co-operating therewith or any part thereof.
— — — — —
As per the above definition — mutiny requires involvement of two or more persons subject to Naval or Military Law — so — it is a collective activity.
Apart from the Mutiny on the Bounty mentioned above — there have been many famous Naval and Military Mutinies — some of which have changed the course of history — like the mutiny of the Russian Battleship Potemkin in 1905 which is considered the first step towards the Russian Revolution which happened in 1917.
It is believed that the Royal Indian Navy Mutiny in 1946 by sailors made the British realize that they could not rule India any longer and hastened the process of granting Independence to India.
(That is why this Mutiny is also called a War of Independence)
The Indian Navy has been relatively free of mutinies except for the Topass Mutiny.
The infamous “Topass Mutiny” of 1970 occurred when some sailors in the Western Fleet refused to clean latrines — after the abolition of the Navy’s Topass branch.
(The term Topass or topaze was first applied to the offspring of Portuguese men and South Asian women. At one time these Euro-Asians formed a sizeable proportion of the population of Goa and other Portuguese colonies. Many assumed their father’s religion and profession as soldiers. Referred to as ‘black Christians’, they were highly valued in infantry and artillery units)
The “Topass” Sailors perform the more menial tasks for the crew.
The Topass Mutiny led to the repeal of the unpopular decision to abolish the Topass branch.
Bad man-management led to a similar type of mutiny on board the cruiser INS Mysore in 1972.
Whereas — the Topass Mutiny led to the repeal of the unpopular decision to abolish the Topass Branch — the Mysore Mutiny resulted in the appointment of a Board of Inquiry — as a result of which a large number of participants were sacked. It was also the end of career for a number of senior and promising officers.
An internet search revealed another interesting article on the subject (url link ahead) -> https://www.deccanchronicle.com/opinion/op-ed/200317/can-indian-navy-afford-a-mutiny.html
IS MUTINY A THING OF THE PAST…?
During my long service in the Navy — we did not hear of any mutiny.
There may have been isolated incidents of indiscipline — but not a mutiny.
The 3 Naval Mutinies mentioned above (RIN Mutiny, Topass Mutiny and INS Mysore Mutiny) had a limited effect.
The RIN Mutiny probably hastened the process of granting Independence to India.
And — the Topass Mutiny led to the repeal of the unpopular decision to abolish the Topass branch.
However — some Naval Mutinies have had significant effect and even have altered the course of history.
A MUTINY CAN CHANGE HISTORY
Famous Naval Mutinies
Famous Navy Mutinies (that changed History)
1. The Mutiny on the Bounty
2. The Potemkin Mutiny
3. The Hermione Mutiny
4. Henry Hudson and the Discovery Mutiny
5. The Kiel Mutiny
6. The SS Columbia Eagle Mutiny
The 1789 Mutiny on the Bounty saw a rebellious crew hijack their ship and build their own island community.
Led by the Master’s Mate (Second-in-Command) Fletcher Christian — the Mutineers forced their Master (Commanding Officer) Captain Bligh and 18 loyalists into a small launch and abandoned them at sea.
(Captain Bligh would go on to weather two more mutinies during his long Naval Career).
Now in command of the Bounty, the mutineers sailed to various islands in the South Pacific in search of a safe place to hide.
Finally — in January 1790 — the mutineers settled on Pitcairn — an isolated island in the South Pacific.
The last of the mutineers died on Pitcairn in 1829 — but descendants of Bounty mutineers still live on the island to this day.
The Potemkin Mutiny was sparked by a mundane argument over food — the Potemkin Mutiny became one of the pivotal events in the 1905 Russian Revolution.
The revolt occurred during the Russo-Japanese War when the 700 crewmen of the battleship Potemkin were given poor quality food.
When they protested — they were told to eat their food or face extreme punishment — the sailors rebelled.
The crew killed nearly half the ship’s officers in a bloody shootout before commandeering their ship Potemkin.
Russia’s Black Sea fleet was soon mobilized to crush the mutineers — but their crews were sympathetic to the plight of the Potemkin sailors — and refused to fire on them.
The Mutineers sailed for 11 days before finally surrendering the battleship in Romania.
Most of the crewmen remained in exile there — but some returned to Russia and were arrested and executed.
The Potemkin Mutiny was a significant influence on the 1917 revolution that led to the creation of the Soviet Union.
The Hermione Mutiny on Royal Navy Ship Hermione — on 21 September 1797 in the Caribbean — was probably the bloodiest mutiny in British Naval History.
Furious at the draconian punishments meted out by their Captain — the sailors — many drunk on rum — launched a coordinated attack on their superiors.
The mutineers stabbed their Captain to death in his cabin and then proceeded to brutally slaughter several officers.
The mutineers sailed to Venezuela and agreed to hand over Hermione over to the Spanish in exchange for asylum.
Hermione would go on to sail under the Spanish flag until 1799 — when the British Royal Navy Ship HMS Surprise recaptured it in a daring night raid.
In 1610 — Henry Hudson led his ship Discovery to the frozen waters of modern-day Canada — in an attempt to find a new western route to Asia.
Their ship became lodged in pack ice — forcing them to spend a treacherous winter ashore.
By time the ice had finally cleared in early 1611 — the men’s morale was dangerously low.
Hudson wanted to continue his mission — but he had alienated his crew — many of whom believed the Captain was hoarding food. Starving and desperate to return home — the crew mutinied.
After commandeering the ship — the Sailors forced Hudson, his Son and 7 other men into a small boat — and abandoned them in the Hudson Bay.
The mutineers then steered Discovery toward England — but along the way most of them succumbed to disease.
The fate of Hudson and his fellow castaways remains a mystery.
The Kiel Mutiny in the German Navy sparked the German Revolution and the end of World War I.
The mutiny began in October 1918 when Germany’s exhausted sailors learned of a plan to launch a last-ditch attack against the British Royal Navy.
The sailors were unwilling to take part in what they saw as a suicide mission — crews refused to prepare their ships for battle.
The mutiny proved contagious and similar uprisings soon sprang up throughout Germany.
Within a matter of days the German war effort crumbled and Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated his throne — paving the way for the eventual rise of the Weimar Republic.
The SS Columbia Eagle Mutiny happened during the Vietnam War.
In March 1970 — two Sailors held their Captain at gunpoint and commandeered the supply ship Columbia Eagle.
Abandoning most of the crew in lifeboats — the two mutineers changed course and steered toward the neutral nation of Cambodia — and the mutineers informed authorities that they had seized the ship and its cargo of 10,000 tons of napalm as an act of protest against the Vietnam War.
Initially given asylum — the two mutineers found themselves prisoners — one was later released and surrendered at the U.S. embassy — while the other escaped and was reportedly executed by the guerrillas in 1971.
SS Columbia Eagle was returned to American authorities.
References : Internet Search
Copyright © Vikram Karve
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Links to my source blog posts:
What is Mutiny…? -> https://karve.wordpress.com/2020/03/16/what-is-a-mutiny/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2020/02/10/what-is-mutiny/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/mutiny/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2020/07/20/navy-traditions-mutiny/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2022/01/22/what-is-a-navy-mutiny/ etc.