In November 2018, India bid farewell to one of its most legendary and decorated war veterans, Vice Admiral (retired) Manohar Prahlad Awati. His demise indeed marks the end of an era for the defence forces. Aged 91, Admiral Awati breathed his last in Vinchurni, his native village, located in the Satara district of Maharashtra. He leaves behind an irreplaceable abyss in the history of Indian Navy.
Also known as the father of Indian Navy’s circumnavigation adventures, he had quite an eventful and illustrious career which ranged from capturing three enemy ships carrying contraband goods to the destruction of an enemy submarine.
Born on September 7, 1927, Awati first donned the uniform when he was selected for the Royal Indian Navy in 1945. An expert in signal communication, the iconic naval officer also had the credit of serving in many naval vessels like INS Ranjit, INS Venduruthy, INS Betwa, INS Tir and INS Mysore. However, it was during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, when Awati’s commandership played a significant role in determining India’s fate.
Deployed as the commanding officer of INS Kamorta, his name went down in history for gallantly holding the fort against the enemy forces for almost a fortnight—a successful feat for which he was awarded the Vir Chakra. Operating in the extremely dangerous territory with constant danger to his ship from enemy mines and submarines, an undeterred Awati went on a probing spree across the enemy- defended harbours of Bangladesh before finally striking a massive blow. Awati not only attacked and captured three enemy ships with contraband goods but also gained an enemy submarine contact that was to meet a brutal end at his hands. Anecdotes from Admiral Awati’s war days would be incomplete without mentioning the iconic .38 calibre Webley Revolver, a token of surrender that was handed over to him by two senior Pakistan Navy officers during the 1971 War. He presented the revolver to National Defence Academy as a souvenir in 2015, and it now rests in the museum of the premier tri-services military training institution.
Between 1976 and 1977, Admiral Awati served as the Commandant of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and even after being posted out and shouldering other responsibilities, he made it a point to attend every passing out parade of the Academy; a practice he continued till the year of his death.
Completing his duty-watch in active service as the Flag-Officer-Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command in 1983, Awati’s post-retirement contribution for 35 years had a national resonance. With little or no resources, he created the Maritime History Society in Mumbai and instilled an awareness about India’s rich maritime heritage in a tenaciously sea-blind society. The most significant contribution that Awati made was to instil in India the spirit of adventure and the forgotten tradition of sea-faring.
The legacy left behind by Admiral Awati would continue to inspire not just the officers serving in the force but also those aspiring to serve the country.