In English dictionaries the word ‘Artificer’ means 'a clever or an inventive designer', 'a Military serviceman trained in mechanics'. So, encompassing their collective wisdoms, we would come to an accurate description of what the Indian Navy Artificers really are. History tells us, ‘Artificer’ is an appointment held by a member of an armed-forces service, who is skilled at working on mechanical devices. Artificer has always been a job title and not a rank.
Just like in Royal Navy and the Indian Navy, the artificer existed in military organizations like British Army, American Army, Canadian Army, Irish Armed Forces, Australian Army, Navy of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Nigeria, Australia, and Germany.
The title, in its army avatar, has over 250 years of history. The Artificers were there during the years of the American Revolution. Its naval avatar appeared in the mother of all navies, the Royal Navy, in 1869 with the advent of the steam-engine-powered ships.
Historically, artificers are addressed as ‘Tiff’ or 'The Tiffy'. In the Royal Navy, the ‘Artificer’ was classified as a highly skilled naval rating that has successfully undergone a five-year formal apprenticeship in skill of hand and specialist knowledge training in Her Majesty's ships and training establishments.
Engine Room Artificer was introduced in the Royal Navy in 1868, due to transition from Sail. HMS Audacious (later renamed Fisgard) was a steam- propelled, twin screw battleship launched in 1869. In 1904 Fisgard became a depot ship. Eventually, all the training of artificer apprentices took place in Portsmouth, in four ships which were collectively known as Fisgard.
It is interesting to note that HMIS Fisgard and later HMIS Shivaji which was commissioned in 1945 and became Indian Navy Artificers training establishment. Both have crests with a lot of similarity.
British - Royal Navy: The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John 'Jacky' Fisher was concerned that the other navies, particularly the German Navy would technologically surpass the British Navy. He ordered to launch the training for 'Boy Artificers' to ensure British Navy would be second to none.
By the early 1920's the training of all Artificer Apprentices, (including the newly introduced Electrical and Ordnance Artificer Apprentices) was concentrated in Fisgard at Portsmouth and this continued until Fisgard was moved to Chatham in 1930 where it was accommodated ashore until 1939. Then, rapidly increasing numbers of apprentices and the need to disperse resources, led to the training being split between the two new purpose-built establishments at Rosyth in Scotland and Torpoint in Cornwall that were named respectively "Caledonia" and "Fisgard".
During the late 1940's Fisgard became the sole centre for the initial training and branch allocation of all Artificer Apprentices including Shipwright and Fleet Air Arm Apprentices of all specializations. All of the ships names associated exclusively with the training of Artificer Apprentices (i.e. "Tenedos", "Indus", "Caledonia" and "Condor") have passed into history but the name "Fisgard" remained linked with Artificer Apprentices until 2006 when Fisgard Squadron at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall closed.
Towards the end of 1940, an expanded Mechanical Training School (MTS) within the dockyard area was planned. The objective was to enlarge the training capacity to 500 naval personnel. Here the first training course of Indian Artificers began. As a result of expansion of the dockyard in the following two years, it became necessary to find another site for MTS outside the dockyard area.
Thirty-nine years after Adm. Fisher’s initiative, the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) started training the first batch of Indian Navy Artificers. They were drawn from various trades of G.D. sailors.
The Second World War sent the whole world into great turmoil; Royal Indian Navy expanded during this period. Navy needed an adequate number of artificers for maintenance of propulsion machinery, auxiliaries, weapons and hull. To meet the need, Navy recruited Diploma holders as Direct Entry Artificers, and gave them short courses at BITS, Pilani. It was only a war-time solution, which happens to be beginning of Indian Navy Artificer Apprentices training.
* HMIS Valsura was commissioned on 15 December 1942 as the Torpedo School of The Royal Indian Navy. It later became the ‘Torpedo and Electrical school.’.in/insvalsura/content/welcome-indian-naval-ship-valsura)
On July,1 Navy approved the new Mechanical Training Establishment (MTE) at Lonavala and construction commenced subsequently. The MTS from Bombay Dockyard was to be relocated to Lonavala. The target date for completion was 31st of May 1944, however, it got ready by end of that year.
In January the MTE was moved to Lonavala; the Shipwright and Ordinance apprentices were sent to the Shipwright and Ordinance Schools, located behind the Castle Barracks.
In January, with the 9th course, (Class-9) the first Direct Artificer Apprentices entries was started with 50000 series service number. Whoever Partner is on records as holding a service number 50001 should be dutifully addressed as the “Clan Chief” of the Current Artificer Apprentices entry.
* According to Partner A.V.Balakrishna Varior (EAR, Class-6), there were no direct-entry for apprentices in those days. According to him first eight classes comprised of only the ‘Boy’ entry sailors. In the 4th Class of apprentices there were 10 ERAs and 5 EAs. The Radio and Radar training facilities did not exist in India till 1948. Instead, they were trained in the U.K. It is also interesting to note that Partner Remedios Denis and Partner Varior, were both from initial “Boy” entries; the former was a stoker and the latter a telegraphist, before becoming apprentices.
The Shipwright and Ordinance apprentices were sent to the Shipwright and Ordinance Schools behind Castle Barracks, then RINS Angre. In 1948, the Torpedo School was proposed to be shifted to Naval Base of Cochin and HMIS Valsura became the Electric Training School of Indian Navy; now a premier top of the line Electrical Engineering Establishment in India. (https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/insvalsura/content/welcome-indian-naval-ship-valsura).
Aviation Branch began in 1950 with the induction of 20 ERAs, who received their training in United Kingdom. From Class-14 after B term in INS Shivaji, the six apprentices were sent to Arbroath for Aircraft Artificer training.
* Electrical Artificer Training program was conducted at INS Valsura.
* the prefix of the ships’ names, HMIS, was replaced with INS (Indian Naval Ship).
The Electrical Artificer Training Infrastructure was not adequate in INS Valsura. Therefore, till end of F term they were trained in INS Shivaji and later sent to INS Valsura for G and H terms. * INS Garuda was commissioned as a home for the aviation branch.
Electrical Apprentices were sent to INS Valsura after E Term and in the subsequent year, from D term onwards. INS Shivaji had become the premier training institute for all artificers across the Indian Navy. Not surprisingly, artificers looked up to INS Shivaji as their main temple of Technology.
INS Bramhputra was commissioned, and with it, the electrical system saw a move away from DC (Direct Current) and towards AC (Alternating Current). It was a significant evolution in technology, which in turn necessitated an entirely new training curriculum for Electrical Artificers.
OA - Ordinance Artificers training was abolished from Indian Navy in 1956. Class-24 was the last batch. The story of the birth of the branch itself is very interesting. One third apprentices of Class-11 in 1948 were allotted ordnance branch after a trade allocation test.
Those were the days when all the toppers craved for engine room branch. When INS Mysore with those mighty 6” triple turrets and MRS 6 as their control system was commissioned in UK. It served to be the last glory for OAs of Indian Navy.
* Naval Air Technical (NATS) School was established in 1956 at INS Garuda. Housed in a hangar across the runway, it was shared by the civil aviation for their passenger operations. The school has now evolved into the Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology (NIAT).
OA training continued till Class-24. By then many of them had been commissioned as Ordnance Officers. In order to be Engineer Officers, Electrical Officers or Electrical Artificers, they had to go through brief conversion courses thus turning them into EAP (Controls), EAP (Mounting), ERA (Weapons), and ERA (Engine Room Artificers). Subsequently, the Apprentices training from Class-25 onwards had streams; EAP(Controls) and EAP(Mounting)- a practice that continued till Class-36.
* Electrical Artificers Apprentices were sent to INS Valsura after B-Term for further training.
* 17 ERAs were sent to the UK for conversion to Air Artificer training.
Fore and Aft dress was worn by Apprentices including the 5th Class Artificer till 1958. From this year onwards, Apprentice dress code changed to Square rig.
With Class-32, Air Artificers (AAs and EAARs) Apprentice training started at NATS, INS Garuda. Conversion from ERA to AA was stopped. The 31st Class was the last of that series.
From Class-37 onwards, Control and Mounting streams were merged into a single EAP (Electrical Artificer - Power) stream.
Square rig as dress code was replaced with Fore & Aft dress for all. The Artificer Apprentice Entry personal number, 52500, was the last of the “50000” series. Apprentices recruited then on were given personal numbers in 190000 series.
Shipwright School, which was in operation at Mumbai since 1943, moved to INS Viswakarma. https://www.indiannavy.nic.in/content/shipwright-school-0.
From Class-91 onwards, B&D (Basic and Divisional) training was conducted at INS Chilka for two months, following which they were sent to either INS Shivaji or INS Valsura for the core specialization in Mechanical (ERA) and Electrical (EA) streams. Aviation (AA) apprentices of both these streams went to Naval Air Technical School, NATS, at INS Garuda, Cochin post completion of A & B term. Shipwright (SWA) apprentices were sent to INS Vishwakarma, at Vishakhapatnam.
Artificer Apprentice final selection process was moved from INS Shivaji to INS Chilka. Post selection, they went through a nine-week B&D at INS Chilka followed by a week-long NBCD course at INS Shivaji. Upon completion, the apprentices would move to their respective branch-wise schools.
End of Artificers Training in Royal Navy - The Royal Navy did away with artificer ‘ratings’ altogether. The last batch of artificers passed out in 2010 marking the end of a legacy spanning 141 years in Royal Navy, but it is still continuing in Indian Navy.