Vice Admiral MR Schunker: Reminiscences

"The Admiral was a fine officer and warm hearted gentleman, forthright, impartial, virtuous, with an understated sense of humour and a great mentor who led by personal example."


Vice Admiral MR Schunker: Reminiscences

The Admiral was commissioned into the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1943 as a Midshipman during World War II and thereafter into the Royal Indian Navy. Post partition, he opted to migrate to India, whilst the family chose to stay on in Pakistan for a while, eventually migrating to the United Kingdom.

The developing Indian Navy, was ideal for the talents of the forthright and dynamic officer, who was part of the commissioning crew of INS Mysore in Liverpool, the first course officer of the newly formed Gunnery School in Cochin and shortly thereafter in 1960, went in Command of the Destroyer, INS Rana.

Post his tenure as the Fleet Operations Officer Indian Fleet, he attended the Joint Service Staff College in UK, and in 1968 commissioned the submarine tender INS Amba in Odessa in the Russian winter, having put her through exhausting and rigorous acceptance trials.

Consequent to his successful tenure as CO INS Amba and award of AVSM, he was posted in Command of INS Kunjali, the Provost Headquarters and subsequently in Command of INS Valsura an electrical engineering establishment, the only Executive officer to do so.

There had been serious discipline issues on the base, which his demanding, authoritative and efficient no-nonsense way of administration quickly resolved. On completion of his NDC, and tenure as Chief of Staff of Western Naval Command, he was promoted to Flag Rank and took over as the Fleet Commander of the Western Fleet in early 1976 at the age of fifty one.

"The developing Indian Navy, was ideal for the talents of the forthright and dynamic officer."

It was as a watch keeping Sub-Lt that I first observed the effect of his charisma and the impact that it had during the Annual Inspection of our ship INS Kirpan in late 1976. The Admiral had a formidable reputation for an eagle eye, exacting standards for professionalism, indefatigable stamina and was hard as nails.

Miraculously, during the inspection, every equipment and system seemed to work to designed perfection including the wilful sonar. In early 1978, he was appointed as the Flag Officer Commanding in Chief of Eastern Naval Command. In late August 1978, a small naval platoon was tasked to extricate sailors from a civil area in Vishakhapatnam, where they had been caught up in riots. The platoon went in with arms and without ammunition, and rescued two families.

A couple of years later, having been on his staff subsequently, on enquiring of the Admiral, his thinking for not authorising ammunition in a situation fraught with danger, he stated that he anticipated that it would not be needed and that he did not want any accidental casualties. His humane approach and perception was exceptional and the incident was a lesson in successful mob handling.

"The Admiral had a formidable reputation for an eagle eye, exacting standards for professionalism, indefatigable stamina and was hard as nails."

In the 70s, the Navy Ball was the annual highlight of a city which was unhurriedly growing from a quiet town to the modern cosmopolitan city of today. An aspect of the event was the Raffle. Navy Ball raffle 1978’s prize was not given to the winner as he was declared AWOL, and given away to the next winner. It started a chain of events, which culminated in the C-in-C, subsequently ruling with Solomon like justice, that the original winner too be suitably compensated.

Navy House in Vishakhapatnam was a tasteful and elegant residence, with well-manicured lawns. Both Admiral and Mrs Schunker took exceptional care for their upkeep and in particular, found the time to nurture the garden. This ensured that the residence was always in pristine shape.

The Admiral was fastidious of the menu for functions, and always selected one appropriate for the guests, but within the reach of the marvellous culinary skills of the cooks. On occasion, he would try a sample of a particularly special fare, and never failed to complement the cooks and stewards for the fine dining that they could conjure. Visits to the new construction sites for assessing the physical progress of technical facilities were innumerable.

In 1980, He took over as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff and a couple of years later, was appointed as the Director General of the fledgling Indian Coast Guard, an organisation which he drove with his typical flair and pizzazz.

He travelled widely in his Command, from Indira Point to Calcutta to Chennai and oversaw all operations, exercises and major evolutions. Memorable were the calling on events and the meetings with the Rani of Nacowry, as well as the iconic Chief Ministers Jyoti Basu and MG Ramachandran.

Jyoti Basu was an exceptionally well read and suave statesman, who developed a very cordial and responsive relationship with the Admiral. MG Ramachandran also played host to the Admiral, was gracious and notably hospitable. A constant companion during his tours was the Bible which he read regularly, and a travelling iron to ensure that the creases were in the right place.

In 1980, He took over as the Vice Chief of Naval Staff and a couple of years later, was appointed as the Director General of the fledgling Indian Coast Guard, an organisation which he drove with his typical flair and pizzazz.

The ICG entered the air age with the commissioning of No 800 CG Air Squadron, and grew with the induction of five ships including the first Patrol Vessel built by GRSE and launching of the first of the indigenous OPVs to be built by MDL. He retired in 1982 and settled into a cottage like home “Anchorage” at the Defence Colony Goa.

One of his creative habits was carpentry, and he made some of his own furniture. In late 1985, the Admiral and Mrs Anne Schunker were our guests at our little flat in 4B Meena NOFRA. Mrs Schunker had been diagnosed with cancer, and they had come down to Bombay for further diagnosis and treatment at Tata Memorial Centre, trips they made using the efficient public transport.

During their stay, we observed the resolute manner in which he went through the hard days, and the fallout and influence of the underlying stress and the weight of the suffering that his wife of many years was going through. When the reports came in, it was an indelible sight, as he hugged his wife, and with tears in his eyes, said that all was well!

In the thirty six years since, he went through a loss of his spouse, and the simultaneous replacement of two knees. He doted on his grandchildren and great grandchildren. The many times we called on him and met him in Goa, he was in good health, gracious and in great spirits. We always came away refreshed, listening to him raconteur with candour, humour and no rancour.

He picked up the newer technologies, and was quite adept at using the internet. The Admiral was a fine officer and warm hearted gentleman, forthright, impartial, virtuous, with an understated sense of humour and a great mentor who led by personal example. He drove his own car and remained affable and clear headed till he passed away after a brief illness at the age of 96.

It was an honour to have been on his staff and to have known him and his wife. He left a lasting imprint on the Navy and on the Coast Guard, with his single minded service oriented focus, integrity and fine qualities of head and heart, a perfect paragon to emulate.

May his Soul Rest in Peace.

(RAdm Vineet Bakhshi, an alumni of NDA, served as Commanding Officer INS Shivaji, Director General Naval Projects (Mumbai) and Chairman and Managing Director of Goa Shipyard Ltd. He can be reached at vineet.bakhshi@gmail.com and vineetvcn@gmail.com. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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