This post is little late to celebrate the Navy Day (4th December) but almost in time to commemorate Vijay Diwas (16th December) and creation of Bangladesh. Let us rewind few decades back. Year is 1971 and tension between India and Pakistan has reached the highest level. Since last couple of months, both sides are preparing for a full scale war centered on Bangladesh (then known as East Pakistan). Iron Lady of India – Indira Gandhi – has made a decision to go to war with General Yahya Khan’s Pakistan. She has made it clear to top brass to initiate the war if Pakistan does not start it till a fixed date. That date was fixed at 3rd December, but later postponed to 6th December. Luckily for India Pakistan decides to start the war on 4th December by attacking airfields of close to the border.
While war commences, a small flotilla of three boats is sailing in the Arabian Sea observing radio silence on night of 4/5 December. These boats are Osa class boats recently acquired from USSR and they are on a mission. Mission is to deliver a severe blow to Pakistani Navy ships and other coastal targets near Karachi port. In addition to its military value, this mission is important to avenge bombarding of Dwarka coast by Pakistani Navy in 1965 when Indian Navy was held back from taking any action. Karachi port was Pakistan’s only deep-water port and also had huge tanks for storing petroleum and oil. Killer squadron – as this team is called – is sailing towards their target when they receive a one word message. Members of Killer squadron are INS Nipat, Nirghat and Veer. Squadron commander B. B. Yadav had embarked on INS Nipat. INS Kiltan (Petya class frigate) would provide support with its superior radar. Message is SANSAR. This message initiates the very first strategic action taken by Indian Navy during its existence. Sharks are unleashed and ready to crush their prey.
|INS Nipat (K-86)|
As the flotilla got closer to Karachi, they could see coastal structures on their radars. They were just 32 miles from Karachi when INS Veer detected a contact. It was PNS Muhafiz that had witnessed the destruction of PNS Khaibar. A missile was fired at it and found its mark. Missile hit disintegrated it not even permitting time to send a distress signal. At this point there were no more targets and attention was focused on coastal installations. INS Nipat launched two missiles towards Karachi. While the first missile hit giant oil tank at Keamari, second missile misfired. Fire started by missile hit engulfed other structures around it. Russian Styx missile had brought Diwali in December. Such was the fire that it took many days for Pakistani fire fighters to extinguish it. This was a first in history of naval warfare where an anti-ship missile was used for attacking coastal targets. Missiles spent and good number of targets destroyed. Another one word message was sent by radio. This time it was from sharks to their den at Mumbai. Message was ANGAR indicating successful completion of Operation Trident.
Journey back home was filled with lots of unpleasant surprises for the Killer squadron and its escort INS Kiltan. Mechanical problems forced INS Veer to slow down in order to carry out repairs. As if mimicking her, INS Kiltan had both its gas turbines fail within a short duration slowing her down to 13 knots on her main diesel engine. INS Nipat busts an oil hosepipe reducing its speed to just 7 knots. Even after repairs it maintained a speed of 30 knots – well below maximum of 45 knots – to avoid recurrence of problem. She also altered course by 90 degrees, taking her towards Aden and hence out of harm’s way. All boats, except INS Nipat arrived at their designated port. INS Nipat was presumed to be lost to enemy action. Adding to the confusion was a piece of news broadcast on Pakistani radio praising PAF for sinking an INS Nipat. Confusion cleared on 7th of December when INS Nipat reached Mumbai to receive a hero’s welcome. Date of Operation Trident was immortalized by selecting it as the date to celebrate Navy Day.
|SS-N-2 Styx missile|
While naval action took place and flotilla sailed towards Karachi, another drama unfolded in the air. Karachi port was protected by two major airfields – Masroor and Drigh Road – in the vicinity. Air Chief Marshal P. C. Lal’s Hunters/Canberras from Jamnagar airbase were relentlessly pounding these two Pakistani airbases to ensure that PAF (Pakistani Air Force) could not interfere with the dance to death that IN had started. If Navy’s plan was bold and audacious, IAF pilots were the daredevils who took on themselves the task of protecting their comrades in Navy by attacking these well defended airfields. In absence of these airstrikes by IAF, PAF might have struck IN boats endangering the mission and crews. Charged up by Navy’s aggressive stance, flyboys ensured that mission was a grand success without even a single casualty.
Indian Navy’s action went down in annals of naval warfare as one of the most daring raids carried out using tiny missile boats against a well defended port. This attack and subsequent attacks by IN caged PN ships to Karachi port and blocked any reinforcements reaching Pakistan and hence breaking their will to fight. In battle of 1965, IN was ordered not to take any action for some arcane reason. Final result was that PN ships came all the way to historic town of Dwarka and bombarded it with their main guns. While almost entire IN was seething with rage, they had their orders to follow. Pakistanis came, bombarded Dwarka and went back unharmed; their chests filled with pride at slapping and insulting IN. Operation Trident not only restored IN’s pride, but also affected the outcome of the war. In addition to Operation Trident, other actions like blockade of Bangladesh and sinking of PNS Ghazi effectively curtailed Pakistan’s will to fight the war. Sadly INS Khukri was lost off the coast of Gujarat to torpedoes of PNS Hangor. More on these events will follow in later posts.