The 1971 War was one of the greatest Indian military victories, ever in it’s history. When the Indian Armed forces, not just defeated Pakistan, but also assisted in the creation of a new nation Bangladesh. It was also a war, in which the Indian Navy played an equally important role, unlike the 1962, 1965 Wars, that were primarily land based. And one of the most glorious chapters was Operation Trident, the surprised attack launched by the Indian Navy on the port of Karachi, on December 4, 1971. The 1971 War, started on December 3, 1971, when the Pakistani air forced, launched Operation Chengiz Khan, a series of pre emptive attacks on the Indian air force bases in Pathankot, Agra, Ambala, that fortunately did not cause any major damage. Operation Trident started on the same date, as did the Battle of Longewala and the Battle of Basantar, two major conflicts that titled the balance in India’s favor.
So why Karachi?
Karachi was Pakistan’s major sea port, and also one of the busiest and deepest in Asia. Around 60% of the cargo was handled here, as well as being in close proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. And in 1971, Pakistani Navy, had its Head office in Karachi, as well as it’s entire fleet there. Since it was the center of the maritime trade, any blockade of the port would have had disastrous effects on Pakistan’s economy. This was the reason why the Pakistani Government placed the port under heavy security and surveillance.
Now unlike the 1965 War, the Indian Navy was fully equipped and prepared, and the commanders of the Pakistani Navy knew this fact very well. They could not launch an offensive at deep sea against the India Navy, nor prevent it’s encroachment. Also around November 23, the Navy deployed 3 Vidyut class near Okha for patrolling. When the war officially broke out, the Western Naval Command decided to form a strike group which included these 3 Vidyut class missile boats. However as they had limited operational range, support vessels had to be assigned to the group.
And soon the Karachi Strike Group was formed with the 3 Vidyut class boats- INS Nipat(K86), INS Nirghat(K89) and INS Veer(K82). Each was armed with 4 Soviet made SS-N-2B Styx SSM( Surface to Surface Missiles), with a range of 40 nautical miles. These were backed up by 2 Arnala class anti submarine corvettes-INS Kiltan and INS Katchali, and a fleet tanker INS Poshak.
The operation was under the command of Cmdr Babru Bhan Yadav, from Rewari in Haryana,a graduate of BHU and Commander of 25th Missile Boat Squadron. His father Major Bhagwan Singh Yadav, had earlier distinguished himself in the Indian Army, and fought in both the World Wars.
The entire operation was masterminded by the then chief of Naval Staff, S.M.Nanda who had then played a crucial role in modernizing the Navy, and also changing the focus from defense to attack. While the planning and implementation was carried out by Captain G.M.Hirachandani, who was regarded as one of the finest strategists in the Indian Navy.
Dec 4, 1971
The strike group reached Karachi, and maintained it’s position outside the surveillance range. The plan was to attack during dusk, as the Pakistani Air Force did not have night bombing capability.
10:30 PM, PST- The strike group moves 180 Nautical Miles, towards South of Karachi and soon the Pakistani warships were detected.
10:45 PM- INS Nirghat made the first strike, firing it’s Styx missile at PNS Khaibar, a battle class destroyer. The missile hit the right side, causing an explosion in the boiler room. Nirghat fired again, hitting on the starboard side, eventually sinking the ship, and around 222 were dead. The delay in the rescue teams reaching the location made matters worse.
11 PM- INS Nirpat fired two Styx Missiles, one each at cargo vessel MV Venus Challenger and another at PNS Shahjahan, a C class destroyer. Venus Challenger that was carrying ammunition, exploded immediately and sunk, while Shah Jahan was badly damaged.
11:20 PM- INS Veer targeted PNS Muhafiz, an Adjutant class minesweeper, hitting on the left side of the bridge. The ship sank immediately, killing 33 on board.
Meanwhile INS Nirpat continued towards the harbor, and targeted the Kemari oil storage tanks. One of the missiles hit the tanks, that were totally destroyed, causing a massive fuel shortage for the Pakistani army. It was a disaster for the Pakistani Navy, with 3 ships sunk, one badly damaged, and it’s fuel storage tanks destroyed.
Though the Pakistani Air Force, retaliated by bombing Okha harbor, the Indian Navy had moved it’s missile boats to more secure locations. However one fuel tank was destroyed, putting all operations on hold till Operation Python launched 3 days later. With zero casualties on the Indian side, this is considered as the most successful naval operation, post World War II, and the Indian Navy celebrates Navy Day, every year on December 4 to mark this occasion.
Many of the Indian officers were highly awarded in this operation.
G.M.Hiranandani- Nausena Medal for the operational planning. He would later become the Vice Admiral.
Babru Bhan Yadav- The Commander was awarded the Mahavir Chakra.
Lt Cmdr Bahadur Kavina( INS Nipat), Lt Cmdr Inderjit Sharma( INS Nirghat) and Lt Cmdr Om Prakash Mehta, the COs were given the Veer Chakras.
In a follow up, the Navy launched Operation Python, the second attack on Karachi harbor.
After Operation Trident, had caught them napping, the Pakistan Navy stepped up aerial surveillance along the coast. Some of the Pakistani Naval ships, mingled with merchant ships to fool the Indian Navy too. In the meantime, the Pakistani air force had made an attack on Okha harbor,hitting the fuelling facilities for missile boats and an ammunition dump. The Indian Navy had however moved the missile boats to a safer location, anticipating the strike. Also while Trident was a success, the Indian Navy could not hit the main targets, the fuel storage facilities in Karachi. This was due to confusion betwen the COs of the 3 missile boats- Veer, Nipat and Nirghat, and also mistaking tracer fire from coastal artillery, as that of the Pakistani aircraft, making them retreat hurriedly. It was keeping in mind these events that Operation Python was launched.
December 8-9, 1971, 10 PM PST
A small strike group approached approached Manora, a small peninsula located just South of Karachi port. INS Vinash(K85) a Vidyut Class Missile Boat was the one the led the attack on Karachi in Operation Python, along with INS Talwar and INS Trishul. It had 4 SS-N-2B Styx missiles.
INS Trishul and INS Talwar were both multipurpose anti submarine frigates of the Whitby class, sourced from the British Navy. Basically fast convoy escorts capable of tackling submarines. A Pakistani patrol vessel had an encounter with the ships and was sunk.
11 PM, PST
The strike force detects a batch of ships around 12 nautical miles away( approximately 22 km). Vinash immediately fired 4 of it’s missiles, one struck the Kemari Oil tanks, causing a massive explosion, while another struck a Panamian fuel tanker, SS Gulf Star. The other 2 missiles struck the warship PNS Dacca and a British merchant vessel SS Harmattan. Both SS Gulf Star and Harmattan sank, while the Dacca was badly damaged beyond repair. The Pakistan Navy was effectively crippled now.
Pakistan’s fuel reserves were totally affected with the blowing up of the Kemari oil tanks, giving the Indian Navy full control over the route between Karachi and the Persian Gulf. The West Coast was fully secured now. Lt Cdr Vijai Jerath of INS Vinash was awarded Veer Chakra.
More than anything Operation Trident and Python between them destroyed over 50% of total fuel requirements of Karachi Harbor. With most of the oil reserves, ammunition depots destroyed, both the Pakistani Navy and Air Force were totally at a loss. The damage was not just physical , the Pakistani Navy was completely demoralized by the twin attacks of Trident and Python. Ships were ordered to reduce their ammunition dumps, not to venture out to sea, yes that is how you create fear in the enemy. Through Python and Trident, the Indian Navy effectively lorded it over the Arabian Sea. Neutral Merchant vessels going to Karachi had to seek a safe passage, to avoid attacks. And Pakistan had to suffer a naval blockade, which wud be a critical factor in winning the ’71 war.