Legends of the Indian Navy
"A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace." -- Theodore Roosevelt
An armed force rich with maritime tradition, the Indian Navy fiercely protects the maritime boundaries of our country, offering humanitarian aid to the country when needed. Indian Navy’s prowess in four major operations has proved that it is a force to be reckoned with. On 3rd December 1971, Pakistan launched simultaneous attacks on Indian Air Force bases. The Indian Armed forces responded promptly to protect the Eastern and Western front with striking co-ordination, which led to India’s glorious victory in the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
This year marks 50 years of India’s victory in the 1971 war.
In 1971, a 24-year-old Indian Navy launched a brutal attack on Pakistan’s port city of Karachi. Named Operation Trident, this intrepid attack changed the course of the war and ultimately, the Indian Navy defeated the Pakistani Navy. A victory so grand, December 4th came to be celebrated as Navy Day.
In 1968, Osa Missile boats (later renamed Vidyut-class), armed with deadly Styx missiles were purchased from the Soviet Union. They could detect enemy ships with their range-out radars. After Pakistan launched pre-emptive strikes on Indian airfields, three Osa ships, INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer left from Mumbai harbour. They were backed by two Petya class Frigates, INS Katchall and INS Kiltan. These ships formed the squadron which carried out Operation Trident.
The squadron positioned itself 250 nautical miles south off the coast of Karachi harbour. The attack was planned to take place at night to preclude any air attacks. On 4th December 1971, INS Nirghat detected their first target, Pakistan’s PNS Khaibar. This destroyer vessel was detected along with C-class destroyer PNS Shah Jahan and Merchant Vessel Venus Challenger, the latter was a ship carrying arms and ammunition for the Pakistan Army.
The Indian Navy promptly fired Styx missiles at the enemy ships, who were shocked and utterly confused, mistaking the attack for an aerial assault on their ships. As INS Nipat attacked PNS Shah Jahan and MV Venus Challenger with Styx missiles, INS Nirghat engaged PNS Khaibar, which sank with approximately 222 sailors on board after being struck with two Styx missiles. A minesweeper, PNS Muhafiz was struck by INS Veer and sunk before it could even relay a signal to Pakistan Naval Headquarters. After a quick yet intense battle with the Pakistan Navy, INS Nipat made its way to the Karachi harbour where they fired two missiles. One struck the Kemari oil tanks, causing a huge loss to the Pakistani Navy and the second launch was aborted during the firing sequence.
On 7th December, the squadron returned to Bombay harbour, where they were welcomed with great pomp and show. In 90 minutes, the Indian Navy fired six missiles which sank three enemy ships and destroyed an important storage facility of the Pakistan Navy, all while facing zero casualties. The commanders of each of the three missile boats were honoured with Vir Chakra for the smooth execution of Operation Trident. While Commander Babru Bhan Yadav, (later Commodore BB Yadav) the squadron commander of the 25th “Killer Squadron” (which had carried out Operation Trident) was awarded India’s second-highest gallantry award, the Maha Vir Chakra.
Commodore Babru Bhan Yadav
Born, raised and transferred, Commodore (then Commander) Babru Bhan Yadav was born into a military family. His father, Major Bhagwan Singh Yadav had fought in both the World Wars and was awarded the Order of British Empire (OBE) during World War I.
A quick learner of the nuances of sea warfare, and with just four years into service, he was nominated to attend the Anti-Submarine Warfare course, a specialised course done mostly on front-line ships, in the United Kingdom in 1955. After a one-year tenure on missile boats in the Soviet Union, and being an anti-submarine warfare specialist, Commodore BB Yadav was fit to take charge of a frigate. Commodore Yadav was assigned the task of commanding the 25th Killer Squadron during the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
Commodore Yadav had trained his squadron in dummy attacks simulated against a port and on 2nd December he took command of the three Missile Boat Task Force, INS Nipat with INS Nirghat and INS Veer.
His hard work paid off tremendously as the Operation was executed in an outstanding manner. He was honoured with the Maha Vir Chakra for displaying great leadership.
Despite the looming danger of being struck by air or by enemy ships, Commodore BB Yadav maintained his composure, led ships to enemy waters and returned home victorious. An iconic officer of the Indian Navy, Commodore BB Yadav’s heroism and skill is an inspiration to many. Married to his first love, the Indian Navy, Commodore BB Yadav passed away in 2010.
Commodore Kasargod Patnashetti Gopal Rao
Another war hero, Commodore Kasargod Patnashetti Gopal Rao was a part of the 25th K Squadron. He joined the Indian Navy in April, 1950 and specialised in gunnery. He was also the commanding officer of INS Kiltan in Eastern Naval Command.
Commodore Rao was assigned as the commander of two anti-submarine corvettes, INS Kiltan and INS Katchall, which were a part of Operation Trident. The function of these two missile ships was to provide communication and anti-submarine cover, along with conducting target acquisition with their superior radar. As told to The News Indian Express by his daughter, Tara Rao, Commander Rao’s ship had four engines, out of which only one was functional during the attack. Post surface engagements with enemy warships, Commodore Rao led his task group into enemy waters and launched a fierce attack on Karachi port, destroying oil storage facilities and other installations of the Pakistan Navy.
For this fine display of valour and determination, Commodore Gopal Rao was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, “Notwithstanding the threat of enemy air, surface and submarine attack, Commander Rao led his task group into enemy waters. Despite heavy gunfire from enemy destroyers, and at great risk to our ships and personnel, Commander Rao resolutely pressed home a determined attack, sinking two enemy destroyers and one minesweeper.” his Maha Vir Chakra citation states.
Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla
A man with guts of steel, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, was commissioned into the Indian Navy in 1948. Hailing from a family of lawyers, Captain Mulla was described as an excellent defence counsel in courts-martial proceedings in the service. Before he took over command of INS Khukri in 1971, he held important appointments during his service career which included Officer-In-Charge of Naval appointments of Naval Headquarters, Deputy Naval Advisor to Indian High Commissioner in London for three years, executive officer of INS Angre at Bombay, commanding officer of INS Rana and tenure at Naval Headquarters in the Directorate of Naval Plans.
During the 1971 Indo-Pak war, Captain Mulla was commanding a task force of two ships, whose responsibility was to hunt and neutralize enemy submarines in the North Arabian Sea. The Indian Naval equipment detected a submarine in the vicinity of Diu harbour, following which INS Khukri, INS Kirpan and INS Kuthar were dispatched to face the threat of the enemy.
Unfortunately, INS Khukri was attacked by a Pakistani submarine, PNS Hangor, which fired torpedoes, causing severe damage. There were two blasts in INS Khukri. Captain Mulla ordered for the ship to be abandoned within minutes. As chaos ensued, Captain Mulla, who was cool as a cucumber, ensured the safety of his men by ushering them to leave the ship, just in time.
As INS Khukri sank within minutes, Captain Mulla upheld the highest tradition of the Indian Navy and refused to abandon the ship and ordered his crew to jump to safety. In an exemplary display of courage, Captain Mulla went down with the sinking ship along with 178 sailors and 18 officers. In the history of the Indian Navy, he has been the only captain to go down with a vessel. For this supreme sacrifice, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was honoured with Mahavir Chakra, posthumously.
It was rightly said by Major General (retd) Ian Cardozo, an infantry commander and author of The Sinking of INS Khukri: Survivors’ Stories, at his book release, “In this brave and heroic action, Captain Mulla teaches us not only how to live, but how to die.”
The deeds of these brave men are what legends are made of. Their dedication to the Indian Navy and the Nation is no less than inspiring. The tales of their supreme sacrifice, valour, grit and determination are immortal and are etched in the illustrious pages of India’s distinguished military history.