On December 4, 1971, the Indian Navy showed the world what they are capable of. It was after Pakistan's Air Force had bombed six Indian airfields that India and Pakistan were at war once again.
The Indo-Pak War of 1971 had begun and it was time for the Indian Navy’s “Killer Squadron” to join the battle. On December 4, the Indian Navy formed a 'Karachi Strike Group' and Operation Trident was launched followed by Operation Python to tackle the war situation.
During Operation Trident, the Navy used Soviet-made Osa-class anti-ship missiles for the first time in combat in the offensive operation launched on Pakistan's port city of Karachi during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. This historic naval operation conducted on the night of 4th–5th December inflicted heavy damage on Pakistani vessels and facilities.
Although India did not suffer any loss in the action, two Pakistani navy ships were sunk and another was destroyed by the Indian Navy. Along with this, a Pakistani merchant ship carrying ammunition was also destroyed.
To mark this landmark victory, India celebrates its Navy Day on 4 December every year. The conflict started in the backdrop of tensions between Pakistan (also known then as West Pakistan) and the Bengali majority of East Pakistan.
How the war began-
In 1971, the Port of Karachi was the headquarters of the Pakistan Navy where the Navy was placed in Karachi Dockyard. By the end of 1971, the situation got worse between India and Pakistan. On November 23rd 1971, the Pakistan Navy declared a National Emergency after receiving information that the Indian Navy had stationed three Vidyut-Class Missile Boats in the zone of Okha, located near Karachi, to carry out patrols.
On December 3, 1971, the war started when Pakistan launched airstrikes on 11 Indian airbases. It was perhaps the first time when all three Indian forces fought in unison. India quickly responded to Pakistan Army's movements in the west and captured around 15,010 kilometres of Pakistan territory.
As the long night followed, the Indian Navy took down Pakistani minesweeper PNS Muhafiz. The Karachi Strike group had two Russian Petyas - INS Kiltan and INS Katchall, and three Osa class missile boats - INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer.
The Karachi Strike group swooped down Pakistani targets on the night of December 4. India began by taking down the Pakistani destroyer Khaibar killing over 200 sailors onboard.
Operation Trident, led by Captain Gopal Rao, lasted for not more than 90 minutes. The Indian missile boat, INS Nipat fired a missile at a merchant ship carrying ammunition, MV Venus Challenger, thus successfully destroying it, and another missile at a destroyer PNS Shah Jahan, which was irreparably damaged. In an independent operation on the same day, Kemari oil storage tanks were strafed by the Indian Air Force on the same day, leading to a massive fuel shortage for Pakistan.
Karachi harbour on fire during Operation Trident
On December 5, the Indian Navy’s Western C-in-C, Vice Admiral SN Kohli received the code word “Angaar”, which meant success in Operation Trident.
However, the war was far from over. Operation Python was launched two days later. In this operation, a single missile boat Vinash supported by INS Trishul and INS Talwar took on the enemy ships.
Missile boat Vinash fired four missiles in succession at four different ships chosen randomly at Manora anchorage. The first missile crossed Manora Island and crashed on the Kemari oil farm causing huge flames. PNS Dacca was destroyed beyond repair and two other foreign ships in Karachi port sank.
The war ended after the chief of the Pakistani forces, General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, along with 93,000 troops, surrendered to the joint forces of the Indian Army and Bangladesh's Mukti Bahini and signed the Instrument of Surrender on 16 December 1971 in Dhaka marking the formation of East Pakistan as the new nation of Bangladesh.
Admiral Sardarilal Mathradas 'Charles' Nanda, PVSM, AVSM was an Indian Navy Admiral who was the Chief of the Naval Staff from March 1970 till February 1973. He led the Indian Navy during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and successfully executed a naval blockade of both West and East Pakistan.
Admiral Nanda, PVSM, AVSM
All the three missile boat commanders were awarded the Vir Chakra while the man who led the “Killer Squadron”, Commander (later Commodore) BB Yadav was honoured with the Mahavir Chakra for his strategic planning, brilliant execution and outstanding bravery.
Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Patrick Simpson who kept assurance high among the Pakistani Navy officials was granted the Sitara-e-Jurat. Lieutenant Commander Vijai Jerath, of Vinash, was awarded the Vir Chakra.
Both these operations drove the Pakistan Navy to take extraordinary measures to forestall any further harm. It proved to be an important turning point of the 1971 war, which eventually led to the liberation of Bangladesh.