Military collection | Op Trident: when the Indian Navy struck the heart of Pakistan


The Indian Navy entered the 1971 war with much to prove. This stems from the baggage of the 1965 war. At the time, the government preferred that the Navy adopt a defensive posture for strategic reasons. Things were not helped by a Pakistani raid on the Dwarka pilgrimage center on the Gujarat coast. A light cruiser and six destroyers sailed into town range and bombarded it. There were no military targets in the area, the choice of target was purely fanatic. But the flotilla managed to escape detection, adding to the disappointment of the Indian Navy.

The 1966-71 period saw naval power receiving much needed attention with the addition of modern warships, this time of Soviet origin. As the 1971 war approached, the Navy planned to strike Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial and financial capital and main naval base, destroying warships, port facilities, and economic targets. Admiral SM ‘Charles’ Nanda, who took over as Chief of the Navy in 1970, was determined to raise the profile of the service with an aggressive foray. It helped him to be a meticulous planner with a penchant for thinking outside the box. In addition, the commanders who served under him were of the highest caliber.

The assault instruments chosen by Nanda were the recently acquired Soviet Osa / Vidyut class missile ships. After the 1965 war, when Britain refused to supply more modern warships, India turned to the Soviet Union.

The principle of the use of missile boats is based on the doctrine of mobility rather than on armored protection and firepower. The advent of the proper guided missiles and electronic countermeasure technologies gave rise to the idea that warships could now be designed to outsmart their enemies and hide while carrying powerful weapons. Small, flexible and fast, powerful, the Osas were however limited by their low range, their endurance and their radar range, which necessitated their employment for coastal defense. As we will see, Nanda and her boys used innovative methods to transport this powerful strike ability to enemy shores in order to launch a devastating attack. Each boat carried four SS-N-2 (P-15) Styx missiles with a range of 80 km guided by radar. In 1967, two Egyptian Komar-class ships operating as a coastal missile battery from the port of Port Said fired four Styx missiles at the Israeli destroyer Eilat, sinking it with heavy loss of life. It heralded the era of missiles in naval warfare, with the Indian Navy showing interest in the system. Eight Osa boats were acquired and renamed the Vidyut class.

Nanda’s plan was to use the element of surprise and overwhelming firepower to strike Karachi with a combined force built around missile boats on the very day Pakistan launched its assault. On December 4, 1971, the Karachi Strike Group was formed off Okha, made up of three Vidyut class missile launchers: INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer, two Petya / Arnala class anti-submarine corvettes: INS Kiltan and INS Katchall, and a fleet tanker, INS Poshak. Commander (later Commodore) KP Gopal Rao, Commander (CO) of INS Kiltan was in command of the task force. Commander (later Commodore) Babru Bhan Yadav embarked on INS Nipat was the commander of the 25th Missile Boat Squadron (now known as the Killers). As he approached Karachi, he assigned targets to ships which would subsequently act independently while remaining in communication with him. A missile boat was to remain on patrol off Dwarka in order to cover the force on the way back.

The task of the Petyas was to provide command, control and communications, and using their best radar, to acquire suitable targets and warn enemy aircraft. In an emergency, they could lend a hand by towing a boat or provide refueling facilities.

On December 4, the task force concentrated 250 nautical miles (nmi) south of the Karachi coast, maintaining its position during the day safe from Pakistani aerial surveillance. The attack was to take place at night to prevent any air attack. By 10:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time (PKT), the Indian Task Group had sailed 180 nautical miles from its area of ​​focus to Karachi. At this point, Pakistani warships have been detected 70 nautical miles northwest and northeast of the Indian Strike Group. The stage was now set for a most devastating attack on Pakistani warships and economic targets. INS Nirghat (commanded by Lieutenant Commander Inder Jit Sharma) moved northwest and fired its first Styx missile at PNS Khaiber, a Battle-class destroyer at 10:45 p.m. (PKT) hitting its right side . An explosion took place in the first boiler room. Seeing that Khaiber was still floating, Sharma fired a second missile hitting the ship in the second boiler room. Khaiber has now sunk with the loss of 222 sailors. Nirghat had spilled the first blood!

The others were not far away. INS Nipat commanded by Lieutenant Commander BN Kavina acquired two targets to the northwest by firing missiles at 11 p.m. (PKT) each hitting them both. The merchant vessel Venus Challenger carried ammunition for the Pakistani Army and Air Force from Saigon. It exploded with a huge flash and bang. The loss of its cargo played a major role in Pakistan’s acceptance of the ceasefire on December 17. The other target, the C-class destroyer, PNS Shah Jahan, was badly damaged, which ultimately led to its demolition.

PNS Muhafiz, an Adjutant-class minesweeper, now featured prominently on INS Veer’s radar (Lieutenant Commander OP Mehta was the captain). A Styx was shot at 11:20 PM (PKT) hitting him on the left just behind the bridge. He sank in no time with the loss of 33 hands. In fact, not having had time to send a distress signal, his fate remained unknown for more than 24 hours. Nipat continued towards Karachi, positioning himself 14 nautical miles south of the port and firing two missiles. One of them hit the Kemari oil farm causing a spectacular fire. The loss of strategic oil reserves was another factor that rendered Pakistan unable to continue the war. The Indian Air Force was also instrumental in this, hitting the oil tanks the same day as part of an independent operation. Nipat’s second missile launch was interrupted during the firing sequence. The working group then withdrew.

After a most successful operation, radio silence was broken to send the pass code “Angaar” to Vice-Admiral SN Kohli, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command in Bombay. A number of enemy ships were sunk, Pakistan’s oil reserves were set on fire, and Karachi was plunged into shadow by fire and smoke. All this without loss of any kind!

Operation Trident was an unqualified success. Not quite – there was some concern about inadequate targeting of shore facilities due to some confusion in command. A second raid was ordered a few days later which will be described separately.

Pakistani air retaliation had been anticipated; the Indian Navy had moved the missile boats to safer havens. Therefore, the Okha attack only managed to hit the resupply facilities, the jetty for the missile boats and an ammunition depot. Operation Trident, however, caused a number of nervous reactions among the Pakistani Navy and Air Force in their search for Indian warships. Naval observers aboard a Fokker Friendship civilian airliner mistakenly identified the River-class frigate PNS Zulfiqar as an Indian missile boat even though it was at anchor. PAF F-86 Saber fighters were dispatched from Drigh Road to strafe the hapless ship, causing casualties and damage. The lack of an aerial reconnaissance capability hampered the weak Pakistani response.

Subsequently, the Pakistani fleet was withdrawn in the port of Karachi, leaving the Indian navy in control of the Arabian Sea.

The victory in the naval battle off Karachi, achieved from a distance, reinforced the conviction of naval strategists that missiles were the future of maritime warfare. Numerous awards were given to the officers and men of the strike force. This operation was considered one of the most successful in post-war naval history, with Indian forces suffering no losses.

To commemorate this victory, the Indian Navy celebrates Navy Day on December 4th every year. In maritime warfare, daring and innovation combined with a deep desire for victory always bear fruit. It can be safely concluded that Operation Trident had a strategic effect on the course of the 1971 war.

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