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Indian Navy veteran reveals why December 4 celebrated as Navy Day

07:00 AM Dec 04, 2021 | Arun Kumar

An Indian Naval operation of historic significance in maritime domain was conducted on the night of 04 December 1971, code named 'Op Trident'. This operation involved an attack on Pakistani Naval and other assets off and in Karachi harbour, the main port of Pakistan, during the Indo-Pak war in December, 1971. The success of the operation was so devastating that it resulted in the withdrawal of the Pakistan Navy (PN) into the confines of the Karachi harbour, for the rest of the war. Ever since, December 4 is celebrated as Navy Day in the Indian Navy enabling eternal commemoration of 'Op Trident'.

Much has been written about this famous operation, in which a squadron of the 'OSA' class (Ex-Soviet Union) missile boats armed with Styx missiles devastated the PN forces off Karachi harbour in a most daring, innovative and unique operation. Three missile boats viz; INS Nirghat (Lt.Cdr IJ Sharma), INS Nipat (Lt.Cdr BN Kavina) and INS Veer (Lt. Cdr OP Mehta) under the overall command of Cdr. BB Yadav as the Squadron Cdr. took part in the operation. The operation led to the sinking of two destroyers, PNS Khaiber and PNS Shahjahan, one minesweeper, a merchant ship and extensive damage to the Kemara oil storage tanks at Karachi Port. The damage to the oil storage tanks, which raged in the fire for several days, considerably impaired the ability of Pakistan to sustain its war effort.

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Without going into the specific details of the operation, which by now are widely available in the cyber world, I wish to focus on the tactic employed in the operation. These missile boats were recently acquired from the Soviet Union, which were offloaded at Calcutta and then moved to Mumbai as their base port as part of the 25 missile boats squadron. The distance between Mumbai and Karachi precluded the use of these boats in independent operation off Karachi and back. Accordingly, a forward operating base at Okha was established to support the operation in total secrecy. An innovative plan, conceived by the then Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral SM Nanda (He had been a pilot in Karachi harbour in the early 1940s and knew the port like the back of his hand), to tow these boats to within 40 NM of Karachi and then let them go to be independent in their maneuvers to execute the task. The ships which towed them were two Petya class Corvettes INS Katchal (Cdr.KN Zadu) and INS Kiltan (Cdr. G Rao).

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The missile boats' task force was under the overall command of Cdr. BB Yadav. Once released from the tow, using their speed, intelligence from their own radars supplemented by the inputs provided earlier, the missile boats successfully executed their mission (To seek and destroy Pak units) inflicting crippling blows to the PN. The confusion that followed within the PN led to the fratricidal sinking of the frigate PNS Zulfikar due to damage caused to it by the Pakistan Air Force. The results of the operation far exceeded expectations. Such innovative use of the potential of these boats was acknowledged worldwide and has become a case study in the maritime community. Cdr. Yadav was decorated with Mahavir Chakra and the three commanding officers of the boats were conferred with Vir Chakra. The operation is written in gold in the annals of the history of the Indian Navy and is an apt reminder in the 'Swarnim Varsh' of the victory in the 1971 war.

Facts from 1971 a war we fought in designated sectors:

"The year was 1971 and the month November.

“If India pokes its nose in Pakistan, US will not keep its trap shut. India will be taught a lesson.”

- Richard Nixon

“India regards America as a friend. Not a boss. India is capable of writing its own destiny. We know and are aware how to deal with each one according to circumstances.”

- Indira Gandhi

Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi articulated these exact words sitting with the US President Richard Nixon in the White House, while maintaining an eye-to-eye contact. This incident was narrated by the then Secretary of State and NSA, Henry Kissinger, in his autobiography.

That was the day when the Indo-US joint media address was cancelled by Indira Gandhi who walked away from the White House in her inimitable style.

Kissinger, while ushering Indira Gandhi into her car, had commented, "Madam Prime Minister, don't you feel you could have been a little more patient with the President?"

Indira Gandhi replied, "Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your valuable suggestion. Being a developing country, we have our backbones straight - & enough will and resources to fight all atrocities. We shall prove that days are gone when a power can rule and often control any nation from thousands of miles away.”

Thereafter, as soon as her Air India Boeing touched down at Palam runway in Delhi, Indira Gandhi summoned the leader of the opposition, Atal Behari Vajpayee to her residence.

Post an hour of discussion behind closed doors, Vajpayee was seen hurrying back. It was thereafter known that Vajpayee would be representing India at the United Nations.

Donald Paul of BBC had jumped in with a question to Vajpayee, "Indira ji regards you as a staunch critic. In spite of that, are you sure you'd be at the United Nations shouting your throat (voice) out in favour of the Incumbent Government?”

Vajpayee had a repartee.. "A rose adorns a garden, so does a Lily. Each is beset with the idea that they are individually the most beautiful. When the garden falls in a crisis, it's no secret that the garden has to safeguard its beauty as one. I have come today to save the garden. This is called Indian Democracy."

The resultant history is all known to us. America sent 270 famed Patton tanks to Pakistan. They called the world media to demonstrate that these tanks were produced under exclusive technology, and are/were thus indestructible. The intention was very clear. This was a warning signal to the rest of the world that no one should help India.

America did not stop here. Burma-Shell the only US company supplying oil to India, was told to stop. They were sternly told by US to cease dealing with India anymore.

India's history thereafter was only about fighting back. Indira Gandhi's incisive diplomacy ensured oil came in from Ukraine.

A battle that lasted just a day destroyed a majority of the 270 Patton tanks, in the Thar Desert. The destroyed tanks were brought into India for display at traffic crossings. The hot deserts of Rajasthan still stands as a witness where US pride was decimated.

A war that lasted eighteen days thereafter culminated in the capture of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war.

Mujibur Rahman was released from Lahore Jail.

The month was March - Indira Gandhi recognized Bangladesh as an independent nation in the Indian Parliament.

Vajpayee addressed Indira Gandhi as “Maa Durga.”

These events had a packet of long lasting manifested fallouts.

— India's own oil company, viz. Indian Oil came into being.

— India expressed itself as a nation of strength in the eyes of the world.

— India led the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from the front. Its leadership was unquestioned.

Times and events of such strength however did get submerged into the great depths of yore and lore.

Truthful history till date nevertheless remains as a baton that needs to be passed down generations.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Indo Pak Bangladesh war. Our children must read this, lest we forget.

(Cmde Arun Kumar (Retd.) is a veteran submariner who has steered many important submarine projects and commanded all types of conventional submarines in the Indian navy. He was the EXO of India's first nuclear submarine INS Chakra and has authored the Book S71 INS Chakra - The Pioneer and her men which is the first-ever account of the nuclear submarine operation in India.)

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