Raid on Karachi 04 December 1971
A cogent account of the planning and execution of Indian navy’s audacious Raid on Karachi during the 1971 War, to emphasise why the day of the Raid merits being commemorated each year as Navy Day
In the 1962 Indo-China war, and the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the Indian Navy played little role. In fact, they were at the receiving end in 1965 when the Pakistani navy launched a much-publicized raid on the Indian port of Dwarka with a force of seven warships causing extensive damage. In 1971 came payback time.
The audacious raid on Pakistan’s largest port was the brain child of the then Naval Chief, Admiral S M Nanda. India had just acquired sleek, fast missile boats from Russia, each equipped with four lethal SS-N-2B Styx ship-to-ship missiles with ranges of over 40 nautical miles (almost 76 kms). These small, fast craft were to be used for a lightning raid on Karachi Harbour. They would strike by night when Pakistani aircraft would be unable to attack and then speed back.
Three of these Vidyut class Missile boats, INS NIPAT, INS NIRGHAT and INS VEER, were to be used. But there was a catch. The small boats did not have the range for the long trip to Karachi and back. Nor did they have long range radars to pick up distant targets. So, two Arnala Class Anti-Submarine Corvettes, INS KILTAN and INS KATCHALL were deployed alongside to tow them towards Karachi and also use their long-range radars to identify and designate targets for them. A tanker INS POSHAK also accompanied the task force, designated as Karachi Task Group under the command of Commander BabruBhan Yadav of 25 Missile Boat Squadron.
War broke out on 03 Dec 71 and next day ‘Op Trident’ – as this operation was designated – was launched. The strike force had staged forward from Bombay to Okha and moved towards Karachi, with the Missile boats towed by the larger Corvettes. The crew had just returned after a yearlong deployment in Russia, to take over the boats, and were fluent in Russian. All radio transmissions were made in Russian so that even if intercepted would not be understood. (The Pakistanis did intercept the messages but assumed they must have come from a Russian Task Force operating elsewhere) At around 2000h on 04 Dec (Pak Standard time) they were in their positions around 80 nautical miles South of Karachi.
Around 1030h the radar of INS KATCHALL picked up a large target – later identified as PNS KHAIBAR, a Pakistani destroyer, and INS NIRGHAT was told to engage it. Its first missile hit the right side of the warship and exploded in the boiler room. The second missile, was fired minutes later and hit the second boiler room. As per survivor accounts, the KHAIBAR saw the flash of the incoming missile and even tried to engage it with anti-aircraft fire, but was too late. It sank 70 minutes later carrying 222 of its crew with her. Its last message to its fleet HQ was that it had been attacked by aircraft. It also gave its own coordinates wrongly, which hampered the rescue of its crew.
Two other targets were detected at around 11 pm, and INS NIPAT fired two missiles at them. The first missile struck the cargo vessel MV VENUS CHALLENGER, carrying a load of ammunition, and it exploded and sank almost immediately. The other hit the destroyer PNS Shah Jahan, which was badly damaged and forced to be decommissioned later. Simultaneously, INS VEER targeted another ship, the minesweeper PNS MUHAFIZ, which sank even before it could send a distress signal, killing 33 of its crew.
The task force had now closed in on Karachi, and as per plan all three ships were to fire a missile each at Karachi Harbour, targeting its fuel tanks and port facilities. However, at this stage radio contact was lost between them and the Corvettes accompanying them. Also, the Commander mistook the anti-aircraft tracers emanating from Karachi harbor to be enemy aircraft and ordered a withdrawal. He ordered INS NIPAT, which was closest to the harbor, to fire its two remaining missiles towards Karachi port. One of the missiles malfunctioned. The other hit one of the oil tanks in the port. (Though there are conflicting claims about it. The Air Force claims that one of their strike aircraft had hit it earlier in the day). The force then withdrew, sent the success signal ‘ANGAR’ to Western Naval Command, and moved back into the safety of Indian waters.
The Pakistanis could not hit any of the ships that participated in the raid, but retaliated with an air strike on Okha port, the next day, which damaged the port facilities and fuel stowage tanks. But fortunately, no naval vessel was in port and damage was kept to a minimal
The Navy followed up the success of Op Trident, with another strike on night 8/9 December – codenamed ‘Op Python’ – to complete the unfinished attack on Karachi.
A small force consisting of the missile boat INS VINASH, with two frigates INS TALWAR and INS TRISHUL accompanying it was tasked for another attack, this time specifically targeting the fuel tanks. On the night of 8 December at around 2200h (Pak Standard Time) the force approached 12 nautical miles of Karachi and took up firing position. INS VINASH fired all four of its lethal Styx missiles. The first struck the fuel tanks at Kemari Oil Farm in the port. The other hit the fuel tanker SS GULF STAR. A third struck PNS DACCA, a fleet tanker which was damaged beyond repair and the last sank the merchant vessel SS HARMATTAN. With its missiles expended, the force withdrew rapidly to safety.
Damage at Karachi
Damage was extensive. Coupled with the raids by the Air Force on Karachi fuel installations, over 50% of its fuel reserves were lost. Over $3 Billion worth of damage was inflicted and Pakistani morale was shattered by this audacious attack into their heartland. The Indian navy had won a major naval victory, with no loss to itself. It had also avenged the raid on Dwarka port by the Pakistan Navy in the 1965 war, (incidentally the Pak Navy Celebrates 8 Sep as their own Navy Day) and sank two of their ships – PNS KHAIBAR and SHAH JAHAN - which participated in that attack.
On the return, one of the sailors of the missile boats, enthusiastically painted the word “KILLER’ on the now empty missile tubes. The name struck. The Missile squadron since then has been called the ‘Killer Squadron’.
The day of this victory, 04 Dec is celebrated as Navy Day throughout the country.