Every year, December 4 is celebrated as Navy Day to acknowledge the contribution of the Indian Navy in the 1971 India-Pakistan War. It has been 50 years since the War, which shaped the course of not just India’s history, but also altered the geography of the South Asian sub-continent forming a new nation Bangladesh. On December 3, 1971, Rear Admiral SR Sampath Gopal (Retd) and Commodore Inderjit Sharma (Retd) along with other crew members were ordered to sail out of the Mumbai Harbour to south of Saurashtra port in Diu and then to Okha for Operation Trident.
And, half a century later, Operation Trident is still fresh in these officers’ memories, who after the victory, were called Killer Squadron. “It was perhaps the only action we saw that too immediately after getting commissioned in Indian Navy when we were youngsters. It made a lot of impact on our outlook and attitude to service,” recalls Rear Admiral SR Sampath.
Indian Navy's OSA class missile boats of 25 missile vessel squadron Nipat, Nirghat, Kachall, Kiltan and Veer were chosen for operation due to their lethality, high speed and small radar cross-section. However, two boats were towed to Okha from Mumbai because they did not have the capacity to sail beyond 250 knots.
“We were asked to sail on December 2 and anchored in Diu for a day. We were waiting for orders till December 3 through the day. On the afternoon of December 4, five of us (boats and crew onboard), ensembled in Dwarka and the operation was to be executed the same night. The combined briefing was done and we were not to break any radio signals, so we kept all the briefing close to each other,” recalls Rear Admiral Gopal. “Around sunset, all the ships formed into an aero head formation and proceeded towards Karachi port aiming to arrive there at 10 pm so that midnight attacks could be carried out and completed. Till that time, no radar usage and communication was permitted,” adds the officer, who was later awarded the Gallantry award followed by Ati Vishishtha Seva Medal in 1999.
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Around 10 pm on December 4, the ships reached 70 miles from Karachi. “I was commanding Nirghat and was based in Okha before the War. When we reached Karachi port, I got contact, PNS Khaiber, on radar and asked my commander to order me to fire and he approved. I went to the range from the contact and attacked it with the first missile, which hit PNS Khaiber. I could still see a contact on the radar and took approval for another attack, finally breaking the ship into two pieces,” says Commodore Inderjit Sharma, who carried out the first attack and was later awarded Veer Chakra.
The entire operation destroyed four vessels of Pakistan including PNS Shahjahan, a C-class destroyer, Kemari oil storage tank and PNS Muhafiz — an Adjutant-class minesweeper. “If I had not attacked the ship they would have attacked us and we would have sunk with one hit, so it was a question of doing it first and doing it well. Hit first, hit hard and keep hitting -- that’s the motto of us officers,” added Commodore Sharma.
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Reminiscing his time on INS Nipat Rear Admiral Gopal shares, “When we were carrying out a trial in India, one of the barrels of the forward gun burned due to faulty ammunition of INS Nipat. We were more or less told that the ship is damaged and it will be out of the mission.”
The attack marked the audacity which the Indian Navy is characterised today. The success of the operation is the reason that Navy day is celebrated on December 4 every year.
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