Sunday, 25 February 2018


         As the Sun leisurely  glided down the distant  crimson westerly sky on 06 Mar 2017, it was a momentous  occasion  for  two countries, India and UK onboard  the Flight- Deck  of  INS  Viraat. It was a historic moment  indeed  when the  ensign  was  lowered  for  the last time and  its commissioning pendent hauled down in military  precision after almost 30 years  into  its second Avataar.  Viraat on that Day  boasted of being the  oldest  Aircraft Carrier  the World   had  ever  seen. The Mother  or ‘The Grand ol’ Lady’  as She was graciously  referred to,  had  borne Navy men from Britain for 27 long years, fought  the  Falkland War ( her role therein are textbook references for the future Navies) and was re-commissioned  into the Indian Navy  to serve  for another  30 years. And today as She was being laid to rest for ever, all pair of eyes onboard were bound  to  be moist. There were occasions,  when She sailed with her sister Carrier Vikrant for 10 years before  bidding  her good bye. She also welcomed  India’s new refurbished baby Vikramaditya in early 2014, while she was herself  in  her  sunset  years.  

       A peep into the genesis of  the Grand Ol’ Lady  would  reveal that her keel was  laid on 21 Jun 1944, while the World War was still  in progress. She was launched within 9 years, while the world was still grappling  with the  economic  slowdown  post  War and got commissioned  into  the Royal  Navy  as HMS  Hermes(R12) on  25 Nov 1959. Decommissioned  in 1984, She must  have been  euphoric  to get a nod  to serve  another  country  in her second Avataar. And what  a  great  monumental occasion it was for Capt V Pashricha (later  FOCinC West) and his crew to resail her and bring the Grand Ol’ Lady into the Indian Waters in 1987,  chanting its Motto ‘Jalameva  Yasya, Balameva Tasya’  implying ‘He who rules over the Seas is all Powerful’. Its  primary strike capability had been  Sea-Harriers (White Tigers) laced with  Sea Eagle and Magic matra for aerial combat. The ship also housed the ASW helos SG42-B (Harpoons) and its commando version ‘C’, apart fron the Chetak integral flight.  The Harrier’s too called it a Day in May 2016, an year before  their  Mother  was to retire.

        The Grand Ol’ Lady  in its second Avataar  had to struggle with senility. She braved Engine room flooding in Sep ’93, for which she remained out of service for  several  months. Later coped with  a life extension refit  in 1999,  to participate  in India’s first IFR (‘Bridges of Friendship’) at Mumbai.  She endured two more refits in 2003 and 2009. Hats of to its Commanding Officers who despite all the setbacks  kept her optimally operational.  Viraat  played a Key role in Operation Jupiter  in 1989 during the  Srilankan Peacekeeping  Operations. She also saw action during Op Parakaram  in 2001-02 after  the Parliament  Attack. The Ship had participated in various International Fleet Exercises  like Ex Malabar, Varuna, Naseem-Al-Bahaar  apart  from annual TROPEXs. Viraat and Vikramaditya were the Cardinal Warships of  India’s second  International Fleet Review  in early 2016 at  Vizag, in which 95 warships from 50 Nations participated.    

        ‘The Mother’  was fondly commanded by 22  Commanding Officers since 1987. It  was  heartening  to see  all of them had  arrived  for her Grand Finale ceremony. Admiral  Sir Philips Jones, The First Sea Lord and  CNS  of the Royal Navy  and  VAdm Vinod Pashricha, its First Commanding Officer  were  the Guests of Honour, while Admiral Sunil Lanba,  CNS  was  the Chief Guest  for the ceremony.  To commemorate ‘30 years of Glorious Service to  the Nation’  by INS  Viraat, a special postal cover was  released by the Chief Guest.

    It was  a pleasure  to meet  and interact  with the crew  of then HMS Hermes, who had been specially invited by India. These 20 Officers and Sailors (including ladies)  had  participated in the Falkland War, and proudly narrated the incidents of the War. It was also an occasion to meet some aviators with whom I’d  lost  touch. Cdr Sam T Samual had bestowed us his Baby-cot for both our kids at Goa and Vizag, it was a pleasure to introduce Anuj, who is presently in Redfm,   to him. Also met Cmde Ajay Kumar, Capts P Roy, Jaggu Verma and Bill Hoti Sir, who was the Top Gun privileged to fly the last Sea-Hawk of Vikrant and also to usher  in the Sea-Harriers in 1983 as its replacement. He had flown in from California for the this Grand occasion.

      Talking of enormity of  ‘Viraat’;  Yes, She is so enormous that  I missed out on meeting a lot  of my  friends in the huge gathering of  about 1500 invitees  that  day, yet  we can barely spot her  as  a tiny matchbox  from  aircraft circuit-height. When the spectacular Naval Band played the Sunset Bugle call as the ensign was lowered for the last time on the Quarter Deck, all eyes were bound to be moist and we all Saluted in reverence  to the Grand  old Lady,  for the glorious service that She had rendered to the two Nations. The Legacy of  ‘Viraat’  has been carried forward  to  ‘Vikramaditya’  and shall be passed on to ‘Vikrant’ in a couple of  Years.  Shano Varuno !  Jai  Hind  !  

About the Author: Commander Rajinder Dutta (Retd) has been a Naval Pilot and a Qualified Flying Instructor with about 3000 hrs of flying on various fixed wing Aircraft of Indian Navy, viz HT-2, HPT-32, Kiran, Islander, Superconnie, Fokker F-27 and IL-38.  

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