Thursday, 5 December 2019

NAVY DAY  2019

          Navy Day is celebrated in many countries to recognize their navy. 04 Dec is Indian Navy Day, the Day 48 years ago, when 3 Vidyut class missile boats and  2 Arnala class corvets silently crept into Pak waters and created mayhem for the enemy.

Let’s have a relook at the events of 04 Dec 1971 during the War, to liberate East Pakistan, later coined as Bangladesh…Operation Trident was a naval offensive operation launched on Karachi by the Indian Navy during the Indo-Pak War of 1971. Op Trident resulted in the first use of anti-ship missiles in the region after WW II, India celebrates its Navy Day annually on 04 December to mark this operation.

        Karachi housed the headquarters of the Pakistani Navy and almost the entire Pakistan Navy fleet was based at Karachi Harbour. Karachi was also the hub of Pakistan's maritime trade. Operation Trident was planned under the leadership of Admiral S M Nanda. The detailed plan for the operation was masterminded by then Fleet Operations Officer of the Navy, (later Vice Admiral) G M Hiranandani. The Indian Navy's Vidyut class missile boats had limited range. So the plan for Operation Trident called for towing the missile boats towards Karachi and included a refuelling tanker in the task force to enable the task force to strike and return. The Vidyut class vessels were each armed with four SS-N-2B Styx surface-to-surface missiles with a maximum range of 80 km. and a firing system linked to long-range MR-331 Rangout radars.

        The task group for the operation consisted of three Vidyut class missile boats, INS Nipat (K86), INS Nirghat (K89) and INS Veer (K82) from the 25th "Killer" Missile Boat Squadron, escorted by two anti-submarine Arnala class corvettes, INS Kiltan (P79) and INS Katchall (P81), and a fleet tanker, INS Poshak. The task group was led by the Commanding Officer of the 25th Squadron, Commander Babru Bhan Yadav, embarked on INS Nipat. As per the operational plan, the task group reached 250 nautical miles (460 km) south of Karachi and stayed in the area during the day, outside the range of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) aircraft. The plan was to attack Karachi at night because most PAF aircraft did not possess night-time bombing capability. In the evening on 4 December, Kiltan and the 3 missile boats approached Karachi, evading Pakistani reconnaissance aircraft and surface patrol vessels.

       At 2230 hrs PST, the task group converged about 70 nautical miles (130 km) south of Karachi detected Pakistani targets, analysed as warships 45 miles to the northwest and 42 miles to the northeast. At 2300 hours, Nipat engaged two targets to the northeast approaching Karachi. Verifying the targets, Nipat launched 1 Styx missile each at the MV Venus Challenger and her destroyer escort PNS Shah Jahan (DD-962). India has claimed that the MV Venus Challenger was carrying ammunition for Pakistan from the United States forces in Saigon. The ammunition on the Venus Challenger immediately exploded as the missile struck sinking her about 26 miles south of Karachi. The other missile hit PNS Shah Jahan which was badly damaged and scrapped. 

          At 2320 hours, the minesweeper PNS Muhafiz was targeted by a Styx missile from Veer. The missile hit Muhafiz on the port side abaft the bridge, instantaneously disintegrating the vessel before it could send a transmission to the Pak NHQ.
Nipat continuing towards Karachi, locked on to the Kemari oil storage tanks of the port from 14 nautical miles (26 km) south of the harbour. It fired two missiles at the tanks. One of the missiles misfired, while the other hit the fuel tanks, which were burnt and destroyed, causing heavy loss. The task force then withdrew back towards Bombay….Next days Head-lines read ‘KARACHI IN FLAMES’ ….Indian Navy Killers had tasted Pak blood and thirsted for more….!!!

           Operation Trident was considered an enormous success for the Indian Navy with no casualties or damage to the Indian task group, which returned safely back to Indian ports. The success of this operation prompted another successful attack on Karachi on 8 December 1971, Operation Python. The gallantry awards for the Missile attacks; MVC to Cdr BB Yadav (Sqn Cdr) and VrC to missile boat COs ; LtCdr BN Kavina, LtCdr IJ Sharma, LtCdr OP Mehta and MCPO MN Sangal. Much before the missile boats attack Cdr Arun Auditto (Kursura) (later RAdm) followed by Cdr VS Shekhawat (Karanj) (later Adm CNS) had been silently operating as Hunters of the Deep. patrolling the Makaran coast and providing inputs, for which Cdr VS Shekhawat was awarded VrC. Adm Shekhawat, PVSM, AVSM, VrC, ADC and RAdm Arun Auditto, AVSM, NM(G)  make our NFMC and Navy proud.


       On the other hand if Eastern Naval Command (established 01 Mar 1968), was to be blessed with a vocal-chord, would  proudly  recount her life’s glimpses, “Still an infant under 4, I was called upon by Mother India to vanquish the enemy submarine ‘Ghazi’ and assist in the creation of a new Nation with the deployment of Vikrant’s Sea-Hawks amidst absolute blockade of East Pakistan by ships of my fleet. My boys under the Leadership of Capt MN Samant, MVC  trained the Mukti-Vahini to launch an unprecedented attack on Pak ships and establishments in East Pakistan.”

       Early 1971 onwards Pak Military in East Pakistan perpetrated genocide on innocent Bengalis of the country, compelling lakhs to leave their homes and take refuge in India. The young ones were willing to be eager to be trained in the intricacies of Guerrilla warfare. ‘Operation X’ was the code name for ‘jackpot-underwater guerrilla operation’.  The CNS Adm Nanda and Capt Mihir Roy(later VAdm and FOCinC East), Director Naval Intelligence swiftly orchestrated training of several freedom fighters to turn them into naval commandoes. The site selected for this was a location at Plassey (the location of the famous battle of Plassey between Sirajjudaulla and the British) on the Banks of Bhagirathi. The Bengali Submariners from a Pakistani Submarine docked at Toulouse, France were shocked on hearing radio news of the atrocities of Pak Army on innocent Bengalis and seven of them, with the help of Indian diplomats flew to Delhi and were inducted to join the Mukti Bahini being trained as naval commandoes. Adm Mihir Roy and Capt Samant enrolled them as team leaders for the Operation. The training team included Cdr VK Kapil and L/S Chiman Singh. Cdr VK Raizada, NM(G) was the Chief Sqn Tech Officer for C2H (Elec) and ensured the fitment of Guns and Nav equipment onboard the 4 attack Gunboats involved in Operation X. Both Cdr VK Kapil, VrC and Cdr VK Raizada, NM(G) are members of our  NFMC and make us proud.

      Post the intensive and strenuous training the first salvo was launched by the commandoes on 14-15 Aug’71(to coincide with Pak’s Independence day) and resulted in huge losses to PN by blowing up of their Ships, support vessels and Port infrastructure, vital to their Navy. The over 400 Bengali naval commandoes devastated over a lakh tonne of vessels in and around the harbours of Chittagong, Chhalna, Mongla, Narayanganj and Chandpur between Aug and Dec’7. The debris ensured shipping disruption and sustained sabotages by marine commandoes kept mercantile marine away. This caused a severe dent to the enemy’s  Naval ops that came to a standstill.
        The war appeared to be long-drawn, but ‘Operation X’ changed everything. It became a turning point in the War for Liberation,  resulting in the birth of the Bangladesh Navy, with Captain Samant, ceremoniously being honoured as its first chief by Bangladesh’s first army chief and defence minister, General M.A.G. Osmani.

            There are many narratives of Valour in 1971 and very many heroes even remain obscured. One such narrative of the minesweeping operation in trying conditions is by Cmde BL Sharma, then a Lt during War posted on Minesweeper INS Cannanore.  The ship was patrolling off West Coast of India during Nov / Dec 1971. Suddenly the ship received a message asking Minesweepers to proceed to Khulna / Mongla and Chittagong port on the East Coast for clearing Chinese moored mines which were laid by the enemy.

INS Cannanore along with other ships of 18 MCMS were got ready and equipped with essential minesweeping gear at Mumbai..The officer was entrusted with the vital task of planning and executing the Minesweeping operations of live mines off Pussur river (Khulna / Mongla) and then to Karnaphuli (Chittagong Port).

The ships of 18 MCMS sailed to the East Coast, touching Cochin and Visakhapatnam  ports en-route for essential logistics..At Chittagong, the officer took over command of INS Cannanore as his Commanding Officer was suddenly taken ill and the remaining ships of 18 MCMS were also placed under his command.

       The Chittagong port had numerous wrecks of ships, the debris of boats and barges and other obstacles etc due to action of our aircraft and Mukti Bahini operations, as a result of which Chittagong Port was closed to international shipping. The Karnaphuli River had very strong currents and was heavily mined. Navigation in Chittagong port was difficult and hazardous.

       Despite these difficulties, the ships of 18 MCMS carried out minesweeping operations of Khulna and Chalna and thereafter the ships proceeded to clear live mines in Karnaphuli River (Chittagong Port). During these operations, the ships successfully located and disposed of live mines and after rigorous sweeping operations for many days, the Chittagong port was declared open to International Shipping.

      INS Cannanore, under the command of Lt BL Sharma also rescued 34 survivors, including the Capt of SCI Merchant Ship Vishwakusum which had hit a mine and sank. For these operations, the officer was awarded the Nao Sena Medal (G). NFMC is indeed proud of its Valiant member Cmde BL Sharma, NM(G).

        The Indian Navy had come of age and had made its presence felt in the outcome of the tri-services War. The integrated battle planning and warfighting was evident in 1971 and the importance of the navy’s role in disrupting sea lanes was brought home to decision-makers. Indian Navy was  thus  instrumental in scripting the surrender of 94K Pakistani soldiers on 16th Dec 1971, ensuing the Birth of Bangladesh.


        The BRTC-2019 pamphlet from INS Shikra brought out the genesis of the ‘Beating Retreat’, when the drum was the principal means of sending out signals to troops engaged in battle. Of the many signals that were conveyed by drum beats, one that was most pleasant for the troops was the ‘Retreat’ that signalled the troops to disengage from combat at Sunset as daylight faded. The troops then withdrew to their barracks to tend to their wounds. The present ceremony of having the Band play the  ‘Retreat’ is a modern innovation to stir pride amongst our citizens through a spectacular display of our war waging capability with great pomp and show.

          While the ‘Retreat’ recalled the troops from the battle area, the ‘Tattoo’ was beating of drums in the billeting areas and ordered troops to proceed to their quarters. Over the years Tattoo has been enriched by folk and contemporary sounds of merriment into its folds.

      Team NFMC had forwarded the list of 90 Veterans who had volunteered to witness and be a part of Navy Week celebrations of Navy Symphonic Band display at NCPA on 10 Nov and the Beating Retreat and Tattoo Ceremony at the Gateway of India on 03 and 04 Dec.

       All roads of Colaba converged to the Gateway starting 4 pm for the most spectacular Naval display of the year, showcasing the prowess of the Sword Arm of the Indian Navy. This evening’s pageantry was a unique amalgamation of various elements exemplifying the Indian Navy’s ongoing efforts to showcase our maritime traditions.  What however was special this year was the participation of Russian Naval Military band belonging to the Black Sea Fleet. The bonhomie of the Russian and Indian styles brought in a sense of Joie de Vivre that defined our collective identity and was visibly evident. Among the distinguished guests and Senior Officers, Adm L Ramdas and Adm VS Shekhawat our former C’sNS also graced the occasion.   The Chief Host for the Evening for BRTC 2019 was our C-in-C  VAdm Ajit Kumar P, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, ADC, who received the Chief Guest HE Shri Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.        
 On arrival of the Governor, the National Anthem was sung followed by Beating the Retreat Band performance that was in the perfect drill. This was followed by the Op Demo by Seeking 42-C, deducting the MARCOS, holding onto the slithering rope and lighting the red signal flares. This was followed by   Sunset ceremony performed by our glorious Band and the musician Sailor beating the brass pipes on the composition arranged by AC Green, from atop the good old Taj. At the last beat of the Sunset, the Naval ships anchored in the outer harbour switched on their silhouette lights in synchro. 

          The ‘Flypast’ by the group of Helos, has a long history and affinity with the parades, are a national pride in Air-shows and imprint themselves on the spectator’s memories. The only Heliport of the Indian Navy, INS Shikra (being commanded by Cmde Satyen Vartak) is an exclusive abode of Naval Helicopters of the Western Naval Command. Formation of Angels (Chetaks), Harpoons (Seekings), Falcons (Kamov) have been an integral part of Flypast over the Gateway of India every Navy Day.

       The dance performance of the Russian contingent was the show stealer of the evening, even as their male singer crooned with a lot of emotion and sentiments to the couples performing in perfect synchro and harmony. We then witnessed to precise manoeuvres of the continuity drill performed by a contingent of gunnery sailors of K-22. They performing complex but perfect drills including the exchange of the lit bayonet rifles amongst two rows of sailors facing each other, through which marched their drill GI confidently.

       The last glorious event was the Hornpipe dance by the students of the SCC (Sea Cadet Corps). The Sea Cadet Corps was established by Late Hon Cmde GS Ahuja on 13th May 1938 at Karachi and relocated to Mumbai in 1948. Today SCC is the finest voluntary non-Govt youth organisation of our country. The determination, motivation and drive displayed by these cadets is reflective of our country’s future with renewed hope. Bravo Zulu SCC.

       After the reassembly, the Exit March Jai Bharati was composed and arranged by Dias/ F Rodrigues. After the spectacular event, the dignitaries were invited for the At Home in C-in-C’s Lawns for meet and greet and delectable drink and snacks. We had the opportunity to meet the Senior Officers both serving and Veterans (Pics below). 

        A Sensational Event of the Navy Week with a spectacular display at BRTC-2019 was indicative of the exceptional efforts of officers and men of the Sword Arm of the Indian Navy, particularly HQWNC, INS Shikra, INS Kunjali, INS Angre, Fleet Ships, K-22 and allied units. Bravo Zulu. 

        Shano Varuna….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, Kirans, Islander, Super Connie, Fokker F-27 and IL-38.

 He is the Hon Secy of NFMC, a Master of Ceremonies and an avid blogger.