ESCAPEDES OF A JUNGEE
SCENE OPS ROOM NIRGHAT – 2300 hrs 04 DEC 1971
Dim red gloom prevailed in the small Ops room of Nirghat on Battle course, charging onto an enemy target 16nm right ahead. (The target that was located 30 nm SSE of Karachi, assessed warship due to its speed 24 kts) Nirghat was manned by LtCdr Inder Jit Sharma, AVSM (CO) and his brave team of 30.
CO at the Firing Panel : “Standby No-1”
“No-1 standby Sir” : retorted Rao
CO : “Launching No-1” as he pressed the Launch button firmly. The Red button Light blinked. Nothing happened.
Nirghat continued charging towards her target. The ships company was in bated breath, tiny beaded sweat trickled down the foreheads of all present in the Ops room bent over respective panels.
The CO mumbled “She’s unsteady….Check Bhatti”
Tony pranced to the Radar Room and was shocked. The target was realigned “On it Sir” …The booster engine blasted a deafening roar as the entire missile boat shuddered and the Styx missile exited the container of OSA-M.
After a moments trance, the CO gathered himself, “Reverse course Port 30, onto 180”. As the Missile Boat was turning men on the bridge had their mouth and eyes wide open as their heads followed the glowing object flying away.
Onboard Nipat, the OOW sighted the fiery light and uttered, “A shooting Star, Sir”
Cdr BB Yadav, the K-25 retorted, “Nay, that’s Inderjit in Action…Nirghat’s missile is target bound…Indian Navy is making history”
Nirghat had tasted blood. Sought permission from K-25 to launch second missile. Instant approval granted and swift action executed.
Log book of Nirghat reads, ‘23.11-04 Dec1971, Nirghat shot the first missile in the history of Indian Navy during the War of india and Pakistan’
THE RESULT : PNS Khaiber sunk with 220 sailors on board. The bright loom created by the missiles striking Khaibar was seen by the men on the upper-decks of Indian Flotilla.
25 Dec 2019 was an eventful day. Meena and I planned to spend our noon with Cmde SK Bhalla, carrying our lunch to share with him at his Andheri abode and later enjoy the evening with NFMC Committee member Veer Nari Dr Kanta Mukherjee at her Juhu Anchorage. The day besides being Chistmas was also the Birthday of Dr Kanta.
This was our second visit to Cmde Bhalla, the ever smiling Octogenarian who says, “Indian Navy is my Dharma and being a Marine Engineer is my Karma” (Refer blog below). He greeted us with a warm smile and securing the lunch boxes to his refrigerator declared, “These dishes I shall savour later but today we shall go out for lunch”. Indeed the ‘High Point’ restaurant served us delectable lunch that affirmed from us a revisit soon. After lunch Cmde Bhalla decided to take us along to meet Veer Nari Nirmala Samant over a cup of Tea. She was overjoyed to see us, as we pressed the bell of her ‘42, Crystal Appt’. We had earlier met the lady with queenly demeanour at the ‘Operation X’ book launch of her spouse, Late Capt MNR Samant, MVC at the Merchants Chambers building at Churchgate. We discussed about book launch event that was well organised by the co-author Mr Sandeep Unnithan, albeit we all had missed the Architect of Operation X, due to his unfortunate and untimely demise. (Blog and Pics below). We bid the lady goodbye with a promise to keep in touch.
After saying Sayonara to Cmde Bhalla we proceeded to Anchorage; Meena, the Santa attired surprised Dr Kanta with a large Bouquet to wish her a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy Birthday. During her cake cutting Dr Kanta mentioned that its also the 80th Birthday of Mrs Rekha Sharma (the best half of Cmde IJ Sharma) in the same building 2 floors above. We informed them of meeting them albeit for a shot time to wish them. The celebrations in the Sharma’s flat was glorious as the 3 their daughters (Priya, Mala and Anjalika) and families had decked up the drawing room exhibiting heavenly ambience. The Senior Veteran couple warmly met us and introduced us to the jovial extended families. Celebrations galore for the two Birthday girls commenced with the uncorking of Champaign. (Pics below)
No Blog could ever do justice to the stature carved by Cmde Inderjit Sharma, AVSM, VRC for himself. Hailed as “Koogh” affectionately by his family in childhood, “Inder” or simply IJ by his Naval colleagues; Priya, his talented Author daughter coined a word “Jungee”, the Warrior that has caught on. Priya has scripted a wonderful 400 page book titled the same in her Father’s honour recently, that has captured the life and times of the only Naval Officer to have been awarded AVSM as a Lieutenant and a VRC in his next promotion. It was albeit a chance meeting the legend on 25 Dec 2019 in his ‘Anchorage’ abode, at the celebrations of his heart-throb Rekha turning an Octogenarian.
STORY OF THE LEGEND
Inder (Koogh) was born on 06 Aug 1936 in Okara, Lyalpur (now Pakistan) to Jaikishan and Geeta, who had been under the umbrella of Jaikishan’s uncle Melaram as the former was orphaned in early childhood and brought up lovingly by the later. Melaram with family shifted to Tandliawala soon and arranged for a rented room a furlong away from his place for Jaikishan and Geeta to start living independently. Geeta happily took charge of her home with less household work. Koogh was a playful albeit a bit mischievous kid who grew up playing marbles and flying kites in Tandliawala with his childhood friends.
Although Jaikishan was illiterate with poor upbringing due to his circumstances, he instilled the essence and ethos of simplicity and righteousness in his children, Brij, Soma, Koogh, Tripta and Charanjit. Jaikishan was fond of Koogh and taught him that it’s the roots that make the tree or the family stronger and that one should never forget his roots. His mother, Geeta though a bit strict in controlling the wayward Koogh, brought him up with affection narrating him the story of Shri Krishna and lessons of Bhagwat Geeta. Little Koogh identified himself akin to Krishna’s childhood antics. Brij got married and shifted to Lahore. Koogh was studying in a village school and befriended Bhushan, Vaid and Bhollu. Friendship didn’t last long as partition happened.
The families of Melaram and Jaikishan initially travelled by Bus under Army protection to Jadanwala Camp, from there to Amritsar Border (distance of 200kms) on foot, carts, donkeys in a Caravan of thousands of people, who only knew they were from there own land, which had turned alien to their new India. It was a toilsome & tiring journey spread over many days. Brij who had reached Ludhiana earlier to his Nanihal helped in finding his family. They settled in Phagwara, close to Ludhiana. Koogh was enrolled in a local school and made new friends. After his matriculation he, against his mother’s desire decided to go for the recruitment rally in Jullundhar and enrole himself in the Indian Navy as a Sailor. He got selected after some medical hiccups to join training at Cochin.
Important Time-lines from induction into Indian Navy
Sailors Training at Cochin : Jan - Sep 1954 Joins Navy as a sailor at INS Venduruthy.
Sep 1954 - Dec 1955 First ship as a sailor: INS Bengal
Dec 1955 - Aug 1956 INS Venduruthy: Training
Aug 1956 -Jan1958 INS Mysore commissioning and service, Liverpool & India
Jan 1958 - Mar 1960 INS Venduruthy: Upper Yard Training
Mar - Sep 1960 INS Delhi
06 Sept 1960 Commissioned as an officer: Sub-Lieutenant
Sep 1960 - Dec 1961 INS Venduruthy: Training
Dec 1961 - Jun 1962 First ship Inder served as an officer: INS Khukri
Jun – Nov 1962 INS Brahmaputra, Bombay
Nov 1962 - Mar 1963 INS Rajput, Bombay
Dec 1962 Inder becomes Lieutenant
Mar 1963 - Dec 1964 INS Dharini, Bombay – Watch Keeping Officer
13 Oct 1963 Inder and Rekha’s wedding
Dec 1964 - May 1967 Captain of INS Sharda, Madras
17 Apr 1968 Inder is felicitated with AVSM by President Zakir Hussain for SAR efforts during the Cyclone on TN coast.
May 1967 - Mar 1968 INS Venduruthy – Gunnery Course
Mar 1968 - Aug 1969 INS Rajput, Bombay
Aug 1969 - Aug 1971 INS Angre, Vladivostok, Russia and Bombay
Jan 1971 - Jan 1973 Captain of INS Nirghat, Bombay
04 Dec 1971 Sinking of PNS Khaiber by INS Nirghat
January 1973 Inder is awarded Vir Chakra by President V.V. Giri
Jan 1973 - Aug 1973 Vizag - Command Gunnery Officer, Eastern Naval Command
Aug 1973 - Oct 1974 INS India, Deputation to Russia – Command Staff Course
Oct 1974 - Nov 1976 NHQ – Deputy Director Gunnery
Nov 1976 - Sep 1977 Deputation to Russia - Commissioning of INS Sindhudurg
Sep 1977 - Dec 1978 Commanding Officer INS Sindhudurg
Dec 1978 - Jun 1981 Commanding Officer INS Agnibahu II
Jun 1981 - Feb 1983 Commanding Officer INS Chilka
Feb 1983 - Jun 1984 Commanding Officer INS Shakti
Jul 1984 - Feb 1986 Eastern Naval Command, COPO
01 Mar 1986 Last day of service with the Navy
Mar 1986 - Sep 1994 General Manager - Mazagon Dock
BACK DROP OF THE 1971 WAR
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.
As per Wikipedia, 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 SM 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. INS Nirghat drove forward in a north-westerly direction and fired its first Styx missile at PNS Khaibar, a Pakistani Battle-class destroyer. Khaibar, assuming it was a missile from Indian aircraft, engaged its anti-aircraft systems. The missile hit the right side of the ship, exploding below the galley in the electrician's mess deck at 10.45 pm (PKT). This led to an explosion in the first boiler room. Subsequently, the ship lost propulsion, and was flooded with smoke. An emergency signal that read: "Enemy aircraft attacked in position 020 FF 20. No. 1 boiler hit. Ship stopped", was sent to Pakistan Naval Headquarters (PNHQ). Due to the chaos created by the explosion, the signal contained the wrong coordinates of the ship's position. This delayed rescue teams from reaching its location. Observing that the ship was still afloat, Nirghat fired its second missile hitting Khaibar in the second boiler room on the ship's starboard side, eventually sinking the ship and killing 222 sailors. 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 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.
The success of this operation prompted another successful attack on Karachi on 8 December 1971, Operation Python, which too was a huge success.
Today 06 Aug 2021, the Legend Cmde Inderjit Sharma, AVSM,VrC celebrates his 85th Birthday at his 21, Anchorage Juhu Abode in company of his near and dear ones and close friends from his Naval fraternity. On behalf of President and all members of NFMC here's wishing him very many Happy returns of his most auspicious Day today.
Sir, May your day be blessed with happiness and end in celebrations, Happy Birthday! Have an unforgettable birthday and a year filled with good health and happiness!
SAM NO VARUNAH
P.S. - Photos and story credits : Ms Priya Sheikh Sharma. Those desirous of the book ‘Jungee’, may contact Priya Sheikh Sharma. (Mob- 98201 35977) or buy it at the below Link :