Indian Navy sets Karachi on Fire- Operation Trident, 4 Dec 1971

INS Nipat missile boat:


PNS Shahjahan- Damaged badly


PNS Khaibar- Sunk


Most of us remember the battles fought on land and in air…Battle of Longewala (The one over which  ‘Border’ movie was based on )…battle for Tiger Hill…MiG-21s firing rockets through the windows of Governor’s house in Dhaka…and many more.
We haven’t heard too many stories about some wonderfully conceived and executed operations of our Navy. In the 65 war, Indian Navy played the role of a spectator, but in 71 war, she was one of the opening batsmen…and what a knock did she play.

Karachi was the headquarter of Pakistan Navy and their biggest port…with huge oil storage farms and important rail linkages to the interior of Pakistan. Because of these reasons, Indian Navy saw it as one of the most lucrative targets and had devised strike plans. These strike plans didn’t include use of INS Vikrant or other big ships in the Naval inventory…instead it called for using the diminutive OSA class missile boats…which are more like a high end motor-boat with some missile canisters hanging by the sides. INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer were the three ends of the ‘Trishul’ which was to bring death and destruction on the enemy.

The missile boats had very limited range…so they were followed by a fleet tanker. But they were fast…maxing out at close to 70kmph. This audacious task force waited about two hundred fifty kilometers south of Karachi during the daytime,  out of the range of Pakistan Air Force which had two airfields protecting Karachi. But, their planes still couldn’t operate in the dark. As the sun was going down on horizon, the three missile boats were speeding towards Karachi. The missiles on these boats had a range of 80 kilometers…’SS-N-B2 Styx’ surface to surface missile, capable of flying at 0.9 mach towards its target with a 500 KG. High Explosive warhead on it’s tip. When the boats were 70 Kms south of Karachi, they stopped and starting scanning the waters for suitable targets.

INS Nirghat was the first to identify a Pakistani Navy destroyer ‘PNS Khaiber’ and launched the missile which had active radar homing….it basically followed a radar beam to reach it’s target. The sailors on PNS Khaibar saw the incoming missile and mistook it for an enemy aircraft on afterburners. They started firing with anti-aircraft guns but the target was too small. Nirghat’ s missile hit PNS Khaibar almost in the middle of the ship…her electrical unit was knocked out and one of the boilers exploded. PNS Khaibar was now without power and totally dark, but still floating. Within four minutes of first hit, PNS Khaibar was hit by another missile fired from INS Nirghat…that was the knock-out punch. PNS Khaibar was dealt a watery grave by an enemy which was one tenth her size.

Now it was the turn of INS Nipat…her radar also found two delicious targets and she readily launched her missiles at them. At the receiving end of those missiles were a merchant ship which was allegedly carrying ammunition from Vietnam to Pakistan and her destroyer escort ship -PNS Shahjahan. The ammo stored in the merchant ship exploded and she sank quickly while PNS Shahjehan was sent straight to meet Mumtaz Mahal.

INS Veer now locked on to a minesweeper PNS Muhafiz and literally blew it out of the water before she could even send out a SOS. Next, INS Nipat, with 2 missiles to spend, targeted the oil storage farms on Karachi port…both missiles struck the target and triggered huge explosions  leading to heavy causalities and economic loss. It also kept the residents of Karachi warm for the next few days because of the huge fires in the oil depot.

Apart from the actual damage on the ground and sea, this operation also resulted in a huge psychological shock for the Pakistani High Command. They were panic stricken and increased the patrolling of seas around Karachi. There were multiple false alarms. As an Indian you may find it humorous that the Pakistani Air  Force actually attacked a Pakistani Navy ship, assuming it to be another Indian Navy vessel. This shows how scared and jittery they had got.

Realizing this, Indian Navy made another audacious and highly successful attack on Karachi Harbor, 3 days later in the name of Operation Python.  It is said the the fires that got started by these attacks, could be seen from the space. This was one of the most glorious chapter in Indian Navy’s history. Hoping that they would write more of such chapters in the future.

Jai Hind.

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