© Michel Ledet, Cahier Historique
The following article originally appeared in a French publication (Cahier Historique) and was written by Michel Ledet. Special thanks to Rekraaga and Aditya Chandramouli for translating the article into English. Special thanks also to Anandeep Pannu for acquiring the article.
The Indian Government and Navy officials showed interest in acquiring an aircraft carrier from the late 1940s. Financial constraints however delayed the Indian parliament's decision on the matter until January 1957. The vessel of choice was to be the HMS Hercules, a World War-II era ship similar to the French Arromanches and which happened to be steadily rotting away in Great Britain. However, the hull's good condition secured the deal. Final work was completed at the Belfast shipyards of Harland & Wolff Ltd. This included upgrading the equipment on board as well as refitting the vessel with a slanting deck. The ship was finally delivered to the Indian Navy on 17 May 1961, and given the title of INS Vikrant. Now she needed some aircraft!
Choosing the Alizé as an ASM platform aircraft was a well thought out decision by the Indians. They were on the one hand heavily influenced by the British, who were pushing the Fairey Gannet and Short Seamew, while France was offering its Bréguet 1050 Alizé. The latter was judged superior to its two British rivals and a deal which would see the procurement of twelve of these planes was signed in 1960. Two Indian crews then arrived in the summer of 1960 to train in Hyères. These two crews were to become instructors for future navy personnel arriving from India.
The Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 310 was raised in order to receive the Alizé. In October 1960, Indian Navy Chief, Admiral RD Katari paid a visit to the crews in Hyères and also went to the Bréguet de Parme factory on the 28 October 1960 to witness a flight demonstration with the Alizé. Meanwhile the first Indian Alizé undertook its maiden flight on 21 October 1960. Designated IN201, the plane was officially handed over to the Indian Navy at a ceremony in Villacoublay on 07 January 1961.
On 21 March 1961, No.310 Squadron (nicknamed White Cobras), was put under the command of Lt. Cdr. Roy, a British officer assigned to set up India's naval aviation apparatus. The very next day, Indian crewmen could be seen performing catapults and deck landings on l'Arromanches. Her crew of 1200 men having embarked, INS Vikrant headed to England in the early summer of 1961 to take delivery of Sea Hawks for the No.300 Squadron. The ship left Portsmouth for Toulon by end June. Come July, the aircraft carrier with the Alizés on board left for the Mediterranean region around Malta, where operational training was imparted. About a thousand catapults and deck landings were performed. The French Navy also lent a couple of Allouette-IIs for training purposes till the fall.
INS Vikrant then left the Mediterranean Sea and arrived in India on 06 November 1961 along with the fighter planes. Four Alizés were to be carried on the ship, with the others stationed at INS Garuda, their permanent airbase. These aircraft would see action very soon, given India's eagerness to recapture Portuguese-held territory in the western part of the country. INS Vikrant carried the Naval Air Force which blockaded Goa, while the Alizés carried out reconnaissance. In 1965 two Alizés were dispatched from No.550 Squadron, a training unit. The first Indo-Pak war broke out the same year, however the Alizés apparently played no role in this conflict. Attrition resulted in the Indian Navy acquiring two more Alizés in 1968 - (Nos. 14 and 18).
In December 1971, India fought another war with its Western neighbour. The Vikrant's mission was to patrol the Bay of Bengal and destroy enemy ships. The Alizés were assigned the task of mining port fringes and bombing Pakistani ships, preferably at night, so as to avoid enemy aircraft. On 05 December 1971, the Alizés detected a Pakistani Daphné Class submarine and forced it to surface with ASM charges before destroying it with rocket fire. On December 8th, the Alizés conducted bombing raids and rocket attacks on ships anchored in Pakistani ports. On December 10th an Alizé was brought down by a missile fired from an enemy F-104 fighter aircraft. The war ended on 17 December 1971 with a tentative Indian victory but border skirmishes lingered on and the INS Vikrant continued its patrolling.
The 1970s saw a sharp decline in the number of Alizés in service. By 1978, only six remained operational. Spare parts continued to be delivered but the days of the Alizé as an ASM aircraft were numbered as the Indian Navy selected the Sea Harrier to replace the obsolete Sea Hawk. During the 80s the INS Vikrant was fitted with a sky-jump to facilitate Harrier take-offs and reduce fuel consumption. The Alizés were eventually disembarked and used for coastal patrolling. Little is known about those remaining in operation.
In 1995, some Indian jets were still being serviced in Cuers and one of our correspondents informed us that five Alizés still fly in India, relegated to providing air links and aid. Unlike the Alizés of the French Naval Air Force, the Indian ones have not been modified, and would thus be totally outdated for any ASM role. Maybe a reader will be able to provide us with more information on their fate and one can perhaps hope that this information will contain newer photos rather than the older ones accompanying this article.