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Trident, Grandslam and Python: Attacks on Karachi

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Trident, Grandslam and Python: Attacks on Karachi
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"Well old boy,this happens in war.I am sorry your ships have been sunk"
- C-in-C PAF to his naval counterpart in 1971

"This is the best Diwali we've ever seen!"
- The attacking force,"Trishul"

Pakistan's Naval headquarters was based at the historic and strategic port of Karachi here almost their entire fleet was concentrated. Karachi not only represented the area of maximum strategic importance, but also was also critical for Pakistan’s external trade and maritime interests, meaning that a blockade would be disastrous for Pakistan’s economy. For these reasons, the port received some of the best defence Pakistan had to offer as well as cover from strike aircraft based at two airfields in the proximity. However, this did not stop the Indian Navy from knocking on Pakistan's doorstep and blasting Karachi in some of the most audacious, brilliantly planned and executed operations in the history of naval warfare which shocked the world. The offensive stance taken, the role played and the amount of damage done, by the Indian Navy was quite a different story from that of its lack of performance during the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict. After Pakistan declared a national emergency on 23 Nov 1971,3 Osa-I class missile boats were deployed at Okha to carry out patrols from which they gained valuable experience. The task force assigned to attack Karachi harbour comprised of 4 Missile boats each armed with 4 SS-N-2B Styx anti-ship missiles and 2 Petya class sub-chasers. One of the 4 missile boats was to remain on patrol off Dwarka to provide cover for the task force on it's way back The reason for selecting these small untried Osa-I missile boats over regular vessels was due to the fact that they would represent difficult, fast moving targets and would enable the operation to be carried out in complete stealth. The Petyas were mainly to provide communication and control and give indication of suitable targets with their superior radar as well as possible ASW cover.

The plan was to strike Karachi with a composite force on the very day that Pakistan carried out its first acts of war. Pakistan attacked Indian airfields on the evening of the 3rd of December but since it was not possible to attack on the same evening, the attacks were planned for the night of 4/5 December which was to be coordinated with simultaneous aerial bombardment from the IAF. However, the Osa-I missile boats, built specifically for coastal defence did not have the range and endurance to carry out any sort of long range offensive operations hence was evolved the tactical decision to tow them to a certain point south of Karachi harbour from where they would proceed at full speed to carry out the attack. The squadron commander embarked on one of the attacking vessels would allocate targets and the missile boats would thereafter act independently, keeping in touch with the Squadron commander. The Petyas were to follow at a slower speed but stay not too far away from the rendezvous. Naval Headquarters and the HQ of the Western naval command were to listen in on Pakistani wireless circuits and pass the relevant intelligence to the force. The excellent photos of Karachi brought back by the IAF's No.106 Strategic PR Squadron were an invaluable asset for the operation. Another unusual asset was the fluency of the Indian crew in the Russian language, which was chosen to be taught to the Indian sailors who were deputed for training in the Soviet Union in order to ease the entire process. Indeed, communication between the attacking vessels was extensively in Russian, which proved to be extremely useful. These unique innovations introduced into the operations by the Indian Navy ensured their success in advance.

Operation Trident

The first missile attack on Karachi was to be undertaken by the "Killer" squadron comprising of the following 3 Osa missile boats:

INS Nipat (Lt Cdr B.N Kavina VrC)

INS Nirghat (Lt. Cdr I.J Sharma,AVSM,VrC )

INS Veer (Lt Cdr O.P Mehta VrC NM)

The Squadron commander (K-25) B.B Yadav was embarked on the Nipat. At the last minute, the Petya class vessel INS Kadmat(Cdr Tony Jain) who had been exercising with the "Killer" squadron, was replaced by INS Kiltan(Cdr K.P Gopal Rao MVC VSM) who had not worked up with the squadron and could only rendezvous with them at sea on 3 Dec.1971.On the afternoon of 4 Dec.1971,"Operation Trident" began and the strike group was on it's way to Karachi and remained in company. An oiler, INS Poshak was positioned about halfway to the target and refueled the strike force and enabled them to carry on. As per plan, the fourth missile boat INS Vidyut remained well astern to act as a deterrent in case of a counter attack by Pakistani warships. The "Killers" proceeded in an arrowhead formation, stealthily at a speed of about 24 knots with the Nipat leading and the Nirghat five miles on the port quarter and the Veer lagging behind on starboard. A number of contacts were detected en-route but were eventually analyzed as undeserving of a missile attack. Kiltan continued to pick up contacts at longer ranges due to anomalous propagation. At about 1945 hrs, Kiltan's radar picked up a Pakistani reconnaissance aircraft and immediately altered the course of the Task group westwards and succeeded in misleading the aircraft. Once the radar was clear of aircraft echo, course was altered to northward again. At 2000 hrs, Kiltan picked up a surface contact on a northeasterly bearing, steering an intercept course. When it closed in to about 15 miles, the Task group's course was again altered westward in order to prevent the contact from closing in further. After a while, the contact reduced its speed and its radar echo became smaller and disappeared. Course was again altered northward at 2014 hrs and formation speed was increased to 28 knots.


When about 70 miles south of Karachi, a firm contact was detected to the northwest at a distance of about 45 miles and a second contact to the northeast at a range of 42 miles, heading for Karachi.K-25 evaluated the first contact to be a warship closing in at about 20 knots. This was the Pakistani destroyer Khaibar which was reportedly on patrol and somehow failed to receive orders to investigate possible contacts south of Karachi. Khaibar was also said to have intercepted a HF transmission at 1905 hrs emanating from a south-easterly direction but could not decipher the language.K-25 ordered Nirghat to alter course and engage the northwesterly contact. When Nirghat saw the destroyer coming straight at the force, she had to reverse course and complete pre-launch checks before taking the shot. Nirghat altered to port and launched an SS-N-2B Styx AsHM followed by another one a little later. Khaibar observed a 'bright light' approaching her from her starboard beam and sounded action stations and engaged the target with her Bofors guns, mistaking it to be an aircraft. The missile struck Khaibar on the starboard side and exploded below the aft galley in the Electrician's mess deck at about 2245 hrs, Pakistan time. The ship immediately lost propulsion, plunged into darkness and the No.1 Boiler room exploded, engulfing the ship in thick black smoke. Khaibar sent out an emergency transmission which read "Enemy aircraft attacked in position 020 FF 20.No 1 Boiler hit. Ship stopped." which meant that the Pakistan Navy did not even know what hit them. At about 2249 hrs, the second missile was seen approaching and again engaged in vain as it exploded into the No.2 Boiler room on the starboard side and sealed the fate of the Khaibar forever. On the bridge of the Nipat,K-25 watched eagerly as the radar contact on his screen slowly diminished and suddenly disappeared. The Pakistani ocean going minesweeper PNS Muhafiz arrived in her patrol area at 2245 hrs and witnessed the missile attack. Nipat then engaged the second contact and a third contact and fired a missile on each of these contacts at about 2300 hrs(IST), which were the Merchant vessel Venus challenger and the destroyer PNS Shahjahan respectively. The Venus challenger was completely darkened and proceeding at 16 knots. The Styx AShM struck the ship and a huge flash was seen and evaluated to be ammunition exploding. The ship broke into two and sank in less than 8 minutes, about 26 miles south of Karachi. After the war, it was reliably learnt from merchant shipping circles and Bangladeshis who deserted the Pakistan navy as well as Military attaches of foreign embassies in Pakistan that this ship was carrying a near full load of US ammunition from Saigon for the Pakistani Army and Air force which made it a target even more valuable than a warship. It was due to arrive at Karachi at 0130 hrs on 5 Dec.1971.In addition to the ship's crew, the ship was also reported to have a number of Pakistani naval officers and sailors onboard for communication and ordnance duties. The second Styx is reported to have struck the Pakistani destroyer Shahjahan crippling it beyond service though there is some controversy surrounding this. As per some Pakistani admissions, the Shahjahan was damaged beyond recognition and put out of service but their official history makes no mention of the attack and official Pakistani naval sources have given varying accounts. At one point, it is claimed that damage to Shahjahan and sinking of the merchant(Venus Challenger) are Indian exaggerations but at another point, they are baffled by the mysterious disappearance of the Venus challenger and finally conclude that it must have been sunk in the Indian attacks. But there have also been several Indian sources such as FOCINCWEST Vice Admiral Kohl who recall that both missiles fired by the Nipat homed onto the Venus challenger. Nevertheless, the squadron commander(K-25) B.B Yadav confirmed the engagement of two separate contacts and the supporting Petyas were able to intercept a message ordering the Shahjahan to assist Khaibar but the Shahjahan replied that she could not do so due to some problems!

Styx unleashed during the attack!

By this time, the port of Karachi was about 32 miles away and clearly painting on radar. The missile boat Veer reported a contact(Muhafiz) fine on her starboard bow and was ordered by K-25 to engage it. Veer fired a Styx AShM at the contact at about 2320 hrs(IST).As Muhafiz altered course southward, the burning wreck of the Khaibar could be seen on the horizon. Action stations were closed up as the ship headed for the scene of action. She was on a course 210 degrees, speed 9 knots, when she observed a third bright light heading straight for the ship at 2305 (Pakistan Time).The Styx missile hit the Muhafiz on the port side abaft the bridge and instantaneously disintegrated the vessel, throwing much of it's crew into the water. There was not even enough time to transmit a distress message. The ship's debris continued to burn for 70 minutes while the survivors floated around. At this stage, there were no more contacts to engage. The fear of a Pakistani air attack started to place itself in the minds of the attacking force when several anti aircraft tracer shells fired by Karachi's port defenses were mistook be to be aircraft when they were picked up by radar and it took some time for this confusion to clear. At about 2325 hrs, Nirghat reported sighting aircraft on top of her  though the Kiltan did not detect any. The task group was then ordered to assume the first degree of anti-aircraft readiness and was required to navigate to a predetermined point 9 to10 miles ahead. However, by this time, the distance between the three missile boats had opened out and the factors of time and distance precluded the two other boats from rejoining the Nipat which was already ahead. At 2320 hrs,K-25,therefore,ordered the boats to act individually and withdraw to rendezvous as planned with the tanker Poshak. Due to a fade in communications, Kiltan did not receive the message.

Nipat however, continued towards Karachi and when she was about 14 miles from the harbor, and for the first time, she locked on to a shore target and fired a Styx missile at it, in the direction of the entrance. Never before was a missile, purely designed for Anti-ship duties used for land attack. Nipat launched a second Styx, which sadly misfired. This missile traveled westward of Karachi and crashed into the sea. The first Styx scored a direct hit on one of the giant Keamari oil tanks, one minute before midnight, spreading massive lethal flames in all directions, which spread to the other tanks. An huge explosion shot up over the horizon. It must be noted that, at this time, the IAF was also carrying out a coordinated attack on Karachi. The IAF had been attacking Karachi since 0800 hrs in spaced intervals. At around 2200 hrs, IAF Canberras commenced bombing* Drigh Road near Karachi as well as fuel installations and oil tanks. From a distance,K-25 watched the once mighty port of Karachi burn like hell after being engulfed in explosive flames. Radio silence was broken to transmit the code "Angar" which meant the successful completion of Operation Trident, which was received at MOR Bombay amidst great jubilation. Thereafter, strict radio silence was maintained.

At this stage, Kiltan arrived at the predetermined point only to find out that all the other boats except Veer had turned around to head home. Veer had experienced machinery problems and had to reduce speed to effect repairs. Kiltan then turned around to head home at high speed but this made Veer to assume that Kiltan was an enemy vessel. Fortunately, by this time, Veer's engines were repaired and communication was reestablished. Both Kiltan and Nipat had their fair share of problems as well. At about 0045 hrs, one of Kiltan's gas turbine engines failed. The second gas turbine engine failed at around 0130 hrs. Kiltan was now running on her main diesel engine and her speed came down to 13 knots. Nipat, having come closest to Karachi, needed to take evasive maneuvers during the withdrawal phase. At this juncture, one of Nipat's lubrication oil hosepipes gave way, reducing her speed to just 7 knots. After about 2 hours, repairs were effected and Nipat increased speed to 30 knots keeping well below the maximum of 45 knots in order to avoid the recurrence of the hosepipe failure. Further, to stay out of the attack range of Pakistani aircraft, Nipat altered course by 90 degrees towards Aden and only when well clear of the air route from Karachi to Bombay, altered back to rendezvous with the tanker Poshak. This detour consumed additional fuel, which began to run low. However, Nipat continued, thanks to the ingenuity of her engineers who took out and transferred the pump oil to run the engines and manually transferred unpumpable fuel from one tank to another. After replenishing with Poshak on 5 December, Nipat continued towards Bombay. Kiltan arrived at Mangrol at about 1800 hrs on 5 December. All boats had been accounted for except Nipat, which was presumed sunk. After completion of refueling, Kiltan was to sail the task group to Bombay. However, Kiltan's diesel engine failed to start and she became immobile. Therefore, the commander detached the other Petya - Katchall and the missile boats to proceed to Bombay where they arrived on the evening of 6 December. Kiltan stayed overnight at Mangrol and after getting one gas turbine working by the morning, she arrived in Bombay on the night of 7 December 1971.Nipat arrived home sometime later to receive a hero's welcome.

The first kill, PNS Khaibar, Battle class destroyer 
 Another victim,the PNS Shahjahan

Karachi was in a mess. It took some time for the Pakistanis to pull themselves together and figure out that it was a missile attack that had sunk their ships and not an aerial attack. Perhaps the IAF's simultaneous bombardment of Karachi, especially her oil tanks, which had also been hit by a missile, added to the confusion. The attention of the controlling authorities ashore was distracted towards the threat of an aerial attack once too often to the extent that all warnings given by the tracker radar installed at PNS Qasim near Manora, were largely ignored. Since the destroyer Shahjahan could not, Maritime headquarters at Karachi directed the gunboat Sadaqat to look for Khaibar's survivors. It was nearly midnight of 4 December when Sadaqat steered towards the glow over the horizon and came upon the survivors of Muhafiz and only now was it learnt that the Muahfiz had been destroyed. They returned back to harbour in the early hours of 5 December without locating Khaibar's survivors. The rescue operation launched to locate Khaibar's survivors was a disjointed and haphazard effort. The incorrect position of Khaibar indicated in her last signal led he search to be centered more than 20 miles away from her wreck. In the early hours of 5 December, another search operation was executed. After several failed attempts, a life raft containing some survivors was finally located at 1555 hrs and by 1745,the survivors were recovered. On the way back to the harbour,4 more survivors were picked up. A second search effort, which was mounted at 1425 hrs, was abandoned at 1913 hrs after yielding no results. By this time, the search had in any case become redundant as the remaining survivors had been picked up the gunboat Sadaqat a few hours earlier.

A warehouse near Drigh Road exploding during an IAF attack

Immediately after the attack, when it was calculated that the retreating missile boats would take around 6 hours to reach their nearest sanctuary, the PAF commanding officer was approached to order an attack them. However, no air strike could be made available and the PAF in Karachi did not react to the Navy's request. Therefore, the C-in-C of the Pakistani navy rang up the C-in-C PAF at 0400 hours and woke him up. After all sorts of begging and pleading, the answer he obtained was "Well old boy, this happens in war. I am sorry your ships have been sunk. We shall try to do something in the future!”. On the morning of 5 December, the Air Priority Board of Karachi provided an assorted bunch of aircraft including Cessnas, Aero club Austers, Dakotas, Fokkers, Twin Otters with radar and even a light plant protection aircraft for surveillance. This assorted Fleet air arm was flown by civilian pilots with naval liaison officers and by the afternoon,3 to 4 aircraft were airborne, searching an arc of 200 miles from Karachi. In the early hours of 6 December, a false alarm was raised when a Fokker Friendship aircraft with naval observers onboard, reported missile boat activity in the area west of Cape Monze on the Pakistani coast. NHQ Karachi asked the PAF to carry out an air strike on a ship, which had been identified as a missile boat. What was thought to be a missile boat was actually the Pakistan navy frigate Zulfiquar. Ironically, Zulfiquar had been informed by MHQ that a PAF sortie was on its way to attack a missile boat in the area. At 0640,PAF aircraft arrived and strafed the Zulfiquar, which took 900 hits of 0.5-inch ammo that killed several officers and sailors and injured many more! The attack was broken off when the ship's frantic efforts to get herself identified as a friendly unit succeeded. The frigate also suffered damage to her upper deck. It makes one wonder how both the Pakistani naval observers and the PAF pilots displayed such a level of incompetence that they couldn’t even tell the difference between a small PT-15 missile boat and a large frigate(of their own)!The ship was in anchor and not even going anywhere! After the attack, it was decided to move the Pakistani fleet further inshore. 


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