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Trident, Grandslam and Python: Attacks on Karachi - Trident - Page 2

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Trident, Grandslam and Python: Attacks on Karachi
Trident - Page 2
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The Second Attack         

The Indian Navy's western fleet sailed out of Bombay on 2 December to operate in their assigned area. Two missile boats had been allotted to the Fleet, which were to be in tow, by the ships of the fleet. These boats would be released to carry out their attacks either on enemy surface units or on ships in or around Karachi. Any missiles left over after the destruction of enemy units were to be directed towards the neutralization of shore targets. As usual, several machinery and material state problems were encountered. The frigate Kuthar suffered a major blow up in the engine room and the missile boat Vijeta suffered a breakdown on the same day after sailing from Bombay. Kuthar was towed back to Bombay by the frigate Kirpan escorted by the frigate Khukri and Vijeta was towed back by the ship Sagardeep. When the fleet sailed, the Pakistani submarine Hangor had reportedly sighted them. During the first few days, a number of ships picked up sonar contacts, which were attacked but were unable to find any evidence of actual damage to a submarine. On the afternoon of 3 December, the fleet observed reconnaissance aircraft circling around it, taking good care to remain out of gun range. Whilst they were tracking the snoopers, they received the signal that hostilities with Pakistan had commenced!

It was evaluated that the information relayed back to the Pakistan by the enemy submarines and aircraft would give them a reasonably accurate position of the fleet. Therefore FOCWEF decided to split the force into two divergent groups under the cover of darkness in order to shake off the snoopers. This was successfully achieved by midnight. However, this split had taken the fleet so far south that the first planned simultaneous attacks on Karachi and the Makran coast had to be postponed. On 5 December, the fleet group regrouped, refueled and replenished. On the midnight of 5/6 December,FOCWEF detached two groups of ships - one group to attack Karachi and the other group to attack the Makran coast. Due to a last minute defect, the frigate Talwar had to drop out of the Karachi strike group. On the afternoon of 6 December, Naval headquarters(NHQ) at Bombay decided to assume control of operations, reasons for which were not given.NHQ made a signal at about 1600 hours canceling the attack on Karachi scheduled for the night of 6/7 December. It was learnt that on the morning of 6 December, NHQ had intercepted a Pakistani signal which indicated that the PAF had blasted one of it's own warships, the frigate Zulfiquar. This caused a considerable amount of concern in the mind of CNS Admiral Nanda who assessed that it would not be prudent to expose the Karachi strike group to such a high probability of attack by an alert enemy. Since Karachi had already been attacked on the night of 4/5 December, it could be attacked again somewhat later. The Fleet was then ordered to rendezvous with the vessel Tir off the Saurashtra coast to pick up a second missile boat, the Vidyut, which was to substitute for Vijeta. As the fleet sped towards the rendezvous point, Tir broke radio silence in order to relay her position and to report enemy aircraft. On the morning of 7 December, the fleet had assembled at the rendezvous but Tir and Vidyut had not yet reached. Had the enemy D/F'ed the signals made by Tir and ordered an air strike, it was highly probable that the attacking aircraft might by chance locate and attack the western fleet. After intercepting a Pakistani transmission,FOCINWEST signaled Tir to "prepare to repel and air attack" and the IAF was called in to protect the Tir group from an air attack. At this stage, the missile boat Vidyut which was being towed by Tir to hand over to the Fleet, started reporting defects which required her to return to Bombay. After evaluating the situation and the keeping in mind the intense surveillance by the enemy to detect the approach of missile boats, FOCWEF decided to launch the second missile attack on Karachi from West-Southwest altered the fleet's course westward. Radio silence was broken more than once to exchange signals regarding the second missile attack. FOCINWEST ordered FOCWEF to execute "Operation Python”, the second missile attack on Karachi on the night of 7/8 December, if feasible. However, boisterous weather conditions were reported by the Flag Captain Russi Gandhi which further postponed the attack on Karachi to the night of 8/9 when the weather improved. On 8 December,FOCWEF split his force into three groups. The first group consisted of the fast frigates of the 15th frigate squadron, INS Trishul and Talwar which were to escort the single missile boat Vinash for the second attack on Karachi. The second group consisted of the cruiser Mysore accompanied by the frigate Betwa and the destroyer Ranjit to raid the Makran coast. The third group consisted of the tanker Deepak and the vessel Kadmat that were to continue contraband control.Kadmat had dropped out of the Karachi strike group due to a last minute defect.

Operation Grandslam

On 8 December 1971,after the second attack on Karachi "Operation python" was executed, FOCWEF handed over tactical command to the cruiser INS Mysore for the bombardment of the Pakistani coast of Makran on the night of 8/9 December with the intention "to burn, to sink, to destroy" Pakistani installations and vessels and this was to coincide with the missile attack on Karachi. The taskforce comprising of the cruiser Mysore, the destroyer Ranjit and the frigate Betwa headed for the Makran coast to carry out Operation "Grand Slam".

On the evening of 8 December,75 miles south of the Pakistani coastal city of Jiwani, the group encountered a merchant ship who, on seeing the approaching group reversed course and headed for Karachi and was heard calling Karachi on a frequency being monitored. The ship did not comply when she was signaled to stop so Mysore and Ranjit fired a broadside ahead of her, which forced the ship to stop engines, switch on her lights and raise a white flag. The destroyer Ranjit was sent to investigate and revealed the ship to be the Pakistani merchant vessel "Madhumati" originally bound for Singapore with a large cargo of Basmati Rice. The ship had overprinted her name to read "Adamant" to masquerade as a neutral ship registered in Manila. The ship was boarded and instructed to raise the Indian Naval Ensign superior to the Pakistani flag. FOCWEF assessed that the Madhumati's call to Karachi would have without doubt, not only given away the approaching task force but also distracted attention from the group on their way to carry out "Operation Python”. This was confirmed when Pakistani aircraft were sighted soon after sunset, circling with their lights on but staying out of gun range. FOCWEF thus abandoned the bombardment of the Makran coast and instructed the task force to return to Bombay along with the Madhumati.

  This incident resulted in a lot of disappointment due to the fact that the fleet was robbed of its glory and denied the satisfaction of avenging the Pakistani raid on Dwarka in 1965. However, FOCWEF decided that the bombardment of a number of useless targets in the Makran coast just to give the fleet the satisfaction of firing their guns in anger and to provoke the Pakistani navy to "Come out and fight" was not worth the risks and it was better to enhance the chances of success of the more important second missile attack on Karachi by drawing away attention.

Operation Python

The missile boat Vinash escorted by the frigates Talwar and Trishul set course for Karachi at high speed. En route, electronic emissions were detected on a Pakistan Naval frequency, which were being monitored. It was appreciated that a vessel with a powerful transmitter was reporting the presence of the force to Maritime headquarters Karachi. The vessel was soon sighted and Talwar opened fire with her 4.5-inch guns and then closed in with 40mm guns, blasting the communication craft to pieces. During the approach to Karachi, Trishul's electronic surveillance reported that the radar at Karachi had stopped rotating and was pointed directly at the group! At 2300 hrs, the group arrived off Karachi and detected a group of ships on radar. At 2315 IST, Vinash requested permission to engage her targets after a temporary radar breakdown. FOCWEF had already told the CO of the Trishul that Vinash should fire all her 4 missiles. When around 12 miles off Karachi, after some careful calculation, Vinash fired all her 4 Styx AShHM at her contacts,3 of which were ships and the other a coastal target. It was pre-arranged that the IAF would once again attack Karachi's airfields at Masroor and Drigh Road at the same time as the second missile attack. However, the Trishul group had commenced attacks before the pre-arranged time but the air attack commenced soon thereafter.

At this time, most of the Pakistani surface fleet had been recalled to harbour after coast hugging anti-submarine operations and were taking shelter among the civilian, cargo and merchant vessels in an attempt to shield them against missile attacks. However, the Pakistani navy fleet tanker, the PNS Dacca remained in anchorage at Manora because tidal conditions and its deep draft had complicated matters and prevented its entry to harbour. Dacca was among the cluster of about a dozen ships at Manora anchorage at which Vinash had just delivered her missiles. The first Styx missile flew over the ships in anchorage, crossed Manora Island and traveled parallel to the breakwater. When it was abreast the AA school, it turned right and scored a direct hit on an oil tank at the Keamari oil farm, which burst into flames. Following a huge explosion, the flames shot up so high that the Qatar house - a multi storey building in the city, was clearly visible. The fires caused by the previous attacks had just been put out a day earlier after 3 continuous days of concentrated fire fighting and had now made their presence felt once again after a very short-lived respite. PNS Dacca had witnessed the missile attack first hand but once again, mistook it for an air attack and search lights were switched on to locate the aircraft. A little while later, another light(the second Styx) was sighted coming from the same direction and hit a ship that was anchored very close to the breakwater, exploding and sinking it immediatly.At that moment, action stations were sounded and guns were manned to engage any target. In the meantime, the third Styx appeared and traveled to the ship at the southern corner of the anchorage. Following another explosive hit, the ship caught fire. The two victims were the British vessel - Harmattan and the Panamanian vessel -Gulfstar.

A little while, PNS Dacca observed the fourth and final Styx was seen coming up from behind the horizon in the form of a bright light and was gaining height on the port bow. It appeared stationary for sometime and suddenly rushed steeply towards the ship and was engaged unsuccessfully by the port guns. The Styx hit the tanker on the port side, piercing No.7 port FFO tank just above the water line. The cargo and jungle decks were ripped open and the motorboat and spare fuel hoses caught fire. Abandon ship was piped immediately. Only about 8 officers and 37 CPOs and sailors stayed onboard and the rest jumped overboard. The fires in the upper deck were eventually brought under control but the Dacca retained extensive damage. The Pakistani minesweeper Munsif, which was anchored in the vicinity of the Dacca proceeded to assist her and picked up some survivors. Other survivors and personnel of the Dacca and the other ships were recovered by auxiliary craft, which were promptly dispatched to the scene. Nearly six minutes after the first missile blew up the Keamari oil tank, a tremendous barrage of fire was let loose by Karachi's AA guns following an air raid warning and lifting of gun restrictions. More blasts followed as more and more Oil tanks exploded after being engulfed in the spreading fires. However, there was no real air activity over the harbour itself. In panic, Karachi’s guns set ablaze and sunk an unfortunate Greek ship - Zoë, which is mentioned in Lloyd's casualty list. The actual targets of the IAF were Drigh Road and Masroor. After skirting the radar stations of Badin and Talhar as per tactical routing, Canberras from IAF's No.35 squadron attacked Drigh Road. The attack on Masroor airbase had stranded Pakistani bombers from taking off as a culvert leading from the dispersal to the runway was destroyed. The Wing commander who was leading the first section stated that he found untouched aluminum oil tanks which were not designated targets as simply too tempting. He therefore released his 1000 lb MC bombs from a height of 7500 feet, to avoid AA fire, onto a cluster of oil tanks. More explosions added to the havoc. In the meantime, the Trishul strike force quietly slipped away undetected. Lieutenant Commander Jerath of the missile boat Vinash on climbing out of the 'citadel' to the open bridge, observed the horizon light up and received a message from Trishul: 'This is the best Diwali we've ever seen!'' Air strikes continued till 0200 hrs on 9 December to give the task force enough time to get away. During the withdrawal phase, Vinash reported defects and had to stop but before the need arose for her to be taken back in tow, she had effected repairs and withdrew at high speed to rendezvous with the fleet on 9 December. On the morning of 10 December, cumulative defects were beginning to reduce the speed of the ships after 8 days of steaming at high speed. FOCWEF decided that the fleet should return to Bombay to effect repairs, pick up two more missile boats and return to the operational area. To outflank Pakistani submarines deployed off Bombay, FOCWEF maintained absolute wireless silence, made landfall well south of Bombay and proceeded up the coast inside the 10-fathom line, through waters too shallow for the operation of submarines. The fleet arrived in Bombay in the early hours of 13 December, unscratched. By the time they were ready to sail again, the Pakistan Army in the East had unconditionally surrendered on 16 December.  

All illustrations courtesy of Vice Admiral(Retd)GM Hiranandini PVSM,AVSM,NMThe map of the Indian Naval Operations 3-13 December(Op Trident,Python and Grandslam). Once expanded, click on the induvidual sections to get a detailed map of each attack.


After the second missile attack on Karachi, the Pakistan navy took a controversial decision. At 1400 hrs on 9 December, orders were issued to all ships in Karachi to heavily reduce their ammunition outfits and limit their operational roles. This move was questioned by many who considered  it to be unthinkable just like the decision on 7 December to withdraw all naval surface ships to harbour(though it may have saved them) which was described as extremely shameful and cowardly and exposed the paralysis of the Pakistan Navy. This had an immediate and adverse effect on the morale of the Pakistan navy and was not widely accepted as a rational step. Within the first few days of the war, the Indian Navy had accomplished the heavy tasks assigned to it. With the very first of its major operations, the Indian Navy had absolutely wrecked the enemy forces. With the Pakistani Navy bottled up in harbour,the blockade had been effected and the Indian Navy was in total control of the seas around Pakistan. No merchant shipping could dare approach Karachi which itself was engulfed in thick black smoke. In addition to more than $3 billion worth of damage, most of the oil reserves and ammunition had been lost, warehouses and workshops destroyed and the PAF hit as well, making Karachi the greatest victim of the 1971 war. From 9 December onwards, the western fleet controlled the approaches to Karachi and a third missile attack,” Operation Triumph" was scheduled for 10 December. However, on the night of 9 December, the Indian frigate Khukri was torpedoed and sunk by the Pakistani Daphne class submarine Hangor during a hunter-killer operation. FOCINCWEST cancelled the third attack and deployed forces to hunt for the submarine. By the time it was reintroduced, the instruments of surrender had already been signed. Within a few days after the missile attacks, the Indian Navy's Eastern fleet had effectively destroyed the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. At the end of the war, the Indian Navy controlled the seas around both the wings of Pakistan after achieving total dominance.

Squadron Commander(K-25) Commodore (Retd) B.B Yadav MVC
 Lieutenant Commander (Retd)  V. Jerath VrC


1.      Vice Admiral Mihir K Roy (Retd) PVSM AVSM, War in the Indian Ocean, SPANTECH & LANCER 1995

2.      Vice Admiral N.Krishnan (Retd) PVSM AVSM,No way but surrender-An account of Indo-pak war in the Bay of Bengal 1971,Vikas publishing,1980

3.      Story of the Pakistan Navy, Naval HQ, Islamabad ,1991

4.      Vice Admiral GM Hiranandhini (Retd) NM,PVSM,AVSM,"Transition to triumph - Indian Navy 1965-75", Lancer International

5.      Mankekar, D. Twenty-Two Fateful Days: Pakistan Cut to Size. Indian Book Co., New Delhi 1972.

6.      Maj.Gen.Fazal Muqeem Khan, Pakistan’s crisis in leadership, National book foundation, Islamabad 1973

7.      Admiral(Retd) S.Kohli, We dared! ,Lancer International 1986

8.      Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, My years with IAF, Lancer International, New Delhi 1987


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