The night when the Indian Navy maimed Karachi

New Delhi: On October 21, 1944, the Royal Indian Navy celebrated Navy Day for the first time. It coincided with Trafalgar Day in Britain to mark the historic victory of the Royal Navy under the command of Admiral Horatio Nelson over the combined French and Spanish naval fleets at the Battle of Trafalgar on October 21, 1805.

The idea behind the celebration was to create public awareness and goodwill for the Royal Indian Navy. After Independence, the date, for obvious reasons, was moved to December 15. At the naval commanders’ conference in 1972, it was decided to designate December 4 as Navy Day.

There was a reason for it and it dated back to the Indian Navy’s most glorious chapter, namely, the devastating attack on the Karachi harbour by Indian naval missile boats on December 4, 1971. It hit Pakistan where it hurt the most. Since 1972, Navy Week is celebrated from December 1 to 7, with Navy Day being held on December 4.

The highlight of Operation Trident, as the attack was christened, was a concerted missile attack on the Karachi harbour on the night of December 4/5, 1971, by the Indian naval ships Kiltan, Katchall, Nipat, Nirghat and Veer.

In its maiden missile-boat operation, the Indian Navy destroyed and sank PNS Khyber (a Pakistani destroyer), PNS Muhafiz (a coastal minesweeper) and the merchant vessel MV Venus Challenger.

This operation was an act of ingenuity and strategic thinking, for the Indian Navy used bigger ships to tow these smaller missile boats close to the Pakistani ports — something unthinkable even by those who had built these boats. It is said that after the attack, Karachi burnt for seven days.

That was not all. On the night of December 8/9, 1971, the Indian Navy conducted Operation Python, which entailed a second missile attack on the Keamari oil field at Karachi by INS Trishul, Talwar and Vinash.

During the missile attack the Indian ships set ablaze oil tanks, sank two merchant vessels (Harmatton and Gulf Star) and destroyed the Pakistan Navy’s tanker, PNS Dacca. With the attack, the Indian Navy achieved maritime dominance off the approaches to Karachi, Pakistan’s now-crippled commercial capital.

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