The Indian Navy has been involved in many crucial operations, but the jewel in its crown remains to be Operation Trident during the Indo-Pak War of 1971.
Just before the 1971 war, India had acquired the Osa-I missile boats from the Soviet Union. The boats were deadly as they had the ship-to-ship Styx missiles and Range-out homing radars. The stealthy missile boats were surely a huge boost to the Indian Navy. But they had only one disadvantage – they were short ranged. The decision to purchase these boats were a masterstroke of our naval commanders which was soon proven in the 1971 war.
As Pakistan Air Force commenced attacks on the 3rd of December 1971 and the IAF responded by bombing Pakistani airfields, the Indian Navy got ready to join the war with their newly acquire Osa-I missile boats.
On the night of December 3, a group of Osa-I missile boats — INS Nipat, INS Nirghat and INS Veer set sail from Mumbai harbour. The next day, on December 4, two Petya class Frigates — the INS Katchall and INS Kilian joined the missile boats to form the Trident team.
The Osa-Is were successfully towed to the Karachi harbour by night which was the stronghold of the Pakistani Navy. The ‘wasps’ – as the Osa-Is were known –proceeded in an arrowhead formation changing course frequently with radar inputs from INS Kiltan to avoid enemy detection. The most interesting aspect of this all was that the ship crews had been taught Russian so that their talks in Russian wouldn’t be understood by the enemies!
At 2243 hours, the Rangout radar on INS Nirghat picked up a big target — PNS Khaiber, a destroyer of Pakistan Navy. This was followed by the detection of two more targets – PNS Shah Jehan and merchant vessel Venus Challenger (carrying ammunition for the Pakistani Army).
The Osa-I boats weren’t going to loiter around. Quickly, they launched their Styx missiles on the enemy ships with amazing precision. The Pakistani ships were stunned. The crew didn’t know what hit them. They assumed it were IAF aircrafts hitting them so they retaliated with anti-aircraft guns!
PNS Khyber even transmitted a mayday signal saying it had been hit by enemy aircraft before it broke into two and sank. Now, the missile boats had in sight fuel storage facilities on Pakistani shores.
Despite being vulnerable to air attacks from the Pakistan Air Force, the three boats launched their final missiles setting the whole harbour complex on fire. They then turned around and sped to Bombay.
The fun wasn’t over yet. The confusion amidst Pakistani ranks was so deep that its air force hit its own frigate ship, PNS Zulfiqar, assuming it was an Indian boat!
In 90 minutes, the three boats had fired six missiles, sunk three front-line enemy vessels and destroyed the oil storage facility at the Karachi harbour, without a single casualty!
The Indian Navy was unstoppable while the Pakistan Navy seemed completely at sea. Four days later, the Indian Navy sank another three Pakistani ships and again set its oil shores on fire. This operation was termed as Operation Python.
All three missile boat commanders were awarded the Vir Chakra while the man who led the squadron Commander (later Commodore BB Yadav) was honoured with the Mahavir Chakra. As a tribute to this sensational victory, December 4 is celebrated as Navy Day