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Partition of Sindh II (Liberation War of Bangladesh 1971)

Updated on July 17, 2017

In 1971 during the Bangladesh war for Independence or the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 Karachi suffered a major setback when it became the target of three Osa (Wasp) class missile boats.

The boats were first offered to a visiting Indian delegation in 1964 but the Indian Navy at that time showed no interest and was keener on purchasing larger boats. The Osa class boats were smaller in size and were built more for speed (the boats can achieve speeds up to 40 knots) rather than capacity. Between 1960 – 1973 the Soviet Union built over 400 Osa class boats to bolster the naval needs of its allies.

In 1968, a similar offer was made to a visiting Pakistani delegation but like its Indian counterparts it turned down the offer, showing a preference instead for larger boats. In 1969 after examining the performance of the boats in the 7 day war and with a third war with Pakistan looming over the horizon, India agreed to take delivery of the Osa class missile boats and the boats were commissioned into the navy a few months prior to the start of the 1971 war.

On the 26th of March 1971, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared the then East Pakistan an independent state and the new nation was called Bangladesh. In response, the Pakistani army launched a massive crack-down on Bangladeshi citizens that displaced and dislodged millions. Almost 3 million people were killed in the violence that erupted following the declaration of independence and almost 10 million people were forced to cross the border and seek refuge in India. Many sought shelters in hastily constructed refugee camps.

The Pakistani Air Force (PAF) determined to crush the freedom movement launched air raids on suspected Bangladeshi freedom fighter training camps in Bengal and the (PAF) targeted 9 Indian airfields on the western border thereby setting in motion the 3rd Indo-Pakistani war. On the 3rd of December 1971, India and Pakistan formally went to war.

The Pakistani Naval Headquarters (PNHQ) in Karachi was an important factor in the equation and if India were to have any success they needed to neutralize the threat. Prevented from flying over Indian air space the only way Pakistan could refurbish its lines was by sea.

In addition to that, Karachi not only harbored most of the Pakistani naval fleet but it was also where a majority of commercial ships docked and putting it out of commission would temporarily at least, cripple Pakistan’s economy.

The naval war started with a naval blockade on both the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The next step was to put Karachi out of business.

The boats that were chosen for the task were the lethal but short range Osa missile boats. The boats were equipped with P-15 (Termite) (SS-N-2 Styx) anti-ship missiles developed by the Soviet Union’s Raduga Aerospace and AK 230 anti-aircraft 30mm twin guns (Soviet manufactured and radar directed).

3 missile boats were ordered to set sail for Karachi, the INS Nipat (K86), the INS Nirghat (K89) and the INS Veer (K82), escorted by two anti-submarine Arnala class corvettes (Petya III class), INS Kiltan (P79) and INS Katchall (P81) and accompanied by a fleet oiler, INS Poshak. The operation was called Operation Trident.

Because of their limited range the boats were towed towards Karachi and once close enough the boats were set free to make their way towards the harbor. The crews were instructed to speak only in Russian so that even if their communications were by chance intercepted, the enemy wouldn’t be able to make any sense of what was being said.

As the boats inched their way closer to Karachi via the Saurashtra Coast, under the cover of darkness, crew members detected signs of a ship nearby - the PNS Khaibar (destroyer). The INS Nirghat (K89) the closest boat to the Khaibar was ordered to engage.

It fired two missiles at the ship with a gap of three minutes in between and the ship was sunk but not before it had sent out a message saying that it was fired upon by enemy aircraft. The Pakistani war machine had no idea what had hit them and they were caught off-guard.

32 miles off the port of Karachi, the INS Veer (K82) detected another ship, the Pakistani minesweeper the PNS Muhafiz (adjutant class). Veer fired two missiles which resulted in direct hits and the Muhafiz was sunk.

The INS Nipat (K86) continued its journey towards Karachi and once close enough fired an anti-ship missile towards the entrance of the harbor. The missile scored a direct hit and struck a giant oil tank at Kemari (12.5 miles south of the harbor) setting it alight. The flames spread to the adjacent tanks and soon the whole harbor was ablaze. Operation Trident was followed up by operation Python which caused untold damage to the port city.

© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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