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Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971

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Title: Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971  
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Subject: Battle of Basantar, PNS Hangor (S131), East Pakistan Air Operations, 1971, Pakistan Navy, Operation Madad (Pakistan Navy)
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Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971

Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971
Part of Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and Bangladesh Liberation War
Date 2–16 December 1971
Location Indian Ocean
Arabian Sea
Bay of Bengal
Result Indian Victory

Eastern Front

  • Victory of Indian naval forces
  • Pakistan naval forces surrender

Western Front

Separation of East Pakistan as the independent state of Bangladesh.

Supported by:
 Saudi Arabia[1][2][3][4]
 United States
 Pakistan Navy
 Royal Saudi Navy[5]
 United States Navy

 Indian Navy
Commanders and leaders
VADM Muzaffar Hassan
RADM Hasan Ahmed
RADM M. Sharif 
RADM Leslie Mungavin 
CDRE Patrick J. Simpson
Admiral S. M. Nanda
Vice-Admiral S.N. Kohli
Vice-Admiral R. Krishna
1 cruiser
5 destroyers
2 frigates
4 Submarines (3 Daphné class and 1 Tench class)
6 midget submarines
8 minesweeper
1 Tanker
US 7th Fleet
1 Aircraft carrier
2 cruiser
3 destroyers
14 frigates
5 ASW frigates
6 Missile ships
2 tankers
1 repair ship
2 Landing ships (Polnocny)
Casualties and losses
1,900 Killed in action 
1,413 captured (POW)
194 Killed in Action 
1 Frigate
1 Aircraft (Alize 203)[12][13]

The Indo-Pakistani Naval war of 1971 consisted of a series of naval battles fought between the Indian and Pakistani Navy during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The battles were an integral part of India-Pakistan War and the Bangladesh Liberation War. The series of naval operations began by the Indian Navy to exert pressure from the seas while the Indian Army and Indian Air Force moved in to close the ring round East Pakistan from several directions on land. The naval operations incorporated the naval interdiction, air defence, ground support, and logistics missions.

With the success of the Indian Navy's operations in East Pakistan, the Indian Navy commenced two large-scale operations, Operation Trident and Operation Python in the Western front, prior to the start of formal combat between India and Pakistan.


The Indian Navy did not play a vital and integral role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 as the war was more focused on the land based conflict. On 7 September, a flotilla of the Pakistan Navy under the command of Commodore S.M. Anwar, carried out a bombardment, Operation Dwarka, of the Indian Navy's radar station of Dwarka, 200 miles (300 km) south of the Pakistani port of Karachi. This was one of the most significant operations of the 1965 war.[14][15][16] This successful operation caused the Indian Navy to undergo a rapid modernization and expansion. Consequently, the Indian Navy budget grew from INR350 million to INR1.15 billion. The Indian Navy's Combatant Fleet was augmented by the addition of a Submarine squadron with the acquisition of six Osa missile ship from the Soviet Union. The Indian Naval Air Arm was also strengthened. As the crises between East and West-Pakistan began, the Indian Armed Forces intervened, hence, starting the Bangladesh Liberation War.

Pakistani Eastern Naval Command

The Eastern Naval Command was established in 1969 and Rear-Admiral Mohammad Shariff (later four-star Admiral) was made its first Flag Officer Commanding. Admiral Shariff administratively ran the Eastern Naval Command, and was credited for leading the administrative operations of Eastern Naval Command. Under his command, SSG(N), Pakistan Marines and SEALs teams were well established, where they had ran both covert and overt operations in Eastern wing.

Having a well-established administrative Naval command, the Pakistan Combatant Forces' GHQ, Headquarter of Pakistan Army, had declined substantial naval contingent for the defence of East Pakistan. The Pakistan Naval Forces had inadequate ships to challenge the Indian Navy on both fronts, and the PAF was unable to protect these ships from both Indian Air Force and the Indian Naval Air Arm. Furthermore, Chief of Naval Staff of Pakistan Navy, Vice-Admiral Muzaffar Hassan, had ordered to deploy all of the naval power in Western-Front. Most of the Pakistan Navy's combatant vessels were deployed in West Pakistan while only one destroyer, PNS Sylhet, was assigned in East-Pakistan on the personal request of Admiral Shariff.

Locations of Pakistan Navy's Combatant forces on December 1971 in and around East Pakistan. Some unit locations are not shown. Map not to exact scale.

During the conflict, East Pakistan's naval ports were left defenceless as the Eastern Military Command of Pakistan had decided to fight the war without the navy and faced with a hopeless task against overwhelming odds, the navy planned to remain in the ports when war broke out.[17]

In eastern wing, the Pakistan Navy heavily depended on her gun boat squadron.[18] The Pakistan's Eastern Naval Command was in direct command of Flag Officer Commanding (FOC) Rear-Admiral Mohammad Shariff who also served as the right-hand of Lieutenant-General Niazi. The Pakistan Navy had 4 gun boats (PNS Jessore, Rajshahi, Comilla, and Sylhet). The boats were capable of attaining maximum speed of 20 knots (37 km/h), were crewed by 29 sailors. Known as Pakistan Navy's brown water navy, the gun boats were equipped with various weapons, including heavy machine guns. The boats were adequate for patrolling and led anti-insurgency operations. But they were hopelessly out of place in a conventional warfare.[19]

In the early of April, the Pakistan Navy began naval operations around East-Pakistan to support the Army's executed Operation Searchlight. Rear-Admiral Mohammad Shariff had coordinated all of these projected missions. On 26 April, the Pakistan Navy successfully completed Operation Barisal, but it resulted in the temporary occupation of city of Barisal.

Bloody urban guerrilla warfare ensued and Operation Jackpot severely damaged the operational capability of Pakistan Navy. Before the start of the hostilities, all naval gun boats were stationed at the Chittagong.[20] As the air operations began, the IAF aircraft damaged the Rajshahi, while the Comilla was sunk on 4 December. On 5 December, the IAF sank two patrol boats in Khulna. The PNS Sylhet was destroyed on 6 December and the Balaghat on 9 December by Indian aircraft. On 11 December, the PNS Jessore was destroyed, while Rajshahi was repaired. The Rajashahi under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Shikder Hayat managed to evade the Indian blockade and reach Malaysia before the surrender on 16 December.

Naval operations in the Eastern theatre

Indian carrier Vikrant played a key role in enforcing a naval blockade over East Pakistan

The Indian Navy started the covert naval operations, which were executed successfully. The Eastern Naval Command of Indian Navy had coordinated, planned, and executed these covert naval operations. In the end months of 1971, the Indian Navy's Eastern Naval Command had effectively applied a naval blockade which also completely isolated East-Pakistan's Bay of Bengal, trapping the Eastern Pakistan Navy and eight foreign merchant ships in their ports. The Pakistan Army's Combatant High Command, The GHQ, insisted and pressured Pakistan Navy to deploy PNS Ghazi and to extend its sphere of naval operations, into East-Pakistan shores. The Officer in Command of Submarine Service Branch of Pakistan Navy opposed the idea of deploying ageing submarine, PNS Ghazi, in the Bay of Bengal. It was difficult to sustain prolonged operations in a distant area, in the total absence of repair, logistic and recreational facilities in the vicinity. At this time, submarine repair facilities were totally absent at Chittagong – the only sea port in the east during this period. Her commander and other officers objected the plan as when it was proposed by the senior Army and Naval officers.

In the Eastern wing of Pakistan, the Navy had never maintained a squadron of warships, despite the calls were made by Eastern Naval Command's Flag Officer Commanding Rear-Admiral Mohammad Shariff. Instead, a brown water navy was formed consisting a gun boats riverine craft on a permanent basis. Consequently, in eastern wing, repair and logistic facilities were not developed at Chittagong. The Indian Navy's Eastern Naval Command virtually faced no opposition from Eastern theatre. The aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, along with her escort LST ships INS Guldar, INS Gharial, INS Magar, and the submarine INS Khanderi, executed their operations independently.

On 4 December 1971, the INS Vikrant, the aircraft carrier, was also deployed in which its Hawker Sea Hawk attack aircraft contributed in Air Operations in East Pakistan. The aircraft successfully attacked many coastal towns in East Pakistan including Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar. The continuous attacks later destroyed the PAF's capability to retaliate.[21]

Pakistan's Ghazi was the only long range submarine operated by either of the warring nations in 1965. The sinking of PNS Ghazi played a point of turning role in Indian Naval operations in East Pakistan
The Pakistan Navy responded by deploying her ageing long-range submarine, PNS Ghazi, to counter the threat as the Naval Command had overruled the objections by her officers. The PNS Ghazi, under the command of Commander Zafar Muhammad Khan, was assigned to locate the INS Vikrant, but when it was not able to locate, decided to mine the port of Vishakapatnam – the headquarters of Eastern Naval Command.[22] The Indian Navy's Naval Intelligence laid a trap to sink the submarine by giving fake reports about the aircraft carrier. At around midnight of 3–4 December, the PNS Ghazi began its operation of laying mines. The Indian Navy dispatched INS Rajput to counter the threat.

The INS Rajput's sonar radar reported the disturbance underwater and two depth charges were released.[23] The deadly game ended when the submarine sank mysteriously while laying a mine with all 92 hands on board around midnight on 3 December 1971 off the Vishakapatnam coast.[24][25]

The sinking of Ghazi turned out to be a major blow and setback for Pakistan Naval operations in East-Pakistan.[26] It diminished the possibilities of carry out the large scale of Pakistan naval operations in Bay of Bengal. It also eliminated further threat possessed by Pakistan Navy to Indian Eastern Naval Command. On reconnaissance mission, the Ghazi was ordered to report back to her garrison on 26 November, and admitted a report Naval Combatant Headquarter, NHQ. However, it was failed to return to her garrison. Anxiety grew day by day at the NHQ and NHQ had pressed frantic efforts to establish communications with the submarine failed to produce results. By 3 December prior to starting of the war, the doubts about the fate of submarine had already begun to agitate the commanders at the Naval Headquarter (NHQ).

On 5/6 December 1971, naval air operations were carried out Chittagong, Khulna, and Mangla harbours, and at ships in the Pussur river. The oil installations were destroyed at Chittagong, and the Greek merchant ship Thetic Charlie was sunk at the outer anchorage. On 7/8 December, the airfields of PAF were destroyed, and the campaign continued until 9 December. On 12 December, Pakistan Navy laid mines on amphibious landing approaches to Chittagong. This proved a useful trap for some time, and it had denied any direct access to Chittagong port for a long time, even after the instrument of surrender had been signed. The Indian Navy therefore decided to carry out an amphibious landing at Cox Bazar with the aim cutting off the line of re-treat for Pakistan Army troops. On 12 December, additional amphibious battalion was aboard on INS Vishwa Vijaya was sailed from Calcutta port. On the night of 15/16 December, the amphibious landing was carried out, immediately after IAF bombardment of the beach a day earlier. After fighting for days, the human cost was very high for Pakistani forces, and no opposition or resistance was offered by Pakistani forces to Indian forces. During this episode Eastern theatre, Indian forces suffered only 2 deaths in the operation. While, Pakistan forces was reported to suffered hundreds death. By the dawn of 17 December, Indian Navy was free to operate at will in the Bay of Bengal.

Furthermore, the successful Indian Air Operations and Operation Jackpot, led by the Bengali units with the support of Indian Army, undermined the operational capability of Pakistan Navy. Many naval officers (mostly Bengalis) had defected from the Navy and fought against the Pakistan Navy.[27] By the time Pakistan Defences Forces surrendered, the Navy had suffered the most damage as almost all of the gun boats, destroyer (PNS Sylhet), and the long-range submarine, PNS Ghazi, were lost in the conflict, including their officers.

An Alize aircraft takes off from Indian carrier Vikrant

On 16 December, at 16:13hrs, Deputy Command of Eastern Command and the Commander of Eastern Naval Command, Rear-Admiral Mohammad Shariff surrendered his Naval Command to Vice-Admiral R.N. Krishna Eastern Naval Command.[28] His TT Pistol is still placed in "cover glass" where his name is printed in big golden alphabets at the Indian Military Academy's Museum.[28] In 1972, U.S. Navy's Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and Indian Navy's Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sardarilal Mathradas Nanda also paid him a visit with basket of fruits and cakes which initially surprised him, and was concern of his health.[28] While meeting with them, Admiral Shariff summed up that:

At then end of conflict.... We [Eastern Naval Command] had no intelligence and hence, were both deaf and blind with the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force pounding us day and night....
—Admiral Mohammad Sharif telling Admiral Zumwalt in 1971[28]

Sinking of INS Khukri

INS Khukri
As the Indian military offensive in East Pakistan increases, the Pakistan Navy had dispatched her entire submarine squadron on both fronts. Codename Operation Falcon, the Pakistan Navy began their reconnaissance submarine operations by deploying PNS Hangor, a Daphné class submarine, near the coastal water of West-Pakistan, and PNS Ghazi, Tench class submarine long range submarine, near the coastal areas of East-Pakistan.
Hangor earned renown as she had sunk INS Khurki, the ASW frigate of Indian Navy.

According to the Lieutenant R. Qadri, an Electrical engineer officer at Hangor during the time, the assigned mission was considered quite difficult and highly dangerous, with the submarine squadron sailing under the assumption that the dangerous nature of this mission meant a great mortal risk to the submarine and her crew.

On the midnight of 21 November 1971, PNS Hangor, under the command of Commander Ahmed Tasnim, began her reconnaissance operations. Both PNS Ghazi and PNS Hangor maintained coordination and communication throughout patrol operations.

On 2 and 3 December, Hangor had detected a large formation of ships from Indian Navy's Western fleet which included cruiser INS Mysore. Hangor had passed an intelligence to Pakistan naval forces of a possible attack by the observed Indian Armada near Karachi. The Indian Naval Intelligence intercepted these transmissions, and dispatched two ASW frigates, INS Khukri and the INS Kirpan of 14th Squadron – Western Naval Command.

On 9 December 1971, at 1957 hours, Hangor sunk Khukri with two homing torpedoes. According to her commander, the frigate sank within the matter of two minutes.[29] The frigate sank with 192 hands on board. Hangor also attacked the INS Kirpan on two separate occasions, but the torpedoes had missed their target. Kirpan quickly disengaged and successfully evaded the fired torpedoes.

Attack on Karachi

An Indian Killer squadron missile boat that participated in the attack

On 4 December, the Indian Navy, equipped with P-15 Termit anti-ship missiles, launched Operation Trident against the port of Karachi. During this time, Karachi was home to the Headquarters of the Pakistan Navy as well as the backbone of Pakistan's economy. Karachi was also the hub of Pakistan's maritime trade, meaning that a blockade would be disastrous for Pakistan's economy. The defence of Karachi harbour was therefore paramount to the Pakistani High Command and it was heavily defended against any airstrikes or naval strikes. Karachi received some of the best defences Pakistan had to offer as well as cover from strike aircraft based at two airfields in the area. The Indian fleet lay 250 miles from Karachi during the day, outside the range of Pakistani aircraft, and most of these aircraft did not possess night-bombing capability.[30] The Pakistani Navy had launched submarine operations to gather intelligence on Indian naval efforts. Even so, with multiple intels provided by the submarines, the Navy had failed to divert the naval attacks, due to misleading intelligence and communications.
The Indian Navy's preemptive strike resulted in an ultimate success. The Indian missile ships successfully sunk the minesweeper PNS Muhafiz,[6][9][31][32] the destroyer PNS Khaibar[6][9][31][32][33] and the MV Venus Challenger[31][34][35] which, according to Indian sources, was carrying ammunition for Pakistan from the United States forces in Saigon.[32][35][36] The destroyer PNS Shah Jahan was damaged beyond repair.[6][31][32][33][34] The missile ships also bombed the Kemari oil storage tanks of the port which were burnt and destroyed causing massive loss to the Karachi Harbour.[6] Operation Trident was an enormous success with no physical damage to any of the ships in the Indian task group, which returned safely to their garrison.[6]

Map of Karachi, indicting Karachi Deep Sea port and Masroor Air Force Base (Click to enlarge).

Pakistan Airforce retaliated to these attacks by bombing Okha harbour scoring direct hits on fuelling facilities for missile boats, ammunition dump and the missile boats jetty.[37][38] Indians were ready for this and had already moved the missile boats to other locations to prevent any losses.[35] But the destruction of the special fuel tank prevented any further incursions until Operation Python.[35] On the way back from the bombing the PAF aircraft encountered an Alize 203 Indian aircraft and shot it down.[12][13]

On 6 December, a false alarm by a Pakistani Fokker aircraft carrying naval observers caused a friendly fire confrontation between Pakistan's Navy and Air Force. A PAF jet mistakenly strafed the frigate PNS Zulfikar, breaking off shortly after the ship got itself recognised by frantic efforts. The crew suffered some casualties besides the damage to ship. The ship was taken back to port for repair.[39]

The Indian Navy launched a second large-scale operation on the midnight of 8 and 9 December 1971. The operation, codenamed Operation Python, was commenced under the command of Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy Admiral S.M. Nanda.[40] The INS Vinash, a missile boat, and two multipurpose frigates, INS Talwar and INS Trishul participated in the operation. The attack squadron approached Karachi and fired four missiles. During the raid, the Panamanian vessel Gulf Star and the British ship SS Harmattan were sunk and Pakistan Navy's Fleet Tanker PNS Dacca received heavy damage.[6][9][32][41] More than 50% of Karachi's total fuel reserves were destroyed in the attack.[6][39] More than $3 billion[39] worth of economic and social sector damage was inflicted by the Indian Navy. Most of Karachi's oil reserves were lost and warehouses and naval workshops destroyed.[39] The operation damaged the Pakistani economy and hindered the Pakistan Navy's operations along the western coast.[42][43]


After the successful operations by Indian Navy, India had established complete control over the oil route from the Persian Gulf to Pakistani ports.[44] The Pakistani Navy's main ships were either destroyed or forced to remain in port. A partial naval blockade was imposed by the Indian Navy on the port of Karachi and no merchant ship could approach Karachi.[42][45][46] Shipping traffic to and from Karachi, Pakistan's only major port at that time, ceased. Within a few days after the attacks on Karachi, the Eastern fleet of Indian Navy had success over the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan. By the end of the war, the Indian Navy controlled the seas around both the wings of Pakistan.[43]

The War ended for both the fronts after the Instrument of Surrender of Pakistani forces stationed in East Pakistan was signed at Ramna Race Course in Dhaka at 16.31 IST on 16 December 1971, by Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi, Commander of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan and accepted by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding-in-chief of Eastern Command of the Indian Army.

The damage inflicted on the Pakistani Navy stood at 7 gunboats, 1 minesweeper, 1 submarine, 2 destroyers, 3 patrol crafts belonging to the coast guard, 18 cargo, supply and communication vessels, and large scale damage inflicted on the naval base and docks in the coastal town of Karachi. Three merchant navy ships – Anwar Baksh, Pasni and Madhumathi –[8] and ten smaller vessels were captured.[9] Around 1900 personnel were lost, while 1413 servicemen were captured by Indian forces in Dhaka.[47] According to one Pakistan scholar, Tariq Ali, the Pakistan Navy lost a third of its force in the war.[48]

Admiral Shariff wrote in a 2010 thesis that "the generals in Air Force and Army, were blaming each other for their failure whilst each of them projected them as hero of the war who fought well and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing Indians".[49] At the end, each general officers in the Air Force and Army placed General Niazi's incompetency and failure as responsible for causing the war, Sharif concluded.[49] Sharif also noted that:

The initial military success (Searchlight and Barisal) in regaining the law and order situation in East-Pakistan in March of 1971 was misunderstood as a complete success.... In actuality, the law and order situation deteriorated with time, particularly after September of the same year when the population turned increasingly against the [Pakistan] Armed Forces as well as the [Yahya's military] government. The rapid increase in the number of troops though bloated the overall strength, however, [it] did not add to our fighting strength to the extent that was required. A sizeable proportion of the new additions were too old, inexperienced or unwilling....
—Admiral Mohammad Sharif, Commander of Eastern Naval Command[49]


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  19. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p135
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