This Day in History (4-Mar-1961) – First Indian aircraft carrier naval fighter vessel ”I.N.S. Vikrant” was commissioned in Belfast

Vikrant was ordered as Hercules by the Royal Navy (UK) in 1943. However, with the end of World War II, her construction was suspended in May 1946 and she was laid up for possible future use. In January 1957 she was sold to India. She was towed to Belfast to complete her construction and for modifications by Harland and Wolff. A number of improvements to the original design were ordered by the Indian Navy. Vikrant was commissioned into the Indian Navy by then Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Vijayalakshmi Pandit on 4 March 1961 in Belfast. Captain Pritam Singh was the first commanding officer of the carrier. She formally joined the Indian Navy’s Fleet in Bombay in November 1961, when she was received at Ballard Pier by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

In its 36 years of glorious service INS Vikrant was at the centre of action in the 1971 operations for liberation of Bangladesh. On the morning of 4 December 1971, Vikrant’s eight Sea Hawk aircraft launched an air raid on Cox’s Bazar from 60 nautical miles (110 km) offshore. On the evening of 4 December, the air group struck Chittagong Harbour. Later strikes targeted Khulna and Port of Mongla. A Press Trust of India report of 4 December read, “Chittagong harbour ablaze as ships and aircraft of the Eastern Naval Fleet bombed and rocketed. Not a single vessel can be put to sea from Chittagong.” Air strikes continued until 10 December 1971 with not a single Sea Hawk lost. During the war, the crew of Vikrant earned two Mahavir Chakras and 12 Vir Chakras. The Pakistan Navy deployed the submarine Ghazi to specifically target and sink Vikrant. However, Ghazi sank off Visakhapatnam harbour.

INS Vikrant was decommissioned on 31 Jan 1997, after 36 years of glorious service under the Indian ensign. She was preserved as a museum ship in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, until it was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns. It is presently being decommissioned at breaking yard in Mumbai by IB Commercial Pvt Ltd.

Another INS Vikrant  (IAC-I) is the first Vikrant-class aircraft carrier built by Cochin Shipyard Limited for the Indian Navy and the first aircraft carrier built in India and is due to be commissioned in 2018.