Pakistan’s Naval headquarters was based at the historic and strategic port of Karachi here almost their entire fleet was concentrated. Karachi not only represented the area of maximum strategic importance, but also was also critical for Pakistan’s external trade and maritime interests, meaning that a blockade would be disastrous for Pakistan’s economy. For these reasons, the port received some of the best defence Pakistan had to offer as well as cover from strike aircraft based at two airfields in the proximity.
To counter India’s involvement in Bangla Desh freedome struggle, on December 3rd, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) flew sorties against 11 airfields in India, under Operation Chengiz Khan in an attempt to reduce the numerical superiority held by the Indian military. Indian Air Force (IAF) retaliated later in the evening, starting 1971 war. On 4th December Indian Navy launched Operation Trident and caused heavy damages to Karachi port without any damage to any Indian ship.
On the 8th December night, under operation Python, the missile boat INS Vinash escorted by the frigates INS Talwar and INS Trishul set course for Karachi at high speed. En route, electronic emissions were detected on a Pakistan Naval frequency, which were being monitored. It was appreciated that a vessel with a powerful transmitter was reporting the presence of the force to Maritime headquarters Karachi. The vessel was soon sighted and Talwar opened fire, blasting the communication craft to pieces. At 2300 hrs, the group arrived off Karachi and detected a group of ships on radar. When around 12 miles off Karachi, after some careful calculation, Vinash fired all her 4 missiles at her contacts, 3 of which were ships and the other a coastal target.
Python was another successful operation by the Indian Navy. The Pakistani fuel reserves for the sector were destroyed. India had established complete control over the oil route from the Persian Gulf to Pakistani ports. Shipping traffic to and from Karachi, Pakistan’s only major port at that time, ceased. 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.
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.