The Fleet Air Arm
The air boys once again lost the opportunity of carrying the war to the enemy as Vikrant was allowed to languish in dry dock. However, 300 Squadron consisting of 9 Sea Hawks and 1 Vampire Trainer were at the Jamnagar air base for weapon training from 1 September.
Ghazi continued in her patrol stations off the Kachchh and Bombay coasts and is said to have seen aircraft flying over her when she was snorkelling.
The squadron was placed under the operational control of Western Air Command and a strike on Badin was programmed for the dawn of 7 September. However, Pakistani B-57 bombers attacked Jamnagar on the night of 6/7 September damaging ground installations and the air traffic control tower but miraculously missing the Sea Hawks due to the ingenuity of the squadron officers. The squadron was then ordered to return for the air defence of Bombay and hence once again the Indian Fleet Air Arm failed to be blooded in war.
The Alizes of 310 Squadron were strung out operating from Cochin. Goa. Bombay, Jamnagar and even Punjab for reconnaissance and electronic warfare. But this air squadron had also to wait for success until 1971. But Pakistani war planes attacked the IAF stations of Kalaikunda. Bagdogra, Barrackpore and Gauhati in the Eastern sector, damaging over a dozen military aircraft which however drew no response from the IAF.
Pakistan detained three Indian vessels, SS Saraswati, Sakeela and Jala Rajendra which were in Karachi on 6 September. In all, 131 crew members and 2400 tons of cargo were detained. In addition, they impounded 3 sailing vessels, 19 steamers, and 37 flats of the River Steam Navigation Company and 22 steamers and 89 flats of other inland waterway corporations detaining 609 crew members. Only on 9 September did Pakistan issue a formal notification imposing contraband control with a list which also included food stuffs and personal effects.
Pakistani war planes attacked the IAF stations of Kalaikunda. Bagdogra, Barrackpore and Gauhati in the Eastern sector, damaging over a dozen military aircraft which however drew no response from the IAF.
In addition, they offloaded Indian cargo from 19 neutral vessels without any notice of war to neutral states. Prize courts were established and a custodian of property appointed for detained vessels and cargqes.
India considered this a violation of the fundamental principles of international law which required the application of timehonoured principles of public policy encompassing the principle of military necessity and the principle of humanity. Not only were these international principles dishonoured but freedom of navigation and safety of commerce were thrown overboard. In retaliation, India detained three Pakistani ships (13,980 dwt) and interned their inland waterways transport vessels and crews in West Bengal and Cachar. But with the ceasefire, India unilaterally returned the seized goods to Pakistan without waiting for the restoration of trade relations or the exchange of properties and assets.
Indian Fleet’s triangular vacillations
The Indian fleet continued to remain on the East coast until Pakistan launched a major offensive in the Chhamb Sector on 1 September 1965. Mysore, Ranjit, Khukri and Kuthar sailed from Vishakapatnam on 2 September for Bombay, refuelling at Cochin. Kirpan followed a day later. Incidentally, the “Type 14 frigates (Khukri, Kirpan and Kuthar) have no gun armament and are only equipped for anti-submarine warfare. Brahmaputra and Beas which were at Calcutta sailed on 3 September and reached Bombay in a poor material state on 7 September.
At Bombay, ships were fuelled, war outfits embarked and the officers and sailors were rearing to have a crack at their adversary. The sailors of Godavari and Gomati defending Cochin (from whom it is not clear) demanded that the destroyers sail to Karachi even without orders! Such was the high morale of the officers and sailors of the Iridian Navy. However, they were reduced to non-performance by confused bureaucrats despite the resoluteness of Lal Bahadur Shastri who encouraged the armed forces to inflict more damage on Pakistan before agreeing to a cease-fire.The unsatisfactory material state of ships continued to be a bane even in the 1971 conflict as will be later observed despite the expansion of both dockyards and computerization of inventory.
Not only were these international principles dishonoured but freedom of navigation and safety of commerce were thrown overboard.
The Indian fleet after a farewell lunch in Bombay was given an emotional farewell on the night of 10 September. Alizes, Seahawks and maritime reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian Air Force were to provide a modicum of air surveillance and air strikes at sea. At this juncture, an Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Defence sent a note on a file to the CNS stating that ‘the Navy was not to operate North of the latitude of Porbandar, and was also not to take or initiate offensive action at sea against Pakistan unless forced to do so by offensive action by the Pak forces’. At this time both the Defence Secretary, P.V.R. Rao and the Defence Minister Y.B. Chavan were out of the country.This file was later initialled by the Defence Minister and then by the Prime Minister at the insistence of the Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Soman, who was egged on by his deputy, Rear Admiral Kohli (later CNS).
The Indian fleet, which was much stronger than the Pakistani flotilla which had bombarded Dwarka, sailed out of Bombay dodging Ghazi and then proceeded North but with both hands tied behind their backs by higher civilian directives which had brought shame to a time-honoured service. The Navy’s stock was at the lowest in their home port of Bombay when air raid sirens had sounded although no air attack developed. Vikrant particularly attracted unjustifiable adjectives and had to live down her image as a ‘white elephant’ and wait for another six years to justify the investment in an aircraft carrier! Pakistan noted gleefully that the aircraft carrier captain was golfing in the true style of Drake who ‘played bowls before defeating the Spanish Armada’.
And to add shame to ignominy, the fleet which had intercepted two merchant ships, SS Steel Vendor and SS Steel Protector, on 13 September with arms bound for Pakistan was content to escort them to the Northern limits of their patrol with the merchant ships bidding an affectionate adieu to the Fleet Commander before disappearing over the horizon!4 The Navy had no premeditated plans to seek action at sea other than Operation Murga which consisted of the 14 Frigate Squadron taking up station astern of the cruiser in the event of gun action at sea.
The Pakistani flotilla was however almost at the end of its tether operating vintage Second World War ships continuously at sea for three weeks but which required gun action at sea to judge their operational efficiency.
The Indian fleet thus continued operating in a triangle with numerous breakdowns which reduced its numbers but nonetheless remained superior to the Pakistani flotilla with officers and sailors clamouring ‘Karachi Chalot (go to Karachi). Their wishes were only honoured in the next conflict. It was provide.nce that Ghazi’s torpedoes failed to find their mark. The Pakistani flotilla was however almost at the end of its tether operating vintage Second World War ships continuously at sea for three weeks but which required gun action atsea to judge their operational efficiency.The Western Front had in the meantime stabilized. Lahore was brought within artillery range of the Indian Army. The fuel and ammunition situation of Pakistan was also getting critical as she relied heavily on external supplies. New Delhi was upbeat although the Navy was clearly sidelined. General Chaudhuri who preferred to listen to his British buddies was content to keep the conflict localized in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. This prevented the Indian Navy and the Air Force to bring to bear their superiority on the Pakistani war machine.
The UN-sponsored cease-fire was brokered by Whitehall and Moscow although the Prime Minister was willing to prolong negotiations till the Indian Army inflicted significant losses on Pakistan. But General Chaudhuri surrendered a winning position by accepting an immediate cease-fire as he was told that the infantry was running short of ammunition. The logisticians had perhaps not taken into account the ammunition issued to units which were not in action and all it needed was re-allocation. This needed the intervention of a Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Defence to cancel the panic order for a billion more rounds of infantry ammunition. Incidentally, the Deputy Secretary in course of time became a respected defence analyst who nonetheless was himself sidelined in the 1971 conflict.
General Chaudhuri, on his own, advised Chavan to accept the cease-fire which was a relief to Pakistan who had genuinely come to the end of the road. The winning thrust was not driven home by India and the conflict ended in a stalemate with Pakistan failing to take Kashmir. Islamabad nevertheless claimed success in holding off the much bigger Indian Army.
The cease-fire came into effect on 23 September 1965 when both countries accepted the Security Council’s resolution of 20 September 1965. In January 1966, Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away at Tashkent after signing the accord. Ayub Khan helped carry his body which perhaps was not in the context of his aim of bringing India to her knees. Both sides claimed victory with the Pakistani public relations projecting a better picture than India’s negative attitude to the media and diplomats. Both sides made exaggerated claims, perhaps in good faith. The overall stalemate and disappointment spelt the doom of Ayub Khan’s uninterrupted military dictatorship from 1958 onwards and in a way ushered in a more power-hungry but debauched dictator.
…prevented the Indian Navy and the Air Force to bring to bear their superiority on the Pakistani war machine.
As a postscript, Lal Bahadur Shastri’s dim unitive stature and seemingly mild exterior tended to cloak his bold and firm leadership particularly after Nehru’s vascillations in using Shakti (power) to underwrite India’s national security. His advice to General Chaudhuri to bombard Lahore before accepting the cease-fire as also his reaction to China’s 1964 nuclear testing by giving the go-ahead to the calculations for the Subterranean Nuclear Explosion Project (SNEP) in January 1965 at the insistence of Dr Homi Bhabha, are examples of his strength of purpose. This was unfortunately thwarted by his untimely passing away as also by the tragic loss of Dr Homi Bhabha, the father of India’s Atomic Energy Programme, in an aircrash and the apathy of his successor, Dr Vikram Sarabhai. It was only after his death in 1971 that Indira Gandhi gave the go-ahead for conducting a Peaceful Nuclear Explosion (PNE) in May 1974 despite the advice of P.N. Haksar and P. N. Dhar, her successive principal secretaries.5
Fall-out of 1965 conflict
The lack of any higher direction of war was clearly brought out and the lessons were taken seriously during the next round. Further, although the Navy’s missions should stem from the missions of the ground forces, India failed to utilize their contiguous coastline to bring utmost pressure on Pakistan by imposing a total blockade, attack on harbours, offensive sweeps at sea, commando raids, bombardment from seawards and a spectrum of naval options which were readily available.
On her part Pakistan did not exploit the only submarine in the conflict arena in the sea denial role as was demonstrated by the Royal Navy in the Falklands campaign. The result was that there were no casualties on either side other than perhaps an Indian naval officer colliding with a colleague on a scooter in his endeavour to join his ship sailing for dangerous waters! This is not mere cynicism but explains the’ absence of any overall strategic perception compounded by a lack of war preparedness, which was highlighted time and again by defence analysts and more recently by the Rand Corporation.6
The winning thrust was not driven home by India and the conflict ended in a stalemate with Pakistan failing to take Kashmir. Islamabad nevertheless claimed success in holding off the much bigger Indian Army.
The aerial envelope was the major weakness which possibly did not allow the fleets to engage in a surface gun duel which could have been possible if the Alize’s enemy report on 11 September had been received by Flag Officer Commanding Indian Fleet. By the time the Pakistani forces were again detected by the Alize on the following day, they were beyond the radius of air strikes.
Intelligence was almost absent as the satellite and electronic era had not fully emerged in the 1971 conflict. The handling of press correspondents by New Delhi left much to be desired and Pakistan was able to project their impending defeat as a seeming success! Haji Pir Pass was returned and Lahore was not shelled. However, the morale of naval personnel remained high but tinged with disappointment with sailors genuinely clamouring for the bombardment of Karachi which albeit was carried out in the next round but by missiles.
The absence of Vikrant, in a way, brought a sense of parity at sea. The lack of unified direction of war only diffused the pressure that could have been put on Pakistan not only on their Western seaboard but also diffused India’s lack of resolve to attack wherever and whenever necessary and for as long a duration as required in view of her superior industrial and logistic base. It was also clear that training for war should be more qualitative than quantitative and weapons perforce must match the concepts of the types of warfare envisaged at sea. In short, readiness of forces, tactical games and more realistic exercises should be an integral part of the overall training.
In Pakistan, the understanding of naval warfare was even less satisfactory. Naval Headquarters at Karachi was separated from Defence Headquarters at Islamabad by a thousand miles. President Ayub had earlier reduced the country’s naval budget which resulted in the resignation of their Naval Chief, Vice Admiral H.M.S. Choudri. Hence, the only expansion for the next five years was the submarine arm which was inadequate to save the Pakistan Navy from a humiliating defeat in 1971.
The overall stalemate and disappointment spelt the doom of Ayub Khans uninterrupted military dictatorship from 1958 onwards and in a way ushered in a more power-hungry but debauched dictator.
And above all, it added a new dimension to East-West relations as East Pakistan remained naked in more ways than one. This led to the Awami League six-point formula for legitimate rights with more defence installations in East Pakistan particularly naval establishments. Dacca was convinced that Islamabad .believed that the defence of East Pakistan lay in the West, thus sowing the seed for the next round of IndoPak conflict following a civil war between Islamabad and Dacca.
The Nehru era saw the maturing of the various structures of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-reiigious democracy as also the erections of the temples of industry for the modernization of colonial India. The occupants of Lutyen’s magnificent structure on Raisana Hill at New Delhi were too preoccupied with the problems of decolonization and the need to give her citizens a better quality of life. Hence, national development was given priority over national security. Politicians supported by bureaucrats believed that all that was needed were foot soldiers in khaki to brush away the traditional pinpricks in the North-West and the North-East in spite of the Kashmir impasse and the interpretation of the MacMohan Line by Beijing.
The sea-blindness of New Delhi however continued unabated and led to the slow expansion of shipbuilding and seaborne trade which had little impact on the GNP. Hence, maritime security aspects such as SLOCS (Sealanes of Communications) which formed the basis of the maritime strategies of industrial nations cut little ice in the corridors of the South and North Blocks (Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Finance). India’s shipping tonnage also did not merit a short-term or long-term view for ensuring the protection of her sealanes. The translating of such requirements in naval terms required measures for the protection of sealanes, the imposing of a blockade, conducting landings on enemy coasts, mining the approaches to harbours and ensuring the safety of offshore islands and offshore assets.
Thus India neglected to modernize her ports or streamline her procedures and often turned a half blind eye to poaching, smuggling, pollution and drug trafficking more due to lack of resources than perhaps lack of will. The New Ocean Order, as we will observe in later chapters, which concerned the ownership exploration and exploitation of living and nonliving resources of the Exclusive Economic Zone, followed after two decades. Therefore, the maritime ingredients for national development and national security were left largely unattended again due to ignorance and sea-blindness rather than negligence.
The lack of unified direction of war only diffused the pressure that could have been put on Pakistan not only on their Western seaboard but also diffused India’s lack of resolve to attack wherever and whenever necessary…
The big powers, who had earlier used the seas for commerce, colonization and emigration, now turned to the oceans for confrontation and competition on a global scale. It is the global reach of sea power that catapulted the United States and the Soviet Union to superpower status. This perception was encouraged by the discovery of offshore hydrocarbons, seabed minerals, and sea fish nutrition. Sea force and marine technology enabled the rich nations to plunder the water planet without any opposition from the developing countries.
New Delhi’s investment in the seas remained well below the national requirements as the understanding of seas around peninsular India was confined to a small minority whose views were drowned by the demography of the voters of the Indo-Gangetic plains.
In this continental mindset, sea power was the casualty as the naval budget did not even touch the 13 per cent of the present defence budget. Nevertheless, fingers were inevitably pointed at the fleet’s unsatisfactory performance in war without giving them adequate sustenance in peace. It was only after the demise of superpower confrontation that the seas were utilized for cooperation and conservation and the Navy recognized as an instrument of state policy which forms the subject of the last chapter.