Missiles Blast Pakistan Navy — IAF bombs Karachi
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Issue Book Excerpt: War in the Indian Ocean | Date : 27 Nov , 2015

In the meantime, Khukri and Kirpan returned to Bombay with Kuthar in tow, as the latter suffered a major breakdown in the engine room. Kadmat had also a machinery malfunction and had to reduce her speed. She was detached by FOCWEF and while looking for a Pakistan merchant ship, she encountered a darkened dhow bound for Karachi from Dubai with gold worth Rs 65 lakh which was seized and handed over to the Government Mint at Bombay.

…it was necessary for another missile strike to break the will of the Pakistani forces.

The weather was boisterous as described by the Flag Captain, Russi Ghandi, on 7 December and Operation Python was again postponed to the night of 8 December. After some hesitation, in view of the sea state, which made the Osas ‘bob up and down like a yo-yo’, Trishul and Talwar were detached to escort Vinash for another attack on Karachi.

En route, Talwar was ordered to sink a small vessel with a powerful transmitter which was relaying the position of the Indian ships to Maritime Headquarters, Karachi. Talwar opened fire with her main armament of 4.5 mm gun and then closed in with 40 mm guns sinking the floating communication link.

At 2345 (2315 1ST), Vinash requested permission to engage the targets as his radar had just been restored after a temporary breakdown. Vinash fired all four missiles from a distance of 15 to 10 miles from Karachi. To quote the official account of the Pakistan Navy published by Naval Headquarters, Islamabad in 1991,

The first missile flew over the ships at the anchorage, crossed Manora Island and crashed into an oil tank at the Keamari oil farm. There was a huge explosion and flames shot up so high that Qamar House, a multistoreyed building in the city, was clearly visible. The fires caused by the attack on 4 December had only been put out a day earlier. Fires once again raged in the oil farm after a shortlived respite. A distressing sight no doubt for everyone, but particularly for those who had risked their lives in a tenacious battle against the oil farm fires earlier.3

The first missile flew over the ships at the anchorage, crossed Manora Island and crashed into an oil tank at the Keamari oil farm. There was a huge explosion and flames shot up so high that Qamar House, a multistoreyed building in the city, was clearly visible.

The other three missiles sank the merchant vessel Hannattan and damaged SS Gulf Star as also the Pakistan Navy tanker Dacca. The special report submitted by Dacca merits reproduction as it is a first-hand view from the receiving end of a missile attack.

At about 2245 (2215 1ST) a pale light seen travelling towards Manora parallel to the breakwater and when it was abreast the AA School it turned right and directly hit the oil tank which immediately burst into flames. A little later, another light was seen travelling from the same direction and hit the ship anchored very close to the breakwater; the ship sank immediately. At that moment, action stations were sounded and in no time the ship had manned her guns and was ready to engage the targets.

In the meantime, a third light was seen travelling towards another ship at the Southern corner of the anchorage. She caught fire immediately. A little later, a bright light was seen coming up from behind the horizon gaining height on the port bow (ship was lying 280 degree – 100 degrees). It appeared stationary for some time and then rushed steeply towards the ship. It was engaged by the port guns. It hit the tanker on the port side piercing No.7 port FFO tank just above the water line. It ripped open the cargo and jungle decks. The motor boat and spare fuel hoses caught fire immediately. Abandon ship was piped. A number of officers and men jumped into the sea but eight officers and 37 CPOs and sailors remained on board.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Dacca continued to state that ‘another ball of light was seen approaching’. Once again it was thought that it was an air attack and searchlights were switched on from the port defences to locate the aircraft. At about the same time an air attack was directed at the P AF air bases in Karachi. No damage was observed in the port area or in the vicinity of the oil tanks He continues, The approaching missile was reported by lookouts on Manora Island and the information was passed to the Air Defence Sector Operation Centre at Korangi by Commodore Commanding Karachi (COMKAR). Perceived by those who saw it to be an aircraft, it was not engaged because of the gun restrictions in force and not a single shot was fired as the missile whizzed past over the harbour defences and plunged into the oil tank. Nearly six minutes after the missile hit the tank, a tremendous barrage of fire was let loose by anti-aircraft guns in harbour when air raid warning ‘Red’ was promulgated at 2248 (2318 1ST) and gun restrictions lifted. Star shells were fired by the gunnery establishment, PNS Himalaya which added to the confusion as the harbour reverberated to the sounds of gunfire together with exploding tanks in the Keamari area.4

It appeared stationary for some time and then rushed steeply towards the ship. It was engaged by the port guns. It hit the tanker on the port side piercing No.7 port FFO tank just above the water line.

Lieutenant Commander Jerath of Vinash on climbing out of the ‘citadel’ of the missile boat to the open bridge observed that ‘he saw the horizon lit up’. He also received the following message from Trishul: ‘This is the best Diwali we have seen.’

IAF bombs Karachi area

Air Commodore Badhwar has since clarified that the No. 35 Canberra Squadron mounted an air attack consisting of four aircraft from Jamnagar and an additional four Canberras from Pune on the night of 8 December (and not 9 December as stated by Air Chief Marshal Lal on page 294 of his biography) The target was Drigh Road which was attacked at 2200 1ST by a section of Canberras coming in from the East and skirting the radar stations of Badin and Talhar as per the tactical routing. Wing Commander Badhwar who was leading the first section stated that he found the aluminium oil tanks which were not designated as targets too tempting. He therefore released his 1000 Ib MC bombs from a height of 7500 feet, to avoid ack ack fire, on a cluster of tanks. It was a dark night and after releasing the bombs at a distance of 3.5 nautical miles from the target and at a speed of 350 knots, he maintained a westerly heading until over the sea and then turned South to return to base in time for dinner.

The official Pakistan version states that ‘the chance attack of IAF at about the same time as the missile attack has led to a controversy between the IAF and the Indian Navy for claiming credit for the damage to the oil tanks at Keamari’. However, this has been since cleared up as the Canberras attacked at about 2200 (1ST). The missile attack by Vinash was at 2315 (1ST). This difference of 30 minutes between Indian and Pakistan standard times, seemingly gave rise to this controversy. The eyewitness version which is contained in the official history of the Pakistan Navy has been corroborated by Pakistani naval, air force and civilian authorities after an adequate cooling-down period. This should lay to rest the various claims for the destruction of the vital oil storage tanks at Keamari.

Wing Commander Badhwar who was leading the first section stated that he found the aluminium oil tanks which were not designated as targets too tempting.

It is now clear that the Keamari tanks were first hit by missiles from seaward on the night of 4 December when two tanks caught fire which were put out on 6 December. The tanks were again struck by a missile on the night of 8 December at 2315 when extensive fires raged for days with thick black smoke blanketing the city. This was also confirmed by the Soviet satellite pictures as also by Pakistani officers years later when they met on board merchant ships. This in no way diffuses the gallant IAF attacks on the heavily defended air bases of Masroor and Drigh Road near Karachi which had for a short time stranded Pakistani bombers from taking off as a culvert leading from the dispersal to the runway had been destroyed in the first air attack on Masroor air base.

Further, there is confirmation that IAF Canberras carried out an air attack in the vicinity of the port at about 2200 on the night of 8 December. As is well known, all dockyards and ports have various storage tanks located in its periphery containing fuels and lubricants which are ready for use by ships and submarines. At Karachi, these tanks are in the dockyard, a little below the Keamari oil farm. The result of an attack from a height of 7500 feet and from a distance of 3.5 nautical miles could hardly have been observed by the air crey.; with the bomber travelling at 350 knots on a dark mooilless night.

It is also obvious that not having been at the receiving end of a missile attack, the high parabolic track of the subsonic Styx missile was mistaken for conventional air attacks. It was only later, after the eyewitness account given by the Commanding Officer of PNS Dacca, Captain S. Q. Raza, who was deservedly awarded the Sitara-i-Jurrat, and confirmed by minesweeper Munsif which had gone to pick up Dacca’s crew who had jumped overboard that India was conducting missile warfare.

The official Pakistan version states that the chance attack of IAF at about the same time as the missile attack has led to a controversy between the IAF and the Indian Navy for claiming credit for the damage to the oil tanks at Keamari.

The eleven missiles which were fired sank the destroyer Khaibar, minesweeper Muhafiz as also the merchant ship Harmattan, Venus Challenger and damaged SS Gulf Star and the naval tanker Dacca which ‘survived the attack’. In addition, a Styx missile struck the Keamari oil tanks on the nights of 4 and again 8 December.

Pakistani Naval Headquarters thereafter issued an order on 9 December to reduce the ammunition outfits of warships which was perhaps unpardonable during conflict. However, they programmed short random sorties at high speeds for designated ships. This illustrated the paralysis that had crept into the Pakistan Navy after the missile attack as ships were specifically ordered to take shelter behind merchant ships to prevent the Styx missiles from locking on to them. As the official history of the Pakistan Navy forthrightly admitted what was well known, ‘The neglect of the Navy over several decades came through clearly in the 1971 war.’

The third missile attack designated Operation Triumph scheduled for 10 December was postponed and by the time it’ was reintroduced, the instruments of surrender had been signed. Thus ended the missile warfare in the Indian Ocean. It is interesting to note that the next missile attack in this warm ocean was during the Iran-Iraq war in 1981 when the Indian bulk carrier Rishi Vishwamitra was hit by Iraqi missiles in the Persian Gulf with the object of paralysing Iranian oil exports.

Operation Grand Slam

On 8 December 1994 after Operatipn Python was executed, the Fleet Commander handed over tactical command to Mysore for the bombardment of the Makran Coast on the night of 8/9 December with the intention to burn to sink to destroy’ Pakistani installations. This was to coincide with the missile attack on Karachi.

…after Operatipn Python was executed, the Fleet Commander handed over tactical command to Mysore for the bombardment of the Makran Coast on the night of 8/9 December with the intention to burn to sink.

Mysore, Ranjit and Betwa shaped course for the Makran Coast to carry out Operation Grand Slam. However, soon after, a merchantman was seen to turn away from this Bombardment Group and thereafter the W/T Office reported that the merchant vessel was transmitting the presence of three enemy warships. Both Mysore and Ranjit fired across her bows. The vessel stopped engines, switched on her lights, raised a white flag and identified herself as Madhumati of the Pakistan Shipping Corporation bound for Singapore with a cargo of Basmati rice. The boarding party from Mysore instructed Madhumati to hoist the Indian naval ensign superior to the Pakistani flag as per the rules of war and escorted her to Bombay. Perhaps this unintentional intervention by Madhumati saved Pakistan from a bombardment by warships, which, according to those who were at the receiving end as at Genoa, Normandy, Korea, Vietnam and Falklands, are of the opinion that it was the most frightening experience in their lives.

However, this diversion and the knowledge that their position was compromised, the Western fleet which found itself more Southwards, once again postponed the bombardment of the Pakistani coast and returned to Bombay on 15 December 1971 by a circuitous route skirting ‘Goa’. Hence, the fleet manoeuvred in a rectangle in the Arabian Sea from 24 degrees North to 15 degrees North and to use the favourite expression of a distinguished Flag Officer were ‘like Maltese taxis dashing around, with no urgency to reach’ their destination’!

REFERENCES

  1. Air Chief Marshal P. C. Lal, My Years with the IAF, pp. 294-298.
  2. Story of the Pakistan Navy, History Section, Naval HQ, Islamabad, 1991, p. 345.
  3. Story of the Pakistan Navy, p. 345.
  4. Story of the Pakistan Navy, History Section, Naval HQ, Islamabad, 1991, p. 352. p. 322. pp. 306-26. p. 327.
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Vice Admiral Mihir K. Roy

Vice Admiral Mihir K. Roy

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