On 3 December 1971, Pakistan carried out raids on six Indian airfields. India retaliated swiftly, with the Indian Navy’s Operation Trident being one of the most decisive missions being carried out against the enemy.
The success of Operation Trident is celebrated as Navy Day on 4 December every year. Here is what it was all about.
The Indian Army launched full-scale operations in the Eastern Sector on the night intervening 3 and 4 December.
The Indian Navy, meanwhile, came up with an audacious plan to stun the Pakistani Navy.
The objective of Operation Trident was clear – crippling Karachi harbour would render the Pakistani Navy incapable of any major intervention as the Indian Army took on the enemy in East Pakistan.
Three missile boats – INS Nipat, INS Nirghat, and INS Veer – left Okha, Gujarat, on the afternoon of 4 December. They were armed with four Styx missiles each.
Two anti-submarine vessels and a tanker joined along the way. The aim was to reach close to Karachi by night and prepare for a surprise attack on the Pakistani navy stronghold.
How Operation Trident Took Pakistan By Surprise
The boats reached close to Karachi by about 10.30 pm when one of the boats noticed a blip on the radar, indicating an approaching enemy vessel. Orders were given and a missile was fired by INS Nirghat.
But the vessel, later identified as Pakistani destroyer PNS Khaibar, was still afloat. Interestingly, the panic-stricken and stunned Pakistani commander had believed it to be an air attack! A second missile was fired and it sank.
By this time, the Indian Navy boats had spotted two other Pakistani vessels, a cargo ship carrying ammunition for the Pakistani armed forces and a destroyer accompanying it. INS Nipat fired two missiles and sank them.
INS Nipat then turned its attention to the Karachi port, firing a missile at a fuel depot in the harbor and destroying it. Shortly thereafter, INS Veer came across a minesweeper and sank it by firing a missile.
Operation Trident had achieved its objective within 90 minutes. The boats had fired six missiles, sinking four enemy ships, and destroying the fuel depot in Karachi harbour. The Indian Navy vessels sailed back. They arrived in Mumbai to a tumultuous reception on 6 December.
4 December is celebrated as Navy Day to mark the success of Operation Trident. Incidentally, 3 December is observed as “Killer Day”. On the way back to Mumbai, one of the sailors on INS Nipat had written the word “Killers” in red paint. From that day on, the squadron was christened the “Killers”.
Steady Build-Up To The 1971 War
The past few months had seen a steady build-up to a full-scale war though India “officially” kept ruling out any such possibility to retain the element of surprise.
Through October and November, the Indian Army had been frequently crossing the order in the Eastern Sector, into enemy territory of what was then East Pakistan.
One such operation, known as the Battle of Garibpur, saw an infantry battalion of the Indian Army take a strategic location on the highway from India towards Jessore.
Headed by Major Daljit Singh Narang, a squadron of the 45 Cavalry comprising 14 PT-76 tanks decimated an enemy squadron and took control of Garibpur.
On 3 December, Pakistan decided to carry out pre-emptive strikes against six Indian airfields. This prompted then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to give the go-ahead for a full-scale war against Pakistan. Operation Trident was one of the first, and most successful, missions carried out in the 1971 Indo-Pak War.