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who served aboard INS Vikrant in the War of 1971. Now join us to thank and honour them.

THANK THE BRAVEHEARTS

Read first-hand accounts of the brave men who served onboard the INS Vikrant below.

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Down the Memory Lane

Commander V Divakaran

Down the Memory Lane- My Vikrant Days

I do vaguely recall how we got into the frenzy of 1971 war. It was sometime in May 1971 when the Naval Squadrons INAS 300, SeaHawks and 310,Alizes returned to base in Goa after routine exercises in the Western Front. It was indeed at a short notice that we were directed to embark onboard INS Vikrant for a short spell, presumably for another Fleet Exercise. Hence I (like many of my squadron mates) took just a pair of uniform/dress and rushed back. After parking my newly purchased Ambassador car, outside 310 Squadron hangar, we got into the aircraft and took off, one after the other, least realising that we were in for the long haul.
Immediately after all aircraft of both Squadrons landed onboard , there was an announcement ‘Clear lower decks’. This meant that there was an important message to be passed down to one and all. The entire Ship's Company (which means all officers and sailors not on essential duties) were to assemble on the flight deck. While eagerly awaiting for the most important announcement, we observed a speck over the horizon, which turned out to be a helicopter approaching us.

After the helicopter landed on board, we saw Rear Admiral Kuruvila, then Flag Officer Commanding, Western Fleet, taking a brisk walk to the dais to make that historic announcement. If I recall, what he said with a poker-face, was somewhat like this (not verbatim), "Gentlemen, sorry to have called you back at such a short notice which was unavoidable due to political and military compulsions. War with Pakistan is inevitable and possibly imminent but at this juncture, I am not in a position to say anything more on that.But all that I can say now is just this that you are here to stay ( onboard INS Vikrant) till the war is over. When and how long, well, I leave to your imagination.” Wishing us 'Happy Hunting and Good Luck ', he left before a stunned audience could gather its composure. However, after the initial flurry of excitement , it was business as usual, day and night flying , planning and preparing for the 'D' day, which took six long months thereafter. Ultimately, when the war was over and we finally returned to Dabolim (Goa)our base in Jan 1972, after eight months at sea, to my dismay, I found my car,my proud possession, reduced to be a total wreck, being exposed to the vagaries of the torrential heavy rains of the South West Monsoon. It took a few months and all of my hard-earned savings to get her back on road, since insurance did not cover such an eventuality! However, in retrospect, no regrets at all, considering what we could achieve during those eventful days and being privileged to be part of a legendary victory , worthy to be etched in Golden letters in the annals of our maritime history. During this period of anxiety and uncertainty, despite being mentally and physically exhausted, I should say that no one complained or 'reported sick'. What more, no one felt insecure, thanks to Mother's care and concern. For us , INS Vikrant was not just a chunk of steel or just a shelter to live, but she had a 'soul' of her own, and in her we had always found a caring mother, anxiously awaiting for our safe return. A bond developed over the long periods of our association. Especially during war, when there were so much of restrictions, with total electronic silence imposed, after every gruelling mission, finding one's way back to Mother over the vast expanse of the sea with no beacon, radar, navigation aids (neither there were any deck lights & land-marks to guide us till the final call), itself was a demanding task. However, we had reposed full faith not only in the professional skill of each air crew chosen for the task, but also in the care and comfort we received,from our Logistic and tech support team, once back in her lap. It was such a huge sense of physical and emotional security we derived, the solace and soothing experience that words could seldom define.

It is all about emotions, pride, attachments, comradeship and selfless service. But that is what a soldier’s life is all about and what makes them stand out as a different lot.

R Adm Santosh Kumar Gupta, MVC

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The War From Below Decks

Master chief petty officer NS Ghelot(RETD)

The War From Below Decks

My war wasn’t played out in the skies or on the deck, but in the levels below which housed the crucial electrical and power subsystems of INS Vikrant. I was stationed in the boiler room those days as the Leading Mechanical Engineer.

When it was apparent that there was going to be war, a debate sparked up amongst top-level Navy officers about INS Vikrant (see Adm. Nanda’s story). The question was: was INS Vikrant ready to fight a war? To those who served on the mighty ship there was never a question of not participating, in spite of the ship having engine troubles much before the war had started. Keeping the engines running smoothly was one of the biggest challenges facing us, but we weren’t fazed. As we had spent most of the months before the war getting familiar with the machines and subsystems in the electric and power units of the ship, that knowledge came in very handy as we managed to keep INS Vikrant running long enough for hundreds of sorties to fly and wreak havoc over East Pakistan.

Though all in all everything went smoothly, it didn’t mean there weren’t any close calls. One time I was on duty at the emergency power station. This is the power that must be switched on immediately in case the main power gives way. A moment’s delay and the whole of INS Vikrant would go dark and powerless. Such an event would be disastrous as this meant that the ship would be powerless and could not launch any more sorties or carry out any missions. And in a massive ship like INS Vikrant, restarting the complete power systems meant that crucial time would be lost.

As we spent long hours at our posts, to keep refreshed, we used to have small tea breaks. During one such break, I decided to carry my cup with me back to the power station instead of spending time at the mess. When I reached the station, to my surprise there was nobody there at that moment. My replacement had been called to the boiler room because of some issue. It was just my luck that the signal for turning on emergency power came when I reached the controls. I got to the job immediately, ensuring the ship didn’t go dark even for a second. I then breathed a huge sigh of relief.

In those few months we embodied and showcased the true spirit of INS Vikrant and the Indian Navy.

Master Chief Petty Officer NS Gehlot (Retd.),
INS Vikrant Boiler Room Engineer, 1971 War

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The shock of war

Master Chief Electrical Artificer Tejinder Singh Ahluwalia (Retd)

The shock of war

During the 1971 War, I was serving onboard INS Vikrant. I was transferred from INS Khukri just before the war. I was responsible for Catapult Control system (the system that launches the aircraft from the flight deck), Arresting Gear Hydraulic Systems, and Flight Deck Automation including the aircraft elevators/lifts used to ferry the planes to and from the hangar below the flight deck. In short, I was among those responsible for smooth take off and landing of the fighter planes.

I remember the anxiety and bravado among us, especially when the call for The ACTION STATIONS was given. Then everybody had to get on duty at their respective positions to man the equipment/systems for continuous operations. the war.

The electromechanical systems for the catapults, arrestors and lifts used DC supply. INS Vikrant in those days had the Ward Leonard System for controlling the speed of electrical motors. The maintenance and operation of these machines was my responsibility. For these systems to operate correctly, the motors/generators commutators had to be smooth to avoid sparking at the carbon brushes. Normally one switches off the motors/generators to carry out the polishing of the commutators to make them smooth by rubbing crocus paper (a kind of sand paper) on the commutator. However, as we could not afford any down time on the systems during the war, I did this while the motors/generator sets were running! I would feel the electric shock but due to existence of the situation that was nothing to be feared. We all wanted to perform our duties to the best of our ability and beyond. We were the valiant sailors onboard INS VIKRANT.

As I said before, before being posted to INS Vikrant, I was serving on board INS Khukri. After my transfer from INS Khukri I had no time to inform my parents and friends. On 9th December, 1971 our ship INS Khukri was attacked by a Pakistani submarine, and she sank to the bottom of the sea with all men on board (there were few survivors who were picked up by the sister ship). When the news came out in the media (unknown to us at that time because we were keeping radio silence), my family and friends received a huge shock as they thought that I have gone down along with the ship. So when I could finally contact them, it was as if I had come back from the dead. I was truly lucky to have been posted to INS Vikrant, the Invincible victor of 1971.

Master Chief Electrical Artificer Tejinder Singh Ahluwalia (Retd),

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INS Vikrant’s Men In Black

Lieutenant J C V Tamhane (Retd),
Head of INS Vikrant’s Diving Squad, 1971 War

INS Vikrant’s Men In Black

During October & November 1971, the clouds of war had started gathering on the horizon. This was the hardest time for my ship INS Vikrant and her air squadrons to get operationally ready, sharpening their claws to make sure that it will be D-day right from the start and yet wait with utmost patience, anchored out of the enemy’s reach at Port Blair and later Port Cornwallis. The 310 squadron to which I belonged carried out day and night flying operations mainly for reconnaissance to locate unfriendly or suspicious ships and submarines. Being the only qualified diving officer in the fleet positioned there, I was placed in charge of the ship’s team of divers, and was on alert almost day and night. Here are few stories of our daredevilry underwater.

The enemy had a submarine – the PNS Ghazi – when we had none. The submarine could not attack any ship anchored in the shallow waters of the Andamans with her torpedoes. Yet it was possible for the submarine to wait in deeper waters about half a kilometre away and send commando divers to attack us. They were to swim underwater till they could reach our ships (INS Vikrant and its escorts INS Kamorta and INS Brahmaputra) and attach mines to the propellers which were sitting ducks. Crippling Mother would make her air power ineffective, causing a heavy blow to India's war strategy.

To counter this threat, we had sailors positioned on the upper decks to look for suspicious movement in waters around. The diving team remained ready and alert to carry out ship-bottom searches and remove and defuse any mine placed by enemy divers. To this end the diving team exercised frequently and fearlessly when anchored in the shark-infested waters off the Andamans, at times in the night also. On one occasion while a diver was doing ship-bottom search, a shark was spotted about 100 feet away. Emergency action was taken to pull up the diver in the boat while other measures were taken to divert the shark away.

One night there was a report from a lookout sailor that he saw a suspicious thing floating near the ship, which vanished in seconds. The weather was adverse, it was pitch dark and the waves were swelling almost ten feet high. Yet our fine divers immediately donned their gear and jumped into the water to ensure that no mine was placed on the ship’s bottom. Luckily after an extensive search, it proved to be a false alarm and everyone sighed with relief.

On another occasion one of the fleet’s ships had a fishing net entangled in the propeller. INS Vikrant’s diving team went for assistance and cut the thick nylon net with knives. The whole operation lasted for four hours.

Finally we received orders to sail north towards Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) as war broke out on 3rd December. The diver’s team, thoroughly tested by the events above, was ready for any eventuality. Luckily, none happened, and the rest is history.

Lieutenant J C V Tamhane (Retd),
Head of INS Vikrant’s Diving Squad, 1971 War

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The Two Diwalis

Lt. Commander Bashamber Chand (Retd.)
310 Squadron Flight Mechanic, 1971 War

The Two Diwalis

October 1971. On the day of Diwali, INS Vikrant was at Madras Harbour. It was clear that war was approaching, so the ship was being stocked with the ammunitions required for the war – bombs and rockets for the fighter squadrons, as well as munitions for the INS Vikrant’s own anti-aircraft guns. All the staff on board were engaged in this activity and nobody was allowed to go on shore leave. People outside the harbour were celebrating Diwali with firecrackers, and we could see and hear them. Knowing that we would be disappointed at not being able to join the celebrations, the commanding officer of INS Vikrant, Capt. Swaraj Prakash (later V. Adm.) addressed everyone on board through the ship’s broadcast system, “Do you hear there? Do you hear there? This is the Captain speaking. Boys, we couldn’t celebrate Diwali here due to the prevailing circumstances, but I assure you, we will celebrate Diwali at Chittagong later”.

These words of our Commanding Officer gave extra energy to the tired sailors then, and we redoubled our efforts. His announcement would prove to be true when the war began. Our TIGERS and COBRAS bombarded Cox’s Bazaar, Chittagong, Chalna, Khulna and Barisal harbours and the Ek Hazari, Aath Hazari air strips during the war, winning the ship many War Decorations. When the first bombing sortie came back, we celebrated like it was Diwali, and even garlanded the pilots with currency notes!

Lt. Commander Bashamber Chand (Retd.)
310 Squadron Flight Mechanic, 1971 War

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The Midnight Repair

Chief Mech (AL) Kodoth Damodaran Nair (Retd.),
Air Electrical Branch, 300 Squadron, 1971 War

The Midnight Repair

During the 1971 War, I was in Aviation Electrical and Instruments (Air Electrical) Branch of Naval Aviation, working as a supervisor, with the 300 Squadron. We were given the responsibility of servicing all aircraft belonging to my squadron prior to and after sortie operations, as well as, the diagnosis and rectification of any defects. We were responsible for providing serviceable aircrafts for the required operations, often under intense time pressure (see Cmde Gurnam Singh’s story).

While INS Vikrant and her squadrons lay in wait in the Andamans waiting for war, there were regular screenings of films on board ship to offset the tedium. It is here that I got the chance to watch many of the good films of the times, both Indian as well as foreign. Another memory is that of waiting for mail. Once we wrote our letters, a helicopter would fly out to the nearest mail office for them to be posted, and bring the return mail back. It used to take almost eight days for us to receive replies from our families. All of us used to wait with great expectations for the announcement over the PA, which said, “Mail is ready for distribution” .

One memorable incident that I recall now occurred during preparations prior to the war. A Sea Hawk aircraft of our squadron was grounded in the Andaman Islands due to some serious technical issues (see Cdr Shahdadpuri’s story). Along with Lt. Shahdadpuri (now Cdr.), I was flown to Port Blair to try to rectify the issues on this aircraft as it was indispensable to the war effort. We discovered, upon investigation, that the aircraft faced an issue that required spares to be flown in from INS Vikrant. Spares arrived on the evening of the same day, along with our Squadron AEO Lt. Gurnam Singh (now Cmde.). We worked through the night and into early morning. We made the aircraft serviceable enough to be flown back to INS Vikrant in record time. Our Squadron commander (R. Adm. S K Gupta) himself flew the aircraft back to ship, and we were happy that this aircraft went on to take an active part in the war without any further incidents.

Chief Mech (AL) Kodoth Damodaran Nair (Retd.),
Air Electrical Branch, 300 Squadron, 1971 War

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A potboiler in the engine room

Lt Commander DS Yadav (Retd.),
Engine Room Artificer, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

A potboiler in the engine room

During my tenure on INS Vikrant, I was doing the duties of Chief of the Watch in the aft engine room, i.e. complete control of the aft main engines and steam propulsion system in the Aft Engine Room. The ship had its share of engineering problems like failure of the centreline aircraft lift, boiler sweating etc (see Adm. Nanda’s story), which could put the ship out of action, but such was the motivation of the crew that these problems, which would otherwise need intervention of the shore dockyards, were resolved with in-house resources quickly.

On the 5/6th day of the war, when we were patrolling off East Pakistan (Bangladesh), during the middle watch (midnight-4 AM), the speed of the main circulator, which sends cooling water to the main condenser, suddenly started dropping. This was an emergency situation as this would result in drop of the vacuum in the condenser and starve it. I immediately informed the Forward Engine Room and the Officer of the Watch at the Bridge that I was reducing the speed of the Aft Main Engine to prevent bigger damage to the main turbine and condenser. Simultaneously I asked my Assistant Engine Room Artificer to come on the manoeuvring platform and take over the controls while I rushed to the engines to see what we could do in the circumstances.

Suddenly I got an idea, what if I opened the overload nozzle, which could provide more water to the condenser and at least prevent any immediate damage? To my satisfaction the trick worked and we found the vacuum picking up. I immediately informed all concerned i.e. the Forward Engine Room and the Officer of the Watch that we could maintain our speed and if required, even increase the speed, bringing the ship’s operations back to normal. Later on, we identified the defect and repaired it. But my immediate actions prevented the ship from slowing down and becoming a sitting target for any enemy vessels lurking in the area.

Lt Commander DS Yadav (Retd.),
Engine Room Artificer, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

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Memoirs of an Alizé Pilot

Commodore Richard Clarke (Retd.)
310 Squadron Pilot, 1971 War

Memoirs of an Alizé Pilot

When things began to hot up between India and Pakistan in 1971, I was recalled on temporary duty to my squadron INAS 310 (COBRAS), which was then embarked on board INS Vikrant. During the war I would go on to fly multiple sorties, including an opportunity to sink a ship (the Ondardo) in the waterways near Khulna that was carrying Pakistani troops trying to escape from East Pakistan. On another sortie, we bombed the runway at the airfield in Cox’s bazar and rendered it unfit for flying.

However out of all the sorties that I flew during the 1971 war, the one that is most etched in my mind was the one I flew on the 4th of December (the first day of hostilities). Just prior to the start of war, INS Vikrant was off the Andaman Islands and intelligence was received that the Pakistani Naval Submarine Ghazi had sailed from West Pakistan to the east coast of India. Its mission was to seek and destroy India’s only aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. In the afternoon while ‘Mother’ (INS Vikrant) was weaving her way northwards in the Bay of Bengal, lookouts reported the wake of a submarine periscope far astern of the ship.

An Alize was immediately scrambled and loaded with depth charges, while I was detailed to sink the submarine. My adrenaline was pumped up as this was the first time I was going on an operational mission with live depth-charges. Immediately after being catapulted, I turned towards the stern of the ship where I saw the distinct ripple. Not waiting for a second, I opened my bomb bay, took aim and released my depth-charges at the target. I was ecstatic - I had tasted first blood. There was a large crowd of personnel on the flight deck watching me and I later came to know that there was tumultuous cheering when they saw the depth charges explode exactly under the surface of the water below the ripple. As there was total radio silence, I could not report back to Mother what I had seen and achieved.

Soon afterwards, I landed back on board and I had hardly switched off my engine before the men started ecstatically shaking my hand and thumping me on the back. Just then there was an announcement on the broadcast for my crew and I to go to the Admiral’s bridge. The Fleet Commander, R. Adm. Sriharilal Sarma wanted to be debriefed first-hand on what had transpired. He and his staff looked at me expectantly and waited for me to give them a blow-by-blow account of my exploits. I very sheepishly had to tell the Fleet Commander that there in fact there was no submarine in the crystal clear blue waters below the ripple when I flew over it. But I realised this only seconds before the depth charges exploded. The Fleet Commander’s face showed such disappointment that I wished that the deck below me would part and swallow me up. But in war we roll with the punches and a few days later we heard that Ghazi met her watery grave off Vizag, (see V. Adm. Krishnan’s story).

Commodore Richard Clarke (Retd.)
310 Squadron Pilot, 1971 War

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A Scare of Friendly Fire

MCAM2 S L Gautam (Retd.)
300 Sqn Air Mechanic, 1971 War

A Scare of Friendly Fire

In the 1971 War, As a young lad of 20, I was posted as Naval Air Mechanic–1 to the fighter jet squadron INAS 300 aboard INS Vikrant, qualified in engine and airframe maintenance.

One day during the war, a scramble was sounded for Sea Hawk aircraft after a suspicious plane was detected on the ship’s radar. At all times, there would be two aircraft parked in stand-by mode, with the pilot sitting in the cockpit almost ready for take off. Immediately after the scramble was sounded, the aircraft were moved on to the catapult for take off, and all maintenance crew came to the side, in front of the ship’s bridge. One aircraft was successfully launched and was circling overhead waiting for the other aircraft which was being catapulted.

All of a sudden, behind where we were standing, one of the ship's anti-craft guns started firing in the direction of the aircraft which was circling. Appalled, we started throwing our ear defenders on the gun crew to divert their attention. When that was to no avail, we made hand gestures to attract their attention and make them understand that they were firing at their own aircraft. Finally the guns stopped firing and the second plane could take off. The circling plane was luckily unscathed.

Later on, when the Sea Hawks came back, we found out that the suspicious aircraft which was spotted on radar was of the UN. It was thus neutral and not a threat.

MCAM2 S L Gautam (Retd.)
300 Sqn Air Mechanic, 1971 War

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The reluctant patient

Surgeon Commander E G Paul (Retd.),
Dental Officer, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

The reluctant patient

During the 1971 War, I was the dental officer on board INS Vikrant. Once, when we were sailing towards Chittagong, a sailor reported to the dental dept with an aggravated dental infection. On examination, I thought that it would be prudent to advise him rest, since further exposure to the sun would aggravate the infection. When I told him that, he pleaded with me not to issue an ATTN-C (the term used to issue a warrant which means the person is to take total rest). He did not want an ATTN-C because he could not take part in the action, and that was anathema to him. I could not but appreciate his dedication, so I heeded his request, even at the risk of worsening his infection. But such dedication and spirit was very much the Spirit of the Sons of Vikrant.

Surgeon Commander E G Paul (Retd.),
Dental Officer, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

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The Electronic War

Lt. Cdr. Kuriakose Mathew (Retd.),
Radio Operator, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

The Electronic War

I was a Radio Operator (Telegraphist) Ist Class during the 1971 War. I was manning voice communication channels at the Operations Room of INS Vikrant. I was also a member of Electronic Warfare (EW) team of Vikrant. Our task was to identify radio communication signals and radar signals from Pakistani War ships and merchant ships operating in the bay of Bengal. Once the interceptions are made of a wanted signal, we analyse the source and find out the direction and distance of the victim from our ship. This information is passed on to the operations room. Once the signals are decoded and the presence of Pakistani ship was confirmed, our Sea Hawk jet fighters would be briefed to attack them. When the first sortie of Sea Hawks came back after striking the targets that we had communicated to them, the team on the ship quickly prepared a garland of currency notes to welcome them – our first taste of war! EW was a tricky job as there could be many false signals (see Cmde Ravi Sharma’s story), but I am happy that I could contribute in my own way to the war effort and subsequent victory.
One of the things I remember was that, when war was finally declared (3rd December, 1971), our senior married people were totally worried about their wives and children. If they died in the war, what would happen to their families? Unfortunately, being a bachelor, I did not understand their worries and joined the other bachelors in cracking jokes with them without knowing their minds. Only later on, when I joined the boarding party that went to Chittagong to assess the damages inflicted by us during the war, did I come to understand their concerns.

Lt. Cdr. Kuriakose Mathew (Retd.),
Radio Operator, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

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Every sailor counts

~ PO (ELAR) Ashok G. Chiwande
Electronics Mechanic, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

Every sailor counts

October 1971. INS Vikrant was readying for War. As one of the youngest sailors on board, I was given the job of storekeeper in the Electronics Maintenance Room (Air). At that time there was a policy of ‘repair by replacement’ for the aircraft (see Cmde. Gurnam Singh’s story), so ensuring complete stocks of spares was critical. My tasks were to a) go the ship’s main store and check the catalogue there to see whether the items required were available and b) if the items were not available, to raise the demand to my superior officers. It was a thrill to see helicopters landing on board, bringing in the supplies I had listed out.

December, 1971. I was now working as an Electronics Mechanical Air RAdio /Radar (E.M.A.R) mechanic. Once, I remember, a Sea Hawk was lined up to fly to Chittagong for a bombing operation. The flight mechanics realised that its transreceiver VHF set (necessary for its radio to function) was not working properly and despatched it to my workshop for instant repairs. My senior and I set about checking all the valves of the set (During those times, electronic equipments were mostly valve-based). We detected the fault, rectified it, tested the equipment and sent it back to the waiting plane in a record 30 minutes. The plane was soon up in the air, to wreak havoc upon the enemy!

I was awarded the Proficiency Award on board the INS Vikrant. Truly, every sailor counted on that ship.

~ PO (ELAR) Ashok G. Chiwande
Electronics Mechanic, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

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The Obedient Sailor

~ PO (ELAR) Ashok G. Chiwande
Electronics Mechanic, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

The Obedient Sailor

May 1971. I was returning from annual leave on completion of my training. When I went to report to my ship in Bombay, there was a security exercise in progress. I politely asked the security person on duty at Lion Gate, “I am from the INS Vikrant, I want to report there.“ He said that the Vikrant was not there. I asked him where it was and where I was supposed to report. He retorted, “Go to hell! Go & sleep at your home!” and asked me to leave the place. I quietly went back to the sailors’ home non-plussed. While having dinner, I asked my senior who was there about what I should do. He said, “Very good. You go back to your home. When the ship is back they will call you.”

After dinner I simply took my bag, went to the railway station and took a train back home. When I got home I wrote a letter to my classmate Ram Singh and told him what had happened. I received a letter from him telling me to report immediately to INS Angre in Bombay. By now I was already a few days late to report to my ship. From INS Angre the next day, I got a ticket for Madras. I was put on a boat and finally reached INS Vikrant.

My divisional chief took me to my Divisional Officer Lt. M. B. Lele. He asked me, “If somebody asks you to go home, you will go home?” I said, “Yes, Sir. He was senior to me so I just obeyed him”.
He said. "If I say to you to go and jump in the sea, will you?”
I said, Yes, Sir. You are my superior officer. I will obey your order.”
The officer simply said, “Go and jump in the sea.”
My workshop, called Electronics Maintenance Room (Air), was just adjacent to the Quarter Deck. I saluted him and came out of the workshop to the QD. Meanwhile, inside the workshop, everyone started shouting, especially R. S. Mishra, “Sir, yeh aapne kya kiya? Woh bohot hi innocent bachha hai jump kar jayega!”

The main propellers were close to the QD. If I had jumped I would be sucked into them and killed instantly. Just as was about to jump my colleague Ram Singh rushed to catch hold of me. He said, “Chal Sir bula rahe hain.”

I was hauled back into the workshop, and everyone was doubled up with laughter. As I was 15 days late I was a defaulter. This is a serious offence, but on hearing my story, Cdr. Saxena (then second-in-command of INS Vikrant) let me off with just a pay cut of 15 days. This story spread like wildfire in the whole ship. I was nicknamed the Obedient Sailor.

I was just 18 years old at that time.

~ PO (ELAR) Ashok G. Chiwande
Electronics Mechanic, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

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The first taste of war

~ LCDR Ashwani Kumar Mehta (Retd), VrC, NM
300 Squadron Pilot, 1971 War

The first taste of war

October 1971. I was posted at Naval Headquarters, Delhi when I got a terse call from my boss, Cdr Arun Rao, “We need to send you back to INAS 300”. The ‘White Tigers’, whom I had commanded in 1968-69, were short of experienced pilots, and war was imminent. I was agog with excitement, since I was to don my pilot’s helmet again.

4th December, 1971. All pilots of 300 Sqn including myself were summoned to the briefing room. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declared war after Pakistan had bombed Indian airfields. The Officer in charge of Operations, Lt. Cdr. Omi Laul, had Cox’s Bazaar marked prominently on the map. That’s when realisation struck – in a few minutes we were going into India’s first ever naval air battle.

Two formations of 4 aircraft each, led by Cdr S K Gupta (now V Adm) and L Cdr Ashok Sinha respectively, launched like clockwork, to reach Cox’s Bazaar at 10:30 sharp. We had done this so many times in the trials, but this was the real thing. Excitement was high till we reached the target, and then it quickly gave way to disappointment. The enemy had evacuated all their aircraft, and the airfield had nothing on it but a few randomly parked vehicles to prevent us from landing. We broke radio silence wondering what to do, but then we decided that we will inflict some damage having come so far. We fired our rockets at the desolate ATC tower and some steel towers before turning back, destroying them completely. Only later would we come to know that we had eliminated one Moiuddeen Rehman and his henchmen, who had been terrorising the local population (See V Adm Pasricha’s story).

We were welcomed back on Mother with wild cheers. INS Vikrant had drawn first blood.

~ LCDR Ashwani Kumar Mehta (Retd), VrC, NM
300 Squadron Pilot, 1971 War

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The second chance

~ LCDR Ashwani Kumar Mehta (Retd), VrC, NM
300 Squadron Pilot, 1971 War

The second chance

On one of the missions I flew to Chittagong during the 1971 war, I spotted a large tanker berthed next to oil storage tanks. Along with my brother pilot Lt. A K ‘Daffy’ Mehta (later Cdr.), we decided to attack it, as cutting of enemy’s fuel supplies is a sure shot way to cripple mobility. We flew close to the vessel and dropped our 500-pound bombs. As my plane had a camera, I took a photograph before flying back to INS Vikrant.

But I was in for a huge disappointment when the photograph was developed on board. The bombs had missed the tanker by a whisker! I got a scolding from Cdr. Parashar, who as Commander (Air) was in charge of coordinating air operations. But then he gave me a second chance to make good! When we reached Chittagong the tanker was still there. Determined not to miss the target this time, Daffy and I decided to be more careful. Instead of letting loose all my bombs, I dropped only one. If it missed, I had another. Lucky for me, it scored a direct hit, and I could hear Daffy yelling in triumph over the airwaves. I let loose the second and we returned. It happened that Lt. Cdr. Ashok Sinha, who passed us by on his return from a different mission near Chittagong, also saw the hit. Later, when we visited Chittagong harbour at the end of the war to assess the damage, I noticed that the tanker had been split into three.

I think that this was the mission that got me my Vir Chakra. And I owe it all to the second chance given by Cdr. Parashar!

~ LCDR Ashwani Kumar Mehta (Retd), VrC, NM
300 Squadron Pilot, 1971 War

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THE SPIRIT THAT WON THE WAR

~ V. Adm. S K. K. Krishnan (Retd), AVSM, VSM
Engineer Officer of the Watch, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

THE SPIRIT THAT WON THE WAR

It was September or October 1971. INS Vikrant had got used to operating aircraft with just three of its four boilers working. A young lieutenant then, I was an Engineer Officer of the Watch (EOOW), looking after all the machinery that provided engine traction, steam for the catapult etc.

A few days before Diwali, the then Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral Nanda came on board for a personal assessment of how battle-ready INS Vikrant was. We put on the usual “Shop Window”: flying operations to display the pilot’s skills and demonstrating the overall capabilities of the ship. As is usual in these occasions, a ‘target’, essentially a small piece of wood 2 m X 2m was towed and placed some distance away from the ship. Planes would be launched from the catapult (which in those circumstances was difficult, as we had to squeeze every pound of steam from the working boilers). The planes had to fire their rockets at the target; as the rocket exploded underwater it would generate a splash or spout of water that one could see from afar. A splash close to the target was considered good enough.

The Sea Hawks of the 300 Squadron were launched first. Their Commanding Officer, Lt. Cdr. S. K. Gupta (now R. Adm.), was the first one to dive in and fire his rockets. Watching from the deck, we saw his rockets hit bullseye, actually destroying the tiny plank and generating a spectacular splash! This showed how accurate our pilots had become.

The same afternoon, I was on duty in the boiler room, when Adm. Nanda and my boss Cdr (Engineering) B R Chaudhary came in unannounced. I dropped everything and ran after them. The broken down boiler was in the forward engine room and the CNS asked me a few questions to get a first-hand feel of the problem (See Adm. Nanda’s story). As he was leaving, he turned to the boiler room POME*, who was managing the working boiler and asked him, “Kaise ho? Ghar se chitthi aati hai? “ (How are you? Do you get letters from home?)

The POME replied, “Han Sir. Gharwali chitthi bhejti rehti hai.” (Yes sir, my wife keeps sending letters) CNS asked, with a twinkle, “Kya likhti hai?" (What does she write about?) Within a split second the man replied, “Sahab likhti hai; Dacca jaoge to jaroor mul-mul layke aana.” (Sir she writes to say that, whenever I go to Dacca, I should bring her some muslin).

The CNS was so pleased with this spirited reply, he wanted to promote the sailor on the spot!

The firepower demo by the CO 300 Squadron and the spontaneous reply given by the boiler room watch keeper, two individuals at diametrically opposite ends of the ship, captured the invincible spirit of INS Vikrant. We had won the war before the first shot was fired.

~ V. Adm. S K. K. Krishnan (Retd), AVSM, VSM
Engineer Officer of the Watch, INS Vikrant, 1971 War

*POME: Petty Officer Mechanical Engineering. A non-commissioned rank.

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A sailor remembers

~ MCEAAR1 S Lohithan (Retd),
300 Squadron Artificer, 1971 War

A sailor remembers

I joined INS Vikrant in February 1971, in my fifth year of training as a Naval Artificer. I belonged to the Aircraft Maintenance Branch, so whether it was peace time or war time, at all times I was either inside or outside the airplanes inspecting or repairing the equipment of the Sea Hawk fighter jets.

We sailed from Mumbai at the peak of monsoon, when the sea is very rough. In spite of our training, most of us were down with sea-sickness. This lasted for a few weeks, but after the Vikrant’s long journey around the coast and then on to the Andamans, we got used to the sea. We soon learned to enjoy life on board, and looked forward to the coming war. Indeed on the night of 3rd December when our Captain Swaraj Prakash (later V Adm) addressed us, the entire crew of the ship burst into cheers. The rest is history.

Through the year, we were busy repairing the airplanes and their damaged equipment (see Cmde Gurnam Singh’s story). Many of our Alize airplanes came back with shell-hit holes from enemy fire. Luckily we did not lose any airplane or crew in the 14 days of war, nor did we let a plane remain unusable for long.

One fact that stays in my memory: during the 1971 war, not only the men in uniform, but also every civilian did what they could as their war effort. When INS Vikrant put in at Paradip for refuelling, it had been at sea for several months. Hundreds of us had letters and money orders that we needed to send to our families urgently. Unfortunately, Paradip was a small town and the post office was overwhelmed. All their postage stamps were exhausted, but the staff there did not let anyone go disappointed. Working till late into the night they processed everybody’s request. Some of us went to a small hotel for dinner. But when we payed the money, the staff burst into tears and refused any payment saying we were their guests. The war truly brought out the best in all of us.

~ MCEAAR1 S Lohithan (Retd),
300 Squadron Artificer, 1971 War

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The Prophecy That Came True

Late. V ADM Swaraj Prakash, Captain, MVC, AVSM

The Prophecy That Came True

This story is taken from the book 'Vikrant Decommissiong' edited by Capt. H.S. Rawat

This is a story of late Capt. Swaraj Prakash, who commanded the INS Vikrant during the 1971 war.

28 November 1971. The INS Vikrant was at Port Blair, alongside her escort ships INS Kamorta and INS Beas. The ships had spent nearly five months at sea, waiting for war. With no sign of war being declared yet, with the men being on high alert all the time, a feeling of boredom was setting in. The Captains, Swaraj Prakash of INS Vikrant, Manohar Awati (INS Kamorta) and L Ramdas (INS Beas), decided to go ashore and hike up to Mount Harriet, a 1193 ft tall mountain nestled in the tropical forest, near Port Blair.

They got into their jungle gear, filled their haversacks with heady brews and sandwiches and set off for the trek. On the way up, they were solemn as the shadow of the impending war still lay heavy on them. However the forest air and the adrenalin rush of the climb revived their spirits. Nevertheless it continued to play on their minds. When they got to the top, they were light-minded, but soon the shadow returned. They decided to guess when the war would start. After a few minutes of silence, they burst out in unison – 3rd of December! Was it a hunch? Perhaps, but they nevertheless made their haversacks lighter and their spirits brighter as they drank a toast.

3 December, 1971. In the dead of night, in an All India Radio broadcast, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced that India had declared a full-fledged war on Pakistan, after their jets had bombed eight Indian airfields. The prophecy had come true. Long after the war, the three Captains would refer to each other as ‘Oracle of Mount Harriet’.

Late. V ADM Swaraj Prakash, Captain, MVC, AVSM

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Giving The Cobras Their Fangs

Commodore MV Paul (Retd), NM Air Electrical Officer, INAS 310, 1971 War

Giving The Cobras Their Fangs

During the 1971 war, I (a lieutenant at that time) was the Air Electrical Officer Of Indian Naval Air Squadron 310 (INAS 310), nicknamed the ‘Cobras'. Along with my team, I was responsible for maintenance of all systems: electrical, electronic warfare, on-board weapon and communications of our Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) aircraft the Breguet Alizé.

The main challenges that faced my team were a lack of spare parts as well as the ageing systems of the aircraft. These meant that keeping them in serviceable state through the war was a tall order. Yet my team of officers and sailors found innovative methods to repair the old systems using indigenous spare parts and keep them in fighting condition. It was heartening to see that aircraft returned in full serviceable state after each and every sortie throughout the period.

The Indian Navy's complete control and blockade of the seas in and out of East Bengal was achieved mainly due to the efforts of the INS Vikrant's 310 ‘Cobra’ squadron, while the 300 ‘White Tiger’ squadron contributed to offensive actions. The Sea Hawks of 300 Sqn operated by day while the Alizés of 310 Sqn operated night sorties as well. Whenever the aircraft ventured into the night with miles of sea around and no airfield for diversion, we would have anxious moments. It was therefore essential that all aircraft returned to Mother, which was just a dot somewhere in the middle of dark waters. The valiant efforts of the aircrew not only achieved this every time but also played havoc on ships and installations at the harbours of East Pakistan by bombing and use of depth charges day after day, and night after night.

Control of the seas was complete in that we, on board Vikrant could see every morning, lines of merchant ships being directed to our ports by our escort ships making the blockade successful.

While every department of Vikrant had contributed immensely to the success of operation, I would say the role played by the Alizés stand above everything else. This may be because I had watched the operation through the eyes of an Air Technical Officer.

I was bestowed with the Nausena Medal (NM) by The President of India for my efforts during the war. Even after 20 years of retirement from the Navy, I keep singing the Vikrant Anthem:-

" THE VIKRANT IS INVINCIBLE
INVINCIBLE IS SHE
NONE WILL DARE ATTACK BY AIR
OR UPON THE SEA
WE ARE THE MEN OF VIKRANT
A FIGHTING CREW ARE WE. "

Commodore MV Paul (Retd), NM Air Electrical Officer, INAS 310, 1971 War

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The war we fought behind the scenes

Commdore Gurnam Singh (Retd.) NM 300 Squadron AEO, 1971 War

The war we fought behind the scenes

The stories of the valiant pilots of the INS Vikrant in the 1971 war are well known to the countrymen. Yet, behind the war that they fought in the skies was another. It was the constant struggle to keep the planes battle-worthy, to repair the damaged planes and to plan the supply of spare parts. This is the story of the men in the overalls who worked relentlessly and guaranteed the success of the endeavour that was 'Bangladesh Operation', with their professional skills, dedication and toil.

Still a lieutenant, I was appointed Air Engineer Officer (AEO) of the 300 squadron, which was a huge honour and a responsibility. I embarked on board INS Vikrant in July 1971. My colleagues in the squadron were Air Electrical Officer R. Shahdadpuri, G S Kanda and K S Parthasarathy (all lieutenants then). Most of the squadron’s aircraft had been purchased second-hand from the British and German navies (only two of those in the squadron were purchased new). Some had outlived their allotted life of 15 years. Between July and December, I worked to learn the idiosyncrasies, peculiarities and defects behaviour of each of the 18 Sea Hawks like a doctor would know his patients. One of the Sea Hawks had been irreparably damaged even before the war had commenced. It was retained on board. It was our Christmas tree; we cannibalised it during the operations for spare parts and components to service other aircraft.

We decided on a policy of ‘repair by replacement’. If a component was defective, we would replace it with a new one immediately rather than try to repair it. Once INS Vikrant had joined battle, it would be impossible to ask for spares, so we tried to best the material state of the aircraft which would ultimately go into battle. We kept records of the lives of the components, and the time when they would need replacement. When a component reached 60% of its assigned life, we would replace it with a new component. This was important because the aircraft were old and during their life tome had gone through great stress flying from a carrier instead of an airfield. The launch by steam catapult and recovery on board by arrestor wires (for landing) shook the aircraft and took their toll each launch and recovery. By creating and following standard operating procedures (SOPs) for every eventuality, working nonstop around the clock, we turned the planes around in minimum possible time. We did not flinch even when in the case of two aircraft, which had suffered battle damage, the assessed damaged category was beyond the capacity of the squadron or the ship. They needed to be sent to the Naval Aircraft Repair Yard. But considering the exigencies, the repairs were carried out on board and both the aircraft were made airworthy. And not just the planes, we also understood the role of the ground equipment in maintaining an aircraft. We had a special team deputed to look after the aircraft ground equipment and kept them in serviceable condition.

The standard aircraft availability norm is that for every ten aircraft in a squadron, six should be available for missions at any given time. I can recollect with pride that on many of the 14 days of war, we managed to keep all 18 planes in serviceable condition. Our high morale was no different from the rest of our ship the INS Vikrant. Everyone was striving in his own way to contribute to the mission. Our policy and its implementation paid off handsomely – the Sea Hawk squadron executed 123 operational sorties in all, giving the enemy not even a day’s respite.

Commdore Gurnam Singh (Retd.) NM 300 Squadron AEO, 1971 War

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How INS Vikrant rescued Naval Aviation

Late. ADM S M Nanda, CNS ( Chief Naval Staff )

How INS Vikrant rescued Naval Aviation

This story is taken from the book 'Vikrant Decommissiong' edited by Capt. H.S. Rawat and 'Transition to Triumph', edited by Late V.Adm G M Hiranandani.

This is a story of late Admiral S M Nanda, who was Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) at the time of the 1971 war.

Of the four boilers that powered the INS Vikrant’s engines, the A1 boiler drum had developed cracks, rendering the Vikrant immobile. The other boilers had also developed cracks. As repairs were not possible, a replacement boiler drum was ordered from the UK, but it would take two years before delivery. Keeping the safety of the sailors in mind, Naval Headquarters (NHQ) had forbidden INS Vikrant from operating that boiler. This unfortunately meant that the ship could neither sail nor use its steam catapult to launch aircraft. Effectively grounded, had she become a white elephant?

In 1971, it was becoming evident that India would have to go to war with Pakistan over Bangladesh. Admiral Nanda felt that INS Vikrant had to sail, for it was now a question of her honour. She had sat out the 1965 war for repairs, so if she did not fight in this war, the government would write her off. The Navy would never be able to operate another aircraft carrier and India’s naval dominance over sea would be in doubt. Such was Admiral Nanda’s leadership style that whenever such situations loomed, he would sit down with the personnel concerned and take their inputs. After talking to the men of the INS Vikrant, he decided to put her to sea, overriding the concerns of the NHQ. She was seen leaving Bombay harbour, boosting the morale of the Indian Navy personnel.

At sea, multiple tests were conducted to check the ability and safety of the remaining boilers. After 500 hours of rigorous testing, the men on board finally decided that they could operate the ship on just 3 boilers. For the sake of safety, Admiral Nanda sanctioned that steel safety harnesses be made and wrapped around the boilers to prevent them from bursting under pressure of superheated steam and inflicting casualties in the engine room. He also had observation windows installed in the engine rooms to detect any inadvertent leakage of steam. The boilers were also connected to the steam catapult, so it could be made operational again.

At the behest of V Adm Krishnan, the fearless leader of the Eastern Naval Command, the INS Vikrant was assigned to the Bay of Bengal. Admiral Nanda boarded the ship at Madras, where its personnel referenced NHQ orders prohibiting them from using the catapult, but he gave orders to use it. Not only that, he stayed on board to watch the trials of the planes landing and taking off. He only left ship when convinced that INS Vikrant was battle ready.

The 13 days of war more than proved that INS Vikrant was not a white elephant, as you can discern from the stories on this website. She also left a legacy that lasted decades: India would go on to acquire two more aircraft carriers, INS Viraat and INS Vikramaditya, and establish air supremacy over its oceans.

Late. ADM S M Nanda, CNS ( Chief Naval Staff )

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How I fought the war in 2 sets of uniform

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

How I fought the war in 2 sets of uniform

In November 1971, INS Vikrant was being prepared for the impending war. As the then Fleet Communications Officer (FCO), I along with RAdm SH Sarma, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet (FOCEF) and other officers of the Fleet staff were choppered on to Vikrant. Told that we were going aboard for two days, I only packed two sets of working uniform, one evening dress and a toothbrush. Little was I to know that this was all I would have to wear for the next two months! In that period, we sailed off the waters of the east coast carrying out air operations and fleet manoeuvres, to the harbours of the Andamans to lay in wait till war was declared, off the coast of East Pakistan while Vikrant established total supremacy on air and sea, and finally to Chittagong after the war where we were clearing the harbour for mines. And all this while I had no means to get an extra set of clothes. For my last mission, I was flown by chopper with my uniforms and brush to Chittagong city, where I was first put up at the luxurious Agrabad Hotel. But the Navy found it expensive. Yes! The Navy paid for the rooms, because there is no compromise with integrity.

Instead we were sent off to occupy the deserted naval base of the enemy. We had to make do as best as we could. There was no food there, so we kept having to go back on board INS Gharial for meals. Lucky for us, the Gharial is a shallow draught vessel, so she could sail over the mines and berth at Chittagong.

But the men on board Mother had other ideas. Trusting my skills as a senior pilot, they decided to take the risk, calculating that there was a high likelihood the bombs wouldn’t go off. I was permitted to land on the deck, but it was a difficult task. Fortunately we held our nerves and my plane landed safely on deck. The bombs didn’t go off and were quickly detached from the plane. The risk had paid off, and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Minesweeping operations ended on the morning of 1 January, 1972. Only then was I free to go home and wear a fresh set of clothes!

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

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We helped free Bangladesh. And all we asked for was pickle.

Commodore Gurnam Singh (Retd.) NM 300 Squadron AEO, 1971 War

We helped free Bangladesh. And all we asked for was pickle.

Late December, 1971. INS Vikrant was anchored off Chittagong, waiting for orders. The men on board had been at sea for nearly two months, with only a small break at Paradip on the 14th for refuelling. Though the hardships of war were now behind us, we craved for some fresh food rather than the tinned stuff on board.

So when we heard that a helicopter was going on shore (see Lt Narula’s story), we asked our bosses for a special request – could the chopper pick up some pickle and fresh vegetables? The officers must have smiled within, but they listened to their own stomachs. After a couple of hours the chopper – of the 321 ‘Angels’ Squadron – came back. Our wishes had been fulfilled. Now the Alouette helicopters on board INS Vikrant were called Angels because of their primary role in search and rescue at sea, but in this case they were angels for another reason. They had brought back 30 kilos of mango pickle and a gunny bag of fresh vegetables. Word spread quickly among the 1300 men on board – and we crowded into the messes to wait for our dinner. And thus for the first time in days we had something fresh – hot parathas with Chittagong pickle!

For all I know, this was probably independent Bangladesh’s first export – and INS Vikrant was their proud customer!

Commodore Gurnam Singh (Retd.) NM 300 Squadron AEO, 1971 War

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The Captain’s Captain

Lead Mechanical Engineer Hira Lal Tiwari, Engine room of INS Vikrant, 1971 War

The Captain’s Captain

INS Vikrant had a large number of people who operated in its engine room, ensuring that the boilers and motors were up to the mark at all times. As a Lead Mechanical Engineer (LME), I was honoured to be a part of this squad, led first by Cdr B K Roy. The engine room was a warm, cloistered environment, and we’d often have no clue what was going on outside. One of my favourite memories is about the times when the loudspeakers aboard INS Vikrant (they were everywhere) would scream out “LME, PRE man the boat”. Wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I would drop everything and rush. For this was the commanding officer of the ship, Capt Swaraj Prakash (later V Adm) going on his daily round to examine the ship. And I was his Captain for the job! For this purpose, he had a small jet-propelled boat (like a jet ski) at his disposal. As the 'Captain Motor Boat' (CMB), my task was help him get into the boat using the steel ladders on the side of the ship, and then to take him in this boat and sail around the INS Vikrant. As I piloted him in the little boat around the huge ship (it was 200 metres long and 24 metres wide), he would stop from time to time and take notes of any signs of rust on the ship’s hull, or any part that needed repair or replacement. He also had to examine the anti-aircraft guns that were mounted on all sides of INS Vikrant. He then had to report his findings back to Command Headquarters. It was scary, for we had to do all this in the open sea, and the Bay of Bengal is over 4000 metres deep! But luckily, the job of CMB rotated among the men, so I could soon be back to the warmth of the engine room!

Lead Mechanical Engineer Hira Lal Tiwari, Engine room of INS Vikrant, 1971 War

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Late Cmde Madan Saxena – Astronomer, Mathematician, Warrior

From the Book ‘Downwind, Four Green

Late Cmde Madan Saxena – Astronomer, Mathematician, Warrior

The men of 300 Squadron were known as ‘White Tigers’, because like their namesake, pilots launching from an aircraft carrier were a rare sight in Asia. To the ‘White Tigers’, Late Cmde. Madan Mohan Lal Saxena (then Cdr.), the Navigating Officer of INS Vikrant, was unique.

300 Sqn had distinguished itself during the 1971 war, without a single loss of aircraft to enemy fire. Yet the biggest risk was getting lost at sea, both on our way to the target and back. A pilot had to know exactly which direction the target was in to make a strike and come under minimum fire. Once his mission was completed, his plane had little fuel left and he had to know exactly where Mother was so he could make a beeline for her. In turn, that meant that INS Vikrant’s coordinates had to be precisely determined for every hour of every day. This task fell to Cmde Saxena.

This was never easy. For one, the navigation equipment on board was primitive (compare this to GPS and satellite navigation that we have today). Secondly, the ship had to be constantly on the move, in order to make the best use of prevailing winds and also to avoid submarines. This meant that we would take off from Vikrant at one location, but when we came back, she would have moved somewhere else. We did not have the luxury to ask Mother where she was when coming back, because we had to keep radio silence. We had to know precisely where Mother would be when we came back, even before we took off.

One way to determine location is to take sightings of the sun’s position overhead, at an interval of two hours. But for this the ship had to be static, which was impossible. So during day time, there was no accurate way to determine position. However at night, the stars gave plenty of opportunity for make sightings. Cmde Saxena would sit up through the night to take star sights with his sextant. Then he would make the most accurate calculations to determine Vikrant’s position. When he had done his maths, he was able to give us good locations throughout the day. Every time we flew our missions, we would find Mother waiting for us at exactly the location Cmde Saxena told us she would be. So even though he was officially not part of 300 Sqn, he was our most cherished Tiger.

From the Book ‘Downwind, Four Green’

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Why Wisdom is the Better Part of Valour

From the Book ‘Downwind, Four Green

Why Wisdom is the Better Part of Valour

One of the most daring pilots of the 300 Squadron during the 1971 war was Lt. V K Datta, known to us as ‘Tarzan’. One day in the war, he had successfully participated in a strike and was on his way to join his formation on the return flight to INS Vikrant. He suddenly sighted a formation of four C-130 aircraft, heading south over land, some 15 nautical miles away. These were clearly American military transport aircraft, so what they were doing in the East Pakistan sector was a mystery. Lt. Datta decided to alert his formation leader.

He was not in a position to use his radio, so he could not speak to the leader. He decided to fly close to him and make hand signals. However, the leader could not quite understand his gestures. The C-130s, visible even then only as small specks, soon disappeared from view. Lt. Datta was very tempted to detach from his squadron and attack them single-handedly. However, taking the situation in hand, wiser counsel prevailed. For one, he was short of fuel. Secondly, if he detached and went after the C-130s, Mother might have moved off her location, which meant he might get lost at sea. With all these factors running in his mind, while he was flying at 600 miles per hour, he decided against temptation.

Long after the war, we came to know that these C-130s were evacuating US personnel and their families from Bangladesh to Singapore.

From the Book ‘Downwind, Four Green’

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Collateral Damage? Not on INS Vikrant

From the Book ‘Downwind, Four Green’

Collateral Damage? Not on INS Vikrant

‘Collateral damage’ is a term you might hear about war, which means the damage caused to civilian property and the killing of non-combatants. During the 1971 war, it was a huge risk that the aircraft launched from the INS Vikrant faced, as Bangladesh is a densely populated country, and our targets were in cities like Khulna, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar. Yet, INS Vikrant emerged from the war triumphant without a blemish.

Towards the end of the war, Pakistan was completely encircled. The Indian Navy had launched an audacious landing at Chittagong, after successful photo reconnaissance missions flown by R Adm Ramsagar & Cmde Bhagwat (see their stories). INS Magar carried the men of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Gorkha Rifles to make the landing and secure the land routes leading from Chittagong to Burma. The men received a hero’s' welcome, and wondered what had happened for them to get such warmth. It was INS Vikrant, of course.

Lt. Col. Inder Singh who commanded the battalion made a report of the damage inflicted by the INS Vikrant’s two squadrons, 300 & 310:

Cox’s Bazaar: The first strike on Cox’s Bazaar on 4th December 1971, led by V Adm S K Gupta, destroyed the Air Traffic Control Tower. Not only did it destroy a vital communications tower of the enemy, but also killed one Moiuddeen Rehman – who with his henchman had been a terror to the locals.

Dulhazari: An attack by R Adm S Ramsagar’s Breguet Alize destroyed a wireless station, killing several enemy officers (see his story). The civilians in the hospital right next door were not affected at all.

Dohazari: A strike by INS Vikrant’s fighter planes inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy’s officers and soldiers, without causing civilian casualties.

Chittagong: Here too a wireless station was destroyed, along with the naval facilities, while inflicting no damage on civilian buildings.

In all, the naviators (naval aviators) of INS Vikrant had flown 286 sorties in 14 days and had inflicted near zero collateral damage. Indeed the pilots could complain that whenever their planes were sighted coming in for an attack, the locals would gather on their roof-tops and cheer wildly!

From the Book ‘Downwind, Four Green’

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Never Trust A White Flag

Cmde Bipin Bhagwat

Never Trust A White Flag

It was 11th or 12th December, I can’t remember correctly. The situation was dire. With one boiler running below capacity the INS Vikrant was not up to speed. Combined with the lack of adequate wind on deck, the fleet of Seahawk planes could not be launched. That’s when we received intelligence that the Chief of the Eastern Naval Forces of the Pakistan Navy was trying to make good an escape to Burma.

The Alize squadron was pushed into service, with instructions to hunt down and destroy the boat. Outfitted with anti-submarine sensors, ASW rockets and depth charges, we took off from the decks of Mother (INS Vikrant). Our pilot was Lt. Cdr. Ramsagar and Lt. KS Panwar was the Radar/ESM Operator.

About an hour into our flight, we encountered an island with a canopy of trees that seemingly looked out of place. Upon approach, we realized it was actually a small ship camouflaged using green tree branches. At merely 500 ft above the water level, I spotted the telltale signs of Pakistan naval colours, it was a small PN warship with a wooden boat in tow.

Immediately, our pilot ascended and communicated the position of the PN ship to the Mother (INS Vikrant). When we closed in on the enemy, we were greeted by booming gunfire from the PN ship’s anti-aircraft guns. We received the order to sink the ship with the arsenal we had on-board.

Flying into the enemy fire, we attacked with anti-submarine rockets from a height of around 1000ft. The rockets hit the boat being towed by the PN ship, setting it on fire. The PN ship detached the tow and altered course. We circled around and decided to attack with depth charges (DCs). On our approach, the PN ship hoisted a white flag indicating their willingness to surrender. Wary and aware of their guile, we pressed on with our approach with caution and our hunch was proved right. The PN ship opened up fire once more. We lined up the ship at about 100 feet and dropped DCs (which are dropped in water but very close to the ship, to effect maximum damage) as we were hit by six-seven anti-aircraft bullets.

The bullets caused damage to various parts of the aircraft, including radio communications, electrical and hydraulic services and the cockpit was full of smoke. There was no serious damage to flying controls but we were forced to lower our under-carriage (wheels) and flaps, reducing cruising speed to about 100 knots. Fortunately, none of us was injured, but we lost radio contact and our main direction-finding instrument was not working with Mother still a good 100 miles away or so.

Nevertheless, Lt Cdr Ramsagar stabilized the flight and we saw the PN ship's rear portion sinking while some personnel were jumping out. We decided to fly away to ensure that if we had to ditch it would not be in the vicinity of the enemy ship

Without communications to guide us, we knew more or less where INS Vikrant would be thanks to a previously established ‘safe sector’. We flew back till we found and located the Mother and using Standard Operating Procedure the Pilot made a safe landing. The sons of Vikrant had returned to fight another day.

Cmde Bipin Bhagwat

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Teething the INS Vikrant

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

Teething the INS Vikrant

25 March 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman declared an Independent Bangladesh. In response, Gen. Yahya Khan, the military dictator of Pakistan, unleashed a string of atrocities on the people of East Pakistan. Refugees soon began flooding into India in droves. It was clear to India that she would have to go to war, sooner rather than later.

INS Vikrant had sat out the 1965 war, being docked for repairs. Were she also to sit out the impending war, she would be written off (see Adm Nanda’s story). It was decided to repair her as best as one could, and she soon set sail from Bombay. At that time, INS Vikrant could only achieve a top speed of 12 knots (~22 km per hour). And since her steam catapult was not working yet, planes could not be launched from deck (though they could land). But what’s an aircraft carrier if it cannot launch its fighters?

It was in that situation that I was directed to carry out air trials on the deck of INS Vikrant, being a day-night qualified Alize QFI. I was to do free take-offs from the deck, I.e. I would not have the additional acceleration that the steam catapult would have provided. Nevertheless, with enough wind, Breguet Alize planes could do the take off. The then Cdr(E), Cdr Roy Chaudhury (later awarded Vir Chakra for his gallantry) was not sure if he could push the ship to at least give 14 knots in case there was no natural wind to assist the free take-offs. We fellows of the 310 ‘Cobras’ Squadron got down to the calculations. We figured that our flying beauties could easily do the job in the available conditions, though the men on board were on tenterhooks.

Against this backdrop, I prepared my plane for take-off. At first it was just the plane and I, without any of its missiles or other loads. I raced off the deck, and my plane was over the sea. Did the Alize stay airborne? Yes! Not only had it taken off smoothly, but it was able to complete a full sortie, and come back to land like clockwork. In subsequent trials, we went up to fully designated loads of the Alizes, till it was clear that we could execute complete ‘ops'. We flew a number of missions till it was clear to everybody that INS Vikrant was now capable of launching one squadron, even if her catapult was not working.

Now the entire Cobra squadron (INAS 310), under the command of late Cdr Ravi Dhir (who earned his Vir Chakra during the war) with me as his Senior Pilot and late Lt Cdr SP Ghosh (also a Vir Chakra awardee in the war) as Senior Observer, flew from INS Garuda (Cochin) to Chennai’s Meenambakkam airfield. We operated and trained all the pilots back to ‘ops status’ in just 20 days. Meanwhile Cdr Roy Chaudhury with his dedicated engine room department got the catapult ready for operations. Very soon another boiler was repaired so the ship could sail at 18 knots, enough for the Sea Hawks of the 310 ‘White Tigers’ Squadron to fly as well. Fully teethed, the INS Vikrant was battle-ready.

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

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The sons of Vikrant help the INS Brahmaputra

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

The sons of Vikrant help the INS Brahmaputra

As the war progressed, INS Vikrant slowed gained dominance over the Bay of Bengal. Though the ship was closer to Chittagong on the eastern side of East Pakistan, it was necessary to cover the western side also, especially the ports of Chelna and Khulna, which are not on the coast but deep inside the Ganges delta. We were therefore ordered to fly to Khulna and see what was going on there. When we got there, we saw five vessels anchored in line on the river. I decided to carry out a rocket attack on one of the ships.

My squadron commander Cdr Ravi Dhir and I were ordered to go back to Khulna and bomb the ships the same night. We set off with five 500lb bombs each. We ran into heavy ack-ack fire (Khulna was well-defended as V Adm S K Gupta’s story will tell you), and narrowly missed getting hit. We not only dropped our bombs on the ships successfully, but our attack forced the ships that were fit to sail to cut their anchor chains and sail out towards the mouth of the river to sea. Adm. Sarma had judged that the attacked ships would try to sail out, so he had already directed the frigate INS Brahmaputra (commanded by then Cdr Ramdas (later Chief of Naval Staff)) to sail to the mouth of the river. When the fleeing ships came to the mouth of the river, they realised they were trapped!

They immediately scattered in all directions, so that INS Brahmaputra could not stop all of them at the same time. While it engaged one ship, it asked Vikrant to help catch the other ships. INS Vikrant literally rose to the occasion, with its Sea Hawk squadron (then returning from a mission to Dhaka) directed to attack the ships with whatever ammunition they had left. Under their fierce attack, the fleeing ships had no option but to surrender. Under the command of Lt Cdr Raj Bajaj of Brahmaputra, the five captured ships were escorted to Diamond harbour. Our night strike had crippled any escape plans the Pakistani forces had.

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

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Hunting for the hunters

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)
INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

Hunting for the hunters

8 December. The war was well underway, and India was close to achieving complete supremacy over the Bay of Bengal, completely cutting off West Pakistan’s ability to support its forces in East Pakistan. The then Defence Minister Shri Jagjeevan Ram made a public statement that India would not hesitate to take the American aircraft carrier USS Enterprise head-on if it entered the India waters with its escort vessels (the famous American 7th Fleet). But was it a credible threat, or just a rumour? I was deputed to find out.

It was being said in many channels that the American Pacific Fleet had been ordered to come to Pakistan’s rescue by President Richard Nixon. In view of that intelligence, we were asked to fly south towards the Andaman Islands to detect whether the American fleet was really approaching. Taking off from the deck of Mother, I kept flying higher till I reached 21000 feet above sea level, which was the maximum permissible height for the Breguet Alizé. At that height the oxygen content of the air is less than one fifth of what it is at sea level.

We were scanning the seas using RADAR and passive radar detection equipment called ARRAR. Drawing a blank, we pushed on south till we reached Port Cornwallis, where our RADAR could detect contacts as far as the Malacca Straits. Nothing. Our ARRAR also did not pick up any radar transmission that seemed like the US Navy. With nothing to report, we decided to return. The USS Enterprise wasn’t going to distract Mother today, and she could get on with winning the war.

Much later, we came to know that the USSR’s Admiral Gorchakov had apparently managed to convince the Americans not to get involved in our ‘local' war. He suggested to the US that they switch on their satellite cameras at 8:15 AM. At that time, he made all Russian attack submarines surface for 10 minutes. The US realised that the Soviet subs were deployed in many places around USA & Europe, dangerously escalating the war if they got involved.

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)
INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

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The choice that spared innocent lives

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)
INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

The choice that spared innocent lives

Mid-December, 1971. The combined air-power of the Indian Air Force and the INS Vikrant had completely destroyed the enemy's air opposition. The INS Vikrant’s squadrons now had a free hand. At this time, a requirement came in from Command to inspect the beaches of Chittagong region for amphibious landing operations (See Cmde Bhagwat’s story). Captain Swaraj Prakash cleared me to fly a photo reconnaissance mission with Lt. Bhagwat and Lt. Panwar as observers. When we reached the coast, we flew low over the whole length of the beach south of Chittagong and found it totally deserted. We decided to head north, along the road leading to Chittagong. The road was strewn with abandoned vehicles and people were running helter-skelter.

As there were no suitable targets to bomb en route, I continued to Chittagong. There we saw people looting houses and carrying away articles. Just then we sighted a wireless station with large transmission towers and a government office. Both seemed legitimate targets for the 500-pound bombs we were carrying. As we got closer, we noted that the government building had a large red cross painted on it, which meant that it might be a hospital. (Although it could have been a decoy.) Deciding to spare the hospital, I targeted the wireless station and let loose all our 500-pound bombs on it.

It was only later that we came to know from the Mukti Bahini (the Bangladeshi freedom fighters) that this act of ours saved many innocent Bangladeshis who were in the hospital. However, the enemy hiding in the wireless station had been killed. Though it was a split second decision, it turned out to be a momentous one.

Rear Admiral S Ramsagar, AVSM ,VrC, NM (Retd.)
INAS 310 Squadron Commander, 1971 War

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The First Bullet

Lt.Virendra Narula about Cdr. R S Sodhi

The First Bullet

INS Vikrant with ships in the fleet was harbored in the naturally concealed harbor at Port Cornwallis the northern most island of the Andaman group of islands. Hostilities between India & Pakistan broke out on the 3rd of December, 1971 when we were already on our way. We were expected to be in the striking range the next day. The first sortie of Seahawks took off on 4th of December, 1971 to bomb the harbor and the airfield assets. It was a tense one-hour for all of us, till we saw the planes return over the horizon. When they landed, we noticed that the aircraft of Cdr R S Sodhi had an enemy bullet lodged in it.

That was the moment we realized that we were well and truly at war. The excitement of being in the midst of the action with no thought of our safety was too much. The bullet was extracted from the aircraft and mounted by the shipwright as INS Vikrant’s first memento of war.

Lt.Virendra Narula about Cdr. R S Sodhi

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The Unplanned Secret Mission

Cmde. Medioma Bhada

The Unplanned Secret Mission

December, 1971, on board INS Vikrant in the Bay of Bengal. Our Mission was to destroy a target in the Chittagong harbor. A division of four Seahawk aircraft armed with rockets took off from the aircraft carrier early in the morning. The Division was led by our Squadron Commander, Lt Cdr SK Gupta, affectionately called Gigi. I was fortunate to be included as one of the four pilots and being the junior most, was No 4 in the formation. Our Mission was to fly low upto the target, to avoid enemy radar, thereafter to pull up and carry out a rocket attack and immediately leave the scene of action. As a ruse, we were instructed to fly in a different direction before heading back for the carrier. We had to maintain strict Radio Silence throughout the sortie.

As the formation approached the target, the Leader waggled his wings to indicate that he was pulling up for his attack. A few seconds later he was followed by No 2, then No 3 and I, as No 4 was the last in the attack. All actions were done with clockwork precision and I had the target in my gun-sight but, irrespective of all the training, practice and drills, I made a cardinal mistake. I used my fore-finger instead of my thumb. As a result I fired the 20 mm guns instead of the rockets. An unforgiveable error. By the time I realized it I had already crossed the minimum height for pull out from the dive. I had no choice but to abandon the attack with all my rockets still slung under my wings. In the mean while the other three aircraft had left the scene of action and were well on their way back. I could not break radio silence to inform the Leader. I also realized that landing back on the aircraft carrier with live rockets could be extremely dangerous for the ship.

In that split second I took a decision to turn back and carry out a second attack on the target, an unplanned secret mission, which I accomplished successfully. There was absolutely no sign of the rest of the formation but I followed the earlier briefing and to my great relief I sighted the Carrier, on schedule. Simultaneously I heard Gigi break radio silence indicating the position of the formation which was orbiting on one side of the ship. I quickly positioned myself and slipped in as No 4.

There after it was all “Operations Normal”. The four aircraft were recovered on board the carrier as programmed.

Except for the fact that the Radar Operators on board the carrier had observed that a “straggler’ was late in joining the formation, no one was the wiser of the incident. I later confided in Gigi and narrated the whole incident. Nothing was said.

Nothing was ever recorded.

Until this moment, 45 years later.

Cmde. Medioma Bhada

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From Landing to take-off: How a Tiger prepared for war

Master Chief Air Artificer 1 Class M.L.S. Raju,
INAS 300 1971 War

From Landing to take-off: How a Tiger prepared for war

November, 1971. I had just finished my air artificer training of 4 years, when I was suddenly posted to the 300 ‘White Tigers’ Squadron as Air Artificer 5th Class (starting rank for artificers). Along with 5 other AAs, SK Ghosh, Kuttappan, Joseph, GM Nair and Prabhakaran, I boarded the INS Vikrant at Madras. We reported to Squadron Ch AA Master Chief artificer Sampath Kumar and Engineering Officer Lt. Gurnam Singh.

December 1971. The war was at its peak. Sorties were taking off or landing round the clock. We were the ones who worked silently on deck throughout, ensuring that the 18 Sea Hawk fighter jets on board remained battle-worthy. As soon as a plane landed, we had to prepare it for its next sortie. This included many aspects. 1) Manning the aircraft brakes while the jet was being moved from one place to another on deck as well as inside hanger (below flight deck). 2) Charging oxygen in to aircraft so the pilot could breathe freely in the cockpit. 3) Refuelling the aircraft. 4) Checking tire pressure, checking fuel tank air pressure after the engine has been started. 5) If the aircraft needed a check-up or repair, its wings had to be folded (using a manual pump) and moved below deck to the hangar.

And we had to do all this at break-neck speed, on the ship’s deck, exposed to the harsh sea winds amidst the rolling & pitching of the ship itself. 5-6 aircraft would be made battle-ready at one go, resulting in a deafening roar of their engines that made normal conversation inaudible. We had to learn and use an elaborate code of signs and visual hand signals.

Looking back, I realize I was doing all this without having had any practical experience, since I was fresh out of training. Yet we managed to keep all 18 Sea Hawks in 100% serviceable condition throughout the war period, with zero error. That was the spirit of the Sons of Vikrant.

Master Chief Air Artificer 1 Class M.L.S. Raju,
INAS 300 1971 War

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Three Heroes One Mother

Lt. Virendra Narula, with Cmdr. Prabbir Gujral

Three Heroes One Mother

It was 28 December, 1971. The war was over and Bangladesh had become independent. The army, air & naval commanders of the eastern theatre wished to pay homage to the INS Vikrant, which was so instrumental to winning the war, and to boost the morale of the men who sailed in it. Even though I only had limited flying experience, I was given the honour to be one of the pilots of this prestigious mission.

We flew an Alouette-III helicopter to Chittagong, where a huge crowd had assembled to give the three chiefs - Lt. Gen. Aurora of the army, VAdm Krishnan of the navy and AVM Dewan of the air force – a heroes’ welcome. With great difficulty we found a clear spot to land. I kept the chopper in readiness for take-off while my flight commander Prabbir Gujral helped the chiefs aboard. As we rose above the ocean, we noticed how AVM Dewan was foxed while V Adm Krishnan was proudly beaming with a wide smile, as one could see nothing but water all around! Finally we spotted the mother ship which was around 60 odd nautical miles into the sea– looking like a matchbox from about 10,000 ft above the sea!

After the chiefs had met the sea warriors and congratulated them, we finally realized that the war was over. But now started another excitement – the race to Madras so we could arrive in time for the New Year’s eve Party!

Lt. Virendra Narula, with Cmdr. Prabbir Gujral

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Facing The Flak

R Adm Santosh Kumar Gupta, MV

Facing The FlakC

One of the epithets that the INS Vikrant gained was ‘Lady of Khulna Fame’. Here’s part of the story of how the name came to be.

One of the tasks assigned to the INS Vikrant was to bomb the Khulna harbour, an important base of the enemy forces. I was then the Squadron Commander of INAS 300, the ‘White Tigers’, flying the Sea Hawk fighter jets. After war was declared on December 3, 1971 the Sea Hawks and the Breguet Alizes on board INS Vikrant would fly over 300 sorties till the war ended. I personally led 11 such missions to bomb enemy positions in locations like Khulna, Mangla and Chittagong.

I clearly remember one such mission from December 9, 1971.

By then, the enemy’s anti-aircraft guns had acquired greater precision, and were often able to hit our aircraft. Apart from that, the wind conditions those days were not conducive for the Sea Hawks to take off and land. In times of peace, the regulations would not have let us fly the Sea Hawk jets. But this was war and we had to side-step these regulations. We had the confidence and experience that we could take off and land in difficult circumstances. Also not everything would go as per plan- on one such occasion, the bomb release mechanism failed to activate in my aircraft due to which I came back to Mother with two live bombs. These meant that our missions were becoming more dangerous and our skills were being put to the ultimate test.

R Adm Santosh Kumar Gupta, MVC

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The Cobras rise to the occasion

Cmde Bipin Bhagwat

The Cobras rise to the occasion

Towards the last days of the war, East Pakistan had been nearly surrounded. However, the Pakistani troops could still slip away to Burma, so Indian forces were looking for a place on the coast to land troops and cut off their escape. Photo Reconnaissance (PR) flights were required to ascertain the gradient of the terrain as well as enemy positions on the beaches. Normally the Indian Air Force would have done the job, but they were busy safeguarding the western borders.

Now the Sea Hawks of 300 ‘White Tigers’ Squadron aboard the INS Vikrant could have helped, as they were equipped with advanced cameras, but that was not to be. They needed adequate winds and ship speed to be able to take off safely. Unfortunately these conditions did not exist. Though Cdr. B.R. Chowdhary, the brilliant officer in charge of the Engineering Department, offered to speed up the ship using Vikrant's additional boiler, the Command decided to not take the risk. Instead, Command took the decision of using Alizés belonging to the 310 ‘Cobras’ Squadron for the task, using hand-operated F-24 Cameras.

The Cobras yet again rose to the occasion to shoulder the responsibility despite the fact that the camera was out dated & not quite suitable for the kind of role envisaged in PR mission. Although the aircraft is neither designed nor equipped for the role (it being meant for anti-submarine warfare and surveillance), the Squadron accepted the task. For this task the Sqn Commander chose Lt. F. R. Clarke (pilot), Lt. V. Divakaran (radar/ESM system operator) and myself (tactical coordinator/observer). The plan was that while the pilot would ensure the safety of aircraft and crew in face of enemy fire (if encountered) and remain in communication with Mother, and the observers (self or Divakaran changing over, as appropriate in turn) were to operate the camera. On each recce mission, while the pilot flew the aircraft low & close enough to the enemy coast I would open the rear hatch, point the F24 camera outside and take photos, winding the camera each time and clicking, one picture at a time.

Cmde Bipin Bhagwat

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The Secret Signals

Lt. Cdr. Avatar Singh

The Secret Signals

Somewhere near Diglipur, Andaman Islands: The INS Vikrant was waiting for the signal to go to war. As the radio officer, the job fell on me to decode the encrypted signals when they came from headquarters. Our mission was to head for Cox's Bazaar and obliterate the airfields of East Pakistan. It was a tense wait, and our ship had to keep radio silence, lest we gave our presence away, for these were dangerous waters. While Pakistan's PNS Ghazi, an advanced submarine on lease from the US was stalking the INS Vikrant, the US Navy's 7th fleet was reportedly heading towards the Bay of Bengal.

Somewhere in the Bay of Bengal: A signal comes through. Decoding it, we find an alert from Command: a submarine has been spotted in our waters, though not the PNS Ghazi (we didn't know it had sunk by then). This is what the 310 'Cobra' Squadron was waiting for – for they were past masters at anti-submarine warfare. I saw plane after plane, on the mission to search and destroy this sub. In the end, it turned out to be a false alert.

Off the Chittagong Coast, East Pakistan Waters: A Pak signal is intercepted: NEXT TARGET VIKRANT. We had long waited for this. Was it a submarine? Was it an air attack? Was it the famed 7th fleet of the US Navy? Or was it just the last ditch attempt at bravado by an enemy about to be vanquished? I decoded the signal and took it to my superiors. Everyone was alerted on board the ship and the next few hours were tense for everyone. Eventually this too turned out to be a false alarm. The enemy's ability to take on the INS Vikrant had long been exhausted.

December 16th, Bay of Bengal: The signal that we had waited for since the start of hostilities on December 4 had finally come through, and it was my job to convey it to my shipmates. Pakistan had surrendered unconditionally, and India had won the war.

Lt. Cdr. Avatar Singh

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The Lost War Hero

Lt. Cdr. Avatar Singh

The Lost War Hero

As a young Sublieutenant, I was just commissioned into the Indian Navy and posted to Kochi (or Cochin as it was known then). I had just settled in with my wife and kids in a privately rented house, when I received orders to proceed to Chennai (erstwhile Madras) to join the INS Vikrant. During the war I served as radio officer, dealing with many top-secret communications.

During my absence at war, I was allotted government accommodation back in Kochi and my family moved into it. However, I did not get to know of it as personal communications were prohibited on board INS Vikrant during the war. When I returned to Kochi after the war, I had no clue where my family was staying! I had to comb through all of the naval colony – in my uniform and with my luggage in hand. Anyone I asked was suspicious – who was this man who was asking for S/Lt Avatar Singh's house? Imagine their confusion when I said I was looking for my own house! It was very embarrassing.

After searching for a whole morning, it struck me to wait for the school bus, in which my children would be returning home. After a longish wait, I finally spotted the bus and met my children. And thus I was guided to my own home!

Lt. Cdr. Avatar Singh

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A bombshell of a landing

R Adm Santosh Kumar Gupta, MVC

A bombshell of a landing

As a pilot of INS Vikrant's 300 ‘White Tigers’ Squadron, I flew many bombing sorties over the East Pakistan coast in my Sea Hawk fighter jet. In one of these sorties, I managed to drop all my bombs on the target except for two. The bombs, weighing 500 pounds each (nearly 227 kg) are clamped by a mechanical device to the aircraft, and can be released by pressing the bombing button on the control. For some reason, the release mechanism failed to respond to the controls. The live bombs did not release, though I tried both the bomb button and the jettison button.

There is no way that one can land on the deck with live bombs, for the forces that act on the plane when it flies into the arrestor wires could set off the bombs. Were they to explode on deck, not only would they destroy the plane, but also cripple the ship and kill many of the men. I tried desperately to release them over the sea on the way back to Mother, but didn’t succeed. Now there were just 5 mins of fuel left. I had two choices. I could choose to eject from the plane (it would be lost). Or I could ditch it in proximity of the ship, i.e. attempt to land on water (in which case we could try to salvage the aircraft).

But the men on board Mother had other ideas. Trusting my skills as a senior pilot, they decided to take the risk, calculating that there was a high likelihood the bombs wouldn’t go off. I was permitted to land on the deck, but it was a difficult task. Fortunately we held our nerves and my plane landed safely on deck. The bombs didn’t go off and were quickly detached from the plane. The risk had paid off, and everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief.

Without further ado, the defect in the mechanism was looked into and rectified. Armed again with bombs, I was cleared for another mission

R Adm Santosh Kumar Gupta, MVC

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While Maintaining Radio Silence, We Still Found A Way To Talk.

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

While Maintaining Radio Silence, We Still Found A Way To Talk.

Early November, 1971.

It seemed inevitable that India would have to go to war with Pakistan; it was just a matter of time. INS Vikrant had been preparing for air operations for months (see stories of Adm Nanda and R Adm Ramsagar). I was posted to the Eastern Fleet as Fleet Communication Officer (FCO). Hurriedly transferred from Cochin and after a brief stay at Vizag, I fetched up on board INS Vikrant ready for action. As FCO, part of my job was to convey messages from ships of the fleet to Command HQ for which we normally used the high frequency (HF) band (3-30 MHz). At that time, Pakistan had a fairly extensive network that could intercept these transmissions. So it was imperative to maintain what is called ‘radio silence’, by making no signals at all. It was important not to let anyone know the location of INS Vikrant, so it could operate with an element of surprise. While INS Vikrant was anchored at Port Blair, if we needed to communicate, we would simply go ashore and use the shore naval wireless station.

Late November, 1971.

It had become clear that war was going to start any day. As per the battle plan, INS Vikrant headed north to the bay off Port Cornwallis, the northernmost island in the Andamans. From there we could swiftly move close to Chittagong in a matter of hours and launch air strikes. The fleet had to replenish stocks (food, weapons, equipment, spares etc) so we would not be short of anything once the war started. We had to radio our logistic requirements to Vizag (over 1000 km away), but if we broke radio silence, we ran the risk of revealing to the enemy where INS Vikrant was. I had a thought – what if I headed ashore and looked for a police station? They would have wireless and we could signal encrypted messages to Headquarters on the police frequency. The Fleet Commander, R Adm SH Sarma, who was present on board, thought this was a good idea and decided to accompany me. So we took Vikrant’s motor boat and went ashore.

Imagine our disappointment when we landed at Port Cornwallis and were told that the police wireless station was on the other side of the island! Here was a Rear Admiral in the middle of the road with his staff faced with the possibility of walking several miles looking for a police station. Luckily for us, just then a jeep drove by. We stopped it and commandeered the driver to take us to the station. The driver was awestruck to see two naval officers in the middle of nowhere but he drove us there, and I was able to relay my messages. Not just that, he even drove us back to the jetty and we could return to the ship, mission accomplished!

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

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Mixed Signals: Memories from the Radio Room

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

Mixed Signals: Memories from the Radio Room

The Indo-Pak war of 1971 lasted from 3 December, when Pakistan bombed our airfields in the west, till 17 December, when the East Pakistan forces surrendered in Dhaka. As the Fleet Communication Officer (FCO), I was both witness and participant in various events. Here are some. INS Vikrant was the crown jewel of the Indian Navy, and was potentially a deadly warrior. Therefore we had to always be on alert for submarine threats, especially from the PNS Ghazi. At that time, we did not know that our radio silence policy had been so successful that the Pak Navy could not find us. Nor did we have an idea that the PNS Ghazi had fallen for the Indian Navy’s decoy and sailed to Vizag, where she sank with all men on board. There could very well have been another submarine in the area, so we kept our SONAR working at all times. However, many things could set off SONAR warnings - shallow waters near the coast, the turbulence of the sea (November-December is cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal) and even shoals of fish! Each time, thinking it was a possible submarine or torpedo, the ship’s captain would take protective action, launching the Alizes to detect and destroy the submarine and bringing the ship to top speed. The ship would shudder and strain, alarming all on board. Lucky for us, no enemy ship, submarine or missile ever came near the Vikrant throughout the war. Late in the war, the Army & Navy decided to land troops at Cox's Bazar to complete the encirclement of East Pakistan (See Cmde Bhagwat’s story). A number of ships were heading to Cox’s Bazaar with troops on board, and as FCO, I was helping them coordinate. Suddenly, we received a signal from one of the landing ships, INS Magar, "Periscope sighted, confirm friendly.” As there had been a lot of traffic on the airwaves with the ships signalling each other, the message only reached us 45 minutes after being sent. At that time, no Indian submarines were deployed in that area. Which could only mean one thing – the presence of a Pakistani submarine present in the area. If so, INS Magar was in severe danger. Luckily, it was a false alarm. What the men on Magar thought was a periscope, was actually a fishing stake leaving a big wake in the tidal waters. Unfortunately, because the signal had been broadcast to all the ships, the landing craft had to scatter all over to avoid attack from the sub. It took quite some time to sort out the confusion. The landing was delayed, but everyone at least could breathe a sigh of relief! The third incident is something I remember with pride. The US Seventh Fleet was expected to enter the Bay of Bengal. If it entered the war on Pakistan’s side, it would escalate the war. The captain of one of the ships in INS Vikrant’s ‘carrier group’ got worried and sent a signal to the Fleet Commander, R Adm SH Sarma for advice on what to do if we encountered the Americans. Not flapping an eyelid, the admiral replied, "Exchange identities and wish them the time of day!” This boosted the morale of the men. The US Fleet stayed away from us ultimately, and INS Vikrant remained invincible.

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

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Par for the course

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

Par for the course

The INS Vikrant had spent months preparing for war. By November, the ship was battle-ready, and waiting for the call to arms, anchored in the Andamans. However, as the days dragged on, the men were getting bored. Some, like Capt S Prakash (see story), went hiking to Mount Harriet. Another bunch of officers, decided to stay on board, but make effective use of the ship’s quarterdeck - to play golf! A number of officers were keen on the game that required precision, calculation, strategy and stance, including Cdr HML ‘Bhaisahab’ Saxena (the second-in–command), Cdr (E) BR ‘Billoo' Chowdhury, Lt MB ‘Mike’ Bhada and of course, yours truly. Using the equipment available on ship, we rigged up a makeshift practice ground, including mats and nets for full-blooded drives and buckets as the ‘holes’ to receive pitched golf balls! Many excitable bets were won and lost! On the night of December 3, 1971 (as Capt Swaraj had eerily predicted), war was declared. Bhaisahab was at his command post, Billoo was at the engines, Mike was in the air and I was in the radio room. Par for the course!

Without further ado, the defect in the mechanism was looked into and rectified. Armed again with bombs, I was cleared for another mission

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

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Who will rescue the rescuer?

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

Who will rescue the rescuer?

Late December 1971.

The war was over, but there was still work to do. I was ordered to leave INS Vikrant to go to Chittagong to oversee mine clearance operations. Ground mines are planted below the sea surface and are invisible to ships. When a ship touches them, they go off, damaging the ship and even causing it to sink. Removing mines was critical as otherwise Chittagong could not be opened for shipping. At that time, the Indian Navy did not have dedicated minesweeping ships on the Eastern Coast that could neutralise the mines. We had to improvise. We came up with a plan after many discussions. We would hire two fishing boats, and suspend a thick wire between them. The wire, trawling in the sea would set off the mine if it hit it. The boats had a shallow draught, so they could pass over the mines without harm. Easier said than done. My colleague Bikash Ghosh (then Fleet Torpedo and Anti-submarine Officer) had to look high and low in the Chittagong market to find the wire that suited our needs. After that, he manned one boat and my colleague Mohan Chandy (then Fleet Gunnery Officer) the other, locating the mines and rendering them harmless.

On 31 December 1971, we celebrated the New Year's Eve at the Chittagong Club. However, Bikash and Mohan didn’t stay long, as they were planning on doing the final check sweep in the morning. I hung around at the club, and went back to the mess only after midnight. There I found Cdr Vyas (then Fleet Operations Officer), waiting for me. He told me that I should man a rescue boat to trail Bikash & Mohan – just in case there was an accident and they needed help. I was to start at 6 AM! Of course you’d love to sleep off New Year’s morning, but orders are orders. When I reached the designated rescue vessel, I realized it had a deeper draught than the minesweeping boats. So if the minesweepers missed spotting a mine and sailed over it, I was sure to crash into it! Hoping and praying that Bikash & Mohan did not miss a single mine, we rescuers trailed the minesweepers – and I’ve lived to tell the tale! The job was done, a safe channel for ships was marked and a message sent to headquarters. On the first day of 1972, Chittagong harbour channel was opened for safe shipping.

Without further ado, the defect in the mechanism was looked into and rectified. Armed again with bombs, I was cleared for another mission

Cmde RN (Ravi) Sharma

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Water, water everywhere – and not a drop to shave

Master Chief Air Artificer 1 Class M.L.S. Raju
INAS 300 1971 War

Water, water everywhere – and not a drop to shave

Life on deck had its share of ups and downs during the war. Since we were part of the embarkation squadron, we were assigned Mess No 17 which was air-conditioned, a huge privilege those days! But because we were at sea for so many days, we had to face an acute shortage of something we take for granted – fresh water. We only had 10 minutes three times a day – one had to use the toilet, have a bath and shave in that time. There would be 3 mirrors in the common bathroom – and a minimum five people jostling at the same time!

Each of us was given a tiny locker to keep our belongings and foldable beddings. Plus everything had to be spick and span, otherwise Leading Air Mechanic Chopra (the senior most in the mess) would be furious. Who said war was easy?

But it had its fun moments too. When INS Vikrant visited Paradeep port for refueling, there was a big rush to get on shore. The Port area had just one liquor shop available, and we emptied it in no time! I managed to have a couple of pegs before getting back. Then we discovered that we could not climb the ladder as it was high tide by then. We panicked for the Vikrant was leaving – it was war after all – but somehow we managed to clamber back on board.

One last memory. INS Vikrant received a hero’s welcome when it sailed into Madras harbor at the end of the war. We were given a grand reception with nadaswaram and the brass band, followed by a grand lunch. The CM of Tamil Nadu, M.G.R. served us personally and the Tamil film fraternity organized an entertainment program on flight deck.

But the best was yet to happen. As we went off duty to visit the bazaars, we just had to show our Navy I-Cards at all the shops and we got massive discounts on clothes and other things, which we purchased. Not to say, we bought things by the truckload.

Those were the 14 most unforgettable days of my life!

Master Chief Air Artificer 1 Class M.L.S. Raju
INAS 300 1971 War

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The Sweet Sacrifice

Lt. Virendra Narula

The Sweet Sacrifice

The INS Vikrant could carry food & other rations for only 14 days, and had set sail for the Andamans on 1st Dec. As the war dragged on into the second week, supplies ran low, till one day the sugar ran out. Desserts were a relief of the horrors of war; and now they could not be served after meals.

However, the aircrew came to their own rescue in this regard to fill in with their flying rations, which constituted cans of condensed milk which was used in combo with a bread/toast to do the needful as a substitute.

It was a minor sacrifice, but the joy to our fellow men on deck was immeasurable!

Lt. Virendra Narula

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