Hello defence lovers! In this article, we are going to tell you the untold history of the underwater arm of the Indian Navy. In simpler words, we are going to discuss the story of how submarines were inducted into the Indian Navy. Today the Indian Navy is one of the largest navies on earth which has operated almost every type of naval vessel. But the procurement of the submarines was an exceptional feat. In the previous article, we saw how the Indian Navy procured its first submarine. In this article, we are going to discuss what role these submarines played during the 1971 war.
The 1971 War: A Test For Indian Navy
The 1971 Bangladesh liberation war brought an opportunity for the Indian Navy to prove itself. The war was going to change the public perception of the Indian Navy forever. This was transformed Indian Navy from a defensive force to an outgoing offensive force. The aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was actively involved in the bombing of Dhaka. The fast attack Osa class boats struck the Pakistanis twice right in their home and made the biggest bonfire of Karachi. But the role that the submarines played is not highlighted that much. In this article, we are going to discuss the critical role that the underwater arm or the submarine arm played during the 1971 war.
Pakistani Submarine Arm
During the 1971 war, the Indian submarine arm was of no watch to the Pakistani submarine arm. The Pakistani navy had three French Daphne class submarines which were the most advanced diesel-electric submarine of that time. The three submarines were called PNS Hangor, PNS Mangro, and PNS Shushuk. All these were the names were of Shark in Pakistani local dialects. Pakistani Navy also had an American Trench Class Submarine. This was none other than PNS Ghazi. Apart from these four submarines the Pakistani Navy also operated a few midget submarines which were modified to fire torpedoes.
The PNS Ghazi only had the range to strike the eastern coast of the Indian peninsula. The Indian Navy was able to anticipate the attack of Ghazi on INS Vikrant. Thus Indian navy laid a trap that ultimately sunk PNS Ghazi. However Indian Navy was not able to anticipate the reconnaissance mission of the daphne class submarines of the Bombay port. PNS Hangor was right below the Western fleet when it was sailing out of the Bombay harbour on 2nd December 1971. It was the Captain’s call not to attack the fleet as war not declared till that time. It was just before 6 hours war was declared by Pakistan when it raided the Airbases of northern India. However, PNS Hangor did manage to sink the vintage Blackwood class INS Khukri which was tasked to hunt down PNS Hangor itself.
There is another incident when the Indian Navy got very lucky. When the Osa class missile boats were towed to Karachi by the Petya class corvettes for Operation Trident, a Pakistani midget submarine just found itself at the right spot and at the right time to fire torpedoes at the Petya towing the Osa boats. Luckily the torpedoes failed to launch and another tragedy like INS Khukri was averted. (Source: an account of a Pakistani sailor published in “the sinking of INS Khukri” by Major General Ian Cardozo)
The Role Of Indian Submarine Arm
During the 1971 war, the Indian navy operated only four Foxtrot class or the Kalvari class submarines. The submarine force was tasked with sea denial missions. Their aim was to cut reinforcement and supply of Pakistan which came through the sea route. However, not much information about the deployment of the submarines has been released till this day.
There was a serious flaw in the instructions that the submarines of the Indian navy received. No submarine could directly fire at its target with only sonar contact. Each submarine had to verify that its target was an enemy vessel before firing its torpedo by visual confirmation. For visual confirmation, the submarines had to come to the surface which could prove deadly during the war. Thus this policy limited the offensive capability of the Indian submarines during the 1971 war, and hence they were not able to score a single kill.
The main role that the submarines played during the 1971 war was a naval blockade. Later the Indian Submarines were joined by the Soviet nuclear submarines which prevented the 7th fleet of the US navy from entering the warzone to help Pakistan.
So this was the role of underwater arm of the Indian Navy during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war. In the next article we would see how the lessons learnt from the war was implemented and how the Submarine fleet was mordernised. We would also discuss how the foundations for building Indigenous Ballistic missile submarines was laid.