Operational Aspects of the 1971 War in the Maritime Domain

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  • October–December 2021

    The 1971 Indo-Pak War can be described as the Indian Navy’s (IN’s) finest hour. Until then, save for limited action in Liberation of Goa in 1961 and defensive operations in the 1965 Indo-Pak War, the IN had not been called ‘into harm’s way’ or for offensive action in a major manner. Consequently, the spectacular show in 1971 may have surprised or even stunned many observers or analysts in the military/maritime realm. A brief overview shows that the IN operated in two distinct oceanic spaces—the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and undertook the entire gamut of naval operations—aircraft carrier operations centred on sea control and destruction of the enemy war waging potential,surface warfare that included Fleet operations in East and West and the audacious missile boat attacks on Karachi, amphibious operations (albeit not so successful), anti-submarine warfare, deception, riverine operations, subversive operations inside then East Pakistan and so forth. Strategic missions of maritime warfare such as blockade, Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOC) disruption and cutting off supply lines between the two wings of Pakistan were conceived and executed to different degrees and were, arguably, impactful.While the war has been written about in general reportage terms,especially in the golden jubilee year, it bears mention that there are a number of important operational lessons and insights then (and subsequently) that came to the fore which need to be studied and analysed as well. While losses and defeats in war are assiduously studied for causes and reasons, victory is seldom studied the same way. However, it stands to reason that all actions both in victory and defeat need to be analysed for lessons and understanding. While it may be argued that the naval war on the whole was a consequence of bold thinking, meticulous
    planning and intrepid execution, it still necessitates having a relook at both the successful missions and those not so successful. The latter would include events such as of the amphibious landing at Cox’s Bazaar,the sinking of the Khukri by PNS Hangor and the perceived inability of Western Fleet and submarines to play a major role in the war. The run up to the conflict and the conflict itself saw many glitches at the operational and tactical level in terms of equipment breakdowns, frequent change of plans, lack of communication and personality clashes. While some of these owed to the ‘fog and friction of war’ and ultimately fortune favoured the brave, an analysis of these would offer useful operational perspectives.

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