December 8 1971 – The Indian Navy Launches Operation Python on Karachi, West Pakistan

December 8 1971 – The Indian Navy Launches Operation Python on Karachi, West Pakistan
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*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Halfway through the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Indian Navy had the major port of West Pakistan, Karachi, in its sights. Three days after Operation Trident effectively demonstrated India’s tactical advantages on the water, a larger follow-up mission — Operation Python — proved West Pakistan would not be able to last long in the conflict.

For months, tension between the two factions of the Pakistani government flared dramatically, arising from the creation of East and West areas by the Radcliffe Line in 1947. When the British ended colonial rule, a somewhat haphazard division resulted in the Dominions of India and Pakistan, leading to increasing political distance between the more populous eastern territories and the western region holding the seats of government.

After Bengali and Hindu citizens began protesting the 1970 elections, the military — primarily made up of West Pakistanis and increasingly the government’s power base — declared martial law and lashed out in East Pakistan during early 1971. The violence quickly escalated, with thousands killed. (Numbers vary based on each side’s reporting, but a minimum of 5,000 and as many as 200,000 ended up dead.) Driven from their homes, some 10 million people fled west into India, quickly creating a large refugee crisis. Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi promptly declared her support for independence.

West Pakistan responded with saber-rattling rhetoric. Reports began to surface of increased aggressiveness within the Government of Pakistan by September. With public demonstrations increasing in the nation’s major cities demanding the West Pakistani military “Crush India,” Indian armored divisions massed near East Pakistan in early December. Combat would be the only way to determine a solution.

On December 3rd, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) flew sorties against 11 airfields in India, using Operation Chengiz Khan in an attempt to reduce the numerical superiority held by the Indian military. Bombers from the Indian Air Force (IAF) retaliated later in the evening, meaning the third conflict between the two nations in less than 25 years was officially underway.

The next night, Vice Admiral Sourendra Kohli led the Indian Naval Task Group within striking distance of the West Pakistani shipping hub of Karachi. Deftly maneuvering his missile boats into position, Kohli’s sailors managed to sink a Pakistani destroyer and minesweeper while disrupting fuel supplies, devastating enemy warfighting capability. Pleased with the result, another attack was ordered.

Despite increased submarine patrols and intelligence gathering from the Pakistan Navy Headquarters in Karachi, the Indian Navy organized Operation Python for the night of December 8, 1971. With the PAF circling overhead throughout the day, the Indian strike group stayed out of range in open waters of the Arabian Sea. Knowing the opposing aircraft lacked the technology to deploy bombs at night, the three-ship assault force slipped in under the cover of darkness and fired more Styx missiles into the city.

With three more ships sunk in Karachi Harbor and additional damage to oil and ammunition stores, the Pakistani Navy was nearly inoperable. As if to cement its superiority, the Indian Navy instituted a second blockade — East Pakistan had been sealed off since the beginning of the conflict. For all intents and purposes, the fight would now be in the air and on land.

After less than two weeks of combat, an Instrument of Surrender was issued by Pakistani leadership in East Pakistan. With tens of thousands of prisoners of war, military dominance in the region by India was clear. In the weeks that followed, East Pakistan would separate politically and be renamed Bangladesh, leaving the modern nation of Pakistan a shadow of its former self — one that would launch Project-706 to produce a nuclear weapon out of fear for its safety in 1974.

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