My stints with the Killers were two: the first one was as a commanding officer of INS Vipul, the 1241 RE ships collectively named as the 22nd Killer Squadron, the flame bearers of the legacy of original Killers – the 25th KS. This was in the year 1993-94. The second one was as NOIC (Andhra Pradesh) when the 25th KS in its second avatar (that is the Chamak class of OSA II Missile boats, which joined the Indian Navy in 1976-77) was placed under my operational command in 1997-98. Pratap and Charag had been decommissioned in May 1996, one year before I joined. But, I had six of them throughout my tenure: Prachand, Pralaya, Prabal, Chapal, Chamak and Chatak.
So powerful is the legacy of the Killers that everyone in the Indian Navy is affected by their saga of glory. But if you are a Killer (that is if you have ever served on the original 200 tons missile boats or their later day successors, the 400 tons REs), your chest bulges out with pride. And, no matter how many times you have attended the Killers Nite, and how many times you have heard the story of Operation Trident, you feel a tremor run up your spine when you come to the part whence Nipat, Nirghat and Veer set Karachi ablaze. How fortunate you would be, you ask yourself hopefully, if you were to be asked to take part in something equally brash, daring and decisive?
As Commanding Officer of Vipul, I was also the Div Commander of K222 Div. In an exercise another ship of the squadron (Vinash under then LtCdr Anil Chawla) and my ship were anchored very close to the coast in the shadow of hills, so as to defeat any radar detection and even visual sighting. At the appointed hour at night, we were to weigh anchor, charge at high-speed, attack the “enemy” harbour and return to our secret anchorage before dawn. With the distance involved this called for more than seven hours of steaming above thirty knots, with all four turbines (the Cruise and Boost turbines) clutched in. Even though it was only a mock attack, as we quietly weighed anchor and proceeded to our respective sectors for attack, the ships pulsated with live energy. Outwardly nothing could have been perceived as we were totally darkened. But inside it was like a bomb with live fuze.
At such speeds the forecastle of the ship rises and you stand on the open conning deck, holding on to a guardrail. Even at that, there are occasions when your feet are in the air and your only contact with the boat is a few fingers of the hand, the other one holding the binoculars. “Is this how Nirghat, Nipat and Veer would have felt on that fateful night of 4th Dec?” you ask yourself, “Nay, the excitement and the suspense would have been even more. After all, actual enemy harbour and waters around it are so different from simulated enemy harbour.” At those speeds, as you hear the report of a fishing vessel being sighted or detected in pitch dark night, you are already crossing it. So you start praying not so much for the success of the “mission” but that the fishing boats would have the good sense to show some lights.
Even the enemy has to be fast to protect its harbour and assets. The Ops Room teams of the ships on Local Naval Defence have to swiftly plot and assess fast and fleeting contacts because before they can ascertain whether these are real or ghost targets, these are gone outside their limited detection range (because of the low radar profile of these boats).
Anil and I were lucky to have arrived at our predetermined positions without being detected. As we coordinated a sectoral and simulated missile attack, we imagined the targets our missiles would hit: PNS Muhafiz, PNS Khaiber or PNS Shahjehan or perhaps the fuel storage tanks! More than twenty-two years after the original attack, even a simulated attack still brought the blood rushing to one’s temples. I am sure it still does. An SSM seen at the receiving end still causes nightmares. The lookout’s cry of “fireball approaching from Green Four Five” is still the report requiring greatest urgency of action.
After the attacks as we made our way quietly towards the secret anchorage, my boat was detected by the “enemy”. However, much before that I was aware of her presence. I took shelter just astern of a large merchant ship proceeding in the direction we were headed, in such a way that our silhouettes nearly merged. The “enemy” having detected two targets at one time felt cheated about the “vanished” second target and angrily directed the “ship on my starboard bow stop immediately for investigation” on MMB radio-set. I kept totally silent, but, what ensued was a lively volley of choicest abuses from the master of the merchant ship who was woken up at 2 AM to answer this call!
Nevertheless, the “enemy” ship claimed to have fired her SSMs at me. At the debrief it was established that these might have resulted in the sinking of the merchant ship, because of the nature of the missiles’ seeker head logic. For the first time it made me feel good about my smallness – having adequate wherewithal to do big damage to the enemy but small enough to be detected and targeted; this being the very essence of the spirit of the boldness and the daring. I feel that the crews of these boats are as if injected with this spirit on joining. Thinking-out-of-the-box is the current buzzword in the Navy. The Killers were never restricted to any box, real or imaginary.
Four years later, when I was the NOIC in Vizag, two of my missile boats, each being twenty-one years old and hence in poor state of health, took part in an exercise with the Eastern Fleet, in sea state four to five. Both developed defects at sea but the grit and professionalism with which they met these contingencies made the Fleet Commander appreciatively write to me. That year, yet again, we celebrated the Killers Nite and gifted a memento to all the guests with the words ‘Anytime – Anywhere’, the words that describe the Killers spirit the best. It also indicated the resolve of the 25th Killers Squadron, which would do anything to recreate the aura of the night of 4th Dec 1971, notwithstanding their condition or the sea state.
“No fear if the task is dangerous or daring,
No worry if even the gods aren’t caring;
But we sail on we sail on we sail on still,
For we the Killers have an undying will.”
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