By Janhavi Lokegaonkar, Senior Research Associate, Maritime History Society
The ‘Killer’ Squadron of the Indian Navy is a proud inheritor of a rich legacy, laced with exploits of valour, grit and ingenuity of the highest order. The exploits of the squadron on the fateful nights of 04 and 08 December 1971, not only created the legend of the Killers but also a distinct Killer ethos and identity, which survives to this date.
One such account of the exemplary role of Indian Navy in 1971 War operations is the saga of INS Vidyut (K83). She was a part of the 25th Missile Boat ‘Killer’ Squadron that played a pivotal role during the war. Lest we forget the contribution and significance of the ‘silent sentinels’ that took active part in the Western theatre of war, this article commemorates the service rendered by K83 as a homage to its odyssey and the continuing legacy of the Squadron.
Commissioned on 19 Feb 1971, INS Vidyut (K83) served the nation for 20 years before being decommissioned on 31 Mar 1991. Its legacy now lives on in the form of its second avatar i.e., INS Vidyut (K48) which still is in active service with the Indian Navy. We at MHS took this opportunity to reminisce with Commander Bhupendra Bikram Singh (Retd), the Commanding Officer of INS Vidyut (K83) during the 1971 Operations.
The interview was conducted over telephone, respecting the existing COVID protocols. Cdr BB Singh (Retd) now all of 83 years of age could still clearly recall the biting cold of Vladivostok, in the erstwhile Soviet Union, where he had gone for his initial training. They had to “undergo tough and rigorous training” in the unforgiving climatic conditions. “The word Vladivostok means in Russian ‘Far East’. So, it was in the absolute extreme corner of the then Soviet Union and very close to the Polar Circle. So, one can imagine the weather conditions in that area where the temperature dipped to about -18 to -25 degrees Celsius in winter”, he explained.
When asked about his rank when he assumed the duty of Commanding Officer of K83 he said, “When I was selected, I was a Lieutenant (a very young officer, he smirked). But it was in the Soviet Union, where I took charge as I was promoted as the Acting Lieutenant Commander.”
Stealth and surprise are some of the important elements when you fight wars. And this was also true during the 1971 Operations since the 25th Missile Boat Squadron and the Indian Navy was battle ready at the start of the war. When enquired about the mode of signal and communication and the lack of modern-day technology back then, he said, “there was no communication between us- ship to ship or ship to shore establishments. And one will be surprised to know that when we were going for the attack, the RADARs were off, signals were off and even the navigational lights were off so that nobody could detect us.” “And so, to keep something secret you don’t open your mouth!”, he quipped.
“The main role of the missile boat was self-defence of the harbour. But, our officers with their knowledge and courage made it possible for these boats to go to a far-off enemy port and carry out attacks on their harbour. That indeed was a very great achievement.”
Speaking to him about the psyche of the officers and crew on board his ship during the War, he stated, “The morale (of the crew) was very high. Everybody was full of josh and wanted to achieve the target and teach our enemy a certain lesson so that they wouldn’t look towards us again.” He further explained that once they were in the war zone, nobody was thinking about anything else other than accomplishing the set target, hence there was no coping mechanism as such.
When asked about how has the Indian Navy changed since the 1971 War, pat came the reply, “I think the Indian Navy has transformed very well. I was recently in Mumbai for two days when the Missile Boat Squadron were honoured by the President of India.” (Here he refers that the 22nd Missile Vessel Squadron were bestowed with the President’s Standard on 08 Dec 2021 in Mumbai for the outstanding service it has rendered for the past fifty years). He was content to see the progress made by the Indian Navy thus far as it has metamorphosed into a formidable force.
He parted with a short message for the next generation of officers and aspirants- “The Navy is a wonderful service and a way of life. You get to see the world, meet different people from different nationalities. Any young person who is fond of adventure should join the Indian Navy.”
They say, “Ships never die…their legacy remains!” As per naval traditions, the new ships that are commissioned are christened with the names of old ships that have accomplished exemplary achievements. Keeping up with this tradition, a missile vessel of the same name INS Vidyut (K48), a Veer class corvette was commissioned on 16 Jan 1995 and is in active service of the Indian Navy.