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Ins Vikrant an Aircraft Carrier That Put India on the Naval Map

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The author is an air warrior, military historian and writer on warfare and military history



The aircraft carrier is an imposing ship. Ever since Douhet propounded his theory of airpower as the decisive factor in warfare, the aircraft carrier has given muscle to Douhet's theory. After 1947 when India became free, the Indian Navy decided that India must have an aircraft carrier as a projection of Indian sea power. Much credit for this must go to Krishna Menon the Indian defense minister during the time when Nehru was the prime minister. He was able to prevail on Nehru to accept the Indian Naval staff requirement for an aircraft carrier for the navy. Not many aircraft carriers were available for sale and the Russians on whom Menon relied a lot because of his leftist leanings never had one to sell.

The Indian search narrowed down to the HMS Hercules a light aircraft carrier that had never been commissioned. The light carrier displaced 16000 tonnes (a puny tonnage compared to today's carriers) at standard load. She had an overall length of 700 ft (210 m), a beam of 128 ft (39 m), and a mean deep draught of 24 ft (7.3 m).


First Aircraft Carrier

Once the Navy had identified the capital ship to be brought steps were taken to close the deal. This ships’ construction had commenced in 1943 during the height of the war. The ship was ready by 1946 and christened as HMS Hercules but by then the war was over, and given the constraints of the British budget it was decided by the British Admiralty that they did not need this carrier. The ship was thus not commissioned, but stored in mothballs for some subsequent use at a later date.

The British in need of hard cash offered this carrier to the Indian navy. After an inspection, HMS Hercules was bought by the Indian Government for the navy. This was in 1957 and the ship was got ready for extensive refit, as per the requirement of the Indian navy. The Russians when they came to know of this deal were not happy and offered submarines and cruisers. The Indian navy was firm on this deal and the ship was got ready for the Indian navy. The refit took 4 years and the aircraft carrier was rechristened as the INS Vikrant. It sailed from London in 1961 to join the Indian western fleet and towards the end of 1961 became part of the Indian Western Naval command,

INS Vikrant

Vikrant is the Sanskrit word for victorious and it was to prove exactly that for the Indian navy. The Vikrant could carry 8 Sea Hawk fighter-bombers and an equal complement of Alize anti-submarine aircraft. The aircraft was in dry dock for repairs during the 1965 war with Pakistan and thus missed the action. In late 1969 with war clouds hovering with the trouble in East Pakistan, the ship was transferred to the Eastern Naval Command and located close to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands.

At that time one of the boilers of the ship packed up and a new boiler was flatly refused by the British and the USA in favor of Pakistan. The Indian engineers however worked on their own and were able to run the ship only on the other boiler, though its speed was reduced from 25 knots to 15 knots per hour.

1971 War

In December the operation order was issued by Naval Headquarters to the Vikrant to seek and destroy Pakistan naval establishments and ships in the Bay of Bengal and East Pakistan. In December 1971 the Vikrant and its assault and escort ships mounted attacks on the East Pakistan ports and shipping including their main base at Chittagong. In a 10 day campaign, the Vikrant and aircraft from the carrier completely neutralized the Pakistan Navy in the East. Reports now point out that Chittagong port burned for days after the attack.

In all, about 300 strike sorties were flown by aircraft from Vikrant in 10 days. Eight Sea-Hawks and a similar number of Alize were hit by ground fire. In retrospect, it has been appreciated that INS Vikrant and its aircraft played a crucial role in the liberation of Bangladesh. The carrier was commanded by Captain Swaraj Parkash

An alarmed Richard Nixon decided to intervene on the side of Pakistan and ordered the US carrier task force to sail to the Bay of Bengal and establish a bridgehead. Indira Gandhi invoked the Indo-Soviet security treaty and Leonid Brezhnev ordered the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet to tack on to the US flotilla. It was all the ingredients for a world war and in a coded message the Eastern Naval fleet was ordered to be ready to face the US Fleet. But Pakistan was defeated and demoralized and surrendered by mid-December 1971 and over 100,000 Pakistan soldiers became pows. The war ended in 13 days but the role of the Vikrant was crucial to the success of the operation.


Last Word

The Vikrant continued in service till 1997 and was then decommissioned. Because of its long association with the Indian Navy, the Government of India thought of converting the ship into a museum. It was anchored off the Mumbai port. The ship served as a museum from 2002 to 2012.

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However, after an evaluation by the defense ministry, it was decided that maintaining the ship as a museum was a costly affair. A decision was taken to sell the ship as scrap. It has now been towed away and scrapped.

The Indian Navy has however launched another ship built at the Cochin shipyard and christened Vikrant. This is a 45,000-ton aircraft carrier and is at present undergoing sea trials. It is due to be inducted towards the end of the year.

Further reading Vikrant in war

War in the Indian Ocean By Vice-Admiral Mihir K. Roy (Lancer)

© 2013 MG Singh


AbhijeetMohapatra from Bhubaneswar, India on December 12, 2013:

Your articles are great to read out. Can you provide me with your mail id so I can tell you something useful.

Sincerely Yours

Young friend

Mahaveer Sanglikar from Pune, India on July 27, 2013:

INS Vikrant was a pride of India. I too remember it's great role in 1971 Indo-Pak war. I was a high school student in that days and I was addicted to read newspaper and listen to radio to get the war news.

pramodgokhale from Pune( India) on January 29, 2013:


I remembered the days in 1971 Indo-Pak war and Vikrant's great job in blocking East Pakistan's port and made India's victory early.

Second world war's used Aircraft carrier was used in war and life was extended , it is a technological marvel by Indian engineers.

kudos to India's deference people

Thank you for recollections.

pramod gokhale

MG Singh (author) from UAE on January 24, 2013:

Thank you Harald. The Vikrant was replaced by the Virat, another carrier purchased from the UK. India has now gone for a second carrier from Russia - the Goroshokov. The Indian navy will have 2 carriers and 2 are under construction in India. The first is scheduled to entet service by 2014. India and USA are now strategic partners and the aim is to keep China at bay.

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 24, 2013:

This was very interesting. I knew nothing about India's aircraft carrier. Did any replace it? In the US, during the cold war, India hardly ever made the news-- because it was essentially "neutral". Hence most Americans know about the Beatles in India and Ghandi but little else. At least that is slowly changing.

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