December 3, 1971, may be the day India officially went to war with Pakistan, after its air force, in the words of Mrs Indira Gandhi, "struck at our airfields in Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Avantipur, Utterlai, Jodhpur, Ambala and Agra", but known to only a few, a Pakistani submarine, PNS Ghazi, had been on the prowl on India's eastern coast since November-end.Central to the plots of two films -- the Telugu-Hindi production, 'The Ghazi Attack' (2017), starring Rana Daggubati and Taapsee Pannu, and Meghna Gulzar's 'Raazi', starring Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal -- the Pakistani submarine's target was the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, the pride of the Indian Navy.From November 27 onwards, PNS Ghazi hung about 5-10 miles off the mouth of the Visakhapatnam harbour, armed with torpedoes and mines, waiting for the Vikrant.On November 13, two weeks before the Ghazi arrived at the mouth of Visakhapatnam, the Vikrant, with its complement of Seahawks, Alizes and Alouettes, left Chennai (then Madras) for the Andaman and Nicobar islands with rest of the recently formed Eastern Fleet.This was a calculated strategic move to counter Pakistan's attempt to attack the Vikrant. So, while the Vikrant and the Eastern Fleet worked themselves up in the Andaman, Ghazi awaited its unexpected fate off the Visakhapatnam harbour.On the afternoon of December 1, 1971, two days before war broke out, Vice Admiral N. Krishnan, the then Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C), Eastern Naval Command, summoned Lieutenant Commander Inder Singh, the then Commanding Officer (CO), Indian Naval Ship Rajput to his office. The Admiral had an astounding order to pass.
The Indian Navy was certain that PNS Ghazi was anywhere between Madras and Visakhapatnam with the intention to attack INS Vikrant as soon as the hostilities broke out. The FOC-in-C ordered the CO of the Rajput to sail out and act as a decoy to mislead Ghazi into believing the ship to be Vikrant. INS Rajput was also ordered to send misleading signals. On December 2, 1971, INS Rajput sailed out.Lt. Cdr. Inder Singh's last words to the FOC-in-C were: "Sir, I am ready to take the challenge!"On December 3, 1971, when INS Rajput returned to Visakhapatnam harbour for fuelling, India and Pakistan were a few hours away from war. The warship had managed to stay unscathed. After topping up supplies, INS Rajput left the Visakhapatnam harbour. While doing so, a sudden disturbance was observed in the water.Action stations were already closed up and an immediate attack was carried out with depth charges dropped to maximum impact. The ship got a deafening shock from the heavy blasts, but there was little evidence of any damage.It was only on December 5, 1971, when divers from the INS Akshay examined the site of explosions, they confirmed having sighted the remains of a submarine. Evidence indicated that an internal explosion had sunk the Ghazi. Irrespective of cause, the war had taken its first casualty, and India gained a tangible strategic advantage.It was now time to unleash the potency of the INS Vikrant's naval air power.From December 4, 1971, the aircraft of Vikrant -- the Seahawks (White Tigers) and Alizes (Cobras) -- wreaked havoc on the enemy forces stationed in East Pakistan. The Seahawks were commanded by Lt. Cdr. S.K. Gupta and the Alizes by Lt. Cdr. Ravi Dhir. The White Tigers and Cobras more than lived up to their names, irreparably damaging enemy morale in East Pakistan.