INS Vikrant (R11)
INS Vikrant in 1984
|Laid down:||14 October 1943|
|Launched:||22 September 1945|
|Identification:||Pennant number: R49|
|Fate:||Laid up, 1947; Sold to India, 1957|
|Commissioned:||4 March 1961|
|Decommissioned:||31 January 1997|
|Identification:||Pennant number: R11|
|Class and type:||Majestic-class light carrier|
|Length:||700 ft (210 m) (o/a)|
|Beam:||128 ft (39 m)|
|Draught:||24 ft (7.3 m)|
|Propulsion:||2 shafts; 2 Parsons geared steam turbines|
|Speed:||25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph)|
|Armament:||16 × 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns (later reduced to 8)|
INS Vikrant (Sanskrit: विक्रान्त, for courageous) was a Majestic-class aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy. The ship was built as HMS Hercules for the Royal Navy during World War II, but construction was put on hold after the war, and she never entered British service. India purchased the incomplete carrier from the United Kingdom in 1957, and construction was completed in 1961. INS Vikrant was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy and played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade of East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
The ship was decommissioned in January 1997 and, from 1997 to 2012, she was preserved as a museum ship in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, until it was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns. In January 2014, the ship was sold through an online auction and scrapped in November 2014 after final clearance from the Supreme Court.
History and construction
During the early years of World War II, the Royal Navy built a fleet of light aircraft carriers to counter the German and Japanese navies. The 1942 Design Light Fleet Carrier, commonly referred to as the British Light Fleet Carrier, was the result. Used by eight navies between 1944 and 2001, they were designed and constructed by civilian shipyards to serve as an intermediate step between the expensive, full-sized fleet aircraft carriers and the less expensive and more-quickly-built but limited-capability escort carriers.
Sixteen light fleet carriers were ordered, and all were laid down to the Colossus-class design in 1942 and 1943. Only eight were completed to this design; of these, four entered service before the end of the war, and none saw combat. Two more were fitted with maintenance and repair facilities instead of aircraft catapults and arresting gear, and entered service as aircraft maintenance carriers. The final six were modified during construction to handle larger and faster aircraft, and were re-designated the Majestic class. The improvements from the Colossus class to the Majestic class included improved displacement, armament, catapult, aircraft elevators and aircraft capacity.
The fifth ship in the series, HMS Hercules, ordered on 7 August 1942, was laid down on 14 October 1943 by Vickers-Armstrong on the River Tyne. She was launched on 22 September 1945, and her construction was suspended in May 1946, following the end of World War II. At the time of suspension, 75% of the construction was complete. Her hull had been preserved and, in May 1947, a decade before being sold to India, she was laid up in Gareloch off the Clyde. In January 1957, she was purchased by India and was towed to Belfast to complete her construction and modifications by Harland and Wolff. Several improvements to the original design were ordered by the Indian Navy, including an angled deck, steam catapults and a modified island.
Design and description
The Majestic-class carriers were modified and better equipped than the previous Colossus-class carriers. The flight deck was designed to handle aircraft up to 24,000 pounds (11,000 kg), but 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) remained the heaviest landing weight of an aircraft. Larger 54 by 34 feet (16.5 by 10.4 m) lifts were installed. After the war, the carriers were sold to several Commonwealth nations. Although the ships shared similar characteristics, they varied from ship to ship depending on the requirements of the country to which the ship was sold.
Vikrant displaced 16,000 tonnes (16,000 long tons) at standard load and 19,500 t (19,200 long tons) at deep load. They 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). The ships were powered by a pair of Parsons geared steam turbines, each driving two propeller shafts, using steam provided by four Admiralty three-drum boilers. The turbines developed a total of 40,000 indicated horsepower (30,000 kW) which gave a maximum speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). They carried about 3,175 t (3,125 long tons) of fuel oil that gave them a range of 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km; 14,000 mi) at 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph), and 6,200 mi (10,000 km) at 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). The crew numbered 1,110 officers and ratings, including the air crew.
The ship was armed with sixteen 40-millimetre (1.6 in) Bofors anti-aircraft guns, but the count was later reduced to eight. At various times, its aircraft consisted of Hawker Sea Hawk, Sea King Mk 42B, HAL Chetak, Sea Harrier (STOVL) and Breguet Alizé Br.1050. The carrier fielded between 21 and 23 aircraft of all types. The ship was equipped with one LW-05 air-search radar, one ZW-06 surface-search radar, one LW-10 tactical radar and one Type 963 aircraft landing radar with other communication systems.
The ship was commissioned into the Indian Navy as INS Vikrant by Vijayalakshmi Pandit, then Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom on 4 March 1961 in Belfast, as the first aircraft carrier to serve with the Indian Navy. The name Vikrant was derived from Sanskrit word vikrānta meaning "stepping beyond", "courageous" or "bold". Captain Pritam Singh became the first commanding officer of the carrier. Initially British Hawker Sea Hawk fighter-bombers and French Alizé anti-submarine aircraft were embarked on the carrier. On 18 May 1961, the first jet landed on her deck piloted by Lieutenant Radhakrishna Hariram Tahiliani, later admiral and Chief of the Naval Staff of India from 1984 to 1987. Vikrant formally joined the Indian Navy's Fleet in Bombay on 3 November 1961, when she was received at Ballard Pier by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Soon afterwards, the ship saw action during Operation Vijay (code name for Annexation of Portuguese India) during 18–19 December 1961. She was deployed off the coast of Goa, along with two destroyers—INS Rajput and INS Kirpan. Though Vikrant did not see much action, she patrolled along the coast to prevent foreign intercession. During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965, Vikrant was unavailable for combat operations due to maintenance requirements and did not see any action. Pakistan claimed to have sunk the ship when it was actually in dry dock refitting.
In June 1970, Vikrant was docked at the Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, due to many internal fatigue cracks and fissures in the water drums of her boilers that could not be repaired by welding. As replacements drums were not available locally, four new ones were ordered from Britain and Naval Headquarters issued orders to not use the boilers until further notice. Eventually, on 26 February 1971, the ship was moved from Ballard Pier Extension to the anchorage. The main objective behind this move was to light up the boilers at reduced pressure, and work up the main and flight deck machinery, that had been idle for almost seven months. On 1 March, the boilers were ignited and basin trials up to 40 revolutions per minute (RPM) were conducted. Catapult trials were also conducted on the same day.
On 18 March, the ship was taken to sea for preliminary sea trials and returned 20 March. Trials were again conducted on 26–27 April. After the sea trials, the navy decided to limit the boilers to a pressure of 400 pounds per square inch (2,800 kPa) and the propeller revolutions to revolutions to 120 RPM ahead, and 80 RPM astern. Thereby, the ship's speed was confined to 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph). With the growing expectations of a war with Pakistan in the near future, the navy started to transfer its ships to strategically advantageous locations in Indian waters. The Naval Headquarters' primary concern about the operation was the serviceability of Vikrant. Captain (later Vice Admiral) Gulab Mohanlal Hiranandani, then the Fleet Operations Officer of the Indian Navy, recalls his words with the Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Sardarilal Mathradas Nanda when asked about his opinion about Vikrant not participating in the war as:
...during the 1965 war Vikrant was sitting in Bombay Harbour and did not go out to sea. If the same thing happened in 1971, Vikrant would be called an white elephant and naval aviation would be written off. Vikrant had to be seen being operational even if we didn't fly any aircraft.— Captain Hiranandani, 
Nanda and Hiranandani proved to be instrumental in taking Vikrant to war. There were objections that the ship might have severe operational difficulties that would expose the carrier to more danger. In addition, the three Daphne-class submarines acquired by the Pakistan Navy supported this criticism. In June, extensive deep sea trials were carried out, with steel safety harnesses around the three boilers still operational.[a] A few observation windows were fitted as a precautionary measure to detect any steam leaks. By the end of June, the trials were complete and Vikrant was cleared to participate in the war (if it happened), with its speed restricted to 14 knots.
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
As a part of preparations for the war, Vikrant was assigned to the Eastern Naval Command, then to the Eastern Fleet. The fleet, along with INS Vikrant, consisted of the two Brahmaputra-class frigates, INS Brahmaputra and INS Beas, two Petya III-class corvettes; INS Kamorta and INS Kavaratti, and one submarine, INS Khanderi. The main reason behind strengthening the Eastern Fleet was to counter the Pakistani maritime forces deployed in support of military operations in East Bengal. A surveillance area of 18,000 square miles (47,000 km2), confined by a triangle with a base of 270 mi (430 km), and sides of 165 mi (266 km) and 225 mi (362 km), was set. Any ship in this area were to be challenged and checked. If found neutral, it would be escorted to the nearest Indian port, otherwise, it would be captured, and taken as a war prize.
In the mean time, the intelligence reports confirmed that Pakistan was to deploy a Tench-class submarine, PNS Ghazi. Ghazi was considered as a serious threat to Vikrant by the Indian Navy once her approximate position was known to the Pakistanis when she started operating aircraft. Of the four available surface ships, (INS Kavaratti) had no sonar, which meant that the other three to remain in the close vicinity (5–10 mi (8.0–16.1 km)) of Vikrant, without which the carrier would be completely vulnerable to attack by Ghazi.
On 23 July, Vikrant sailed off to Cochin in company with the Western Fleet. En route, before reaching Cochin on 26 July, Sea King landing trials were carried out. After the completion of the radar and communication trials on 28 July, she departed for Madras, escorted by Brahmaputra and Beas. The next major problem was flying the aircraft from the carrier. The Commanding Officer of the ship, Captain (later Vice Admiral) S. Prakash, was seriously concerned about flying. He worried that the aircrew would be demoralized if no aircraft flew from the ship, which could be disastrous. The Indian Naval Headquarters remained stubborn on the speed restrictions, and sought confirmation from Prakash whether it was possible to embark an Alizé without compromising the speed restrictions. With different possibilities in view, such as, accepting the launch and recovery of aircraft at barely above the stalling speed and build up speed for a short duration with very little weight so as to operate aircraft at minimum required speeds, eventually, an Alizé aircraft was hooked on board. As this was successful, in due course, more Alizés were embarked followed later by a Seahawk squadron.
By the end of September, Vikrant and her escorts reached Port Blair. En route to Vishakhapatnam, tactical exercises were conducted in the presence of Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command. From Vishakhapatnam, Vikrant set out for Madras for maintenance. Rear Admiral S. H. Sharma was appointed Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet and arrived at Vishakhapatnam on 14 October. After receiving the reports that Pakistan might launch preemptive strikes, all the maintenance was stopped, and the second phase of the tactical exercises was conducted during the night of 26/27 October at Vishakhapatnam, after which Vikrant returned to Madras to resume maintenance. On 1 November, the Eastern Fleet was formally constituted, and on 13 November, all the ships set out for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands from Madras. In case of any misadventure, it was planned to sail off Vikrant to a remote anchorage, isolating it from the outside world. Simultaneously, deception signals would be made to make the Pakistanis believe that Vikrant was operating somewhere between Madras and Vishakhapatnam.
On 23 November, an emergency was declared in Pakistan, following the clash of Indian and Pakistani troops in East Pakistan on 21 November. On 2 December, the Eastern Fleet proceeded to its patrol area in anticipation of an attack by Pakistan. The Pakistan Navy had deployed the submarine Ghazi on 14 November to specifically target and sink Vikrant and reached near Madras by 23 November. At this time, the Naval Headquarters attempted to deceive Ghazi as far as possible. Rajput was used as a decoy for Vikrant and sailed to 160 mi (260 km) off the coast of Vishakhapatnam where it broadcast many radio signals. Heavy wireless traffic was one way to deceive the enemy about the presence of a big ship.
The submarine sank off the Visakhapatnam coast under mysterious circumstances. On the night of 3/4 December, a muffled underwater explosion was detected by a coastal battery who reported the same to the Maritime Operations Room in Vishakhapatnam. On the morning of 4 December, a local fisherman was reported to have observed flotsam. After this, Indian naval officials began to suspect that something had sunk off the coast, but they were unsure of the vessel's identity. The next day, a clearance diving team was sent to search the area, and they confirmed that Ghazi had sunk in shallow waters. However, the reason for Ghazi's fate is unclear. The Indian Navy official historian, Hiranandani, points out three different possibilities, after having analyzed the position of the rudder and extent of damage suffered. The first possibility was that Ghazi had come up to periscope depth to identify her position and may have observed an anti-submarine vessel that caused her to dive in an immense hurry to get away, which might have led her to bury her nose in the bottom. The second possibility is closely related to the first one; on the night of the explosion, INS Rajput was on patrol off Visakhapatnam, having observed a severe disturbance in water, the Commanding Officer expected it to be a submarine diving and dropped two depth charges at the spot. The position where the depth charges were deployed was very close to the wreckage location. The third possibility is that the day before hostilities broke out, Ghazi had laid mines, and might have detonated one while laying them.
Vikrant was redeployed towards Chittagong at the outbreak of hostilities. On 4 December 1971, the ship's Sea Hawks struck shipping in Chittagong and Cox's Bazar harbours, sinking or incapacitating most ships there. Later strikes targeted Khulna and the Port of Mongla, which continued until the 10th while other operations were flown in support of establishing a naval blockade in East Pakistan. On 14 December, the Sea Hawks attacked the cantonment area in Chittagong destroying several Pakistani army barracks. Medium anti-aircraft fire was observed during this strike. Simultaneous attacks by Alizés continued on Cox's Bazar. After this Vikrant's fuel levels dropped to less than twenty-five percent, and the aircraft carrier sailed off to Paradip for refueling. The crew of INS Vikrant earned two Mahavir Chakras and twelve Vir Chakra gallantry medals for their part in the war.
Though the ship did not see much service after the war, the ship was given two major modernization refits—the first one from 1979 to 1981 and the second one from 1987 to 1989. In the first phase, her boilers, radars, communication systems and anti-aircraft guns were modernized, and facilities to operate Sea Harriers were installed. In the second phase, facilities to operate the new Sea Harrier Vertical/Short Take Off and Land (V/STOL) fighter aircraft and the new Sea King Mk 42B Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopters were introduced. A 9.75-degree ski-jump ramp was fitted. Again in 1991, Vikrant underwent a six-month refit, followed by another fourteen-month refit in 1992–94. She remained operational thereafter, flying Sea Harriers, Sea Kings and Chetaks until her final sea outing on 23 November 1994. In January 1995, the navy decided to keep Vikrant in "safe to float" state. She was laid up and formally decommissioned on 31 January 1997.
Since its commissioning, INS Vikrant has embarked four squadrons of the Naval Air Arm of the Indian Navy:
|INAS 300||White Tigers||Hawker Sea Hawk
||Operated during the 1971 war, and phased out in 1978.|
|BAE Sea Harrier||Introduced in 1983, with the first Harrier landing on the ship's deck on 20 December 1983, operated until the ship was decommissioned in 1997.|
|INAS 310||Cobras||Breguet Alizé||Operated during the 1971 war, and phased out in 1987, with the last Alizé flown off on 2 April 1987.|
|INAS 321||Angels||Alouette III/
|The Alouettes/Chetaks were first embarked in 1960s, and operated until the ship was decommissioned in 1997.|
|INAS 330||Harpoons||Westland Sea King||Though introduced into the Indian Navy in 1974, the Sea Kings operated on Vikrant from 1991, and remained until the ship was decommissioned in 1997.|
Following the decommissioning in 1997, the ship was marked for preservation as a museum ship in Mumbai. Lack of funding prevented progress on the ship's conversion to a museum and it was speculated that the ship would be made into a training ship. In 2001, the ship was opened to the public by the Indian Navy, but the Government of Maharashtra was unable to find a partner to operate the museum on a permanent, long-term basis and the museum was closed after it was deemed unsafe for the public in 2012.
In August 2013, Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha, chief of the Western Naval Command, said the Ministry of Defence would scrap the ship as she had become very difficult to maintain and no private bidders had offered to fund the museum's operations. On 3 December 2013, the Indian government decided to auction the ship. The Bombay High Court dismissed a public-interest lawsuit filed by Kiran Paigankar to stop the auction, stating the vessel's dilapidated condition did not warrant her preservation, nor were the necessary funds or government support available.
In January 2014, the ship was sold through an online auction to a Darukhana ship-breaker for ₹60 crore (US$8.9 million). The Supreme Court of India dismissed another lawsuit challenging the ship's sale and scrapping on 14 August 2014. Vikrant remained beached off Darukhana in Mumbai Port while awaiting the final clearances of the Mumbai Port Trust. On 12 November 2014, the Supreme Court gave its final approval for the carrier to be scrapped which commenced on 22 November 2014.
In memory of Vikrant, the "Vikrant Memorial" was unveiled by Vice Admiral Surinder Pal Singh Cheema, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Western Naval Command at K Subash Marg in the Naval Dockyard of Mumbai on 25 January 2016. The memorial is made from metal recovered from the ship. In February 2016, Bajaj unveiled a new motorbike made with metal from Vikrant's scrap and named it Bajaj V in honour of Vikrant.
In popular culture
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