It was a dawn like any other. Streaks of sun’s rays were fanning out of the eastern sky. In Karachi harbour and outside it was peaceful and quiet. Merchant ships of various nations lay at berths inside or at anchors in approaches to the port with deck lights on.
The night shift was unloading cargoes without which many of our nation building activities would come to a grinding halt. Warships of the Pakistan Navy at their berths or at moorings in harbour showed the slightest of activities where the watch on deck was performing multifarious duties preparing to proceed to sea at 0800 for the Weekly Exercise Program. Usual columns of smoke were rising from the Flotilla ship’s funnels as engineers gave life to cold boilers.
There was a mere tinge of winter in the air. It was cool and dry. Officers and men who had just been called from sleep were beginning to go about their daily chores. There was still an hour and a half before proceeding to sea. Nobody was aware that this dawn of 6 September 1965 had already unleashed events of momentous nature for Pakistan.
An order arrived over the radio, “Assume 1st degree of readiness for war.” This could not be an exercise; such signals were not used in peacetime. Another signal soon after confirmed that India had declared war and attacked on the Lahore front. Action Stations was immediately sounded and ships companies closed up at their stations, ammunitions were passed up to the guns and all weapons and equipment brought to full readiness. Looking back, Al Hamd o Lillah everything had passed off very smoothly.
Much earlier during March an important incident had taken place when Indian forces occupied our border post at Biar Bet in the Rann of Kutch. They were given a sound drubbing and soon evicted by the Pakistan Army. At that Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had vowed a response at a place and time of Indian choosing.
The cumulative effect of Rann of Kutch Emergency (March/April 1965) and Indian PM’s threat was to galvanize the Pakistan Navy Flotilla then under the command of Commodore SB Salimi to train itself into a well-knit and highly efficient strike force capable of performing a wide variety of offensive and defensive missions at sea, near or far from Pakistan’s shores. Thus the Flotilla was at the peak of readiness when the Indians launched their dastardly attack on Lahore in the early hours of 6th September.
By the forenoon of the 7th September, just 24 hours into war, with Radio Pakistan’s reports of important land and air battles in the north tension in every one’s mind onboard the ALAMGIR was really excruciating. The war melodies of Ms Noorjahan and the stirring voice of the news caster Shakeel Ahmed on Radio Pakistan added fervour to the spirit for battle. Just then a signal arrived from Naval Headquarters ordering the Flotilla to bombard at midnight a Radio Beacon at Dwarka that was directing Indian air strikes on Karachi from Jamnagar. It was electrifying and the strain vanished from our minds - at last something to do - and that too right in the lion’s den itself. For security considerations I announced the news of the mission after sunset on ship’s general broadcast system and the ship immediately resounded with three shouts of Allah o Akbar.
The force at sea consisted of seven ships BABUR (Captain Lodhi). KHAIBAR (Captain Hanif), BADR (Commander Malick), TIPPPU SULTAN (Commander Amir Aslam), JAHANGIR (Commander KM Hussain), SHAH JAHAN (Commander Zafar Shamsie) and ALAMGIR (Commander Iqbal F Quadir). The signal for bombardment had arrived just before noon and to be off Dwarka after midnight speed was increased to twenty knots. Not to give away the target just in case the force was discovered by any Indian aircraft initially the force headed for Bombay (now Mumbai). The Indian Navy had no night flying capabilities and after sunset course was altered for the Initial Position for Bombardment. The intelligence about the Indian Fleet being still in harbour was not available to ships and we assumed the aircraft carrier and at least one cruiser were most likely at sea.
The force reached the firing position seven miles off Dwarka at twenty five minutes past midnight. Firing was ordered and completed within four minutes. Shells were observed to burst all over the target area. As the bombardment commenced gunfire from shore was reported by some ships but nothing fell near anyone. Whatever fire was observed from shore was soon silenced.
The target for bombardment was the mobile Air Beacon whose coordinates were not certain. In ALAMGIR I decided to target the Railway Marshaling Yard and was happy that the Indian records show damage to a building and railway stocks in the Marshaling Yard. This showed the accuracy of gunfire as also of our Hydrographic Department’s Navigation Charts. A great credit to all concerned.
On completion of bombardment, anticipating reaction from Jamnagar Air Base forty miles away, the force assumed an air defence formation and some things happened in quick succession.
The improvements ALAMGIR radars proved their worth during an incident on the forenoon of 18th September with the Flotilla on patrol about 60 miles South West of Karachi on course towards Kutch, when the radar in search mode picked up radar transmissions from the direction of Kutch right ahead. After a while woolly echoes appeared on radar at 58 miles distance. At 52 miles distance they were confirmed as one large and four small ship contacts.
The two forces were heading towards each other at a combined speed of thirty knots. COMPAK then onboard BABUR was kept informed by flag and light signals.
The cruiser’s gun range being about thirty thousand yards (fifteen nautical miles) a battle was likely in about an hour. The Indians seemed unaware of our presence and at the range of forty nautical miles ALAMGIR picked up Indian ships’ ultra-high frequency radio nets both on Tactical Net on which command orders were given and on Information Net on which a variety of information was exchanged.
However, at the range of thirty two miles both BABUR and the Indians detected each other on radar. Both force commanders made enemy contact reports (these were always made in plain language - English in Pakistan and India) to their headquarters and the Indian force immediately turned about and headed back towards Kutch at high speed. With identical maximum speeds a successful chase was not possible and the Flotilla was cheated of an opportunity to test its mettle. Later from books published in India it appears that Rear Admiral Sampson onboard cruiser MYSORE was leading the Indian force.
Soon thereafter a ceasefire was announced but patrolling by ships at sea continued for another fortnight before ships retuned to harbour and peacetime state of alert reverted to.
The overall effect of bombardment was thus much greater and more effective than mere psychological and according to Admiral Kohli, an ex-Indian Navy Chief, in his book “We Dared” the senior Indian naval officers felt ashamed and could not hold their heads high. A British author described the Dwarka Operation as daring and executed in classical fashion. For Pakistan Navy it was a mission accomplished with dare against a vastly superior force. Credits for this must go to Vice Admiral AR Khan the Commander in Chief who ordered the bombardment, Commodore SB Salimi who tirelessly trained the Flotilla and brought it to the peak of efficiency, Commodore SM Anwar who commanded the force during the period of War, the Commanding Officers of ships who ably led their ship’s companies and most of all the officers and men who resolutely and fearlessly executed the various tasks assigned to them.