INS Vikrant (Sanskrit: विक्रान्त, for courageous) (formerly HMS Hercules) was a Majestic-class aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy. She played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade on East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
India purchased INS Vikrant from the United Kingdom in 1957. Upon her completion in 1961, she was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy. After a distinguished service, she was decommissioned in January 1997. She was preserved as a museum ship in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, until it was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns. At the end of January 2014, Vikrant was sold through an online auction to an Alang ship-breaker, and is now berthed off Bhavnagar undergoing preparations to be broken up.
Vikrant was ordered as the HMS Hercules by the Royal Navy. She was laid down on 12 November 1943 by Vickers-Armstrong on the River Tyne. She was launched on 22 September 1945. However, with the end of World War II, her construction was suspended in May 1946 and she was laid up for possible future use.
In January 1957 she was sold to India. She was towed to Belfast to complete her construction and for modifications by Harland and Wolff. A number of improvements to the original design were ordered by the Indian Navy, including an angled deck, steam catapults and a modified island.
The Indian Navy considered buying her sister HMS Leviathan as well and commissioning her as INS Vikram. However, this never materialized due to budgetary concerns.
Vikrant was commissioned into the Indian Navy by then Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Vijayalakshmi Pandit on 4 March 1961 in Belfast. The name Vikrant was taken from Sanskrit vikrānta meaning "stepping beyond", i.e. "courageous" or "bold". Captain Pritam Singh was the first commanding officer of the carrier.
The Vikrant's initial air wing consisted of British Hawker Sea Hawk fighter-bombers and a French Alize anti-submarine aircraft. On 18 May 1961, the first jet landed on her deck piloted by Lieutenant (later Admiral) Radhakrishna Hariram Tahiliani. She formally joined the Indian Navy's Fleet in Bombay on 3 November 1961, when she was received at Ballard Pier by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
In June 1970, Vikrant was at the Naval Dockyard for repairs due to a crack in a water drum of one of the boilers powering her steam catapult. Unable to procure a replacement drum from the United Kingdom due to an embargo, Admiral Sardarilal Mathradas Nandaordered the routing of steam from her forward machinery to the steam catapult to bypass the damaged boiler. This repair enabled her to launch both the Sea Hawks as well as the Breguet Alizé, although she lost some cruising power. In March 1971, she was put through trials to test the fix.These modifications turned out to be valuable, enabling Vikrant to enter combat against East Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 despite the cracked boiler.
Stationed off the Andaman & Nicobar Islands along with frigates, INS Brahmaputra and INS Beas, Vikrant redeployed towardsChittagong at the outbreak of hostilities. Based on naval intelligence reports that the Pakistan Navy intended to break through the Indian Naval blockade using camouflaged merchant ships, the Sea Hawks struck shipping in the Chittagong and Cox's Bazar harbours, sinking or incapacitating most ships there. On the morning of 4 December 1971, Vikrant's eight Sea Hawk aircraft launched an air raid on Cox's Bazar from 60 nautical miles (110 km) offshore. On the evening of 4 December, the air group struck Chittagong Harbour. Later strikes targeted Khulna and Port of Mongla. A Press Trust of India report of 4 December read, "Chittagong harbour ablaze as ships and aircraft of the Eastern Naval Fleet bombed and rocketed. Not a single vessel can be put to sea from Chittagong." Air strikes continued until 10 December 1971 with not a single Sea Hawk lost.
The Pakistan Navy deployed the submarine Ghazi to specifically target and sink Vikrant. However, Ghazi sank off Visakhapatnamharbour, probably due to depth charge attacks by INS Rajput. During the war, the crew of Vikrant earned two Mahavir Chakras and 12 Vir Chakras.
Vikrant had four squadrons on board :
- INAS 300 "White Tigers" - flying Sea Hawks.
- INAS 310 "Cobras" - flying Alizes.
- INAS 321 "Angels" - flying Alouettes.
- INAS 330 "Harpoons" - flying Sea Kings.
Vikrant was given an extensive refit, including new engines and modernization between 1979 and 3 January 1982. Between December 1982 and February 1983 she was refitted again to enable her to operate BAe Sea Harriers which replaced the Sea Hawk. After the retirement of the Breguet Alizé from carrier service in 1989, she received a 'ski jump' for more efficient use of her Sea Harriers.
Vikrant was India's only carrier for over twenty years, but by the early 1990s she was effectively out of service because of her poor condition. Even following major overhauls she was rarely put to sea. She was formally decommissioned on 31 January 1997.
Following her decommissioning, Vikrant was marked for preservation as a museum ship in Mumbai, although a lack of funding has prevented progress on the ship's conversion for this role. Similarly, speculation that the ship would be made into a training ship in 2006 came to nothing. From 2001, Vikrant was made open to the public by the Indian Navy for short periods, but as of April 2010, the Government of Maharashtra was unable to find an industrial partner to operate the museum on a permanent, long-term basis. In 2012, the museum was closed after Vikrant was deemed unsafe.
Vikrant was the only World War II-era British-built aircraft carrier to be preserved as a museum.
Auction and scrappingEdit
In August 2013, Vice-Admiral Shekhar Sinha, chief of the Western Naval Command, said the Ministry of Defence would scrap Vikrant as she had become "very difficult to maintain," and as no private bidders had offered to fund the museum's operations. On 3 December 2013 the Indian government decided to auction the ship, due to maintenance difficulties. The Bombay High Court dismissed a public-interest litigation filed by Kiran Paigankar, founder of the "Save Vikrant Committee," stating the vessel's dilapidated condition did not warrant her preservation, nor were the necessary funds or government support available. At the end of January 2014, Vikrant was sold through an online auction to an Alang ship-breaker for Rs 60 crore and is now berthed off Bhavnagar undergoing preparations to be broken up. A Litigation is pending before Supreme Court of India challenging its sale to Ship Breakers.