The longest serving combat unit of the Indian Navy, the White Tigers squadron, which played a stellar role in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, has turned 60.
Flying Sea Hawks, the unit had stopped sections of the Pakistani armed forces from fleeing into Myanmar following the surrender of East Pakistan on December 17, 1971, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, one of the leading lights of White Tigers, told IANS.
The 1971 war, which led to the liberation of East Pakistan and the subsequent creation of Bangladesh, was the only major instance that the White Tigers, Indian Naval Air Squadron – 300 (INAS 300), had seen action.
During the war, the squadron had been sent to the Bay of Bengal on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant from its base, the Indian Naval air station Hansa in Dabolim, Goa.
“The squadron played a major role in the defeat of Pakistan. The fighter jets attacked and destroyed numerous air bases, merchant vessels and gun boats in erstwhile East Pakistan. Forces of the Pakistani army made an attempt to flee to Myanmar following the onslaught but the White Tigers and the presence of the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant could not make that possible. The White Tigers and INS Vikrant offered continuous support from the sea during the war,” said Prakash.
During the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962, the White Tigers had been sent to Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh following a ‘lead’. However, the information was not authentic and the fighter jets did not participate in the war.
The 1965 war between India and Pakistan did not see the participation of the Indian Naval forces directly.
But the White Tigers were sent to the Jamnagar air force station to meet contingencies, if any. The squadron was ultimately not involved in this war too. Its moment of glory came in the 1971 war.
The White Tigers was commissioned into the Indian Navy on July 7, 1959 in a British army installation Brawdy in Wales. First generation Sea Hawks were found to be most suitable for the INS Vikrant which weighed about 20,000 tonnes.
The first set of pilots for operating the Sea Hawks was trained by the British. The jet fighters came on board the Vikrant in May 1961. They were subsequently headquartered at INS Hansa in Goa.
The Sea Hawks were retired from the Indian Navy in a phased manner in the late-70s and early-80s. Subsequently, the Indian Navy procured attack and reconnaissance aircraft Sea Harriers from British manufacturers.
The White Tigers entirely comprised Sea Harriers from 1984 till May 2016 when these aircraft too were decommissioned. MiG 29-MKI aircraft comprise the White Tigers at present.
The squadron gave two chiefs to navy — Admiral Arun Prakash and Admiral Sureesh Mehta.