Indian Navy war hero Commodore Gopal Rao who led Karachi Port attack in 1971 dies at 95
CHENNAI: Commodore Kasargod Patnashetti Gopal Rao, a 1971 war hero and recipient of the Maha Vir Chakra, India's second highest military decoration, passed away here on Monday at the age of 95. He was the commander of two Arnala-class anti-submarine corvettes INS Kiltan and INS Katchall which were part of the task group that attacked Karachi Harbour during Operation Trident on December 4, 1971, a day now marked as Navy Day.
According to family sources, he died of age-related issues. He is survived by his wife Radha, 88, daughters Tara and Savita and son Vinay.
A Ministry of Defence release said Commodore Gopal Rao led a small task group of the Western Fleet and carried out an offensive sweep on the enemy coast off Karachi on the night of December 4, 1971. "Notwithstanding the threat of enemy air, surface and submarine attack, Commander Rao led his task group into enemy waters. Despite heavy gunfire from enemy destroyers, and at great risk to our ships and personnel, Commander Rao resolutely pressed home a determined attack, sinking two enemy destroyers and one minesweeper," the Maha Vir Chakra citation awarded to Commodore Rao stated.
Born in Mangalore on November 13, 1926, Commodore Rao was commissioned into the Indian Navy on April 21, 1950. A specialist in gunnery, Rao was the commanding officer of INS Kiltan in the Eastern Naval Command. However, with the war looming against Pakistan, Admiral SM Nanda, the then Chief of Naval Staff, personally appointed Rao to join the Western Naval Command to command Operation Trident against Pakistan.
"Admiral Nanda believed that Commodore Rao was the best man to command this offensive operation against Pakistan. The Indian government gave the go-ahead to attack Karachi harbour after Pakistan carried out an attack on India without declaring war. This was the first offensive naval action from the Indian side," says his daughter Tara Rao.
On the night of December 1971, during the Indo-Pak operations, a small task group of the Western Fleet under Commander Rao carried out an offensive sweep on the port of Karachi. His task group located two groups of large enemy warships. Despite coming under heavy gunfire, he led a determined attack which resulted in the sinking of enemy destroyers and one minesweeper. "During the attack, the ship my father commanded had four engines. But on that night, only one was working. December 4 was Commodore Rao's father's death anniversary. At that time with limited resources, he surrendered everything to God and without fearing any consequence battled the enemy," recalls Tara.
After the surface engagement with enemy warships, Commander Rao let his task group invade deep into enemy waters and bombarded Karachi Port setting fire to oil and other installations in the harbour. In this operation, he displayed conspicuous gallantry and outstanding leadership and was awarded the first Maha Vir Chakra in the Indian Navy. As a result, the Karachi Port was paralysed. It is to mark this operational victory that the Indian Navy celebrates Navy Day on December 4.
Tara also recalled her father doing a course in 1967 in Russia along with a young Chinese Navy officer. "The Chinese Army officer became very fond of my father and they became very good friends. Later, he became the chief of the Chinese Navy. Once when there was some trouble between China and India, a senior Indian journalist interviewed him and asked if China would attack India. The Chinese Navy chief said he could never attack the country of his very dear friend KP Gopal Rao!"
He was also Commanding Officer of INS Amba, Chief of Staff Eastern Naval Command and Naval Officer in charge, Visakhapatnam and Madras, recalls Tara. Interestingly, Commodore Rao also had a great love for animals. "My father was passionately crazy about animals and looked after all our eight dogs and six cats and all the street dogs in the neighbourhood with so much affection and devotion. He was a very spiritual human being and very kind and good hearted," she says. "He also had a sense of humour and was quick-witted. He was way ahead of his times. He took pride in doing housework and cooking and cleaning. He raised us with no gender roles," adds Tara.
Rao was recently felicitated by Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit and General-Officer-Commanding Dakshin Bharat Area Lt Gen A Arun in the presence of other senior dignitaries and family members on the occasion of the Swarnim Vijay Varsh celebrations (commemoration of the Golden Jubilee of the 1971 war victory on the arrival of ‘Swarnim Vijay Mashal’) organized by the Dakshin Bharat Area headquarters of the Indian Army in Chennai. He was laid to rest with full military honours at Besant Nagar crematorium on Monday.