Tuesday, March 8, 2011

HMS Charity

Figure 1: British destroyer HMS Charity off the coast of Korea while covering Operation "Fishnet," which was intended to destroy North Korean fishing nets in an effort to reduce Communist forces' food supplies. Photograph is dated 16 September 1952. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: HMS Charity, date and place unknown on the original photograph, although the background is probably the Island of Malta. Royal Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: British Commonwealth destroyers moored off Yokosuka, Japan, after returning from combat patrols in Korean waters. Photo is dated 26 January 1951. The ships are (from left to right): HMAS Warramunga (Australian destroyer, 1942); HMS Charity (British destroyer, 1945) and HMAS Bataan (Australian destroyer, 1945). Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: PNS (Pakistani Naval Service) Shah Jahan (formerly HMS Charity) underway circa 1959, location unknown. Official photo from the Pakistani Navy. This photograph was reproduced in "Jane's Fighting Ships, 1961-62 edition." Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: Soviet Osa I class missile boat, similar to the Indian Navy’s Vidyut class missile boats that attacked the Pakistani Navy’s Shah Jahan on 4 December 1971 during the Indo-Pakistan War.

HMS Charity was a 2,520-ton, C-class destroyer that was built for the British Royal Navy by John Thornycroft & Company at Woolston, Southampton, England, and was commissioned on 19 November 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. The ship was approximately 363 feet long and 36 feet wide, had a top speed of 37 knots, and had a crew of 186 officers and men. Charity was armed with four 4.5-inch guns, six 40-mm guns, four 2-pounders, several 20-mm cannons, four 21-inch torpedo tubes, and four depth-charge throwers plus two racks of depth charges, for a total of 96 depth charges.

After spending five years in the post-World War II Royal Navy, Charity played an active role in the Korean War. Charity was part of the British Commonwealth naval forces (made up of English, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian warships) sent to Korea to assist United Nations ground forces in pushing back the North Korean invasion of South Korea which started on 25 June 1950. Charity participated in blockade, escort, and bombardment missions on both sides of the Korean peninsula. Although tedious, blockade duty proved critical in preventing the communist forces in North Korea from obtaining much of the vital food and munitions they needed. Also, Charity and many escort ships like her, steamed very close to the North Korean coastline, providing gun support for the Allied troops on land. But this also made them perfect targets for communist shore batteries. Many Commonwealth warships came under fire from communist coastal batteries, but fortunately few were hit. Charity made it through the Korean War without sustaining any major damage.

After the Korean War, Charity spent a few more years in the Royal Navy before being sold to the United States Navy on 16 June 1958. She was overhauled and modernized at the shipyard of J. Samuel White in Cowes, England, under a US contract and was then transferred to the Pakistani Navy as part of the Military Aid Program (MAP) between the United States and Pakistan. The ship was renamed Shah Jahan (which literally means “Emperor of the World”) by the Pakistani Navy and was officially transferred on 16 December 1958.

For the next 13 years, Shah Jahan provided useful service for the Pakistani Navy. But on 3 December 1971, war erupted between India and Pakistan. On the night of 4 December, the Indian Navy launched “Operation Trident,” which was a naval attack on the main Pakistani naval base at Karachi, Pakistan. That evening, a small Indian assault group consisting of three Vidyut class missile boats (which were slightly modified versions of the Soviet Osa I class missile boat) and two Arnala class frigates (similar to the Soviet Petya class) approached Karachi. The Indian missile boats went ahead of the frigates and steered towards Karachi harbor while managing to avoid Pakistani reconnaissance aircraft and patrol vessels along the way. Roughly 70 miles south of the harbor, the Pakistani Shah Jahan was escorting the ammunition ship MV Venus Challenger and the two ships blundered right into the path of the oncoming Indian missile boats. The Indian missile boats spotted the two Pakistani ships and fired a salvo of Soviet-made SS-N-2 Styx missiles at them. The Venus Challenger was hit and the ammunition on board the ship blew up. The ship disintegrated and sank in minutes. At least one, possibly two, Indian missiles slammed into Shah Jahan. The resulting explosions critically damaged the destroyer, but the ship somehow managed to stay afloat. During this same attack, the Pakistani destroyer PNS Khaibar and the minesweeper PNS Muhafiz (which were on patrol near Karachi) were also sunk. No Indian warships were lost or even damaged during this very successful operation.

The severely damaged Shah Jahan was towed back to Karachi but was declared a total loss and had to be scrapped. The ship was built shortly after World War II, served proudly during the Korean War, and was destroyed in yet another war off the coast of Pakistan. But Shah Jahan’s loss, along with the other Pakistani ships that were lost on 4 December 1971, was notable for yet another reason. Operation Trident was the first time ship-launched missiles were used between India and Pakistan and it was also the first time naval warships were sunk in that region since those two countries obtained their independence from Great Britain. As a result of this major victory, India celebrates Navy Day annually on 4 December to commemorate Operation Trident.