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In December 1971, Pakistan and India were at war over what would become Bangladesh. President Nixon ordered Task Force 74, led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and supplemented by a marine contingent on the amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LPH 10). On scene, reportedly, was the British carrier HMS Eagle, the commando ship Albion, and their escorts.

To hear some sources from India and Russia today, it would appear that the United States and Soviet naval task forces came very close to a nuclear confrontation.

Russian sources cite a television interview of former Admiral Vladimir Kruglyakov, who commanded the Soviet task group, who said he had orders to stop the American fleet from interfering with India's operations. Kruglyakov's task group left Vladivostok on December 3, 1971, and consisted of a variety of platforms for coordinated anti-carrier operations and self-protection. It included a Kynda anti-ship missile cruiser, a conventionally-powered anti-ship missile submarine (possibly of the J-class), an anti-aircraft missile destroyer, and a F-class attack submarine already in the Indian Ocean.

According to U.S. sources, the Enterprise left its station off the coast of Vietnam on December 10, 1971, headed for the Indian Ocean, pausing a day for its supply ship to reload. U.S. sources state that the task force had two missions: to assist with the evacuation of non-combatant foreigners and, if necessary, "to insure the protection of U.S. interests in the area." Besides the Enterprise and Tripoli, Task Force 74 included three guided missile anti-aircraft escorts, four Gearing class destroyers, and a nuclear-powered attack submarine.

According to Adm. Kruglyakov, he surfaced his submarines to show the US Navy that they were there, and then "we encircled them and aimed the missiles at the ‘Enterprise’. We had blocked their way and didn’t allow them to head anywhere, neither to Karachi, nor to Chittagong or Dhaka.” Adm. Kruglyakov claimed also that the Soviets had intercepted American communications where "[T]he commander of the Carrier Battle Group was then the counter-admiral Dimon Gordon. He sent the report to the 7th American Fleet Commander: ‘Sir, we are too late. There are Russian nuclear submarines here, and a big collection of battleships’." Note that the US Navy has no "counter-admirals" and there was no Admiral named "Dimon Gordon." Moreover, the US Navy might refer to "warships" but not "battleships" because neither navy had any in active duty.

According to a study by the Center for Naval Analysis, the events the Soviet Admiral described did not happen during the war. Because of the long-distances, the American task force did not arrive on station in the Indian Ocean until after foreign nationals had left and just one day before the Pakistanis surrendered. Adm. Kruglyakov's task group, however, arrived three days after Enterprise and was not in position to block the task force from entering the Bay of Bengal if it wanted to. The British fleet, by that point, had already left the scene. Some of the Soviet warships did seek out the Enterprise, according to the CNA study. Otherwise, all American sources I've read say nothing really about any Soviet naval threat.

So is Admiral Kruglyakov speaking the truth? Was there nearly a major naval confrontation as there almost was when the Soviets deployed four victor class attack submarines in response to the mining of Haiphong Harbor? Or is this just a legend carried on for propaganda purposes?

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How do 2 subs surround anything? – Oldcat Jul 31 '14 at 1:08
I think the Soviet admiral is making a lot out of nothing, too. But from his perspective, he's also counting his cruiser and destroyer armed with SSMs. It would have been an interesting tactical problem for the Enterprise task group. Two submarines -- even one submarine -- can cause a lot of concern; just ask the UK Naval officers who were at the Falklands war. – Bruce James Jul 31 '14 at 12:22
You have answered your own question. The US fleet did not arrive until Pakistan more or less surrendered and the Soviets arrived even later. – Tyler Durden Jul 31 '14 at 16:00
@TylerDurden According to the US CNA version, they arrived too late. The paper is interesting because it later asks "what was the point" of the Task Force steaming there when it was clear than Pakistan was going to lose. The Russian version says that they got their first and kept the US from supporting Karachi. – Bruce James Jul 31 '14 at 16:05
Even though not the exact event, you can find a lot more details about the events in 1971 from the book "The blood telegram" written by Gary J. Bass. It gives a detailed overview of events unfolded from the perspective of the US president Richard Nixon, NSA H Kissinger and the US consular officers who were posted in Dacca(Old name of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh) at that time. It doesn't mention the confrontation specified by Admiral Vladimir Kruglyakov. But worth a read. – Suran Apr 13 at 8:41

1 Answer 1

The narrative states that Enterprise was off the coast of Viet Nam on Dec 10, 1971. The way I recall the situation, Enterprise was in the area of Hong Kong and it was more like Dec 20 or close there about. I was on one of the other ships in the task force and we were off the coast of Viet Nam. We were transferring our cargo to other ships because we were supposed to spend Christmas in Hong Kong. We started steaming toward the Singapore Straits about sundown. When we woke up the next morning, Enterprise had caught up with us. We all steamed into the Indian Ocean together. I don't recall if the Russians were already there or if they came along a little later, but I was quite impressed with the number of missile launchers they (the Russians) had and our armament consisted of old destroyers with 5" guns. We spent what seemed like an eternity out there. The only redeeming event was that we received mail on Christmas Day from the USS White Plains. If you have never spent 60+ days underway, mail would seem insignificant; but, we had already spent a month off the coast of Viet Nam. Tensions were high. Nobody surrounded anyone, but with tensions on such a high level, it wouldn't have taken much for the situation to escalate and the world as we know it today would be significantly different.

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