6 December 1971

Pakistan cuts off diplomatic relations with India, initiating the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was a military confrontation between India and Pakistan that occurred during the liberation war in East Pakistan from 3 December 1971 to the fall of Dacca on 16 December 1971. The war began with preemptive aerial strikes on 11 Indian air stations, which led to the commencement of hostilities with Pakistan and Indian entry into the war of independence in East Pakistan on the side of Bengali nationalist forces. Lasting just 13 days, it is one of the shortest wars in history.

During the war, Indian and Pakistani militaries simultaneously clashed on the eastern and western fronts; the war ended after the Eastern Command of the Pakistan military signed the Instrument of Surrender on 16 December 1971 in Dhaka, marking the formation of East Pakistan as the new nation of Bangladesh. Officially, East Pakistan had earlier called for its secession from the unity of Pakistan on 26 March 1971. Approximately 90,000 to 93,000 Pakistani servicemen were taken prisoner by the Indian Army, which included 79,676 to 81,000 uniformed personnel of the Pakistan Armed Forces, including some Bengali soldiers who had remained loyal to Pakistan. The remaining 10,324 to 12,500 prisoners were civilians, either family members of the military personnel or collaborators. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 3,000,000 civilians were killed in Bangladesh. As a result of the conflict, a further eight to ten million people fled the country to seek refuge in India.

During the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and supporting Islamist militias called the Razakars raped between 200,000 and 400,000 Bangladeshi women and girls in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape.

Unlike the 1965 war, the Navy NHQ staffers and commanders of the Pakistan Navy knew very well that the Navy was ill-prepared for the naval conflict with India. The Pakistan Navy was in no condition of fighting an offensive war in deep sea against the Indian Navy, and neither was it in a condition to mount serious defence against Indian Navy’s seaborne encroachment.

In the western theatre of the war, the Indian Navy’s Western Naval Command under Vice Admiral S.N. Kohli, successfully launched a surprise attack on Karachi port on the night of 4/5 December 1971 under the codename Trident. The naval attack involving the Soviet-built Osa missile boats sank the Pakistan Navy’s destroyer PNS Khaibar and minesweeper PNS Muhafiz while PNS Shah Jahan was also badly damaged. Pakistani naval sources reported that about 720 Pakistani sailors were killed or wounded, and Pakistan lost reserve fuel and many commercial ships, thus crippling the Pakistan Navy’s further involvement in the conflict. In retaliation, the Pakistan Navy submarines, Hangor, Mangro, and Shushuk, began their operations to seek out the major Indian warships. On 9 December 1971, Hangor sank INS Khukri, inflicting 194 Indian casualties, and this attack was the first submarine kill since World War II.

The sinking of INS Khukri was followed by another Indian attack on Karachi port on the night of 8/9 December 1971 under the codename Python. A squadron of Indian Navy’s Osa missile boats approached the Karachi port and launched a series of Soviet-acquired Styx missiles, that resulted in further destruction of reserve fuel tanks and the sinking of three Pakistani merchant ships, as well as foreign ships docked in Karachi. The Pakistan Air Force did not attack the Indian Navy ships, and confusion remained the next day when the civilian pilots of Pakistan International, acting as reconnaissance war pilots, misidentified PNS Zulfiqar and the air force attacked its own warship, inflicting major damages and killing several officers on board.

In the eastern theatre of the war, the Indian Eastern Naval Command, under Vice Admiral Nilakanta Krishnan, completely isolated East Pakistan by a naval blockade in the Bay of Bengal, trapping the Eastern Pakistan Navy and eight foreign merchant ships in their ports. From 4 December onwards, the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant was deployed, and its Sea Hawk fighter-bombers attacked many coastal towns in East Pakistan, including Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. Pakistan countered the threat by sending the submarine PNS Ghazi, which sank en route under mysterious circumstances off Visakhapatnam’s coast.

Due to high number of defections, the Navy relied on deploying the Pakistan Marines – led by Rear Admiral Leslie Mungavin – where they had to conduct riverine operations against the Indian Army, but they too suffered major losses, mainly due to their lack of understanding of expeditionary warfare and the wet terrain of East Pakistan.

14 November 1971

Mariner 9 enters into orbit around Mars.

Mariner 9 was an unmanned NASA space probe that contributed greatly to the exploration of Mars and was part of the Mariner program. Mariner 9 was launched toward Mars on May 30, 1971 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and reached the planet on November 14 of the same year, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit another planet – only narrowly beating the Soviets’ Mars 2 and Mars 3, which both arrived within a month. After months of dust storms it managed to send back clear pictures of the surface.

Mariner 9 returned 7329 images over the course of its mission, which concluded in October 1972. Mariner 9 was designed to continue the atmospheric studies begun by Mariner 6 and 7, and to map over 70% of the Martian surface from the lowest altitude and at the highest resolutions of any Mars mission up to that point. An infrared radiometer was included to detect heat sources in search of evidence of volcanic activity. It was to study temporal changes in the Martian atmosphere and surface. Mars’ two moons were also to be analyzed. Mariner 9 more than met its objectives.

Under original plans, a dual mission was to be flown like Mariners 6–7, however the launch failure of Mariner 8 ruined this scheme and forced NASA planners to fall back on a simpler one-probe mission. NASA still held out hope that another Mariner probe and Atlas-Centaur could be readied before the 1971 Mars launch window closed. A few logistical problems emerged, including the lack of an available Centaur payload shroud of the correct configuration for the Mariner probes, however there was a shroud in NASA’s inventory which could be modified. Convair also had an available Centaur stage on hand and could have an Atlas readied in time, but the idea was ultimately abandoned for lack of funding.

Mariner 9 was mated to Atlas-Centaur AC-23 on May 9 with investigation into Mariner 8’s failure ongoing. The malfunction was traced to a problem in the Centaur’s pitch control servoamplifier and because it was not clear if the spacecraft itself had been responsible, RFI testing was conducted on Mariner 9 to ensure the probe was not releasing interference that could cause problems with the Centaur’s electronics. All testing came back negative and on May 22, a tested and verified rate gyro package arrived from Convair and was installed in the Centaur.

Liftoff took place on May 30 at 5:23 PM EST. All launch vehicle systems performed normally and the Mariner separated from the Centaur at 13 minutes and 18 seconds after launch.

13 May 1971

Over 900 Bengali Hindus are murdered in the Demra massacre.

Demra massacre in Bangladesh was the massacre of unarmed Hindu residents of the villages under Demra Union in present-day Faridpur Upazila in Pabna District by the Pakistani occupation army aided by local collaborators on 13 May 1971. It is estimated that 800–900 people were killed in a single day. Rape and plunder were also carried out, and mosques, temples, schools and houses were set on fire.

When the Pakistani occupation army spread out from Dhaka towards the districts as a part of the Operation Searchlight, the people began to flee their homes. The Hindus began to flee Bangladesh and take refuge in neighbouring India. On their way they had taken shelter in the remote village of Baushgari in Demra union.

he Pakistani occupation army, led by the local collaborators entered the area through the Boral river and then cordoned off the Baushgari and Rupsi villages. One collaborator named Asad led the Pakistani troops to the Baushgari village. In the nightfall, the men were dragged out of their houses and made to stand in a line, while the women were raped in front of them by the Pakistani troops with the help of the collaborators. After that both the men and women were shot to death and their houses were set on fire. A few survivors interred the charred remains of the bodies in a mass grave the next morning. Around 350 Hindus were killed in Baushgari village.

An 11-member team from the International Crimes Tribunal investigated the Demra massacre in 2010. The team was led by Sayed Rejaur Rahman, one of the prosecutors of the tribunal. The investigators visited the killing spots in Baushgari village and interviewed the witnesses to the war crimes. In their preliminary investigation they found Motiur Rahman Nizami guilty of masterminding the massacre.

19 April 1971

The first space station, Salyut 1 is launched.

Salyut 1 was the first space station of any kind, launched into low Earth orbit by the Soviet Union on April 19, 1971. The Salyut program followed this with five more successful launches out of seven more stations. The final module of the program, Zvezda became the core of the Russian segment of the International Space Station and remains in orbit.

Salyut 1 originated as a modification of the military Almaz space station program then in development. After the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969, the Soviets began shifting the primary emphasis of their manned space program to orbiting space stations, with a possible lunar landing later in the 1970s if the N-1 booster became flight-worthy. One other motivation for the space station program was a desire to one-up the US Skylab program then in development. The basic structure of Salyut 1 was adapted from the Almaz with a few modifications and would form the basis of all Soviet space stations through Mir.

Civilian Soviet space stations were internally referred to as “DOS”, although publicly, the Salyut name was used for the first six DOS stations. Several military experiments were nonetheless carried on Salyut 1, including the OD-4 optical visual ranger, the Orion ultraviolet instrument for characterizing rocket exhaust plumes, and the highly classified Svinets radiometer.

Construction and operational history
Construction of Salyut 1 began in early 1970, and after nearly a year it was shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Some remaining assembly work had yet to be done and this was completed at the launch center. The Salyut programme was managed by Kerim Kerimov, chairman of the state commission for Soyuz missions.

Launch was planned for April 12, 1971 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight on Vostok 1, but technical problems delayed it until the 19th. The first crew launched later in the Soyuz 10 mission, but they ran into troubles while docking and were unable to enter the station; the Soyuz 10 mission was aborted and the crew returned safely to Earth. A replacement crew launched in Soyuz 11 and remained on board for 23 days. This was the first time in the history of spaceflight that a space station had been manned, and a new record time was set in space. This success was, however, short-lived when the crew was killed during re-entry, as a pressure-equalization valve in the Soyuz 11 re-entry capsule had opened prematurely, causing the crew to asphyxiate. After this accident, all missions were suspended while the Soyuz spacecraft was redesigned. The station was intentionally destroyed by de-orbiting after six months in orbit, because it ran out of fuel before a redesigned Soyuz spacecraft could be launched to it.

At launch, the announced purpose of Salyut was to test the elements of the systems of a space station and to conduct scientific research and experiments. The craft was described as being 20 m in length, 4 m in maximum diameter, and 99 m3 in interior space with an on-orbit dry mass of 18,425 kg. Of its several compartments, three were pressurized, and two could be entered by the crew.

Transfer compartment
The transfer compartment was equipped with the only docking port of Salyut 1, which allowed one Soyuz 7K-OKS spacecraft to dock. It was the first use of the Soviet “probe and drogue” type docking system that allowed internal crew transfer, a system that is in use today. The docking cone had a 2 m front diameter and a 3 m aft diameter.

Main compartment
The second, and main, compartment was about 4 m in diameter. Televised views showed enough space for eight big chairs, several control panels, and 20 portholes.

Auxiliary compartments
The third pressurized compartment contained the control and communications equipment, the power supply, the life support system, and other auxiliary equipment. The fourth, and final, unpressurized compartment was about 2 m in diameter and contained the engine installations and associated control equipment. Salyut had buffer chemical batteries, reserve supplies of oxygen and water, and regeneration systems. Externally mounted were two double sets of solar cell panels that extended like wings from the smaller compartments at each end, the heat regulation system’s radiators, and orientation and control devices.

Salyut 1 was modified from one of the Almaz airframes. The unpressurized service module was the modified service module of a Soyuz craft.

Orion 1 Space Observatory
The astrophysical Orion 1 Space Observatory designed by Grigor Gurzadyan of Byurakan Observatory in Armenia, was installed in Salyut 1. Ultraviolet spectrograms of stars were obtained with the help of a mirror telescope of the Mersenne system and a spectrograph of the Wadsworth system using film sensitive to the far ultraviolet. The dispersion of the spectrograph was 32 Å/mm, while the resolution of the spectrograms derived was about 5 Å at 2600 Å. Slitless spectrograms were obtained of the stars Vega and Beta Centauri between 2000 and 3800 Å. The telescope was operated by crew member Viktor Patsayev, who became the first man to operate a telescope outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

15 February 1971

The decimalisation of British coinage is completed on Decimal Day.

February 15, 1971 All change as Britain switches to decimal currency
Britain said farewell to pounds, shillings and pence and hello to the new penny, the seven-sided 50p piece and the ‘tiddler’ as Decimal Day finally arrived.

The biggest change to Britain’s currency for more than a thousand years took place on this day in 1971 when the system of pounds, shillings and pence made way for a decimal system that divided the pound into 100 new pence.

Although the decimal debate dated back as far as the 17th century, Britain had resisted change from the old system of 240 pennies to the pound even though most of the world had adopted currency systems based around units of 10, 100 or 1,000.

A 1963 report by the Halsbury Committee recommended a switch to a decimal currency, and in March 1966 Chancellor of the Exchequer James Callaghan told the House of Commons that Britain would go decimal in 1971. The Decimal Currency Act wouldn’t be passed until May 1969, but by then the Decimal Currency Board, under Lord Fiske, was well established and the first decimal coins – versions of the shilling and two-shilling, or florin, bearing the 5p and 10p legends – had already reached the high street.

Decimal Currency Board chairman Lord Fiske on Decimal Day

The new 50p coin followed in October 1969, so that by Decimal Day itself, the population was already familiar with three of the six new coins – the ½p, 1p and 2p coins were introduced on ‘D Day’ itself.

Banks were closed from Thursday February 11 to give them time to clear cheques written in ‘old money’ and convert balances to decimal, while railway companies began accepting the new coins a day early to ease the process. Large stores opened special counters where shoppers could exchange their £sd for a handful of the 4,140 million new coins in circulation.

Thanks to a three-year education campaign which included a TV drama called Granny Gets the Point, free ready-reckoners and rudimentary conversion calculators and even a song by Max Bygraves extolling the virtues of the new coinage, fears of galloping inflation, crafty retailers rounding up prices or public rejection never came to pass, and the transition to the new decimal currency was hailed a success.

5 February 1971

The Astronauts land on the moon in the Apollo 14 mission.

HOUSTON, Saturday, Feb. 6 — Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard Jr. and Ed Mitchell, sleeping only briefly after an incredible four hours and 44 minutes spent wandering on the moon yesterday, left their lunar ship Antares at 3:23 a.m. today to begin a second recording-breaking moonwalk.

The astronauts were up and on the surface nearly two hour early, their spectacular walk beamed to earth via a color television camera set up on the surface yesterday.

A major task was to return 600 feet to a scientific package they had laid out yesterday to reposition an antenna designed to send seismic and other information to earth for months after America’s third successful lunar landing mission has ended.

The astronauts first set out on a long 4,600-foot hike to collect moon rocks which geologists believe will date back 4.6 million years to the beginning of the universe.

Like most of the gremlin-riddled Apollo 14 flight, the first moon walk was not without trouble. Communications problems stalled its start for 50 minutes. Unforeseen difficulties in some of their tasks caused its extension for an extra 30 minutes. And one of their experiments failed completely.

But the flaws were minor. The first of two long moon walks for the crew of the little lunar landers Antares accomplished its goal admirably. The astronauts were so pleased that they talked Mission Control into letting them begin today’s four to five-hour walk before its planned 5:38 a.m. start.

Only one small problem arose. A minor heat leak in Mitchell’s pressure suit was expected to limit the second walk to no longer than the one yesterday. The leak was not expected to interfere with any of the day’s goals.

27 October 1971

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is renamed Zaire.


The Republic of Zaire was the name for the Democratic Republic of the Congo that existed between 1971 and 1997 in Central Africa. The country was a one-party dictatorship, run by Mobutu Sese Seko and his ruling Popular Movement of the Revolution party. Zaire was established following Mobutu’s seizure of power in a military coup in 1965, following five years of political upheaval following independence known as the Congo Crisis. Zaire had a strongly centralist constitution and foreign assets were nationalised. The period is sometimes referred to as the Second Congolese Republic.

A wider campaign of Authenticité, ridding the country of the influences from the colonial era of the Belgian Congo, was also launched under Mobutu’s direction. Weakened by the end of American support after the end of the Cold War, Mobutu was forced to declare a new republic in 1990 to cope with demands for change. By the time of its downfall, Mobutu’s rule was characterised by widespread cronyism, corruption and economic mismanagement.

Zaire collapsed in the 1990s, amid the destabilisation of the eastern parts of the state in the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide and growing ethnic violence. In 1996, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, the head of the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) militia, led a popular rebellion against Mobutu. With rebel forces successfully making gains beyond the east, Mobutu fled the country, leaving Kabila’s forces in charge as the country restored its name to the Democratic Republic of the Congo the following year. Mobutu died within four months after he fled into exile in Morocco.

6 June 1971

Soyuz 11 is launched.

Soyuz 11 was the only manned mission to board the world’s first space station, Salyut 1 Soyuz 10 had soft-docked but had not been able to enter due to latching problems.The mission arrived at the space station on 7 June 1971 and departed on 30 June. The mission ended in disaster when the crew capsule depressurised during preparations for reentry, killing the three-man crew. The Soyuz 11 crew members were Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev.

The three crew members of Soyuz 11 are the only humans known to have died in space.The Soyuz 7K-OKS spacecraft was launched on 7 June 1971, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakh SSR. Several months earlier, the first mission to the Salyut, Soyuz 10, had failed to successfully dock with the station. Soyuz 11 successfully docked with Salyut 1 on 7 June and the cosmonauts remained on board for 22 days, setting space endurance records that would hold until the American Skylab 2 mission in May–June 1973.

Upon first entering the station, the crew encountered a smoky and burnt atmosphere and after replacing part of the ventilation system spent the next day back in their Soyuz until the air cleared. Their stay in Salyut was productive, including live television broadcasts. A fire broke out on day 11 of their stay, causing mission planners to consider abandoning the station. The planned highlight of the mission was to have been the observation of an N1 rocket launch, but the launch was postponed. The crew also found that using the exercise treadmill as they were required to do twice a day caused the whole station to vibrate. Pravda released news of the mission and regular updates while it was in progress.

5 February 1971

Apollo 14 astronauts land on the moon.

Apollo 14 was the eighth manned mission in the United States Apollo program, and the third to land on the Moon. It was the last of the “H missions,” targeted landings with two-day stays on the Moon with two lunar EVAs, or moonwalks.

Commander Alan Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell launched on their nine-day mission on January 31, 1971 at 4:04:02 p.m. local time after a 40-minute, 2 second delay due to launch site weather restrictions, the first such delay in the Apollo program. Shepard and Mitchell made their lunar landing on February 5 in the Fra Mauro formation – originally the target of the aborted Apollo 13 mission. During the two lunar EVAs, 42.80 kilograms of Moon rocks were collected, and several scientific experiments were performed. Shepard hit two golf balls on the lunar surface with a makeshift club he had brought with him. Shepard and Mitchell spent 33½ hours on the Moon, with almost 9½ hours of EVA.

In the aftermath of Apollo 13, several modifications had been made to the Service Module electrical power system to prevent a repeat of that accident, including a redesign of the oxygen tanks and the addition of a third tank.

While Shepard and Mitchell were on the surface, Roosa remained in lunar orbit aboard the Command/Service Module Kitty Hawk, performing scientific experiments and photographing the Moon, including the landing site of the future Apollo 16 mission. He took several hundred seeds on the mission, many of which were germinated on return, resulting in the so-called Moon trees. Shepard, Roosa, and Mitchell landed in the Pacific Ocean on February 9.