Ghazi’s Eternal Patrol in ‘Zone Victor’

Written By: Taj M. Khattak

After hanging on to this falsehood for years, Indian Navy finally stated the truth after destroying all records pertaining to the incident when its former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash declared in a national security conference in 2011 that Ghazi had sunk under mysterious circumstances. Earlier in 2010, Lieutenant General J.F.R. Jacob, who was serving in Eastern Command in 1971 as a Major General, and had been an accomplice in making this false claim as part of official record, also set the record straight by stating that Ghazi met an accidental end and Indian Navy had nothing to do with its sinking.

PNS/M Ghazi, formerly USS Diablo, was leased to Pakistan Navy in 1964. It was the first submarine to be inducted in South Asia region and even as a 26 years old vessel, it had an impressive endurance of 75 days at sea and a phenomenal range of over 11,000 nautical miles. It was the pride of Pakistan Navy and had played a pivotal role in 1965 Indo-Pak War when it effectively blocked a numerically superior Indian Navy fleet in Mumbai harbour, enabling Pakistan Navy to assume control of North Arabian Sea for unhindered commerce activities into Karachi Port during the conflict.


Six years later in 1971, once again it was tasked around 2,200 nautical miles from home base for yet another deployment of huge strategic impact to mine approaches to Vishakhapatnam (Zone Victor) in order to sink or incapacitate INS Vikrant – Indian Navy’s only aircraft carrier which had been deployed in support of an amphibious landing at Cox’s Bazaar from where Indian troops could carry out a pincer movement and close in on Chittagong. A crack in the boilers of INS Vikrant had reduced its maximum speed to around 16 knots and it would have been a great contest but then fate intervened and it sank mysteriously just outside Vishakhapatnam even before the opening shots of war were fired.

 

ghazieternal.jpgMining by a submarine is a dangerous operation especially if the latest survey data on depths and tidal conditions in the zone of operations is not available. It was known to submarine operating authority that underwater maneuvering of a large vessel like Ghazi (over 300 feet long) at slow speeds in restricted waters in unpredictable and strong tidal conditions, and accuracy in distance apart between laid mines and their axis posed serious challenges but Ghazi’s crew was proficient to undertake the assigned task, the strategic aim of which was neutralization of enemy’s seaward pressure on defensive military effort in erstwhile East Pakistan.


First news and evidence of Ghazi’s misfortune came when some fishermen arrived at Indian Navy’s Eastern Naval Command Headquarters in Vishakhapatnam with pieces of wreckage and reported an oil slick stretching out from mouth of the harbour which was subsequently confirmed as wreck of PNS/M Ghazi. Over three decades later in 2003, ‘India Today’ cited Indian Navy’s underwater inspection reports of how in death Ghazi teemed with life as marine life of all hues and colours swirled all around it. It was found to be resting on an even keel and its rusted thin outer hull had all but peeled off, exposing the steel skeleton which covered internal pressure hull and grid of pipes and fittings. The aft escape hatch had been blown open and lay exposed to sea. The fishing nets around the hull suggested its entanglement resulting in reduced maneuverability.


The ‘India Today’ report also mentioned that divers had blasted their way into the stricken submarine and brought out six bloated bodies of its crew. One of them was identified as a Petty Officer Mechanical Engineer who still tightly grasped a wheel spanner in his fist while another had a parting note to his fiancé in his chest pocket – ‘I don’t know if you will ever read this, but we are here separated by thousands of miles of sea…’. These dead sailors should have been left alone in their sea grave as is the norm universally or the bodies should have been handed over to their next of kin in Pakistan. Respect for dead comes at the top of all considerations amongst all nations and in all faiths – more so for Muslims as they believe in life hereafter for which burial and a closure is necessary to help the deceased go forward towards another phase of their lives.


War history can be subjective where victors have all the bragging rights and so it was when India claimed Ghazi’s ‘kill’ without caring that the explosion from ill-fated submarine was heard all over Vishakhapatnam a few hours before the actual outbreak of 1971 Indo-Pak War. A detailed account of Ghazi’s unexplained sinking was published in January 1972 in The Illustrated Weekly of India – a magazine edited by that indefatigable and independent journalist Khushwant Singh for whom seeking the truth always was ever so important. The report was unambiguous in its conclusion and clearly belied Indian Navy claims about sinking of Pakistani submarine.


After hanging on to this falsehood for years, Indian Navy finally stated the truth after destroying all records pertaining to the incident when its former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash declared in a national security conference in 2011 that Ghazi had sunk under mysterious circumstances. Earlier in 2010, Lieutenant General J.F.R. Jacob, who was serving in Eastern Command in 1971 as a Major General, and had been an accomplice in making this false claim as part of official record, also set the record straight by stating that Ghazi met an accidental end and Indian Navy had nothing to do with its sinking.


It was Indian Navy’s wartime chief, Admiral S. M. Nanda, who allowed his Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Command, Vice Admiral Krishnan, to spin the yarn about involvement of Indian Navy units in the sinking of Ghazi. But intriguingly, while his autobiography dwells at length about missile boat attacks on Karachi harbour during 1971 war, he says next to nothing about INS Rajput’s much publicized depth charge attack on PNS/M Ghazi. But these disclaimers have probably not reached cinematic community in Bollywood which is used to churning out all kinds of chauvinistic trash using a 50-50 mix of truth and fiction as cheap entertainment for its public. Its latest such production, based on this formula, is about Ghazi’s sinking and obviously a distraction from Indian Navy’s glaring shortcomings like recent sinking of a Kilo Class submarine INS/M Sindurakshak in harbour and capsizing of a guided missiles frigate INS Betwa while undocking. Such incidents are highly unusual anywhere but indeed are in a category of its own for a navy with blue water aspiration.


What happened to Ghazi remains an enigma even today nearly 45 years after that fateful December night. A widely acknowledged view is that only an internal explosion of sufficient intensity could have opened up the submarine’s bow. But the six bodies recovered from forward section reportedly showed no signs of being charred. Whether over thirty years old human remains in sea water could be expected to have such evidence is for the medical practitioners to enlighten. Another theory suggests an explosion of gases built up inside the submarine while its batteries were being charged. This too has been discarded for some very obvious reasons.


The official accounts of Pakistan Navy suggest that one of the mines onboard got somehow triggered and the ensuing explosion tore through forward section where most of torpedoes and mines were stored. The shockwave blew open the knife-shaped bow, crumpling the hull and open cracking the watertight compartments. As the rate of flooding in the vessel became greater than its capacity to pump out water and situation worsened by electrical short-circuiting and darkness, the submarine careened out of control and crashed to seabed. The crewmen in the forward compartment probably died instantly while those in aft compartments some hours later when the oxygen supply ran out.


This version comes closest to the exhaustive explanation in his book by Vice Admiral G. M. Hiranandani (R), titled ‘Transition to Triumph’, who concludes that the submarine almost certainly suffered an internal explosion but its causes are debatable. The truth about Ghazi’s unfortunate sinking lies somewhere between these different versions. Given the state of India-Pakistan relations, that truth is unlikely to ever surface.


Pakistan meanwhile has built a simple monument in memory of its 92 brave sons who dared to sail a thousand miles and more to eastern seaboard of India. Their entombed mortal remains in the sunken hull of PNS/M Ghazi are sacred for Pakistan Navy and for every Pakistani citizen. For now, PNS/M Ghazi, as the submariners community would like to describe it – is on an eternal patrol in Zone Victor – last position about four nautical miles east of Dolphin Light in approaches to Vishakhapatnam Harbour.

 

The writer is a retired Vice Admiral of Pakistan Navy.

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