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Hilal English

PNS Ghazi: The Valiant Who Went Down Fighting

April 2024

The valorous crew of Ghazi embarked on their final journey with unwavering courage and dedication, never to return home again. Their sacrifice serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent risks faced by those who serve on submarines. Despite the lack of definitive answers, the memory of these brave souls who chose the path of ultimate glory by embracing martyrdom aboard Ghazi will endure forever.

An editorial published by The Economic Times on February 23, 2024, titled “PNS Ghazi, sunk by Indian Navy’s INS Vikrant during 1971 Indo-Pak war found near Vizag coast,” presents an account regarding the sinking of the Pakistani submarine. At the same time, the editorial title suggests that Vikrant sank PNS (Pakistan Navy Ship) Ghazi, but the details within the editorial conflict with the title, where The Economic Times swerves to say that the submarine was sunk by INS (Indian Navy Ship) Rajput rather than INS Vikrant. Interestingly, INS Vikrant and INS Rajput lacked anti-submarine warfare capability, as neither vessel was equipped with the sonar during the Indo-Pak War in 1971. Reportedly, INS Rajput did carry depth charges.
INS Rajput was an aging World War II destroyer, ex-HMS Rotherham, sold to India in 1948. Given its age and lack of modern anti-submarine warfare technology, it seems implausible that INS Rajput would have been capable of successfully engaging and sinking a submarine like PNS Ghazi. Though it remains a mystery, it is highly likely that the unfortunate submarine’s sinking was the result of an accident caused by the untimely explosion of a mine during an offensive mine laying operation off Vishakhapatnam. This theory aligns with the known operational history of Ghazi, which had previously demonstrated formidable capabilities that made it Pakistan’s preferred military asset against India. In light of these inconsistencies and the lack of corroborating evidence regarding INS Rajput’s involvement, it is imperative to carefully evaluate the credibility of the claims made in The Economic Times editorial regarding the sinking of PNS Ghazi during the Indo-Pak War in 1971.
Ghazi cast a profound nervousness in the Indian navy, where its very mention evoked a sense of unease within the Indian naval circles. Ghazi’s reputation as a formidable adversary had been solidified through operations since its induction, instilling a deep-seated fear within the Indian fleet. As tensions escalated during the early phases of the 1971 conflict, Ghazi’s presence loomed large, forcing the Indian aircraft carrier Vikrant to seek refuge nearly a thousand miles away from its home port of Vishakhapatnam. This strategic retreat underscored the gravity of the situation as the Indian navy grappled with the imminent threat posed by Ghazi’s stealthy advances. Vice Admiral Krishnan, tasked with overseeing the Indian Eastern Naval Command, found himself navigating a precarious balancing act, acutely aware of Ghazi’s track record of disrupting naval operations. Drawing from lessons learned during the Indo-Pak War in 1965, when Ghazi had nearly crippled Indian naval design, Krishnan wasted no time in implementing preventive measures to safeguard his fleet.

As tensions escalated during the early phases of the 1971 conflict, Ghazi’s presence loomed large, forcing the Indian aircraft carrier Vikrant to seek refuge nearly a thousand miles away from its home port of Vishakhapatnam.

Recognizing the vulnerability of his command’s ‘operational center of gravity’ to potential Ghazi’s attack, Vice Admiral Krishnan decided to relocate Vikrant further southward by November 13, 1971, beyond the reach of Ghazi’s prowling gaze while deceiving Pakistan Navy through signals that Vikrant was operating between Madras and Vishakhapatnam. This proactive manoeuvre aimed to mitigate the risk of confrontation and maintain operational integrity in the face of Ghazi’s menacing presence. Anticipating Vikrant’s presence off Vishakhapatnam, Ghazi left Karachi on November 14, 1971.
The evolving politico-military landscape in East Pakistan compelled Pakistani military commanders to reassess their strategic options. Internal unrest, exacerbated by India’s active support of Bengali separatist movements, necessitated decisive action from both political and military leaders in Pakistan. Additionally, adhering to the prevalent Pakistani military doctrine, "defense of the east lies in the west," military leadership advocated alleviating pressure in the East by redirecting Indian focus to the maritime domain. Within the framework of Pakistani military calculus, it was foreseeable that India would leverage assets like INS Vikrant to deliver a blow. Indians envisioned that severing sea routes would coerce Pakistan to capitulate to Indian demands, rendering it incapable of sustaining hostilities. On their part, Pakistani military leadership identified PNS Ghazi as the naval asset capable of disrupting India’s primary operational strategy, particularly concerning the deployment of INS Vikrant. By bottling up the Indian fleet in Vishakhapatnam Port and targeting Vikrant, Ghazi held the potential to significantly tilt the outcome of the war in Pakistan’s favor. Such strategic deliberations underscored the gravity of decision-making during the turbulent days of November 1971.
PNS Ghazi, ex-USS Diablo, belonged to Tench Class submarines and served in the U.S. Navy from its commissioning on March 31, 1945. Diablo primarily operated in the Atlantic and the Caribbean seas. USS Diablo was decommissioned and later recommissioned as PNS Ghazi within the Pakistani fleet on June 1, 1964. With Ghazi's induction, the Pakistan Navy became the sole operator of submarines in the region, significantly bolstering its naval capabilities. During the Indo-Pak War in 1965, Ghazi emerged as a critical platform, leaving the Indian navy to grapple with countermeasures against a subsurface combatant. Despite their efforts, the Indian forces could not devise a viable solution to counter Ghazi’s operational advantage, cementing its reputation as a fearsome presence in Indian waters. Following its performance in 1965, Ghazi was entrusted with another daring mission in 1971. This time, the submarine was tasked to keep Vikrant holed up in the harbor or destroy it if the ship attempted to set sail for East Pakistan. Ghazi set sails, under the command of Commander Zafar Mohammad Khan, with instructions to hunt for Vikrant or else deploy mines off Vishakhapatnam. Loaded with mines in several torpedo tubes, the crew of Ghazi were well aware of their mission’s nature but entrusted the details of ‘when and where’ to their Commanding Officer (CO).
Operationally, this mission presented immense challenges, involving the navigation of a submerged vessel nearly 2000 miles from its home port to execute a significant risk task. Ghazi embraced the challenge without hesitation, demonstrating unwavering resolve and bravery in adversity. On its mission from Karachi towards Vishakhapatnam, Ghazi received intelligence indicating the presence of INS Vikrant in or around the port. Arriving in the designated area, known as the Victor Zone, on December 2-3, 1971, Ghazi diligently scoured the deeper waters in search of its elusive target, INS Vikrant. However, to Ghazi’s dismay, the carrier was far away near the Andaman Islands during this time. Undeterred, Ghazi redirected its efforts closer to the port vicinity.
During the night of December 3-4, while laying mines off the Vishakhapatnam harbor, Ghazi encountered a tragic turn of events. In what appears to have been a miscalculation of its position, Ghazi inadvertently veered into its minefield, triggering an explosion that ruptured its forward torpedo room. The devastation proved catastrophic, overwhelming the submarine’s damage control efforts and sealing its fate. With the destruction being extensive and swift, Ghazi met its tragic demise just after half past midnight, sinking with all hands onboard at a distance of approximately 1.5 nautical miles from the Vishakhapatnam breakwater. This untimely end marked the conclusion of a once-great submarine's illustrious but ultimately ill-fated career.

With Ghazi's induction, the Pakistan Navy became the sole operator of submarines in the region, significantly bolstering its naval capabilities. During the Indo-Pak War in 1965, Ghazi emerged as a critical platform, leaving the Indian navy to grapple with countermeasures against a subsurface combatant.

According to Indian accounts, locating and neutralizing the Pakistani submarine fell to INS Rajput, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Inder Singh. Indians assert that it was the Rajput that engaged the Ghazi, using depth charges to achieve its destruction. However, there are conflicting reports within Indian sources regarding the exact circumstances of Ghazi’s demise. Contradictory to the Rajput’s claims, Indian sources also mention reports from local fishermen regarding the discovery of a large oil slick and debris in the area. This information prompted the dispatch of INS Akshay, under the command of Lieutenant Sridhar More, from Vishakhapatnam on December 5 to investigate further. This raises questions about the timing and certainty of Ghazi’s sinking. If Ghazi had indeed been destroyed on December 4, as claimed, the need for a subsequent investigation the following day appears puzzling.
The absence of comprehensive anti-submarine warfare efforts or records within the Indian Navy further casts doubt on the certainty of Ghazi’s prosecution at the hands of Indian vessels. Before claiming credit for the sinking of Ghazi, it would have been prudent for the Indian Navy to consider the practical realities and gather conclusive evidence. As such, the circumstances surrounding Ghazi’s fateful end remain subject to scrutiny and interpretation. The accounts provided by the Indian senior officers, such as Admiral Nanda, Lieutenant General J. F. R. Jacob, Vice Admiral Hiranandani, and Admiral Arun Prakash, unequivocally deny the Indian Navy's involvement in the sinking of Ghazi. These officers even suggest that the Indian Navy had no prior knowledge of Ghazi’s presence, let alone its detection near Vishakhapatnam. Admiral S. M. Nanda, Indian Naval Chief during the 1971 War, in his book The Man Who Bombed Karachi published in 2004, recounts an incident where an unusual and suspicious blast near the entrance to Vizag harbor on the night of December 3-4 led to the detection and sinking of Ghazi. A fisherman reported this event to the war-watching organization. The fisherman in question was Nannapaneni Venkateswarlu, who has been mentioned in an article by S. N. V. Sudhir titled, Vishakhapatnam: Sunk Pakistani Submarine Ghazi is an Enigma, published in Deccan Chronicle on November 24, 2015. Venkateswarlu, captain of the fishing vessel MT Suneeta Rani, operating off the Vizag coast at the time, stated, “I heard a deafening sound, but I was not sure what exactly happened. I am certain that there were no Indian Navy vessels around.”
These testimonies from various sources provide convincing evidence that the sinking of Ghazi was not the result of actions taken by the Indian Navy but rather a mysterious event that unfolded with absolutely no involvement from Indian Naval Forces. Furthermore, Lieutenant General J. F. R. Jacob, who served as the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army Eastern Command during the 1971 War, presents a compelling narrative regarding the sinking of PNS Ghazi. In his book, An Odyssey in War and Peace, published in 2011, Lieutenant General Jacob notes, "There is little doubt that the Indian Navy did a splendid job, but we did not sink Ghazi!” He further maintains that “the sinking of the Ghazi was announced by the navy only after getting their ‘story’ collated. Lieutenant General Jacob insists that Vice Admiral Krishnan, Indian Eastern Naval Commander at the time, was informed of the incident solely through reports from fishermen and had no prior knowledge of Ghazi’s presence or its destruction.
In his book, Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation, published in 1997, on Page 67, Lieutenant General Jacob refers to a conversation between him and Krishnan, where he mentions Krishnan saying that “the blowing up of the Ghazi either on December 1 or 2 while laying mines was an act of God. He said it would permit the Navy greater freedom of action. The next morning, on December 4, Krishnan again telephoned asking me whether we had reported the blowing up of the Ghazi to Delhi. I said we had not, as I presumed he had done. Relieved, he thanked me and asked me to forget our previous conversation. The official Naval version given out later was that the Ghazi had been sunk by the ships of the Eastern Fleet on December 4." Similarly, Admiral Arun Prakash, speaking to NewsX’s Vishal Thapar in 2019 (interview available at Daily Motion), opined that PNS Ghazi “sank in mysterious circumstances and not at the hands of the INS Rajput as the Indian Navy has maintained over the years.” Vice Admiral Hiranandani, in his book, Transition to Triumph: Indian Navy, 1965-1975, published on October 15, 1999, acknowledges the uncertainty surrounding the truth about Ghazi, casting doubt on the integrity and consistency of the Indian Navy’s claims regarding its sinking. Hiranandani, while discussing the topic of the sinking of the Ghazi, refers to suspicions of releasing the signal about Ghazi's sinking on December 9, whereas as per the claims, the incident had occurred on December 3.
Vice Admiral Mihir K. Roy, in his book, War in the Indian Ocean, published in 1995, mentions on pages 205-206 that Ghazi most probably collided with one of its mines. He also suggests that it was very likely for a mine to go off because of depth charges being dropped at that time. Times of India, in their editorial titled, Now no record of Navy sinking Pakistani submarine in 1971, published on May 12, 2010, indicated very clearly that "crucial documents of Ghazi" were missing from the Indian Navy's official record cells. These views/comments from military figures and Indian media reports underscore the complexity and ambiguity surrounding the sinking of PNS Ghazi, suggesting that the truth may never be fully known and calling into question the credibility of the Indian Navy’s claims regarding the incident. The tragic fate of PNS Ghazi, lost off the Indian coast with its entire crew, remains shrouded in uncertainty and speculation. The circumstances surrounding its sinking, including the reasons and conditions leading to the event, have yet to be fully elucidated. Much of this ambiguity can be attributed to India’s reluctance to allow U.S. and Russian researchers to conduct a thorough site survey and explore the true causes of Ghazi’s demise.
The valorous crew of Ghazi embarked on their final journey with unwavering courage and dedication, never to return home again. Their sacrifice serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent risks those who serve in the submarines face. Despite the lack of definitive answers, the memory of these brave souls who chose the path of ultimate glory by embracing martyrdom aboard Ghazi will endure forever. Vir Chakra bestowed upon Lieutenant Commander Inder Singh for supposedly ‘destroying’ Ghazi only serves to underscore the gravity of the situation and the need for an impartial investigation. As we honor the memory of these martyrs, may their souls find eternal peace, and may their legacy continue to inspire future generations with a message of hope, courage, and unwavering dedication to the cause they served so selflessly.

The writer is an Islamabad-based independent researcher and tweets at @sohailazmie. 
E-mail: [email protected]