Operations in the Bay of Bengal

The Loss of PNS/M Ghazi

Within East Pakistan, riverine traffic, on which the supply lines of many widely dispersed army units largely depended, was being subjected to increasing attacks by Mukti Bahini. Their naval elements had embarked upon a well planned campaign aimed at disrupting shipping activity in East Pakistani Parts. After the reorganisation of the Indian Navy into the Eastern and Western Fleets, the four gun boats stationed at Chittagong were no match for the massive Indian Naval deployment there. This was a classic case of a naval imbalance. When the aircraft carrier Vikrant was transferred to the eastern theatre, the existing naval imbalance in that area was grossly aggra­vated.

Several measures, including the despatch of a destroyer and two minesweepers to the eastern theatre, were under consideration at Naval Headquarters towards the end of the year. None of the measures were feasible. The Pakistan Navy was in no position to respond to the Indian naval challenge in the East, at a time when its capacity to undertake even limited operations in the West was far from adequate. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, by virtue of its preponderant strength, could maintain overwhelming strength in both theatres. It was in this desperate situation that the decision to deploy Ghazi on India’s eastern coast emerged.

Ghazi’s deployment to the Bay of Bengal must be regarded as a measure taken to rectify a strategic posture that was getting increas­ingly out of step with military realities. Our response to Indian military deployments around East Pakistan were a series of ad hoc measures, taken from time to time, as a reaction to the Indian build-up. Despatch of Ghazi to India’s eastern seaboard, not part of the original plans, was one such step taken on the insistence of our Military High Command to reinforce Eastern Command. Pressure on the Pakistan Navy to extend the sphere of its operations into the Bay of Bengal increased with the growth of Indian and Indian-inspired naval activi­ties in and around East Pakistan.

The strategic soundness of the decision has never been questioned. Ghazi was the only ship which had the range and capability ghazi_babur_sto undertake operations in the distant waters under control of the enemy. The presence of a lucrative target in the shape of the aircraft carrier Vikrant, the pride of the Indian Fleet, in that area was known. The plan had all the ingredients of daring and surprise which are essential for success in a situation tilted heavily in favour of the enemy. Indeed, had the Ghazi been able to sink or even damage the Indian aircraft carrier the shock effect alone would have been sufficient to upset Indian Naval plans. The naval situation in the Bay of Bengal would have undergone a drastic transformation, and carrier-supported mili­tary operations in the coastal areas would have been affected. So tempting were the prospects of a possible success that the mission was approved despite several factors which militated against it.

Against it was the consideration of Ghazi’s aging machinery and equipment. It was difficult to sustain prolonged operations in a distant area, in the total absence of repair, logistic and recreational facilities in the vicinity. At this time, submarine repair facilities were totally absent at Chittagong – the only port in the east. It was on these grounds that the proposal to deploy Ghazi in the Bay of Bengal was opposed by Captain Submarines and many others. The objections were later reluctantly dropped or overruled due to the pressures mentioned earlier.

On 14 November, 1971 PNS Ghazi, under the command of Cdr Zafar Mohammad Khan, sailed out of harbour on a reconnaissance patrol. Orders had been issued to the Commanding Officer. A report expected from the submarine on 26 November was not received. Anxiety grew with every day that passed after frantic efforts to establish communications with the submarine failed to produce results. Before hostilities broke out in the west on 3 December, doubts about the fate of the submarine had already begun to agitate the minds of submariners and many others at Naval Headquarters. Several reasons could, however, be attributed to the failure of the submarine to communicate.

The first indication of Ghazi’s tragic fate came when a message by NHQ, India, c1aiming sinking of Ghazi on the night of 3 December, but issued, strangely enough, on 9 December, was intercepted. Both the manner of its release and the text, quoted below, clarified very little: “I am pleased to announce that Pakistan Navy Submarine Ghazi sunk off Visakhaptnam by our ships on 3/4 December (.) Dead bodies and other conclusive evidence floated to surface yesterday – 091101 EF”. Their mysterious silence for 6 days between 3 December, when the submarine was claimed to have been sunk and 9 December, when the message was released could not be easily explained. It gave rise to speculations that the submarine may well have been sunk earlier, at a time when the Indians were not ready to accept their involvement in the war. Failure of the Ghazi to communicate after 26 November strongly supported such a possibility. As it happened, the release of the message on 9 December also served to divert attention of their public from the sinking of Khukri on this very date even though the claim of sinking Ghazi was apparently made a few hours before the loss of Khukri.

The claim that Ghazi was sunk by an Indian ship has been contradicted by responsible Indian authors in accounts of the incident published after the war. The official version of the account given by Vice Admiral Krishna, as quoted by Commodore Ranjit Rai in “A Nation and its Navy at War” is quoted here:

‘On the night of the third, after the treacherous attack by Pakistan, it was appreciated that a pre-emptive underwater attack against the Naval Base at Visakhapatnam might be imminent and local naval defences were immedi­ately put in readiness.

In addition to all precautions within the harbour, two ships sailed out just before midnight on a mission.

On obtaining a contact, an urgent attack was carried out with depth charges. The sound was, however, lost after the attack and the ship proceeded on her mission to join other units out at sea.

Shortly after midnight and just before the Prime Minister’s broadcast to the nation, a very laud explosion was heard rattling several window panes in buildings near the beach.

This was reported to me by our coast battery which was awaiting any likely surface attack on Visakhapatnam.

We assumed that the explosion heard was probably the result of our attack and commenced our searches. The Eastern Naval Command Headquarters, as part of defence preparedness, had enlisted the support of all local fisherfolk and they had been thoroughly briefed on what to do in events such as these.

According to these instructions while the search was on, two fishermen, on picking up a lire jacket and other debris, last no time in bringing these across to the Command Headquarters.

Further searches could not be very extensive due to bad weather. Yesterday, however, we found three bodies and a lot of flotsam and jetsam. There are ample evidences available from these that the submarine destroyed is none other than the Pakistani ship Ghazi.’

Another version of the incident, substantially at variance with that given by Vice Admiral Krishna was published in the 1972 edition of Indian Defence Journal “Chanakya”. Numerous contradictions in the published Indian versions of the incident, viewed with suspicion and doubt in Pakistan, have led to the conclusion that the Indians do not know how the Ghazi sank.

The only information on the subject from an independent source comes from an Egyptian naval officer serving at that time on an Egyptian submarine under refit in Visakhapatnam harbour. He has confirmed the occurrence of a “big explosion” in the vicinity of the harbour “around late night”. So powerful was the explosion that rocked the harbour, according to this officer, that some of the shores supporting the submarine in the graving dock, where she was docked, fell offThere were no naval ships, as reported by this officer, outside the harbour at that time and it was not until about an hour after the explosion that two Indian naval ships were observed leaving harbour.

Since all 82 members of her crew lost their lives in the disaster, it is most unlikely that the mystery surrounding the circumstances in which Ghazi sank will ever be unveiled. Commodore Ranjit Rai concludes: “…at that time how the Ghazi was sunk remained unclear as it does today.”

It was not until 10 February that the loss of Ghazi was officially acknowledged with a terse announcement by a Defence Ministry spokesman that the submarine Ghazi was lost on passage from Karachi to Chittagong where she was to report on 26 November. The intervening period between the Indian announcement on 9 December and the official acknowledgment of the submarine’s loss by Pakistan was one of anguish and agony for the family members of the crew. Even after the official announcement many of them kept hoping that their dear ones would one day return home. Rumours that some members of the crew had survived and taken prisoners of war prolonged their agony.

There can and should be no doubt about the courage and dedication of her Commanding Officer and crew. An ironic feature of war is that courage and valour in an unsuccessful campaign are rarely rewarded in the same manner as similar, or even lesser acts, in a successful operation of war. And so it was with the Ghazi. A naval establish­ment, PNS Zafar named after the Commanding Officer, was commis­sioned at Islamabad on shifting of Naval Headquarters to the capital after the war. And soon afterwards, the road crossing that gives access to the Naval Residential Sector in Islamabad, where the establishment is located, acquired the name of ‘Zafar Chowk’, and turned into a notable city landmark to give, as it were, the verdict of posterity. Enshrined here, far removed from the place where the submarine lies buried in the watery depths, is the memory of those brave officers and men who, in the relentless pursuit of the enemy, sacrificed their lives for their country, and the true story of their courageous deeds remains untold.