Military & Aerospace

1971 War: The Sinking of the Ghazi
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Issue Book Excerpt: Transition to Triumph | Date : 18 Feb , 2017

 The Pakistan Navy’s Deployment of Ghazi in the 1971 Indo Pakistan War

In his book, “Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership”, written in 1972 soon after the war, Maj General Fazal Muqeem Khan states: (Page 153)

“The submarine GHAZI was despatched to the Visakhapatnam Naval Base in the Bay of Bengal. The GHAZI’s task was to carry out offensive mine laying against Visakhapatnam.

“GHAZI which had sailed towards Visakhapatnam with special instructions, had to reach its destination on 26 Nov 71. She was to report on arrival but no word was heard from her. Efforts were made to contact her but to no avail. The fate of the GHAZI was in jeopardy before 3 Dec. The Indians made preposterous claims about the sinking of the GHAZI. However, being loaded with mines, it seems to have met an accident on her passage and exploded. A few foreign papers at that time also reported that some flotsam had been picked up by Indian fishermen and handed over to the Indian Navy, which made up stories about its sinking”.

The Story of the Pakistan Navy’ published twenty years later in 1991, gives a slightly different account:

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.

“The Navy ordered the submarines to slip out of harbour quietly on various dates between 14 and 22 November. They were allocated patrol areas covering the west coast of India, while GHAZI was despatched to the Bay of Bengal with the primary objective of locating the Indian aircraft carrier, INS VIKRANT, which was reported to be operating in the area.

“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 adhoc 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 to 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 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 first indication of GHAZI’s tragic fate came when a message by NHQ India, claiming 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 Visakhapatnam 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 Indian Navy’s Assessments of Ghazi’s Deployment

In his book ‘No Way But Surrender – An Account of the Indo Pakistan War in the Bay of Bengal 1971′, Vice Admiral N Krishnan, then Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, states:

“The problem of VIKRANT’s security was a serious one and brought forth several headaches. By very careful appreciation of the submarine threat, by analyzing data such as endurance, distance factors, base facilities, etc we had come to the definite conclusion that the enemy was bound to deploy the submarine GHAZI against us in the Bay of Bengal with the sole aim of destroying our aircraft carrier VIKRANT. The threat from GHAZI was a considerable one. Apart from the lethal advantage at the pre-emptive stage, VIKRANT’s approximate position would become known once she commenced operating aircraft in the vicinity of the East Bengal coast. Of the four surface ships available, one had no anti-submarine detection device (sonar) and unless the other three were continually in close company with VIKRANT (within a radius of 5 to 10 miles), the carrier would be completely vulnerable to attack from the GHAZI which could take up her position surreptitiously and at leisure and await her opportunity.

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.

“We decided that in preparing our plan, we would rely much more on deception and other measures against the GHAZI.

“We had to find some place to crouch in, to spring into action at the shortest notice. After embarking the remaining aircraft of Seahawks, Alizes and Alouettes, the Fleet left Madras on Saturday 13 November for an unknown destination which I shall call “Port X-Ray,” for reasons of security. Port X-Ray was a totally uninhabited place with no means of communication with the outside world and it was well protected and in the form of a lagoon.

“Having sailed the Fleet away to safety, the major task was to deceive the enemy into thinking that the VIKRANT was where she was not and lure the GHAZI to where we could attack her. I spoke to the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Madras on the telephone and told him that VIKRANT, now off Visakhapatnam, would be arriving at Madras and would require an alongside berth, provisions and other logistic needs. Captain Duckworth thought I had gone stark raving mad that I should discuss so many operational matters over the telephone. I told him to alert contractors for rations, to speak to the Port Trust that we wanted a berth alongside for VIKRANT at Madras, etc.

“In Visakhapatnam, we ordered much more rations, especially meat and fresh vegetables, from our contractors to whom it must have been obvious that this meant the presence of the Fleet at or off Visakhapatnam. I was banking on bazaar rumours being picked up by spies and relayed to Pakistan. I had no doubt that such spies did exist and I hoped that they would do their duty.

“During the several weeks before the war, we had taken special pains to contact the various fishing communities in and around Visakhapatnam and motivate them to act as a sort of visual lookout for anything out of the ordinary that they may see when out fishing. This meant explaining to them all about oil slicks, what a submarine looks like, what sort of tell-tale evidence to look for and so on. They were briefed on exactly what to do with any information that they gathered.

“We decided to use INS RAJPUT as a decoy to try and deceive the Pakistanis into believing that VIKRANT was in or around Visakhapatnam. RAJPUT was sailed to proceed about 160 miles off Visakhapatnam. She was given a large number of signals with instructions that she should clear the same from sea. Heavy wireless traffic is one means for the enemy to suspect the whereabouts of a big ship. We intentionally breached security by making an unclassified signal in the form of a private telegram, allegedly from one of VIKRANT’s sailors, asking about the welfare of his mother “seriously ill.”

“Our deception plan worked only too well! In a secret signal which we recovered from the sunken GHAZI, Commodore Submarines in Karachi sent a signal to GHAZI on 25 November informing her that “INTELLIGENCE INDICATES CARRIER IN PORT” and that she should proceed to Visakhapatnam with all despatch!”

On the evening of 3 December, Pakistan initiated hostilities. Admiral Krishnan’s book states:

“By the time I arrived at the Maritime Operations Room, orders for commencement of hostilities had been received, the shore defences of Visakhapatnam were immediately put on alert and the Coast Battery was brought to First Degree of Readiness. I had already decided that the RAJPUT should also join the rest of the Eastern Fleet for operations off Bangladesh.

We decided that in preparing our plan, we would rely much more on deception and other measures against the GHAZI.

“I sent for Lt Cdr Inder Singh, the Commanding Officer of the RAJPUT for detailed briefing; as soon as she completed fuelling she must leave harbour. I had already ordered all navigational aids to be switched off, so greatest care in navigation was necessary. Once clear of the harbour, he must assume that an enemy submarine was in the vicinity. If our deception plan had worked, the enemy would be prowling about looking for VIKRANT. Before clearing the outer harbour, he could drop a few charges at random.

“The RAJPUT sailed before midnight of 3/4 December and, on clearing harbour, proceeded along the narrow channel. Having got clear, the Commanding Officer saw what he thought was a severe disturbance in the water, about half a mile ahead. He rightly assumed that this might be a submarine diving. He closed the spot at speed and dropped at the position two charges. It has been subsequently established that the position where the charges were dropped was so close to the position of the wreck of the GHAZI that some damage to the latter is a very high probability. The RAJPUT, on completion of her mission, proceeded on her course in order to carry out her main mission. A little later, a very loud explosion was heard by the Coast Battery who reported the same to the Maritime Operations Room. The time of this explosion was 0015 hours. The clock recovered from the GHAZI showed that it had stopped functioning at the same time. Several thousand people waiting to hear the Prime Minister’s broadcast to the nation also heard the explosion and many came out thinking that it was an earthquake.

“As per our arrangement with them, some fishermen reported oil patches and some flotsam. The Command Diving Team were rushed to the spot and commenced detailed investigations. The divers established that there was a definite submerged object some distance out seawards, at a depth of 150 feet of water and that it was a probable submarine. Even though there were a number of floating objects picked up, there was nothing to indicate the identity of the submarine. Everything had American markings. I told the Chief of the Naval Staff that personally I was convinced that we had bagged the GHAZI. He wanted “ocular proof” that it was the GHAZI, before authorizing the announcement. This was easier said than done. Diving operations were extremely difficult and highly hazardous as the sea was very choppy and the divers were operating some 150 feet below. The boat I had was not a suitable one to conduct such operations. By Sunday 5 December we were able to establish from the silhouette and other characteristics that the submarine was in fact the GHAZI. But there was no means of ingress into the submarine as all entry hatches from the conning tower aft were tightly screwed down from the inside.

I sent for Lt Cdr Inder Singh, the Commanding Officer of the RAJPUT for detailed briefing; as soon as she completed fuelling she must leave harbour.

“In the meantime, the Chief of Naval Staff had arranged for an Air Force aircraft to be positioned in Visakhapatnam so that “the ocular proof” that he insisted on could be flown to Delhi before the announcement was made.

“On the third day, a diver managed to open the Conning Tower hatch and one dead body was recovered. As the hatch was opened, it was clogged up with bloated dead bodies and it was quite a job to clear the same to make an entrance. The Hydrographic correction book of PNS GHAZI and one sheet of paper with the official seal of the Commanding Officer of PNS GHAZI were also recovered. The aircraft standing by finally took off for Delhi the next morning with the evidence”.

The following four signals recovered from the GHAZI have been reproduced in Admiral Krishnan’s book:

  • FM COMSUBS TO SUBRON-5 INFO PAK NAVY DTG 221720 NOV 71

FOLLOWING AREAS OCCUPIED.

  1. PAPA ONE, TOW, THREE, FOUR.
  2. PAPA FIVE, SIX, SEVEN, EIGHT.
  3. BRAVO ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE, SIX
  4. MIKE.
  • FROM COMSUBS TO GHAZI MANGRO INFO PAK NAVY DTG 222117 NOV 71.
  • FROM COMSUBS TO SUBRON-5 INFO PAK NAVY DTG 231905 NOV 71.

ASSUME PRECAUTIONARY STAGE

  • FROM COMSUBS TO GHAZI INFO PAK NAVY DTG 252307/NOV 71

OCCUPY ZONE VICTOR WITH ALL DESPATCH INTELLIGENCE INDICATES CARRIERS IN PORT.

Admiral Krishnan’s book states:

It has been subsequently established that the position where the charges were dropped was so close to the position of the wreck of the GHAZI that some damage to the latter is a very high probability.

“The GHAZI story, as related below is pieced together from much evidence that has been collected from the sunken submarine itself, and detailed analysis of track charts of the attacking ship, INS RAJPUT as well as that of the GHAZI. From a recovered chart, it is clearly revealed that the GHAZI sailed from Karachi on 14 November, on her marauding mission. She was 400 miles off Bombay on 16 November, off Ceylon on 19 November and entered the Bay of Bengal on 20 November. She was looking for VIKRANT off Madras on 23 November.

“From the position of the rudder of the GHAZI, the extent of damage she has suffered, and the notations on charts recovered, the situation has been assessed by naval experts as follows:

“The GHAZI had evidently come up to periscope/or surface depth to establish her navigational position, an operation which was made extremely difficult by the blackout and the switching off of all navigational lights. At this point of time, she probably saw or heard a destroyer approaching her, almost on a reciprocal course. This is a frightening sight at the best of times and she obviously dived in a tremendous hurry and at the same time put her rudder hard over in order to get away to seaward. It is possible that in her desperate crash dive, her nose must have hit the shallow ground hard when she bottomed. It seems likely that a fire broke out on board for’d where, in all probability, there were mines, in addition to the torpedoes, fully armed”.

Analysis of Ghazi’s Sinking

Two points merit analysis:

  • When did the GHAZI sink?
  • What caused the GHAZI to sink?

When did the Ghazi Sink

According to the ‘Story of the Pakistan Navy,’ GHAZI failed to make its check report from 26 November onwards.

Lt Cdr (SDG) Inder Singh was the Commanding Officer of INS RAJPUT in 1971. He recalls:

“At about 1600 hrs on 1st December 1971, I was called by the FOCINCEAST Vice Admiral Krishnan to his office. He said that a Pakistani submarine had been sighted off the Ceylon Coast a couple of days back which would be heading for Madras/Visakhapatnam. He was absolutely certain that now the submarine was expected to be anywhere between Madras and Vizag and that she was sent here to attack VIKRANT the moment hostilities were declared at a time chosen by Pakistan. Till that time, the submarine would be looking for VIKRANT and shadowing her. So the submarine would have to be prevented from locating VIKRANT at any cost before hostilities commenced.

But there was no means of ingress into the submarine as all entry hatches from the conning tower aft were tightly screwed down from the inside.

“With this thought in mind, he wanted to hold the Pakistani submarine off Visakhapatnam till such time hostilities were declared. To achieve this, he unfolded his plan of action and said that he would like INS RAJPUT to sail out and act as decoy of VIKRANT. He wanted RAJPUT to proceed towards Madras and send some misleading signals as from VIKRANT, so that the submarine mistaking RAJPUT for VIKRANT, would be shadowing her and VIKRANT would be safe in her hiding place. FOCINC said he knew it was a suicidal mission for RAJPUT. He was sure that the Pakistani submarine would make RAJPUT a target the moment hostilities were declared and he was definite that RAJPUT would not return from this mission and that he was giving RAJPUT as a bait to Pakistan for the safety of VIKRANT. He was sorry for the move but he had no other choice. I told him that I considered myself very lucky that he had selected me for this great cause and that I was ready to take the challenge.

“On 2nd December 1971, I sailed out of harbour in the afternoon as VIKRANT and set course for Madras. I sent some telegrams through Bombay WT seeking confirmation for sickness of parent’s etc and other signals including a LOGREQ signal to NOIC Madras. It was considered necessary to increase the signal traffic as VIKRANT, being a large ship and a flagship, naturally was to have heavy signal traffic. Basic code was used for the signals. I later on came to know that NOIC Madras was baffled by the quantity of provisions and other items demanded at such short notice in my LOGREQ signal. He phoned up FOC-in-C, who showed his annoyance and asked NOIC Madras to supply whatever VIKRANT wanted.

“On 3rd December 1971, RAJPUT was asked to return to harbour, berth at fuelling jetty, top up and get ready for the next assignment. RAJPUT was secured alongside by 1900 hours. No sooner had we secured, a despatch rider came on board and informed that Pakistan had attacked Indian airfields. Before proceeding to HQENC, I left instructions to speed up fuelling, collect rations, naval stores and fresh water as required. At Command Headquarters, the Chief of Staff told me that FOCINC wanted RAJPUT to sail for Chittagong as soon as possible. I cast off from fuelling jetty at about 2340 hrs on 3rd December 1971 with a pilot on board. Scare charges were being thrown overboard whilst the ship was secured at the jetty and while leaving harbour.

“When the ship was half way in the channel, it suddenly occurred to me that “what if the Pakistan submarine which I was looking for the last two days, was waiting outside harbour and it torpedoes RAJPUT while disembarking pilot at the Outer Channel Buoy.” I immediately ordered to stop engines, and disembarked the pilot. I slowly increased speed and was doing the maximum speed I could manage by the time I reached Outer Channel Buoy.

“Shortly after clearing Outer Channel Buoy at about midnight of 3/4 December, when the Prime Minister was addressing the nation, the starboard lookout reported disturbance of water, fine on the starboard bow. As the ship was already doing maximum speed and nearing the disturbed water patch and since the ship was already closed up at action stations, appropriate depth was set on the depth charges and two depth charges were dropped at the reported position. The ship got a heavy jolt after the deafening blasts. Then the ship turned and the area was searched for any sign of a contact. Satisfied that there was no sign of any contact or anything on the surface, the ship resumed course.

…so that the submarine mistaking RAJPUT for VIKRANT, would be shadowing her and VIKRANT would be safe in her hiding place.

“There were a few reasons which prompted me to carry out an immediate attack. First, as stated earlier, I had an intuition while leaving harbour when the ship was in mid channel. Secondly knowledge of a Pakistan submarine in the area, for which RAJPUT had been operating for the last two days to mislead her. Thirdly plain speaking by the FOCINC to me when he had called me to his office on 1st December and told me that RAJPUT mistaken as VIKRANT, would be torpedoed by the Pakistani submarine on outbreak of hostilities. And lastly the disturbed water patch made me to think that the submarine had just dived”.

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3 thoughts on “1971 War: The Sinking of the Ghazi

  1. I joined the Merchant Navy in August 1971 as a Cadet on board the M. V. MAHAVIKRAM. We sailed out from Bombay sometime late November under instructions from the Navy about courses to take and to maintain radio silence. The order stated to keep at least 10 NM from the coast of Sri Lanka for our next port of call Madras. We arrived Madras well after sundown and found that INS VIKRANT was already berthed, but next morning we found that she had sailed out.

    A few days later we sailed for Calcutta again as per Naval instructions. We were two Cadets on board and were sitting in our boiler suit on the cargo hold hatch at about 10.30 sipping our regulation lime juice and observing the sea when we spotted a few black objects and at least bodies badly charred floating face down with skin peeled off their back and bottom not far from the ship as it sailed past. We dashed to the bridge to inform the Officer-of-the-Watch and found the Captain was already there having been informed by the OOW.

    Arrival Calcutta the Captain must have reported the sightings with position co-ordinates to NOIC. We later came to know that PNS GHAZI was sunk. After loading in Calcutta we sailed for the Port of Chittagong and found it in a shambles with sunken Pakistani ships, collapsed jetties and severely damaged quayside sheds with 1 inch bullet holes on the tin roof, probably the result of staffing by Indian Air Force jets. There was destruction all around; the gallant and precise work of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. It was a clear message then and for eternity to unrepentant Pakistan not to mess with India.

  2. This is all very interesting especially since there is a different narrative also. I wonder given the much better availability of R & R facilities to the PNS we are equally well prepared for an attack in the East

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