A Submarine Episode during the Indian-Pakistan War of 1971
- March 1979
- Corau, Capitaine A. (French Navy)
- History - general
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
This article was first published in English in the Pakistan Navy News, but this version was in the original French and has been translated by the Editor. The article describes the sinking of the Blackwood class frigate Khurkri by the Daphne submarine Hangor.
THE INDIAN-PAKISTANI WAR OF 1971 resulted in the defeat of Pakistan and the transfer of the Pakistani province of Bangladesh to Indian authority. During the war, which lasted less than a month, a Pakistani submarine of the Daphne class, the Hangor, gave chase to two Indian frigates, sank the Khurkri and hit the Kirpan and then escaped from a hunt lasting several days.
Already devastated a year earlier by an exceptionally severe cyclone, Bangladesh was the scene of civil disturbances all through 1971. This agitation, conducted primarily by the Awami League, was very severely suppressed by the Pakistani Government, resulting in hundreds of thousands of victims, and six million refugees made for India.
India, which wished to create an independent state in Bengal, was very preoccupied by the problems arising from the exodus of Bengalis, in Calcutta in particular, and had concluded a treaty of friendship with the USSR on the 9th August 1917. On the signing of this treaty 5,000 tons of war supplies were delivered.
Pakistan on the other hand continued to obtain war supplies from the United States, but France and Britain had stopped all deliveries in July.
The conflict started in October, but the war really began on the 3rd December by an attack in the Israeli fashion with raids on Indian airfields by the Pakistani Air Force. But rapidly the Indians became mistress of the seas and sky. By the 17th December the eastern province was entirely in Indian hands when the Pakistani general Niazzi surrendered his troops on the race track at Dacca. From that time the official existence of Bangladesh began.
On the 9th December 1971, it was a fine evening at the entrance to the Gulf of Cambray, to the north-east of Bombay. At the time the sea was like oil and the night pitch black. On board the Indian frigate Khurkri, the sonar operator Kunwar Pal Singh was on watch. He had just started his watch and once more he tried to believe that he might locate one of these famous Pakistani submarines, the only valuable units in their whole Navy he thought. With such good conditions for operating the sonar he reckoned he could not fail.
While still concentrating his attention on the job, Singh went over the latest sequence of events in his mind. The war had only been going on for six days and the victories had all been on the Indian side. It had started on the first day with a submarine contact in the Bay of Bengal. This was Khurkri’s bad luck as the contact had been on the other side of the sub continent where India’s only carrier, the Vikrant, had been sent to avoid any risk from submarines. In the end the Pakistani submarine Ghazi had been sunk. Although the submarine had been built in the United States during the 1939 war, it did prove that the Indian Navy with its old destroyers and frigates and its Russian instructors was fairly efficient.
After this incident, the Vikrant’s Sea Hawks and Alizes had everything their own way; military and harbour installations in Bengal were bombed and practically destroyed – Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar, Chandur, Munola, Chalna and Khulna. One of the Alizes which had taken part in the attacks managed to land although badly damaged, and it was said that some escorts had steamed up the delta of the Ganges- Brahmaputra and bombarded Chandpur. Really the Pakistanis were non existent.
The Khurkri’s captain announced to his ship’s company that there had been a great victory near Karachi on the previous evening. The two cruisers Mysore and Delhi (ex HMS Achilles) had been engaged, as well as escorts and also six guided missile patrol boats. At Karachi they must have wondered how these small craft managed to reach the area. It was considered that these small craft had sunk four or five ships on their own. These craft were Soviet built and similar to the Egyptian one that sank the Israeli frigate Eilath.
Pal Singh realised that the frigates’ zone of surveillance was to protect the Indian forces against submarine attack. Leaving Bombay had not been without some difficulty as there was a big commotion at the entrance of the port in the middle of a minefield designed to attract enemy submarines. The passage through the swept channel had not been too easy. The Khurkri had then started her patrol with Kirpan following a track which seemed to be a rectangle based on the direction Bombay – Karachi. At the same time three trawlers in line ahead carried out a radar sweep in the adjoining sector. Singh tried to imagine what a Pakistani captain would see through his periscope after exhausting his batteries chasing them.
Khurkri sonar operator was thinking about this when a small echo attracted his attention. He was about to analyse the echo when there was a violent explosion followed by several others. Two minutes later all was over, Singh found himself swimming in the sea and oil. He was one of the 67 survivors.
For nearly 30 hours the Pakistani submarine Hangor of the French Daphne class had followed the two Indian frigates, 30 hours during which there had been little sleep for any of the crew, because they felt they were nearly at their goal and their dreams would at last be realised.
Soon the Torpedo Gunner’s Mate Gulham Ghous would be able to tell his six year old son how he fired the ‘fish’ which sank the enemy frigate. He would also be able to tell the boy how hard it had been to control the hydroplanes during the hunt as they were making 11 knots at a depth of 32 feet or snorkeling at 12 knots with the valve at the sea end locked open.
But all this was nothing compared with what they had experienced in home waters and in France.
But Commander Taznim ruled the ship’s company with an iron hand and was detested for his harshness while the training progressed. Any mistake was punished severely, sometimes with loss of leave.
But now it was felt that his strictness in training would bear fruit. Ghulam Ghous was ready in the torpedo compartment with his hand on the firing trigger, ready to fire as many torpedoes as necessary to prove to the Indians that Allah alone is Great.
For the Captain as well, Lieutenant Commander Taznim Hamad, those thirty hours had proved very long. But he felt he would gloriously crown his efforts, which had begun by an endless period completing the submarine in France (wonderful people, the French, and they built remarkable submarines; but they lacked the ardour for war).
For nearly a year, since his return to Karachi, he had been forced to start again almost from nothing training his ship’s company. The greater part had left, including his second in command and his torpedo officer. As there were no warships available, he had begun by dummy attacks on merchant ships for three consecutive weeks. Then he had started dummy attacks on the Indian Navy itself in front of Bombay. In this way he acquired an excellent knowledge of this area and of the traffic, tides and underwater currents. He deliberately tested the bearing and range of the Indian’s sonar and their tactics when he deliberately allowed himself to get in contact. He exhausted his attack team, but the crew became so confident that they felt they would always win and their submarine was almost unsinkable.
Shortly before the outbreak of war, the captain found himself forced on account of lack of trained personnel to work up in five days instead of what normally would take a month.
Unfortunately, shortly after reaching the patrol area, the air conditioning system broke down; in the hot weather air conditioning played a vital role not only for the electronic gear. There could be no question of returning in view of the very serious tension between the two countries. So at night they had to come up to the surface showing the fishing lights of a trawler. An Indian warship had approached. What on earth could they do? If they submerged the submarine would be immediately spotted. So they had to stay on the surface ready to launch a torpedo. The warship came within 4,000 metres without using her searchlight and then left.
A little while later, just before the outbreak of war, Commander Taznim had to watch an Indian fleet pass by on a good bearing; these were practically all the ships available to the Indians on the west coast. The captain’s officers and crew begged him to attack. Not having received his orders, he had to let the warships go although it broke his heart to do so.
But now this time the enemy was on a good bearing. At the beginning on the afternoon of the 8th, there had been only two radar echoes, detected twice in the same formation at an interval of one hour; this was enough to class them as warships on a southeasterly course. The hunt began.
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