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MAY 2014 ISSUE

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Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
That Sinking Feeling
Perhaps, the investigation into the sinking of Sindhurakshak can unravel the mystery of PNS Ghazi
 
Cmde K.P. Mathew (retd)
By Cmde K.P. Mathew (retd)

During the period approaching the 1971 India-Pakistan war, I was undergoing specialisation training at the Torpedo and Anti-Submarine (TAS) School at Kochi naval base. Well before the war, the courses were suspended and all of us trainees were distributed for duties across various navy stations. I was attached to the Port Defence HQ at Vishakapatnam and was on duty when the news of pre-emptive dusk strike by Pakistan Air Force at 1800 hours on 3 December 1971 on Indian air bases was received.

Consequent to the order for commencement of hostilities, the full activation of all operations centres and maintenance of higher degrees of alertness and combat readiness at all levels was instituted. There was at this time an expectant buzz all around awaiting the address to the nation by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. While the address was delayed, there was a report received from the Port War Signal Station that overlooked the approaches to the port and kept a watch over it that they had heard and felt a loud explosion that shook the ground and rattled the window panes. On looking out, they also saw a big plume of water going up high into the sky. Though the report came in very clearly, nothing much was done about it since everybody was keen to hear the PM. Further, there was no known naval activity in that area and the report was relayed to the Maritime Operations Room.

That very night fishermen picked up pieces of metal, rubber and wires etc caught in their nets while fishing a few miles off the port entrance channel and were brought to the naval base the next day. The debris, which included life jackets, soon pointed to their source as a warship and possibly a submarine. The fishermen also reported the presence of an oil slick in the area. On 5 December 1971, the Seaward Defence Boat, INS Akshay sailed with the diving team to the location. The team quickly located the wreck and from the shape, size and markings positively identified it as that of the submarine PNS Ghazi. This was a US Navy Tench class diesel electric submarine of World War II vintage. Its original name was USS Diablo and it was on lease to the Pakistan Navy since 1963.

I was soon assigned the command of the requisitioned fishing trawler Laxmirani. The trawler with all her fishing gear removed and landed ashore, was fitted with stands for machine guns and provided with guns, rifles, demolition charges, signalling gear, code books and few other essentials of a warship. Our initial task was to patrol the approaches to Vishakapatnam.

The submarine rescue ship INS Nistar, which became available, was tasked to send diving teams down to the wreck. On December 6, Nistar anchored near the wreck. Divers then descended, located the wreck and marked it with a strong line, the other end of which was secured to Nistar. Once the line was in place, subsequent divers only had to go down along the line to reach the submarine. After general external examination, the next event was of blasting open an internally sealed hatch so that entry inside was possible. With such access, further diving effort recovered material of intelligence value from the submarine. There was then a steady stream of various items that were brought up to Nistar.

Once Nistar started accumulating material from Ghazi, Laxmirani was asked to do one or two sorties a day to collect them from her, enter harbour and hand them over at the naval jetty.

These included log books, charts, message files, spool type tape recorder tapes on which high speed submarine broadcasts were recorded, loose equipment such as torches etc. Many of the equipment had USN or USS Diablo markings. The items of intelligence value were used and analysed to reconstruct the operational deployment and activities of Ghazi. It was clear that her primary wartime mission was to seek and destroy INS Vikrant which was operating on the east coast.

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