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JUNE 2014 ISSUE

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Force Magazine
Guest Column - Force Magazine
The Minesweeper
It became clear much later that PNS Ghazi had laid only one mine
 
Cmde K.P. Mathew (retd)
By Cmde K.P. Mathew (retd)

The PNS Ghazi chapter did not end for me with the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The link continued even after I went back after the war to complete the interrupted specialisation course to become a full-fledged Torpedo Anti-Submarine (TAS) officer.

The TAS specialisation encompassed all aspects of warfare below the surface with which a surface ship had to deal with. Hence, being such a specialist included dealing with mines or Mine Counter Measures (MCM), besides the primary area of anti-submarine warfare. My first appointment after specialisation was as the Squadron MCM Officer of the18 MCM Squadron. After the war the ships of the squadron were deployed for clearing the mines laid by the Pakistan Navy in the approaches to the ports of the newly minted nation — Bangladesh. While this task was on-going, the senior ship of the squadron to which I was appointed — INS Cannanore - had developed engine problems because of which she was sent to Visakhapatnam naval dockyard for repairs. Hence, I joined the ship there on 28 June 1972.

During this period, a cargo ship suffered a massive underwater explosion soon after departing Visakhapatnam. The Master of the ship, who was of British origin and a veteran from World War II, was certain that the explosion which caused such crippling internal damages as uprooting of the shaft with the plummer block, buckling of plates, toppling of the gyro and so on as to make the ship a cripple, could only have been due to an underwater explosion from a ground mine (a mine lying on the sea bed), such as those laid from submarines and aircraft. This event set in motion a chain of developments.

It was not difficult to surmise that the mine could only have originated from Ghazi which lay sunk at the approaches to the port since no other hostile combatant was known to have come that way. The intelligence gathered from the material recovered by divers from Ghazi indicated that she was carrying mines. If Ghazi was indeed on a mine laying mission, was the mine that exploded the only one that she laid or were there more? Since the only prudent way ahead was to assume that there were more and also take action to clear them by their controlled activation.

While these developments were taking place, Cannanore completed her repairs and also was charged with undertaking an assessment (or an Appreciation in military parlance) of the threat from the mines that could have been laid by Ghazi and the counter-measures to be instituted to neutralise them. This exercise involved the assessment of the outer limit of the area within which the mines could have been laid, taking note of the maximum depth to which ground mines are effective, the most likely areas considering the routes taken by ships while approaching or leaving the port, the measures incorporated in the mine actuation system to complicate MCM such as delay in mine becoming active, ship count (number of activation by ships after which the mine will go off), the multiple influences of the ship (magnetic, acoustic or sound and pressure signatures) that are likely to be used for setting off the mines and their sensitivity based on the size and type of intended targets and so on, a host of factors. The end result was the demarcation of the likely mined sea area and the expected characteristics of the mines. Flowing from these the plan and manner in which the mine sweeping was to be conducted was formulated.

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