Mr. Ghani Eirabie

Pakistan’s first submarine, the Ghazi, blazed a trail of raw courage and professional skill and national dedication that has inspired and guided the young naval arm ever since. Within a year of its arrival in Pakistan on 4 September 1964 PNS/M Ghazi established the tradition of aggressive patrolling across the strategic expanse of North Arabian Sea. When the Indo-Pakistan war broke out on 6 September 1965, the Ghazi was assigned to keep a vigil off the Bombay harbor which at that time was packed tight with Indian warships including the aircraft carrier Vikrant. The Ghazi was told not to tinker with smaller vessels but focus on the heavier units. So effective was its blockade that no Indian warships dared run the gauntlet. It was the bottling-up of the Indian fleet by the Ghazi that enabled the Pakistan flotilla to move in and blast the Indian naval fortress of Dwarka. A graphic account of the Pakistan Navy’s performance is offered by India’s Vice Admiral Mihir Roy, a former Commander of the Vikrant and Commander-in-Chief of India’s Eastern Naval Command, in his 1995 book War in the Indian Ocean. He writes, “But the Bombayites failed to understand the lack of success by the Indian fleet especially with sirens wailing, Jamnagar attacked and Dwarka shelled with the Indian fleet still preparing to sail was an affront to the sailors in white who could not understand what was holding the fleet back”. As Vice Admiral N Kirshnan is supposed to have said: “One of our frigates, Talwar, was at Okha. It is unfortunate that she could not sail forth and seek battle. Even if there was a mandate against the Navy participating in the war, no government would blame a warship going into action, if attacked. An affront to our national honor is no joke and we cannot laugh it away by saying ‘All the Pakistanis did was to kill a cow’. Let us at least create a memorial to the ‘unknown cow’ who died with her hooves on in a battle against the Pakistan Navy”. Adds Vice Admiral Mihir Roy: “In this context, one recollects the court martial of Admiral Sir John Byng of the Royal Navy for neglect of duty when he failed to take adequate action against the French fleet at the siege of Minorca. As a postscript, Admiral Byng was executed on the quarter-deck of the 74-Gun HMS Monarch in Portsmouth on 14 March 1957 as the ‘British found it necessary from time to time to shoot an Admiral to set an example to others’!” The Ghazi’s audacious performance won it 10 awards including two decorations of Sitara-i-Jurat and the President’s citations said, “He (Commander Karamat Rahman Niazi) operated the submarine in the enemy territorial waters from 6th September to 23rd September 1965 with courage and determination. His personal example of valor, sound judgment and aggressiveness inspired his officers and men to maintain a high degree of operational efficiency of the submarine in the face of the enemy”.

The dread of the Ghazi seems somehow to have persisted in the Indian mind in the six years between the two wars. As the danger of another Indo-Pakistan conflict loomed large on the horizon the Indians moved their aircraft carrier, the Vikrant, not only out of Bombay but even out of Cochin, and from Cochin in October 1971 all the way to their eastern seaboard, and finally, not content even with the security of their massive naval base at Vishakhapatnam, they hid it away in the backwaters of the Andaman. Setting the response to the insistence of the Pakistan Military High Command to reinforce Pakistan’s position in the eastern war theatre. The strategic soundness of the decision cannot be questioned insofar as 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 odds undoubtedly were formidable. It was neither the same Arabian Sea nor the same Bay of Bengal as in 1965. Just as stung by its defeat in the Himalayas by the Chinese in 1962 India had revamped and multiplied its land forces, stung by its humiliation in the naval encounter with the Pakistan Navy in 1965, India had tripled its naval power between 1965-71. The Ghazi had to traverse on the Vikrant’s scent was not only an irresistible temptation but also a smart strategy. According to Naval experts Ghazi’s deployment to the Bay of Bengal ought to be regarded as a measure taken to rectify a strategic posture that was getting increasingly out of step with military realities. The dispatch of the Ghazi to Bay of Bengal was in over 3000 miles of the Indian Ocean, defying the threat posed by a host of shore-installations in ports dotting the Indian coastline including Okha, Kunjali. Bombay, Hansa, Karwar, Jaruda, Cochin, Madras, Rajah and finally Vishakhapatnam and Dega. But undeterred, PNS/M Ghazi valiantly but quietly sailed forth from Karachi on 14 November 1971, under the command of Commander Zafar Mohammad Khan and with a complement of 92 officers and men. The regional situation was so tense and explosive that the submarine was directed to maintain radio silence and use its snorkel and charge its batteries only at night. The Ghazi was to make its last report when rounding Sri Lanka about 26 November 1971; it hoped to run past Madras around November 28, and after that it was entirely on its own. It appears that it bypassed even Vishakhapatnam and embarked upon an extensive search for the missing Indian aircraft carrier across the vast expanse of the Bay of Bengal like a bloodhound smelling around for its prey. Unable to locate it, the Ghazi turned back and made for the major Indian base of Vishakhapatnam, the headquarters of India’s Eastern Naval Command, confident that it will take its swipe at the Vikrant or at least bottle up the Indian Navy’s heavy units clustered in this major Indian naval base. To that end it started laying mines off the harbour.

The Ghazi seems to have met a tragedy on the night of December 3/4, 1971. It blew up with a force that shook the entire harbor. For quite a while the Indian’s did not know what had happened but when some Indian fishermen found a life-jacket of the PNS/M Ghazi floating in the sea, the Indian Navy started claiming credit for sinking it and even awarded medals to some of its officers and men. However, the true story has been told by Vice Admiral Mihir Roy in his just recently published book. He says: “The Ghazi had obviously been positioned off Vishakhapatnam and presumably had commenced laying mines on 2/3 December 1971. At least 2-3 mines in close proximity had already been laid as a mine damaged a ship later. The mines were being laid in a linear pattern 150 meters apart and at a depth of 30 meters as confirmed later by the under-water television of the submarine rescue vessel Nistar”. But presumably picking up the sonar transmissions or propeller noise of the two patrolling vessels, he adds, “Pakistan submarine got out of the area to the safety of deeper waters”. The Indian Vice Admiral concludes, “At about midnight when the patrolling vessels had returned to harbor the submarine presumably approached the partly mined area to complete her assignment of bottling up the entire Eastern Fleet in their home port of Vishakhapatnam. In her anxiety to complete her task Ghazi probably made the cardinal error of inadvertently re-crossing her previous track, possibly due to strong tides which occur in this post-monsoon period off this coast”.  On the enemy’s own testimony, the valiant Ghazi exploded in a flash of glory while trying to make doubly sure that it had done a thorough job of mining the narrow approaches to the strategic harbor in a bid to bottle up the entire Indian Eastern Fleet. To the Indians so important was the demise of the Ghazi and so skeptic was Admiral Nanda that underwater televisions and divers were used to physically check the wreckage and a special IAF plane was commissioned to carry Ghazi’s life-jackets etc to Delhi, and the announcement was withheld until 9 December 1971, as according to Mihir Roy, the Indian Defence Minister insisted on being the first to report the sinking of the Ghazi to the Indian Parliament. At the same time the Indian Navy’s Eastern Command flashed a message to the Western Command that after the sinking of the Ghazi they should feel free to operate in the Arabian Sea. The Indians however forgot one thing, the tradition of valor and consummate skill and national dedication bequeathed by the Ghazi had been inherited by the new fleet of Daphne submarines acquired by the Pakistan Navy. Just about the time Indian Defence Minister was voicing his joy at the demise of the Ghazi another Pakistani submarine PNS/M Hangor hit the Indian anti-submarine frigate Khukri, patrolling off the Kathiawar coast, blowing up its magazine with a torpedo and sinking it in a matter of minutes. The Pakistan Navy submarine also damaged another Indian ship Kirpan. However, one is left with the unhappy impression that there has been inadequate recognition of the splendid performance of Pakistan’s first submarine PNS/M Ghazi, and sufficient appreciation of the heroic solitary voyage undertaken by the Ghazi clear across the Indian Ocean and not enough tribute has been paid to the brave officers and men who willingly laid down their lives for their country while daring into the “enemy’s Lair” and who but for a mishap might have accomplished what looked like ‘a mission impossible’.

If rules permit the Ghazi ought to be posthumously awarded Nishan-i-Haider. In any case, the nation salutes the valiant warriors.