By Kashif Qasim
PNS/M HANGOR, a French Daphne class submarine, was commissioned in France on 01 December 1969, followed by two others of same class. By 1971 four PN submarines (one fleet and three daphne) had arrived in Pakistan. The political situation in East Pakistan continued to deteriorate during that year. Things were heating up in East Pakistan and war clouds were visible over the horizon. In view of the increasing chances of war, the submarines undertook a few patrols to gather intelligence and pick up vital operational information for war time operations. The longest patrol was over 30 days by HANGOR. The patrols helped the crew to build confidence and to test their stamina and equipment under real wartime conditions.
On the night of 21/22 Nov 1971 when Indian army crossed the international border in East Pakistan, HANGOR sailed with full wartime load of torpedoes and was off Bombay by 26 Nov. A serious defect in sea water circulating system developed which required docking the submarine to effect repairs. The crew thought it to be shameful to return to Karachi so soon. Therefore, with consultation and support of officers and crew, the commanding officer decided to take risk. He at night kept the submarine at surface using deception tactics and with faith in God, managed to rectify the defect within 36 hours. He even managed to deceive an enemy warship which closed in on the submarine. It would have been a sitting duck if the ship had opened fire; such is the luck which favours the brave who take risk.
After rectifying the defect, HANGOR was returning to its station when on the night of 2/3 Dec 1971 Indian fleet (eight ships) left Bombay and passed over the submarine, deployed in shallow waters. The targets were right in the periscope sights for a kill. But, as hostilities had not yet opened, the commanding officer and his crew watched the prey move out of their grasp. It was an excellent opportunity for submarine to attack but in absence of NHQ orders to ‘shoot’ one could not act on his own. It must have been frustrating to see lucrative targets moving through the area and in range. Code word giving permission to attack Indian war ships was received on 4 December and the submarine started to look for targets.
On 6th Dec, NHQ shifted the area of HANGOR and by 8th Dec submarine stationed herself in the middle of new area. It was operating with bathy conditions extremely favourable for ships to detect submarines. Similarly, sea was flat calm and any use of periscope, even for short duration, would be immediately picked up by enemy radars and was sure suicide for the submarine. So, the submarine was extra vigilant on its acoustic sensors. For “HANGOR” the period of patience waiting reached a climax on the evening of 9th Dec. For the first time since the on-set of war, the enemy ships came in effective weapon range when she identified two enemy frigates some distance off “Diu Head”. HANGOR assumed a state of full combat alert, with all aboard eager to join the battle. The commander had no illusions about the risks involved in engaging “hunter-killer” frigates, especially equipped for anti-submarine warfare. In spite of the risks involved, he chose to close the enemy, determined to inscribe the name “HANGOR” in the annals of Pakistan’s history. The commanding officer closed the two targets at shallow depth with caution, prudence and exercising all professionalism to avoid detection. Patience is probably the greatest virtue in submarine warfare. A high measure of it is required to lay in wait and to choose the right moment for attack. The key personnel devoted their undivided attention at their respective action stations to various tasks involved in getting a perfect “fix”. Only a few necessary words were being uttered, as each member of the crew knew exactly what was expected of him. Seconds ticked away marked by eager activity, as all sonar information was fed into the Fire Control System. “HANGOR” was ready and at 1957 hours on 9th of December 1971 the sharp command “shoot” rang out and the first torpedo sped away. The torpedo homed in on the target, passed under and did not explode. At 2014 hours “shoot” was again ordered for the launch of the second torpedo.
The sonar operator concentrated on his headset with full attention. He tracked the torpedo with cool determination till it found its mark. As he listened, the headset was virtually ripped off by the deafening roar of a mighty explosion. The pressure wave rocked “HANGOR” and the detonation was heard clearly by all onboard, who themselves immediately reacted with a resounding shout of “Allah-o-Akbar”.
The torpedo exploded under the magazine of INS KHUKRI and the huge explosion broke the ship in two and she sank in less than two minutes causing heavy casualties. KHUKRI was the ship of Squadron Commander, Captain Mohindera Nath Mulla who went down with the ship. There was, however, little time for rejoicing as the other frigate, having located “HANGOR” started a counter attack and all minds turned to the task of meeting the threat. The enemy was approaching at speed, and was ready to commence firing anti-submarine mortars. Reacting instantly, “HANGOR” fired her third torpedo at 2024 hours “down the throat”. The ship on hearing the torpedo reversed course, increased speed to out run the torpedo. The enemy manoeuvre was, however, unsuccessful. The torpedo hit her at long distance causing severe damage. Indians lost about 250 men in this action including Squadron Commander Captain MN Mulla.
Having achieved her spectacular success, “HANGOR” started evasive manoeuvres as the enemy was certainly going to react with the entire available ASW resources. For the next three days, Indian warships combed the vicinity of the scene of action and HANGOR was subjected to extensive depth charge attacks. Someone in the crew kept the count and according to him it came to be 156 attacks during this period. An extensive air search combined with surface ships was conducted but with intelligent evasive action, the submarine managed to evade these attacks and arrived in Karachi safely after the cease fire.
Despite these potential hazards the morale onboard “HANGOR” never wilted. As a member of the crew put it, “The crew always felt that death would not matter so long as they succeeded in destroying the enemy”. The ship’s crew was justifiably satisfied with their achievement under difficult conditions. They had supreme faith in their officers and men remained confident that they would succeed in out-witting the enemy.
For their act of courage and devotion to duty, the officers and men of PNS/M HANGOR were decorated with four Sitara-i- Juraat, six Tamgha-e-Juraat and 14 Imtiazi Asnad. This is the highest number of operational gallantry awards given to a single unit of Pakistan navy.
Captain Kashif Qasim is an Operations Branch officer in Pakistan Navy.