Dr. Maliha Zeba Khan
Great are the nations who do not forget their heroes, and great are the heroes who do not hesitate for a second while performing their duties. The mutual bond both sides share is their love for the homeland which connects them in a relationship of respect, dignity, and irrefutable fervor to defend the ideological and territorial integrity during both, war and peace. The happenings of December 09, 1971, are sort of memories for Pakistan and its people which would always be there as a brilliant example of the Pakistan Navy’s operational expertise and gallantry when the country was inflicted with the war between Pakistan and India over Indian interference within the Eastern wing of the country and later engaging West Pakistan too into the war.
Pakistan Navy had earned great admiration previously for its highly courageous expedition in September 1965 for “Operation Dwarka” during which Pakistan Navy, despite its limited naval resources in terms of a number of ships and only one submarine got succeeded in destroying the radar station at Dwarka on India’s west coast due to which Indian Air Force had to stop its airstrikes on Pakistan’s territory. That success marked a high standard of professional expertise and strength of nerves, which, in December 1971, was re-marked at a rather higher standard of gallantry by Pakistan Navy when Pakistan’s Daphne class submarine, the “Hangor” became the reason for the sinking of Indian anti-submarine frigate, INS “Khukri” on December 09, 1971, near Diu Head in the southeast, almost 30 miles away from Indian coast of Gujarat. It was a brilliant success during the dark nights of the 1971 war when India had involved itself first in the shameless act of interference in the domestic political situation of Pakistan and then got into a war with the country trying to engage Pakistan’s military forces in both wings, East Pakistan and West Pakistan.
Till 1971, Pakistan got succeeded in acquiring three Daphne class submarines from France, named the “Mangor”, “Shushuk” and “Hangor” which were pitted against India’s Western Naval Fleet comprising on three anti-submarine frigates “Khukri”, “Kirpan”, and “Kuthar”, as part of F-14 Squadron of Indian Navy appointed in the Indian maritime zones for the 1971-Indo-Pakistan War. During the first week of December, the Indian ship “Kuthar” had to be towed back to Bombay (now Mumbai) due to its boiler burst, whereas the remaining two frigates were assigned the task to detect and hit Pakistan’s submarines reportedly there in the vicinity of Western Coast of India. The “Hangor”, Pakistani submarine had detected the two charging anti-submarine frigates “Khukri” and “Kirpan” much before those ships could know about its exact location. According to some accounts, the “Hangor” surfaced itself to confirm if the two ships were searching for it which was evident from the ships’ laying down drills of rectangular search pattern while staying in complete ‘blackout’, yet totally oblivious of the fact that the “Hangor” was well aware, and waiting for them to come into more accurate target range.
As soon as the frigates came into the anticipated range, the Pakistani submarine-launched its first torpedo which hit INS “Kirpan”, but could not burst due to some mechanical fault, giving the ship time to slip away. With that fire, the position of the “Hangor” got visible to the Indian ships, and despite the fact that “Hangor” could get hit then due to its disclosed location, it decided not to evade and fired two more torpedoes, aiming at each ship. The “Kirpan” survived this strike due to its evasive action taken right after getting hit by the first ‘unexploded’ torpedo by “Hangor”; whereas the torpedo strike proved lethal for the “Khukri” which hit the frigate right beneath keel and the ship was broken into two pieces immediately. As the ammunition on the ship got activated as a result of that torpedo, the Indian frigate not only went down within a matter of minutes, but it cost heavy to the Indian Navy as it sank with eighteen officers and one hundred and seventy-eight sailors on board.
Pakistan Navy officials on the “Hangor” submarine did prove their ability to make a dauntless decision within minutes not to dive and slip away after being located in the result of firing the first torpedo at Indian Naval Ship “Kirpan”; rather it chose to re-strike the targets which caused huge loss to the enemy side. That act of valor and bold decision-making does not only reflect the upheld capability of operational preparedness of Pakistan Navy, but it shows that even with limited resources, Pakistan’s Naval force was able to bring phenomenal victory for its people who were facing war traumas at the hands of India in West and East Pakistan. India had engaged Pakistan on both fronts and wanted to change the borders of West Pakistan as well, as per a report of CIA shared at the beginning of November 1971 with President Nixon and Yahya Khan. For that, India had launched strategic attacks on Karachi port and surrounding civil areas, which had resulted in the sinking of three merchant ships, and 22 oil tanks at the oil terminal were put ablaze due to the Indian attacks causing innocent life and material losses. The sinking of INS “Khukri” proved an effective retaliatory measure to stop Indian aggression against Pakistan’s integrity and intruding into the political independence of Pakistan. It has been 50 years since the act of bravery and valiant shown by Pakistan Navy officials on the submarine “Hangor”, and like a living and resilient nation, Pakistanis pays tribute to these heroes who have never turned their backs from their mission and their oaths of defending their homeland, Pakistan. In the contemporary era when the nature of challenges has gone more complex, the Pakistani nation demonstrates trust in its naval force through commemorating the “Hangor Day”, and stays assured of the maximum security of Pakistan’s maritime zones including its territorial waters, exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf being provided by Pakistan’s Naval Forces.
*The writer is working as Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad, Pakistan. Her area of research is global maritime politics and the Blue Dimensions including Blue Economy and Blue Diplomacy. She can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected]