PNS Ghazi - The Real Story

Spoiler Alert: In case, you haven’t watched the movie ‘The Ghazi Attack’ yet and and are unaware of the story which it deals with, this post may reveal minor facts which may lessen the thrill in watching the movie.
I am writing this post on the backdrop of the recent bollywood movie - ‘The Ghazi Attack’. While the movie is outstanding in its storyline and effects - apart from creating a hollywood alike thriller, it deviates significantly from the known facts - the real story of a thrilling naval conflict between India and Pakistan - the story of PNS Ghazhi.

PNS Ghazi

The Ghazi Attack - Bollywood movie

The Ghazi Attack (2017) poster
I would however start with my comments on the movie - The Ghazi Attack. The movie is a fantastic piece of fiction - yes, you read right - fiction. It portrays PNS Ghazi on a mission to destroy INS Vikrant encountering an indian submarine - S 21, and consequent events leading to Ghazi’s destruction. The movie displays good amount of details on the submarine and underwater operations and the crew have done good amount of research on naval operations and procedures. The visuals in the movie are great and are hard to distinguish animations from real shots and takes care of even minute details to the extend of bubbles formed out of the propellor blades. The cast is also pretty good and the team refrain from super-human representation of the characters, which usually haunts Telugu origin movies. Having watched many of Hollywood’s best submarine movies like ‘The Crimson Tide’, ‘The Hunt for Red October’, I can confidently say the movie is at par with these if not a step ahead - in terms on the storyline as well as the visuals.

The real story of PNS Ghazi

Back in August 1971, a full fledged war between India and Pakistan was imminent owing to the internal war in the then East Pakistan - which is current Bangladesh. For the Pakistan Navy, INS Vikrant - the sole aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy - was the biggest threat in case the war broke out. INS Vikrant, along with its squadron of Sea Hawk aircrafts and Sea King helicoptor could effect a naval blockade in Bay of Bengal preventing supplies and reinforcements for the Pakistani operations in East Pakistan. Out of no options, Pakistan Navy designated the only vessel in its arsenal which could operate in hostile remote waters - PNS Ghazi - with its secondary mission to maximise Indian naval casualities by laying mines off the Vishakhapattanam coast. Commanded by Cdr. Zafar M Khan, its primary mission - to find and destroy INS Vikrant.

PNS Ghazi, previously USS Diablo, was a Tench class diesel electric fast attack submarine of the US Navy leased to Pakistan under the Security Assistance Program in 1963. It has become the first submarine to be operated by a Navy in South Asia. Ghazi was involved in 1965 war as well, wherein she played a mostly passive role. Ghazi was reportedly stalking INS Vikrant, but failed to detect her and did not have any appreciable credits during the period.

INS Vikrant during the 1970s

However in 1971, the situation was a little different. Ghazi posed a serious risk to Vikrant due to the pre-emptive strike advantage and that the position of the aircraft carrier would be revealed once she start operating the aircrafts. Also, out of the four escorts of the carrier battle group of INS Vikrant, only three had sonar (anti-submarine detection device). Unless these three were fully vigilant and in close company, the aircraft carrier would be completely vulnerable to attack from Ghazi. Submarines always enjoys the benefit of surprise. The Indian Naval brass knew that awaiting Ghazi was definitely a bad idea and they had to rely on deception to engage Ghazi.

An illustration of naval mine
After the dock period at Madras, Vikrant was sailed off to a safe haven - which in all probabilities would have been in Andaman and Nicobar Islands - codenamed by a naval spokesperson as ‘Port X-Ray’. Having sailed the fleet off to safety, the Indian Navy’s objective was to deceive the enemy into believing that INS Vikrant is stationed at Vishakhapattanam. Naval officials communicated about the ship docked at Visakhapatnam and sailing to Madras shortly over the telephone, which would have been tracked by Pakistani spies. Also, the Navy ordered for huge rations at Visakhapattanam port giving an intuition that Vikrant would have docked there. This was supposed to be picked up and interpreted, and communicated over to the enemy by the spies.

The Navy has decided to use INS Rajput as a decoy and deceive Pakistan into believing that INS Vikrant was in or around Visakhapattanam. INS Rajput was a guided missile destroyer commanded by Lt. Cdr. Inder Singh, and was asked to sail off the coast with all navigational aids switched off assuming that the enemy submarine could be in the vicinity. The Rajput sailed before the midnight on December 3 and proceeded along the narrow channel laying a few mines at random. Then, the commanding officer was alerted by a distant disturbance in the water which he identified as the submarine diving. He sailed the ship to close in and dropped two mines at the spot and continued the sail.

INS Rajput

At around 00:15 hours on December 4, a very loud explosion was heard by the coast battery. A clock later recovered from Ghazi showed the exact time and is assumed to have stopped working during the blast. Several floating objects later recovered also had american markings. After three days the submarine debtis were located by Indian Navy divers and the divers could recover the dead bodies, the hydrographic correction book of PNS Ghazi and a sheet of paper baring the official seal of the commanding officer of PNS Ghazi.

A secret signal which was receovered from the sunken Ghazi read “INTELLIGENCE INDICATES CARRIER IN PORT”, which is a clear indication that the deception plan indeed worked. Later, the India Government’s investigation credited INS Rajput for destroying PNS Ghazi and the crew were honored with gallantry awards for this. In 1972, the Government of India rejected the offers from the US and the USSR to recover and raise Ghazi and in 2003 several photos of the sunken Ghazi were revealed by the Indian Navy. However, the Pakistan government maintains that the submarine has exploded due to an internal fault leading to the mishap.

To this day, the story of INS Ghazi remains both a mystery and an inspiration.


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