Newspaper Article 11/09/2023
There are very few decorated warriors in industrial age warfare who display prodigies of valour in two wars and then live to tell the tale. Vice Admiral Ahmed Tasnim SJ and bar is one such intrepid soul who prowled the deathly depths in obstreperous Ocean waters in 1965 and 1971, putting his life in risk, to neuter a numerically superior naval force compared to his own. At the age of ninety Vice Admiral Tasnim exudes the same old effervescence that enabled him to win two gallantry awards in two different wars. Wiry and personable, the Admiral was immaculately dressed on a cloyingly hot august evening while recounting his halcyon moments of sea combat and under water jousting with the Indian warships.
He recounted his Aid de Camp (ADC) days with General Ayub Khan and narrated how Ayub Khan went to USA and convinced John F Kennedy to lend Pakistan a Tench Class Diesel Electric Fast Attack Submarine. Ghazi was the only long range submarine in South Asia in 1965 and was therefore much feared by Indian Navy whose Western fleet lay bottled up in Bombay, including the much vaunted carrier INS Vikrant. The doughty submariners onboard Ghazi in 1965 were the likes of Commander Karamat Rehman Niazi, Lt Commander Ahmed Tasnim, Lieutenant Zafar and Sub Lieutenant Fasih Bukhari. Ghazi had to come back to Karachi because of a leaking seal which needed time to be imported. A skilled Foreman from National Tire Service however prepared a new seal better than the US version, telling Tasnim, “You take care of the fighting, we would take care of your equipment,”
Ghazi was on a War Patrol off the Bombay Harbour when it heard the speech of President Ayub Khan which quickened the pulse of submariners. The Indian Fleet had remained bottled up in Bombay Harbour due to fear of Ghazi. Pakistan Navy took advantage of this passivity and conducted a daring attack on Dwarka, a radar site and an ancient Hindu capital of Lord Krishna’s Kingdom, with a fleet of seven ships i.e. PNS Babur, PNS Khaibar, PNS Badr, PNS Alamgir, PNS Jahangir, PNS Shahjahan and PNS Tipu Sultan. Ghazi was also part of this operation. The ships reached Dwarka at midnight and started a salvo with each ship firing 50 rounds. After 45 minutes of operation and having destroyed the radar, the ships sailed back safely. In 1965 Pakistan Navy kept 90% of its fleet on sea, a truly remarkable achievement, well understood by those who know the maintenance requirement of the naval fleet. Ghazi also made a surface contact with a Brahamputra class Indian ship on 17th September and attacked it at a distance of 4 km with a torpedo. The ship was hit but because of WW-II vintage old torpedoes and long distance the damage was not substantial enough to sink the ship.
Before the 1971 War, Pakistan had acquired three Daphne class submarines and had named one Hangor which was being commanded by Commander Ahmed Tasnim. Daphne class submarines were one of the top class submarines of that age that were known as silent killers due to their stealth attack and electronic counter measures capability. Commander Tasnim recommended Commander Zafar, his old crewmate of Ghazi, for Ghazi’s command which was tasked to go to Vishakapatnam in Eastern Theatre to locate and sink Indian Carrier Vikrant. While Hangor lay in prowl near Bombay, Ghazi sailed over 4,800 km around Indian peninsula to reach Vishakapatnam. It however failed to locate INS Vikrant which had sailed off to Andaman.
While conducting its secondary mission i.e. laying of sea mines around Vishakapatnam Port, Ghazi met a tragic end. It was an ageing submarine with serious equipment obsolescence issues and was valiantly kept sea worthy. While being charged the old vintage batteries got overcharged and the hydrogen cells exploded leading to a massive explosion. According to Vice Admiral Tasnim the subsequent camera records showed the outer hatch opened outwards which was a clear sign of an internal explosion. The Indians however kept falsely claiming that it was sunk due to depth charge attacks by one of their ships. The valiant crew of 93 including its commanding officer Commander Zafar Mahmood achieved martyrdom.
Hangor meanwhile under the command of Commander Ahmed Tasnim had kept vigil over the Bombay Harbour. During the war patrol the air conditioning equipment developed a fault without which the submarine would have become a hot thermos for the crew. Instead of turning back to Karachi a calculated risk was taken and the submarine brought up to surface near the Indian coast and tilted 25% to enable “on sea” repairs by the crew. Commander Tasnim disguised the submarine to look like a fishing boat from the distance with few fishermen like flags. The repair was done in 36 hours by the crew and then an Indian warship located the vessel. Not knowing what it was the ship kept asking again and again the identity. Instead of diving Commander Tasnim decided to stay put and face the ship. As fortune favours the brave, the Indian ship turned away without further probe thinking it was a fishing vessel.
The denouement of the real drama came on 9th December off the Coast of Diu Gujrat when two Indian frigates were located by Hangor in shallow territorial waters. Daphne class submarines do not operate well in depths less than 100 meters but the Hangor was at 60 meters which was not expected by the Indian frigates. With two Indian frigates on either side, the Hangor fired the first homing torpedo from a range of 4 km to Port side Indian frigate Kirpan. While the torpedo failed to explode, the firing had exposed the location of Hangor making it vulnerable. The Indian Frigate Kirpan however ran away. The Frigate INS Kukhri that was on starboard side of Hangor came in fast towards it.
Commander Tasnim left the caution to the wind and took a high speed turn and fired the torpedo. It was a risky act as the torpedo has to be fired while being static. The risk however paid off as the torpedo hit the Kukhri in the bottom sinking it along with its commander Captain Mulla. With 18 officers and 176 sailors dead the sinking of Kukhri was the only recorded incident of a submarine sinking a warship since WW-II. The strategic impact of the Hangor’s strike was the abandonment of the third planned attack on Karachi Port by the Indian Navy. After sinking of Kukhri the Indian Air Force and Navy launched a mad scramble for Hangor firing 156 depth charges.
Admiral Tasnim recalls that he put himself in the shoes of Indians as to what they would not be expecting out of him. Then he did exactly that and sailed towards Bombay coast where the Indian search parties least expected him. After successful evasion he reached safely to Karachi harbour. The hero of Ghazi and Hangor lives to tell the tale and ascribes his heroics to team work, courage and unorthodox approach to combat.
Note: This article appeared in Tribune, dated 11 September 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.