The Pakistani Navy submarine (PNS / M) Hangor sank the Indian frigate Khukri over a rough expanse of sea off the coast of Gujarat, India on December 9, 1971. It was a monumental feat, being the first and the only one to have been successfully killed by a fearless submarine after WWII.
Eighteen officers and 176 sailors aboard the ill-fated frigate INS Khukri perished in the attack as the Indian sister ship “Kirpan” left the scene, leaving the sailors alone. Years later, Gill, a surviving sailor from Khukri, filed a petition in court and demanded that INS commander Kirpan Rishi Raj Sood, who he said had shown cowardice and dereliction of duty when he turned around and fled from the scene of the attack, to be court martialed. It is important to mention here that Raj Sood received the “Vir Chakra” Bravery Award.
The award bears an eerie resemblance to the Vir Chakra recently awarded to Indian Squadron Commander Abhinandan who, in his MiG21 bison, had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and was shot down by an F16. The sinking of the Khukri had a significant impact on the strategic direction of the Indian Navy’s war effort. The Indian Navy had conducted two operations – Trident and Python – against Pakistan in Karachi, with varying levels of success. The third attack was reportedly quite devastating due to Pakistan’s overwhelmed air and coastal defense capabilities. The plan of attack, however, had to be scrapped as Hangor’s daring foray into Indian territorial waters and the sinking of the Khukri forced the Indian Navy to commit its vital assets to anti-submarine warfare for a few days. crucial, leaving their attack capacity severely weakened.
It was a classic case of the asymmetric response of a small but efficient navy which used its strengths intelligently, taking calculated risks to upset the strategic balance of a vastly superior Indian navy. Superior technology combined with dexterous tactics enabled the 53-man crew under their indomitable commander Ahmed Tasneem to create strategic paralysis in the Indian Navy’s Western Fleet.
The outcome of the maritime drama of December 9 was a consequence of the 17-day submarine voyage of PNS / M Hangor, a Daphne-class submarine, which began its mission on November 22, 1971, on a patrol off the coast of La Saurashtra coast. On December 1, he was told to proceed to Bombay Harbor to relieve PNS Mangro, another Daphne-class submarine. On December 2, he sighted the West Indian Fleet off the coast of Kathiawar and made contact with two Indian ships on passive sonar. PNS / M Hangor approached the snorkeling level to gain speed to get closer to the ships but failed to elicit a reaction from the frigates.
Likely to cover up their embarrassment at having missed the Pakistani submarine during its submarine prowl, India claims it struck a submarine on December 5. Indian frigates reached Bombay on December 6 as PNS / M Hangor prowled the shallow coastal waters vulnerable to detection.
When it was finally detected in those shallow coastal waters, the Indian frigates were ordered by a panicked flag officer in chief of Western Command, Vice Admiral Kohli, to hunt and kill the submarine. . The two frigates embark on the mission using the rectangular sweep technique. Admiral Kohli was severely criticized for commanding the two frigates on a spearfishing mission without equipping them with the correct sonar equipment to detect the ship.
PNS / M Hangor’s sonar detection equipment had a range of 25,000 meters while the Indian frigates – INS Kirpan and INS Khukri – had a sonar range of only 2,500 meters. Due to the test equipment, the Khukri’s speed was only 12 knots, which made it vulnerable to the Hangor. In anti-submarine warfare, ships have to be nimble and fast compared to the slow submarines lurking below.
On the fateful night of December 9, nearly 16 nautical miles off the coast of Gujarat, as the Pakistani submarine positioned itself tactically to pounce on the loaded Indian frigates, it detected two ships eight nautical miles apart. The captain took the submarine to a depth of 55 meters to perform a sonar approach for the final attack. After that, Pakistani savage Moby Dick dove in to attack.
At 7:57 p.m. on December 9, PNS / M Hangor found INS Kirpan coming straight into its path and fired a shot deep in the throat with a homing torpedo. In naval parlance, deep throat shooting is an attack from a difficult zero degree bow angle against an approaching target. Risk therefore requires a high degree of skill and composure. Commander Ahmed Tasneem stood firm and launched a torpedo against INS Kirpan.
The deadly torpedo, however, slipped under the oncoming Kirpan and did not explode under the ship. Commander Raj Sood was so annoyed by the torpedo attack that he turned around and fled to the safety of shore. Seeing the sister ship attacked, INS Khukri instructed to take PNS / M Hangor. Commander Ahmed Tasneem, despite the failure of the first attempt, did not break contact to get to safety and held on in a spirit of self-immolation to fire the second torpedo shot in the throat at the INS Khukri. This time, the torpedo exploded just below the ship’s keel, igniting its oil tanks and ammunition. The ill-fated frigate split into two and sank in two minutes.
The ensuing Indian anti-submarine effort spent 36 rounds with more than 150 underwater projectiles as well as airstrikes over four days and nights on the brave Pakistani submarine which, under its brave commander, remained firm to repel attacks before breaking contact to return to safety.
Four Sitara-e-Jurat, six Tamgha-e-Jurat and 16 Imtiazi Sanad were handed over to the valiant submariners whose daring action deterred the Indian Navy from attempting another attack on Karachi. Never in the history of Pakistan’s sea war have so many people owed so little.
The author is a security analyst and a doctoral student. He can be contacted at: