Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Oyster Harbour Day

 Dear World, it is better to start WWIII than let this happen again!



(Yes,  I'm making fun of Amerikastanis' "intelligence". No, I don't care if your grandfather was sunk to death at Pearl Harbour. You've lost the right to sympathy on any point whatsoever.)

Saturday, 4 December 2021

The Shadow Of The Shark: The Sinking Of PNS Ghazi



The water lay black and still. In the distance the low hills behind Visakhapatnam harbour were dark and showed not a glimmer of lights.


With a sudden swirl, a long thin shape broke the surface. It swung left, then right, like an elephant's trunk seeking air to breathe. It trailed a thin wake behind it as it went.


Ten metres below, something long and predatory slid through the water, black and smooth and lethal. It resembled nothing so much as a gigantic shark, complete with hydroplanes like pectoral fins and a huge conning tower like a flattened dorsal fin.


Inside the steel cylinder, a naval officer put his eyes to the rubber eyepieces of his periscope and tried to decipher some landmark with which to orient his vessel. Somewhere out there was the enemy he had to bottle up, or, if possible, destroy. It was midnight on the third of December, 1971, exactly  fifty years ago.


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In 1971, Pakistan was a nation divided against itself. To the west was the largely Punjabi, Sindhi and Pashto speaking West Pakistan. Across the immense stretch of India, in the east, was the Bengali speaking East Pakistan.  The two parts of the country, except for their creation as a "Muslim homeland" carved out of British colonised India, had nothing linguistically, ethnically, culturally, or economically in common with each other. 


By 1971, the differences between the two parts had come to a head. The Bengali speaking East outnumbered the West in population, and the Awami League party of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won the national elections held under the then military dictatorship and thus the right to form the government. The problem was that Rahman was a Bengali and the Awami League an East Pakistani party, and large sections of the West Pakistani military and civilian political structure didn't want to cede power to them. 


In response to unrest resulting from this, the Pakistani military launched a crackdown on East Pakistan in mid March 1971, leading to millions of refugees fleeing to India. India, in turn, began to openly host, arm, and train "Mukti Bahini" (Freedom Army) insurgents who wanted to break East Pakistan away from West Pakistan to create a new nation, Bangladesh. The Pakistani military in East Pakistan was isolated, surrounded by a hostile population,  and hard to supply and reinforce from West Pakistan,  but even so by autumn the Mukti Bahini had largely been defeated.


In response, India pushed in military regulars disguised as Mukti Bahini guerrillas under one Major General Shahbeg Singh (who 13 years later himself was to become a separatist rebel against India), and by early November had positioned  troops and armour all along the East Pakistani  borders. The only Indian aircraft carrier, the venerable INS Vikrant, was sent to Visakhapatnam harbour on the Indian East Coast. It was obvious that an Indian invasion was coming.


In response the government of Pakistan took certain steps. One of those was to send in PNS Ghazi.


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PNS Ghazi was originally a US Navy Tench Class submarine, USS Diablo, first launched in 1944, during World War Two and then upgraded to the level of a fleet snorkel submarine. It was leased to the Pakistanis by the Americans in 1964 and became the first submarine operated by a South Asian navy. 


PNS Ghazi while still USS Diablo



(In response the Indian navy – as usual in those days – went crawling to the British pleading for a submarine, if necessary from their scrap-heap: the latter refused on the grounds that Indian personnel were incompetent to operate submarines. India then finally went to the USSR, asked for, and received, eight Foxtrot class subs, of a far later vintage and superior capability to the Ghazi. The first Foxtrot Class sub only joined the Indian navy in 1967, and it was years before all eight had been delivered. I will have a few words about these Foxtrot submarines later.)


Foxtrot class submarine INS Khanderi



In 1965 the Ghazi operated off Bombay harbour without success – the Indian Navy stayed almost entirely in harbour to prevent any potentially prestige-damaging sinkings. Ghazi did claim to have sunk the frigate INS Brahmaputra but this ship was displayed intact for the media at the conclusion of the war. It's said that an Indian anti-submarine Alize aircraft flew right over the Ghazi without noticing it, which says something about Indian anti submarine capabilities in the 1960s.


In 1968 the Ghazi went for a refit in Turkey, travelling the whole way, round the Cape of Good Hope and through Gibraltar, underwater,  which it could do because of its enormous range of 17000 kilometres. In a Turkish  shipyard the Ghazi acquired the ability to lay mines through its torpedo tubes. It returned to Pakistan in 1970.


Now, in 1971, with war threatening, the 26-year-old submarine was the only one of four Pakistani  submarines that had the range to travel to the Bay of Bengal. It left Karachi harbour on November 14, carrying a crew of 93 under Captain Zafar Muhammad Khan. This was 12 personnel more than it had carried in American service, meaning that it was overcrowded as well as old. It was armed with mines as well as torpedoes, but the torpedoes were old and less than reliable American WWII models, and the sub's main mission was to use its mines anyway. 


At this time the Indian carrier Vikrant was supposed to be in Visakhapatnam harbour. I have been to this harbour. It has a narrow mouth, and any ship seeking to enter or exit has to pass through that mouth. The Ghazi, which had been initially positioned off Madras to the south, was ordered north to Visakhapatnam on 26 November. 


Meanwhile,  the war finally started when India invaded East Pakistan on 22 November 1971. This invasion was fully visible to journalists on the ground and openly reported on in international media, but the Indian government  denied it was happening. At this time, Vikrant shifted from Visakhapatnam to a secret anchorage, called X, in the Andaman Islands far to the east. (This was done to keep the carrier from being sunk. The Vikrant would have been of far greater use in the west, where India was about to launch air and sea attacks on the port of Karachi, but the danger of sinking was deemed far too great to be politically permissible.)


According to the Indian claim, Vice Admiral Krishnan, Commander of the Eastern Naval Command, was aware that Ghazi was in these waters and decided to distract attention by laying a false trail of spurious provision orders and radio messages that seemed to indicate that Vikrant was still in Visakhapatnam. Why I do not necessarily believe the Indian claims will become obvious in a moment. These radio messages were, by the way, allegedly made by an old destroyer called INS Rajput which had been prepared for decommissioning and retirement,  but was sent out to sea one last time to steam up and down sending fake signals in Vikrant's name.


Whether on the basis of these diversionary messages or otherwise, the Pakistani authorities, as I said, on Nov 26,  ordered the sub to move to the approaches of Visakhapatnam harbour, and plant mines across the narrow mouth, something that could theoretically keep the harbour - the main Indian naval base in the east - closed for weeks.


On the night of 3 Dec, the evening before Pakistan finally launched air strikes in response to the Indian invasion, Ghazi moved to the harbour approaches to lay its mines. Visakhapatnam  city had been blacked out: the old submarine couldn't use the city lights through its periscope to orient itself. It had to navigate blind.


It was midnight, and Ghazi would never see dawn again.


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At this point the official Indian account and that of Pakistan  diverge so sharply as to be impossible to reconcile, so I shall take them one by one:


First, the known facts:


Around midnight there was an explosion off Visakhapatnam, so loud that windows were rattled in the city and people thought an earthquake had taken place. The next morning fishermen reported oil slicks and floating wreckage,  and salvaged a life jacket. This was the first indication, despite later claims, that the Indian Navy had of the sinking. Divers, finally, on the 5th December, two days after the sinking, went down, found the wreck and identified it as a submarine with its bows blown out. It was not an Indian Foxtrot submarine; Urdu markings on the wreckage indicated it was Pakistani. From the size - all of 95 metres long - it was not one of the three small French-made Daphne Class coastal submarines that comprised the rest of Pakistan's submarine strength. Therefore, it had to be the Ghazi. Six bodies retrieved from the wreck confirmed it, one of whom even had a letter he'd written to his fiancee in his pocket.


The Indian account:


The Rajput - the old destroyer waiting for decommissioning- was headed out of Visakhapatnam Harbour when the captain suddenly realised, possibly by extra sensory perception,  that a Pakistani sub could be out there. He had a harbour pilot on board, whom he therefore dropped off, when all of a sudden his lookouts noted a swirl in the water. He immediately  dropped two depth charges, following which there was the loud explosion.


There are two major problems with this story. First, the Rajput had already been prepared for scrapping. Its weapon systems, including the depth charges, had been removed. It had no depth charges, so it could not drop any.


Apart from this, an Egyptian submarine was in Visakhapatnam on this date,  and the captain described hearing the explosion. He was categorical that no Indian naval ship had been going to sea at that time. 


Then,  the local Indian naval authorities had already  prepared a statement that the submarine had sunk in an operational accident. It had actually been released to the media before urgent orders had arrived from naval headquarters in Delhi demanding that the Rajput be credited with the kill. Its crew were decorated to boot.


At the conclusion of the war,  both the Americans and the Russians offered to raise the sub at their own expense and find out how it sank, but the Indian government refused to allow it. As for why not, your guess is as good as mine.


Years later, in the early 2000s, the Indian navy finally again sent divers down to the wreck. It was badly deteriorated by then, with the outer hull corroded and overgrown by marine plants and animals, but both the divers' accounts and the photos they took clearly show that a massive *internal* explosion  had blown the bows away. A depth charge is not an internal explosion. It cracks the submarine hull from the outside. Whatever the explosion was caused by, it was inside the submarine.


When in the early 2010s Admiral G Hiranandani set out to write a history of the Indian navy in the 1971 war, he discovered to his astonishment that the navy had destroyed all its documents pertaining to the Ghazi in 2010. Why it would do this, about what it insists is a victory by one of its own ships (indeed, the only submarine sunk in wartime since WWII) is again something for which your guess is as good as mine.


The Pakistani version:


The Pakistanis have advanced three different  hypotheses for the sinking:


1. The Ghazi may have, in the darkness,  struck one of its own mines. 


The problem with this is the same as with the depth charge story; the explosion was internal. 


2. One of the Ghazi's mines,  or more likely one of its ancient WWII era torpedoes, blew up by accident. (Another torpedo explosion would sink the Russian submarine Kursk many years later, so this is *very* likely.) A torpedo explosion in one of the forward torpedo tubes would blow away the bow very efficiently.


3. There is also a third possibility. The Ghazi was a diesel electric submarine,  that is, it had electric motors for running underwater. These electric motors were charged by running the sub's main diesel engine on the surface or at shallow depths under water when the snorkel mast could be raised. The submarine was old, the batteries were old, and it is possible that the charging  process created large amounts of hydrogen gas that could not be vented and resulted in a catastrophic explosion. The bodies brought up by the divers didn't have any burns that might be expected from such an explosion,  but they might not have had any if they had been caught in a different portion of the sub when the hydrogen blew.


Click to enlarge. Graphic from India Today magazine. 



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So what do we know,  really?


1. At midnight, 3 Dec 1971, *something* exploded inside  the Ghazi, so powerfully that it blew the bows off.


2. The Indian Navy was certainly not responsible for this explosion. 


One hopes, at this distance in time, that the crew all died instantly. Unfortunately that's only likely for the crew in the front section, who would have been killed by the blast or drowned immediately by the rushing water. As in the Kursk, crew members in the rear part of the hull may have spent hours trapped in the wreck, suffocating slowly as the air ran out. One of them, when brought out, still had a wrench clenched tightly in his hand. 


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A few years ago, Bollywood  made a film on the Ghazi sinking. It was a bit of a surprise, because it made not the slightest attempt to adhere to the tale of the Rajput sinking the Ghazi with depth charges. Instead, it invented an underwater duel between the Ghazi and an Indian Foxtrot submarine, the latter (in real life incomparably superior, the last example serving as late as 2010) being presented as an obsolete but valiant underdog, which finally triumphed owing to the ingenuity of its crew. I suppose not even Bollywood could swallow the Rajput story.


_____________________


Today the Ghazi lies on the seabed off Visakhapatnam, wrapped in fishing nets, its crew, as they say, on eternal patrol.


It is time they were given their due.

Friday, 29 October 2021

Shaggy Werewolf Story

 Once upon a time there was a bloodsucking vampire whom we shall call Cradula.


The vampire was,  of course,  very cruel, but apart from that he also lacked all the traces of civilisation that others of his kind possessed. He was not tall, pale, svelte and elegantly  dressed, and if anyone gave him a red-lined black cloak he wouldn't know what to do with it. Far from romancing beautiful women,  he could hardly put two sentences together without devolving into a string of curses. He was bow-legged, ugly, thuggish, with straggly hair,  and such appalling  personal hygiene that he had to approach his prey from downwind so they didn't smell him coming. 


Cradula lived in an empty old house, a house so long vacant that everyone had long forgotten when it had been built and whether it had had a name. There, in the basement,  he had a bed in a grave cunningly disguised as an old chest with a seat on the lid. Every night, once darkness had safely fallen, he would crawl out of his entombment,  lifting the top of the chest away, clamber clumsily through a broken skylight, and go hunting. Before dawn, more often than not still hungry, he would drop with all the grace of a sack of potatoes through the skylight and shamble into his grave again. 


For as long as Cradula had lived in the old house, it had been empty, but one day there was the noise of doors grating open, furniture being moved, the busy sounds of hammering and sawing, and before Cradula knew it - that is,  before the poor vampire woke at the crack of dusk - the house was no longer empty. A family of four had moved in,  father,  mother,  son, and daughter. The first thing Cradula knew of them was the sound of the daughter singing and playing the guitar in her new room upstairs. She sang and played atrociously.


Of course, Cradula didn't know that she sang and played so badly. He was far too uncultured to care about that at all. All he wanted to do was to go out and drink his nightly portion of blood, and the confounded caterwauling was giving him a headache, so he went straight to his skylight. 


Whereupon he had a shock. The skylight had been removed and the space bricked in! And the basement,  where he had spent so many uneventful  decades,  was no longer empty, it was almost full of heaps of coal for the furnace that hadn't been used in so long that Cradula hadn't even known it was there. 


The poor vampire was in a state. He couldn't get out of the basement,  because of the skylight. He couldn't get out through the door up into the house, because it was locked. And he hadn't had any luck hunting in days, so he was starving. And,  on top of everything, he was so illiterate and uneducated in the ways of humans that he was frightened out of his wits, not that he had many. 


It was just as he was gibbering to himself in the corner that the light in the ceiling went on and someone turned the key in the door leading upstairs...


The night was cold, and the mother, deciding the house needed heat, had ordered her husband to start up the furnace. "And don't come back till it's burning nice and hot," she commanded. "Do you hear?"


Cradula, thrilling with terror, shot back into his grave so fast that the coal dust of his passage still hung in the air like behind a cartoon character who'd taken off running. The father came grumbling down, muttering about the television he should've been watching, and shovelled the furnace full of coal. Then, setting the load alight, he looked around for a place on which to sit while waiting for the fire to take hold.


The only place to sit was the nice old chest with the convenient  seat on the lid...


Cradula may have been terrified, but he could now smell the proximity of the human blood coursing through human veins. His fangs grew wet with saliva, he reached up, flipped open the lid of the chest, dragged the father inside, and drank him to a shrivelled husk in less time than it takes to write of it. Then he slammed shut the lid, belched loudly, and went contentedly to sleep.


What about the corpse? He kept it right there with him in the grave. I told you he was a slob.


After an hour, the mother - by now warm - began to wonder why her husband hadn't come back up. Was he drinking down there? She decided to come down for a look.


"Are you hiding behind that coal?" she roared, not seeing her lesser half anywhere. She stamped around the basement,  poking here and there, and then,  baffled, plonked her ample bottom down on the lid of the chest, so hard that it woke Cradula.


And, because he smelt her blood and was an uncouth glutton, he pulled her down and drank her dry as well, then closed the lid and went back to sleep. 


Some time after that, the fire in the furnace began to die down. The daughter began to shiver a little. "Hey, twerp," she ordered her brother, between songs, "go down and put more coal in the damned furnace."


"Go yourself, " said the brother, who was busy with a video game.


The daughter stuck it as long as she could then wandered down to the basement to stock up the furnace. Afterwards she looked around. "I wonder what it would sound like if I sang in here, " she said, and,  sitting down on the chest, resumed her guitar playing and singing. 


Cradula, of course, had been awakened by the terrible noise, and,  being without any refinement,  didn't recognise music when he heard it. He knew only that there was a fresh supply of blood sitting over him. So he opened the lid, yanked in the girl, and drank her dry as well before pushing the lid shut, and,  putting her corpse with those of her parents, went back to sleep. 


By and by the son finished his game and wondered where everyone was. He looked up and down in all the rooms of the house, but they were all empty. Then he came down to the basement,  searched around, and went away upstairs again. Later that night he came down to stock up the furnace, searched for any trace of his parents or sister, found nothing, and stood scratching his head. But Cradula didn't grab him and drink him dry, not then, and not in the many,  many days that have passed since. The son still goes down to the basement every day and Cradula can't lay a finger on him. 


Why not?


Simple!


The son never sits on the  brutish vampire.