November 20, 1971 was a holiday and so was 21 November - two whole days “free” during the difficult days of turmoil in East Pakistan. It was Eid-al-Azha, time for sacrificial offering of animals, of family get-togethers and of feasting and sharings of joys. However, 1971 was not to be a year for such celebrations for us. The Indians had decided that 1971 was their year of “the opportunity of the century” and they were not about to miss the opportunity.

I was at that time the Electrical Officer of PN submarine Hangar and therefore before going home for the two days Eid holidays had made sure, as is the practice that everything was ready in case the submarine was required to proceed to sea at short notice. Except for attending the congregational Eid prayers, I had decided to stay at home. There was no visiting the relatives or friends, only a quiet day at home, knowing that the Indians always preferred days or events of National or religious importance to launch their attacks.

Eid day passed off quietly, but on the evening of second day of Eid my front gate bell rang. Thinking it might be a visitor, I went to open the front gate, but on seeing a naval police patrolman standing there, realization at once dawned that the time of waiting and uncertainty was over and that time had finally come for the submarine Hangar to put to sea. This was confirmed by the patrolman. I therefore quickly changed into uniform, picked up the small handbag which was already kept packed for such an eventuality and with a quick goodbye to wife and children sped away at breakneck speed towards the Submarine Base - praying all the way to be granted enough time to enable our submarine to put to sea before hostilities commenced in the Western theatre of war also.

On reaching the Submarine Base, I found that those submariners who lived nearer or had been contacted earlier had already reported for duty, while others like me were just arriving. The fact that not a single officer or sailor wasted a single second in reporting for duty, and every single one of them reported promptly, showed that without being told, every submariner had the same thought in mind and had kept himself ready for this eventuality.

As each member of Hangor’s crew arrived on board, he knew exactly what had to be done in terms of final preparations, and set about doing it. Family, friends and festival were all forgotten - only the mission and the task at hand mattered. It was a good team, disciplined and well trained and needed no guidance.

After the sailing-orders had been received, all the submarines, with their identification numbers painted out slipped silently from their berths one by one, as their departure times came, to proceed separately to their respective patrol areas. Once the submarine reached the patrol area, all contacts if classified as warships or submarines, were to be considered hostile. From now on life would be a constant effort to stay one jump ahead of the enemy. Every emission and every noise, be it electro-magnetic, sonic or ultra-sonic would have to be checked, measured, plotted, analysed and evaluated. On this would depend whether you were the attacker or the attacked in this deadly game.

Hangar reached its patrol area without encountering any enemy units, though a lot of air activity was seen and frantic communication traffic intercepted. Until 2 December Hangar operated in various areas, as ordered by Naval Headquarters, sometimes encountering small vessels such as ferries and dhaws and some merchant ships. Indian warships generally remained out of the area, except for some close inshore patrolling by their small frigates and patrolling craft in shallow waters out of reach of the submarine.

Late in the afternoon of 2 December Hangar’s sensors picked up a number of radar emissions from the direction of Bombay harbour. These emissions were analysed and were correctly identified as transmissions of radars fitted on certain Indian warships. It was also correctly appreciated, taking various factors into account, that this presaged imminent sailing out of the Indian Western Fleet. A little later a sudden jump· in the strength of the radar emissions was again correctly appreciated to indicate that the Indian fleet had indeed sailed out of harbour. Hangar, thereafter, kept close watch on it, tracking it by the radar emissions as well as the propeller H.E. (Hydrophone Effect) of ships.

Hangor having estimated the enemy’s course and speed found itself ahead of the approaching enemy, and set course to intercept. Finally, with “action stations” closed up and with all torpedoes ready for launch, Hangar managed to penetrate the anti-submarine screen and ended up between the main-body and its protective screen, in an ideal position to attack both and could have played havoc with the Indian Fleet. All the crew’s preparations and training had been for this moment. Had the rules of engagement permitted, we could have fired torpedoes at the enemy units as fast as we could line up the sight on each target. But the enemy was just about to be granted a reprieve, for all submarines had sailed out with strict orders not to engage the enemy unless fired upon first or till these orders were cancelled by Naval Headquarters. There had been no change in these orders, and therefore all that Hangar could do was to pass under the enemy ships and then break radio silence to make an enemy contact report to Naval Headquarters. It was one of the most frustrating experience that a submariner can go through. It was even more frustrating to learn later on that hostilities had commenced in the Western theatre on 3 December, within a few hours of the submarine’s encounter with the Indian fleet.

The Indian Fleet had a close call and Hangor missed a golden opportunity but, after restrictions on engaging enemy units were lifted, its crew became even more determined to ensure that no enemy units in its patrol area escaped unscathed. However, the submarine’s tribulations were not yet over and one of the cooling pumps on board broke down. Without repairs to this pump it would not be possible to continue its war patrol. But repairs to this pump involved shutting down the main air conditioning plant of the submarine and lifting and removing its compressor motor to gain access to the defective pump.

Repairs to the pump itself were not much of a problem but removal of the air- conditioning plant compressor motor was a different matter entirely, posing many serious problems.

In a submarine, owing to lack of space, machinery is closely packed so that access to machines fitted close to the hull is only possible after removal of the intervening machinery in a specific sequence. Also, due to lack of space, certain heavier machines can only be lifted and moved after cutting the “soft” deck plates above the machine and then re-welding the plates back after the repairs are completed. The AC compressor motor was one such machine.

Even during peacetime in harbour with all dockyard facilities available, the task would have taken approximately a week to complete. We now had to choose either to return to harbour for repairs - which everyone on board realized would effectively put the submarine out of the war or attempt to effect repairs at sea in enemy waters with none of the dockyard facilities at hand. In case it was decided to effect repairs at sea, there was a further question of whether to carry out repairs with the submarine completely submerged or partly surfaced. Detection by enemy aircraft in the middle of repairs would necessitate crash dive by the submarine, with the possibility of the detached heavy compressor motor causing further damage to material and men. Also, the repairs had to be completed in hours rather than days or weeks.

Hangor’s crew was a determined lot. They did not want to sit out the war in the safety of Karachi harbour and had a tradition of accepting challenges. It was therefore decided to carry out the repairs at sea. Carrying out repairs at sea with the submarine completely submerged and the air conditioning plant shut down was not possible as not only the heat inside the submarine would be unbearable for the crew, but also the rise in humidity would lead to problems in the very important electronic equipment due to condensation of water vapour on sensitive circuits. It was, therefore, decided to take a risk and work with the submarine partially surfaced. A sharp lookout was to be maintained for enemy aircraft and surface units and at the first sign of the enemy, the submarine was to dive.