Once the decision was taken, work was commenced in right earnest and continued without break. The spirit of the crew had to be seen to be believed. Everybody from the commanding officer to the junior most sailor was involved in the work in one way or the other. If the requirement was to keep a look out for the enemy, the sharpest eyes and ears were constantly at it. If anything was required by the repair team, it was promptly provided if available, if not, it was improvised. Those who could not contribute by their technical knowledge contributed with their muscle power, and those who could not even contribute in this way, maintained a constant flow of nourishment in the form of tea and water to those working cramped in tight comers, soaked in the oily bilge water. There was no distinction by branch or senior- ity, everyone contributed in whatever way he could.

The impossible finally became possible and, even under the most hazardous conditions faced by Hangor, the repairs were completed in under 48 hours. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief when the submarine was able to submerge completely once again, with the repaired pump working satisfactorily and the air conditioning plant back in operation. Like a true shark, Hangorwas back on the hunt once again, having effected repairs in the enemy’s own backyard.

Hangar’s crew had worked hard and made many sacrifices. While at sea none of them had any idea of what their near and dear ones faced back on shore. Everyone of them had responded to the call to duty without hesltatlon. Even the Eid holidays had been spent in the waiting. The cool pleasant days of November and December, when officers and men would normally be thinking of annual leave to go north, were spent in this deadly game of hide and seek. Surely it was an act of God that our sacrifices did not go unrewarded.

The reward came in the form of two distant contacts early on the morning of 9 December 1971. Analysis of the contacts had already established that they were two warships equipped with radars and sonars. But their speed and course were such that the much slower submarine could not catch up with them. They were, however, tracked and by the afternoon the analysis of their behavior indicated that they were doing a rectangular anti-submarine search. The two contacts were thus appreciated to be two antisubmarine frigates engaged in SAU (Search and Attack Unit) operations.

It was therefore decided to wait for the ships at a selected point on their search pattern, rather than chasing them all over the place. This strategy paid off as the two contacts started closing, late in the evening. Course and speed of the submarine was adjusted to ensure being in a position to attack at a time of our own choosing.

By 1900 Hangor was waiting on the estimated track of the targets. Everyone on board already knew what was happening and there was an air of expectancy everywhere. The targets were still behaving as anticipated and range was steadily closing with both frigates still operating their sonars. “Action Stations” was therefore sounded at 1915. The “shark” had bared it’s teeth, and it’s moment of truth had come. Next few minutes would permanently seal the fate of one of the two frigates.

Though the enemy was operating sonar, Hangor had not been detected and therefore still enjoyed the advantage of surprise. She knew too well that failure to hit the enemy at first attempt would shift the balance of advantage completely in favour of the two anti-submarine frigates. Hangor had to hit the enemy first, and hit hard at the first attempt.

Outside, it was dark, the sunset already having taken place. It was, therefore, decided to go deep and to carry out a blind (Sonar only) approach and attack. The attack team now concentrated on tracking the two targets as they gradually came within firing range. After having obtained a perfect solution Hangor commenced the attack at 1957 by firing one homing torpedo, “down the throat”, at the more northerly target, which was INS Kirpan. The torpedo ran true and it was tracked on sonar all the way as it acquired “lock on” to the target and passed under it (as it was supposed to do). However, the newly acquired torpedoes, whose test facilities had not yet been set up, failed to explode and kept going. Until the time that the torpedo was fired neither of the two frigates had any inkling of being under attack. However, the moment the torpedo passed under INS Kirpan, she suddenly woke up, realized she was under attack and turned away at maximum speed. Hangor had struck first, but had failed to hit hard. The new torpedo had let it down.

As Kirpan turned away and ran, Khukri, which was to its south, now knowing the direction from which the torpedo had come, increased speed and came straight for an attack on Hangar. It was now Hangar’s turn to keep it’s cool and this, the submarine did well. As Khukri came in for the attack, Hangar’s attack team calmly shifted target to Khukri, obtained a quick solution and fired the second torpedo at it. This quick shot was mostly meant to spoil the attack by Khukri, however loss of nerve by Khukri’s Commanding Officer on hearing the oncoming torpedo, made him try to turn away from it. This greatly helped to “pull” the torpedo towards the frigate. As soon as the torpedo acquired “lock on” it went straight for the target, passed under it and when it was directly under the keel it exploded, breaking the keel of INS Khukri which sank in a matter of two minutes, with all hands on board. There were no survivors. There was simply no time for the myth of the “CO nonchalantly lighting a cigarette as the ship sank under him” to be enacted.

Hangor, the shark, had struck first, it had struck hard in the second attempt, and in the third attempt the surviving enemy frigate had been left worrying about the “torpedo locked on to its tail “.

What followed this action was a massive anti-submarine effort by the Indian Navy, in the form of Operation Falcon to hunt down and kill just one submarine, PNS/M Hangor. The operation was launched shortly after the sinking of the Khukri, on the night of 9 December and continued for four days till the night of 13 December.

During these four days, the Indian Navy utilized all available anti-submarine ships, Alize (specialized anti-submarine naval aircraft), shore-based surveillance aircraft and Sea King anti-submarine helicopters in HUK Groups (Hunter-Killer Groups) and combed an area extending from the point southwest of Diu Head, where Khukri was sunk, right upto a point just short of PAF’s air-strike range from Karachi. Details of Operation Falcon are given in the book War in The Indian Ocean written by Vice Admiral (Retd) Roy, IN.

In fact, indirectly Hangor was responsible for another loss to the Indian Navy, for according to Admiral Roy, during Operation Falcon, the Indian Navy also lost an Alize anti-submarine aircraft at sea with all three of its crew.

Throughout these four days Hangor remained completely aware of the huge effort underway (though the details of Operation falcon as such were known only after the war) and it is a measure of Hangor’s efficiency that in spite of leaving the action area with a highly depleted battery, and with such a massive hunt for her in progress, she managed not only to recharge her batteries but was able to successfully lay, false trail for the HUK groups to follow. By now, the submarine had been at sea for over 21 days and, though the body odours of the crew were getting stronger and the unshaven hair on their chins longer, their morale was sky high. They had just been through the ultimate lest as submariners, both collectively as well as individually. They all knew in their own hearts how they had stood the test, and they were satisfied.

The writer is the former rear admiral of the Pakistan Navy.