THE ANGRY SEA
A former Air Force Pilot MALIK AYAZ
An angry sea is a very dangerous place to be in and when angry men go to fight in it, it becomes all the more furious, dangerous and unforgiving. And so it happened that in 1965 and 1971, angry men at war, came face to face with each other and the elements, with all their fury. As we look back on those fateful days, we see both individual and collective acts of professionalism and bravery by officers and men of Pakistan Navy.
In 1965, inspite of the limitations imposed on it, the Pakistan Navy kept a major portion of the Western Indian Fleet bottled up in their main port and inflicted heavy damage on the nearest shore establishment, Dawarka. Pakistan Navy's lone submarine, PNS GHAZI harassed different units of the enemy fleet without any respite.
My memory goes back to the fateful days and nights in December 1971, when the Pakistan Navy fought with both its hands tied behind its back. Praiseworthy are the valiant men who continued going into the naval battles inspite of the knowledge that their warships had no viable defence against the surface anti-missiles. Even the obsolescence of their weapons did not dampen their devotion to their country and instead nurtured in them that indomitable spirit of sacrifice, which enabled the officers and men, even in their agony to cover themselves with glory.
The saga of the men of the submarine, PNS GHAZI, would remain a shining beacon for the coming generations. With aging machinery and equipment and prolonged operations in a distant, hostile sea, the valiant crew carried out their orders till death. Today, we carry the memory of those brave officers and men, who are buried in the watery depths of a far away sea. They sacrificed their lives for their country and their courageous deeds would be enshrined in our hearts for ever.
Our hearts go out to the memory of the men of the destroyer PNS KHYBER and the minesweeper PNS MUHAFIZ, when hit by enemy missiles, even the wounded and dying, covered themselves with glory. The life boats were shattered by the explosions and the ships were like burning tinderboxes. In those shark infested waters, as men were bleeding and dying on the decks, with ammunition bursting all around, the ships started sinking. The spirit of comradeship took over as wounded men were helped in their distress. Among them was the brave Lt Riaz Khan, who saved many lives inspite of his own one leg having been blown off. It goes beyond ones imagination how it could be done, but he did it and did it over and over again to help others catch floating planks of wood and survive. He lived upto the finest traditions of bravery and self-sacrifice.
On another ship, PNS DACCA, a refueller - literally a tinder box, another story of heroism was enacted. Young, Leading Seaman Muhammed Hanif, manning his anti-aircraft gun, kept firing at an incoming anti-ship missile, till the last. Though he destroyed the missile, he was himself killed by the explosion but managed to save his ship from a direct hit. However, the near explosion ripped open the cargo and jungle decks and the spare fuel hoses caught fire. The Commanding Officer, Captain Raza, true to his salt, stayed on board, took total command of the situation, got the fires extinguished and saved his ship. The bravery and sacrifice of Leading Seaman Muhammad Hanif left a legacy that gave birth to a new concept in Naval Warfare, the Close-in Weapon System, for defence against low flying anti-ship missiles, later developed the world over. Surely any country and any navy would be proud of a son like him.
And yes, there was the submarine PNS HANGOR with its experienced boss, Commander Tasnim and his brave and handsome 2nd in Command, Lt Cdr Abaidullah Khan.
Undeterred by the many dangers involved and exhibiting patience, perseverance and professionalism of the highest degree, PNS HANGOR engaged and destroyed the Indian warship INS KHUKRI, the pride of the Indian Western Fleet, sending hundreds of its crew to the bottom of the sea. In the same operation, in a second engagement, HANGOR attacked and severely damaged another Indian warship, the INS KIRPAN, killing and wounding scores of its crew, INS KIRPAN limped back home with difficulty, licking its wounds and burning its dead. In one blow, the courage and dedication of the Commanding Officer, his Second-in-Command and the men of PNS HANGOR, redeemed the honour of their comrades, shattered the morale of the Indian Navy and scored the first successful submarine action after World War II. (The Second-in-Command, Lt Cdr. Abaidullah Khan, also settled a longstanding personal score with the Indians, having been orphaned as a nine-year-old boy, losing both parents in 1948, during the Kashmir war - such is fate).
In the Eastern theatre of war, inspite of the tremendous handicaps and a hopeless situation, the officers and men of Pakistan Navy went down fighting till the last. The dramatic escape of the gun-boat PNS RAJSHAHI, the sole survivor of the Pakistan Navy in East Pakistan, is a tale of unparalleled courage, tenacity and devotion to the country, by the crew who braved all dangers to reach a neutral port.
The Pakistan Navy's passage through time has been a journey full of sacrifices, devotion to duty, trials and tribulations and vicissitudes of fortunes, witnessed by the mighty seas that lashed against its ships. Today it sits and guards over some of the most sensitive and richest sea lanes of the world, confident in its ability to play its due role in the defence of the country and its commerce.
Today the nation remembers its sons, the lions of the seas, who fought outnumbered on every occasion and either crowned themselves with glory or chose death instead. Our heads are bowed to these brave men of yester years, who laid down their lives in the finest naval traditions, in waters close and far. We, the nation, owe them a debt of gratitude, which would be recounted for generations to come.