Memorie.al publishes the unknown story that happened at midnight on October 21, 1981, when one of the military units of the ‘Coastal Battery’ deployed in the Bay of Vlora, reported that in the Albanian territorial waters, not far from Cape Gjuhza, had discovered the periscope of an “enemy object” and after that by order of the Naval Fleet Command at the Ministry of Defense in Tirana, all military units and those of the Navy deployed throughout the Gulf of Vlora were put on alert. Rare testimony of Mahmut Lazri, former Chief of Liaison at Sazan Island Command, regarding the reconnaissance order given to the Sazan Regiment that had three squadrons available: (‘Four torpedoes’, two ‘Marine Shooters’) and two ‘Dragamina’) which he took to the high seas inland of the Gulf of Vlora to fulfill his combat duty under the orders of the island’s commander, Tasim Meçe. How and why the operation to hit and destroy the “ghost ship” failed after the order to open fire on it was communicated by the Ministry of Defense, an order which had the right to be given only by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Enver Hoxha, after first approving it in the Defense Council! What did the several months of investigations carried out by the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Military Investigation reveal about that event which to this day continues to be the subject of debates between ex-servicemen who took part in that military operation and whether was Kadri Hazbiu really implicated with that ‘incident’, as Enver Hoxha would accuse him shortly after his arrest?!
“Around 10.20 am, the naval fighter, who had received orders to keep the foreign enemy submarine under control, asked permission to open fire on it. This request that came from that ship that had over 20 sailors on board and that was commanded by Commissioner Petro Kadëna, I reported to the Operation of the island of Sazan, which was also our superior command. At that time, Tasim Meçe, who was the general commander of the island, took command of the operational situation of the war situation, after the news that a foreign submarine had entered the interior of the Gulf of Vlora. After my reporting, the request of the shooter to open fire, the Island Operative, reported to the Operative of the Ministry of Defense, who contacted directly with Minister Kadri Hazbiu and presented it. After that, from the Operation of the Ministry of Defense via radio signal, we received the order: ‘Open fire, destroy the submarine’. This order was given to the Island Command by telephone by the Ministry Operative, while its Operative was given to me by radio signal. From the moment the ‘naval fighter’ asked for permission to open fire on the foreign submarine, it did not take more than seven minutes to receive the order, which approved it. The order to open fire on the foreign submarine which was considered hostile and which had flagrantly violated the territorial waters of the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania, according to all military regulations available to the Albanian army at that time, was given directly by Enver Hoxha. I say this because no one other than Commander-in-Chief Enver Hoxha had the authority to issue that order, and he had to do so only with the approval of the Defense Council. ”
The man who speaks and testifies for the first time for Memorie.al, is Mahmut Lazri, ex-military for more than three decades, of which 13 years (1976-1988) he spent with service on the island of Sazan, with the post of chief of the Liaison Center, near the command of that island, who for the first time made public that distant event of 1981, when a foreign submarine, through the meso-channel located between Sazan and Cape Gjuhza, was enters the interior of the Bay of Vlora. But what was that ship and to whom did it belong, the Soviets or the US 6th Fleet that was then deployed in Mediterranean waters? How could it be inserted between the island of Sazan and Karaburun, without being dictated by the sophisticated equipment available to the Albanian army at that time and in particular the naval districts of the island of Sazan and the famous base of Pasha-liman?! What was the real mission of that submarine that was said to be ‘carrying an atomic cargo on board’ and did it have anything to do with Kadri Hazbi and Mehmet Shehu, who were accused by Enver Hoxha in 1982 when Hazbi was hit, as implicated in that incident ?! How could that submarine escape without being destroyed even after the order to open fire on it, from the six mines thrown by the ‘Dragamina’ of the Sazan Regiment, which had reported that it had all its movements under control? Why that incident was considered the “blackest stain” in the entire history of Sazan Island?
Continued from the previous issue
The story of Mahmut Lazri, former head of the Sazan Island Liaison Center
How did the events unfold after the military units and those of the Navy were installed throughout the Gulf of Vlora, in Karaburun and the island of Sazan, had gone on war alert after the signal that an enemy object had entered near the Cape of Gjuhza ? In this regard, Mahmut Lazri, former head of the Sazan Island Liaison Center at the time, recalls: “At that time in a ward near the island of Sazan, there was a hydroacoustic apparatus called ‘Volkov Radio Station’. This apparatus had been brought by the Soviets since they had been in Pashaliman. It was out of order, probably because it was depreciated. As a result of its malfunction, the foreign submarine was able to enter the interior of the Gulf of Vlora, without being detected by radars deployed in Sazan, Karaburun, and the coast of Vlora. After I reported to the island operative that the ‘Shooter’ was seeking an order to open fire, he communicated it to his superior in the Ministry and the latter delegated the order to the Minister of National Defense, Kadri Hazbiu. . After that, at the Liaison Command Center of the island, where I was with my four subordinates, the order came to open fire on the foreign enemy submarine, which had entered the Gulf of Vlora. From the moment the ‘Great Shooter’ navy sought permission to open fire on the underwater object, and until the moment of receiving that order, no more than 7-8 minutes passed. I remember as now, that thing lasted from 10.00, to 10 and 27 minutes. This order, the Ministry Operative, gave by phone to the Island Operative. The latter, communicated to me via radio signal “, Lazri recalls, about the transmission of that unusual order that he had never heard before in his headphones, from the day he served in that task!
Who gave the order: “Shoot the enemy submarine?”
Where did that order come from and who had the authority to do it?! In this regard, Mahmut Lazri testifies: “The order to open fire on the enemy submarine that had violated the territorial waters of the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania, according to the regulations of the Albanian Army of that period, was given directly by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Enver Hoxha. I think so, since no one other than him had the authority to give that order. And he should have done that only with the approval of the Defense Council. But, the short time of 7 minutes, from the moment when the permission to open fire was asked until the arrival of the order that supported such a thing, makes you think that: Enver Hoxha had no opportunity to gather Defense Council. Thus logically, the order was given only by him. This order for us was an extraordinary event because until then, for the Navy units deployed in Karaburun and Sazan, such an order has never been given. On the contrary, we were always instructed to beware of provocations and not to open fire first on foreign ships that often violated our territorial waters. After receiving the order to open fire on the foreign submarine, I communicated that order to him via the radio signal ‘The Great Shooter’, which in the military language was known as the ship “Flamurtari”, because it communicates first in receiving of orders from its command. I gave this order with the opposite control, which in the language of interconnection, means that: he who receives the order, must return it again, which confirms his receipt. This is what happened with the order that I transmitted to the ‘Big Shooter’ who confirmed to me that he had taken it “, Lazri, the former head of liaison on the island of Sazan, recalls that rare moment.
Loss of the ship that received the order to shoot the enemy ship!
After the order to open fire, which the head of the Liaison Center at the Island Command, Mahmut Lazri, passed to the soldiers who were leading the ‘Big Shooter’ or ‘Flamurtari’, except for the signal that the ship received that order, was not heard nothing more. Silence had broken in their radio waves! Regarding this episode, Lazri recalls: “After giving that order, I was waiting for the answer from them, which I had to convey ‘up’. But from the ship “Flamurtari”, no signal was coming to me and with it we lost all connections! Since the ship ‘The Big Fighter’ was not responding, according to the rules we had of the liaison, we should definitely get in touch with the second ship, which was behind it. This ship was the ‘Great Drainage’. We made the connection with this ship by chance, around 13.00. After entering about him according to the orders coming to us from our superiors above, we gave the order to ‘Dragamina’, to take up combat duty and pursue the enemy submarine. The ship that was used for laying mines was commanded by Vladimir Beja, who at that time was the Commander of the M.R.U. (Regional Water Defense). This order was given to ‘Dragamina’, after they were informed that they had the submarine under control. According to the reports coming from ‘Dragamina’, the ‘enemy submarine’ was trying to leave through the meso-canal, in the strait between Cape Gjuhëzs and the island of Sazan, moving very close to the shore, from the south towards Saranda. We did not believe that the submarine was moving in that direction, because the depth at that distance where it was said that it was moving, was quite small and there was no real and technical possibility to sail there “, testifies the former soldier Lazëri, the situation in which occurred, after the loss of liaison with the ship ‘The Great Fighter’, to which the combat order was communicated to open fire, on the foreign enemy ship.
The Albanian Dragamina shot down the foreign submarine
After the Albanian ‘Dragamina’ commanded by Vladimir Beja (Regional Water Defense Commander), announced at the Sazan Island Command Liaison Center that it had discovered the enemy submarine and was in control of its movements, from ‘above’ the order came for her to open fire in her direction. In this regard, the former soldier Lazri, who communicated the rare order, recalls: “After the signal that came to us from ‘Dragamina’, we communicated to her the order given to us to open fire on the enemy submarine. At the time we transmitted that order, the time was 13:20. According to the order received by ‘Dragamina’ commanded by Vladimir Beja, she opened fire in the direction of the submarine, dropping six mines. We learned this from the reports made by ‘Dragamina’ with which they maintained uninterrupted connections. Likewise, the officers who commanded her reported to us that during the launch of the last mine she dropped, from the rear of the ship (where the mines are held), she was engulfed in engine fire. This, according to them, came after she did not leave in time, after the last mine was dropped. After ‘Dragamina’ informed us that it opened fire on the enemy submarine, we communicated the order to return to base. Likewise, after her return, the other five ships had to do the same, and we had to automatically follow her itinerary, such as the “Flamurtar” ship. At this time, when we communicated to ‘Dragamina’ to return to the base, from the ship ‘The Great Shooter’ with which we had lost contact at 10:27, when we communicated the order to open fire, he entered again about us. As soon as he got the signal, the ‘Big Shooter’ asked we if we had any orders for him. “After that, according to the orders received, we communicated to her to return to the base, along with the other five ships”, Lazëri recalls, regarding the end of that military operation, where there are ships of the Navy, of the regiment of Sazani, for several hours in a row wandered in the Bay of Vlora, looking for the foreign submarine, which had entered close to the coast of Vlora.
Why was the submarine not destroyed?
But why did he lost contact with the center, the ship ‘The Big Fighter’ and what were the reasons for that disconnection? In this regard, the former officer Lazëri, who at that time was at the key point of transmission of all signals and orders given during that military operation, says: “As we heard later, since the time we lost contact with the ‘Shooter of big ‘, she followed us by telegraphic signal (with keys), but did not answer the calls we made to her. I say with conviction, that: ‘The big fighter’, ie, its leading officers, did it only out of fear of not participating in the operation for the destruction of the foreign submarine “, Lazëri recalls, accusing the leading officers of the ship that lost contact with the center, to evade the combat duty given to it. Lazëri also adds: “Dragamina ‘reported to us that it fired six mines in the direction of the submarine and then the engine caught fire. According to me, ‘Dragamina’ did not open fire on the submarine, because she did not have the technical ability to do so, but the order he gave her, came as a result of losing contact with the ship ‘The Big Fighter’, which had to do that task. “The day after the six ships returned to base, the combat mission was not called over.”
The prosecution and the military investigation investigated the operation
Regarding the non-fulfillment of that combat duty for hitting and destroying that foreign ship that had violated in the Albanian territorial waters, even entering as far as Cape Gjuhza in the Bay of Vlora, the former soldier Lazëri recalls: “The failure of the combat operation in The Bay of Vlora became a big problem and the Ministry of Defense ordered and set up a control group, consisting of four experts, headed by the Chief of Staff of the Fleet (BG). Following this order, all documentation of the Liaison Command and the ‘Great Shooter’ navy was blocked. From the verification of that documentation, no violation was seen. The severance of the connection between the ship ‘The Big Fighter’ and the Center, did not constitute a violation for the ‘Fighter’, (regardless of the circumstances in which it happened), as that phenomenon was known as a technical defect. After that, the case was referred to the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Military Investigation, which dealt with the problem for a month. In conclusion, after investigations into the failure of the operation, action was taken by dismissing the commissioner of the group of ships. Petro Kadena, who that day had gone to the aid of the ship ‘The Great Fighter’ and also gave some remarks to some other senior military,. One week after that event, on the island of Sazan, we military who served there, were read a material that had come from the Ministry of Defense, which considered the failure of the military operation to destroy the foreign submarine, as: “stain blacker for the command of that island”.
The involvement of Mehmet Shehu and Hazbi with the incident!
But what is the truth about that ghost ship that entered the Bay of Vlora at midnight on October 21, 1981? About a year later, in October 1982, when Kadri Hazbiu, who at the time held the post of Minister of People’s Defense, was arrested, the issue of that submarine was reopened, in the investigation process that was done to him. From two or three reliable sources who have followed the court hearings against him, it is said that for that incident, Kadri Hazbiu was directly accused and for that submarine that was thought to be with nuclear filling, which was sometimes called Soviet and sometimes American, as part of the VI Fleet that was then deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the accusations made against Kadri Hazbiu at that time during the investigative and judicial process, he: “as an agent of foreign agencies, had cooperated with the secret services of these countries and had brought that submarine to the Bay of Vlora, in order to create a serious incident between the Albanian state and the US ”. Always according to those accusations, “The submarine was brought there to be hit and destroyed by the ships of the Albanian Navy and after that, the VI American Fleet that was maneuvering very close to the Adriatic Sea, under the pretext that ‘ one of its ships was hit, it would find a reason to attack Albania militarily. And at this point, the command would be taken by Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu, who with his military prowess would make it possible to repel the Americans and thus he would gain glory, being considered a hero, in order to regain prestige and the shaky positions, after the criticism made by Enver Hoxha for his son’s engagement to a girl with a bad political composition “.
The October 1981 event, still shrouded in mystery!
Given this fact, but although like most events and stories that occurred throughout the period of the communist regime before the ’90s, there is no official version of them, even the story of this event with the ghost ship, continues to be shrouded in mystery, as even the former military personnel who took part in that military operation, even today continue to share different opinions from each other! So, it is not known exactly whether that ship that is said to have entered the Albanian territorial waters, approaching the vicinity of Cape Gjuhëza in the Bay of Vlora, really existed, or it was just a trick invented by State Security bodies (segments of which were then headed directly by Enver Hoxha), to blame and accuse the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was then headed by Minister Feçor Shehu (who was under the patronage of Kadri Hazbiu), to accuse them both later of being “close collaborators of Mehmet Shehu”, as it actually happened after the event of December 18, 1981, when he was found lifeless in his bedroom ?! All these hypotheses about that event, even after four decades, do not have a correct answer and continue to remain still shrouded in mystery…?! Memorie.al