On 9 December 1971, India lost the INS Khukri, an anti-submarine frigate, after it was hit by torpedoes from a Pakistani submarine in the Arabian Sea. This is the only naval ship that India has ever lost during a war.
The frigate was commanded by Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla who decided to go down with the men still trapped on board – but not before he had ensured that many officers and sailors were safe.
18 officers and 176 sailors lost their lives; 67 men survived. Several survivors later recalled having seen Captain Mulla still at the bridge and holding on to the guard rail as the Khukrisank rapidly.
He was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, on 15 May 1926. On his birth anniversary, we bring you the story of the gallantry that saw Captain Mulla being posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the nation’s second highest gallantry award.
Galant Till The End
Senior Officer of the F-14 Anti-submarine Frigate Squadron, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, had been assigned the task of locating and destroying a Pakistani submarine in the north Arabian Sea. During the operation, INS Khukriwas hit by torpedoes from the enemy submarine and began sinking.
Captain Mulla decided to abandon the ship and supervised the arrangements to ensure that his crew was safe. Time was fast running out but the officer continued to direct the rescue operation. He refused to save himself, choosing instead to give his own life-saving gear to another sailor, says the citation for the Maha Vir Chakra awarded to him.
“Having directed as many of his men as possible to leave the ship, Captain Mulla went back to the bridge to see what further rescue operations could be performed. In doing so, Captain Mulla was last seen going down with his ship,” reads the citation.
The citation points out that his action and behavior and the example he set was in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.
The Sinking Of INS Khukri
In his book, The Sinking of INS Khukri: Survivors’ Stories, Major General (retd) Ian Cordozo writes how three Blackwood anti-submarine frigates built by Britain and inducted into the Indian Navy in the late 50s were pitted against Pakistan’s Daphne class submarines made in France.
Along with Kirpan, and Kuthar,Khukri was part of the F-14 Anti-Submarine Squadron of the Western Fleet commanded by Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla. On 5 December 1971, the Indian Navy detected the presence of the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor; it was approximately 16 nautical miles from Diu and the squadron was directed to destroy it.
Kuthar was undergoing repairs so only Khukri, and Kirpan, sailed out of Bombay on 8 December. The two frigates were detected by the Pakistani submarine as they were approaching the location. The enemy submarine fired torpedoes at both the ships and managed to hit INS Khukri shortly before 9 pm on 9 December. The frigate sank within minutes.