The Indian Navy finest hour was perhaps the bombing of Karachi in December 1971; but if one single act can best be described as it’s bravest, then surely it will be the sacrifice of Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla, MVC (Posthumous). In the tradition of Casablanca, he chose to go down with his ship INS Khukri along with 17 others officers and 176 sailors after it was attacked by Pakistan’s PNS Hangor. Captain Mulla, was by all accounts an outstanding professional, but more importantly he had grit and determination that few men have ever possessed. He lived and died, as a role model. Once his ship INS Khukri was hit at 8:45pm on 9th December 1971, he exhibited sheer cold courage and complete disregard for personal safety. But the destruction of Khukri need not have happened if the narratives of it’s survivors, is anything to go by. It has all been vividly described in the book “Sinking of INS Khukri: Survivors’Stories” by Major General (retd.) Ian
INS Khukri was one of the three black-wood anti-submarine frigates that the British had passed on to India in 1959, with second class antisubmarine equipment. Britain insisted on keeping the best for itself and NATO countries. Ironically Captain Mulla had served as a deputy naval attaché in London prior to the war and his death. When the Khukri along with his sister ship INS Kirpan were later pitted against the Pakistani Daphne class submarine PNS Hangor, their antisubmarine shortcoming led to the fatal attack on the Khukri, some 45 miles of the coast of Diu. Those who did witness the sinking of Khukri and Captain Mulla’s remarkable act of valour, have this to say.
“A young navel officer, Lt. V.K. Jain was put on board Khukri, before it’s last voyage to further research a sonar equipment; and this drastically slowed down the movement of the Khukri, having to move at a submarine detectable speed of up to 12 knots. This made Khukri an easy target as it
followed the zigzag drill in the sea to evade and destroy any Pakistanis submarine – which was known to be lurking underwater; based on radio interception. By all accounts Captain Mulla was unhappy with the limitations the new experimental Sonar equipment had created on the operations of his ship. But Lt. Jain apparently was adamant that his experimental equipment was worth it’s while despite the known enemy threat! Moreover, the two Seaking anti-submarine helicopters operating with Khukri and Kirpan – and which PNS Hangor was evading – left for their base, once their fuel began to run out. Hangor soon found this out; and struck at 8:45 pm on 9th December 1971.
There were two massive explosions inside the Khukri and the ship went dark. It lost all power and began to tilt steeply to its right (Starboard) as chaos followed the order of ‘abandon ship’. But in all this, Captain Mulla was apparently absolutely cool and calm as he awaited for the worst to follow; helping as many survivors to leave the ship. And when all hope was lost with many still trapped inside the sinking ship, Captain Mulla sat on his chair while hanging on to the railing and calmly lit his last a cigarette, smoking it as the ship’s body cracked and its front portion stood up and went into the sea. The stunning sight of the sinking ship brought a moment of eerie silence from those shouting for help, as they watched in awe their ship going down. The Khukri sank in minutes.”
Those who survived the icy cold December night and the rough waves of the sea – many burnt by the spilled fuel – only received help at 10 a.m. the next morning from another Indian ship INS Katchal. Capt. Mulla was awarded a Mahavir Chakra for his exceptional heroism, although many are of the view that “Viru” Mulla deserved the Indian navy’s first and only Param Vir Chakra. And rightly so.