THE RESEARCHED STORY AS USI MEA AND BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION CELEBRATED 1ST WORLD WAR ANNIVERSARY WITH LACS BUT NO CELEBRATIONS FOR THE 1971 WAR IDF REMEMBERS THE 144 MEN IN WHITE WHO PERISHED IN A WATERY GRAVE IN 1971 ——RIP
IDF from Warring Nuclear Nations –India & Pakistan and The History of the Pakistan Navy.
At sea, especially in war, the Captain is a lonely ‘Old Man’ as he is called. The Captain does not eat with his officers in the wardroom or his men but in the Captain’s Cabin and yet his team must act unhesitatingly without orders, in the spirit and manner their superior desires. The Executive Officer runs the ship in co-operation with the Head of Departments—E/L and Logistics on instructions of his Captain as the 24×7 hard taskmaster. The senior most officer is the President of the Wardroom which has a, “No Treating Rule.” This makes naval officers great man managers for post retirement jobs.
On 8th Dec 1971 India’s Naval war at sea was going well for India, with the first five days of the war bringing in measures of triumph —the two successful missile attacks on Karachi, the sinking of the Ghazi and the exploits of the INS Vikrant to hurt East Pakistan as reported in earlier posts. All this created a sense of over confidence in this small sea-going arm. The first major blow to the Indian Navy came on the fateful night of 9th December. It rocked the Navy when the reality of war hit the sea-going community at large. INS Kirpan was attacked by a torpedo which did not explode because its firing mechanism or proximity fuse did not activate or depth setting was wrong as late Capt DS Paintal Long TAS and this writer’s counterpart in the sister US Shipping Company WSC in Karachi th Vice Adm Ahmed Tasneem Ex VCNS PN who resembled Vadm Russi Ghandhi discussed on a visit to his father’s village in the 1990s in Delhi. INS Kirpan increased speed, dropped Depth Charges and left the scene soon after.
Soon after, not far that night INS Khukri F 12 under Capt M N Mulla’s crew were tuned in to the AIR news at 8.50 pm to hear news of the war on the ship’s SRE (Sound Reproduction Equipment) while on that dangerous antisubmarine warfare (ASW) mission to look out and destroy a reported Pak submarine, when the Khukri was hit by more than one L-60 French torpedo from one of Pakistan’s three newly acquired Daphne-class submarines with crew trained in France the Hangor (Cdr. A. Tasneem) about 40 miles off Diu Head. Khukri’s power failed, the ship tilted with flooding and Mulla was forced to give the order “Abandon Ship’.
The Times of India wrote “Captain Mulla goes down after saving his shipmates—18 officers and 176 sailors went down with the antisubmarine frigate in a terrible death. INS Khukri, as she sank in the Arabian Sea, torpedoed by enemy submarines on the night of December 9th, Capt. Mahendra Nath Mulla (45) the skipper, stood by his ill-fated shipmates to the last and shared their destiny, despite having an opportunity to save himself. The story of the 45-year-old gallant commanding officer’s efforts to rescue as many as he could and then going down with his ship, was told by eye-witnesses among the survivors. The 183-cm-tall Captain Mulla himself pushed them into the sea, directing them to swim away. When one of them offered him a life-jacket he said, “Go on, save yourselves: do not worry about me.” There was no confusion, no panic because the Captain’s calm had transmitted itself to his men.”
As the survivors were swimming away to avoid being sucked in by the sinking ship, or burning with the oil on fire some of them looked back. The ship was sinking fast and the sea was closing over the bridge, the highest part of the ship’s super structure, from where the Captain assumes command. Captain Mulla was seen sitting in the Captain’s chair on the bridge. This story was dramatized by Melvel D’Mello on AIR in his baritone voice.
Mulla had faithfully to the very last, to the best of his ability, served those who had served him so well. 6 officers and 61 sailors who have survived will ever remember Captain Mulla’s stoic demeanour and calm in the face of adversity. The whole nation should cherish the memory of this hero, awarded MVC.
Seven sailors from Khukri joined Nilgiri completing at Mazagon Docks and this writer was the Executive Officer when the Ship’s Company looked at the seven as a bad omen. But in one Clear Lower Decks, one convinced the ship’s company they were valuable men who would ensure Nilgiri would never suffer the same fate. It came to light Mulla ordered his second-in-command, Lt Cdr JK Suri a non swimmer in darkness to lower life-boats and lifebuoys into the sea, but it was a melee on the ship going down tilted. The many below deck looking for their life jackets in darkness and those on deck going down to get life jackets jamming each other in the narrow alleyways like a stampede. Possibly aft hatch was locked.
INS Khukri specially built for anti-submarine warfare by J Samuel White at Cowes on the Isle of White with British 170/174 sonar sets and Mortar MK 10 was not doing high speed or prescribed Zig Zag as Lt VK Jain a bright Electrical had fitted equipment on the sonar he had tested in TIFR asked for this. The Khukri was well manned, worked up, and the Second-in-Command of the ship Lt. Cdr. J.K. Suri, 33, a bachelor, was a specialist communications officer. An excellent Navy squash player, unfortunately he was a poor swimmer.
Commander Oomen, the tough and plump Malayali Engineer Officer may have decided to go down to the Engine Room, like so many other dedicated sailors who are trained, by instinct, to rush to their action post, and suffered a watery death. Lt. Suresh Kundanmal, a fine ‘Sword of honour’ officer is reported to have jumped over the side after coaxing his Captain to do so too, but could have well got sucked into the whirlpool caused by the sinking ship. He left behind a grieving widow struggling to make a new life.
IDF learnt a lot from survivors and Lt. Manu Sharma, another fine officer settled in USA. He was extremely shaken when rescued back to Bombay, borrowing clothes and uniforms like all the others, talked to few. The Navy, was trying to cope with an unprecedented situation.
It came to light all the crew was also not wearing life jackets continuously, because even in World War II this practice was not followed but later life jackets was made compulsory. One recalls the famous story of “ The Kappok-kid” the navigator who was ridiculed for keeping his life jacket on at all times, but ended up the lone survivor of the Murmansk Convoy.
THE KHUKRI IS NO MORE
I am Manu Sharma who served the Navy Settled now in USA, aged forty-two or thereabouts.
I knew the Khukri which also symbolizes Gurkha strength And I was on her last voyage wherein served, 171 Mahendra Nath Mulla the Captain who smoked His last cigarette as he went down
The old man to the sea. Thambe Ommen the ship’s Engineer who tried his best But the Arabian Sea engulfed him. Young Suresh Kundanmal that fine personality Who gave his life jacket to another,
And lost his life without knowing it. Joginder Suri who was the executive of the ship But saw his own execution for he could not swim. Also down went those smiling 176 Indian Seadogs
The others whose names I remember not But the Khukri I do. They all lie some forty miles from Diu
Undisturbed till they are picked up. And only a wreck marks that special danbuoy stave
Till another Khukri rides India’s waves.
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