Image 1 Potrait of Captain Mahendranath Mulla. Source – Maritime History Society Archives
09 December 1971, was a fateful day. In the midst of the 1971 Indo-Pak War, the Pakistani Naval Ship (PNS) Hangor torpedoed and sank the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Khukri (F149). 09 December 2022 marks 51 years since the Type 14 blackwood class anti-submarine frigate INS Khukri sank. The Commanding Officer of the ship, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla chose to go down with the majestic vessel along with 18 officers and 176 sailors who lost their lives. Let us take a trip down the memory lane and commemorate the gallantry of Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla.
A country stands strong with the support of its citizens. The endless efforts of the nation builders and the sacrifices of its military personnel has made India a strong and progressive nation. The limitless endeavors of the officers serving in the defence services have constituted India to be a militarily powerful and assertive nation. Today, the Indian Navy (IN) in particular is a multi-dimensional force. There are several unsung heroes who have worked relentlessly to serve the nation. One such hero was INS Khukri’s Commanding Officer, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla.
Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla joined the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) as a cadet in January 1926. He was commissioned into the RIN on 01 May 1948 and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on 16 December 1958. On 29 April 1961, Capt. Mulla was selected to undergo a Staff Course at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Thereafter, he served in London as the Deputy Naval Adviser to the High Commissioner of India from 1965 to 1967. He had also served onboard Indian Naval Ships Gomati, Madras, Rana (as Commanding Officer) and Krishna/Kistna (as Second-in-Command) prior to his deployment onboard Khukri (as Commanding Officer).
Role in 1971 Indo-Pak War
The Indo-Pak War had reached a crucial stage. Both the nations were strategizing to inflict military damage and achieve victory over each other. One such effort led to the sinking of INS Khukri on the fateful night of 09 December 1971.
Along with being the Commanding Officer of INS Khukri, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was also the commander of the F-14 Squadron which was deployed to Diu. Capt Mulla, a 45-year-old Indian Naval Officer, was an Anti-Submarine Warfare Specialist and one of the finest seamen who was diligent towards his duty.
Just prior to its sinking, Khukri was in a blacked-out condition. Due to the testing of the experimental sonar type 170/174, the ship’s speed was reduced to 12 knots. This had worried Capt Mulla as the decreased speed was a threat to the ship.
Owing to the class’ weak shipside, INS Khukri, succumbed to damage easily and sank being torpedoed by PNS Hangor. Realizing the situation, the captain ordered the ‘Abandon Ship’. 06 officers and 61 sailors survived this fateful incident and their stories provide a thoughtful insight of the incident.
As Cdr Manu Sharma, the then Operations Officer of the Khukri recalls that as soon as the ship was struck with the second torpedo, there was a power failure and the ship tilted to one side, causing Capt Mulla to be thrown off his chair and hitting the bulkhead which resulted in a severe head injury. Cdr Sharma adds “I saw that its (Khukri) bow was pointing upwards at an angle of eighty degrees……I got a glimpse of Captain Mulla sitting on his chair and hanging onto the railing. He was still smoking a cigarette.”
Sub Lieutenant (Later Lieutenant Commander) SK Basu, who was the Officer of the Watch (OOW) onboard Khukri, also remembers that when he reached the bridge, Capt Mulla looked at him and said ‘Bachu Utro, (little fellow get down) and later Basu got into the Arabian Sea.
The rest of the crew members also recall Capt Mulla pushing most of them into the sea, directing them to swim away. When one of the crew members offered him his own jacket, he said “Go on, save yourselves: don’t worry about me”.
Such was the legacy of the great Naval Officer Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla. As the maritime tradition dictates, during the sinking of a ship, the captain ensures the safe evacuation of all the crew on board before abandoning the ship himself. Standing true to this testimony along with honouring the motto of INS Khukri, Bal, Sahas, Josh Aur Dum, KHUKRI Nahi Kissi Se Kam (Power, Courage, Passion and Strength, KHUKRI is no less than anyone), Capt Mulla chose to go down with the majestic warship. For his outstanding courage and supreme sacrifice, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (posthumously).
PIB Archives (29 April 1961). Naval Officers selected for Staff Course. Ministry of Defence. Press Information Bureau. Accessed and retrieved through – https://archive.pib.gov.in/archive/ArchiveSecondPhase/DEFENCE/1961-JAN-DEC-DEFENCE/PDF/DEF-1961-04-29_206.pdf
PIB Archives (18 December 1971). Captain M. N. Mulla, Indian Navy. Ministry of Defence. Press Information Bureau. Accessed and retrieved through – https://archive.pib.gov.in/archive/ArchiveSecondPhase/DEFENCE/1971-SEPT-DEC-MIN-OF-DEFENCE/PDF/DEF-1971-12-18_343.pdf
 Cardoza, A. (2006). The Sinking of INS Khukri: Survivors Story. India: Roli Books Private Limited. p. 83
 Ibid, p.93-95
 Staff Reporter (11 December 1971). Capt. goes down saving shipmates. The Times of India.