DNA, Mumbai’s new
daily run by ex TOI staffers, resurrected the INS Khukri story by
Josy Joesph and the episode needs a revist. It was an unfortunate
sinking in the 1971 war, the biggest and only loss suffered by the
Indian Navy in its annals. In retrospect we present extracts from
the account written in 1987 in Chapter 8 on the sinking of INS
Khukri by Cmde Ranjit B Rai (Retd), the first ever book on the
heroic Naval war of 1971 titled "A Nation and its Navy at War".
The book is recommended reading for Staff College entrance exam and
highly recommended at US Naval War College at Annapolis Naval
Academy, where the author has spoken. The Chapter ‘Tilt To
Pakistan’ recounts the machinations of President Nixon,
Kissinger, US Intellgence and CNO Admiral Zumwalt's ignorance of the
entry of the USS Enterprise Task Force into he Indian Ocean as
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Tom Morrer took orders
direct from Nixon. The role of Yeoman Ratford who leaked the details
to NY Times is also unfolded.
The fog of war engulfs and it was a sad event that Lt VK Jain
a bright Electrical Officer who also died was testing an enhancement
feature to get longer range on Khukri’s sonar designed by Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Readers should know the
Navy had officers like Cmde Paul Raj who pioneered all of today's
Indian Navy sonars whilst with
DRDO at NSTL. He
joined DRDO and left to join Stanford and was recently admitted to
the Hall of Fame of Engineers in USA with another Indian Prof
Kailath and has also worked under Dr Teller.
The slow speed of the ship made Khukri a sitting duck and the
fact that the sailors were listening to the English news and not
wearing life jackets caused greater loss than should have. Excerpts
from Rai’s book and the
DNA's piece are
appended along with excerpts from Vice Admral Tasneem’s explanation
of the escape. He retired as VCNS and was the Captain of
PNS Hangor in 1971 and he visited New Delhi in 2004 to
discuss the sinking and Hangor’s escape full details of which will
be appearing in Ranjit Rai's updated book later this year with many
Pakistani and newly revealed inputs giving both sides of the Naval
Chapter Eight –– INS Khukri Goes Down
The war at sea was going well for Indian Navy and with the
first five days bringing their small measures of triumphs — namely
the attacks on Karachi, the sinking of the Ghazi and the
exploits of the Vikrant; all these had created a tremendous
sense of confidence in this small sea-going arm. The first major
blow to the Indian Navy came on the fateful night of 9 December. It
rocked the Navy when the reality of actual war hit the sea-going
community at large. Whilst the officers and men on board INS
Khukri were tuned in to listen to the All India Radio news at
8.50 pm on the ship’s SRE (Sound Reproduction Equipment) and were
specifically on an anti-submarine warfare mission to look out for a
reported Pak submarine, the Khukri was hit by more than one
torpedo; possibly three, fired from one of Pakistan Navy’s three
newly acquired Daphne-class submarines, the Hangor (Cdr A.
Tasneem) about 40 miles off Diu Head. In command was Captain
Mahendra Nath Mulla a 45-year old tall, strapping Royal Navy-trained
anti-submarine warfare specialist with earlier command experience of
destroyer INS Rana and Second-in-Command of INS Krishna (then
Kistna). One can picture him on the bridge of his ship, after
helplessly realizing that hope was lost and forced to give the order
Eighteen officers and 176 sailors went down with the
anti-submarine frigate, INS Khukri, as she sank in the
Arabian Sea, torpedoed by an enemy submarine on a dark night. Capt. Mahendra Nath
Mulla (45) the skipper, stood by his ill-fated shipmates to the last
and shared their destiny despite having opportunity to save himself.
Captain Mulla was awarded MVC posthumously.
The sinking has evinced very keen discussion on the issues
that such large casualties, resulting in loss of life of this
nature, throw up. Was Indian Navy’s damage control ability in doubt?
Can two or three torpedoes of L-60 variety sink a ship like the
Khukri specially built for anti-submarine warfare with British
170/174 sonar sets and Mortar MK 10? What speed was the ship doing?
What after-accident search and rescue measures were taken to reduce
loss of life? The discussion still goes on, but some factors are
touched upon in this chapter along with some facets of human life.
The Khukri was well manned, worked up, and the
Second-in-Command of the ship Lt Cdr J.K. Suri, 33, a bachelor, was
in fact, a specialist communications officer. An excellent Navy
squash player, unfortunately he was a poor swimmer. He was on the
bridge when the torpedoes hit. The story has it that because the
ship lost power and went down in minutes, some men trying to get out
of the ship in darkness from below deck ran into those like J.K.
Suri going down to fetch their life jackets. The Khukri had
only two exits and over 100 men crowding these two exit ports must
have caused panic and in the melee they would have got crushed
whilst the ship went down. Yet the Captain helped each one he could
see on the bridge to leave the ship. 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’ receipient officer was
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.
All this is reported by survivors like Lt Manu Sharma,
another fine officer who has since left the Navy and settled in
successful attack by a Pakistan Navy submarine was possible because
it is commonly known that INS Khukri was doing only 12 knots.
Lt V.K. Jain, a bright Electrical Officer, who had researched on an
attachment to improve the sonar performance of the 170/174 set was,
unfortunately, testing his hardware on board. It is known that
Captain Mulla did not favour this slow speed but he had to give in
to this young officer’s request. One of those misfortunes, combined
with the fact this class of ship did not have a strong shipside and
thus succumbed to damage easily. It is also possible that the
Pakistan Navy submarine had tracked the Khukri for some time
by keeping in company with some fishing craft which were earlier in
The period after the war was traumatic for the families of
those reported missing. Lt Suresh Kundanmal’s family got reports
that many survivors had drifted away and that Suresh had been able
to swim to safety after having given his life jacket to another.
Astrologers too, assured the family that he was alive. A few weeks
after the war some fine sailors from the Khukri joined INS
Nilgiri, India’s first Leander, as part of rehabilitation of the
crew. The Captain of the Nilgiri Captain D.S. Paintal looked
upon this act as a superstitious omen, but when assured that they
were experienced shipwrecked sailors who could possibly be of help
in educating the ship’s company of the new Nilgiri, they were
welcomed on board warmly like so many others of that ill-fated ship.
Incidentally, in the Falklands war, a total of seven warships were
sunk, but all their Captains were rescued and live to tell their
tale; once again showing off Admiral Nanda’s message to his fleet
Captains not to go down with the ship as propitious. One day another
Khukri will undoubtedly be commissioned so that we do not
The Khukri Is No More
By Manu Sharma (A survivor)
I am Manu Sharma who served the Navy,
Settled now in
USA, aged forty-two
I knew the Khukri which also symbolizes Gurkha
And I was on her last voyage wherein served,
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
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 officer of the ship
But saw his own execution for he could not swim.
Also down went those smiling one hundred seventy-six Indian
The others whose names I remember not
But the Khukri I do.
They all lie some forty miles from
Undisturbed till they are picked up.
And only a wreck marks that special danbuoy stave
Till another Khukri rides
The Words Of Admiral Tasnim
“After Hangor sank the Khukri on the night of 9th December,
the Indian Navy hunted us for over two whole days and nights. They
lobbed over a hundred and fifty squids and depth charges at us
during this time. First, we could feel and hear the explosions
through the hull, though they were at a distance : later they could
be heard only through the sonars as the Indians vented their
frustration and blasted away at innocent shoals of fish in the
distance. The situation on board was quite tense and uncertain and
we got away”. The full details are in Rai’s newly researched book.
Cover-Up That Rewrote Indian Naval History
By Josy Joseph
Sunday, April 16, 2006
DELHI/MUMBAI: Mistakes committed by naval officers, including the
commanding officer (CO) of INS Khukri, led to the sinking of the
warship and the death of 200 of its crew during the 1971 war with
Pakistan, according to documents with DNA.
findings overturn official naval claims and published history on the
sinking of the Khukri by Pakistani submarine
Hangor at the height of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It also raises
uncomfortable questions about numerous gallantry awards given out by
the government to many involved in the incident.
has two letters written to President APJ Abdul Kalam by Commander
Benoy Bhushan, one of 12 pages and the other of 24, who was directed
by the flag officer commanding-in-chief, Western Naval Command, to
establish where the Khukri was sunk. The findings remain under wraps
Bhushan confirmed the authenticity of the two letters, and their
claims have been substantiated by at least one survivor and other
Though the principal director of naval operations told Bhushan that
his report was declassified in early 2005, naval headquarters
refused DNA a copy and also failed to respond to a detailed
questionnaire sent by DNA.
According to the official version, a Pakistani submarine torpedoed
and sank the Khukri on the night of December 9, 1971. It is the
single biggest wartime casualty of independent India. There was
never a court of inquiry to find out if anyone was responsible for
the ship going down.
DNA’s investigation reveals that in their last
moments some 250 officers and sailors of the Khukri were abandoned
by INS Kirpan, an accompanying naval ship that should have carried
out an immediate counterattack.
also reveals that the navy’s claim that it hunted and sank the
Pakistani submarine a few hours later to be false. The Hangor
returned to Karachi harbour safely.
Bhushan, in his letter, says, “The circumstances in which the Khukri
was torpedoed and sunk were never disclosed for decades. ... Truth
needs to be brought to light to set the record straight and also to
learn valuable lessons.”
Bhushan was CO of INS Investigator when he was asked to probe the
Khukri, in company with another A/S (anti-submarine) ship Kirpan,
was torpedoed and sunk without even an engagement with the enemy.
Eighteen officers and 176 sailors perished with the Khukri. Both the
COs deserved to be punished, but the higher
authorities gave them gallantry awards. INS Khukri and INS Kirpan
violated every principle of A/S doctrine for hunter killer
operations,” Bhushan told DNA.
Bhushan says he was forced to open his mouth after so many years
after he accidentally stumbled” upon the official history of the
Indian Navy, ‘Transition to Triumph’, published by the historical
cell of naval headquarters. “The details of the Khukri sinking and
the appended maps stunned me,” he said.
“Higher authorities in the navy during the 1971 war manipulated
facts to write a false history of heroism and courage whereas the
truth points a glaring finger at the level of training at its lowest
ebb, inefficiency, incompetence, dereliction of duty, and erosion of
moral and ethical values.”
his letter to the President, Bhushan has appealed to Kalam to bring
“truth to light to expose the persons who have misused their powers
to suppress the truth regarding the circumstances in which Khukri
was torpedoed and sunk; and to hide blunders committed by themselves
investigated Bhushan’s claims with at least one survivor and some
others who were privy to the incident and the inquiry.
(Additional reporting in Mumbai by Shweta
Karnik and Dharmendra Tiwari)
We leave you dear
reader to ponder the truth!