It has been thirty-five years since INS Khukri sank in the Arabian sea after being torpedoed by a Pakistani submarine.
A new book believes that the incident could have been avoided had the naval top-brass been a little more careful. Questions are being raised over the very idea of forcing Khukri to face a submarine that was far superior and not allowing the anti-submarine Seaking helicopters to give cover to Khukri despite the Pakistani threat. Even the strategy that Capt Mahendra Nath Mullah adopted on the sea is probed.
The book, The Sinking of INS Khukri: Survivors' Stories by Maj Gen (ret) Ian Cardozo, throws new light on the incident through first hand accounts of survivors of the tragedy, the registered accounts from India and Pakistan about the incident, and other sources.
Khukri -- an anti-submarine frigate was torpedoed by Pakistan Navy's Hangor submarine on Dec 9, 1971 at around 2100 hrs. It did not take much time for the ship to go down. A total of 18 officers and 176 sailors went down with their captain.
Gen Cardozo says: "I do agree that it is easy to be wise after the event but one cannot get away from the fact that there were a number of faulty decisions that led to the destruction of the Khukri."
While Khukri had the detection capability of around 2500 meters, the detection capability of Hangor was 25,000 meters, ten times more. Moreover the sonars on Khukri were in experimental stages.
Some fingers were raised against Capt Mullah for keeping the speed of his slow, so that he could enhance the capacity of the sonars. But the survivors do not agree with this.
Commander (retd) Manu Sharma, one of the survivors, says: "The speed was reduced from 14 to 12 knots only because that was the speed required for proper functioning of the sensor, and secondly we did follow a zigzag pattern as other survivors will attest."
According to survivor accounts, had the Seaking, which departed from the scene between 1700 and 1800 hrs of Dec 9 been there, Hangor would not have dared to attack Khukri.
"Knowledge of the combined potential of the Seaking helicopters and that of the Khukri and Kirpan ships prevented the Hangor from operating against our ships," says the book.
The Arabian Sea harbour had been set on fire, the Pakistani Navy had been forced to sail into inner harbours to escape the Indian Navy's fury in December of 1971. But the Khukri incident proved a dampener, although Mullah's decision to go down with the ship is now part of the naval folklore.
Commander recounting the scene soon after the ship was hit says, "There were two massive explosions, one after other, and the Khukri keeled to one side by about fifteen degrees. Captain Mullah was thrown off his chair and he hit the bulkhead and cut his head badly."
Capt Mullah now concentrated on evacuating the sailors, after it was clear that ship was sinking. Sharma himself was pushed by Captain Mullah from the ship. Sharma was swimming away to safety, when he had last glimpse at Khukri.
"The bow of the ship was pointing upwards at an angle of eight degrees and sinking slowly. I got a glimpse of Capt Mullah sitting on his chair and hanging on to the railing. He was still smoking a cigarette."
Capt Mullah was awarded with the Mahavir Chakra for his sacrifice, setting high standards for others. The book also presents a Pakistani point of view of the incident. For instance, Rear Admiral RA Qadri who was the Electrical Officer of the Hangor, claims that there were no survivors from the attack. The survivors obviously negate this piece of fiction.
Recalling her husband's strength to endure pain, Capt Mullah's wife, Sudha, says: "He believed strongly in self-control and his attitude to pain was unbelievable." It was perhaps this attitude that stood him in good stead in his finest hour.
The book, besides the incident also contains other interesting details like PNS Khyber, the Pakistani warship that bombarded Dwarka, on the Gujarat coast during the 1965 war, was the first Pakistani warship to be destroyed in the 1971 war.
Another incident that is presented from the perspective of various sources is the sinking of the Pakistani submarine PNS Ghazi near Vishakapatnam. The book gives a graphic detail of the attack on Karachi harbour that brought the port city to its knees.
The navy, which had not participated in any war that India had fought till 1971, was determined to show its prowess to not only to its enemies but also to its own citizens. And it did put up an impressive show, except for a painful but a proud episode that will be part of naval folklore.
A Khukri War Memorial is located at Diu on a small hillock facing the Arabian Sea. The memorial faces the area where the crew of the INS Khukri fought valiantly thirty-five years ago.