Remembering INS Khukri: Indian Naval Ship Lost during I971 Indo-Pak War

The Indian naval history is full of stories of heroism and excellence strategising. While most of the stories talk about Indian navy ships making it without any lingering damage to life, the loss of INS Khukri is unforgettable in the Indian naval history books.

INS Khukri was the flagship of the three combat vessels that India possessed during the mid-20th century. The two other combat ships that completed the trio of Indian combat vessels were the INS Kirpan and the INS Kuthar.

INS Khukri
Image for representation purpose only

The Khukri was originally a Blackwood combat ship, a vestige of the British stronghold in India. But while once she was a competent vessel, by the time of her accident in 1971, she was outdated and no match for the modernised, contemporary ships possessed by the Pakistani army.

History is quite clear about the fact that in the 1971 India-Pakistan war, India was the unanimous victor. However, this victory did come at a price and the price was the sinking of the war ship Khukri on 9rd December at 2100 hours IST.

Navy Ship Disaster Details

The Indo-Pak war in 1971 escalated in December. Right at the start of the war on the 3rd of December, the naval communications department detected the presence of a Pakistani submersible a few miles near the city of Diu in the Western part of the country. After knowing about this threat, two of the three Indian combat vessels were deployed to ensure that the threat of the submersible was effectively deactivated. The third vessel – Kuthar – could not be deployed because it was undergoing necessary refurbishing in the then port of Bombay.

The Pakistani submersible Hangor belonged to the Daphne cadre of vessels of France and was equipped with state-of-the-art sensory systems and artillery. In contrast, the Indian sensory equipments aboard the vessel were just being up-graded which reduced the ship’s speed on water. Decreased speed levels were required to ensure that the sensory systems could function effectively which became yet another reason for the Khukri ship disaster.

On account of the disparity between the sensory systems’ advancement and the forced navigational route required to be taken by the Khukri, the Hangor was able to fire torpedoes at both the Khukri and the Kirpan. But while the Kirpan eluded the torpedo attack and was able to regroup itself, the Khukri was not able to do so. Quick succession of torpedoes fired the war ship ensured that it was completely destroyed along with the many men aboard it.

The captain of the ship, Captain M.N. Mulla chose not to be rescued and was part of the over-100 men who died when the ship sunk. For his efforts, Captain Mulla was awarded one of the highest Indian military gallantry awards – the Mahavir Chakra – posthumously. The survivors of the Khukri were rescued by the INS Kirpan.

Contestation about the Sinking

While it was maintained for quite some time that the Indian officers aboard the Khukri were not responsible for the sinking, one of the survivors recounted a completely different story. When this emerged, it caused a wave of embarrassment as the survivor narrated how the sinking could have been prevented and the tragedy completely thwarted. The survivor also included the remiss of the Khukri’s sister ship Kirpan in his recounting and filed a request before the Indian naval authorities to rectify the misleading information provided, wherever they might be.

Present Scenario and Conclusion

The INS Khukri lies at the bottom of the Arabian Sea a few miles away from Diu, where it sunk. In memoriam of the Khukri, a war monument has been erected. The monument is located on top of a hill and directly opposite it is the actual sinking site of the Khukri. The monument was inaugurated in the year 1999, 28 years after the tragedy occurred.

After the loss to the Khukri, the Indian navy ships did wreck havoc on the Pakistani port. To their credit, the loss of the Khukri was the only achievement that the Pakistani navy was allowed and the resultant annihilation of their naval fortresses ensured that the Pakistani navy ended up facing a chaotic time. Post the completion of the 1971 war, the country of Bangladesh was formed, leading India to be called as the liberator of East Pakistan.

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