During the 1971 war with Pakistan, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla displayed a rare personal example of courage. He was an officer in the Indian Navy. He was the Commanding Officer and captain of the INS Khukri, which was torpedoed by the Pakistani submarines. With less than three minutes left to evacuate the ship, Captain Mulla tried to save as many sailors as he could. Then instead of abandoning his ship, he chose to go down the sea with it. For his courage and devotion to duty, he was honored with Maha Vir Chakra by the Government of India.
Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was born on 15 May 1926, in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, India.
He belonged to a family that had several eminent legal personalities. His family hailed from Kashmir. He was the son of a legal luminary who was a judge at the High Court, Tej Narain Mulla. Anand Narain Mulla, his uncle, was in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High court. He later got elected as a Member of Parliament (LS). His elder brother was also a well-known lawyer.
He passed the Intermediate examination, at the age of 20. Although the practice of Law ran in the family, Mahendra Nath chose the Navy.
He joined the Navy in 1946. On 1 May 1948, he was commissioned in the Indian Navy, after completion of training.
Career in the Indian Navy
During his career in Navy, he used his law family background to act as a defense counsel in the court martial in service. He was also fond of Urdu poetry. He was a handsome tall man, slightly dark for fair-skinned Kashmiris.
He also underwent a four years training in the UK. Upon his return he was made the executive officer of a minesweeper. He was on-board the INS Krishna for three years.
He was then posted at the Naval HQ in New Delhi as the Officer-in-Charge of Naval appointments.
Later he held the post of Deputy Naval Adviser to the Indian High Commissioner in London for three years. He then became the executive officer of Naval shore establishment INS Angre at Mumbai. He was then posted as the Commanding Officer of the destroyer INS Rana. Later he joined the Naval HQ in the Directorate of Naval Plans.
In February 1971, he became the Commanding Officer and Captain of INS Khukri. It was just ten months ahead of his untimely death.
In the 1971 Indo-Pak War, Captain Mulla was assigned a task force of two ships of the Western Fleet. The task force was given the mission to hunt and destroy enemy submarines in the North Arabian Sea.
On 9 December 1971, at 20:50 hours his ship INS Khukri, was hit by a torpedo fired by an enemy submarine, PNS Hangor. At that time they were around 40 miles or 64 kilometers off the coast of Diu. Since the ship was badly hit and was sinking, Captain Mulla ordered all the sailor to immediately leave the ship.
He assisted in getting many of his men who were in the lower decks, to come up and abandon the ship. Finally he went back to the bridge to ensure if everyone has evacuated to safety. Then he chose to stay and go down with the ship, in the best tradition of navy.
After the Second World War, this was the only occasion on December 9, 1971, when a naval ship was sunk by enemy fire. If Captain Mulla wished, he could have saved himself. In fact during the WW II, the British Navy has issued an advisory that Captains of the ship should not follow the tradition of going down with the ship, but save themselves to fight another day.
There was only three minutes to leave the ship. Many of the crew were trapped below and could not extricate themselves at such short notice. Captain Mulla set a great personal example of personal courage by choosing to go down alive with his ship to the bottom of the sea. He will always be remembered as a war-hero.
For his valor and the example he set by delivering his men to safety, Captain Mulla was honored by a posthumous award of the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest medal of bravery.
A memorial has been erected at Diu in memory of Captain Mulla and other martyred sailors. It comprises of a full-scale model of INS Khukri encased in a glass house. It is situated on a hillock facing the sea.
At Navy Nagar, Colaba, Mumbai, there exist the The Capt. M. N. Mulla Auditorium, named after him. A bust of Capt. Mulla has been placed in the foyer.