Zee Media Bureau
New Delhi: It was early evening on December 9, 1971 when Indian frigate INS Khukri sank 40 nautical miles off the coast of Diu after being torpedoed by Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor. The ill-fated ship sank with 18 officers and 176 sailors, marking one of the lowest points for India in the war with Pakistan that year.
INS Khukri remains the only naval ship India has lost in war; the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak, thought not by an act of war, is now being dubbed as the second big tragedy to have hit the Indian Navy.
A frontline submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, sunk at the naval dockyard in Mumbai early on Wednesday after it was hit by a series of explosions and subsequent fire. 18 sailors, including three officers, are feared to have died in the tragedy even as efforts are being made to rescue survivors if any.
Reports claimed that the hydrogen as generated during the charging of the batteries could have lead to a fire which then spread to the weapons compartment leading to multiple explosions.
It is highly unlikely that INS Sindhurakshak could turn fighting fit again, reports said.
The sinking of INS Khukri
At the height of 1971 war, with India ensuring a near total blockade of East Pakistan, a desperate Pakistan Navy deployed its entire submarine squadron to take on India on both eastern and western fronts.
As part of the operation codenamed ‘Operation Falcon’, PNS Ghazi was dispatched to Bay of Bengal to neutralise India’s aircraft carrier INS Vikrant while submarine PNS Hangor was given the duty to keep a track of Indian Navy’s plans on the western front. Ghazi sank mysteriously while laying mines near Vishakhapatnam on December 3.
However, PNS Hangor, a modern Daphne-class of submarine, stealthily moved around in the Indian waters and passed on information to Pakistan Navy about the possible formation of Indian armada to attack Karachi.
Indian naval intelligence intercepted these transmissions and sent two Blackwood class INS Khukri, INS Kirpan to take on the intruder (PNS Hangor).
However, Indian frigates were no match to the capabilities of PNS Hangor. The Pakistani submarine detected the sonar signal of the Indian ships early on December 7 but failed to track them
Later in the evening on the same day, Hangor once again detected the Indian ships, which were completely unaware of the danger lurking beneath the waters. Khukri`s sonar could detect movement only up to 3,000 yards which was no match to Hangor submarine that could fire up to 6 km.
At 19:57 on December 9 1971, Hangor fired a torpedo at Kirpan. The torpedo failed to explode. The Paistani submarine next fired a torpedo at Khukri. The torpedo struck Khukri and exploded under its oil tanks causing extensive damage to its hull. The ship sank soon afterwards.
Khukri’s captain, Mahendra Nath Mulla, chose to go down with the ship. He was posthumously awarded India`s second-highest military honour, the Maha Vir Chakra.
A memorial for the brave men was set up atop a hillock facing the sea in Diu.