Date of Birth : May 15, 1926
Place of birth : Gorakhpur, (UP)
Last Rank : Captain
Arm/Regt : Indian Navy
Operation : Op Trident
Awards : Maha Vir Chakra
Martyrdom : December 9, 1971
Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla was born on the 15th of May, 1926 in Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. He belonged to a lawyer’s family wherein his father Sri Tej Narain Mulla was a judge in the High Court and his elder brother a lawyer. His uncle Sri Anand Narain Mulla too was a lawyer and was a member of Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. When Capt Mulla was young, he too had interest in the profession of law, but as he grew older his interest veered towards the Armed Forces. At the age of 20, he passed the intermediate exam and joined the Royal Indian Navy as a cadet in January 1946. He underwent training in the United Kingdom and was commissioned into the Royal Indian Navy on May 1, 1948.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Commander on 16 September 1958 and later in April 1961 got selected for the prestigious Defence Services Staff College(DSSC) Wellington. He was promoted to the rank of Commander on 30 June 1964. He also served on board INS Krishna for three years. Capt Mulla held various important appointments during his service career which included, Officer-in-Charge of Naval appointments at Naval Headquarters, Deputy Naval Adviser to the Indian High Commissioner in London for three years and executive officer of naval shore establishment INS Angre at Bombay. He also served as commanding officer of the destroyer INS Rana besides a tenure at Naval Headquarters in the Directorate of Naval Plans. Capt Mulla also proved to be an excellent defence counsel in courts-martial proceedings in the service. Among other interests, he enjoyed Urdu poetry as well. In February 1971, he joined INS Khukri and took over as Captain of the ship.
Indian Naval Operations (Indo-Pak War) : 09 Dec 1971
When the Indo-Pak War of 1971 broke out, Capt Mulla was the Flotilla Commander for INS Khukri (F-149), INS Kuthar (F-146) and INS Kirpan (F-144). All three were anti-submarine-warfare (ASW) frigates (Type 14 Blackwood class) with dedicated anti-submarine munitions. The task force had the responsibility of hunting and neutralizing enemy submarines in the North Arabian Sea. The Indian Naval radio detection equipment identified a submarine in the vicinity of Diu harbour on 03rd Dec 1971. Unfortunately, one of the flotilla’s ships INS Kuthar developed a problem and on around 05 December, it was escorted back to harbour. Following this, INS Khukri along with INS Kirpan were dispatched to take on the threat of the enemy submarine.
In the late evening of 9th December, INS Khukri was attacked by the Pakistani submarine PNS Hangoor which fired torpedoes at it, causing devastating damage. What made the Indian vessel an easy target for enemy torpedoes was the presence of an experimental sonar equipment aboard that had been specially deployed for research. The limitations placed by this equipment had drastically slowed down the movement of INS Khukri to the submarine-detectable speed of 12 knots. Also, INS Khukri‘s sonar set had a detection range up to 3,000 yards, whereas PNS Hangor could fire from distances of nearly six kilometers.
The first torpedo hit the Khukria at around 2046 hrs, knocking out its propeller and setting the ship ablaze on the aft side. There were two massive explosions inside the Khukri and the ship went dark. Capt Mulla evaluated the situation within minutes and issued orders for its abandonment. The ship lost all power and began to tilt steeply to its right (Starboard) as chaos followed the order of ‘abandon ship’. But in all this, Captain Mulla was apparently absolutely cool and calm as he awaited for the worst to follow; helping as many survivors to leave the ship. He displayed exemplary bravery trying to save as many of his men as he could. He directed his second-in-command to cast lifeboats, rafts and buoys into the sea, following which he personally ensured the safety of his men by ushering them to lifeboats.
INS Khukri sank within minutes, taking 176 sailors and 18 officers, and the ship’s captain, to their watery graves in the Arabian Sea. But Capt Mulla was such a true leader that he would not abandon his ship and the men who were trapped on it. During the last minutes of his life, Capt Mulla showed extraordinary courage, helping save as many of his men as he could and not abandoning his vessel. Injured, and with his head bleeding, he went down with his ship. A total of 67 men could be saved, which included 05 officers, 01 midshipman and 61 other crew members. Capt Mulla’s cool, calm and resolute composure during the crisis, lifted the morale of not just the surviving crew but the entire Navy and armed forces in general for years to come. Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla was given the Indian Navy’s first and nation’s second highest gallantry award, “Maha Vir Chakra” for his outstanding courage, leadership and supreme sacrifice. Besides Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla, the other officers, who were given gallantry awards posthumously included, Cdr M Ommen VrC, Lt Cdr JK Suri VrC, Lt Cdr Prabhat Kumar VrC, Surg Lt SS Panda VrC, Lt SH Kundanmal NM and Lt VK Jain NM.
Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla is survived by his daughter Smt Ameeta Mulla Wattal.
The citation for the Maha Vir Chakra awarded to him reads:
Two ships of the Indian Navy under the command of Captain M.N. Mulla, a senior officer of the frigate squadron, were assigned the task of locating and destroying a Pakistani submarine in the North Arabian Sea. During these operations on the night of 9 December 1971, INS “Khukri” was hit by torpedoes fired by the enemy submarine and sank. Having decided to abandon ship, Captain Mulla, without regard for his personal safety, supervised the arrangements for the rescue of his ship’s company in very cool, calm and methodical manner. Even at a later stage whilst the ship was sinking, Captain Mulla showed the presence of mind and continued to direct rescue operations and refused to save himself by giving his own life-saving gear to a sailor. Having directed as many of his men as possible to leave the ship, Captain Mulla went back to the bridge to see what further rescue operations could be performed. In doing so, Capt Mulla was last seen going down with his ship. His action and behaviour and the example he set have been in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service. Captain M.N. Mulla displayed conspicuous gallantry and dedication.