Service No : NAVY 011
Place of birth : Mumbai, MH
Last Rank : Lieutenant
Arm/Regt : Indian Navy
Operation : Indo-Pak War 1971
Awards : Nao Sena Medal
Martyrdom : December 9, 1971
Lt Suresh Hiranand Kundanmal hailed from Mumbai and was born in an eminent lawyer’s family. After his schooling, he got selected for the prestigious NDA and joined the 22nd Course in 1959. He was one amongst seven children and grew up to be a very responsible child. Unfortunately, he lost his father at a young age and when his older brother migrated to the USA, the responsibility of being the head of the family fell on Lt Suresh’s shoulders, whilst he was a young cadet.
At NDA, he excelled in various aspects of training and developed into a fine officer. He was a keen sportsman too and excelled in playing basketball. He was also good at western music and charmed everyone with his his mimicry & singing skills. After passing out of NDA, he along with the naval batch moved onto INS Tir. He later as Midshipman moved to INS Vikrant, INS Mysore & INS Rajput. Lt Suresh although physically tough, was very affable, compassionate and helpful person inside. Whenever his ship would be in harbour in Mumbai, he would invariably attend to his duties at home. He would tutor his youngest brother, facilitate another brother’s business venture and was always a pillar of strength for his mother.
Lt Suresh later went to serve on INS Shakti during 1967-68. After serving for sometime he got married to Ms Sheema from Dehradun and the couple had a daughter Coco. Lt Suresh got specialized in Navigation & Direction and then served as ADC to the Governor of West Bengal. Just before the 1971 war, Lt Suresh got appointed as Navigation officer of INS Khukri.
Indian Naval Operations (Indo-Pak War) : 09 Dec 1971
When the Indo-Pak War of 1971 broke out, Lt Suresh Hiranand Kundanmal was serving as a Navigation Officer aboard INS Khukri, a Blackwood-class frigate of Indian Navy. It was part of the 14th Frigate Squadron of the Western Fleet, consisting of five ships with other four ships being INS Kirpan, INS Kalveti, INS Krishna and INS Kuthar. The 14th Frigate Squadron 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. Naval Headquarters ordered the Western Fleet to hunt and destroy the enemy submarine detected in Indian waters near Diu. This order was passed on to the commander of the F-14 Squadron, Captain Mahendra Nath Mulla. The squadron was, however, now reduced to two anti-submarine frigates, INS Kuthar not being available.
The two anti-submarine frigates left Bombay for their mission on 08 December and by the morning of 09 December were approaching the reported location of the enemy submarine. This was the ‘Hunter-Killer Force’ according to the TAS (Torpedo and Anti-Submarine specialists) of Western Naval Command. 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 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 of up to 3,000 yards, whereas PNS Hangor could fire from distances of nearly six kilometers.
The captain of INS Khukri, Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla evaluated the situation within minutes and issued orders for its abandonment. There were two massive explosions inside the Khukri and the ship went dark. It lost all power and began to tilt steeply to its right (Starboard) as chaos followed the order of ‘abandon ship’. On realizing the danger to his men, Lt Suresh Hiranand Kundanmal swung into action to get his men to safety. In the meantime, the ship was hit by another torpedo. Despite the fact that the chances of his survival were getting less every second, he continued to help his men to safety. A survivor later revealed that Lt Suresh was one of the last on the bridge to be pushed by their captain, Capt Mulla to abandon ship. Before jumping overboard, Lt Suresh, gave away his life jacket to another sailor. He eventually could not survive and was martyred. INS Khukri sank within minutes, taking 176 sailors and 18 officers, and the ship’s captain, to their watery graves in the Arabian Sea.
Lt Suresh Hiranand Kundanmal was awarded "Nao Sena Medal" (Gallantry) posthumously for his dauntless courage and selfless actions. Besides Lt Suresh Hiranand Kundanmal, the other officers, who were given gallantry awards posthumously included, Capt Mahendra Nath Mulla MVC, Lt Cdr JK Suri VrC, Lt Cdr Prabhat Kumar VrC, Cdr M Ommen VrC, Surg Lt SS Panda VrC, and Lt VK Jain NM.
A tribute to Lt Suresh Hiranand Kundanmal by his Course mate, Lt Cdr AC Singh :
Fifty years ago today, my dearest friend Suresh Kundanmal made the Supreme sacrifice for the Nation during the 1971 war, Suresh was my NDA Course mate. He was one of the most well liked cadets during our 3 years in NDA…. a very talented singer, dancer and a good drummer…and the life and soul of any cadets’ function or party, always jovial. He had many friends but for me he was one of my best friends.
One incident which I remember was either during towards the end of the Cadet time on INS TIR or beginning of Midshipman time on INS VIKRANT….. one evening at Mumbai ( then Bombay), 3-4 of us with Suresh went ashore bar hopping and finally landed up at the then popular Volga restaurant. Moment we sat down, one of the artists from the Volga Band on the stage came running to our table and after a wild and joyous happy hug with Suresh, welcome us to Volga. This man then rushed back to the stage and announced to all the people in the restaurant that he was meeting his very good friend Suresh after a long time and that he was a very good singer and drummer….requested Suresh to give a song. Suresh agreed and he sang an Elvis number.
But what I remember most was , at clamorous request of the crowd and the Band, Suresh gave drum solo….and what a fantastic one at that…Glenn Miller’s ‘ In the Mood ‘ . The whole crowd in the restaurant went mad and gave a thunderous standing ovation. I will never forget Suresh doing that drum solo. I also remember Nanik Niwas and his younger brother I think maybe Subash who used to tell Elephant jokes to me whenever I went there. When Suresh was ADC to Governor of West Bengal, I used to stay overnight with him at the Rajbhavan and had long talks with him whenever I was passing through Kolkata ( Calcutta then) during my leave at Imphal.
The untimely demise of Suresh was a very sad and irreparable loss to his family and to many of his course mate.
May the Almighty bless his soul to rest in peace.
——Lt Cdr AC Singh
A tribute by Lt Suresh Kundanmal’s NDA batch mate, Darshan Lal :
Suresh Kundanmal burst on the NDA scene in 1959 like a star in the image of the then Hollywood heart throb, Elvis Presley. A singer, drummer, dancer, with a crew cut, impeccable manners, chivalrous to the hilt, aristocratic in temperament and with a large benevolent heart, he was one of the most popular cadets that NDA had ever seen. Looking back over the years, I wonder, if Suresh chose the right career when he joined the Navy. He could have been even a greater hit in the entertainment industry.
Suresh was born in an eminent lawyer’s family and was one amongst seven children. Unfortunately, he lost his father at a young age. His older brother migrated to the USA and the responsibility of being the head of the family fell on Suresh’s shoulders whilst he was a young cadet. His mother, three younger brothers, and one sister lived in a posh flat in Nanik Niwas on Breach Candy in Mumbai, a home that became a home away from home for many of us, Suresh’s batchmates.
At NDA, Suresh displayed excellent leadership qualities, played basketball, excelled at western music but most of all made a name for himself as a great friend. I was fortunate to get to know him closely although he was not in my squadron. He would make it a point to come to my squadron after dinner & teach some of us ball room dancing in the ante-room. After NDA, the naval batch moved onto INS Tir. A cadet’s life on the training ship could be pretty depressing on occasions with a lot of time spent scrubbing decks, painting the ship’s side and washing dirty plates. In addition, slap on an aggressive foul tongued XO (2nd in command) and a sadistic Petty Officer incharge of training; no wonder, our batch was often in the dumps! Suresh was the saving grace. He was always good humoured, ever willing to cheer us up with his jokes and singing. His mimicry & singing skills charmed even a taciturn & cerebral captain like Cdr. Barboza. Suresh regaled the ship’s company with songs from “My Fair Lady”, then, a popular movie based on the play “Pygmalion”.
Our days as Midshipmen were spent on Vikrant, Mysore & Rajput. Luckily I had Suresh as my shipmate on all three ships. On Vikrant, whilst at sea, the Captain ordered a one hour programme to be broadcast daily on the day’s activities, news & some entertainment. Suresh excelled in conceptualizing & implementing this broadcast to the ship’s company on the intercom every evening. On INS Rajput, Suresh & I were the only Midshipmen. We had a fine bunch of officers led by Capt. Claudius. The fleet visited Bangkok. On our free evenings, Suresh & I would go out dancing. One morning after returning on board in the wee hours we had to undergo the daily Morse code signalling exercise by reading a message on the ship’s mast head flashing lights. Since we could hardly keep our eyes open we fared badly. Unluckily for us the Officer on Duty who observed our late arrival was also the ship’s Communications Officer & responsible for our Morse code training. We were hauled up and “Excused Liberty” for the rest of our stay in Bangkok. A huge punishment for young naval bachelors in Bangkok!
Suresh was undoubtedly a night bird. He loved to party & sleep late. It was difficult for him to keep up with the training programme of a Midshipman that commenced at 0630 hrs daily. Being his cabin mate along with two other seniors it was my duty to wake up Suresh on time for the morning roll call, (both watches fall-in). His alarm clock would keep ringing, the bed tea would lie untouched & all my efforts to wake him up would fall on deaf ears. It took me many months to realize that Suresh would respond to soft whispering calls of “Wake up” rather than to loud shouts or a physical shake up. It dawned on me that Suresh, although physically tough, was really a soft & tender-hearted person inside.
Whenever his ship was in harbour in Mumbai he would invariably attend to his duties at home. He would tutor his youngest brother, facilitate another brother’s business venture and was always a pillar of strength for his mother. One day Suresh came up with the idea of organizing a Western Music competition at the Tajmahal Hotel. We called it the “Hot Beat Session”, printed brochures, car stickers & raised funds for the event. I was very happy to help him organize this competition which was held in the Ballroom on a Sunday afternoon. It was a grand success. I got my first experience of fund raising as a young Sub Lt. Working with Suresh on any idea was a tremendously energizing & uplifting experience. He had the knack of bringing out the best in a person whilst having serious fun along the way.
In 1964, our batch was undergoing Sub Lts training in the naval base at Kochi. Suresh and I decided to invest our kit allowance of Rs 1000 each in a 1936 model Singer car which was on sale from a senior naval officer. We shared this car for the whole year on a monthly budget of Rs.25 each (Petrol was cheap at Rs 1.50/litre). Barring an occasional puncture we had no difficulty in running the car. On rainy days our batchmates would pile into the car and avoid marching to training school. Many of us learnt our driving on this car and got our licenses. Sure enough Suresh took pride and pleasure in teaching driving to all those who wished to learn. One day our car was parked in the Gunnery school on a newly laid tarmac. The car left some oil stains in the parking lot. The Officer In-Charge had an eagle eye. Suresh and I were hauled up next morning and given a dressing down for parking an oil dripping car in the otherwise spotless Gunnery school premises. We were debarred from driving to Gunnery school from then on. The car did evoke envy in some of our seniors.
Soon our training was over. We went our different ways, posted to different ships but always seeking opportunities to spend time together. Whilst he was on INS Shakti and I on INS Magar in 1967/68, we would often organize jam sessions on board either ship and invite close friends to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon. Suresh was tall, handsome and extremely smartly dressed on all occasions, a lady’s man to the core. Soon he fell in love with a beautiful young Art student from Dehra Dun named Sheema who lived in the girls’ hostel on Marine Drive. Suresh fell for her hook, line and sinker and soon he & Sheema were married. It surprised all of us, batch mates, that Suresh was one of the first to tie the knot in our group.
Suresh and I, both specialized in Navigation & Direction and then served as ADC. He was ADC to the Governor of West Bengal whilst I was appointed to the President’s staff. We would often exchange funny stories of life as an ADC. Just before the 1971 war Suresh was appointed Navigation officer of INS Khukri whilst I was still at Rashtrapati Bhavan. In Nov 1971, Suresh whizzed through Delhi enroute to Dehra Dun where Sheema gave birth to their daughter Co Co. He stayed with me overnight at Rashtrapati Bhavan & was full of joy having seen his child. He had to rush back to his ship as the Navy was about to go into action. That was the last I saw of Suresh.
INS Khukri was torpedoed a few days later. Tragically Suresh was not one of the survivors. A shipmate, Manu Sharma, told me later that Suresh was one of the last on the bridge to be pushed by their captain, Capt Mulla to abandon ship. Before jumping overboard, Suresh, who was a poor swimmer, gave away his life jacket to another sailor. So typical of our large hearted friend!
They say God’s favourite children die young! Suresh’s death was a great loss to the service, to his family and to all of us, his grieving course mates of 22nd Course. May his soul rest in peace!