Indian Navy Day: How MARCOS saved 200 lives in 26/11

On the 26th of November this year, I attended a programme by the Indian Express group at the Gateway of India, Mumbai. The programme was presented in memory of the heroes and to give homage to all those who lost their lives in the 26/11/2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai. I saw many rows of people in White – Navy Officers who had come there with their colleagues and/or family members. The Naval band played the National Anthem at the end of the programme. It would be easy to think that since the Gateway was close to the Navy Nagar, Colaba, it was the Naval officers who attended the programme. But the fact is that the 26/11 is a bruise which was inflicted on the Navy – one which brought out the best in them, on the field. It was also one which tested their readiness for a sly attack from the seas.

The way the MARCOS team neutralized the terrorists, taking care that there would be no more civilian casualties, is a story of bravery & careful planning while in operation. Initially 8 and later 16 more MARCOS took part in the operation called ‘Black Tornado’. MARCOS are the Indian Navy Marine Commandos and they live by their Motto “The few the fearless”. They are trained to operate on Land, Sea and Air. Those who love watching films and TV serials on US Navy Seals, should take out time to learn more about our very own MARCOS. They not just protect our Nation, they also have a history of protecting foreign nations which request for our help. Not just that, they have successfully foiled piracy on the High Seas a number of times. They also protect our oil installations like the Bombay High.

Coming back to 26/11, they arrived at the Taj Hotel equipped with bulletproof jackets, AK-47s and MP5 submachine guns. Though they would have probably loved to be trigger happy, they restrained themselves because there were many civilians in the hotel, who had to be rescued first. They split into three teams. Two teams were deployed to evacuate injured civilians, the third searched for the terrorists. The MARCOS’ action was brief, but critical. They had saved nearly 200 hotel guests from certain slaughter. One hundred and sixty five persons died in the 26/11 attacks, and this number would have been larger had the MARCOS not swung into action.

Let us take a look at some of the weapons recovered on the scene –  seven AK-47 magazines each with thirty 7.62×39 mm bullets. Over 100 loose M43 cartridges, to refill the magazines, a versatile AKM Type I bayonet which also functioned as an insulated wire cutter. An egg-shaped, blue Chinese Type 86P plastic-bodied fragmentation grenade packed with 1,600 steel balls with a six metre kill radius and a matchbox-sized twelve-volt battery, the kind favoured by militants to trigger off IEDs. A more important catch was the four Arges 84 anti-personnel hand grenades, license-produced by the Pakistan Ordnance Factory, Wah, from an Austrian firm Armaturen Gesellschaft mbH. Each half-kilo grenade had 5,000 steel balls packed around ninety-five grams of plastic explosives. When the pin was pulled and the grenade thrown, it exploded within three seconds. Each ball-bearing turned into a projectile with the velocity of a .22 calibre bullet, and could kill and injure within a twenty-metre radius. Imagine the number of dead bodies one would have found if the MARCOS had not swung into action!

On Navy Day, the 4th of December, we pay our respects to the Indian Navy and thank them for protecting our borders, our seas.

Note: On the 26th of November when I attended the event, I noticed that while singing the National Anthem, all the Navy Officers stood attention with their hands folded in a fist, with their thumb inside the fist. I was curious to know why and I asked a Naval officer the reason for this. His very elegant wife, Smt. Meeta Kalia, who was earlier a teacher at the Navy Children’s School, told me that it is the way to show that WE STAY UNITED for our Nation. A fist is the sign of Unity and gathering everyone together. What a revelation for a commoner like me! Every school child should be taught this so that every time we hear our National Anthem, we remind ourselves that strength comes from remaining united.

*Some information has been taken from Black Tornado: The Three Sieges of Mumbai 26/11 by
Sandeep Unnithan



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