Sardarilal Mathradas Nanda, PVSM, AVSM (10 October 1915 – 11 May 2009) was a four-star Admiral of the Indian Navy who served as the 8th Chief of the Naval Staff from 1 March 1970 until 28 February 1973. He led the Indian Navy during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and successfully executed a naval blockade of both West and East Pakistan, helping India achieve an overwhelming victory during the war. He is one of the most notable commanders in the history of the Indian Navy.
Nanda was born on October 10, 1915 in Punjab. He was raised on Manora Island at the entrance to the Port of Karachi. He was the eldest of seven children. Prior to joining the navy, Nanda had worked for the Karachi Port Trust.
Nanda enlisted into the Royal Indian Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War II on 11 October 1941. He stayed in the Navy despite rapid, large-scale demobilization at the end of the war. After independence in 1947, he opted to join the Indian Navy. In 1948, he was appointed First Lieutenant on board INS Delhi (1948) under the command of Captain H.N.S Brown, with then Lieutenant Commander Ram Dass Katari as his Executive Officer.
From 1949 to 1951, he served as the Director of Personnel Services. In 1951, he took command of the R class destroyer, INS Ranjit (1942). He was also the commanding officer of the navy's Frigate Squadron. He was later transferred back to Naval Headquarters as Chief of Personnel. He was promoted to Commodore in 1957, and sent to England to commission the Fiji class cruiser, INS Mysore (1957), as her commanding officer. Later, he was appointed Director General of the Naval Dockyards and undertook a major expansion of the dockyards. He then attended the Imperial Defence College and was appointed Chief of Materials upon his return. Nanda was promoted to Rear Admiral and appointed Deputy Chief of Naval Staff in May 1962. He was appointed Managing Director of Mazagon Dock Limited in December 1964 and undertook preparations for the construction of Nilgiri class frigates, the first major naval vessels to be constructed in India. Given the difficulty India had in negotiating the purchase of INS Vikrant (R11) from the UK, Nanda supported the acquisition of equipment from the Soviet Union.
The 1962 Sino-Indian War was largely fought over the Himalayas and the Navy did not have a major role. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the Navy was ordered to stay within Indian waters. When the Pakistan Navy bombarded Dwarka, Nanda recognized the need to raise the Navy's profile and capabilities.
In March 1970, Admiral Nanda took command as the 8th Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy. He was determined to change the mindset of the service from defence to attack. He got the opportunity to demonstrate this capability the following year during the war with Pakistan. Nanda was instrumental in framing India's Naval strategy during the war. He feigned a defensive deployment southeast towards the Andaman Islands, instead moving his Eastern fleet northwards into the Bay of Bengal and enforcing a naval blockade against East Pakistan.
His strategy against West Pakistan was to strike hard against Pakistan's main port of Karachi. He is recognized as the mastermind behind Operation Trident and Operation Python. The plan for the operations included towing the limited-range Vidyut class missile boats, primarily designed for coastal defence, to about 250 nautical miles (460 km) south of Karachi during the day, out of range of the Pakistan Air Force aircraft. The missile boats then closed in on Karachi port at night and attacked naval targets as well as the oil tank farm at Keamari. Operation Trident was successfully executed on 4 December 1971, sinking the Pakistan Navy destroyer PNS Khaibar, minesweeper PNS Muhafiz, an ammunition carrying ship MV Venus Challenger and irreparably damaging another destroyer PNS Shah Jahan as well as destroying numerous oil storage tanks. Operation Python was again successfully carried out on 8 December 1971.
On the Eastern front, Nanda made the decision to deploy the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant into the shallower waters of the Gulf of Bengal off Dhaka, to prevent the risk of a submarine attack. When concerns were raised about Vikrant's boilers being cracked, he took personal responsibility for the risk of a boiler explosion and catapult failure on the carrier. His gambit paid off, as Vikrant was able to successfully enforce the blockade of East Pakistan without any such damage to the carrier. The success of the naval blockades on two fronts is considered one of the primary factors in India's overwhelming victory during the war. Admiral Nanda retired from the Indian Navy in 1973.
Admiral Nanda was revered in the Indian Navy for his bold decision-making and for frequently defeating bureaucracy in his quest to improve the living conditions of his sailors and their families. For his heroism at sea, he was at times called India's Nelson.
Following his retirement, Nanda took an executive role with Crown Corporation, an arms trading firm headed by his son Suresh Nanda, which specialized in supply of imported weapons to the Indian Armed Forces.
Nanda's reputation was tarnished by the involvement of his family in several high-profile controversies, two of which involved allegations of corruption and payment of bribes to Indian government officials for facilitating arms sales. A third case was an attempt at a cover-up by his son and grandson in a hit-and-run drunk driving accident, in which three policemen and three other individuals were killed at a police checkpoint by a speeding BMW driven by his grandson Sanjeev Nanda.
Admiral Nanda died in New Delhi on 11 May 2009 at the age of 93. His funeral was marked with full military honours, but not as well attended as his naval career mandated due to the involvement of his family in controversial cases.
Adhar Kumar Chatterji
|Chief of the Naval Staff
Sourendra Nath Kohli