Odisha: Meet Vice Admiral S. H. Sarma, the last surviving World War-II veteran!


Bhubaneswar, December 18: This year’s Vijay Divas marks the beginning of the 50th Anniversary of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The yearlong celebrations that are being planned to commemorate one of the biggest India war victories and the largest ever military surrender after World War-II.

The yearlong events include honoring the few heroes of this 13-day war who are still alive. While many are known, there are a few who hung up their uniforms and faded into ignominy.

Odisha too has many such heroes, among which the foremost is Vice Admiral S. H. Sarma, PVSM, the 98-year-old veteran, whose role in the 1971 war victory has never been given its due.

In a ceremony held at his residence “Navy House”, he was felicitated by eminent citizens, social workers, lawyers, veterans and writers. Admiral Sarma recounted his role in the 1971 War and the role that the Navy and the INS Vikrant played in the Victory.

Sarma is perhaps the last surviving World War-II veteran who saw action in each of the wars fought in post independent India. Born on the 1st December 1922, in Odisha, he left home at the age of 14 to join the Indian Mercantile Marine Training Ship – “Dufferin” – where he topped his 3 year course, and was awarded the Viceroy’s Gold Medal.

He joined the Royal Indian Naval Reserve in December 1942 and saw action in the Burmese and Malaysian Theatres during the final years of World War II, and was even a part of the Japanese Surrender Ceremony at Singapore. On the cessation of World War II, he joined the newly formed Royal Indian Navy and later the Indian Navy. He was an outstanding Naval Officer from the very beginning, performing well beyond his age and experience. After a number of handpicked appointments early in his career, Admiral Sarma was promoted to the rank of Commander superseding some 56 officers senior to him, an unheard of precedent. A few years later he was promoted to the rank of Captain, again superseding some 12 officers senior to him, another unheard of precedent.

Admiral S. M. Nanda, the Chief of the Naval Staff, later recognized and applauded the then Captain Sarma’s singlehanded efforts in the repair and re-commissioning of the INS Brahmaputra, by promoting him to the rank of Rear Admiral ahead of many of his seniors.

Admiral Sarma is the only Officer to be promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral and appointed to the National Defence College, New Delhi, without having done the NDC course, another unheard of precedent. Later as Vice Admiral he was appointed the Commandant of the National Defence College.

It was Admiral Sarma who had secretly formed the Eastern Indian Fleet and was the first Admiral to Command it. It was under his command, during the 1971 war that the Indian Naval Fleet in the Bay of Bengal, took on the Pakistani forces in the coastal areas and bombed them into submission. The East Pakistan ports were very effectively blockaded by ships of the Indian Naval Fleet, initially cutting the supply routes to the Pakistani Army and later the escape routes, resulting in the capture of over 93000 Pakistani soldiers.

This naval blockade was widely recognized and documented by Naval Authorities all over the world as the most effective of blockades in recent times. The Indian Naval Fleet under his command was also credited with the sinking of the Pakistani Submarine “Ghazi”. Admiral Sarma was awarded the Param Visisht Seva Medal for his role in the blockade and surrender of East Pakistan.

After the 1971 war President Yahya Khan of Pakistan had publicly stated: “The capitulation of the Pakistani armed forces in East Pakistan would not have been so precipitate or complete, had it not been for the strangling action of the Indian Navy”.

After 35 years of distinguished and unparalleled service, Admiral Sarma retired in February 1978, as the Commander-in Chief of the Eastern Naval Command. On retirement at the age of 55, he returned to Odisha.

Admiral Sarma has written his memoirs in his book “My years at Sea”, giving an insight to his early life, his time at sea and the Indian Navy. He is the senior most person from Odisha to have served in the Defence Services of India, remains the Patron of the “War Veterans Association of Odisha” and also the “Navy Foundation of Odisha”.

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