Vice Admiral S. H. Sarma, PVSM (Indian Navy, Retd.) was born 1st December 1922, in the state of Orissa, leaving home before he was even 14 years old, to join the Indian Mercantile Marine Training Ship – Dufferin – where he topped his 3 year course, and was awarded the Viceroy’s Gold Medal, for being the best all round Cadet in 1939, and achieving all this before the age of 17 years.
After the three years of training onboard the “Dufferin”, Admiral Sarma joined the Royal Indian Naval Reserve. He saw action in the Burmese and Malaysian Theatres during the final three 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.
Harilal Sarma 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 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 of the then East Pakistan and bombed them into submission. During these operations, 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, “FOR SERVICES TO THE NATION – ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY”.
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”.
As the Admiral in command of the Southern Naval Command and as the Director General of the Naval Dockyard Expansion Scheme, Admiral Sarma again excelled beyond all expectations and was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral, once again superseding several officers.
After 35 years of distinguished and unparallel 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 Orissa.
Admiral Sarma took time to recount his memoirs in his book “My years at Sea”, giving an insight to his early life, his time at sea and the Indian Navy. At the young age of 98 he continues to be an incredible source of wisdom, a warehouse of knowledge, an avid reader, progressive with the times, has a multi-faceted world view and mostly a proud great grand-father.
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”. He resides at his residence “Navy House”, in Bhubaneswar, with his younger son Navin and daughter-in-law Nalini.