Born in Manora, Karachi, Sindprovince of British India, Nanda joined the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1941. During World War II, he served onboard HMIS Travancore and as an instructor at the signals school in HMIS Talwar. After the war, he served on board HMIS Narbada(U40) which was based out of Japan as part of the British occupation forces. He subsequently served as the communication officer of HMIS Cauvery(U10).
Promoted to flag rank in May 1962, Nanda was appointed the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff. As DCNS, he played an important role in the development of Goa as a naval base. In 1964, he took over as the managing director of Mazagon Dock Limited.
In 1966, he was appointed Flag Officer Commanding Indian Fleet and then Flag Officer Bombay in 1968. The Bombay command was upgraded and Nanda took over as the first Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Naval Command in the rank of vice admiral. On 1 March 1970, he took command as the seventh Chief of the Naval Staff. Under his command, the Navy attacked Karachi with missile boats and bombarded ports in East Pakistan with aircraft of INS Vikrant, apart from successfully enforcing naval blockades on two fronts. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award, and awards for distinguished service – the Param Vishisht Seva Medal and the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal.
Early life and education
Nanda was born on 10 October 1915 to Mathra Das, an office superintendent at the workshop of the Port Trust in Manora, and Pooran Devi. His parents were from villages near Gujranwala in the Punjab Province. He was born in a Punjabi HinduKhatri family. He was raised on Manora Island at the entrance to the Port of Karachi. He was the eldest of seven children – three boys and four girls. He attended a primary school on the island and then the N J High School in Karachi. He worked for the Port and Pilotage department at Manora after finishing his schooling.
After the outbreak of World War II, he applied for a commission in the Royal Indian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RINVR). He appeared before a selection board in Bombay in September 1941. Successful in the written test and the interview, he was commissioned in the RINVR on 11 October 1941 as an acting sub-lieutenant in the Executive Branch.
Nanda started his career with a training course for six months on the Deepawati. He was then sent to Calcutta for his next assignment. At Calcutta, he was asked to go to Khulna and take command of a river steamer and patrol the Sundarbans. In June 1942, he was selected for a specialist communications course at HMIS Talwar, the Signals School in Colaba, Bombay. After the course, he served as the signals officer on board the minesweeper HMIS Travancore. In October 1942, he was promoted to the acting rank of lieutenant and appointed as an instructor at the Signals School. After the end of the war, he stayed in the Navy despite rapid, large-scale demobilisation. He appeared before a selection board in Lonavala on 31 October 1945.
Nanda was serving at the Signals School at HMIS Talwar when the Royal Indian Navy mutiny broke out in February 1946. The mutiny first started at HMIS Talwar and spread to ships and other shore establishments. The mutiny was called off after the sailors met with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He was asked by the sailors to accompany them, which he did.
In June 1946, he was posted to the sloopHMIS Narbada(U40), which was to sail for Japan from Madras. The ship was based out of Kure, Hiroshima, as part of the British occupation forces and was later transferred to Sasebo, Nagasaki, as part of the US occupation forces. On 19 October 1946 he was granted a permanent commission in the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) as a Lieutenant with backdated seniority of 10 October 1940. In January 1947, he was appointed communications officer of the sloop HMIS Cauvery(U10), then deployed at Karachi.
On 30 June 1949, at the end of the goodwill mission, Nanda was promoted substantive lieutenant-commander and to the acting rank of Commander. He was appointed director of personnel services (DPS) at Naval headquarters. Nanda was promoted to substantive commander on 31 December 1950. He served as the DPS for about two years. On 10 October 1951, he took command of the R-class destroyer, INS Ranjit(1949). The Ranjit was part of the 11th Destroyer Squadron commanded by Captain Ram Dass Katari. The other two ships in the squadron were INS Rajput(D141) and INS Rana(1942). Nanda took the ship on a goodwill cruise to Singapore, Saigon, Jakarta and other ports in Indonesia like Bali. In Jakarta, he called on and was received by the first President of Indonesia, Sukarno.
Nanda took command of INS Jamuna(U21) on 31 August 1953 after returning to Bombay. He was also appointed Captain (F) 12th Frigate Squadron. On 15 February 1954, he was promoted to the acting rank of captain and appointed CAPBRAX (captain naval barracks) and commanding officer of INS Angre. After a short stint, he was transferred back to Naval Headquarters as Chief of Personnel (COP) in September 1954. He was promoted to substantive captain on 31 December 1954. He served as the COP for about two and a half years. In September 1956, he was promoted to commodore 2nd Class.
Personally selected by the Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon, Nanda took over as the Director General Naval Dockyard Expansion Scheme (DG-NDES) on 1 October 1958. He undertook a major expansion of the dockyard. He extended the dimensions of the cruiser dock to accommodate the aircraft carrier HMS Hercules(R49) being acquired from the UK. This resulted in tremendous advantage for the Indian Navy. For distinguished service during his tenure as DG-NDES, Nanda was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal in 1961. In June 1960, he was appointed Officer on Special Duty (OSD) at Naval HQ. Nanda was selected to attend the Imperial Defence College and embarked for the UK in early 1961. After completing the year-long course, he returned to India and was appointed Chief of Materiel (COM) in February 1962.
Nanda took over as Flag Officer Bombay (FOB) on 1 February 1968. In March 1968, the reorganisation of the Navy took place. Posts were upgraded and created at the Naval HQ as well as the naval commands. Nanda was promoted to the rank of vice admiral and became the first Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief (FOC-in-C) Western Naval Command. Nanda organised the Navy Week in December 1969 which culminated with the review of the Indian Naval Fleet by PresidentV. V. Giri. A successful event, it raised the navy's profile in Bombay. The Navy Week involved the businessmen, industrialists, Bollywood stars and the society at large. Funds were raised and a Sailors' home and an Officers' Mess was also built.
Chief of Naval Staff
Admiral Nanda reviewing an honour guard at INS Adyar in 1972.
In November 1969, the GOI decided to appoint Nanda as the next CNS in succession to Admiral Adhar Kumar Chatterji. On 1 March 1970, Nanda took command as the 7th Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy. 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 recognised the need to raise the Navy's profile and capabilities. 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.
The Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 was sparked by the Bangladesh Liberation war, a conflict between the traditionally dominant West Pakistanis and the majority East Pakistanis. In 1970, East Pakistanis demanded autonomy for the state, but the Pakistani government failed to satisfy these demands and, in early 1971, a demand for secession took root in East Pakistan. In March, the Pakistan Armed Forces launched a fierce campaign to curb the secessionists, the latter including soldiers and police from East Pakistan. Thousands of East Pakistanis died, and nearly ten million refugees fled to West Bengal, an adjacent Indian state. In April, India decided to assist in the formation of the new nation of Bangladesh.
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 war lasted less than a fortnight and saw more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers taken prisoner. It ended with the unconditional surrender of Pakistan's eastern half and resulted in the birth of Bangladesh as a new nation. In addition to the POWs, Pakistan suffered 6,000 casualties against India's 2,000. The success of the naval blockades on two fronts is considered one of the primary factors in India's overwhelming victory during the war. For his services to the nation, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in January 1972.
Nanda retired from the Indian Navy on 30 August 1973. He was appointed chairman and managing director (CMD) of the largest shipping company in India, the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) in May 1974.
At the age of 21, Nanda was married to Sumitra, a lady chosen by his parents. The marriage was harmonious and lasted all their lives, during which they were fated to suffer many vicissitudes together, ranging from the partition of India which uprooted them from their native land, to the heights of honour when Nanda became chief of the Indian Navy. The couple were the parents of several children, including a son, Suresh Nanda (ex-naval officer and businessman) and Beena Mehra, wife of Major Pradeep Kumar Mehra, founder of Usha Stud Farm on the outskirts of Delhi.
Nanda suffered a personal tragedy when his daughter Beena died in a helicopter crash. She was married to Major Pradeep Kumar Mehra, an army officer and polo enthusiast who founded and ran Usha Stud Farm on the outskirts of Delhi. The couple were the parents of three grown-up daughters. On 2 January 2002, Beena Mehra, her husband and their daughter Radhika were all killed in a helicopter crash while flying from Mussourie to Dehradun Airport after attending a New Year's Day party. Their other two daughters, Ameeta and Devika, survived since they was not on the helicopter; Ameeta Mehra now runs Usha Stud Farm.
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. The organization was surrounded by a controversy when Operation West End a sting-operation which aimed to expose corruption between India's defence ministry and Crown Corporation. The allegation on Admiral Nanda's son, Suresh Nanda, was closed by CBI when no evidence was found.
CNS Adm Sureesh Mehta and other Naval Officers paying tribute to Adm Nanda.
Another incident that caused turmoil in the family was the 1999 Delhi hit-and-run case, which involved Admiral Nanda's grandson Sanjeev Nanda. Sanjeev Nanda was found guilty by the Supreme Court of India. The accident and the trial attracted a lot of media attention and became one of the cases that exemplified middle class India's frustration with rich and powerful people being able to circumvent the law.
Later years and death
In the later years of his life, Nanda wrote his autobiography titled The Man Who Bombed Karachi: A Memoir. The book provides an insider's account and the reminisces how India adapted an inventive strategy to defeat Pakistan, and the 32 years of his naval career. Nanda participated in interviews on Indian War Heroes, a popular one being the interview by Sushil Sharma in 1997. His tactics in India's victory is still being discussed by channels on YouTube and Indian websites.
Admiral Nanda died in New Delhi on 11 May 2009 at the age of 93. He was survived by his wife Sumitra Nanda (died Feb 2011), son Suresh Nanda and grandchildren. His funeral was marked with full military honours at Brar Square Crematorium in New Delhi and was attended by top brass of Armed Forces.The Telegraph however wrote that it was not as well attended as his naval career mandated.