The 1961 Operation Vijay Lessons for the Contemporary Indian Navy
Every Military Operation carries its own lore and saga of rich military experiences. Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, Director Naval Maritime Foundation gives an insightful historical account of the less remembered but historically significant 1961 Naval Operations against the Portuguese in Goa, Daman and Diu and details important lessons of relevance for coordination and planning for present day operations
At the time of India’s Independence from the British Empire in 1947, Portugal, which, too, was a colonial power in India, still retained a handful of ‘enclaves’ within our newly independent nation-state. These were Goa, Daman, Diu, Dadra, and, Nagar Haveli. Within the Portuguese administration of the time, these were collectively known as the Estado da Índia.
While Nagar Haveli is wedged between contemporary Maharashtra and Gujarat, Dadra is an enclave that is just one kilometre north-west of Nagar Haveli, but is surrounded on all sides by the present Indian state of Gujarat. Nagar Haveli was occupied by the Portuguese on 10 June 1783, as compensation for the damage inflicted by the Maratha Navy upon the Portuguese frigate (the Santana). The Portuguese subsequently (in 1785) purchased Dadra. Both these tiny enclaves were annexed by India in 1954, although their formal amalgamation into the Union of India was a part of the treaty of 31 December 1974, which recognised India’s sovereignty over all former Portuguese holdings in India. Today, Silvassa is the shared capital of this present-day Union Territory of India.
Goa - thanks largely to its lively and extensive tourism policy - is well-ensconced in the consciousness of contemporary India. However, the story of Daman and Diu is less familiar. Indeed, many Indians, even today, are not particularly sure where exactly these places are! Although they jointly constitute a Union Territory (UT) of the Republic of India, the two districts are geographically distant from each other - some 412 miles, i.e., 663 kilometres separate them! Daman, occupying an area of 72 square kilometres, is located in Gujarat, a mere 170 kilometres north of Mumbai. Diu on the other hand, is a small, low island (altitude 6-metres above mean sea level) with an area of just 40 square kilometres only 21 kilometres of coastline, lying just off the southern tip of the Kathiawar coast, near the port of Veraval in Gujarat.
The Portuguese, having established a military base in Goa in 1520, commenced northerly explorations up the West Coast of India. They first noticed the port of Daman in 1523 and made several abortive attempts to acquire it from the Shah of Gujarat. In 1559, the military governor of Goa, Viceroy Don Constantino de Braganza, arrived with a large fleet of ships and landed on the shore of Daman. The defence of Daman had been entrusted to an Abyssinian (an Ethiopian), but he surrendered without a fight and the port was ceded to the Portuguese.
The Portuguese saga pertaining to Diu began in 1535, when Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, was attacked by the Mughal Emperor Humayun. Bahadur Shah entered into a defensive alliance with the Portuguese and allowed them to construct a fortress on the island and maintain a garrison there. Failed successive attempts to oust the Portuguese, in 1536, 1545 and 1546, sealed the fate of Diu for the next 400 years.
When India gained her Independence on 15 August 1947, it would have been entirely in the fitness of things had Portugal - taking a leaf out of the France’s book (France held Pondicherry, Chandernagore, Yanam and Mahé but handed over all of them) — equally gracefully withdrawn from its own enclaves. However, the Portuguese did no such thing.
Independent India and Portugal established formaldiplomatic ties in December, 1947. In January 1948, the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, met Portuguese Consul and raised the issue of Goa’s integration into the Union of India, but there was little by way of response from Lisbon. India became a sovereign Republic on 26 January 1950, and on 27 February of that year, the Government of India formally asked the Government of Portugal (which was then headed by the dictator António de Oliviera Salazar) to initiate talks aimed at the handing over of all Portuguese enclaves in India. Portugal insisted that its territories in India were not colonies at all, but parts of metropolitan Portugal that had been in their possession since the 16th Century. As a consequence, they asserted, their transfer was non-negotiable and that the Government of India had no rights to them. With regard to Goa, the Portuguese stand was that since the Republic of India did not exist at the time when Goa came under Portuguese rule, there was no possibility of negotiation. Over the next three years, the matter was repeatedly raised by India, but to no avail. In 1953, diplomatic relations between the two countries deteriorated sharply and, on 11 June 1953, diplomatic ties were formally severed. In 1954, the Republic of India instituted visa restrictions on travel from Goa to India which paralysed transportation between Goa and the other Portuguese enclaves. On 01 September 1955, India shut its Consular Office in Goa.
On 24 November 1961, the Sabarmati, a passenger boat on passage between the Portuguese-held island of Anjadip and the Indian port of Cochin (now Kochi), was fired upon by Portuguese ground troops, who feared that the boat carried a military landing party intent on storming the island. While addressing the Indian Parliament on 11 December 1961, Pandit Nehru stated that India’s patience in respect of Portuguese activities in Goa had been exhausted and expressed the hope that Portugal, either on her own initiative or on the advice of her friends and allies, “would accept the natural culmination of the present developments, which is her withdrawal from Goa”. He went on to say that India’s policy of solving the Goa question by peaceful means had failed and that “we have been forced into thinking afresh by the Portuguese to adopt other methods to solve this problem”. The die had been cast.
Operation VIJAY - the tri-Service operation for the liberation of Goa, Daman and Diu - was placed in the hands of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). The CNS at the time was Vice Admiral (later Admiral) RD Katari, while at the theatre-level, India’s naval forces at sea were commanded by Rear Admiral (later Admiral) BS Soman, the Flag Officer Commanding the Indian Fleet [FOCIF].
Naval Deployments: Portugal
The ratcheting-up of Portuguese military preparations had begun in 1954 itself, following the imposition by New Delhi of visa restrictions on travel from Goa to India, which effectively paralysed all transportation between Goa and the other Portuguese enclaves. Insofar as naval forces are concerned, the Portuguese had broadcast the presence of as many as four frigates off the Indian coast (the Afonso de Albuquerque, the Batholomeu Dias, the Gonsalves Zarco, and, the Johao de Lisboa). In actual fact, the Portuguese Navy was only minimally represented by a single old frigate, the NRP Afonso de Albuquerque at Goa. This ship was armed with four 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns, capable of two rounds per minute, and four automatic rapid firing guns. Her limited capabilities were supplemented by a Light Patrol Boat-one of three- each armed with a 20 mm Oerlikon gun. The second patrol boat was based at Daman and the third at Diu. The Portuguese naval situation, like that of their military forces as a whole, was actually quite untenable. Yet, although desperately short of mines, ammunition, and, communication equipment, the Portuguese administration in Goa prepared for war, in compliance with Prime Minister Salazar’s instruction to resist an anticipated Indian military initiative.
Naval Deployments: India
The Navy constituted a Task Force, which was divided into four Task Groups comprising a ‘Surface-Action Group’ (SAG) with five ships, namely one Light Cruiser (the Mysore), and four Frigates (the Trishul, the Betwa, the Beas, and, the Cauvery); a ‘Carrier Task Group’ (CTG) that consisted of one Light Cruiser (the Delhi, one Destroyer (the Rajput) and three Frigates (the Kuthar, the Kirpan, and the Khukri), all centred upon the light aircraft carrier, the Vikrant; a ‘Mine-Sweeping Group’, made up of four Minesweepers (the Karwar, the Kakinada, the Cannanore, and the Bimilipatan); and, a ‘Support Group’, consisting solely of INS Dharini. The tasks given to the Naval Task Force were:
In respect of Goa:
• Enforce a blockade of the ports of Mormagao and Panjim.
• Neutralise the coast batteries defending these ports
• Sink or immobilise units of the Portuguese Navy deployed within Goa harbour or patrolling its sea approaches.
• Capture the island of Anjadip using a naval assault force.
• Provide ‘Naval-Gun Fire-Support’ (NGFS) to the naval assault force.
• Deploy carrier-borne aircraft to carry out strikes on Portuguese warships breaking through the patrol line off Goa, as also to provide naval air-support to the Army, if necessary.
In respect of Daman:
• Enforce a blockade of the entire sea area off Daman and prevent the ingress or egress of all vessels.
• Provide Naval-Gun Fire-Support (NGFS) and naval air-support to the Army.
In respect of Diu:
• Provide NGFS (and naval air-support, where necessary) to the Army.
• Neutralise the port and the citadel
• Land an ‘assault’ or an ‘occupation’ force if necessary.
In respect of the West Coast as a whole: Deploy carrier-borne aircraft to recce the sea-lanes off Bombay, to prevent any Portuguese warships from reaching within gun-range of Bombay, or approaching the Indian coast anywhere else.
Indian Naval operations commenced on 01 December itself, when two Indian frigates, the Betwa and the Beas, executed Operation CHUTNEY, which was the establishment and maintenance of a linear barrier-patrol at a distance of 8 miles (13 km) off the coast of Goa. The Carrier Task Force, centred upon the Vikrant, was deployed 75 miles (121 km) off the coast of Goa to head a possible amphibious operation on Goa, as well as to deter any foreign military intervention. The Trishul and the Mysore were tasked with the capture of Anjadip Island. The Trishul was to pass between the northern point of Anjadip and Bingé Point, keeping as close to the latter as possible, and was then to anchor in Bingé Bay. She was to lower her boats under the cover of her Bofors guns, while keeping a weather eye on any opposition that might emanate from the island. A motor boat, with a light machine gun mounted on its bows and with a whaler in tow, was to be used for the Landing Party. The Mysore was to patrol the seaward side of the island and cover the Trishul’s movements by carrying out a close-range bombardment of the western side of the island, with her light anti-aircraft Bofors guns.
Things proceeded as per plan and under covering fire from the ships, two waves of the Landing Party, under the command of Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) Arun Auditto, stormed the island at 1425 h on 18 December. The first wave landed without incident until the Portuguese garrison raised a white cease-fire flag. This lulled the second wave into believing that the landing would be unopposed. However, the Portuguese thereafter opened fire, killing seven and wounding 19 members of the Landing Party. Undaunted by this act of perfidy and in the face of lethal machine-gun and sniper fire from the Portuguese, the Landing Party went about their assigned task with great fortitude and silenced intermediate machine-gun posts, eventually succeeding in reaching a position of vantage overlooking the garrison. Thereafter, the Indian warships offshore switched over from the 40 mm Bofors guns to their main armament. Once 4.5-inch shells began raining down, the Portuguese morale and defences crumbled rapidly and the island was in Indian hands by 1425 h on 18 December.
Battle at Mormugão Harbour. The sole Portuguese frigate, the Afonso de Albuquerque, had been anchored off Mormugão Harbour and tasked to engage the Indian Navy and to defend the harbour and adjoining beaches. She was also to provide vital radio communications with Lisbon (a task that became critical after Portuguese radio facilities ashore had been destroyed by the Indian Air Force). By 9 a.m. on 18 December, three Indian frigates led by INS Betwa were poised off Mormugão. At 1100 h, the IAF bombed the harbour and at noon, the Betwa, accompanied by the Beas, entered harbour and engaged the Afonso de Albuquerque with their 4.5-inch guns, simultaneously and repeatedly directing the frigate to surrender. However, the Afonso de Albuquerque weighed anchor, faced the Indians and returned fire. She was at a grave disadvantage, since she had very little sea room and was consequently severely restricted in her ability to manoeuvre. Her problems were compounded by the fact that the firing rate of her four 120 mm guns was only two rounds per minute, compared to the 60 rounds-per-minute cadence of the guns aboard the Indian frigates. Eventually at 1250 h, having fired nearly 400 rounds at the Indians, the Captain of the severely damaged Afonso de Albuquerque gave the order to initiate the abandon ship.
Naval Operations undertaken at/off Diu
As planned, the light cruiser Delhi, had arrived 16-kilometres off Diu, at 0300 h on 18 December, and stood poised in theatre, awaiting the H-Hour (0400) to commence operations. In the wee hours of the morning of 18 Dec, the Indian Army (two Companies from 20 Rajput, along with 4 Madras) attempted to enter Diu under cover of darkness, but encountered stiff resistance from the Portuguese, because the island was quite flat and the beaches open. At the eastern end, where the Army was to cross, was high ground and perched on top was a solidly built citadel from where Portuguese artillery had opened fire to hold up the Indian Army to the point where the Army’s attack was fizzling out and its units were suffering heavy casualties. The Navy and the Air Force were then asked to soften-up the Portuguese defences. The Delhi closed the shore to a distance of just about one nautical mile (1.852 kilometres) and signalled an ultimatum to the watchtower in the citadel, “Strike your flag immediately and surrender”. Since there was no reply, the ship opened up with eleven broadsides being fired from its six, terrifying, 6-inch guns. The very first shots found their target. The whole lighthouse was lifted clean into the air, whereupon it disintegrated. The Indian Tricolour was hoisted on the citadel by officers from the Delhi, who were sent ashore by boat.
Outcome of the Conflict
On 19 Dec 13, despite orders to the contrary from Lisbon, Governor General Manuel António Vassalo de Silva took stock of the numerical superiority of the Indian troops, as well as the food and ammunition supplies available to his forces and took the decision to surrender. He later described his orders to destroy Goa as “um sacrifício inútil” (a useless sacrifice). The official Portuguese surrender was conducted in a formal ceremony held at 2030 h on 19 December, bringing to an end 451 years of Portuguese rule in India. The military operation took just two days. India lost 34 killed and 51 wounded. Portugal lost 31 killed, 57 wounded, and 4668 taken prisoner. Upon the surrender of the Portuguese, Goa, Daman and Diu were declared a federally administered Union Territories of India, with Maj Gen KP Candeth being appointed as the military governor.
Lessons for the Indian Navy
The 1961 Operation Vijay was the first major operation in which all three Armed Forces of the Republic of India participated. There were many lessons drawn from this brief operation that remain relevant to the contemporary Indian Navy.
• Criticality of Detailed Planning. The need for detailed and joint planning was a sharp lesson that remains of great contemporary relevance. The need to involve all the principal players in the planning process has been starkly brought out by Admiral BS Soman, the Flag Officer Commanding Indian Fleet at the time (he later became the CNS), when he wrote, “The first I heard of the proposed operations was at a meeting in Delhi - I do not remember the date now - to which I had been invited. I had no idea what the meeting was about and when, while waiting outside the Defence Minister’s office, Lieutenant General Chaudhuri asked me what were my plans for the operation, I said, What operation?.... The date had already been decided and when asked for, there was not much information available as to the number of Portuguese troops on Anjadip. I was told that there might be about 30 or 40 of them, mostly local Goans. I was also informed that the Delhi... would be acting independently, under NHQ orders, to support the Army for the action at Daman and Diu. Having gone through the Amphibious Operations course in the UK and having trained the Army in such operations at Mandapam during World War II, I was somewhat taken aback by the way the operation seemed to have been planned without the association of the Fleet Commander, a specialist in such operations, and that too, while committing sailors to play an Army role.....”
• Low Force-Availability. While it is commendable that the Navy was able to rise to the occasion and deploy the requisite number of surface combatants that were required, it is, nevertheless, a fact that right up to a fortnight before the operation, the Navy had only six ships that were operational and combat-worthy. The need for a credible number of combatants to constitute a genuine ‘Fleet-in-Being’ is clear.
• Preparedness for Amphibious Operations. An amphibious operation by the Army was ruled out as the required number of assault craft was not available, the troops deployed had not been trained in amphibious operations and there was no time available for such training. Although it was concluded that an amphibious operation would not offer any particular tactical advantage, the Indian Army and the Indian Navy seem to have learnt the correct lesson that preparedness for amphibious operations must always be maintained, so that the required flexibility-of-choices is available to senior planners.
• Choice of Surface versus Airborne Scouts for Reconnaissance. The location of Portuguese Coast Batteries had been indicated on charts, albeit of vintage circa 1880. However, despite the extensive deployment of Indian Naval surface combatants on surveillance patrols (Operation CHUTNEY) for a fortnight prior to the ‘D-Day’, the warships were unable confirm the existence of such batteries in the area of envisaged operations. It took air reconnaissance sorties by the IAF to confirm that the batteries were, indeed, in place. The lesson to be drawn from this is that each type of possible scout has advantages and disadvantages that need to be carefully considered before deciding the type of scout to be sent on a given scouting mission or task.
• Intelligence and Realistic Assessment of Enemy Strength. The need for good intelligence bears little elaboration. Operation VIJAY offers stark reminders of this. For instance, no definite information regarding Portuguese submarines operating in Indian waters was available but on the basis of the existence of a Submarine Arm in the Portuguese Navy, it was decided not to discount the submarine threat in the area. Likewise, Intelligence had indicated the presence of as many as four Portuguese frigates off the Indian coast (the Afonso de Albuquerque, the Batholomeu Dias, the Gonsalves Zarco, and, the Johao de Lisboa). In actual fact, the Portuguese Navy strength was limited to a single frigate (Afonso de Albuquerque) and three small Patrol Craft. In similar vein is the lack of intelligence on the defences at Diu and whether or not the Portuguese had coastal batteries on shore, which are issues that have already been adversely commented-upon by a few of the main protagonists involved in the operation. Thus, even the faulty and somewhat alarmist intelligence led to a wasteful preponderance of force on the part of the Indian Navy. This did not really matter in 1961, but contemporary wars, with their much larger regional-spread, are likely to be far less forgiving and the profligate deployment of forces in one area or theatre is very likely to lead to costly shortfalls elsewhere.
• Landing Parties. The inability of the Indian Navy to deploy a fully-trained Landing Party at short notice is another lesson that has been well-hoisted. The emphasis given to these aspects at the Indian Naval Academy offers tangible evidence of this.
The 1961 operations by our own Army, Navy and Air Force deserve far more detailed study than they are currently afforded and it is high time we stopped being besotted solely by operations undertaken by the armed forces of foreign powers.