This Day in History: Operation Vijay (1961)

Operation Vijay (1961)

The Annexation of Goa was the process in which the Republic of India annexed the former Portuguese Indian territories of Goa, Daman and Diu, starting with the “armed action” carried out by the Indian Armed Forces in December 1961. Depending on the view, this action is referred as the “Liberation of Goa” or the “Invasion of Goa”. Following the end of Portuguese rule in 1961, Goa was placed under military administration headed by Kunhiraman Palat Candeth as Lieutenant Governor.[5] On 8 June 1962, military rule was replaced by civilian government when the Lieutenant Governor nominated an informal Consultative Council of 29 nominated members to assist him in the administration of the territory.[6]

The “armed action” was code named Operation Vijay (meaning “Victory”) by the Indian Armed Forces. It involved air, sea and land strikes for over 36 hours, and was a decisive victory for India, ending 451 years of rule by Portugal over its remaining exclaves in India. The engagement lasted two days, and twenty-two Indians and thirty Portuguese were killed in the fighting.[2] The brief conflict drew a mixture of worldwide praise and condemnation. In India, the action was seen as a liberation of historically Indian territory, while Portugal viewed it as an aggression against national soil and its citizens.

After India’s independence from the British Empire in August 1947, Portugal continued to hold a handful of exclaves on the Indian subcontinent—the districts of Goa, Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli—collectively known as the Estado da Índia. Goa, Daman and Diu covered an area of around 1,540 square miles (4,000 km2) and held a population of 637,591.[7] The Goan diaspora was estimated at 175,000 (about 100,000 within the Indian Union, mainly in Bombay).[8] Religious distribution was 61% Hindu, 36.7% Christian (mostly Catholic) and 2.2% Muslim.[8] The economy was primarily based on agriculture, although the 1940s and 1950s saw a boom in mining—principally iron ore and some manganese.[8]

Resistance to Portuguese rule in Goa in the 20th century was pioneered by Tristão de Bragança Cunha, a French-educated Goan engineer who founded the Goa Congress Committee in Portuguese India in 1928. Cunha released a booklet called ‘Four hundred years of Foreign Rule’, and a pamphlet, ‘Denationalisation of Goa’, intended to sensitise Goans to the oppression of Portuguese rule. Messages of solidarity were received by the Goa Congress Committee from leading figures in the Indian independence movement including Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose. On 12 October 1938, Cunha with other members of the Goa Congress Committee met Subhas Chandra Bose, the President of the Indian National Congress, and on his advice, opened a Branch Office of the Goa Congress Committee at 21, Dalal Street, Bombay. The Goa Congress was also made affiliate to the Indian National Congress and Cunha was selected its first President.[9]

In June 1946, Ram Manohar Lohia, an Indian Socialist leader, entered Goa on a visit to his friend, Julião Menezes, a nationalist leader, who had founded the Gomantak Praja Mandal in Bombay and edited the weekly newspaper Gomantak. Cunha and other leaders were also with him.[9] Ram Manohar Lohia advocated the use of non-violent Gandhian techniques to oppose the government.[10] On 18 June 1946, the Portuguese government disrupted a protest against the suspension of civil liberties in Panaji (then spelt ‘Panjim’) organised by Lohia, Cunha and others including Purushottam Kakodkar and Laxmikant Bhembre in defiance of a ban on public gatherings, and arrested them.[11][12] There were intermittent mass demonstrations from June to November.

In addition to non-violent protests, armed groups such as the Azad Gomantak Dal (The Free Goa Party) and the United Front of Goans conducted violent attacks aimed at weakening Portuguese rule in Goa.[13] The Indian government supported the establishment of armed groups like the Azad Gomantak Dal, giving them full financial, logistic and armament support. The armed groups acted from bases situated in Indian territory and under cover of Indian police forces. The Indian government—through these armed groups—attempted to destroy economic targets, telegraph and telephone lines, road, water and rail transport, in order to impede economic activity and create conditions for a general uprising of the population.[14] A Portuguese army officer stationed with the army in Goa, Captain Carlos Azaredo, stated in 2001 in the Portuguese newspaper Expresso: “To the contrary to what is being said, the most evolved guerilla warfare which our Armed Forces encountered was in Goa. I know what I’m talking about, because I also fought in Angola and in Guiné. In 1961 alone, until December, around 80 policemen died. The major part of the terrorists of Azad Gomantak Dal were not Goans. Many had fought in the British Army, under General Montgomery, against the Germans.”[15]


Goa, Western India
On 27 February 1950, the Government of India asked the Portuguese government to open negotiations about the future of Portuguese colonies in India.[16] Portugal asserted that its territory on the Indian subcontinent was not a colony but part of metropolitan Portugal and hence its transfer was non-negotiable, and that India had no rights to this territory because the Republic of India did not exist at the time when Goa came under Portuguese rule.[17] When the Portuguese government refused to respond to subsequent aide-mémoires in this regard, the Indian government, on 11 June 1953, withdrew its diplomatic mission from Lisbon.[18]

By 1954, the Republic of India instituted visa restrictions on travel from Goa to India which paralysed transport between Goa and other exclaves like Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli.[16] Meanwhile, the Indian Union of Dockers had, in 1954, instituted a boycott on shipping to Portuguese India.[19] Between 22 July and 2 August 1954, armed activists attacked and forced the surrender of Portuguese forces stationed in Dadra and Nagar Haveli.[20]

On 15 August 1955, 3000–5000 unarmed Indian activists[21] attempted to enter Goa at six locations and were violently repulsed by Portuguese police officers, resulting in the deaths of between 21[22] and 30[23] people.[24] The news of the massacre built public opinion in India against the presence of the Portuguese in Goa.[25] On 1 September 1955, India shut its consul office in Goa.[26]

In 1956, the Portuguese ambassador to France, Marcello Mathias, along with Portuguese Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar, argued in favour of a referendum in Goa to determine its future. This proposal was however rejected by the Ministers for Defence and Foreign Affairs. The demand for a referendum was repeated by presidential candidate General Humberto Delgado in 1957.[16]

Prime Minister Salazar, alarmed by India’s hinted threats at armed action against Portugal’s presence in Goa, first asked the United Kingdom to mediate, then protested through Brazil and eventually asked the United Nations Security Council to intervene.[27] Mexico offered the Indian government its influence in Latin America to bring pressure on the Portuguese to relieve tensions.[28] Meanwhile, Krishna Menon, India’s defence minister and head of India’s UN delegation, stated in no uncertain terms that India had not “abjured the use of force” in Goa.[27] The US ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, requested the Indian government on several occasions to resolve the issue peacefully through mediation and consensus rather than armed conflict.[29][30]

Eventually, on 10 December, nine days prior to the invasion, Nehru stated to the press: “Continuance of Goa under Portuguese rule is an impossibility”.[27] The American response was to warn India that if and when India’s armed action in Goa was brought to the UN security council, it could expect no support from the US delegation.[31]

On 24 November 1961, Sabarmati, a passenger boat passing between the Portuguese-held island of Anjidiv and the Indian port of Kochi, was fired upon by Portuguese ground troops, resulting in the death of a passenger and injuries to the chief engineer. The action was precipitated by Portuguese fears that the boat carried a military landing party intent on storming the island.[32] The incidents lent themselves to fostering widespread public support in India for military action in Goa.

Annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli

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The hostilities between India and Portugal started seven years before the invasion of Goa, when Dadra and Nagar Haveli were invaded and occupied by pro-Indian forces with the support of the Indian authorities.

Dadra and Nagar Haveli were two Portuguese landlocked exclaves of the Daman district, totally surrounded by Indian territory. The connection between the exclaves and the coastal territory of Daman had to be made by crossing about 20 kilometres (12 mi) of Indian territory. Dadra and Nagar Haveli did not have any Portuguese military garrison, but only police forces.

The Indian government started to develop isolation actions against Dadra and Nagar Haveli already in 1952, including the creation of impediments to the transit of persons and goods between the two landlocked enclaves and Daman. In July 1954, pro-Indian forces, including members of organisations like the United Front of Goans, the National Movement Liberation Organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Azad Gomantak Dal, with the support of Indian Police forces, began to launch assaults against Dadra and Nagar Haveli. On the night of 22 July, UFG forces stormed the small Dadra police station, killing Police Sergeant Aniceto do Rosário and Constable António Fernandes, who resisted the attack. On 28 July, RSS forces took Naroli police station.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese authorities asked the Indian Government for permission to cross the Indian territory with reinforcements to Dadra and Nagar Haveli, but no permission was given. Surrounded and prevented from receiving reinforcements by the Indian authorities, the Portuguese Administrator and police forces in Nagar Haveli eventually surrendered to the Indian police forces on 11 August 1954. Portugal appealed to the International Court of Justice, which, in a decision dated 12 April 1960,[33] stated that Portugal had sovereign rights over the territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli but India had the right to deny passage to armed personnel of Portugal over Indian territories. Therefore, the Portuguese authorities could not legally pass through Indian territory.


Events preceding the hostilities

Indian military build-up

On receiving the go-ahead for military action and a mandate for the capture of all occupied territories for the Indian government, Lieutenant-General Chaudhari of India’s Southern Army fielded the 17th Infantry Division and the 50th Parachute Brigade commanded by Major-General K. P. Candeth. The assault on the enclave of Daman was assigned to the 1st battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry while the operations in Diu were assigned to the 20th battalion of the Rajput Regiment and the 5th battalion of the Madras Regiment.[34]

Meanwhile, the Commander-in-Chief of India’s Western Air Command, Air Vice Marshal Erlic Pinto, was appointed as the commander of all air resources assigned to the operations in Goa. Air resources for the assault on Goa were concentrated in the bases at Pune and Sambra (Belgaum).[34] The mandate handed to Pinto by the Indian Air Command was listed out as follows:

The destruction of Goa’s lone airfield in Dabolim, without causing damage to the terminal building and other airport facilities.
Destruction of the wireless station at Bambolim, Goa.
Denial of airfields at Daman and Diu, which were, however, not to be attacked without prior permission.
Support to advancing ground troops.
The Indian Navy deployed two warships—the INS Rajput, an ‘R’ Class destroyer, and INS Kirpan, a Blackwood class anti-submarine frigate—off the coast of Goa. The actual attack on Goa was delegated to four task groups: a Surface Action Group comprising five ships: Mysore, Trishul, Betwa, Beas and Cauvery; a Carrier Group of five ships: Delhi, INS Kuthar, Kirpan, INS Khukri and Rajput centred on the light aircraft carrier Vikrant; a Mine Sweeping Group consisting of mine sweepers including Karwar, Kakinada, Cannonore and Bimilipatan, and a Support Group which consisted of Dharini.[35]


Portuguese mandate
In March 1960, Portuguese Defence Minister General Júlio Botelho Moniz told Prime Minister Salazar that a sustained Portuguese campaign against decolonisation would create for the army “a suicide mission in which we could not succeed”. His opinion was shared by Army Minister Colonel Afonso Magalhães de Almeida Fernandes, by the Army under secretary of State Lieutenant-Colonel Francisco da Costa Gomes and by other top officers.[36]

Ignoring this advice, Salazar sent a message to Governor General Manuel António Vassalo e Silva in Goa on 14 December, in which he ordered the Portuguese forces in Goa to fight to the last man: “Do not expect the possibility of truce or of Portuguese prisoners, as there will be no surrender rendered because I feel that our soldiers and sailors can be either victorious or dead.”[37] Salazar asked Vassalo e Silva to hold out for at least eight days, within which time he hoped to gather international support against the Indian invasion. Vassalo e Silva disobeyed Salazar to avoid the unnecessary loss of human lives and surrendered the following day after the Indian invasion.[37]


Portuguese military preparations
Portuguese military preparations began in earnest in 1954, following the Indian economic blockade, the beginning of the anti-Portuguese attacks in Goa and the invasion of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Three light infantry battalions (one each sent from Portugal, Angola and Mozambique) and support units were transported to Goa, reinforcing a local raised battalion and increasing the Portuguese military presence there from almost nothing to 12,000 men.[15] Other sources state that, at the end of 1955, Portuguese forces in India represented a total of around 8,000 men (Europeans, Africans and Indians), including 7,000 in the land forces, 250 in the naval forces, 600 in the police and 250 in the Fiscal Guard, split between the districts of Goa, Daman and Diu.[38] Following the annexation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, the Portuguese authorities markedly strengthened the garrison of Portuguese India, with units and personnel sent from the Metropole and from the Portuguese African provinces of Angola and Mozambique.

The Portuguese forces were organised as the Armed Forces of the State of India (FAEI, Forças Armadas do Estado da Índia), under a unified command headed by General Paulo Bénard Guedes, who combined the civil role of Governor-General with the military role of Commander-in-Chief. Guedes ended his commission in 1958, with General Vassalo e Silva being appointed to replace him in both the civil and military roles.[38]

The Portuguese government and military commands were, however, well aware that even with this effort to strengthen the garrison of Goa, the Portuguese forces would never be sufficient to face a conventional attack from the overwhelmingly stronger Indian Armed Forces. The Portuguese government hoped however to politically deter the Indian government from attempting a military aggression through the showing of a strong will to fight and to sacrifice to defend Goa.[38]

In 1960, during an inspection visit to Portuguese India and referring to a predictable start of guerrilla activities in Angola, the Under Secretary of State of the Army, Francisco da Costa Gomes, stated the necessity to reinforce the Portuguese military presence in that African territory, partly at the expense of the military presence in Goa, where the then existing 7,500 men were too many just to deal with anti-Portuguese actions, and too few to face an Indian invasion, which, if it were to occur, would have to be handled by other means. This led to the Portuguese forces in India suffering a sharp reduction to about 3,300 soldiers.[38]

Faced with this reduced force strength, the strategy employed to defend Goa against an Indian invasion was based on the Plano Sentinela (Sentinel Plan), which divided the territory into four defence sectors (North, Center, South and Mormugão), and the Plano de Barragens (Barrage Plan), which envisaged the demolition of all bridges to delay the invading army, as well as the mining of approach roads and beaches. Defence units were organised as four battlegroups (agrupamentos), with one assigned to each sector and tasked with slowing the progress of an invading force. Then-Captain Carlos Azaredo, who was stationed in Goa at the time of hostilities, described the Plano Sentinela in the Portuguese newspaper Expresso on 8 December 2001 as “a totally unrealistic and unachievable plan, which was quite incomplete. It was based on exchange of ground with time. But, for this purpose, portable communication equipment was necessary.”[15] The plans to mine roads and beaches were also unviable because of a desperate shortage of mines.[39]


The naval component of the FAEI were the Naval Forces of the State of India (FNEI, Forças Navais do Estado da Índia), headed by the Naval Commander of Goa, Commodore Raúl Viegas Ventura. The only significant Portuguese Navy warship present in Goa at the time of invasion was the sloop NRP Afonso de Albuquerque.[40] It was armed with four 120 mm guns capable of two shots per minute, and four automatic rapid-firing guns. In addition to the sloop, the Portuguese Naval Forces had three light patrol boats (lanchas de fiscalização), each armed with a 20 mm Oerlikon gun, one based in each of Goa, Daman and Diu. There were also five merchant marine ships in Goa.[41] An attempt by Portugal to send naval warships to Goa to reinforce its marine defences was foiled when President Nasser of Egypt denied the ships access to the Suez Canal.[42][43][44]


Ground forces
Portuguese ground defences were organised as the Land Forces of the State of India (FTEI, Forças Terrestres do Estado da Índia), under the Portuguese Army’s Independent Territorial Command of India, headed by Brigadier António José Martins Leitão. At the time of the invasion, they consisted of a total of 3,995 men, including 810 native (Indo-Portugueses – Indo-Portuguese) soldiers, many of whom had little military training and were utilised primarily for security and anti-extremist operations. These forces were divided amongst the three Portuguese enclaves in India.[38] The Portuguese Army units in Goa included four motorised reconnaissance squadrons, eight rifle companies (caçadores), two artillery batteries and an engineer detachment. In addition to the military forces, the Portuguese defences counted on the civil internal security forces of Portuguese India. These included the State of India Police (PEI, Polícia do Estado da Índia), a general police corps modelled after the Portuguese Public Security Police; the Fiscal Guard (Guarda Fiscal), responsible for Customs enforcement and border protection; and the Rural Guard (Guarda Rural), game wardens. In 1958, as an emergency measure, the Portuguese government gave provisional military status to the PEI and the Fiscal Guard, placing them under the command of the FAEI. The security forces were also divided amongst the three districts and were mostly made up of Indo-Portuguese policemen and guards. Different sources indicate between 900 and 1400 men as the total effective strength of these forces at the time of the invasion.[38]


Air defence
The Portuguese Air Force did not have any presence in Portuguese India, with the exception of a single officer with the role of air adviser in the office of the Commander-in-Chief.[38]

On 16 December, the Portuguese Air Force was placed on alert to transport ten tonnes of anti-tank grenades in two DC-6 aircraft from Montijo Air Base in Portugal to Goa to assist in its defence. When the Portuguese Air Force was unable to obtain stopover facilities at any air base along the way because most countries, including Pakistan, denied passage of Portuguese military aircraft, the mission was passed to the Portuguese international civilian airline TAP, which offered a Lockheed Constellation (registration CS-TLA) on charter. However, when permission to transport weapons through Karachi was denied by the Pakistani government, the Constellation landed in Goa at 18:00 on 17 December with a consignment of half a dozen bags of sausages as food supplies instead of the intended grenades. In addition it transported a contingent of female paratroopers to assist in the evacuation of Portuguese civilians.[45]

The Portuguese air presence in Goa at the time of hostilities was thus limited to the presence of two civilian transport aircraft, the Lockheed Constellation belonging to TAP and a Douglas DC-4 Skymaster belonging to the Goan airline Portuguese India Airlines. The Indians claimed that the Portuguese had a squadron of F-86 Sabres stationed at Dabolim Airport—which later turned out to be false intelligence. Air defence was limited to a few obsolete anti-aircraft guns manned by two artillery units who had been smuggled into Goa disguised as football teams.[32]


Portuguese civilian evacuation
The military buildup created panic amongst Europeans in Goa, who were desperate to evacuate their families before the commencement of hostilities. On 9 December, the vessel India arrived at Goa’s Mormugão port en route to Lisbon from Timor. Despite orders from the Portuguese government in Lisbon not to allow anyone to embark on this vessel, Governor General Manuel Vassalo e Silva allowed 700 Portuguese civilians of European origin to board the ship and flee Goa. The ship had capacity for only 380 passengers, and was filled to its limits, with evacuees occupying even the toilets.[32] On arranging this evacuation of women and children, Vassalo e Silva remarked to the press, “If necessary, we will die here.” Evacuation of European civilians continued by air even after the commencement of Indian air strikes.[46]


Indian reconnaissance operations
Indian reconnaissance operations had commenced on 1 December, when two Leopard class frigates, the INS Betwa and the INS Beas, undertook linear patrolling of the Goa coast at a distance of 8 miles (13 km). By 8 December, the Indian Air Force had commenced baiting missions and fly-bys to lure out Portuguese air defences and fighters.[citation needed]

On 17 December, a tactical reconnaissance flight conducted by Squadron Leader I. S. Loughran in a Vampire NF54 Night Fighter over Dabolim Airport in Goa was met with five rounds fired from a ground anti-aircraft gun. The aircraft took evasive action by drastically dropping altitude and escaping out to sea. The anti-aircraft gun was later recovered near the ATC building with a round jammed in its breech.[47]

The Indian light aircraft carrier INS 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.



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