Sunday, February 21, 1999
WHILE a lot is known about the classical liberation of Goa, little is known about the heroic battle of Daman and Diu, where maximum fighting took place, causing quite a few casualties to Indian soldiers and a lot more to the Portuguese troops. Twentyseven years ago Operation Vijay was the code name given to the Indian Armys plan to liberate Goa, Daman and Diu from nearly 450 years of Portuguese rule. Even after 14 years of Indias Independence, the Portuguese stubbornly continued to occupy these territories in spite of the local populations struggle against occupation and suppression. Indian troops moved in on December 18, 1961, under the overall command of Lt-Gen J.N. Chaudhuri, GOC-in-C, Southern Command. Goa was captured with relative ease following a three-pronged drive by 17 Infantry Division under the command of Major-Gen K.P. Kandeth. However, the enclaves of Daman and Diu were captured under stiff resistance by 1 Maratha Light Infantry (1 Maratha) and 20 Rajput (Jodhpur), respectively.
Daman, just about 72 square km in area, was a small Portuguese enclave located at the southern end of Gujarat bordering Maharashtra and just about 193 km and four hours drive north of Bombay. The countryside is broken, interspersed with marsh, salt pans, nallahs, paddy fields, coconut and palm groves. The river Daman Ganga splits the capital city of Daman into two halves Nani (north) and Moti (South). An airfield was (and still is) located in Nani Daman. The Portuguese garrison in Daman was headed by a Governor, Major Antonio Bose da Costa Pinto, with 360 armed Portuguese troops, 200 policemen and about 30 customs officials under him. The strategically important features were Daman Fort, the Air Control Tower (ACT) of the airfield and, of course, the Daman Ganga separating Daman City.
The key components of the plan of 1 Maratha under its Commanding Officer, Lt-Col SJS Bhonsle, were the swift occupation of the Daman airfield, the need for speed to avoid unnecessary casualties to own troops and a force self contained for 10 days. The plan was to capture Daman piecemeal in four phases, to start with the area of the airfield, then progressively to area garden, Nani Daman and finally Moti Daman to include the fort. During the wee hours on December 18 the start line was crossed. However, the surprise was lost when A Company (Coy) tried to capture the Air Control Tower (ACT) and the battalion suffered its first three casualties. The enemy lost one soldier while six were taken captive. D Coy captured Point 365, just before first light. At the crack of dawn two sorties of Mystier fighters attacked enemy mortar positions and the guns inside the Moti Daman Fort. The momentum of the advance by the Marathas was carefully maintained and monitored. By noon the airfield was negotiated by A and C Coys simultaneously. In the ensuing exchange of fire A Coy lost one more man while seven were wounded.
However, the Portuguese had had enough as the Marathas kept on advancing aggressively. The next morning the Secretary to the Governor of Daman with some civilians displaying a white flag came forward to surrender unconditionally. Later, the Governor, who was wounded, came forward himself to meet the CO and soon the garrison commander Major Antonio Jose da Costa ordered his forces to cease fire as he signed the document of unconditional surrender. In this operation the unit lost four men, including a JCO, while 14 were wounded, earning one VSM for the CO, two Sena Medals and five Mentioned in Dispatches, while the enemys casualties were more than double. Approximately 600 Portuguese were taken captive (including 24 officers) and a large quantity of arms, ammunition and vehicles were captured.
At the Diu theatre, Lt Col Bhupinder Singh, CO of 20 Rajput (Jodhpur) was told to capture Diu, a small island just 39 square km in size located at the southern coast of the Saurashtra peninsula. The unit concentrated at Una near Diu by December 17, 1961. Patrols were sent to the village of Kob and beyond to observe the pattern of the tides, phase of the moon and the likely crossing places on the creek, after which it was decided to cross the creek from the northern side of the island. The operation was planned in two phases. In phase one the Diu airfield was to be captured to block the advance of the Portuguese and to stop any reinforcements from coming in. In phase two the entire island was to be captured. In consonance with the plans the unit started its final preparation.
Again, during the wee hours of December 18, 1961, A and C Coys launched their boats and phase one of the operation commenced. As the companies reached the middle of the creek the Portuguese on Diu opened fire with two MMGs and two LMGs, capsizing some of the Rajput boats. Major Mal Singh along with five men pressed on his advance and crossed the creek. On reaching the far bank he and his men assaulted the LMG trenches at Fort-De-Cova and silenced them. The Portuguese MMG fire from another position wounded the officer and two of his men. However, with the brave efforts of company Havildar Major Mohan Singh and two other men, the three wounded were evacuated to shore and safety. As dawn approached the enemy increased the intensity of fire and the battalions water crossing equipment suffered extensive damage. As a result the CO had to order the battalion to fall back to Kob village by first light.
Soon after dawn, the Indian Air Force was requisitioned and they bombed the island of Diu. Sitting on the home bank the troops could see the enemy ammunition, petroleum dumps and water reservoirs being destroyed by the bombers. Fort-De-Cova, Secho and Fort-De-Mar, which were the Portuguese strong points, were heavily damaged. The Indian naval ship Delhi, which was positioned on the eastern edge of Diu island, also joined in and took on targets at Fort-De-Mar and the citadel.
Later that evening B company, which had now relieved C company of 4 Madras at Gogis, destroyed other enemy positions with rockets and six pounder guns. The Portuguese finally gave up their resistance and indicated their willingness to surrender. Their emissaries were brought to the battalion headquarters for formal talks and on December 19 by noon the Portuguese formally laid down their arms. In this swift action the battalion took 403 Portuguese as prisoners, which included the Lieut-Governor of the island along with 18 officers and 43 sergeants. For their gallant action Major Mal Singh and Sepoy Hakam Singh were awarded Ashok Chakra (Class III).
While the Portuguese did
not offer any determined resistance in Goa, their
garrisons in Daman and Diu put up a stiff fight before
surrendering. A likely explanation of this is that the
authorities in Goa lost touch with these enclaves and
thus they could not pass on to them the instructions to
cease resistance. All these three operations were classic
inter-services joint operations where speed, secrecy and
well co-ordinated actions of the Indian Army, Navy and
the IAF played handsome dividends, thus assuring total
success in all spheres.
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