On December 18, 1961, a platoon of the Indian Navy hoisted the Tricolour in the island of Anjadip off Canacona for the first time in the history of the last colonial outpost in the country. That was the beginning of the end of 451 years of Portuguese rule over Goa, Daman and Diu.
Officially, India intervened militarily in Goa on December 11, 1961, after it had become evident that the economic blockade that had been in force against the colony since 1955 had not worked, and the Portuguese administration was getting increasingly repressive.
The spark, though, was provided in November 1961, when the Portuguese contingent based at Anjadip island, off the coast of Canacona, fired at the Indian merchant ship Sabarmati in a display of its maritime supremacy in the region.
Subsequently, the Portuguese garrisons resorted to indiscriminate firing on Indian fishing boats off Karwar (in present-day Karnataka) and South Goa. As a result, two Indian naval ships — Rajput and Kirpan — were deployed on patrol to escort merchant shipping traffic and ensure safety of the fisherfolk.
On December 1, 1961, Operation Chutney, the precursor to Operation Vijay, was initiated by the Naval Headquarters to capture Anjadip. Indian Navy ships Betwa and Beas were deployed on linear patrol off Goa, and the Mysore and Trishul prepared to carry out an amphibious landing operation with a platoon of 75 sailors. They were led by Lieutenant Arun Auditto and Senior Commissioned Gunner N. Kelman.
The platoon embarked on INS Trishul on Dec 18, 1961, setting the operation underway. According to the plan, the platoon was to land in two waves on a beach that was 3km south of the main Portuguese garrison. Just before the first wave left INS Trishul, a large white flag of surrender was hoisted by the Portuguese on the island’s northern edge.
The first wave landed uneventfully on the beach as planned. Deeming the swaying of the white flag as a sign of surrender, the second group approached the island directly and were greeted by Portuguese machine gunfire, which riddled the Indian naval boats with bullet holes. One sailor died instantaneously and many were injured grievously.
This led to a full-fledged gun and grenade battle between the Indian and Portuguese soldiers for control over Anjadip. The first group under Lieutenant Arun Auditto proceeded as planned to capture the garrison on the northern ridge overlooking the town. INS Trishul opened fire on the north-western ridge.
The ferocity of the fire with which the Indian naval ship responded forced the well-entrenched enemy garrison to surrender. The INS Trishul was then joined by the INS Mysore. Jointly, they directed their fire power on the northern part of the island from the south-east (Mysore) and south-west (Trishul). The Portuguese were outmatched and they surrendered.
The Indian Tricolour was hoisted on Anjadip at 2:25 p.m. on December 18, 1961. Seven sailors made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation; two officers and 17 sailors were wounded.
Lt. Auditto, the leader of the first assault team. was decorated with the Navy Medal (Gallantry). Senior Commissioned Gunner Neol Kelman, in spite of being hit by a bullet through his thighs, made light of his wounds and continued to assist in the operations till the Tricolour was hoisted. He was awarded the Kirti Chakra.
Even as the battle at Anjadip was in progress, the Indian Army and Air Force began closing in on Goa. Offensive action started with four IAF Canberra bombers strafing the Dabolim airfield on December 18.
The Army made a three-pronged advance into Goa — from the north (Karwar), south (Sawantwadi) and south-west (Belgaum). The seaward approach was controlled by the Indian Navy frigates Betwa, Beas and Cauvery. These ships patrolled entrances to the ports of Marmagao and Panjim.
The high point of Operation Vijay was 13-minutes gun duel between the Portuguese man of war, Afonso de Albuquerque, and the Betwa, Beas and Cauvery. On being ordered by the Naval Headquarters to capture the Portuguese warship, INS Betwa signalled its intentions to INS Beas and INS Cauvery.
Albuquerque was sighted, encircled and directed to surrender in three minutes. As Albuquerque was non-compliant and tried to take cover behind a merchant vessel, Betwa and Cauvery started firing. After an intense gun battle, Albuquerque hoisted a white flag, turned towards the harbour and beached on the Dona Paula jetty. Thus ended the first gun battle.
At Diu, Operation Vijay was planned as an army operation with INS Delhi being tasked to provide ‘distant support’ to the Indian Army units. INS Delhi patrolled the seas off Diu, maintaining a distance of 10 miles from the coast.
At 4:30 a.m. on Dec 18, the first contact with the enemy force was established. INS Delhi’s radar picked up two echoes on its scope, both of which were closing in at high speed and were, at the outset, believed to be torpedoes. Then it turned out that they were two Portuguese patrol boats.
The boats were asked to surrender after the firing of tracers, but they took a U-turn and tried to escape towards the harbour at full speed. Immediately, the guns of INS Delhi were ablaze with gunfire and one of the Portuguese patrol boats was sunk.
With the first light of the day on December 18, contrary to available intelligence, army units came under intense gunfire from a well-entrenched enemy. The land battle continued with INS Delhi being tasked to provide gunfire support with its 6-inch guns and open a seaward combat front.
INS Delhi’s guns delivered concentrated salvos on the Portuguese garrison at the Old Fort. The very first salvo hit the target and destroyed the lighthouse citadel. The next 15 minutes saw 11 broadsides with a relentless volley of 66 6-inch high-explosive shells bombarding the citadel and the airfield in succession till a white flag was hoisted by the Portuguese.
As the army units were expected to take time to reach the Old Fort area, a landing party from INS Delhi was dispatched and the Tricolour hoisted in the Old Fort.
Operation Vijay ended in less than 40 hours, with the last Portuguese Governor-General, Antonio Vassalo e Silva, signing the Instrument of Surrender at 8:30 p.m. on December 19. The Indian armed forces, acting in unison, rightfully restored Goa to motherland India.