Operations at Diu : The One day war

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Based on the personal recollections of Gp Capt MPO Blake VrC (Retd) with inputs from Air Marshal MSD Wollen PVSM VM (Retd)

In the autumn of 1961 Indian Air Force (IAF) was alerted to the intention of the Government of India to take possession of Portuguese enclaves in India. Armament Training Wing (ATW) Jamnagar was given the task of providing close support to the Army to capture the island of Diu.

Diu is a little 13.8km by 4.6km Island (area about 40 sq km) stuck to the southern tip of Gujarat. The island is separated from the mainland by a narrow channel running though a swamp. The channel can only be used by fishing boats and small craft. Two bridges across the channel, constructed by India well after liberation, are now available to drive into Diu. It was in the hands of the Portuguese since 1535 AD. Like other similar enclaves in India viz. Goa and Daman, Diu has some beautiful architecture with three magnificent churches, two of them now somewhat damaged (not by military action) and rundown. Cheap liquor was perhaps its main attraction, particularly when Gujarat was under prohibition. The Fort is its most imposing feature. Built on steep sandstone cliffs and facing the sea, it could easily be defended even against large-scale attacks. The Fort has double moats, the outer one flooded by the sea. It also has a rather large lighthouse and a church. Many a cannon and some shells are still to be seen in the Fort.

Diu-Fort_Small.jpg (38465 bytes) The imposing Diu fort ‘Citadel Diu’

For the Diu part of “Operation Vijay” to capture Portuguese enclaves in India, at ATW’s disposal were: –

a) Sqn Ldr MSD (Mally) Wollen’s No. 23 Squadron with Gnats. It was given the task of defending the airfield from aerial attack. The Squadron had arrived at ATW for armament training on October 25, 1961.
b) No. 4 Squadron with Toofanis commanded by Sqn Ldr MA (Woody) Woodfall also was in Jamnagar for armament training. It included Flt Lt Godfrey Salins as its Flight Commander and Flying Officer Denzil Keelor as one of the pilots
c) Vampires of ATW were also available along with the Toofanis for close support.
c) An anti-aircraft 40mm Bofors Company was provided for the airfield’s defence.
d) Sqn Ldr CJ (Charlie) Fernandez’ Signals Unit (SU) was to give radar cover.

During intelligence briefings for Operation Vijay (generally known as Goa Ops), ATW was told to expect strong opposition from the Portuguese and also interference from Pakistan.

Wg Cdr Mally Wollen  seen here four years later as the CO of No.28 Squadron 

Gp Capt Godkhindi, Commanding Officer ATW had wisely left the planning to Wg Cdr MPO (Micky) Blake, ATW’s Chief Instructor. To deal with this, Micky and his staff decided that all precautions would be taken against an air attack. As such a complete blackout was enforced in the airfield and the camp. Gp Capt Godkhindi and Micky also impressed upon the Jamnagar Electricity Board (JEB) that in case of an impending air raid they were to blackout all of Jamnagar. The JEB only agreed to this after they were told that IAF would get the Army to take over during hostilities. IAF’s own generators supplied power to the SU and the camp. Aircraft were dispersed as best as possible and slit trenches were dug. Every evening either Sqn Ldr GD (Nobby) Clarke or Micky would get airborne to check how effective the blackout was.

Mally remembers that he flew a night front-gun firing sortie with Micky Blake in a Vampire T-11 on October 25, having arrived at ATW earlier in the day. It was a revelation to him. Micky was over the Sarmath Range exactly at the appointed time. His firing was accurate and effective and he left the range having completed the mission also right on time. It was a highly polished performance. Micky was a professional to the core. The planning and execution of the Diu operation was obviously in the right hands. He had completed most of the preparations by the end of October itself.

A topless Mickey Blake straddles a Vampire Drop Tank during his stint as CO of No.7 Squadron. Mickey was the Chief Instructor at ATW Jamnagar during the Diu Operations.

Perhaps just to confuse the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) or to warn it to keep off, Gnats of Mally’s No. 23 Squadron did night flying on December 17. This was somewhat of an adventure. The cockpit lighting of the Gnat did not illuminate the vertical instrument panel adequately. In particular, the engine rpm was very difficult to read and set, especially at the end of the downwind leg. Each pilot had to carry a torch hanging from his neck to set the correct rpm. The blackout over ATW was so good that it did not provide any illumination or help to the Gnat pilots

On 7th December 1961, Micky had taken the Colonel of the Rajput Battalion up in a Vampire T-11 to pinpoint targets in Diu. He also very clearly asked the Colonel to attack only when IAF aircraft were overhead at first light. Air Force support would not be available at night. This the Army did not do. When Micky was overhead at first light on December 18 with other Vampires following him, he was informed that they, i.e. the Indian troops, had tried to cross the narrow channel earlier at night from the mainland to Diu on rafts made of charpoys (bamboo cots) tied to oil barrels! Micky later learnt that around 125 or 130 Portuguese soldiers had repulsed the Army with fairly heavy losses just using small and automatic arms of the sten-gun class. Micky then decided that IAF would take out the fortifications, which were facing the mainland. This the ATW did without any opposition.

The rest of the day (December 18) ATW had two aircraft overhead at all times. The Fort and the Air Traffic Control (ATC) were attacked. At one stage in the morning while he was on the ground and Gp Capt Godkhindi was on a sortie over Diu, Micky got a call from the Tactical Air Centre (TAC) in Poona. Gp Capt Devasher was on the line. He told Micky that he was to bomb the runway at Diu. Micky protested that there was no need to do so, as ATW had it covered 24 hours a day. Besides, IAF would need it when India had taken Diu. But he was overruled. As such, Micky sent two Toofanis, which deposited their four 1000 lb Mk 9 bombs on the runway intersection. The semi-prepared surface soon had three clearly visible craters right at the intersection. To this day, Micky rues his decision to obey that command.

Whilst on his second sortie, Micky saw a whole line of people on the shore waving white flags. According to him they were NOT dhobies’ (washermen and women) waving linen or clothes as some historians later mentioned! On one sortie Fg Off Denzil Keelor (now a retired Air Marshal) firing French 68 mm rockets from a Toofani apparently hit their ammo dump located in the Fort. It went up with a bang! Fg Off PM Ramachandran (also a retired Air Marshal) used front-guns of his Vampire to sink a Portuguese military boat. Micky believes that perhaps these strikes convinced the Diu Governor to surrender.

A Map showing the Diu island and area of operations. Diu-Map_Small.jpg (26252 bytes)

Meanwhile, another amazing decision by the TAC was to send Canberras to bomb the Diu airfield. Though the Gnats were to provide air defence of ATW and Jamnagar, they were asked to cover the Canberra formation. Earlier, in anticipation of Operation Vijay, on December 6, two Gnats had gone to Ambala. The same day they flew in very close formation on the wing tips of a Canberra. The idea was to paint a radar picture of a single aircraft and surprise any hostile aircraft. Two Hunters were sent to intercept the Canberra. When its rear warning radar indicated the approach of hostile aircraft, the Gnats peeled off. They turned and engaged the Hunters, easily getting the better of them, though no camera shots were taken. The two Gnats returned to Jamnagar on December 7. For the actual operation, Gnats were to provide cover to the Canberra formation approaching Diu from the South. Two pairs of Gnats were flown at height to ensure their being seen on Pak radars. This was intended to make it quite clear to PAF that it would have to contend with the Gnats if it decided to intervene in any manner. It was already obvious to PAF that Gnats were superior to any of its fighter aircraft.

Once again Devasher had been the messenger for the Canberra mission. Micky told him that as ordered ATW had already made the airfield unusable. Besides, the Army had informed IAF that they were going to attack once again and that Micky had no idea where they would be when the Canberras arrived. Once again he was overruled. Fortunately, a little later Air Marshal) AM Engineer, Chief of Air Staff, phoned Micky to find out how things were going. Micky explained to him why the Canberras were the last thing the IAF needed. He evidently believed Micky, for he recalled the Canberras, which were already airborne. Why this bombing mission had ever been planned and initiated was difficult to understand.

When Micky reported his personal conclusion that the Portuguese wanted to surrender to the Brigadier in charge, he would not believe it. As such, IAF kept attacking the poor guys. On his third sortie (still on December 18) Micky noticed a large procession of Indians walking towards Indian troop positions. They had evidently been ferried across to the mainland to inform the Army that the Portuguese were willing to surrender the next morning. During the same sortie Micky saw INS Delhi lying off the coast. They were so close that they must have been firing over open sights. Micky tried to tell them that some of their rounds were bouncing off the beach and were exploding over the mainland – but to no avail. While Micky was still over Diu, one pair of Toofanis arrived with 1000 lb bombs over the Diu Fort. But they could find no suitable target to drop their bombs on. The leader asked the Army what target they should bomb. The Army suggested that they bomb the town. Micky heard the message and immediately countermanded the order. He forbade the aircraft from doing any such silly thing. The Toofanis jettisoned their bombs in the sea for safety reasons and returned to Jamnagar.

By late afternoon, the Army agreed that it was all over and ATW stopped operations in the evening. The Governor had agreed to surrender the next day. But he warred the Army not to try to cross the channel into Diu in the night or they would be fired upon and would take more casualties. Jamnagar had one sad fatality in the One-Day War. Flight Sergeant Swami, ATW’s Chiefy, died when he was struck by a Vampire on the head whilst marshalling-it in. It was not a good ending to an otherwise successful day.

The next day (December 19), Gp Capt Godkhindi, Micky Blake and Nobby Clarke went in ATW’s target-towing yellow Dakota to Diu to accept the surrender, along with the Army. The Diu Governor informed them that he could have kept the Army out for a few weeks but he had no answer to the Air Force. Micky had prepared for the Diu Operation extremely well, planned it meticulously and executed it flawlessly. He also led from the front by flying three operational sorties from the start of the action to the end of his One-Day War. He must have been well satisfied by his day at the office.

On December 20, Mally, along with Woodfall, also visited Diu and met about 30 young Portuguese solders in the Fort. They were all conscripts and mostly below 25 years of age. Some of them were behind bars in lock-ups within the Fort. Other reports indicate that seven of their colleagues were killed. Perhaps no civilians died in Diu. Or else, the IAF would have been castigated for hitting the wrong targets. Mally met no officers and could not confirm Portuguese losses. The soldiers he did meet bore no ill will or rancour towards IAF, Army or India. The Indians of Diu were friendly, charming and honest. The small town of Diu was picturesque and its gazebos were especially pleasant to relax in. Surely, the Indian troops found Goa and Daman equally good.

On Christmas day, Micky and other officers decided to give the children of the camp something to remember it by. Mally got dressed as Santa Claus with a well simulated fat tummy. With Fg Off Ramachandran (Ramu) at the controls, he got into the T-11 but could not tie the straps. Ramu also decided not to strap himself in. They got airborne and flew around for a while until it was time for Santa to arrive. The children had been gathered near the apron. The Vampire taxied in and when the canopy was opened, Mally waved to the children indicating that the fun was about to begin. Perhaps to satisfy any curious kids, he must have had to tell them that Rudolf was not well that day. He was using the next best mode of travel.

Illustrations: Diu Fort and Map illustrations are courtesy of the Official Indian Armed Forces History. Mickey Blake photograph is copyright of No.7 Squadron. Mally Wollen photograph is courtesy of Gp Capt Bhargava.

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