While all this was going on, I was called to liberate Goa and other Portuguese possessions!! Not really.
This was in the end of 1961. The orders had been given by the Government to liberate these territories. It was to be a combined operation of the three services. The operation was really by the Army and the Air Force. A combined Head quarters was established in the MES Bungalow in Belgaum with Lt. Gen. Chowdhry and AVM Pinto in place. The AOC in C’s staff officer Sqn Ldr EPR Nair was unwell and so I was taken as the standby staff officer. I had officiated in this role earlier also when Nair had been unavailable. It was a great experience. Please remember that the following narrative is from a partially informed person, with memory loss, of an event that took place 47 years ago!! No claim is made to correctness, completeness or authenticity!!
We had a Vampire squadron moved to Belgaum. I believe it was No. 45 Sqn. under Mirgind Singh Grewal. They were giving support to the army as they advanced. The Portuguese forces were ordered to surrender but they stalled it for a few days. The Vampire Recce Squadron, under; ‘Ken’ Misra had a detachment there and took some very good pictures of the Portuguese Army in retreat and the bridges that were knocked down by 45 Squadron.
In the meantime, we had a portable radar in place, a rather primitive one, I believe. It picked up some tracks flying at 1200 mph. It was scary because we knew that Portugal had some F 104 Starfighters and we wondered whether they could have moved some to Goa! It was debated whether we should move some Hunters or Gnats nearby though we had nothing to match the speed of the F-104. It was decided that a Hunter squadron would be available in Poona. In any case, as part of the operation, Canberras from Poona were supposed to be bombing the Dabolim Airport and it was felt that would prevent the F 104s from taking off.
The Canberras did their bombing and we prayed that it would be enough. The Vampire squadron full of very junior pilots, operating in an area they were unfamiliar with, from a very small civilian airfield with no navigational aids such as direction finding (homing) equipment and did a very good job. The only flying staff in the ‘Head quarters’ was the C in C and me!! I remember the C in C on tenterhooks as the vampires were doing some late missions and it was getting dark and I was keeping him company in biting nails!! I am not aware whether any awards were given to the pilots or C.O. of the squadron for the operations but they deserved it. Perhaps, some Vayu Sena medals would have been in order.
The war lasted for a few days. It was planned that Gen. Chowdhry would be there for the last push and personally capture the Town. But Gen Sagat Singh, leading the army formation there had other plans. He charged through and sent a message saying that he was in Goa and the Portuguese officials still left in town had offered to surrender!! There was understandable irritation in the Army HQ at this grabbing of the limelight but it had to be endured. It was decided that the General and AVM would go by helicopter, I think we only had a couple of Sikorsky ones at that time, and take the surrender.
We had a Mr. Gopal Handoo; I think he was the head of the I.B., also in the MES Bungalow. He was pretty full of his own self importance and gave the impression that he was the representative of the Government and expected to be prominently present at any surrender that took place. He had people coming and going claiming that they were bringing ‘Hot’ information from Goa but he couldn’t tell us anything that was happening at the Dabolim airfield. His comment that probably F 104s were there only put us under more tension. He had irritated Gen ‘Muchoo’ Chowdhry no end and so the two Commanders went off early the next morning and took the surrender and came back and announced it. Mr. Handoo, basically a nice person, was practically in tears and asked the General, ‘How could you do this to me’? There was no place in the helicopter for the staff officers of the commanders and so we were in the same plight as Mr. Handoo.
But the C in C flew into Dabolim airfield the next day, taking me, to look around. The damage to the runway was not as much as we had expected, with our bombing. Some portion of the beginning of the runway had been damaged and it was not a very long runway. We learned that the Portuguese Governor General, his family, some senior officials and all the valuables from the bank vaults etc had been flown off in a Super Constellation aircraft. In order to take off in the short distance, they had jettisoned all the extra seats and other unwanted equipment so that they could do a ‘short take-off’. We saw these lying around. Of course there were never any F 104s there. We were also taken to see some of the captured Portuguese soldiers and their weapons such as rifles and pistols etc as well as their army offices etc. I have never seen such a set of troops looking so miserable in my life. Short, not particularly well built and certainly very unsoldierlike. Just to think that these people actually ‘conquered’ us and controlled a portion of our land!!
The C in C returned to Delhi the next day but I got permission to stay back and visit Goa. The OC of the helicopter unit was an old squadron mate from my initial day in No.4 Squadron, Willy Liddle (Now in Australia). I got him to airlift me into Goa for a day and bunked in the Mess that had been set up by the Army. Goa was a shoppers’ delight as the shops were filled with imported goods at very cheap prices. Liquor and beer was cheap and there were roadside wine shops etc everywhere. The Indian Armed Forces were very well behaved and bought all that they wanted and paid the full price, though there were some report of some army units having ‘taking ways’. I bought my very first ‘Transistor’ and cine camera.
That evening was very convivial and I remember a helicopter pilot, Tandon, and me walking along the beach and he decided that he was going into the ocean!! He was in a great mood and I think he mumbled something about being in love. I tried to stop him but he was half way there already. I ran behind him and asked him whether he could swim and he said, ‘No, but who cares’? At that stage I ordered him, as a senior officer, to desist and dragged him back to the mess. I came back the next day to Belgaum and got back to Delhi, having captured Goa single handedly!! As proof, I had brought a Portuguese flag and a rifle, both of which I presented to my Squadron, No 23, when I commanded it the second time.
The greatest beneficiary in the liberation of Goa was the Indian Navy. They didn’t fire a single shot. The Portuguese admiral surrendered with all his ships in the port, including the Albuquerque, the flag ship of the Portuguese navy, with its unbelievable stock of liquor!! Under an archaic law, all the captured vessels were the ‘War Booty’ of the Navy and they were allowed to sell them and keep the proceeds, which they did. The money would go to the equivalent of the ‘Regimental Funds’ of the Army and totally controlled by the Naval HQ with no interference by the Govt. The Army and Air Force didn’t even know anything about it till about 1980-81 when the information leaked out and the other services claimed a share. As a measure to buy peace the Navy dished out a very small portion of the ‘Booty’ to the other services then!!
In addition the Dabolim airport was up for grabs and it was offered to the Air Force automatically but they didn’t need a base in the area as they already had Poona and there was no operational need for a base involving considerable outlay. Then the Navy stepped in and the rest is history.
In ’62, I was selected along with two other QFIs to go on deputation to Iraq but just as we had disposed of all our belongings and were ready to go, the Chinese attacked us and my mission went “Kaput”. That story is in another chapter.