Dabolim and TAIP - 3

A tale of a Goan Airport and Airline

Gabriel de Figueiredo

Gabriel de Figueiredo

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On the night of 17th March 1958, a TAIP skymaster, "CR-IAF", was on a routine flight from Aden to Karachi.  The airport at Karachi was suddenly covered by an unexpected impenetrable fog, and the air-traffic controller suggested Bombay as an alternative airport for landing.  However, the pilot requested "landing on the responsibility of the pilot", with ILS aid.  With visibility of 50 yards and zero ceiling, the plane landed safely and the crew were congratulated at this feat by the control tower for the "best landing of 1958".

In 1960, TAP & TAIP forged a mutual relationship, holding a monopoly on air transportation between Portugal and the overseas provinces, under the leadership of Alfredo Vaz Pinto.  TAP introduced a flight from Lisbon to Goa pooling its aircraft with those of TAIP.

 

Dec 1961

Now we come to the year 1961, a year of anxiety.  In late 1961, India was pushing for a military take-over of Goa, and all plans for upgrading Dabolim with the latest facilities were put on hold, though new orders for more aircraft were being discussed and an American was in Goa to sign the deal, when the Indian military invaded Goa.   Now we go over to what the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy have to say about their operations.     

According to the Bharat-Rakshak website, "The Portuguese were suspected to have some supersonic interceptors initially.  Later it was believed that though fighters were not based, they maintained a regular supply chain by air.  Facing this modest and insignificant air threat was amassed a huge Indian Air Force detachment.  India had, by that time, six Hunter squadrons and four Canberra squadrons, as its latest additions to the Air Force.  " 

"The build up to the operations started on 2 December 1961. Probing flights by some fighters and bombers were carried out on December 8th and 9th to lure and draw out any Portuguese air opposition that may have been there.  A Vampire, from No.108 Squadron, flew a PR mission over some strategic targets without encountering opposition.  These baiting missions were flown right up to D-Day, trying to draw out the Portuguese Air Force, but to no avail". 

The Indian Navy echoes these statements:

"Within a month of her arrival in India, VIKRANT was deployed for the Goa operation.  On patrol 75 miles seaward of Goa, her task was to counter any action by the Portuguese Air Force F-86 Sabres (which, according to intelligence reports, were operating from Dabolim) and to forestall any interference by Western NATO allies of Portugal.  VIKRANT steamed up and down at high speed for two days on 18 and 19 December, with Seahawk combat air patrols airborne from dawn to dusk.  No Portuguese Sabre aircraft or any other intrusive air or naval activity was observed. " 

Lt. Cdr. (later Admiral) RH Tahiliani, who flew the Seahawks from VIKRANT in 1961, recalls:

"Early on the morning of 18 December, we were briefed that the Portuguese had Sabres in Goa and that they would possibly be coming out to sea to attack us. I was the leader of the first combat air patrol to get airborne at first light.  I positioned myself between the ship and Goa and followed this routine throughout the day.  We did not sight any enemy at all.  After the operation, it transpired that the Portuguese did not have a single aircraft at Goa.  It was faulty intelligence". 

One can deduce from these statements, that:

a)     there was flagrant violation of Goan airspace by the IAF well before Dec 18,

b)     there were no military aircraft stationed at Dabolim. 

The Bharat-Rakshak site continues:

"The first use of air power occurred on December 18th.  No.35 Squadron sent in a massive wave of 12 Canberras led by the CO, Wg. Cdr. N.B. Menon to attack Dabolim.  The Canberras dropped 63,000 lbs. of bombs within minutes, on the runway.  The Canberra pilots took care not to bomb the terminals and the ATC.  Menon noticed the presence of two large transport aircraft in the dispersal area: one Super Constellation and one DC-6 aircraft were parked on the apron.  However the Canberras left the aircraft alone."   

"A second raid by eight Canberras of No.16 Squadron led by Wg. Cdr. Surinder Singh dropped more bombs on the runway area.  The Portuguese aircraft were again left untouched.  By this time, it was assumed that the airfield was rendered unserviceable and these aircraft could be captured intact as they had nowhere to go.  However, the Portuguese pilots of these aircraft proved to be both foolhardy but brave.  During nightfall, they managed to take off the aircraft from the still damaged airfield and made their getaway to Portugal.

This clearly indicates the belligerence of the IAF.  Furthermore, the "IAF had an opportunity to employ jet air power for the first time on a massive scale.  However, the Portuguese did not have any AA defences or aircraft to defend their positions.  This robbed the IAF of a realistic battlefield scenario." proving again that Dabolim was a defenceless civilian airport. 

Apart from a partly dismantled TAIP Viking, which was undergoing repairs in the hangars at the time of the Indian military action, the remaining TAIP aircraft were absorbed into the TAP or sold off in 1962.  A wreck of a Lockheed CONSTELLATION could be seen for a number of years in between hangars at Dabolim, and appears now to have been removed – whether or not this was the TAP "CONSTELLATION", which had arrived on Sunday, 17 Dec 1961 at 22:00 hrs with a load of sausages, and reported as being on the tarmac by Bharat-Rakshak, cannot be confirmed. 

Incidentally, Maj. Solano de Almeida, the first pilot to fly under TAIP also piloted the last flight of TAIP out of Goa to Karachi, ferrying the last remaining wives and children of military personnel, flying at a very low altitude to avoid possible skirmishes with the belligerent IAF.  This is what Maria Ivonne Quintino Reis, a parachutist nurse, has to say: "I arrived in Karachi on the 13th December, to assist with the evacuation of the families that were being repatriated from Índia… The planes of the TAIP ferried the families to Karachi to be transferred to the planes of TAP, as TAP could not go to Índia due to the expected invasion.  The last flight of the TAIP carried families of three military personnel, piloted by Maj. Solano de Almeida, which took off after the invasion of Goa, flying low so as to avoid bombardment in precarious conditions, to Karachi".   This flight is mentioned by the Bharat-Rakshak site: "During nightfall, they managed to take off the aircraft from the still damaged airfield and made their getaway to Portugal.

Alfred de Tavares, a Goan journalist, states "Mario Cabral e Sá (another Goan journalist) commandeered one of the Skymasters a little while after the Dec 19 action fleeing Goa via Karachi, cracked screen etc. Quite a prank that left the commanders of Operation Vijay with their pants ignomiously down".   Whether this latter statement describes the same flight as that described by nurse Ivonne is yet to be confirmed.

 

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