Nation remembers Lt Gen Sagat Singh, the hero of Goa and Bangladesh liberation wars

New Delhi: In remebrance of the brave Army general who played a pivotal role in liberation of Bangladesh and who had led the operation to liberate Goa from the Portuguese rule, Lt Gen Sagat Singh’s birth centenary is being celebrated by the Indian Army under the aegis of Sapta Shakti Command at Jaipur and Jodhpur-based Konark Corps.

Lt Gen Singh was born in the village of Kusumdesar (Moda) in Churu District of Rajasthan on July 14, 1919, the celebrations of his birth centenary include conduct of motivational lectures in various schools, inauguration of bust of Lt-Gen Sagat Singh, seminar and equipment display.

The motivational lectures at selected schools in Jaipur and other parts of Rajasthan have commenced from Monday and will conclude on July 11.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot will unveil the epitaph at Jharkhand Mor on the junction of Gen Sagat Singh Marg and Queens Road on July 13 while the convention will take place at Sapta Shakti Auditorium on July 14.

In Jodhpur, the events include unveiling of the General’s bust and dedicating the Sports Stadium
at Jodhpur Military Station in his honour, a ‘Seminar on the legacy of Lt-Gen Sagat Singh’ will be conducted on July 16 and 17 at Jodhpur.

Lt Gen Singh joined Doongar College at Bikaner but was enrolled as a Naik in Bikaner Ganga Risala after his intermediate examination in 1938. Later, he was promoted to the rank of Naib Subedar and subsequently got commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in Bikaner Ganga Risala.

During his military career, he rose to the rank of a Lieutenant General and had roughed himself through many challenging military assignments. He was notably known for his participation in liberation of Goa from Portuguese rule in 1961 and later Indo-Pak war of 1971, wherein his Corps not only made famous advance to Dhaka during liberation of Bangladesh but also participated in Meghna Heli Bridge operation, an important aerial operation during the war.

“He was one of the fortunate ones to witness the signing of famous surrender instrument by General Niazi of Pakistan Army. A patriot to the core, General Sagat has left a legacy of professionalism for the generations of the Indian Army soldiers to follow,” Rajasthan-based defence PRO Col Sombit Ghosh said.

After a short stint in Delhi, he was promoted to Brigadier and given command of 50 Parachute Brigade at Agra in September 1961. This was unprecedented, since he was not a paratrooper and would have to earn his ‘wings’, before he could become one.

He was then over 40 years and few people had started jumping at that age. But the Army officer knew that he had to get the coveted ‘wings,’ before he was accepted in the fraternity of paratroopers and could wield any authority, Defence PRO added.

He had to undergo the tough probation course before he could begin his jumps. To save time, he sometimes did two jumps a day and got his ‘wings’ in record time. For a person of his age, it was no mean achievement. It was while commanding 50 Parachute Brigade that he really flowered and his genius as a combat leader came to the fore.

During the Goa operations, he displayed tactical brilliance and the ability to seize opportunities in battle, which few commanders are gifted with.

Lt Gen Sagat Singh proved the adage that in war, the timorous rarely succeed, while the bold invariably triumph, even against heavy odds.

The story of his exploits during the operations is now part of the Indian Army’s folk lore, and is often quoted as an example to students of military science.

The operation for the liberation of Goa, code named ‘Vijay’, was planned for December 14, 1961.

In order to prevent international intervention, and reinforcements from Portugal reaching Goa, it was essential that the operation was quick and decisive.

The main force, comprising 17 Infantry Division, was to move into Goa from the East, while 50 Parachute Brigade, under Brigadier Sagat Singh, was to mount a subsidiary thrust from the North.

Since it was expected that they would meet some Portuguese armour, he was allotted 7 Light Cavalry, less a squadron, equipped with Stuarts, and B Squadron, 8 Cavalry, which had AMX tanks.

D Day for the operation was initially decided as December 14, 1961 but was later postponed due to political reasons, in an attempt to avert the conflict and resolve the problem by diplomatic means. It was finally decided that the operation would commence on the night of December 18, 1961.

Three days before D Day, Indian Army Chief P N Thapar visited the brigade and he presented his plan for the operation. At the end of the presentation, the Army Commander expressed the view that Sagat’s timings were too optimistic and had reservations about them being adhered to.

50 Parachute Brigade had been given a subsidiary task, of advancing from the North, primarily to tie down the Portuguese troops in that area. However, Sagat was not the type to be shackled by rigid orders, and had already visualised a larger role for himself.

He had decided to move on a wide front on two axes. He reasoned that if he was held up on one axis, he would continue the advance on the other, and using the reserve battalion, advance deeper into Goa.

Though the operation was to commence on the night of December 18, Sagat had decided to launch fighting patrols the previous night, to overcome the border outposts, in order to facilitate the entry of the main column across the border the following morning.

As these preliminary operations were going on, All India Radio gave the game away, by announcing shortly after midnight, that Indian troops were crossing into Goa.

This alerted the Portuguese, and the element of surprise, so important in such operations, was lost. After a swift night approach, the brigade found a crossing place, and secured the home bank, enabling the tanks, guns and vehicles to cross the river.

After the crossing of the wide Usgaon river, Sagat felt that there was now no need to hold and he ordered to head straight further. The lack of enemy resistance, and speed of advance had altered the situation.
Another development took place when an intercept indicated that the Portuguese Governor General had called for a meeting next morning at 8am to consider surrender.

The Army Commander, when informed of this, realised that the Portuguese had lost the battle. Seeing the slow progress of 17 Infantry Division, and the rapid advance of 50 Para Brigade, he decided to change the plan. The task of capturing Panjim, which had been earlier assigned to 17 Division, was now given to the paratroopers, who were asked resume advance during the night.

With two battalions around Panjim by the evening of December 18, 50 Para Brigade was now poised to capture the town, from the East as well as the North. However, it was almost dark, and Sagat did not want to enter the built up area of Panjim by night. He ordered his troops to establish harbours, for the night.

On the morning of December 19, except for some firing from the customs house, there was no effective resistance, and the city was in Indian hands by 9am. Governor General and C-in-C Major General Vassalo De’ Silva escaped to Marmagao and surrendered later.

The Indian Navy had already taken Anjidiv island the previous day, and also sunk the Portuguese frigate ‘Albuquerque’. At 11am, the tri-colour was hoisted on the Secretariat building. Goa had been liberated, in an operation which lasted a little over 24 hours. Though the result of the operations in Goa was along expected lines, the speed of the Indian advance surprised many observers.

While commanding a Mountain Division in Sikkim in 1967, the general was instrumental in giving a strong fight to the Chinese at Nathu La where he held on to the watershed against all odds. He is also attributed with the quelling of the Mizo Insurgency in Counter Insurgency Operations as General Officer Commanding, 101 Communication Zone.

Nathu La lies on the old silk Route between Tibet and India and in 1947, became an Indian protectorate.
During the 1962 Sino-Indian War, Nathu La witnessed skirmishes between soldiers of the two countries. Shortly thereafter, the pass was sealed and was closed for trade.

In order to help Pakistan during the 1965 War, the Chinese served an ultimatum and demanded that India withdraw her posts at Nathu La and Jelep La. Major General Sagat Singh, GOC 17 Mountain Division, refused to vacate Nathu La. He reasoned that Nathu La and Jelep La were passes on the watershed, which was the natural boundary.

The McMahon Line, which India claimed as the International Border, followed the watershed principle, and India and China had gone to war over this issue, three years earlier. Vacating the passes on the watershed would give the Chinese the tactical advantage of observation and fire, into India, while denying the same to our own troops.

In response the Chinese had installed loudspeakers at Nathu La, and warned the Indians that they would suffer as they did in 1962, if they did not withdraw. However, Sagat had carried out a detailed appreciation of the situation, and reached the conclusion that the Chinese were bluffing. They made threatening postures, such as advancing in large numbers, but on reaching the border, always stopped, turned about and withdrew.

On September 11, 1967, the clash between troops of India and China took place. The Chinese opened fire, causing several casualties among the Indian troops working on the wire fence. The Indian Army also retaliated causing greater damage on Chinese. The clash came to end with this fire fight with Nathu La intact in our hands. Chinese wanted to intimidate Sagat Singh and annex Nathu La, however this brave son of India never got perturbed and stood his ground. As a result the myth of Chinese invincibility was broken and Nathu La remains in Indian possession till date.

The General’s finest hour was however in December 1971 when in a bold and audacious maneuver he led Indian Army’s 4 Corps to outflank and surprise the Pakistani Army at Dacca which led to the unconditional surrender of 98000 Pakistani soldiers. For this inspirational leadership as a Military Commander in war, he was bestowed with Padma Bhushan.

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