Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020: The Lion of Goa
Here we see the Aviso de 1ª Classe NRP Afonso de Albuquerque (F470) of the Marinha Portuguesa in the 1950s. A British-built sloop intended for colonial service, her crew made a heroic, if often forgotten, last stand in 1961.
Looking to refresh their navy to provide some new ships to patrol the Portuese empire, which included Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau in Africa as well as the Goa, Daman, Diu, and Timor enclaves in India and Macau in China, Lisbon contracted for a four-pack of avisos, two first-class and two second-class, from the British shipbuilding firm of Hawthorn Leslie, Tyne.
The second class ships– Goncalaves Zarco and Goncalo Velho— were 1,400-ton vessels mounting a trio of 4.7-inch guns.
The two first-class units, our own Afonso de Albuquerque and her sister Bartolomeu Dias (F471) were larger, at about 2,400-tons full load, and carried a quartet of 4.7-inch Vickers DP guns. Capable of making 21 knots, a speed they surpassed in trails, they could voyage 8,000nm at 10-knots. Ironically, while they would have been third or fourth-tier warships in virtually any other European navy of the day, they were the largest and most formidable Portuesese surface combatants of the 1930s.
Afonso de Albuquerque was named after the famous Duke of Goa, a 16th Century Portuguese admiral and governor of India who grew the country’s empire. Her sister, Bartolomeu Dias, is named after a famous Portuguese explorer surpassed only by the great navigator, Vasco De Gama.
NRP Bartolomeu Dias (F471)
Completed in 1935, Afonso de Albuquerque soon got into trouble as her green crew revolted in 1936 while in Lisbon harbor. The revolt didn’t work out too well for the ship who was damaged by shore batteries and was grounded.
Portuguese warship Afonso de Albuquerque entering Tagus River, in Portugal. via Gazeta dos Caminhos de Ferro magazine No. 1135, of the 1st April 1935
Repaired and sent on her way, she spent her early career in African waters. There, while operating from Mozambique in November 1942, she responded to the sinking British troopship RMS Nova Scotia (6,700t)— packed with Italian internees– off the coast of South Africa, torpedoed by U-177. Alerted by the Kreigsmarine through diplomatic channels in Berlin and Lisbon, the Portuguese sloop sailed to the area but was only able to rescue 194 of the 1,052 people aboard.
Continuing her neutrality patrol work, Afonso de Albuquerque was part of the convoy to liberate East Timor from Japanese occupation in September 1945.
Fast forward to 1961, and tensions between Nehru’s India and the Portuguese enclave at Goa, Daman, and Diu on the Indian subcontinent were boiling over. Whereas the Indian fleet contained an aircraft carrier, Vikrant (ex-Hercules), and two cruisers– Delhi (ex-Achilles) and Mysore (ex-Nigeria), as well as numerous modern destroyers, submarines, and frigates, the Portuguese only had four aging 1930s-era avisos in the area: Afonso de Albuquerque, Bartholomeu Bias, Gonsalves Zarco, and Joao de Lisbon (1,200t, 2×4.7-inch) along with a handful of even lighter gunboats.
However, in early December, Bartholomeu Bias, Gonsalves Zarco, and Joao de Lisbon withdrew to Africa, leaving Afonso de Albuquerque as the only significant Portuguese naval asset in Goa.
On the morning of 18 December 1961, she spied two brand-new Indian warships, the Leopard/Type 41-class frigates INS Beas (F37) and INS Betwa (F38), rapidly approaching Goa. Each of the Indian frigates carried two twin 4.5-inch Mark 6 rapid-fire guns.
The opening salvos were fired by the Indians at around 1200, who were soon plastering Afonso de Albuquerque with a combination of air-burst and HE rounds at a range of 7,500 yards. The Portuguese sloop, outgunned and in a terrible tactical situation, returned fire and tried to sortie out to engage her twin opponents.
Within 20 minutes, Afonso de Albuquerque was in bad shape and made for the shallows where she could beach and allow her crew to evacuate to shore. By 1410, the ship was a wreck and her crew ceased firing, in all letting some 400 shells fly at the Indian task force.
The Portuguese losses were negligible, with radioman Rosário da Piedade killed, commander CMG Cunha Aragão seriously wounded and 50 others lightly wounded. To this day, the Portuguese Navy contends they made several hits on their Indian opponents and inflicted several casualties, although the New Dehli denies this.
The next day, the Indian military took control of Goa, and CMG Aragão’s crew surrendered ashore to invading forces. In all, by sunset of 19 December, the 45,000-strong Indian force had 4,668 Portuguese soldiers and sailors in custody.
Indian officers inspect Afonso
Portuguese POWs at the Indian Prison camp at Vasco de Gama, Goa, December 1961.
The Soviets, who were trying to cozy up to every newly independent former colony, were ecstatic.
“Colonialism is doomed everywhere”. Soviet poster showing the Indians kicking the Portuguese out of Goa. 1961
Afonso remained grounded at the beach near Dona Paula for a year when she was towed to Bombay and her hulk subsequently renamed Saravastri by Indians, although she was never put in service. Various items and relics from her fill Indian museums while the bulk of the ship was sold as scrap in 1963.
Afonso de Albuquerque flag in Indian Naval museum
As for her sister, Bartolomeu Dias, she was converted to a depot ship and renamed São Cristovão in 1967 then later broken up.
The Bay-class frigate HMS Dalrymple (K427), sold to Portugal in 1966, became NRP Afonso de Albuquerque (A526) and remained in service until 1983.
1,811 tons standard,
2,100 tons normal load,
2,435 tons full load
Length: 328 ft 1 in
Beam: 44 ft 3 in
Draught: 12 ft 6 in
Propulsion: 2 Parsons geared turbines; 4 Yarrow 3-drum boilers, 8,000 shp
Oil fuel: 600 tons
Speed: 21 knots as designed, 23 on trials
Range: 8,000 mi at 10 knots
Complement: 189 to 229
4 × 1 – 4.7″/50 Vickers-Armstrong Mk G
2 × 3″/50 Mk 2 Vickers-Armstrong guns
8 × 20mm/70 Oerlikon Mk II anti-aircraft guns (installed 1944)
4 × throwers for depth charges
Fitted to carry 40 mines
Aircraft carried: Fitted for one seaplane (Fairey III)
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