"Fight no battle unprepared, fight no battle you are not sure of winning" ~ Mao's Red Book
In NEFA, the PLA had an excellent network of informants/spies in Kolkata & in the tea estates of Darjeeling & Assam & hence knew about the IA’s rear-area logistics footprints.
"The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy halts, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue." ~ Mao's Red Book
Exactly after five years after the 1962 war, the Indian army hit back at the PLA's attempt to disturb the status quo in Sikkim, with a ferocious artillery bombardment at Nathu La on September 11 and Cho La on October 1 where over 300 PLA soldiers were reportedly killed. The two sides have made along the 4,057-km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) has essentially been posturing, each side manoeuvring to prevent the other from altering the status quo on the ground. The closest India and China came to another war was in June 1986 when General K. Sundarji heli-lifted a mountain brigade to face off against a PLA incursion which had built a road into Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese troops did not withdraw until 1993 when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao visited Beijing.
Sino-Indian Border War (Chinese: Zhong-Yìn Bianjìng Zhànzheng)
Without warning, in October 1950, Communist China invaded Tibet. The Chinese wanted a route to Tibet through Aksai Chin and were not interested in whether the facts of history. In the remote border area of Aksai Chin the Chinese engineers built a 300-mile modern road for military use, which had great strategic value in allowing China quickly to readily move troops about in the area. Nehru claimed the Aksai Chin as Indian territory and refused to negotiate unless China first withdrew. In winter, it took three weeks to get supplies to the Indian front line, whereas the Chinese could complete the same task in 3 hours. The Chinese have better land access as they have been building frontier roads and airfields since they annexed Tibet. In the vicinity of the Tibetan Frontier of NEFA, there are passes up to 16,000 feet. On the Indian side, the precipitation is great. The mountains are covered with dense forest and thick snow in winter. Land communications with the area from India are exceptionally difficult. On the Tibetan side, the high plateau, over which the Chinese have built approach roads and airfields, is extremely cold but snowfall is light.
Beijing’s hostility came even though India helped China sustain its occupation of Tibet. “In the early 1950s, China needed India’s help to send supplies into Tibet, so that the PLA could consolidate the occupation. India was quite generous in providing this help. In 1952, Beijing “used diplomatic channels” to ship 2,500 tons of rice from Guangdong province to Calcutta, and transport it up to Tibet through Yadong (Dromo). By April 1953, all the rice had arrived. This basically solved the food supply problem for PLA troops, and enabled them to establish a preliminary footing in Tibet”, according to a book, “Remembering Tibet – Collected Recollections of Advancing and Liberating Tibet”. After discovering the existence of the border dispute in 1952, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry “absorbed the former foreign office of the Kashag (Tibetan government) and acquired its archival documents”, Zhou Enlai sought to buy time. In 1959, a fleeing Dalai Lama crossed the border at Khenzimane, north of Tawang to take refuge in India.
India had deployed only 2 divisions of troops in the region of the conflict while the Chinese troops had 3 regiments positioned. 10,000-20,000 Indian troops against 80,000 Chinese troops. PLA platoons overwhelmed IA companys spread across the frontline by attacking simultaneously from the front & rear. In the war in these treacherous terrains, 722 PLA soldiers were killed and around 1,400 wounded, while the Indian death toll stood at 1,383, and 1,047 were wounded. Besides, 1,696 Indians went missing and over 400 taken as prisoners of war. China had successfully occupied Aksai Chin – a strategic corridor linking Tibet to western China – the NEFA area, and had almost reached the plains of Assam.
The British had striven to bolster Tibetan autonomy to reinforce the buffer with China. On November 07, 1950, Sardar Patel warned Nehru about China’s inimical intentions, barely a month after she had invaded Tibet. Ignoring Patel, Nehru conceded China’s suzerainty over Tibet. Two months later, a dying Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel got the ball rolling to protect India’s borders. Located south of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh, Tawang is one of the most strategic districts in the country. The experience of Kashmir, where India reacted too late, was not to be repeated. In January 1951, the Assam government received reports about Chinese armed incursions across the Tibetan border and requested the C-in-C, General Cariappa to staunch the threat. But Nehru chided him, “It is not the business of the C-in-C to tell the PM who is going to attack us where.
Visiting China in 1954, Nehru drew Chinese Premier Chou En-lai’s attention to the new political map of India, which defined the McMahon Line and the J&K Johnson Line as firm borders (and not in dotted lines or vague colourwash as previously depicted) and expressed concern over corresponding Chinese maps that he found erroneous. The original McMohan Line was drawn on a scale of 1 inch = 80 miles and was about 1/4 inch thick, which transposed on the ground could mean several kilometers North or South. Chou En-lai replied that the Chinese had not yet found time to correct their old maps but that this would be done “when the time is ripe”. This could be because either they were satisfied with the Indian position or did not want clarity as they wanted to use the border tension for their aggressive designs at a future date. Nehru assumed this implied tacit Chinese acceptance of India’s map alignments but referred to the same matter once again during Chou’s 1956 visit to India.
Chinese Premier Chou En-lai informed Nehru that throughout most of the 19th century the when British and Russian were expanding their empires, Britain decided to hand over Aksai Chin to the Chinese administration as a buffer against a Russian invasion and this newly created border was known as the MacCartney-MacDonald Line, and both British-controlled India and China had shown Aksai Chin as Chinese. Nehru knew but didn't speak out that by 1911 the Xinhai Revolution resulted in power shifts in China, and by 1918 (in the wake of the Russian Bolshevik Revolution) the British no longer saw merit in China's continuing possession of the region. On British maps, the border was redrawn as the original Johnson Line, but despite this reversion, the new border was left unmanned and undemarcated. Nehru knew that the British had used as many as 11 different boundary lines in the region, as their claims shifted with the political situation. The boundaries at its two extremities, Pangong Lake and Karakoram Pass, were well defined, but the Aksai Chin area in between lay undefined.
The Aksai Chin road had been constructed by China by 1956-57 but only came to notice in 1958 when somebody saw it depicted on a small map in a Chinese magazine. India protested. The very first note in the Sino-Indian White Papers, published later, declared Aksai Chin to be “indisputably” Indian territory ” and, thereafter, incredibly lamented the fact that Chinese personnel had willfully trespassed into that area “without proper visas”. Since August 1959, the Chinese authorities had been complaining that the Indian forces crossed the McMahon line. No clarification was given to the Chinese authorities on this matter. Chinese incursions at Longju and Khizemane in Arunachal Pradesh and the Kongka Pass, Galwan and Chip Chap Valleys in Ladakh followed through 1959.
The Dalai Lama had been given refugee in India. The Chinese suspicions about India’s intentions were not quelled by Delhi’s connivance in facilitating American-trained Tibetan refugee guerrillas to operate in Tibet and further permitting an American listening facility to be planted on the heights of Nanda Devi to monitor Chinese signals in Tibet. China had by now commenced its westward cartographic-cum-military creep in Ladakh and southward creep in Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese military intelligence had gathered that Indian forces were planning an attack on Thagla Ridge on 10 October. This information was absolutely correct, the Corps IV Commander, Lt Gen BM Kaul had planned to attack in Dhola post area on that day. Lt-Gen B M Kaul, with his proximity to Nehru, had superseded the army's command, the HBR blogpost exempts Gen Thapar, and the eastern army commander, Lt-Gen L P Sen, from his sharpest criticisms. To prove Nehru’s stubborn and hegemonic attitude, NEFA was ideal as Nehru would then be compelled to agree the McMahon Line was not an ‘established fact’, but a disputed border and only negotiations could achieve a lasting peace and the settlement of the border issue.
The Chinese have a fundamental national interest in retaining Tibet, because Tibet is the Chinese anchor in the Himalayas. If that were open, or if Xinjiang became independent, the vast buffers between China and the rest of Eurasia would break down. If China were to withdraw from Tibet, and there were no military hindrance to population movement, Beijing fears this population could migrate into Tibet. If there were such a migration, Tibet could turn into an extension of India and, over time, become a potential beachhead for Indian power. If that were to happen, India’s strategic frontier would directly abut Sichuan and Yunnan — the Chinese heartland. Secret records of the talks which show Chou stating, fairly clearly, that China would give up claims to Nefa (Arunachal Pradesh) in exchange for Aksai Chin. The tripartite Simla Convention of 1914 to which the Government of India, Tibet and China were party and drew the McMahon Line. The Chinese representative initialled the agreement but did not sign it on account of differences over the definitions of Inner and Outer Tibet. But Nehru insisted on defending the details of history, like the McMahon Line and historical texts that referred to the area.
The original McMohan Line was drawn on a scale of 1 inch = 80 miles and was about 1/4 inch thick, which transposed on the ground could mean several kilometers either way. The only sure reference method was to have troops on distinct geographical features. In order to eliminate any confusion or misunderstanding, the Indian government wanted a "Forward Policy", under which Nehru had issued instructions for the military to continue building military posts right up to the perceived Indian side of the McMohan line, even if those areas were claimed by the Chinese; and left its implementation to the generals. A supine AHQ, under a weak army chief, General Thapar, and pressured by a gung-ho General Kaul, overruled valid cautions presented by HQ Western Command (HQ WC), which insisted that a forward move must have adequate troop numbers, combat support and logistics. The then director of Intelligence Bureau, B.N. Mullick, keep giving assurances that there would be no reaction from the Chinese. The belief that pushing forward would not encounter Chinese resistance came from the Intelligence Bureau, but was accepted by AHQ. The AHQ operated in the lead up to war on a flawed army assessment of Chinese strength - an outdated 1960 operational instruction, never updated, that said the Chinese could scrape together a "regiment plus" (about 4,000-5,000 soldiers) against Ladakh.
Yet Lt-Gen Daulet Singh, who headed WC, was far more realistic. On August 17, 1962, he wrote to AHQ that the Chinese had a "well equipped division (15,000 soldiers) with supporting arms deployed against Ladakh. Further, the Chinese had developed roads to all the important areas they held and thus could concentrate large forces at any given place.
In an article in Asian Survey (October 1963), Prof. Klaus H. Pringsheim called China’s response “carefully planned”. India’s predictable moves for eviction led China to mount “a massive counter attack which they had planned from the outset”. It was an “elaborate trap” into which India walked.
Wu Lengxi, who headed Xinhua and People’s Daily at that time, describes Mao fuming in a Party Central Committee meeting in Shanghai: “Let the Indian government commit all the wrongs for now. When the time comes, we will settle accounts with them”. Mao carefully lulled India into complacency, ordering the inclusion of a paragraph into a May 15, 1959 letter from Beijing to New Delhi: “China’s main attention and principle of struggle is focused on the east, the West Pacific region, on the ferocious American imperialism, not on India, the southeast or south Asian countries at all. …China will not be so stupid as to make enemies with the US in the east, and make enemies with India in the west. Pacification of rebellion and implementing democratic reform in Tibet would pose no threat to India whatsoever.”
Unfortunately, the Indian Army was not physically equipped to implement the politicians’ order. The Indian soldiers were, at one time, surviving on water and salt. Even today the Indian Army are not familiar with the terrain of Arunachal. lt took four days, in a joint operation by the army and the locals, to recover the body of the state’s chief minister Dorjee Khandu after his chopper crashed near Tawang. Politically Mao could not afford to have a semi-victory, a total triumph was necessary to assert his newly recovered position at the head of the Communist State since his temporary retirement after the great man-made famine in China. His ideological high stand on the agriculture policy had to be backed by a resounding victory against the ‘arrogant’ Prime Minister of India and the insult inflicted by the Dalai Lama when he took refuge in India three years earlier. The affront had to be avenged. Beijing anticipated some negative reactions from Washington and the Western world in general (and perhaps even from Moscow) since Nehru enjoyed great international status and was a leader of the non-aligned movement, but the long-terms benefits of a severe, but limited blow, would compensate and ultimately bring peace for several years between the neighbours.
Mullick and Menon sowed in Nehru’s mind the notion that a powerful chief might stage a coup (as Ayub Khan had done in Pakistan). The Thorat plan, “The China Threat and How to Meet It”, got short shrift. This was when U.S. and the Soviets were preoccupied wth the 'Cuban missile crisis'. Having secured the U.S.’ disengagement in June 1962, China also secured the Soviet Union’s prior approval to the attack on India on October 20. The Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev personally gave it to China’s Ambassador Liu Hsiao on October 13 and 14. Khruschev was in the throes of the Cuban missile crisis and needed China’s support. Aksai Chin has been occupied by the Chinese and was a vital link to Tibet.
The Chinese Military Command appreciated that the Indian Army’s main defences lay at Se La and Bomdi La. The concept of operations that was evolved by the Tibetan Military District Command was to advance along different routes, encircle these two positions and reduce them subsequently. The plan was approved by Marshal Liu Bocheng, Head of a Core Group of the Central Military Affairs Commission. He outlined the strategy of concerted attacks by converging columns. Under this strategy, Indian positions were to be split into numerous segments and these were to be destroyed piecemeal.
However “even as the PLA moved toward war with India, Mao continued to mull over vexing problems. Should China permit Indian forces to advance a bit farther into Chinese territory under the forward policy, thereby making clearer to international opinion that China was acting in self-defence? What should be the focus of the PLA attack? The major piece of territory in dispute between China and India was Aksai Chin in the west.” Militarily this area posed problems. The east was easier and it would send a stronger message. On September 8, 1962, a 60-strong (misreported as 600) Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) unit surrounded one of the Indian forward posts at Dhola on the Thagla Ridge, three kilometers north of the McMahon Line. On October 9, India’s offensive began in the Thagla Ridge area. Nehru had gone to London to attend a Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference. His directives to Defense Minister V.K. Krishna Menon (a pro-communist believed Pakistan was India's biggest threat) remained unclear, and the response, codenamed Operation LEGHORN, got underway only slowly. (just before the war started our General was taken ill and India's armed forces were badly equipped, confused, fighting in an unfamiliar terrain)
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) came in on two separate flanks – in the west in Ladakh, and in the east across the McMahon Line in the then North-East Frontier Agency (Arunachal Pradesh). Neither side opened fire for 12 days but, by their sheer numbers, the Chinese clearly displayed their strength and intent to act. Following Nehru’s “throw them out” order, and against saner military advice and an assessment of ground realities, a brigade under John Dalvi was positioned on the Namka Chu River below the Thagla Ridge that the Chinese claimed lay even beyond the McMohan Line. It was a self-made trap. On September 18, the Indian spokesperson announced the government’s intention of driving the Chinese forces from Dhola. It was the last straw. By the time an Indian battalion reached the Thagla Ridge on September 16, Chinese units controlled both banks of the Namka Chu River. The day after, India's Chief of the Army Staff Kaul (who had earlier almost resigned because of his difference with the Defense Minister) ordered his men to re-take the Thagla Ridge. The brigade retreated in disorder after a gallant action, while the Chinese rolled down to Tawang where they reached on 25 October.
Brigadier Thompson’s observation was on the dot. Some of the worst fighting in the Indo-Chinese war took place in Arunachal’s Kameng sector. In 1962, there were just two routes from the plains of Misamari to Tawang. One was a mule track from Udalguri-Kalaktang-Morshing-Phudung-Mandala to Dirang, ahead of Bomdila. The other route used was from Misamari, onwards to Foothills, Chaku to Tenga and then to Bomdila. From Bomdila it took the soldiers two days of force march to reach Sela. It was from this formidable height of 12,000 feet, in 1962, that troops walked for five days to reach the operational areas, in the present day Tawang district. The two important sub- sectors where the 1962 war took place were Zimithang (Namka Chu valley) and Bumla (north of Tawang), while Tawang was the most important religious and political town.
Combat aircraft were not used during the 1962 War despite the fact that India enjoyed superior advantages in terms of air power vis-a-vis China. Chain had no air power to speak do PLAAF could not operate from Tibet, of where as India had De Havilland Vampires, Dassault Ouragans (Toofanis), Dassault Mysteres, Hawker Hunters, Folland Gnats, English Electric Canberra and B-24 Liberators. However, no one had ever tried out more than once the bombing, rocket or front gun attacks in the hills / mountains. The type of training that is truly required for quality CAS in the mountains was not even thought of in July 1962 . Quality cooperation with the Army was non-existent. By Oct 1962 no fighter had even landed in Srinagar. There were fighters in the "East", but they did not do range practice in NEFA, or Sikkim, they did it at Dudhkundi or Dulanmukh ranges both in the plains. Hill flying was done to give pilots exposure in handling the ac in valleys. Knowledge of every valley, entry / exit points, how to distinguish the "ridge" and be guided to the target, was never taught to fighter pilots. One needs special ‘engineers maps’ and meteorological conditions which IAF didn't have. IAF did not know the endurance of their fighters at those hight and distances. The Army was in retreat, front lines were unknown, maps were poor, hill / valley flying along the Towang-Bomdi La- Sela axis had never been done by fighter pilots. Even today there is no practice of how to do CAS around the line of control. India instead asked U.S. to join the war against China by partnering in an air war to defeat China. The U.S. told Pakistan that the Chinese attack was the most dangerous move made by Mao since 1950 and that they intended to respond decisively.
On 24 October, Chou En-lai proposed a 20 km withdrawal by either side. Three days later, Nehru sought the enlargement of this buffer to 40-60 km. On 4 November, Chou offered to accept the McMahon Line provided India accepted the Macdonald Line in Ladakh approximating the Chinese claim line (giving up the more northerly Johnson Line favoured by Delhi). Earlier, the Sino-Indian Treaty on Relations between India and the Tibet Region of China was signed in 1954. India gave up its rights in Tibet without seeking a quid pro quo and the Panch Shila was enunciated.
Even as battle was joined, Kaul disappeared from Tezpur to be with his men, throwing the chain of command into disarray. The saving grace was the valiant action fought by Brigadier Navin Rawley at Walong in the Luhit Valley before making an orderly retreat, holding back the enemy wherever possible. Much gallantry was also displayed in Ladakh against heavy odds. The use of the Air Force had been considered. However, the decision was to prevent escalation.
The PoWs from the Ladakh front confirmed that they too had observed the same state of meticulous preparation. I can give you a few other examples: one day, much to our delight, a Chinese woman came and recited some of Bahadur Shah Zafar's poems to us. The Chinese had certainly prepared for this war most diligently because they had interpreters for every Indian language right in the front lines. This Urdu-speaking woman must have lived in Lucknow for a long time. Same thing for one of our guards; though he had not said a single word for five months (we used to call him Poker Face), we discovered that he could speak perfect Punjabi when he left us in Kunming.
Driving through the tiny village of Chako, the jeep driver suddenly stopped. Lakshman thought that the engine needed a bit of rest after the first hours of steep climb. Two young good-looking girls appeared on the scene: “Sir, would you like a good tea”. Lakshman still remembers the “two pretty girls of indeterminate race.” Today he admits: “It was later discovered that they were Chinese spies, complete with a wireless transmitter; the antenna was cunningly hidden and well camouflaged in the tall bamboo, replete with the ubiquitous prayer flags fluttering gently in the cold mountain breeze spreading the message of peace around.” This incident resumes the state of intelligence and counter-intelligence of the Indian side on the eve of the Chinese attack. Unfortunately it was not only him; every officer remembers the ‘chai’ with the sweet girls. The teashop was located at a very strategic location ‘with the girls in attendance’, explains Lakshman:
“it was the proverbial magnet which worked like a dream. The chitchats by the girls with the soldiers, hungry for and denied of female company for long, only too willing to open up during the halts, provided them with all the intelligence they required on the movement and deployment of troops.”
This explains how Mao Zedong had the intelligence required to prepare his attack on the Indian positions on October 20. There was enough reason to suspect that the primitive communication set-up of the Indian Army in NEFA was also compromised and not only were the Chinese listening in, but they also were inserting bogus messages at key moments into the chain of command, which helped further unnerve and confuse the Indian commanders. The concentration of troops for the offensive took place from 10-15 Nov 1962. The Chinese troops advanced on four different routes. The Chinese troops had strict instructions not to violate the sovereignty of Bhutan.
The PLA's Tibet Military Command constituted the “Advance Command Post for China-India Border Self-Defence Counter-attack” code-named Z419 (where “Z” stands for “Xizang” aka Tibet). Chinese soldiers were placed under Z419 Command Post, charged with attacking India in Kejielang (Nyamjang Chu valley) and Tawang, according to a PLA “Studies on Battle Examples”. CCP documents indicate that PLA’s 11 Infantry Division prepared by fighting 12 major battels in Central Tibet (Chamdo) – from March 1959 to March 1962 (3 years) – by battling Chushi Gangdruk, the Tibetan guerrilla resistance, which Beijing termed as “for work with the masses”. Mao Zedong regarded operations against the Tibetan resistance as an opportunity to train the PLA. Intensive military training began, including individual training, unit training and battle exercises at regimental level.
Based on the experience of fighting the Chushi Gangdruk, Z419 replaced physically unfit officers and soldiers. Well-trained rocket launcher operators were dispatched to Tibet from Wuhan, and artillery personnel were sent from several military commands. Beijing Military Command sent communications equipment and operators. Over 100 English, Hindi and Tibetan interpreters from different areas were sent to Tibet for the coming “self-defence counter-attack”. Besides the PLA’s overwhelming advantage in combat soldiers numbers, Li’s research reveals the CCP’s Tibet Work Committee supported the frontline with a major logistic effort.
Beijing took the final decision to go to war in 2 meetings. The first was on October 8, between Mao Zedong and China’s top leadership – Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, He Long, Nie Rongzheng and Luo Ruiqing. The second meeting, at which the final go-ahead was given, the Central Military Commission and Mao himself approved General Zhang Guohua’s battle plan. Four days earlier, PLA General Tan Guansan, who had brutally put down the Lhasa revolt in March 1959, relayed orders from the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and Central Military Commission to prepare to fight the Indian army. A “Frontline Command Post”, positioned at Tsona, replaced Z419 for the battle.
PLA battle-hardened division presented a formidable contrast to the poorly equipped and poorly acclimatised Indian troops. Its not surprising that, on October 20, Indian defences in the Tawang sector crumbled in hours. “Besides that, they had also acquired rich combat experience in high and cold mountain regions in the five years from the Khampa rebellion in 1956 to the end of the suppression of Tibetan rebellion in 1961.”
In Ladakh the Chinese attacked south of the Karakoram Pass at the northwest end of the Aksai Chin Plateau and in the Pangong Lake area about 160 kilometers to the southeast. The defending Indian forces were easily ejected from their posts in the area of the Karakoram Pass and from most posts near Pangong Lake. However, they put up spirited resistance at the key posts of Daulat Beg Oldi (near the entrance to the pass) and Chushul (located immediately south of Pangong Lake and at the head of the vital supply road to Leh, a major town and location of an air force base in Ladakh). Other Chinese forces attacked near Demchok (about 160 kilometers southeast of Chusul) and rapidly overran the Demchok and the Jara La posts.
In the eastern sector, in Assam, the Chinese forces advanced easily despite Indian efforts at resistance. On the first day of the fighting, Indian forces stationed at the Tsang Le post on the northern side of the Namka Chu, the Khinzemane post, and near Dhola were overrun. They would later realize that the Chinese always attacked on Saturday, when Indian senior officers would have a well-deserved beer in the mess or were attending an important dancing party at an Army’s club of Delhi, Lucknow (Command HQ) or Tezpur (Corps HQ). On the western side of the North-East Frontier Agency, Tsang Dar fell on October 22, Bum La on October 23, and Tawang, the headquarters of the Seventh Infantry Brigade, on October 24.
Namka Chu a name seared in Indian memory, a place where the decisions made by a pacifist Prime Minister, an arrogant Defence Minister and a politically connected General caused the rout of a proud Brigade with many of its men dying like animals in a cage. The dispute in this area revolved around Thagla Ridge. The Chinese claimed it was on the Tibetan side and India claimed it was on its side of the McMahon line. Accordingly in 1959 an Assam Rifles post was established at Khinzemane. The Chinese disputed it and a force of 200 Chinese pushed back the weak Indian force towards the bridge on the Nyamjang Chu at Drokung Samba which they claimed was the McMahon line. After the Chinese retired the Indians again reoccupied the post. There was no airfield and all maintenance was by air drops. Raw and un-acclimatised troops with cotton uniforms and canvas shoes were sent into the mountains. Instead of snow clothes & ammo they got tent pegs, kerosene was dropped in 200L barrels. Many rolled down slopes and although some could be retrieved, many were given up. Especially high were losses from drops by C119s due to the higher speed of the aircraft. The units had marched through severe cold, with groups of 3 men sharing 2 sheets. As mentioned they were in cotton uniforms resulting in a good deal of sick casualties; frostbite and pulmonary disorders.
October 10th dawned without a hint of what was to come. At first light, Lt. Gen. Kaul was shaving while his batman was preparing tea. Suddenly the calm of the morning was shattered by the incessant fire of small arms fire and the thumps of mortars. The Tseung Jong position had come under fire and was retaliating. Around 8:00 a.m., 600 Chinese troops attacked the post. The Indians totaled 56 men with only pouch ammunition. Still they beat back the first assault. Around 9:30 a.m. the Chinese attacked a second time. By now the section at Karpo La II had moved to the flank of the Chinese. When the Chinese emerged, it opened up on them inflicting heavy casualties. The Chinese retaliated by bringing down mortar fire. As the first fire rang out the Rajputs were strung on the Southern bank of the Namka Chu. The Chinese attacked a third time from three directions and at this time Major Chaudhary asked the unit to withdraw. By that time the Chinese were on Major Chaudhary's position, hand-to-hand combat was in process. Somehow he withdrew what was left of his two platoons. Sepoy Kanshi Ram brought back a AK-47 snatched from a Chinese soldier. The withdrawal was made possible by the gallantry of Naik Chain Singh. Asking his men to fall back, Naik Singh covered their withdrawal with an LMG, till he was gunned down by a machine gun burst. Major Chaudhary, Sepoy Ram and Naik Singh were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. The Punjabis outnumbered 20 to 1 lost 6 dead, 11 wounded and 5 missing. Peking Radio admitted to a 100 casualties. Later that day the Chinese buried our men with full military honours in view of our men. Meanwhile the Chinese started reinforcing their positions with more troops and heavy mortars. A long line of mules and porters were seen carrying equipment. Firing lines were cleared with mechanical saws, and barbed wire & punji sticks used to defend their positions.
A company of the 1/9 Gorkha Rifles was ordered to be deployed at Tsangle. Brigadier Dalvi protested at this piece meal deployment but was threatened with a court martial. The next day the Chinese activities climaxed. The Rajputs counted 2000 men with stores in the area between Tseng-Jong and Temporary Bridge. Mules and porters came across Thag La. Men were laying tape markers for night assaults. Brigadier Dalvi protested again asking to withdraw his men from this deathtrap. He offered to resign, rather than watch his men get massacred. Brigadier Dalvi thought the attack was going to come the next day and in three days his brigade would be wiped out. Major General Prasad promised he will be there the next day to share the fate of the brigade. To Major Gurdial, the 2-in-C of the 2 Rajputs, the idea of his under strength battalion fighting the hardened veterans of the Korean war seemed suicidal. He looked around at his isolated weak companies, un-acclimatised & weak, 150 rds/rifleman, 17 magazines (28 rounds) per LMG and 2 grenades per soldier. The battalion's 3" mortars had 60 rounds of ammo, equal to five minutes firing time.
Thousands of yards that separated the posts, with visibility under 20 yards, Chinese infantry columns were infiltrating through the large gaps. Fording the river was easy. To avoid slipping they removed their shoes and walked barefoot across. Once across they dried and wore warm socks. They quickly moved past the link roads where Indian patrols might operate. The overhead communication wires were left alone to be cut just before the attack so that the Indians may not be alerted. Once in the dark shadows of the coniferous forests the noises were muffled by the thick moss on rocks. At 5:14 a.m. 150 guns and mortars opened upon all the localities at Namka Chu and Tsangdhar. The 82mm and 120mm rounds crashed into trees & rocks, forcing the men in the open to take refuge in the bunkers whose firing bays faced forwards. It continued for an hour, as the Indians helplessly watched unable to counter it with any weapon. The Indian 3" mortars made an futile attempt to fire back. Even as they tried to get the range right, the Chinese ranged in on them and blew them away. The signals bunker was zeroed in quickly using 75mm recoilless guns, and blown up, killing all in it including Captain Mangat - the Signals Officer. At Temporary Bridge, Subedar Dashrath Singh realised what was happening and moved Naik Roshan Singh's section to a bump 150 yards upslope.
Barely had Roshan's men taken position when the Chinese came into view. With AK-47s opening up, they charged. Roshan and his men poured fire into the bunched up Chinese cutting down many. 2nd Lt Onkar Dubey with 7th platoon along with Subedar Janam Singh rushed with 15 LMG clips and 2 men to support Roshan. From the flanks he and his men poured fire on the Chinese breaking up two attacks. Firing the last 2 clips at the enemy he was severely wounded in the stomach & chest and fell down unconscious. He was later taken prisoner. Meanwhile Subedar Dashrath Singh's men turned uphill and opened fire on the advancing Chinese. The Chinese rushed down using cover from tree to tree. Dashrath and his men repulsed 3 attacks. On the fourth they came in to hand-to-hand combat losing four more men. Subedar Dashrath fell unconscious and was taken POW. Roshan's unit was finally overcome with every man killed. The attention now turned to Jemadar Bose's platoon. After three waves of assault there were only 10 men surviving. The gallant Bengali led the remaining men into a bayonet charge. Most of the men were killed. The Chinese attacked a third time from the south and south west. With Major Gurdial rallying them, they desperately tried to fight back but succumbed to the inevitable. Major Gurdial was overpowered and captured.The fourth and last locality, Bridge 3, was held by A company with a platoon of Assam Rifles holding the Che Dong are. The Assam Rifles held the top of the spur while 2 platoons No.1 and No.2, held the lower slopes 600 hundred feet below.
A 3rd platoon held a position another 800 feet lower overlooking Bridge 3. The initial hour long shelling drove the Assam Rifles unit from the post. As the shelling lifted Captain Ravi Eipe began to move towards the Assam Rifles post to get a better view. Soon he saw some figures in khaki and realised the Chinese had already taken over the post. He alerted Company Havildar Major Saudagar Singh's men to reposition themselves just as the attack began. The Chinese then attacked from the top and the West. Facing them were the 2 platoons of CHM Singh and Subedar Basdeo Singh. CHM Saudagar's men had reorganised and took a heavy toll on the attacking Chinese. By 0700 hours the platoons were being swarmed by Chinese troops. 1 platoon got cut off and fought to the death.
The remnants of the battered 2 and 3rd platoons were asked to withdraw. With this the last Rajput position was overrun. Temporary and Log Bridge were overpowered and the systematic mopping up began. The attack had begun at 5:14 a.m. with the shelling lasting till 6:30 a.m. By 9:30 a.m. mopping operations were in full swing till it ended at 11:30 a.m. The main positions of 1/9 Gorkha Rifles were above Che Dong on a track from the Assam Rifles post. 'D' Coy held the central location with 'A' and 'C' Coy on either side.
The fourth company was above bridge II protecting the Brigade HQ. As the officers scrambled to figure the situations they found the telephone lines were dead. Now the Chinese who had infiltrated past them in the last 2 nights launched their attack. The Gorkhas fought back. By 7:15 a.m. 2nd Lt. Dogra's platoon was overrun. Wounded, he continued to fight with an LMG allowing the remnants of his platoon to fall back. Subedar Dhan Bahadur Chand also covered with an LMG. By 7:30 a.m., A Coy was under attack from rear as well as the front. Lt. Col. Ahluwalia was wounded in the shoulder as hand-to-hand fighting began. With no hope, the CO ordered a withdrawal towards Tsangdhar. Small parties of men however did make it across the Chinese encirclement and reached Bhutan. Many others perished due to the cold & starvation as they tried to make their way in the cold, hostile and desolate mountains with no blankets or winter clothing.
The Sikh Para Gunners also displayed an astonishing defiance. With no ammo they took up LMGs & rifles and fought the Chinese after the Gorkha platoons were overrun. The Chinese encircled them and called them to surrender. They refused and continued fighting till they ran out of ammo. One third were killed and the rest were wounded and captured. 7th Brigade had lost all cohesion within the first hour of the battle. By 8 a.m. the first stragglers of the 1/9 Gorkha's came back to HQs with news that the Btn was overrun. This meant his middle & left defences were already broken. Brigadier Dalvi now got Div HQ's permission to leave Rong La and fall back to Tsangdhar hoping to reform and fight. The Rajputs and Gorkhas were expected to fall back to Tsangdhar. However they soon found that Tsangdhar was already breached and changed directions to Serkhim. The group wandered around for days avoiding Chinese patrols. At one point they had been without food for 66 hours. Sometime on the morning of October 22nd they ran into a Chinese Company and were captured. At Bridge II, the 9 Punjab had not been shelled. After communications with Brigade HQ was cut off, they remained in touch with Div HQ. At 11 a.m. on October 20th, Major General Prasad ordered them to withdraw to Hathung La. The withdrawal attracted heavy Chinese mortar fire. This was followed by an attack on the positions of 'D' Coy under Major Chaudhary.
Once again repeated attacks collapsed the defence and all the men went down fighting. Another group of 20 men under Havildar Malkiat Singh were on their way to reinforce the Tsangla defences. They stumbled into a large Chinese force. In the unequal encounter, the Punjabis inflicted heavy casualties before going down. Havildar Singh was amongst those who were killed. With the Chinese reaching Hathung La before the Punjabis, they too had to take the route through Bhutan. At Drokung Samba, C Coy of Grenadiers came under attack from three sides by a battalion of the Chinese. Soon the bridge was blown up cutting off any withdrawal. With no hopes, the men under 2nd Lt. Rao fought wave after wave of attacks. Most including the 2nd Lt. Rao were killed. The rest of the Grenadiers at Bridge I received orders to pull out and managed to escape through Bhutan. It took them 17 days. Thus ended the Battle of Namka Chu. The word 'battle' is grossly misleading, for what was essentially a massacre.
Rezang La was attacked on November 18th in the morning. At 0500 hours when the visibility improved both platoons opened up on the advancing enemy with rifles, light machine guns, grenades and mortars. The survivors took position behind boulders and the dead bodies. The enemy subjected Indian positions to intense artillery and mortar fire. Soon about 350 Chinese troops commenced advance. This time, No.9 Platoon, which held fire till the enemy was within 90 meters opened up with all weapons in their possession. Within minutes, the enemy was reduced to a number of dead bodies.
Unsuccessful in frontal attack, the enemy comprising about 400 soldiers, attacked from the rear of the company position. They simultaneously opened intense MMG (medium machine gun) fire on the No.8 Platoon. This attack was restricted. The enemy then resorted to heavy artillery and mortar shelling. An assault group of 120 Chinese then charged the No.7 Platoon position from the rear. However 3 inch Indian mortar killed many of them. When 20 survivors charged the post, about a dozen Kumaonis rushed out of their trenches to engage them in a hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the enemy brought up fresh reinforcements. The encirclement of the No.7 Platoon was now complete. The platoon, however, fought valiantly till there was no survivor. No.8 Platoon also fought bravely to the last man and last round.
The Chinese brought heavy machine gun fire on them. Major Shaitan Singh sensed danger to lives of his jawans and ordered them to leave him. They placed him behind a boulder on the slopes of a hill, where he breathed his last. In this action, 109 Kumaonis were killed. The Chinese suffered much greater losses. Major Shaitan and jawans succeeded in blunting the Chinese attack killing about 1000 Chinese. Thereafter, the Chinese did not push further towards Chushul. Among those who managed to escape and tell the tale was (then) Sepoy Ramchander Yadav, the major’s batman and radio operator, who was charged with concealing his valiant officer’s body so the Chinese wouldn’t find it, which he did successfully. He led a joint International Red Cross and Indian army expedition the following February to the exact spot where Shaitan Singh (awarded the Param Vir Chakra) lay between two boulders, buried by him under snow, a patch of frozen blood and a white mitten kept as a marker. It wasn’t until Indian patrols returned the following spring that they found evidence that confirmed the stories of the three immediate survivors: almost all the bodies (103 in the first instance), frozen weapons in hand, all ammunition clips empty, some inside their trenches and many outside, cut down by multiple bullets and bayonets in hand-to-hand combat with the attackers.
The reinforcements and redeployments in Ladakh proved sufficient to defend the Chushul perimeter despite repeated Chinese attacks. However, the more remote posts at Rezang La and Gurung Hill and the four posts at Spanggur Lake area fell to the Chinese. In the North-East Frontier Agency, the situation proved to be quite different. Indian forces counterattacked on November 13 and captured a hill northwest of the town of Walong. Concerted Chinese attacks dislodged them from this hard-won position, and the nearby garrison had to retreat down the Lohit Valley.
In the eastern sector, the Kameng Frontier Division, six Chinese brigades attacked across the Tawang Chu near Jang and advanced some sixteen kilometers to the southeast to attack Indian positions at Nurang, near Se La, on November 17. Despite the Indian attempt to regroup their forces at Se La, the Chinese continued their onslaught, wiping out virtually all Indian resistance in Kameng. It is also no surprise that while most generals involved in the east faded away in ignominy and disgrace, Brigadier T.N. Raina (Tappy), who so resolutely led 114 Brigade in Chushul (including 13 Kumaon), went on to become one of our most decorated soldiers (Maha Vir Chakra) and army chief. Even now, at most parades, you might hear a stirring composition from the army bands called General Tappy. And the decrepit, rotting memorial at Rewari may see better days still. After all, 13 Kumaon is now posted at Kota, not far away, and has decided to help the local citizens committee spruce it up and start a proper memorial ceremony.
By November 18 the PLA had penetrated close to the outskirts of Tezpur, Assam, a major frontier town nearly fifty kilometers from the Assam-North-East Frontier Agency border. The Commander Signals of the 4th (Red Eagle) Division Infantry Division located at Ambala were immediately ordered to move to Tezpur in Assam. At that time, there were hardly any roads existing in any of the five frontier divisions (FD) of Arunachal Pradesh.This Division, trained and equipped for fighting in the plains, had suddenly to be deployed to guard these high mountain regions. While a normal division occupies an area frontage of 30 to 40 km in the plains, we were assigned a front spreading on more than 1800 kilometers of mountainous terrain. Before the Division could take its operational responsibilities to defend the border with Tibet, orders for the execution of an Operation Amar 2 were received from Lt Gen BM Kaul, then Quarter Master General in the Army HQ. We were suddenly supposed to build temporary (basha) straw house as accommodations for the Division.
Due to either logistical problems (according to Indian accounts) or for political reasons (according to Chinese accounts) the PLA did not advance farther, and on November 21 it declared a unilateral cease-fire. Having brought India to its knees, Beijing declared a unilateral ceasefire on November 21, and the PLA withdrew to its pre-war positions. It acquired 2,500 square miles more in Ladakh. According to the China’s official military history, the war achieved China’s policy objectives of securing borders in its western sector. As per the Chinese estimates, the Indian Army lost about 5100 all ranks killed / wounded and captured. The Chinese suffered 225 killed (27 officers and 198 men) and 477 wounded (46 officers and 431 men).
It is now known that, when Indian morale stood at its lowest ebb, on November 19th, 1962, Nehru wrote two letters to Kennedy, describing India’s situation as ‘desperate’ and asking for comprehensive military aid, specifically ‘immediate support to strengthen our air arm sufficiently to stem the tide of the Chinese advance’. Nehru requested for ‘a minimum of 12 squadrons of supersonic all-weather fighters’, and two squadrons of B-47 bombers manned by U.S. personnel to attack positions in China, plus American help in constructing a radar shield for India’s cities. ‘Any delay in this assistance,’ Nehru warned, ‘will result in nothing short of a catastrophe for our country.’ But the Americans refused to supply India what it wanted, especially the F-104 jet which had already been sold to Pakistan. Satu Limaye writes in ‘US-India Relations’ that “the US refused to sell India any weaponry, offensive or otherwise, that was not directly applicable to mountain warfare”. After being spurned by the U.S., Nehru also wrote to Khrushchev and to British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to enlist support. The Russians supplied the entire production facility for manufacturing MiG-21s. The engine plant was established in Koraput and the fuselage in Kanpur. Nehru’s assiduously crafted policy of Non-Alignment now lay in shambles.
The Chinese, he said, were massing troops in the Chumbi Valley and he apprehended another “invasion” from there. If Chushul was overrun, there was nothing to stop the Chinese before Leh. The United States Air Force flew in massed supplies to India in November, 1962, but neither side wished to continue hostilities. The war ended with the Chinese unilaterally declaring a ceasefire on November 21, 1962 after defeating India in Aksai Chin. The disputed area was claim to be strategic for the PRC, as it enabled a western connection (China National Highway G219) between the Chinese territories of Tibet and Xinjiang. To add to India’s lasting shame, neither the Prime Minister nor the Indian Army was even aware that the ‘war’ had ended until they read about it in the newspapers—despite the Indian Embassy informed two days earlier.
Only one commentator, the late NJ Nanporia, editor of The Times of India, got it right. In a closely reasoned edit page article, he argued that the Chinese favoured negotiation and a peaceful settlement, not invasion, and that India must talk. At worst, the Chinese would teach India a lesson and go back. Critics scoffed at Nanporia. A week or 10 days later, in response to his critics, he reprinted the very same article down to the last comma and full-stop.
Pakistan had been urged by Iran and the US not to use India’s predicament to further its own cause and kept its word. But it developed a new relationship with China thereafter. Nehru had meanwhile broadcast to the nation, and more particularly to “the people of Assam” to whom his “heart went out” at this terrible hour of trial. He promised the struggle would continue and none should doubt its outcome. Hearing the broadcast in Tezpur, however, it did not sound like a Churchillian trumpet of defiance. Rather, it provided cold comfort to the Assamese, many of whom hold it against the Indian state to this day that Nehru had bidden them “farewell”.
Of all the memorials, the one at Nyukmadong on the Sela-Bomdila axis near Dirang is the most picturesque. Designed in the Buddhist Chorten style, the flat land of the memorial was where the Chinese laid out the Indian soldiers they had killed in an ambush. Lobsang, a gaon bura and an office bearer at Dirang headquarters, recalls seeing hundreds of bodies in Nyukmadong. “It was a terrible sight. After the Chinese left, following the unilateral ceasefire, the villagers got together and cremated them.” The plaque on the black granite memorial at the Tezpur Circuit House declares that the ashes of unknown soldiers from the 1962 war were immersed in the Brahmaputra a year later, on November 18, 1963, in Tezpur.
The winding road from the plains of Assam that makes its way from Tezpur to the forest-rich Bhalukpong — past the swift brown waters of the Jaibharoli and climbs to Tenga, Bomdila and onwards to Sela pass and Tawang — is dotted with reminders of the 1962 war. The memorials are halt points for the men who continue to guard the frontiers. Of all the memorials, the one at Nyukmadong on the Sela-Bomdila axis near Dirang is the most picturesque. Designed in the Buddhist Chorten style, the flat land of the memorial was where the Chinese laid out the Indian soldiers they had killed in an ambush. Lobsang, a gaon bura and an office bearer at Dirang headquarters, recalls seeing hundreds of bodies in Nyukmadong. “It was a terrible sight. After the Chinese left, following the unilateral ceasefire, the villagers got together and cremated them.” The plaque on the black granite memorial at the Tezpur Circuit House declares that the ashes of unknown soldiers from the 1962 war were immersed in the Brahmaputra a year later, on November 18, 1963, in Tezpur. The winding road from the plains of Assam that makes its way from Tezpur to the forest-rich Bhalukpong — past the swift brown waters of the Jaibharoli and climbs to Tenga, Bomdila and onwards to Sela pass and Tawang — is dotted with reminders of the 1962 war. The memorials are halt points for the men who continue to guard the frontiers.