“Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult … so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even moderate results.” – Clausewitz’s note of caution.
History has always recorded a nation’s battles and wars in minute detail. Battles and manoeuvres from the times of Alexander to Genghis Khan, Shivaji to Napoleon, Ranjit Singh to Rommel, Patton and Guderian have been exactingly poured over so as to be able, virtually, to re-enact the event of that era. Attributes for success and reasons for failure were identified and lessons drawn up. With progress of technology weapons evolved and warfighting methods changed. However, certain aspects remained, quite literally, constant. On these constants the Principles of War were propounded. With minor modifications these have remained applicable in the wars in the post-modern era.
It is often said that armies are training and preparing to fight the ‘last’ war but end up confronted with a war they had not visualised and which is wholly different. If that were to be true then why bother to draw and learn lessons of the ‘last’ war when the course and construct of a future war is unfathomable? Well the simple answer to that is at least the earlier mistakes will not be repeated. Armies find it easier to train for the ‘last’ war than prepare for a ‘future’ war. A deliberate and concerted effort requires to be put in by commanders at all levels to prevent cerebral calcification wherein status quo finds favour.
India’s national policy has always been non-confrontational with emphasis on resolving issues diplomatically through dialogue and negotiations. Despite India’s morbid aversion for employment of hard power in pursuit of national interest and protect its territorial integrity, India has been drawn into a number of major conflicts by its belligerent neighbours. J&K in 1947-48, Hyderabad in September 1948, liberating Goa in 1961, Chinese debacle in 1962, Indo-Pak War in 1965, liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, 1987-89 OP PAWAN, 1999 Kargil War and 2001-2 OP PARAKRAM. On the face of it Indian Army is a battle hardened force. Therefore, it becomes imperative to draw useful lessons from its redoubtable experience to further hone individual skills and operational techniques and to be prepared for any future contingency when the Army will be called in to defend the country’s territory and its cherished core values.
With that as background, Indian Army’s war experience could be studied to draw lessons and also see which lessons were ignored in subsequent wars and how it did impact the course of the war/battle.
Operations in Jammu and Kashmir 1947-48.
India’s independence was a tumultuous event. Mass migration of populations was underway. Violence and massacre between communities was rampant. Only the Army could intervene to control it. British Officers were still holding the higher positions in both the newly forming nations. In this chaos arose another major crisis the accession of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
The Army was inducted into J&K only after the Maharaja of the State signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October 1947. There had been no previous plans whatsoever to send troops to J&K. As a result, the operation was mounted on an impromptu basis on the spur of the moment. Intelligence with regard to the Pakistani game plan was nonexistent. Military intelligence never got a chance to get established. 1 SIKH which was inducted was stationed at Gurgaon very near the Palam airport in Delhi.
A MADRAS battalion located in Delhi was considered for induction but due to political complications of it being commanded by a British Officer the move was dropped. Initially as recorded, the Pakistanis denied that it was giving any aid to the Laschars (tribal raiders) who it claimed comprised persecuted Muslims of J&K State rising in revolt and joined by a number of independent tribesmen from areas beyond the NWFP; by persons from contiguous areas of Pakistan and Muslim refugees of East Punjab. However, later the Pakistani Foreign Minister admitted that three Brigades of regular troops had been operating since May 1948.
At that time Indian Army had 127 Infantry battalions on its Order Of Battle. Some 50 battalions were already in J&K, 29 were in East Punjab guarding the vital sector of Indo-Pak frontier. 19 battalions were stationed in Hyderabad where Razakars supporting the Nizam were a threat, thus leaving 29 battalions for Internal Security tasks and as general reserve. By December 1948 India had two Divisional HQ’s with 12 Infantry Brigades HQ’s and 50 Infantry battalions besides 14 battalions of Militia. In comparison, Pakistan had three Divisional HQ’s, 14 Infantry Brigades HQ’s, 63 Infantry battalions and 24 battalions worth of SCOUTS and irregulars. Cease Fire came into effect on the midnight of night 1-2 January 1949.
It stands out clearly that even while the Government is involved in dialogue and discussions, it must warn the armed forces to be prepared for an eventuality to deploy adequate force for any task if talks fail. Had this been done more forces could have been pre-positioned nearer Jammu to be inducted by road and for an airlift to Srinagar from, probably, Jalandhar which would have generated more sorties per day than by the induction process from Delhi. The units could have carried out battle inoculation and troops and their commanders prepared to the ensuing battle. Also the build up of logistics could have been planned in greater detail as later this became the major factor in curtailing the momentum of the offensive and limiting the scope of the operations. Thus operations were planned as a reaction to the offensive by Pak forces.
The Army’s combat ratios were inadequate to generate worthwhile potential to ensure quick tactical gains and exploit opportunities. Extended pause was to be built in to build up logistics and redeploy troops for attack. Thus while attacks were successful, enveloping movement to cut off and capture retreating enemy was not possible. Overall the plan recapture J&K was adhoc and limited due to paucity of all sorts of resources and long lines of communication which were vulnerable to disruptive actions by Pak irregular forces. While the war was on negotiations had been going on for a year and a Cease Fire had been also been proposed. However, the military was not warned of this impending decision which was to be effective from a particular hour that the Nehru government had already decided.
Had the Army been apprised of the impending Cease Fire the troops on ground could have made advances to capture tactically more sound positions which later had an effect on the alignment of the Cease Fire Line (the same later was more-or-less transformed into the Line of Control). A greater alertness on the part of junior leadership on the spot could have prevented encroachments. Also if they were given more freedom of action and had exercised greater initiative and boldness they could have evicted these encroachments even without directions from higher authority. This is a bane in the rigid command and control system generally followed due to unnecessary caution of the commanders at tactical level. It has been opined that had the Army been taken into confidence it would have resulted in the liberation of the rest of J&K.
Nehru’s single point control of national affairs and unopposed decision making was to lead to a greater tragedy in just over a decade later.
India-China War of 1962
Even after the war in J&K there was no effort make to strengthen the Army and make a robust defence plan. In fact there was a strong sentiment to do away with the Army. This is what Nehru was alleged to have said: “We don’t need a defence plan. Our policy is ahimsa [non-violence]. We foresee no military threats. Scrap the Army! The police is good enough to meet our security needs.” And so the Army was downsized and used for mundane tasks considered “nation building” by Nehru’s maverick Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Training was not a factor that seemed to matter.
The 1962 War is a sombre saga of ineptitude at all levels, lack of preparation, poor leadership, adhocism and neglect of the Army by the powers that be resulting from the political paranoia of a military coup which obsessed the then Prime Minister Nehru. The casual cavalier manner in which the Prime Minister and Defence Minister stated to the media the infamous quote – “Army has been ordered to evict the Chinese” came as a surprise to the military hierarchy. It was a quaint situation where the Army received its orders to go to a major war through the media!! Ineptitude in handling of an adverse situation was the hall mark of this war. At the cutting edge, however, courage and bravery were never found wanting. Unfortunately, battalions, companies and platoons were abandoned by the higher headquarters, without any means of communication, with a seriously depleted of stocks of ammunition, rations and equipment. They could not hold out long under such circumstances. The rout was morale sapping and a huge humiliating defeat was writ large.
In chronological order, after the Longju incident in Arunachal Pradesh in August 1959, soon after followed by the ambush of CRPF patrol at Konka La in Eastern Ladakh on 21st October 1959, the relations between India and China became more and more acrimonious. There was a continuous ongoing exchange of demarches by both governments, unfortunately, for a second time in just over a decade, the Army was kept out of the national decision making loop. The Intelligence Bureau and the Indian Ambassador in Peking (Beijing) were emphatic in their belief and stated so in their reports to Nehru that China would not react to India’s forward move in establishing posts (Forward Policy) in the territory India claimed as its own. Even as the situation on ground became more charged the Army was not ordered to prepare for war. When finally the matters got out of hand the way the Army was ordered to evict the Chinese from Indian territory. The unfolding scenario was brazen to say the least.
The Prime Ministers continued to dominate the decision making and functioned as a single point control. This resulted in panic induction of forces without any intelligence of the enemy, unprepared, ill-quipped into unfamiliar areas without even detailed maps, with unsuited communications, with token artillery support, no combat engineer support and next to no logistic backup. The defences were hastily prepared with trenches having no overhead protection, no barbed wire protection or anti personnel mines laid around the localities. With the local porters having deserted and no Pioneers available, even the tasks of collecting para-dropped stores and lugging these to the defences also fell on the fighting soldier. The platoon and company locations were decided on inaccurate maps in the corridors of Army Headquarters so far removed from the battle front. Consequently the positions selected had no tactical relevance to the existing terrain. The abject failure of higher leadership in abdicating their onerous moral responsibility of exemplary and inspirational leadership at the Brigade and Division was most demoralising for the troops who were prepared to stand their ground with what they had.
Before the Army moved in to prepare to defend the borders, Assam Rifles, a para-military force was deployed in Arunachal Pradesh, and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Ladakh. These forces were under the Ministry of External Affairs and were not in the chain of command of the Army formations inducted. An uncoordinated response is wasteful in all types of resources. The situation persists till date with Indo Tibetan Border Police units deployed along the India-China Line of Actual Control (LAC) continues to remain directly under the Ministry of Home Affairs. This dual control is operationally unsuitable.
The Chinese had made elaborate preparations for the conflict. They had built roads well forward (opposite Tawang Sector roads came right up to Le Camp and Bum La). They stocked up 40 days reserves for the Divisions. They set up communication relays to ensure that units going deep behind the forward line of Indian Army defended localities were always in communication. All these battle preparations and obvious indicators were not interpreted correctly. The Chinese had incorporated deception at the tactical level to achieve surprise. The attacks were multi directional and invariably involved isolating the objective before the attack was launched. Strangely, the forces outflanking Se La and heading for Bomdi La did not lose their way nor did they miss the objectives so deep inside the enemy’s territory. It is quite possible that reconnaissance and preparation for this bold manoeuvre was undertaken well before the Army moved on to the scene. Defeat drains away fighting spirit and needs to be recharged by exemplary leadership, this was woefully missing.