The Chinese attacked an hour after the column left. Though their positions were denuded, the Sikh LI repulsed the enemy. Gurbux Singh now ordered the advance party of 3 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles and a platoon of 377 Field Company to fill the gap left by the companies that had been pulled out. At the same time, he recalled the mobile column and ordered that the two companies of 1 Sikh LI should re-occupy their old defences. Around 1330 hours the battalion beat back another assault with support from artillery and medium machine guns. However, an hour or so later, while its two companies were re-occupying their positions, the Chinese struck again and overran most of the battalion’s positions. Attempts to retrieve the situation failed.
Meanwhile, 48 Brigade Headquarters and the gun positions had come under small-arms fire; only the field guns and the tanks were holding the enemy at bay. Around 1630 hours, the brigade commander ordered a withdrawal to Rupa, 14 kilometres South of Bomdi La. Unfortunately, the withdrawal order did not reach every unit. One of the units that did not get it was 1 Madras. At about the time Gurbux Singh issued that order, the Chinese were forming up to attack this battalion. The artillery could not take on the enemy as communications between the guns and the forward observation officer had broken down. Soon after, when the Chinese put in an attack, they succeeded in taking a part of the battalion’s position. The battalion commander had sent out a patrol a short while earlier to establish contact with Brigade Headquarters as he had been out of communication with it. The patrol returned with the information that there was no one at the place where the Headquarters had been.
Left to himself, the battalion commander withdrew his unit in the night and made for Tenga Valley. He presumed that the rest of the brigade too would have gone there. However, in following the jungle tracks, the battalion lost its way, and was ambushed on 21 November. Small parties reached Charduar later. A count showed that the battalion had 245 of its personnel missing including the battalion commander.
Brigadier Gurbux Singh’s hurried departure from Bomdi La created a great deal of confusion. While his party was on its way to Rupa, the main body of 3 Jammu & Kashmir Rilles was making for Bomdi La by a different route. The battalion arrived there around 0500 hours on 19 October and found that the Chinese had not yet occupied the place. The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Gurdial Singh, decided to stay put and occupied a defensive perimeter around the dropping zone.
Units were hurriedly told what defensive positions to occupy but before they could even move into them, the Chinese had opened up.
About this time, another battalion of 67 Brigade was making for Bomdi La. This was 6/8 Gorkha Rifles. When the convoy carrying this battalion reached Tenga towards the evening, the road was choked with refugees and an unending stream of Army vehicles coming from the direction of Bomdi La. As it was impossible to make further progress, the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel G.S. Kale, halted the convoy and as a temporary measure, ordered his unit to occupy the high ground dominating the Tenga Valley camp. He made arrangements to stop the stragglers and then set out to meet Brigadier Gurbux Singh. The meeting took place at Rupa and Kale was told to take his battalion to Bomdi La.
Evidently, Gurbux Singh was having second thoughts about Bomdi La. He had earlier sent his brigade major to Tenga to get in touch with 4 Corps and report the situation. The brigade major spoke to the GSO 1 at Corps Headquarters on the telephone around 2130 hours and was told that the Brigade, should withdraw to Foot Hills. However, when this officer got back to Rupa, he found that Gurbux Singh had meanwhile left for Bomdi La. He caught up with him around 0200 hours (19 November).
On arrival at Bomdi La, Gurbux Singh met the commanding officers of 3 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles and 22 Mountain Regiment. Manning the defences around the dropping zone were the 3 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles, a field battery, two tanks of 7 Light Cavalry and a few men of 1 Sikh LI. After taking stock of the situation, Gurbux Singh ordered all troops at Bomdi La to withdraw before first light. The convoy of 6/8 Gorkha Rifles was only a few kilometres from Bomdi La when it was ordered to countermarch.
To add to the prevailing confusion, 4 Corps reversed its earlier orders and told 48 Brigade to hold Rupa. This happened at 0630 hours. Units were hurriedly told what defensive positions to occupy but before they could even move into them, the Chinese had opened up. They were already holding the heights. The brigade now fell back upon Tenga, with 6/8 Gorkhas and two tanks of 7 Light Cavalry acting as the rearguard.
During the withdrawal, the 3 Jammu & Kashmir Rifles fought an action in the Tenga Valley and suffered heavy casualties, with 98 of their personnel missing (including the commanding officer). The number of missing in 6/8 Gorkha Rifles was 147. 1 Sikh LI had only 16 missing; their remaining casualties were 22 killed and 35 wounded.
The announcement of cease-fire was as sudden as the invasion had been. In fact, Indian newspapers published the news before members of the Cabinet knew of it.
The curtain came down just before midnight on 20 November when the Chinese announced a unilateral cease-fire, effective from the midnight of 21/22 November. The announcement said that the Chinese force would begin to pull out on 1 December and would withdraw to positions ‘20 kilometres behind the line of actual control(LAC) that existed between the two countries on 7 November 1959’.
The announcement of cease-fire was as sudden as the invasion had been. In fact, Indian newspapers published the news before members of the Cabinet knew of it. On the morning of 21 November, Lal Bahadur Shastri, the Home Minister, was at Delhi airport to take a plane for Tezpur. He was going there to study the situation. Seeing an excited crowd at the news-stand, a member of his party went and bought a newspaper which gave the announcement of the cease-fire. Shastri immediately drove to Nehru’s residence with the news.
According to some sources, Chou En-lai had called the Indian charge d’ affaires at Peking to his residence the night before the announcement was made and told him in detail of China’s intentions. Delays in enciphering and deciphering the message and in its transmission, were responsible for the embarrassing situation.
The Chinese did not follow Indian troops beyond Chaku, though they did send some patrols and there were stray clashes after the cease-fire. In the civil area of Tezpur, there was great panic in the wake of Indian reverses. The civil administration broke down completely, with senior officials deserting their posts. On 20 November, the main Headquarters of 4 Corps was ordered to move to Gauhati by train. However, the train staff fled and the Headquarters left by road on 21 November. When the news of the cease-fire reached Tezpur, the road-convoy was recalled.
The civil administration broke down completely, with senior officials deserting their posts.
On 19 November, 5 Infantry Division had begun to arrive at Foot Hills from Punjab. But it was, by then, too late to retrieve the situation. Had this division arrived a week earlier, or had General Pathania held on to Se La till its arrival, the story in Kameng might have been different. The delay in pulling out 5 Division from Punjab was due to the fact that India was not sure of Pakistan’s intentions during the early stages of the hostilities.
THE REST OF NEFA
The terrain in the Lohit sector is no different from the rest of NEFA. The Mishmis form the dominant tribal group of the region. The main defended sector was Walong. This village, situated about 32 kilometres from the McMahon Line, lies in a bowl surrounded by high hills. The Lohit River, on whose banks the village lies, is a tributary of the Brahmaputra.
The route to Tibet mostly follows the Lohit. In 1962, Teju was the road-head; the railhead was at Talap, 48 kilometres further back on the South bank of the Lohit. Due to its extremely strong current, the Lohit is neither navigable nor fordable. The Mishmis had put up some rope-bridges but these were shaky and took time to negotiate. The Chinese brought rubber dinghies for crossing the Lohit. Walong had an air-strip but it was so small that it could only take Otters and Caribous. These planes were the only means of supply to this sector, besides air-drops.
As part of the ‘forward policy’, the Assam Rifles had set up a post on 30 June 1962 on a feature called Mohan Ridge, which runs from the East bank of the Lohit towards the border trijunction between India, Tibet and Burma. Here the Lohit flows in from Tibet at a height of 1,300 metres only even though the McMahon Line on either side varies in height from 2,500 to 3,500 metres.
Chinas hostile intent became evident on 18 October when it was discovered that a detachment of Chinese troops, led by a lama, had occupied a hill (Point 10,070) South of the McMahon Line.
The Chinese had a post facing Mohan Ridge at Sama, a Tibetan village about five kilometres from the border. A little further back, at Rima, was the Chinese forward base. As we have mentioned elsewhere, 5 Brigade originally was responsible for all sectors of NEFA barring the Kameng Division.
Evidence of Chinese activity in this sector came in the beginning of August, when their patrols could be seen across the border. Later, when a heavy build-up of Chinese posts was reponed, a company of 6 Kumaon was moved forward to Dichu, a Mishmi village South of Mohan Ridge, separated by a stream of the same name. This battalion had arrived in Walong in March 1962. In the first week of October, 4 Sikh arrived in the sector.
China’s hostile intent became evident on 18 October when it was discovered that a detachment of Chinese troops, led by a lama, had occupied a hill (Point 10,070) South of the McMahon Line. To check further intrusions, an Assam Rifles’ platoon was deployed on a feature facing this hill. At the same time, a platoon of the Kumaonis was moved to Mohan Ridge.
On the night of 20/21 October, Indian observation posts saw numerous lights moving in and around Sama. On the following day, the Chinese were seen digging in their area and clearing paths for mules through the jungle towards Mohan Ridge. All this activity portended an attack and the Indian defended locality at Mohan Ridge was reinforced with another Kumaoni platoon.