Military & Aerospace

1962 War: The Chinese invasion - III
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Issue Book Excerpt: Indian Army After Independence | Date : 13 Mar , 2011

The Engineers had earlier converted the 293-kilometre track linking Chushul to Leh via Dungti into an unmetalled road. On 9 October, Daulet Singh had paid a visit to Chushul to assess its capabilities as a defensive position. Reinforcements began to reach Chushul after a few days. By 24 October, 13 Kumaon was deployed at Chushul. Two days earlier, 9 Dogra had begun to fly to Leh. This battalion was later deployed on the Leh-Chushul road. Towards the end of October, 3 Himalayan Division was raised under Major General Budh Singh to assume control of operations in Ladakh; 114 Brigade was made entirely responsible for the defence of Chushul and its tactical Headquarters moved there. The other two brigades of the new division, 70 Infantry Brigade was deployed around Dungti, South of Chushul. Its third Brigade (163) was flown into Leh on 10 November. By then further reinforcements had arrived at Chushul. These comprised a troop from 20 Lancers (AMX Tanks). 38 Field Battery of 13 Field Regiment a troop from 32 Heavy Mortar Regiment. 1 Jat (LI) and Y Company of 1 Mahar machine guns.

Chinese reconnaissance parties would come up, spread out maps, take a good look and go back”.

The Indian Air Force had a big hand in the build-up at Chushul. It flew sortie after sortie to bring troops, tanks, guns and other equipment. Prior to the invasion, the airfield at Chushul seldom received more than one aircraft a day. It had now to cope daily with six AN-12s and about eight C-119 sorties and frequently became unserviceable. The men of 9 Field Company had a hard task keeping it in repair. To assist them, the Divisional Engineers were also diverted to this task.

As a subaltern in the Kumaon Regiment, Raina had fought the Japanese in several actions in Burma. That experience now served him well. Under his leadership, 114 Brigade began to prepare for the defence of Chushul. He was untiring in his efforts and visited each locality to make sure that it was well sited and the men had all their requirements. That he was able to infuse into his command the spirit that induces men to take on any odds became evident when the battle began. Describing the situation on the eve of the Battle of Chushul, the brigade’s war diary records: “Our troops were well dug down, their arms tested, their ammunition next to them and their hearts all set to face the Yellow Peril”.32 All weapons in the brigade had six second-line scales of ammunition, besides the first-line scale.

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The brigade held a frontage of 40 kilometres. Building of defences on the heights around Chushul had not been easy, the only means of transport being yaks and ponies hired from the local Ladakhis. The defences were mainly arrayed against the Spanggur Gap. The recoilless guns of three infantry battalions were pooled to ensure concentrated fire on the Gap. The guns of the field battery and the tanks were also trained on this vital ground. North of the Gap was a relatively high feature called Gurung Hill (4,809 metres). This feature, Gun Hill and the Gap were made the responsibility of 1/8 Gorkha Rifles. Mugger Hill (5,182 metres) overlooked the Gap from the South and was held by two companies of 13 Kumaon.

Further South lay Rezang La (5,005 metres) which overlay a track from Tibet that skirted the Eastern shore of the Spanggur Tso and did not touch the Gap. One company of 13 Kumaon held Rezang La. To guard the Northern approaches to Chushul, 1 Jat (LI), together with attached troops, was deployed in the Tokung area. The brigade’s fourth battalion,5 Jat, guarded the Southern approaches and its companies were positioned around Tsaka La, on the Leh-Chushul road. All infantry positions were protected by mines and wire. Dummy guns and tanks were positioned to mislead the enemy. These dispositions then formed the outer defensive perimeter guarding the Brigade’s vital ground – Chushul and its airfield.

The Chinese too had been preparing. Indian observation posts watched their build-up day after day.

“Their lorries came right up to their post at Spanggur. They did a lot of blasting, and their boats were seen to ply on the Spanggur Tso at night. The area that seemed to get the maximum attention from them was the Spanggur Gap. Chinese reconnaissance parties would come up, spread out maps, take a good look and go back”.33

This was in fact a ruse. When they attacked, the Chinese did not attempt a breakthrough at the Gap.

The shelling was particularly intense at Rezang La: the Chinese were determined to take it at any cost.

18 November 1962 was a Sunday. The morning was bitterly cold, and visibility down to 350 metres. The battle that was fought that day was perhaps unique in the history of warfare. Never before had a major action been fought at such heights and with such ferocity. The Chinese began with a ‘silent’ attack on Rezang La in the early hours of the morning. They had brought up their troops during the night in order to surprise this isolated company locality. Ten kilometres from 13 Kumaon’s Headquarters, Rezang La was held by C Company of the battalion and had no artillery support.

Several gullies ran down from the upper reaches of Rezang La towards the Spanggur Tso. At about 0400 hours a patrol spotted a large body of the Chinese scrambling up the gullies and gave the alarm. Within minutes; every man in the company was at his fire position. Under Major Shaitan Singh, a Rajput from Jodhpur, the company at Rezang La had been brought to a state of absolute readiness. The gullies had been ranged in and all of Shaitan Singh’s light machine guns and mortars were now trained on them. As the Chiniese came within range, the Kumaonis let them have it. ‘Many of them fell; others continued to move up. But with every weapon in C Company firing, the gullies in front of the three platoons were soon full of dead and wounded chinese’.34

Their surprise attack having failed, the Chinese now began a massive shelling of the whole front: Gurung Hill, the Gap, Mugger Hill and Rezang La. The shelling was particularly intense at Rezang La: the Chinese were determined to take it at any cost. To destroy the Kumaoni bunkers, they brought up 75-mm and 57-mm recoilless guns on wheelbarrows to the flanks of the company and tired them en masse. They also used a certain number of 132-mm rockets.

Book_Indian_Army_AfterNo bunker could stand this onslaught. The corrugated iron sheets covering the bunkers were smashed to bits and the ballis reduced to matchwood. Under cover of the shelling, about 600 of the Chinese reached the flanks and attacked the two forward platoons simultaneously. While the Indians were fighting this assault, a Chinese column managed to reach the rear of the company. Under attack from three sides, the gallant Kumaonis put up a brave fight. ‘Eventually, post by post, section by section and platoon by platoon, the company was overrun’. By 0900 hours the Chinese had taken Rezang La.The bitterness of the fighting is evident from the casualties suffered by both sides. Of the Kumaon company, only 14 survivors reached the battalion, all of them wounded. This was out of a total of 1 officer, 3 jcos and 124 other ranks who had gone into battle that morning. According to the estimates of 114 Brigade, the Chinese suffered about 300 casualties in their attack on Rezang La.

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Shaitan Singh had received a burst in his arm in the later stages of the battle. After most of the men from his centre platoon and Company Headquarters were either killed or wounded, he was persuaded by his Company Havildar Major Harphul Singh to withdraw along with the others who could walk. While he and his party were on their way, they were spotted by the enemy. Harphul Singh fell mortally wounded and Shaitan Singh received a burst in the abdomen.

Enemy casualties at Gurung Hill were estimated at 500. Indian casualties totalled 39: 26 killed or missing and 13 wounded.

‘The remaining two men of the party bandaged his wound and picked him up, descended into one of the ravines that led to the company’s base. But they had not gone far when they were caught in the crossfire of enemy automatics’. Shaitan Singh realized that there would be no chance of escape for even these two men if they had to carry him. ‘He ordered them to leave him where he was and save themselves. Retuctantly, they left. Three months later, his body was found at that very spot’. Shaitan Singh’s stand at Rezang La earned him the PVC from the Indian Government.

Gurung Hill came under attack from Chinese infantry around 0630 hours on 18 November. By then their artillery and mortars had lifted their fire from the forward Indian positions and begun to shell targets in the rear. Gurung Hills was dominated by Black Hill. The latter was in Chinese hands. Gurung Hill was held by 1/8 Gorkha Rifles with two companies, less a platoon. They were supported by a section each of medium machine guns and 3-inch mortars and an artillery observation party was also positioned with them. Under cover of their shelling, a company plus of the Chinese were seen to roll down from Black Hill to the Gorkhas’ position. Second-Lieutenant S.D. Goswamy, the artillery observation officer, was ready for them, and directed well-aimed artillery fire on them. The impact was sudden and devastating; the remnants of the first wave were hurled back to Black Hill.

Ten minutes later, a second assault wave of the remaining battalion of the enemy was seen advancing from the same direction. The curtain of artillery fire continued, with the tanks, 3-inch mortars and the medium machine guns now joining in. However, even this combined firepower did not daunt the Chinese. By 0930 hours a portion of the defences had been overrun. However, when they advanced towards the remaining defences, fire from the tanks effectively stopped them and they made no further infantry attacks that day. The artillery observation party remained in position till the enemy had reached within 50 metres of it. After Goswamy was wounded by a grenade, his assistant took over and kept directing the fire of his guns till the very end. Except for Goswamy, the entire observation party was wiped out.35 He was awarded the MVC.

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After lifting their fire from the forward Indian positions, the Chinese turned their artillery and mortars on the airfield, the dummy tanks and gun positions, the Headquarters of 13 Kumaon and the Chushul-Tsaka La road. Though the shelling was heavy it did not do much damage. Some 600 shells landed around 13 Kumaon’s Headquaters, but not a single casualty occurred. Shelling of the remaining portion of Gurung Hill continued till the afternoon, when there was a lull. During the night the Chinese shelled the airfield intermittently.

On 19 November, around 1030 hours, the Chinese formed up to attack the remaining portion of Gurung Hill. The tanks and the artillery again stopped the enemy. The Chinese, however, bided their time. They attacked yet again in the afternoon, under cover of snow and a heavy mist that occurred around 1400 hours. It was a two-pronged assault and came in such strength that the position fell at 1530 hours.

Enemy casualties at Gurung Hill were estimated at 500. Indian casualties totalled 39: 26 killed or missing and 13 wounded.

After the battle, enemy movement was observed in the direction of the airfield. The Chinese were apparently aiming to roll down in strength from Gurung Hill and another position during the night with a view to cutting off Indian troops in the Spanggur Gap and on Mugger Hill. The Indians had decided earlier that in such a contingency it would be futile to hold on to these positions. Raina accordingly gave orders to commence thinning out at last light. Similar orders were sent to the troops holding the line between Tokung and Gurung Hill.

The result of his timely action was that the whole brigade, with practically its entire equipment and stores, was re-established in its new defences around Chushul village by the morning of 20 November. On 18 November, as part of a planned withdrawal, about a hundred second- and first-line vehicles had been sent back from Chushul to Dungti to avoid their falling into enemy hands.

Book_Indian_Army_AfterAs the reader would have noted, such moves, planned and deliberate, were conspicuous by their absence in NEFA. Much of the credit for organizing the defences of Chushul and for saving the village and the airfield goes to Brigadier Raina. The Indian Government recognized this by conferring upon him the MVC.

14 Brigade remained undefeated. The fighting in Ladakh ended with China’s unilateral cease-fire declaration. The new Chinese Line of Actual Control now gave full security to the Aksai Chin Road running in Indian territory.


  1. Himalayan Battleground, by Fisher, Rose and Huttenback, p. 135.
  2. India’s China War, by Maxwell, p. 293.
  3. Himalayan Blunder, by Brigadier J.P. Dalvi, p. 130.
  4. The Untold Story, by Kaul, p. 341
  5. Himalayan Blunder, by Dalvi, p. 150.
  6. The Untold Story, by Kaul, p. 356.
  7. An Assistant Political Officer came up a few days later for this purpose but was stopped en route when a radio signal was received forbidding such talks. The Chinese request had been conveyed to Nehru, then in London, and the refusal has been attributed to him.
  8. Some sources put the incident on the previous night.
  9. Himalayan Blunder, by Dalvi, pp. 235–6 and 239–40.
  10. The Untold Story, by Kaul, pp. 36–8.
  11. Ibid., p. 372.
  12. This officer was Brigadier General Staff at Headquarters 4 Corps.
  13. He was the Chief Engineer at Headquarters 4 Corps.
  14. The Untold Story, by Kaul, p. 386.
  15. Ibid., p. 387.
  16. Himalayan Blunder, by Dalvi, p. 330.
  17. The Untold Story, by Kaul, pp. 388–9.
  18. Himalayan Blunder, by Dalvi, p. 341.
  19. Y.B. Chavan, then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, was named as Menon’s successor but he took over his new charge only after the cease-fire.
  20. The Untold Story, by Kaul, p. 398.
  21. The technique of infiltrating the Indian flanks was continued by the Chinese in the second phase of their operations. They had evidently given a good deal of thought to this manoeuvre. In the Second World War, the Japanese had hoodwinked an astute general like Slim with this technique. They attacked his flank in Imphal and Kohima after bringing up two infantry divisions along very difficult tracks that led through the jungle from the Chindwin River. Slim had estimated that the Japanese would not be able to bring up more than a brigade that way. Their feat surprised him and the battles around Kohima and Imphal were the most crucial in the Burma campaign. The fate of Assam had hung in the balance for many weeks. Slim had the resources to deal with his adversary’s unexpected manoeuvre; 4 Corps neither had the resources, nor someone even approaching Slim’s calibre to control the situation that resulted from Chinese thrusts against 4 Division’s flanks.
  22. Tse La (4,754 metres) lies North-East of Se La.
  23. India’s Defence Problem, by Khera, p. 230.
  24. In other sectors too, Chinese advance elements used men dressed in local attire to confuse Indian troops.
  25. The Untold Story, by Kaul, p. 413.
  26. Quote from The Red Eagles.
  27. The ambush took place after the cease-fire.
  28. Quote from The Red Eagles.
  29. Chinese Invasion of NEFA, by Major S.R. Johri, p. 211.
  30. Quote from Valour Triumphs.
  31. Chinese Invasion of NEFA, by Johri, pp. 250, 254.
  32. Quote from Valour Triumphs, p. 246.
  33. Ibid., p. 248.
  34. Ibid., p, 250.
  35. Red Coats to Olive Green, by Longer, p. 388.
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2 thoughts on “1962 War: The Chinese invasion – III

  1. When,,,, photo of Brigadier Hoshiar Singh shown to one of the pow after his sacrifice,,, the chinese officer asked …. do you know this officer ?… he is now …no more…

    face of indian Jwan got SHOCKED,,,
    oh !!! u know this man…tell me about him…

    …he replied… his wardi shows …..

    he is an indian officer …we salute and proud of him.

    jai hind….

    to immediate officer of this jawan… who really remembers his great hero till now. .

    • I visited NEFA IN 1987 after a gap of 25 years of operations and had carried out recovery operations of equipment after declaration of ceasefire by Chinese.
      When I was visiting Rupa few people stationed there showed the place where Brigadier Hoshair Singh was tied behind a Chinese Jeep and dragged till he passed away.

      While reading one of the accounts it said that he was shot dead.

      What is the truth ?

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