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Mountbatten on CDS
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Issue Vol 16.2 Apr-Jun2001 | Date : 07 Sep , 2015

Letter from Lord Mountbatten of Burma to Lt Gen (then Major General) ML Chibber, (Retd) PVSM, AVSM, PhD.

Broadlands, Ramsey
Hampshire, S05 9ZD
27th September 1977

Dear Chib,

Thank you so much for your letter of the 20th September which I have read with the greatest of interest.

It is nice to see a Subaltern from the days when you mounted guard at Viceroy’s House now a Major General and Director of Military Operations. Many congratulations.

To answer your questions in your paragraph 6 :

(a) The main reason for not urging an immediate appointment of a CDS was precisely that it would be a number of years before a naval or air force officer would be senior enough to be considered for the appointment. The tragic death of the most senior air force officer, Air Marshal Mukerji, in Japan, put back the date at least a couple of years.

But there was also another reason and that was although Prime Minister Nehru agreed with me in principle he said it would be difficult at this moment to get through the appointment of a CDS as it would give to the Indian politians the idea of perpetuating the idea of the great “Commander in Chief in India” of whom the last one, of course, was Field Marshal Auchinleck. He did, however, agree to reconsider later.

(b) Lord Is may and I worked hand in hand on these proposals but I thought it would come better from him than from the Constitutional Governor General as I then had become. He also tried to negotiate a CDS but met with the same opposition from Nehru and for the same reasons.

(c) I have never had any doubt that the time would come when India should have a CDS. It is more important now than ever in my opinion as India is about the only major country ‘that does not have a CDS or at least a Chairman of the Chiefs of Staffs Committee.

I should perhaps add that the last time Nehru stayed with me here at Broadlands before the Chinese invasion on the North East Frontier, I urged him to appoint General Thimayya to be the CDS right away as I could see trouble brewing up. He liked Thimayya immensely and was no longer opposed to the idea of a CDS provided it could be got through the Minister of Defence, at that time our mutual friend, Krishna Menon. He said Krishna was so bitterly opposed to Thimayya and, indeed, all the really intelligent independent senior officers such as Muchoo Chaudhuri, that he was sure he could never get Krishna to agree.

I told him that the real danger was that Krishna was appointing people like Thapar as CGS who was a good administrator but had no command experience and worse still, Kaul who appeared to be a political appointment, though he had been a personal friend.

I warned him that if war came the Indian Army would suffer a quick defeat. He said there was no question of there being a war as India wished to be at peace with everybody. To this I replied that it took two sides to decide whether there would be a war or not and if either China or Pakistan were to invade they would have a war on their hands.

He replied that he relied on his agreement with Chou en Lai and the Chinese would never invade. I questioned this and then I said “If you are so certain you are going to have no war, why don’t you cut down your armed forces and save money?”

This, however, he was unwilling to do as Krishna was against it.

I then said “Well, when you do get involved in a war I will do everything I can to come to your help.”

When the Chinese invaded the first thing I did was to send out Field Marshal Sir Richard Hull, then the CGS, in a Britannia which I had loaded to the very brim with self-loading rifles, as I knew the Indian Army had no up-­to-date small arms.

The next thing I did was to send out my two Intelligence officers who were extremely high-class and did co-­ordination with other Intelligence Services, to try and re-organise the Military Intelligence branch which had faded right away under the influence of the remarkable Sikh whose name I forget, who ran the Government Intelligence Service.

I came out myself a bit later on and met the Defence Council and Senior Officers and if you can find the Minutes of that meeting I think you will find I urged once more that they should immediately appoint a Chief of the Defence Staff and suggested that it should be General Thimayya.

It is just possible I made this remark out of Committee because of the well-known opposition of Krishna Menon, but I certainly made the suggestion to Nehru and I am afraid it wasn’t adopted, I think again through Krishna Menon’s hostility.

You have correctly noted that I managed to get a very considerable degree of unification in command and administration in the British Services. In those days we had overseas commands and I appointed Mini Supreme Commanders under the title of “Unified Commanders-in-Chief” for the near East, middle East and far East. All this went very well, particularly during the confrontation in Borneo with Soekino.

However, I have always made a great point of saying that we would not follow that ludicrous Canadian example whereby they put the Army, Navy and Air Force into green uniforms and gave them the same titles.

My elder daughter, Patricia, is Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and I have been three times with her when she visited her Regiment and each year I notice that they are returning more and more to their own mess dress, their own ranks and their own uniforms. I think they will soon return to having the prestige and esprit de corps of their own Service while still having the benefit of unification at the top.

Great care is needed to avoid destroying esprit de corps of any Service by putting them all into a green uniform!

Be careful how you use this letter as it is probably irregular for a former Viceroy-Governor-General to communicate direct with the Director of Military Operations.

For this reason I have marked the letter “Confidential”.

I wouldn’t in the least mind writing to the new Prime Minister as Morarji Desai is an old friend and would probably take some note of what I wrote, but I don’t want to intervene at this moment when he has so many other problems on his plate.

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7 thoughts on “Mountbatten on CDS

  1. Dear Sir ,

    1. I am not only delightrd but happy to learn about the soldierly conduct of Gen Chibbar as DGMO .

    2. The reply of Lord Mountbatten is equally straight anf square.

    3. A must read foy present Chiefs pf Army , Air and Naval Staff and last but not the least by PM ,RM and the President of India being the Supreme Commander.

    best wishes ,
    Brig Pradeep Yadu ( retd)

  2. Menon though brilliant suffered from grave idiosyncracies.
    CDS in the absence of a proper organised Force in the Services at that juncture {pre-1962} was not a must. We were evolving into a Defence Force to be reckoned with.The three Service Chiefs should be men of stature independent
    of any ‘affiliation’.Menon and Kaul as Army Chief put the clock back and we indeed reaped the consequences in ’62.Lt Gen Thorat with vast field exposure
    should have been at the helm of operations even if there was a supersession in Command. That was not to be.Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh and other able field Commanders should have had a greater say post ’62. 1965 was a face saver in the Western Sector due to their prowess-whatever positions they held.
    Later, Sundarjee revamped much lost ground and his name sent shivers down the spine of the Western enemy-the Eastern one being circumspect in the circumstances. That is why during ‘Punjab operations’ Pakistani reflexes were mute and China never dared.
    Let us applaud merit where it existed and reminisce about past talents {some wasted} falling by the wayside in desperation.If well used the course of subsequent events would have been different.
    We have however made ameliorations for the good and future operations(God forbid} shall be testimonies of the dear departed.

  3. Nehru had always been a lame duck, especially in this case to Krshna Manon who was the actual in house enemy. MB evaluated the senior officers very rightly..
    as we all know and have read all along, and has the mettle to pen down.
    What is the actually the purpose of the note if he could not get what was the best interest of the Indian Armed Forces.

  4. The best thing that happened to India was the 1962 war with China. It shook the country out of our sluggish farce of “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai”. Another good thing that came by was the sacking of some unholy characters like Nehru’s hatchet man Krishna Menon and his Kashmiri kinsman Gen Kaul. In fact Nehru too should have stepped down if he had any self respect. Thank God he wasn’t around during the 1965 war with Pakistan!

  5. Thanks for this post. I knew General Chibber well. I used to have long chats with him and Brigadier Inder Sethi at Delhi (Def Col) after the Siachen operations (Which Chib executed and got his Padma Bhushan for)

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