Letter from Lord Mountbatten of Burma to Lt Gen (then Major General) ML Chibber, (Retd) PVSM, AVSM, PhD.
Hampshire, S05 9ZD
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.