Military & Aerospace

Ten truths about the 1962 War
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 25 May , 2015

Mules carrying ammunition over a mountain pass during 1962 War

Here are some truths about the 1962 China’s War which are not often mentioned in history books or Reports from the Government.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive.

1.  The precise location of the border

In the Army HQ in Delhi as well as locally in the NEFA, nobody was really sure where exactly the border (the famous McMahon Line) was. It is the reason why the famous Henderson-Brooks report has been kept out of the eyes of the Indian public for fifty years. Till the fateful day of October 20, 1962, the Army bosses in Delhi were unable to tell the local commanders where the border in Tawang sector precisely was?

2.  There was no map

Lt. Gen. Niranjan Prasad, GOC 4 Infantry Division wrote in his memoirs (The Fall of Towang):  “It is hard to understand how any purposeful negotiation could have been conducted with Communist China [in 1960] when even such elementary details as accurate maps were not produced; or, if they were in existence, they were certainly not made available to the Army, who had been given the responsibility for ensuring the security of the border.”

…when Lt. Gen. Kaul was evacuated from the Namkha chu on October 8, having fallen sick due to the altitude, he was carried pick-a-back by ‘local’ porters. It was later discovered that one of them was a Chinese interpreter in a PoW camp in Tibet. The secrets were out!

The Army had no map.

There is the story of Capt. H.S. Talwar of the elite 17 Parachute Field Regiment who was asked to reinforce Tsangle, an advance post, north of the Namkha chu on October 16. Without map, he and his men roamed around for 2 days in the snow; they finally landed a few kilometers east at a 2 Rajputs camp (and were eventually taken PoWs to Tibet with Brig. John Dalvi on October 21).

3.  Some troops fought extremely well

Take the example of the 2 Rajputs under the command of Lt. Col. Maha Singh Rikh who moved to the banks of the Namka chu river by October 10 as a part of 7 Infantry Brigade. The brigade was stretched out along nearly 20 kilometers front beside the river. It was a five-day march to walk from an end to the other (the confluence with the Namjiang chu). Not a single man from the Rajputs was awarded any gallantry medal, because there was no one left to write the citations; all the officers or JCOs who were not killed or seriously wounded were taken POWs. Out of 513 all ranks on the banks of the river, the 2 Rajput lost 282 men, 81 were wounded and captured, while 90 others were taken prisoners. Only 60 other ranks, mostly from the administrative elements got back.

Major B.K. Pant of 2 Rajput displayed exemplary heroism while wounded in the stomach and legs. Though his Company suffered heavy casualties, he continued to lead and inspire his men, exhorting them to fight till the last man. When the Chinese finally managed to kill him, his last words were “Men of the Rajput Regiment, you were born to die for your country. God has selected this small river for which you must die. Stand up and fight like true Rajputs.” Ditto for 4 Rajputs under Lt. Col. B. Avasthi in the Sela-Bomdila sector

The Indian troops fought pitches battles in the Walong sector of the NEFA and Chushul in Ladakh where the Chinese were inflicted heavy losses.

4.  A complete intelligence failure

A flamboyant new Corps Commander, Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul planned Operation Leghorn to ‘evict’ the Chinese by October 10. Kaul took over Corps IV, a Corps especially created ‘to throw the Chinese out’. On his arrival in Tezpur, Kaul addressed the senior officers: “The Prime Minister himself had ordered these posts [near the Thagla ridge] to be set up and he had based his decision on the highest Intelligence advice.” The ‘highest intelligence’ inputs from Mullik turned out to be a sad joke on the 7 Infantry Brigade.

Till the last fateful minute, the arrogant IB Chief, B.N. Mullick said the Chinese would not attack, they don’t have the capacity. Such a blunder!

Some war veterans recall that on the way to Bomdila, there was a dhaba manned by two beautiful ‘local’ girls. All officers and jawans would stop there, have a chai and chat with the girls. It turned out later that they were from the other side.

The Prime Minister himself, at Palam airport on his way to Colombo told the waiting journalists that he had ordered the Indian Army “to throw the Chinese out”. He generously left the time to the discretion of the Army. This was on October 12, 1962, just 8 days before the fateful day. He had received intelligence inputs from Mullik.

5.  Chinese spies

Just as today Beijing can hack into any computer system, in Mao’s days, the Chinese intelligence knew everything about Kaul’s and his acolytes’ plans.

The Chinese had infiltrated the area using different methods. In his memoirs, Prasad recalled: “From our own Signals channels I had received reports of a pirate radio operating somewhere in our area, but when we referred this to higher authorities the matter was dismissed: we were curtly told that there was no pirate radio transmitter on our side of the border. Subsequently it was confirmed that the Chinese had indeed sneaked in a pirate transmitter to Chacko (on the road to Bomdila) in the Tibetan labour camp. The aerial of their transmitter was concealed as a tall prayer-flagstaff so common in the Buddhist belt of the Himalayas.”

This is probably how Mao was aware of Operation Op Leghorn.

Some war veterans recall that on the way to Bomdila, there was a dhaba manned by two beautiful ‘local’ girls. All officers and jawans would stop there, have a chai and chat with the girls. It turned out later that they were from the other side.

An informant tells me that when Lt. Gen. Kaul was evacuated from the Namkha chu on October 8, having fallen sick due to the altitude, he was carried pick-a-back by ‘local’ porters. It was later discovered that one of them was a Chinese interpreter in a PoW camp in Tibet. The secrets were out!

6.  Gallantry Awards

The entire operation theater was plunged in deep chaos due to contradictory orders from the Army HQ (Lt. Gen. B.M Kaul, the Corps Commander was directing the Operation from his sick-bed in Delhi). Adhocism was the rule before, during and after the Operations.

To give an example, the GOC, 4 Division was not informed that Subedar Joginder Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for some actions in Bumla (he later died of a gangrenous foot in a PoW camp in Tibet). The awards were decided by Delhi without consulting the local commanders.

Till the Chinese authorities sent the names of the prisoners to the Indian Red Cross, all those killed and taken prisoners were considered as ‘missing-in-action’ and their salaries were cut.

An officer who had run away was given the Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest gallantry award. The Government had distributed these lollipops to each regiment to show that everyone fought well.

7.  The Role of some Monpas

A senior war veteran, Maj. Gen. Tewari who spent nearly 7 months as a PoW in Tibet wrote: “In Kameng Frontier Division (Tawang) itself, they had many local people on their pay roll. They had detailed maps and knowledge of the area, how otherwise can you explain that they were able to build 30 km of road between Bumla and Tawang in less than 2 weeks?”

According to local Monpas only a few villages sided with  the Chinese under duress (after all they were ‘chinky’ like us, said the Chinese). Tewari recalled: “I was in for a still bigger shock when it was discovered that almost all the secondary batteries had arrived without any acid. I presume that what had happened is that the porters must have found it lighter without liquid and they probably decided to lighten their loads by emptying out the acid from all the batteries.”

It was an indirect collaboration with China, though the majority of the Monpas were rather patriotic.

8.  Pensions and Pay

About 500 Indian jawans and officers were taken prisoner in the Tawang sector alone. As Brig. A.J.S. Behl says in his interview: “My family got two telegrams: ‘2nd Lt Behl missing, believed dead’.”

Till the Chinese authorities sent the names of the prisoners to the Indian Red Cross, all those killed and taken prisoners were considered as ‘missing-in-action’ and their salaries were cut.  For no fault of theirs, their wives and families had to manage on their own.

9.  Mao’s return to power

In early 1962, Mao was out of power due to the utter failure of his Great Leap Forward. Some 45 million Chinese had died after a 3-year man-made famine. Mao Zedong managed to come back on the political scene in September 1962. If he had not managed to return at that time, the war with India would have probably not taken place. Of course, with ‘if’ many sections of world history could be rewritten, but it is a fact that once Mao’s ideological hard-line prevailed in Beijing, it was difficult to avoid a clash.

10. The dirty American Role

Averell Harriman, the US Assistant Secretary of State and Duncan Sandys, the British Secretary for Commonwealth Relations visited India on November 22, 1962. This was the day China declared a unilateral ceasefire in the war with India. The visit was supposedly to assess India’s needs to resist Communist China; but both envoys “made clear their governments’ willingness to provide military assistance to India but pointed out the related need for negotiations to resolve the Kashmir dispute.”

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A clear signal was given to India who had hardly recovered from the blackest month of her history: she had to compromise on Kashmir.

Consequently six rounds of talks between India and Pakistan were held to find a solution for the vexed issue, but to no avail. However, Ayub Khan, the Pakistani President, must have taken the Western intervention as an encouragement for his claim.

The Kennedy and later the Johnson Administrations thought of ‘re-balancing’ the assistance to Pakistan, with the condition that India should accept to ‘settle’ the Kashmir issue.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Claude Arpi

Writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations. He is the author of 1962 and the McMahon Line Saga, Tibet: The Lost Frontier and Dharamshala and Beijing: the negotiations that never were.

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19 thoughts on “Ten truths about the 1962 War

  1. Anyone can give me details of died soldiers. There names? My nana ji brother was a sodier he was missing since 1962. They gave my nana ji brothers uniform other stuff back to my nana ji’ but we still wondering if my nanji brother is still alive?please email me if any info regarding this indisingh704@gmail.com

  2. then what about the razang la post . where all the yadav were maternity out of 123 only 117 were living all the soldiers killed a total sum of 1300 Chinese army. U didn’t mentioned any name or in any part in the article . it would be so shame full to disrespect those those soldiers. at that no regiment got 10 medal including the parvir chakra nd other bt u jst neglected that part . so have the full info about the AHIR REGIMENT and the major leading them MAJOR SHAITAN SINGH.
    ahir regimrnt is must and its the best
    only ahir regiment was has been printed or told in UNESCO none other regiment has done soo bravery honour
    “When Rezang La was later revisited dead jawans were found in the trenches still holding on to their weapons… every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullet or splinter wounds. The 2-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and bandage in his hands when the Chinese bullet hit him… Of the thousand mortar bombs with the defenders all but seven had been fired and the rest were ready to be fired when the (mortar) section was overrun.”.
    General K S Thimayya remarked,
    “I had said many years ago that the Army must have a Yadav Regiment. The supreme sacrifice of the Charlie Company has fulfilled my expectations. I hope a suitable memorial will be built in Ahirwal in their memory so that the generations to come may seek inspiration from the immense courage and valour of their forefathers.”
    read bth the statement u would know were YADAV or “AHIR REGIMENT”
    JAI HIND

  3. Claim about “Subedar Joginder Singh was awarded the Param Vir Chakra for some actions in Bumla (he later died of a gangrenous foot in a PoW camp )” is wrong. “Some Action” does not mean that he did not display bravery. He was nearly dead when found by Chinese. He led his platoon heroic at Bumla. Don’t discredit him. Read book “1962 war that wasn’t by Shiv Kunal Verma”.

  4. The write up is an excellent piece of article.. well researched and factual. he has re-ignited the interest in the forgotten (and also neglected) military history. Few books available on this ignominous episode are ‘Untold Story’ by Lt Gen Koul, ‘Himalayan Blunder’ by brig John Purushottam Dalvi, ‘Fall of Towang’ by Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad and one book written by Major Johri. First three are the individual account to escape the blame and the fourth one is the compilation of former three. There was a need for a third party research in the 1962 war which was well researched at the same time fair and impartial. Author seems to have filled that gap. I strongly feel that Henderson Brooks inquiry report on 62 war must be made public and lessons must be learnt.

  5. Would someone now at least put question on the ability of Nehru and his party to protect the nation. Mr Menon, the then Defence Minister had questioned the demand for automatic weapons for the soldiers. The Chinese fought us with AK-56 while we had WWI vintage .303 Lee Enfield rifles. And don’t mention other deficiencies including that of Lt Gen BM Kaul, who was Nehru’s cousin and an ASC officer who had practically no experience in commanding troops in battle.

  6. the then gen mohan kaual was selected to the post for political reason, the politicians want a general who is submissive to them instead of brave and efficient
    like thimmayya, herbaksing etc

  7. 1. This book lays thread bare the reasons for the 1962 debacle.

    2.In future at least, it is necessary to start the practice of conducting a detailed review of military operations like this to identify the heroes, villains, cowards traitors and incompetent persons connected with the event.

    3. While it is normal for heroes and valiant persons to be appropriately rewarded, it should be noted that undeserving persons must never be rewarded because of their proximity to the people in power.owing to the demoralising effect it can have on the deserving.

    4. It is even more important to ensure that the villains, cowards, traitors and incompetents be identified and dealt with summarily and severely. If that was done, this country would not have had to suffer the misery of enduring the services of misfits like Nehru, Kaul and Krishna Menon after the debacle.

    5. It is also necessary to make sure that soldiers who suffered on the front are never disgraced by being sacrificed first and then made to suffer the disgrace of having themselves and their dependants being reduced to beggars with pay and pensions being suspended first. If that is done, the clerk, officer and politician responsible up the line should be dealt with by a firing squad and disposed of briskly. All war casualties and wounded must be considered valiants and treated accordingly unless proven otherwise.

    6. The Ministry Of Defence must be manned by military personnel and headed by a General officer.

  8. The offence of sedition can be prosecuted without limitation of time with the only predictable result of conviction. The parties who were represented by guilty persons need to be exposed without leaving any fig leaf to cover. Their successors, including agnates and cognates should be nationally ostracized into untouchability.

  9. Gen Kaul engineered illness by ingesting soap water deliberately, so that he could be evacuated to the plains without loss of face. It was an open secret among the veterans of the 1962 Sino-Indian border engagement that this was how Kaul ran away from the battle field like an abject coward. Nehru’s plant Kaul and defence minister Krishna Menon did incalculable harm to the national cause and shamed our faujis. The duo along with Nehru must bear the responsibility of being instrumental in the most ignominious defeat ever inflicted on the Indian Army. Modi and Parrikar too, are blissfully unaware of the dangers that the dragon poses today. Parrikar creates a highly negative impression by being shod in sandals, even on official visits, which goes against military ethos. Only a towering person like Field Marshal Manekshaw could snub a powerful defence secretary like Sarin or parley on equal terms with Indira Gandhi, who meekly sent back 93,000 POWs to PAKISTAN, on hollow assurances of Bhutto, but without extracting an inch of territory.

  10. There was also the grounding of the Air Force by Nehru on US advise, directly over ruling his Air Officer (Intelligence), Air Commodore R. Sitaram, fresh from RAF Staff College, Andover

  11. A good read. The 11th Truth: The Cover up by the Indian Government to save the “face” of the Nehru and its Congress and continue its myth of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence for the edification of India’s uneducated, defecating in the open votaries. No wonder they did their best to keep Indians that way.

    • The truth is no political leader want army to be strong……to make them weak,leader ship changed, war without planning and resources and later to blame the military leadership by creating differances. This happen during 1962 war….just recollect the events after Gen Thamia…onward.!

  12. As I remember, even after cease fire declared by Chinese, B.N. Mullick was not aware of that – these were reporters who brought the news about ceasefire to Pandit Nehru, when Nehru accompanying Mullick turned towards him to confirm the news the DIB pleaded his ignorance – height of intelligence failure

  13. This article is an eye opener. The question is whether the army has taken enough steps to prevent such catastrophe in future. So I suggest somebody should make a study and write articles in this regard. Like 1971 war full detail are not available in the internet regarding 1962 war. But Indian army continue to commit the same mistakes done in 1962 war. Only way to ease this kind of situation is to use air power. Chinese stopped the war after hearing that India decided to bomb the areas occupied by China. with the help of USA. India could have used Canberra bombers and Gnat fighters. What I am finding is that Army is calling for air support only when they are loosing. Why did we loose territory in the Chamb sector in 1965 and 1971 wars? One of the main reason was army did not ask for air support in the initial stage .When the Indian army found that they had not been in a position to stop Pakistan army’s assault, they called for air support. IAF was also responsible. They took long time to give air support.and they first sent outdated Canberra bombers knowing well that it is no mach to PAF F-86 Sabre jet fighter. PAF shot down the Canberra bombers. In the modern war we have to first use air power or missiles to destroy enemy concentrations. The same thing happened in Kargil war.

  14. First thing ,in the sixties , that I did on joining my unit near Se La ,was to visit Dhola Sector.As I stood facing the small rivulet Namka Chu ,I paid obeisance to the gallant men of John Dalvi’s brigade who had sacrificed their lives for the cause of the Nation.I explained to my patrol the great deeds of our valiant soldiers who had fought with all odds against them.Looking up at the dominating heights & the Dhola Massif,I realised that tactically, it was suicidal to have deployed near the Bridges.I also knew that the Brigade Commander & the COs had no choice.I asked the patrol to prepare tea.As I sat on a big boulder next to the rivulet, my thoughts ,in a flash back, reminded me of 28 Nov 1962 when I had the most unpleasant task of handing over a telegram to Mrs BK Pant stating that her husband was missing in action. Maj Pant was a true epitome of a scholar soldier.
    A MA LLB & Sahitya Ratna ! It is sad that he was Mentioned in Dispatches only.He should have been awarded nothing less than a PVC.His acts of bravery are folk lores today.An extremely pleasant person & helpful to all,he was very handsome & icon of the community.It was he who motivated me to join the Army. We prayed to our Presiding Deity Lord Badri Vishal Lal to grant eternal peace to the departed souls of all our comrades- in -arms who had given their today for our tomorrow.After tea, my Patrol 2IC- a dye hard JCO asked me that the entire patrol should present arms to our valiant soldiers of 7 Inf Bde. As we did it, suddenly snow flakes started descending on mother earth as if paying the nature’s salute to the departed souls.

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