Chaudhuri set about his task energetically and with dispatch, bringing to his job as Chief a wealth of experience of well-handled assignments both in command and staff, including his tenure as Adjutant-General and Chief of General Staff at Army Headquarters. The Western bloc, led by President Kennedy of the US, was prepared to equip and help train formations to meet the Chinese threat in the Himalayas, but in view of India’s relations with their staunch ally Pakistan they were not willing to provide all that India needed. In pursuance of this policy, the requirement of eight mountain divisions to meet the Chinese threat was mutually assessed and the military missions released the arms, ammunition, transport and other equipment required under conditions that expressly forbade their use against Pakistan.1
On the eve of the Chinese attack, India had reorganized loose brigades employed in Ladakh and eastern NEFA into full-fledged divisions with controlling headquarters, although short of supporting arms and administrative services. With the flow of aid, Chaudhuri converted five infantry divisions into mountain divisions and raised three new ones. The division in Ladakh, although designated infantry, received aided equipment as it was employed against the Chinese. To make up for the shortfall in the west created by moving divisions from there to the east three new infantry divisions were raised, making use of the equipment rendered surplus on converting three existing divisions into mountain formations.
Chaudhuri started refurbishing the Army systematically. He swept his headquarters clean of Kaul’s henchmen, who had proved their professional ineptness in the crisis. Since the Army was new to the mountains he designated 4 Infantry Division, which had borne the brunt of the Chinese onslaught in NEFA, an experimental formation with a charter to evolve tactical concepts, organisation and administrative backing for fighting in the Himalayas against a formidable adversary like China.
Gen Thimayya also felt the necessity to evolve a doctrine embracing concepts, techniques and drills to fight the Chinese in the Himalayas and proposed the issue of a training manual in this regard. Material was to be drawn from the British and American experience of fighting the Chinese in Korea. On learning of this project, Nehru intervened and stymied it.
The shortfall in formations which did not receive military aid was made up by indigenous production as well as procurement from abroad. Training methods were reviewed and modified to enhance their purposefulness. Various other steps were taken to build up the sagging morale of the soldier. Redeeming the Indian Army’s honour became the soldier’s watchword. On persistent demand by the nation, an inquiry was held under the chairmanship of IA Gen Henderson-Brooks to inquire into the causes of the sudden collapse against the Chinese, pinpoint responsibility and suggest remedies. The report he submitted was never made public except in very broad terms, but it is understood that Chaudhuri made full use of the lessons learnt in reshaping the Army.
Since the politician was as much involved in the debacle as the soldier, no witch-hunt followed. Thapar, Kaul and few other commanders either voluntarily bowed out or were eased out through posting to unimportant assignments, implying thereby that they were to blame. Junior ranks escaped displeasure on the ground that they were mere pawns in a bigger game. The competence of the higher command began to be discussed, the prevalent system of selection came under severe criticism, and political interference in promotions and appointment began to be resented.
Before the Chinese invasion, the Indian Army had a field force of an armoured division, an independent armoured brigade, an independent artillery brigade and nine infantry divisions. On the eve of the invasion, two more divisions were mustered by grouping some loose brigades and units, but these were below strength in supporting arms and administrative services. Out of the nine infantry divisions, five were under conversion, three were holding the precarious ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir, and one was involved in counterinsurgency operations in Nagaland.
With the further raising of six new divisions, the nucleus of the officer and non-commissioned officer cadres was considerably diluted to man the new raisings. Fresh recruitment was resorted to, leading to the expansion of the recruiting organisation and training centres. The capacity of courses at Army Schools and staff college was increased to cope with the requirements of trained manpower. The opportunity offered by the US and Britain for training in their military establishments was fully used to gain knowledge of the latest concepts and the working of newly introduced weaponry and equipment.
Nehru was convinced that a Chinese threat in the Himalayan region was very remote, and he considered any anticipatory action on the part of India would be tantamount to provoking China, a situation he wanted to avoid at all costs.
The bulk of the Indian Army was undergoing a major reorganisation in early 1963,2 and would have needed another couple of years to take the field. Meanwhile, the development of roads in the Himalayan border regions was undertaken on a crash basis as part of a strategic road plan under the specially created Border Roads Organisation. This aimed at endowing the Indian Army with the capability of speedily inducting troops to hold the Himalayan passes and of effecting a quicker administrative build-up in the region. Industry in both the public and private sectors was fully geared to meet the increasing demands of the expanding Army. The procurement organisation were strengthened in India and abroad to meet the new demands.
In the meantime, the Chinese threat had receded, or at least did not appear as potent as before. Pakistan protested in Washington and other sympathetic capitals of the Western world against the arming of India, alleging that this was upsetting the military balance in the subcontinent. With the assassination of Kennedy and the pressure of Pakistan’s diplomatic campaign, American interest in building India as a bastion against the expansion of Chinese communism in Southeast Asia waned, and the pipeline of arms aid narrowed both as to quantity and quality of equipment. Despite the fanfare of publicity surrounding it, American aid was mainly confined to small arms, radio and signal communication equipment and special items of high-altitude clothing. Guns, tanks, bridging equipment and anti-tank weaponry were conspicuously absent. It was argued that heavy items of this nature were not required for fighting envisaged in the Himalayas.
As a result, the mountain units and formationd were perforce based on lighter weapons and equipment and were very short of transport. Besides, they hardly had any anti-tank potential. The artillery regiments of these formations were with a few exceptions equipped with antiquated 3.7-inch howitzers and imported 120-mm Tempela/Brandt mortars. Britain gifted a regiment’s worth of 105-mm Italian pack howitzers, and Yugoslavia equipped a couple of units with its 76-mm pack gun. Otherwise, the 3.7-inch pack howitzer held sway in the mountains and the World War ll-vintage 25-pounder in the plains. The indigenously developed 75/24 pack howitzer, based on a Canadian design, was underdevelopment and would take a long lead period to materialize. Till then the Army had to do its best with what was available.