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Sino-India War – 1967 (Sikkim-Tibet Zone)
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Col Alok Mathur, SM | Date:31 May , 2024 1 Comment

After the first Sino-India War of 1962, the wounded Indian Army needed expansion and modern weapons. As many as seven Mountain Divisions were raised and old Lee field .303 Rifles were replaced by 7.62 mm self-loading Rifles (SLR). Four Armoured regiments were equipped with British Centurion Mk 7 modern battle tanks and the Air Force was also upgraded with SU 7 and Gnat fighters. India fought another War with Pakistan in 1965 under the strong leadership of PM Lal Bahadur Shastri and emerged as a new strong nation.

The Chinese Army mobilised its border troops and gave an ultimatum during 1965 War that Indian troops should vacate the strategic passes of Cho La, Nathu La and Jelep La on the Sikkim Tibet frontier otherwise punitive action would be undertaken. The announcements used to be made with loud speakers saying that, “Hindi Chinni bhai bhai , Yeh Zamin Hamara hai , go back” (meaning that all land at passes was of China). They also displayed banners in Hindi. The troops were fed up and were briefed that it was a game of psychological warfare. They were directed to remain strong mentally and counter the propaganda.

Sikkim was a protectorate of British India and its defence/ security was its responsibility after the Anglo-Tibet- Chinese treaty of March 1890. After independence, the same status was maintained. PM Nehru had recognised Tibet as part of China, but China did not like Sikkim as an Indian protectorate. The borders were based on the principle of water shed and were generally well defined. However, as the Pakistan China nexus became stronger, Chinese government changed its attitude and threatened Indian troops to fall back from various passes. Minor clashes continued for two years.

At the time of the face-off, General PPP Kumarmanglam was Army Chief. Lt Gen Sam Manekshaw was the Eastern Army Commander (Cdr), Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora was 33 Corps Cdr and Maj Gen Sagat Singh was the 17 Mountain Division Cdr.  The area was under 112 Mountain Brigade commanded by Brig MMG Bakshi, MVC. The battalion at Nathu La was 2 Grenadiers commanded by Lt Col Rai Singh Yadav.

On the Chinese side, 31 Infantry Regiment was responsible for the entire zone It had three battalions (2, 4 and 6 Battalion), one each for Jelep La, Nathu La and Cho La. 308 Artillery Brigade was in support.

It was early August of 1967, there was snow on the heights. Jelep La was the southernmost of three passes on Sikkim -Tibet border. The troops reported heavy concentration of troops across the border and asked for withdrawal. Daily broadcast on speakers from Chinese side had created confusion. Jelep La was vacated on local orders in the last week of August 1967. Chinese occupied it immediately.  A similar situation was developing at Nathu La which is an strategic pass located at height of 14,700 feet on important old trading route from Gangtok ,Yatung , Lhasa and also linked  with  pilgrimage route of Kailash Parbat, Mansarovar. The pass is snow bound most part of the year. The troops of both the Armies are just 30 metres apart in eyeball to eyeball deployment. The western side of Nathu La is held by India with two dominating features. Camel hump (perfect Arty Op post) overlooking deep inside Chinese area on Northern shoulder of Pass and Sabu La another high ground on the southern shoulder.

Both sides had made proper stone based Bunkers with overhead protection manned with loaded MMGs and LMGs and emplacements about 150 metres from each other. The watershed was the imaginary crest frontier where water would flow both sides. There was no fencing, only a line of lime coated stones marking the approximate alignment of the border. There used to frequent verbal clashes on correct alignment of border.

18 Rajput was holding the defences since last two years and 2 Grenadiers came to replace the unit. One company of 18 Rajput was left back under daring Major Harbhajan Singh for the handing-taking over.

Major Bhisan Singh Rathore was the company commander at Nathu La and was nick named Tiger Nathu La as he often used to go with troops to Zero line boldly. Captain Prithvi Singh Dagar was the company second in command. 2nd Lt Attar Singh was the platoon commander. Lt Col Rai Singh also moved his tactical headquarters to View Point post overlooking the pass keeping in view the hot ambience.

Major General Sagat Singh was given an option by the army HQ to vacate Nathu la and Cho la if there was heavy pressure from Chinese to avoid own casualties and war. This had the consent of the political leadership. He conveyed to the higher commanders that we will not repeat 1962. He passed orders to his troops that Nathu La will be held at all cost

On 13 August, the Chinese made some new trenches in Indian side, which were reported and filled by Indian troops. Chinese speakers now 29 in number kept relaying their message.

When the Indian fencing commenced, the Chinese troops came down rushing and there was a clash. Lt Col Rai Singh was injured in the melee. Two Chinese soldiers were also wounded. The work was stopped with concurrence of two local officers. Again on 10 September, 1967 orders were relayed to CO 2 Grenadier to complete laying of barbed wire from Sebu La to centre of Nathu La. The project was initiated at 0400h on 11 Sep 1967 and was to be completed by last light. The first reaction came at 0700 hours as about a platoon of Chinese came down to stop the work.  The Indian stood firm and the commissar angrily ordered Chinese troops to fall back to bunkers.

Suddenly the Chinese opened fire upon the Engineers and 18 Rajput. There were heavy casualties of troops in the open. 2 Grenadiers now retaliated with full fire power and took heavy toll of Chinese troops. Major Harbhajan Singh and Captain Dagar fought valiantly silenced enemy automatics but were fatally wounded.

The Chinese then opened up with Artillery fire. Major Bhishan Singh motivated troops to stay put and fight. Lt Col Rai Singh with commando platoon stabilised the situation and was severely injured but refused to be evacuated. He contacted directly General Sagat Singh and asked for Artillery fire. By last light, Indian Artillery joined the battle. The Chinese never expected the retaliation.

Artillery fire continued for three days and beat back all counter attacks. Chinese asked for cease fire on 14 September to lift the dead and injured. Indian Artillery guns finally stopped shelling on Chinese defences at last light on 14 September 1967 at Chinese posts at Nathu La. There was silence of death and mutilated bodies of dead soldiers of both sides could be seen. 350 PLA soldiers were killed and over 450 were severely injured during the battle India also had suffered 88 Killed and about 120 wounded. Chinese troops waved white flag to evacuate wounded and fatal casualties.

On 16 September 1967, in a flag meeting the dead bodies of soldiers of both countries were exchanged. Indian troops have fought bravely and gave a bloody nose to Chinese intrusion attempt at Nathu La.

The ghost of 1962 War defeat was given farewell but Maj Gen Sagat Singh warned Indian Troops to be extra vigilant as he visualised that Chinese will not keep quiet and may open different front. Accordingly, entire Sikkim – China border was strengthened and troops were kept on high alert

Battle of Cho La

Cho La was another high altitude glaciated pass about 8 Km North of Nathu La on Sikkim-Tibet border. It was only 120 feet wide with barren flat with loose rolling boulders and rocky outcrop.  Cho la – Changgu axis was the responsibility of 63 Mountain brigade under Brigadier Kundan Singh. 10 JAK Rifles (commanded by Lt Col Mahatam Singh) and 7/11 Gorkha Rifles (commanded by Lt Col K B Joshi) units were on its Orbat. Cho La was a smaller pass with narrow width, flanked by two heights. There were no roads or prominent tracks but faint trails. It was different from Nathu La which was well developed old trade route and had approach roads both sides. Maj Gen Sagat Singh had visited the area a few months ago and ordered 10 JAK Rifles to prepare bunkers and improve approach track by making culverts.

The northern shoulder of Cho La was dominated by Pt 15450 and Southern shoulder had another prominent height Pt 15180 overlooking the pass.10 JAK had occupied three forward Platoon posts.

The forward three Indian posts were just 10 metres from similar Chinese posts located across IB each other in eyeball to eye ball mode. The border was unmarked but based on principle of watershed.

On 27 September 1967, there was a clash between Indian troops and PLA troops near a boulder at Point 15450. The Chinese treated the boulder inside their territory where as Indians claimed it as on IB. The clash lasted for an hour and later both sides withdrew to own side. There were minor injuries to both sides but nobody opened fire and uneasy calm prevailed.

On 29 September 1967, there was a celebration at Changgu and 10 JAK companies were required to descend to base. Accordingly, the brigade ordered Lt Col K B Joshi, Commanding officer of 7/11 GR to send two companies of 7/11 GR (the reserve battalion) to replace 10 JAK. A detachment of 20 soldiers of 10 JAK was left at Central Cho La posts for area familiarisation of new troops.

On 28 September, 7 Platoon Charlie company of 7/11 GR reached Pt 15180 (Southern shoulder) under Lt Samuel and took over duties from 10 JAK. The remainder troops of 7/11 GR also reached the location and took on the defences.

On 29 September, at about 0900h Naib Subedar Gyan Bahadur Limbu of D company 7/11 GR was leading a reconnaissance patrol along the border and familiarising the area of responsibility and he stepped on a boulder between Indian and Chinese posts. Seven Chinese troops came running and warned him that he had intruded in Chinese territory as the boulder was inside China boundary. Lt Ram Singh Rathore was observing from posts and he informed his CO that the Chinese were laying claim to the boulder. Lt Col K B Joshi told Lt Ram Singh that he could see Chinese troops were surrounding the patrol and told him to call back Nb Subedar Gyan Bahadur patrol back to post. Nb Subedar Gyan Bahadur stepped back but the argument continued. He again moved forward and climbed the boulder and said this land belongs to India. One Chinese soldier stepped forward and bayoneted the JCO who doubled up in pain and fell down from boulder. On watching this, his buddy Rifle man Chitra Bahadur unsheathed his Khukhri and slashed the arm of the Chinese soldier. More Gorkha troops emerged from the post and started slashing Chinese soldiers who ran away to their post. Now, as Gorkha troops were celebrating the victory they did not realise that they were exposed. Chinese troops opened fire with Light Machine Guns and there were heavy casualties on Indian side. Section Commader Lance Naik Krishna Bahadur who had been at the contentious boulder on IB took charge gathered remaining troops and boldly assaulted the Chinese bunker. He killed few Chinese soldiers before he was cut down by a hail of bullets. Rifleman Debi Prashad Limbu was also following Krishna Bahadur, he beheaded the Chinese soldier and five more and thus single-handedly dismantled the Chinese front line. He sustained multiple bullet injuries and made supreme sacrifice inside Chinese territory.

Lt Ram Singh Rathore who was at Pt 15450 was holding the post till last man last bullet. He also succumbed to his injuries at his post.  Lt Col Kulbhushan Singh had moved forward and rained Mortar fire on the Chinese. The Chinese had opened up at other posts also. MMG detachment under command Lt Samuel from Pt 15140 post brought heavy fire on Pt 15450 and checked the advance of the Chinese on Cho La.

Lt Col K B Joshi was held up at Rai gap and was out of communication as his operator was killed. Chinese blew up the Tac HQ of 7/11 GR and Chinese snipers targeted CO Lt Col K B Joshi. His buddy’s head was blown by snipers but he survived. He crawled to an alternative location, picked up a sniper Rifle and killed both Chinese snipers. By now, the Chinese had over run Pt 15450 and were threatening Cho La post .

A Chinese HMG was spitting dangerous fire from Pt 15450 post and causing casualties of Indian troops at Rai gap and Cho La post. There was a 57 mm Recoilless Gun located at Cho La post with 10 JAK Rifles troops. Havildar Tinjiong Lama of 7/11 GR had recently attended a RCL Course at Infantry School, Mhow. He carried out thorough check of the RCL, cleaned and loaded it and blew up the HMG that was causing havoc. The Chinese were shocked. He continued firing and changed the course of battle.

On 30 September 1967, the Chinese stopped firing totally and fired two very light illuminating rounds indicating a desire for ceasefire.

Meanwhile Lt Col K B Joshi asked permission from brigade commander to launch counter attack to regain the post. He also asked for the reinforcement and Arty fire. He had two companies of 7/11 GR and 10 JAK combined.  Lt Col K B Joshi knew the terrain like palm of his hand as he had served earlier also as 21C of 5/11 GR. He did not wait for Arty Ops but launched the attack at mid night of 30 Sep/1 October from most unlikely approach a steep climb. The Chinese early warning elements detected the Indian troops. Lt Col K B Joshi divided the force in to two. The Chinese, who had depilated strength and almost no ammunition thought a massive battalion attack was coming on them. They panicked and withdrew.

Meanwhile, Lt Col Mahatam Singh CO 10 JAK rifles who was on listening watch asked commander to launch attack from southern side. When CO 7/11 GR was out of communication and was trapped at Rai gap, he had walked about 8 kms with his buddy and reached Cho La post. He reorganised JAK troops and also headed for Pt 15450 where enemy HMG was spitting venom.  When both the Indian columns reached on top and shouted war cry Jai Mahakali, it was dawn of 1 October and Chinese had fled from Pt 15450. The Tricolour was proudly hoisted back.

The Post was littered with dead Indian soldiers and Chinese soldiers on other side. Lt Ram Singh Rathore’s body was found with sten in his hand and stomach ripped open.  Chinese posts on Cho La was also demolished with broken HMG and dead Chinese soldiers. It is believed that about 45 Chinese soldiers were killed and 100 wounded where as 16 Indians soldiers sacrificed in line of duty and 50 were wounded at battle of Cho La .

A few days later, the bodies were exchanged. In the Flag meeting, the  Chinese commander asked about Rifleman Debi Prashad who had attacked the Chinese posts like a Tiger and killed so many Chinese soldiers with his Khukri. Chinese nicknamed him with honour as ‘Tiger’ of Cho La. The soldiers like Lt Ram Singh Rathore, Debi Prashad, Krishna Bahadur, Gyan Bahadur had not sacrificed their life in vain but succeeded in restoring the honour of Indian Army and not ceding even an inch to Chinese at Cho la and Nathu La.  The Chinese guns have remained silent till date,

This is the list of Honours and awards of brave hearts, who fought the battle of Nathu la and Cho la in East Sikkim frontier’ Sino-India War, 1967.

Mahavir Chakra

  1. Lt Col Rai Singh, 2 Gren (Nathu La)
  2. Lt Col Mahattam Singh, 10 JAK (Cho La)
  3. Major Harbhajan Singh (Posthumous), 18 Rajput (Nathu la)

Vir Chakra

  1. Captain Phritvi Dagar(Posthumous), 2 Gren (Nathu la)
  2. Hav Lakhmi Chand (Posthumous), 2 Gren (Nathu La)
  3. Sepoy Gokal Singh, 18 Rajput. (Nathu la)
  4. Hav Tinjong Lama, 7/11 GR  (Cho la)
  5. Rifleman Debi Prashad Limbu (Posthumous), 7/11 GR (Cho la)
  6. Gnr Pakkir Mohammad, Artillery (Cho la)

The aura of invincibility of the People Liberation Army was shattered after five years at Nathu La and Cho La in Sino Indian War of 1967 at Sikkim Tibet Frontier by brave Indian troops. We salute all the bravehearts , who made supreme sacrifice for protecting the integrity of India.

Courtesy: https://defenceinfo.com/sino-india-war-1967-sikkim-tibet-zone/

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  1. Bride trafficking along the ‘Game Changer’ China-pakistan economic corridor [CpEC]: More than 600 beautiful pakistani girls and women were sold as brides to Chinese men over a period of nearly two years.

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