The 1962 lessons
50 years after the 1962 Sino-Indian war, in 2012, when much was written and commented in Indian media and some Chinese declassified records became available, United Services Institution of India (USI) took on the task of researching this war, juxtaposing the Chinese and Indian records.
A team of officers with a flair for military history, headed by Lt Gen Vinay Shankar (retd), attempted to as he states, “clinically and objectively”, chronicles’ the battles and encounters of the 1962 war, based on an official version of the Chinese government and the synthesis of all that has been reported and written in India and abroad and also the leaked portions of the report of a study by Lt Gen TB Henderson Brooks and Brig (later Lt Gen) P S Bhagat, VC.
The eight chapters of the book are:
1. The Politico-Diplomatic Prelude (1947-62), 2. The Military Campaign, covering Ladakh, the Western Sector and Kameng, Lohit, Subansiri and Siang Frontier Divisions, the Eastern Sector, 3. The Chinese Air Threat, 4. Public Opinion in the Build-Up to the War, 5. Indian Military Thought: 1947-62, 6. Epilogue, 7. A Road Map to Closure and 8. Tailpiece, which contains some personal reminiscences of the war based on first-hand experiences. It includes two narratives of the prisoners of the Chinese war. These also reflect the trauma of being vanquished in the war.
Of the many battles fought between Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), during the Sino-Indian war of 1962, two battles-of Walong and Rezang La (la means a mountain pass) – both were fought by battalions of the Kumaon Regiment – merit is mentioned here because both the Kumaonis fought to the last man, last bullet.
While such great valour must be highlighted in motivational lectures, in this case, it, unfortunately, reflects very poorly on the government of that day. Because not only was the Indian Army pitched into this war under-clad, under-armed, under-equipped and ill-prepared by the then main political players, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon, but they also (a) failed to appreciate the situation the Chinese threat/intentions, (b) refused to heed the warnings about Chinese movements conveyed to them by senior field commanders, (c) interfered in the military chain of command (d) interfered in tactical decisions and (e) stupidly and stubbornly ordered the Army to undertake tasks for which, apart from deficiencies mentioned, the Army simply did not have the numerical strength of troops. On 12 October, 1962, at Palam Airport before departing on a visit to Colombo, Nehru insouciantly revealed to the media that he had ordered the Indian Army “to throw the Chinese out”.
Referring to the part of Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report, which was leaked out in 2014 by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell, Arun Jaitley had stated: “What has been made public is part-I of the report. It has already been reported in the media but pages 112 to 167 are still not known. Is it because these pages contain some material which can be embarrassing to those in power in 1962? The first 111 pages have been made public, rather than allowing public opinion be influenced by unauthentic sources, it is now necessary to make the balance pages public. The contents of the report also raise some legitimate questions. The military strategy of the then government has been seriously questioned. The intelligence assessment of the Chinese attitude was a flawed one. The military strategy in creating “forward posts” has been criticised as providing to the Chinese a pretext for invasion. It further appears from the report that the prime minister and his favourite set of officials both in the Army and in the Intelligence establishment were flawed in their assessment. In fact, the opinion of these officials close to the prime minister had cost this country heavily.
The unpreparedness of the Armed forces is writ large in the contents of the report. Was a Himalayan blunder of 1962, in fact, a Nehruvian blunder? The leaked contents of the report serve as a lesson for us today. How prepared are we in our military strategy? Contemporary evidence indicates that our defence procurement has suffered. This adversely hurts our armed forces who are professional amongst the best in the world. Are we willing to learn lessons from 1962?”. However, soon after the BJP came to power and Jaitley became the defence minister he stressed that the Henderson-Brooks report “is a top-secret document and has not been declassified so far. The release of this report, fully or partially, or disclosure of any information related to this report, would not be in national interest”.
Recollections by survivors of the 1962 battles make veteran’s blood boil. It is because these recollections rub in the fact of how clueless and callous leaders like Nehru and Krishna Menon were and how their impractical orders were followed by Indian officers and soldiers with utmost bravery, often knowing that they would not survive. As Major General Ian Cardozo (retd) recounts in Param Vir Chakra: Our Heroes in Battle: “Every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullet or splinter wounds. The two-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and a bandage in his hand when a Chinese bullet killed him. A dozen bodies of Ahirs (this was an all Ahir battalion of the Kumaon Regiment-all plainsmen unlike the Kumaonis) were found outside their trenches indicating that they had in turn attacked the attacking Chinese when they were killed.” Of the 1,000 mortar bombs with them, 993 had been fired. The mortar detachment personnel were readying to fire the other seven when they were killed.
The end of this war saw Nehru, who had for long deceived the Parliament and the nation, a “broken man”. Too little, too late, he had to sack Krishna Menon.
This book is an important trail-brazing reference base for further research by China watchers and a must read for all government leaders and officials dealing with national security.