1962 India-China conflict: The Heroes of the lost war

Discussion in 'Indian Army' started by BangersAndMash, Oct 26, 2013.

  1. BangersAndMash

    BangersAndMash Regular Member

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    The 48 brigade was in Ambala, training for an operational role in Punjab when in October, maybe 22nd or 23rd, we were ordered to proceed with two battalions to Tezpur.

    We reached in about 2-3 days on October 26 and reported to the Corps HQ and were asked to proceed to Bomdi La with whatever transport we could lay our hands on. At Bomdi La, 1st Madras was already in position and the rest of the area devoid of troops . So after a recce, I deployed the 1 Sikh LI on the left flack with their 4 companies and retained the 5 Guards in a depth position. Battalion parties went to prepare camps for company localities. The troops arrived and moved into the areas, all moving on foot and carrying a rifle and just 50 rounds of 1st line ammunition. We had no heavy stuff like 3" mortars, no digging tools, barbed wire, mines, or even machetes to clear the jungle.

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    Gurbux Singh.

    Three days later, on orders of the Div HQ, I sent one of my four companies of 1 Sikh LI to guard the road to Bhutan and 1 Madras was asked to provide one company to the Div HQ in Dirang Dzong and the Guards were told to move one company to Poshing La (to the north) and marry up with an Assam Rifles unit posted there. So the brigade has just 9 companies left for a defence area that required 16. I asked for another battalion (4 companies), this was accepted, but only in principle.

    Two or three days later on November 12, the first movement of the Chinese on the Poshing La was seen, so I was ordered to send all of 5 Guards. I remonstrated and said there will be no Brigade depth position left, I was told that Bomdi La had no tactical importance as envisaged then. But before it could reach, the Chinese struck and the Guards and Assam Rifles were overwhelmed at Poshing La, and when the bulk of the Guards reached Thembang in the evening of November 16, they came under attack the following day and within hours, ran out of ammunition and requested to withdraw, I permitted them to do so.

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    The Army first revisited the war site in February 1963 to recover the bodies.

    I was left with 6 companies and to top it all, that night I was told to send two companies with two light tanks I had to Dirang Dzong to connect up with the Div HQ.

    The Corps Commander (Kaul) came on the line and told me to move the forces regardless of the consequences. As anticipated, the column was attacked as it left Bomdi La and the tanks were set on fire. Now I had three companies left in a place that required 16 companies to defend. The Chinese occupied all the hills on top of Bomdi La and we at the Brigade HQ began coming under fire on November 18.

    Next day on November 19 about noon, having lost all heights and contacts with any of the battalions and the Div HQ. I gave orders to withdraw from Bomdi La. On the way down, I met the 3 Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry and I told them to turn back and take up positions in the next set of heights at Rupa where I reached at about 10 pm.

    Then I heard that some forces had been left behind at Bomdi La, so I went back there and found them sitting there without taking up defensive positions, and I told them to withdraw.

    Late at night, the Chinese attacked the Rupa positions and after a short fight, we had to again withdraw, this time to Chaku. By that time no control was left over the troops and they were more like stragglers moving down to the foothills. The war saw a failure of military and political leadership of the country. Our intelligence, too, was not very good... In any case I don't see why we are opening these old wounds. Why are we wallowing in our defeat. It was a bad show, we should forget it and move on.

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    Balwant Singh Bisht

    Age: 78

    Then rank: Naik (was a PoW in China)

    Saw action in: Tawang

    Balwant Singh Bisht, who lives in the remote Ghesh village of Uttarakhand's Chamoli district, has only one desire these days - to meet his army friend Govind Singh, who lives in a neighbouring village, and reminisce about the 1962 Indo-China war. Both Bisht and Govind had been prisoners of war (PoW) in 1962.

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    Balwant Singh Bisht.

    Naik Balwant Bisht was with the 4th Garhwal Rifles at the time and his Alpha company was stationed in North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and they were posted near Tawang. On November 17, 1962 the Chinese army launched a massive attack on their positions guarding the Se La pass. The Garhwalis fought back resolutely, but soon, their ammunition stock had exhausted and they were asked to withdraw. Thereafter, confused orders led to a collapse of the Indian positions in Se La. Bisht and four other soldiers lost their way on their return journey. They survived on soft leaves and berries at the time. When they were crossing a snow-covered area on day eight, they were caught by the Chinese army, which took them to Lhasa.

    "We were kept in four camps. Though the Chinese provided us a lot of freedom, efforts were made to brainwash the PoW and turn them against India," Bisht recalled.

    "Literature and a map about the McMahon Line were distributed to the prisoners. It was compulsory for the PoW to attend the discussion and tell a Chinese officer about the gist of their talk," he added. They used to slam Tibetan spiritual guru Dalai Lama and PM Jawaharlal Nehru. "They used to repeat regularly that 'Dalai Lama crossed Indian border with 35 mules which were carrying boxfuls of jewels. These jewels were presented by the Tibetan Guru to the Indian PM'," Bisht said.

    After receiving no information about his whereabouts for four months, the Bisht family in Ghesh even tried to conduct his last rites.

    "My family abandoned the idea on the request of the village priest. Few weeks later, they got my letter and it's an unforgettable day for my family. When I arrived at my village in June-July 1963, I got a rousing welcome. The days I spent in China will never fade away from my memory," Bisht added.

    Maam Chand

    Age: 72

    Then rank: Sepoy (later Hawaldar)

    Saw action in: Rezang La, Ladakh

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    Maam Chand.

    Date: November 18, 1962. Location: Rezang La pass in Ladakh's Chushul valley on the India-China border. Height: Around 18,000 feet. Time: Around 3 am. Temperature: Around 30°C below freezing point. Major Shaitan Singh is holding the position.

    "The intermittent heavy cross firing had been going on since midnight. Tea was prepared. I approached Company Commander Singh, wondering whether he would like to have a tumbler of tea. Some time earlier, the first frontal attack by the Chinese was foiled only because Singh was alert. He deserved some tea. Holding his Browning machine gun, Major Singh replied: "Bas thodi si (make it small)," recalled a teary-eyed Hawaldar Maam Chand - then a 22-year-old jawan.

    Hardly a few minutes went by when the Chinese renewed their attack on Chushul with the overwhelming fire power of artillery and heavy mortars.

    The major threat of the Chinese was directed towards Rezang La because of its tactical importance. "The fight continued till around 8 am. I sustained a shell-splinter injury in the chin while the enemy's bullet could pierce only through the thick coat I was wearing. Most of the troops were riddled with bullets and splinters," Maam Chand recalled, adding that Major saab took machine gun bullets in his stomach. "He was not ready to give up and continued to lead us."

    "But not for long, his injuries overpowered him. He fell down. Carrying our 303 rifles, we brought him down into the nullah and rested him on a rock. His last words were: "Leave me here. Regroup with another company to launch counter attack."

    Out of the 112, only 14 men survived.

    Maam Chand accompanied by four other comrades managed to escape and tell the story of the bravery and sacrifice. Major Shaitan Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra posthumously and his body found frozen where we left it in February 1963.

    Amar Singh Khattri

    Age: 76

    Then rank: 2nd Lieutenant (later Lt-Col)

    Saw action in: Walong, Arunachal Pradesh

    It was November 12, 1962. With about two platoons of the 6th Kumaon Regiment and one wireless operator, Second Lieutenant Amar Singh Khattri went on a patrol to Tri-junction near Walong. "We reached Tri-junction around 5 pm and, to our surprise, found Chinese soldiers there and informed our commander," Khattri said, recalling the day. The Chinese launched an attack around 3 am on November 14. Another group launched a simultaneous attack on the Indian camp in Walong.

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    Amar Singh Khattri.

    The ill-equipped patrol party repulsed the first Chinese attack and the second charge followed soon but that too, failed. After receiving a wireless message from Khattri on November 13, the C and D companies were dispatched for Tri-junction the same night. The reinforcements arrived by 8 am on November 14 morning. The arrival of Company Commander B.N. Singh boosted the morale of the soldiers.

    Within two hours of the arrival of the reinforcements, the Chinese made another attack at Tri-junction. But this time the intensity was high and Singh was injured and had to be evacuated. Khattri assumed command. He kept the motivation of the Indian soldiers high. But in the last part of the war, he too sustained a serious injury on his right leg and had to be evacuated. "The Indian positions were overrun and we had to withdraw by 10 am as they had captured Tri-junction," Khattri said.

    Three months after the battle, the Indian Army gave another assignment to Khattri for Walong. The visit gave the officer an insight into the Chinese ground strategy. "Besides using modern weapons, they had done detailed planning. They had made fox holes and had the inner and outer lines of defence. They operated in wave formation and never allowed it to break. One dead soldier was replaced by two," Khattri recalled.


    Read more at: 50th anniversary of 1962 India-China conflict: The Heroes of the lost war : North, News - India Today
     
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