Sino-Indian Confrontation History & Discussions

Discussion in 'Military History' started by Parthy, Nov 22, 2010.

  1. Parthy

    Parthy Air Warrior Senior Member

    Aug 18, 2010
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    Chinese PLA menace at Nathu La in 1965

    Chinese had tried to create diversion to aid their beleaguered allies Pakistan during the India-Pakistan war in 1965. Frontier India had an exclusive interview with Major General (Retd) Eustace D’Souza PVSM, who was the Brigade Commander at Nathu La during the time.

    Here is the narration verbatim:

    In olden days, when Tibet was under Dalai Lama, there were two ways to enter Tibet. The main one was Sikkim route, which was the old silk route of Gangtok- Nathu La-Lhasa via Gyantse and Ya-tung through the Chumbi Valley. The other route was Jelep La – Chumbi Valley. The Sikkim route was the shortest and Nathu La was preferred route. Those days the tarmac Gangtok -Nathu La road ended at “Mile Five.” Then there was a mule track. I once walked up the mule track right up to Nathu La and back, to return a Chinese prisoner of war (POW) in early1956, in winter with no snow clothing. I was the detachment commander in Gangtok then and was instructed not to go my self. But I did not wanted to miss a chance like that, so I removed my badges of rank, carried a rifle. The Chinese POW was put on a pony and I walked. I had to meet this Chinese commissar. We were supposed to meet at 8.00 am in the morning, but I made him wait till 12.00 in the afternoon. He was furious.

    Maj Gen (Retd) Eustace D’Souza PVSM​

    The class nine tarmac Gangtok- Nathula road, right up to Indian side of the border, which replaced the mule track, was opened in early 1960’s. Till 1962, except for one Indian Army detachment at Gangtok, there were no troops in Sikkim. After 1962 Chinese aggression, Indian Army moved 20th Division under Gen Satarwala, to Sikkim. Gen Satarwala was responsible for all high altitude passes in Sikkim, including Nathu La Pass. In1963, the 20th Div was moved out and we were moved in. My battalion,i.e, 17th Maratha, raised by me, was only one year old when we arrived in Gangtok.

    In early 1965, we were ordered to move to by foot to Changu. Anyone holding Changu will prevent enemy movement to Gangtok. As luck would have it, although we were the youngest battalion there, I was ordered to take up the high altitude passes. The passes that were held by our brigade was Chola Pass which was just short of 16000 ft, then along the ridge Yak La Pass which is 15000 ft, then Cebu which was 15000 ft, Nathu La pass which was 14000 ft, the ridge went up to Jelep La which was under some other unit.

    We were told that we can establish only “Border Outpost” (BP). So I had a platoon at Nathu La and a platoon at Yak La. An army company was deployed in Theguk, which was also called the screen company. There were no Chinese that time in these places. The only movement was the postman, once a week. Then the Pakistan making noises in 1965. We were not put on warning on the eastern borders. In September 1965, I had two young officers at the Nathu La pass with their platoon. One was Captain V N Thapar, whose son was killed in Kargil war. Captain Thapar has just 2 years service. The other was Second Lieutenant Satpute, who had a year’s service, eventually became my ADC and then a Lt. General. We had built “Observation Posts” (OP’s) across the border which was not very far, but served as good observation points. One fateful day, I get a call from the border that we can see a large group of Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) moving towards the pass. The tactics they employed was, starting from Chumbi Valley, they moved few 100 feets and then stopped, and then they moved again and stopped and so on. We could see Chumbi valley. Those days there were no roads on the Chinese side, but only the mule tracks. When I reported to higher authorities, they instructed that all the OP’s on the Tibetian side should be withdrawn.

    The topography of Nathu La, was that the pass was along the ridge. One side of the ridge was the north shoulder and other was the south shoulder. On the south shoulder, towards the left hand side, there was an area was called “unth pahad” (Camel mountain), but, when I went there, I called it “camels Back,” which was towards Jelep La. There you could dominate the Nathu La, therefore you could fire at the Chinese from behind their backs. Capt Thapar told me about this area. So along with some of our men, we went to see it. We couldn’t climb it, hence we had to send up the men who were trained in mountain climbing, they put a rope and we pulled ourselves up. When I saw that you could see Nathu La from behind, so I decided to make my bid. I called up my boss Gen Sagat Singh, he spoke to corps commander Lt Gen GG Bewoor, who gave his consent. So we put 10 men there, who were well hidden. The Chinese had no clue about it. The Chinese reached the Tibetan side of the pass and probably expected us to run like in 1962, but we stood to our grounds. There after the Chinese PLA launched an attack on Yak La. Their tactics was to grab our personnel, take them to the Tibetan side and then call up the Indian external affairs ministry, asking them to take back the Indian prisoner of war. This is the same tactics they used before 1962 attack. I had one platoon in Yak La, the PLA killed one of our boys during the fire fight and then tried to recover the body from our side. One of Indian Army soldier, Naik Bhosle, all by himself, took up position behind a rock, continuously fired for 2 hours at Chinese, so that we could recover our soldier’s body. On Chinese radio, they mentioned that two of Chinese soldiers had been killed by Indian Army. We also collected lot of Chinese shells and sent to Lt Gen GG Bewoor and Eastern commander Sam Manekshaw as proof of the attack.

    Then they launched two attacks on Nathu La. One on the south shoulder of Nathu La. Captain Thapar and his Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), were able to push them back. One night just after that, the Chinese opened up fire. They fired around 800 rounds and hit nothing. I had ordered my boys not to fire till they see “whites of their eyes.” Probably they realized that they are wasting ammunition, so they stopped.

    In November 1965, one night, they continuously fired Para flares at us. The corps commander commented in jest “are Chinese were celebrating Diwali?” Many shells fell on our side. We did not bother to react, they must have been puzzled. Like last time, we collected the Para shells and sent them to Lt. Gen Bewoor and Gen Manekshaw as proof.

    Then news media world wide came to Nathu La. Time magazine, Life, ITV, The Argentineans, the Italians, the Japanese… every day I got visitors and I showed them around. They were assured that they were well defended from the Chinese. I had taken two 37 mm anti tank recoilless guns; one gun was placed in Cebu La in aimed at their command post. We had also taken a medium machine gun detachment to Camels Back.

    We had other psychological warfare incidents. I will narrate some of them. I used to take off my belt with the pistols and stand in front of the Chinese to show them that we are not scared. Once the Chinese brought a huge speaker, a Mao’s picture and belted out some atonal tunes to us, which made our boys rolling out with laughter. It was a huge insult to them. Once Nimi, the famous Indian actress, song writer Ramachandran and Mohd Rafi came to visit us. I asked Nimi to wear an attractive Saree and stand on our side of the border and sing “e mere vatan ke logon” song. Early next morning, the sentries told us that the Chinese PLA had brought some Chinese comfort girls to parade them in front of our soldiers. We used to get fresh meat on hoof all the way from Rajasthan. We were aware that the Chinese PLA did not get fresh food. So, we used to unload the meat in their full view and then take it to our cook houses. This went on for one month. So, once the Chinese brought pigs and tried to do the same, they did not know that the Marathas did not eat domesticated pigs. Our boys had a good laugh.

    Apart from all that, the Chinese political commissar was with them. Whenever we went up to the border, he would start taking photographs.

    By January 1967, I was posted out. By that time the Chinese had built a road from Chumbi Valley to Nathu La.

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