Battle of Walong: Indo-China war 1962

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Introduction

The recent incidents and skirmishes between Indian and Chinese forces have evoked a fresh and invigorated interest to understand the genesis of the hot and cold relationship, century-old, more so how the battles took place in 1962. Factual data, background to the problem, incidents categorised by political and military trepidations and overtures shall be presented in the bare possible space, the endeavour will be to highlight the events of the war, ultimately addressing in detail the Battle of Walong, which somehow has not been described to the extent required.

An effort will be to describe actions and events without explaining the abundance of individual and collective bravery, that were not rewarded adequately, battle honours or bravery awards, recommended or not, and thus would go in history unrecognised and unsung. However, the rationale of scars of humiliating defeat shall be revealed to draw out lessons, especially of Walong Sector.

In mid-1962, we were under training at IMA, were given a motivational talk by flamboyant Lt Gen BM Kaul. He emphasised Chinese betrayal, advancing and violating Indian territory, and India accepting the challenge with a resolve to throw the aggressors out. In December, I was commissioned into 4 SIKH. I had the opportunity to meet Lt Col Anant Singh, then CO 124 TA (SIKH) at Delhi who had left Walong on promotion, only two days prior to the final attack. He briefed about the history of 4 SIKH, Battle of Saragarhi fought by the Battalion and Battle of Walong. I reported the Unit at Lekhapani on 25 Dec 1962. One of the first tasks given to me was to debrief rank and file who had fought at Walong and write their experiences and versions. That gave glimpses of the battle, bravery, sacrifices, disappointments and injured psyche. The unit was undergoing humiliating punishment by wearing packs 08 during PT and being sent on exercises to no end. Major (Col) Harbans Singh, who was ‘B’ Company Commander during the war, was officiating CO, since the CO and 2 IC had been sent to the Sikh Regimental Center from Walong itself, almost summarily, for their further postings out. The Adjutant was attached with 4 DOGRA for a Court of Inquiry for speaking about the conduct of HQ 11 Inf Bde, especially against Brig (Lt Gen-Army Commander) NC Rawlley, the Commander and Maj AK Handoo (Lt Gen-Army Commander), the BM.

Regions of Interest

The boundary and where conflicts took place between India and China is 4050 KM long, interspersed by states of Nepal, Bhutan and Sikkim (then a confederate of India). In the West, the boundary of conflict runs for 2150 Km between J & K of India and Xinjiang, which was occupied (illegitimately) by China, Aksai Chin and some other parts of Ladakh to the extent of 33,000 Sq Kms. Severe fighting took place in this region. Further from this area, in the middle,  625 Kms long boundary, touching Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand, there was no conflict. In the East, 1150 Kms of boundary, referred to as McMahon Line, drawn in 1913, agreed by Tibet and British India, later not ratified by China, was also an area of conflict. China here claims an area of 85,000 sq km of area, the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. In this region, Indian forces gave a tough fight to Chinese forces, however, ultimately giving in to superior number, wherewithal and strategy.

Hereafter, the details of geography, historical forebodings and manoeuvres, battles of Western Sector (Ladakh) and North-Western area (Kameng Frontier Division) of Eastern Sector shall be sketchy (since well narrated), only to draw parallels of time to understand the overall scenario, with full details of the account in the North Eastern Sector (Lohit Frontier Division) of Eastern Sector. Somehow at that time, media coverage was fully devoted towards Ladakh and Kameng since approachable, but ironically, hardly any to Lohit (Walong). The battle details of Walong are available more in various accounts by the battalions who fought there. This article shall cover the Battle of Walong as a whole. 

History and Geography

Western Region. In the Ladakh Sector, the Aksai Chin is a desert area of salt-flats at a height of 16,000 feet. China had constructed a road linking Tibet and Xingjiang, a bone of contention. The tug of war had started in 1834 when Indian kings sent their forces to Ladakh and Tibet. The British showed a lack of interest in territory and drew a boundary called the ‘Johnson Line’. Thereafter, they drew 11 more lines, affected more by political and military situations which prevailed from time to time. This exposed their lack of interest in any direct conflict with Tsarist Russia, which was advancing at some places. Thus, India did not have proof of any boundary line at the time of independence, hence stuck to ‘Johnson Line’, which was transgressed at many places by the Chinese and a road constructed in 1956-7. There are no records supporting the Chinese claim on Aksai Chin, their interest taking root only after the annexation of Tibet as it facilitates the supply line to Tibet. The Chinese have easy access to Aksai Chin as compared to India who has to cross the Karakoram mountains, a tough proposition. India lost Aksai Chin because of the complacency of accepting Chinese control of Tibet.

Middle Region. This includes Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Sikkim. This area saw no fighting.

Eastern Region. In the North-West, the concerned area is mountainous at the tri-junction of Tibet, Bhutan and India. The segment of interest is starting from Foothills towards Chaku- Bomdila  – Nyukmadong Ridge – Dirang Dzong – Sela – Tawang – Namka Chu – McMahon Line: Thagla Ridge, Khemzamane and Bumla. Area North-East is Tezu – Walong – McMahon Line – Dichu, and Rima in China. The Region is broken and mountainous, with peaks ranging up to 16,000 feet. There exist steep critical gradients. Numerous rivers and their distributaries are formidable obstacles. India maintained the boundary to be along the watershed, started patrolling across the latter and establishing posts on the perceived boundary. However, the Chinese negotiated the terrain to their advantage, developed their attacks with vigour, shattering Indian Forces in their way.  

Details of the geography of Walong shall be described subsequently.

Political and Military Angles

Though the boundary contradictions existed for decades, the real trouble started when India got her independence in 1947 and China became the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. China’s occupation of Aksai Chin and establishing border posts across became a bone of contention. Yet, relations improved on the signing of ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Existence’, to deteriorate abruptly when India gave asylum to the 14th Dalai Lama. Diplomacy became rancorous. Maps of both sides questioned by the opposing party resulted in the stoppage of negotiations.

Nehru appointed Lt Gen BM Kaul, a Services Officer, as Chief of General Staff. India adopted ‘Forward Policy’, occupying 80 outposts, including 43 across McMahon Line. In the West,  Nehru on 12 Oct, ordered the eviction of Chinese from Thagla Ridge. One of the posts occupied by IA was Dhola which was three miles inside Chinese territory. Gen Kaul moved 7 Infantry Brigade under Brig Bhup Singh, from Tawang to Namkachu, uncovering Tawang.

China assumed a threat to Tibet. Both adversaries tried to encircle each others’ posts. During the later part of 1961 skirmishes arose, aggravating in 1962. By then, USA and Russia were preoccupied with the Cuban Missile crisis, and also threat to Taiwan receded, thus providing an opportunity to China to teach a lesson to India and in the process lower Nehru’s prestige. India was tardy in its appreciation and preparations to blunt the likely onslaught. Krishna Menon, the Raksha Mantri, with a communist background, chatted against China, yet did nothing to prepare the forces to defend the country. He further lowered the morale of the forces by humiliating the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen KS Thimayya, much liked by the forces. Instead, he appointed Gen PN Thapar in his place, a weakling.

Meanwhile, a patrol of 50 men of RAJPUT Regiment was confronted by a superior Chinese force on 10 Oct 1962, fighting ensued, the Indians did brave, caused numerous casualties on the Chinese, yet were defeated suffering many casualties, and were pushed back. China, apprehensive of their encirclement by the USA, Russia and India, completed her preparations for an attack by 18 Oct, concentrating two Divisions along the borders. More forces were amassed against the Eastern region, towards Arunachal Pradesh.

 Attacks in the Western Sector

China attacked both the Sectors simultaneously. In the Western segment, China forced Indian forces to vacate Chip Chap Valley, Galway Valley and Pangong Tso on 20 Oct. USA and Western countries favoured India, yet China prepared purposefully for four days and attacked Chushul, Gurung Hill and Rezang La. The Kumaonis Company at Rezang La gave a resolute fight, inflicting hundreds of casualties upon Chinese forces, yet losing battle due to own unsurmountable casualties and heavy pressure. The artillery support was awfully deficient impacting infantry battle severely. 7 Infantry Brigade, as such, could not give a cohesive fight and disintegrated against the superior planning and Chinese wherewithal.

Attacks in the Kameng Frontier Division of Eastern Sector

The gradients are steep from the Indian side while are gradual from Tibet.  The area saw some major battles. After hard-hitting combats at Thagla Ridge, Khenzamane and Bumla, the Chinese took time to consolidate around Tawang. Bumla, located on Mc Mahon Line, is 20 Kms from Tawang Town; the battle here was one of the severest, fought magnificently by 1 SIKH. To ease maintenance and build-up, the Chinese made a road from Bumla to Tawang in record time.

This allowed a breather of three weeks to Indian forces who reorganised themselves at formidable defensive positions of Sela and Bomdila, but soon to reduce the latter from 16 Companies to four, sending eight of them to Sela.  China furthered violent attacks,  infiltrated, outflanked Sela and Bomdila, accomplishing their goal of forcing the Indians to vacate the formidable positions. They had a free run right up to Tezpur in the plains of Assam. Maj Gen AS Pathania panicked and ordered the withdrawal of forces from two unassailable defensive positions, resulting in chaos and breakdown of resistance. On seeing the enemy occupying high hills around Bomdila, Brig Gurbux Singh ordered evacuation from Bomdila to occupy a layback position at Chacku. However, with effect from 21 Nov, the Chinese voluntarily stopped fighting unilaterally and withdrew to the line of actual control of 07 Nov. They had given a severe blow to the Indian forces.

Detailed Topography of Lohit Frontier Division of Eastern Sector

Walong, a small military station, was a helmet of 25 huts, 6000 feet high, East of Lohit River, the Easternmost tributary of Brahmputra. It is 20 miles short of the McMahon line, connected by a mule track West of the river and a game track on the East. Lohit R cuts Walong into two halves. (Refer to Sketch 1). East of Walong, 27 miles ahead, is Kibithu located on the LAC. Headquarters of Lohit District were at Tezu, West of Lohit R. From Tezu to Walong, there existed a foot track which took 14 days for a load-carrying person to traverse. The railheads to Tezu were Tinsukia and Dibrugarh, at a distance of 120 and 170 miles respectively.

Further ahead of Walong is Kahao, short of Dichu, the last Indian village in the East. Across the LAC, there was a developed town called Rima where trade flourished with India. Meetings between the Indian Army and PLA also used to be held to sort out local issues. China had a well-developed road to Rima from Tibet. Their other important post in the area was Sema.

Lohit River has banks almost 40 feet high, its bed width about 200 yards, water width 80 yards during the winter, swelling during summers. The river was not fordable. It was crossable by rubber boats at selected places. There existed two twine ropeway bridges at Walong -Dong and Thapa Ridge -Kahlo. A twine bridge had a hanging pulley with a ‘Doli’ that could carry two persons, pulled manually by pioneers, helped by Mishmis of doubtful loyalty. For the last bit of the twine, men in the ‘Doli’ also had to apply force with a second rope to move the ‘Doli’ to reach the end. A Section of 8 to 10 personnel would take over an hour to cross, thus a Company well over a day.

Along the river, at a height of 3600 feet, the existing flat areas of 170 yards or so, were used on the right as Dropping Zone and on the left Advance Landing Ground. Dropping Zones were available at Walong and Kibithu. The height of Kibithu is 5000 feet, located along the LAC. Lohit R entered India at this point. It is situated on the tri-junction of China, Myanmar and India. All activities across LAC can be observed from here.

From the lowest areas, the hills on both sides rose to height 15,000 – 16,000 feet, over a horizontal distance of three miles. On the Eastern side of Lohit is a large mountain tract with Sati Nullah flowing into Lohit, dividing the massif in two, there exist defensible knolls and spurs of 200 to 400 by 100 to 200 yards, from higher to lower altitudes, which were named High Plateau, Dong, Dong Hills and East Ridge. On the West were Ashi Hill, Ladders, Maha Plateau, Spur, Walong Tekri and West Ridge. From a high feature called Tri Junction, emanated three spurs that descended into Lohit River; North – Eastern Spur, leading to two miles North of Walong, Center Spur to Walong and South-Eastern Spur five miles behind Walong. It is the area of Tri junction and Center Spur that saw the maximum fight. The Spur also leads to Ladders, a formidable defensive position. The height difference between Lohit R and Tri Junction is 10,000 feet, 10 miles long stretch, requiring two days of march by a person carrying loads. Ladders and Lachhman Ridge were dominated by Tri Junction (13,250 feet), Yellow Pimple (12,750 feet) and Green Pimple (12,500 feet). The ridge from Tri Junction towards South-East had features West Ridge and Avalanch Ridge which dominated Walong Camp/Base, DZ Ridge and ALG. Another ridge called Yepak Ridge, five miles South of Walong, also lead to Lohit R.

Water was scarce above 7000 feet and had to be carried or airdropped.  Up to this height, the weather was reasonable but above bitter cold. From midday to midnight it is windy while from midnight to midday it is generally calm. The aircraft could fly in the area only from 7 to 11 am. The movement of troops from one place to another was extremely slow,  timings from the commonplace ALG to some places is to Mahan Plateau 04 hours, West Ridge 08 h, Dakota Hills 03 h and High Plateau 04 h.  The routes of ingress were along West bank of Lohit R, in the East from Dichu to Walong along the river, from Taluk Pass to Walong finally from Dau via Du-Dakhru to Hayuliang.

Deployments, Initial Incursions and Battles in Lohit Frontier Division.

The first intrusion by the Chinese was in 1957 towards Walong. Their small parties also surveyed the area. A biggish party intruded from Dichu in Sep 1958. They made excuses for intrusions by IA, familiarised themselves with the terrain. Till 1959, Assam Rifles under the Ministery of Home, held positions along the LAC at six places to include Kibithu, Dichu and Jachap La. Chinese, on the other hand, had tasked their 130 Division for the offensive against Walong. One Regiment assembled in area Rima, which was being further strengthened.  The Indian side, after 1959, 5 Infantry Brigade of 4 Infantry Division, under Maj Gen RS Pathania,  was responsible for Lohit Division. 2 RAJPUT held the forward positions till Apr 62. Thereafter, 6 KUMAON, under LT Col CN Madinah, replaced it coming from 52 Infantry Brigade located at Lilasari. For support at Walong, was 71 Heavy Mortar Battery, an Engineer Platoon and  Detachment Pioneers. Dispositions of 6 KUMAON on 18 Oct were, ‘A’ Company at Dichu, ‘B’ at East Ridge, ‘C’ at Kibithu, and ‘D’ at Ladders that moved to Thapa Ridge on 22 Oct. Battalion HQ was at Kibithu. Chinese attacked Dichu on 22 Oct, suffered some casualties but succeeded in their second attack. 6 KUMAON withdrew to Walong, leaving ‘D’ Company, under Lt Bikram Singh, at Ashi Hill as screen position. Troops from the Chinese 153 Regiment attacked Ashi Hill on 23 October, defenders played havoc on them, killing almost 200. Valour and gallantry were at display by the Kumaonis. The Chinese 390 Regiment was reinforced at this stage. In their further attacks, the Chinese secured Ashi Hill, occupied Green Pimple, which in return was counter-attacked by ‘A’ Company, 6 KUMAON, that could not succeed, and took up positions close by, yet to be pushed back subsequently.

At this stage, the responsibility of the 62 Infantry Brigade of 4 Infantry Division was taken over by 11 Infantry Brigade of 2 Mountain Division, under the overall control of HQ 4 Corps.

 Additional Troops, Moves, Dispositions on 31 Oct !962 and Chinese Attacks

On 12 Sep, 62 Inf Bde, under Brig NK lal, located at Ramgarh was given orders to be prepared for the move to forward areas. On 15 Sep, 4 GARHWAL moved out, to be followed by 4 SIKH under Lt Col AL Behal on 16 Sep, followed by 2/8 GR on 17 Sep. On 12 Sep, 4 SIKH was celebrating the Battle of Saragarhi when it received orders for the move, with uncertainty as to where. It was to move to Tezpur, orders changed to Chardawar, and during the move by train at Rangapara were told to move to Jorhat. Crossing of Brahmputra at Pandu was by steamers on 20/21 Sep. At Jorhat, along with Commander 62 Inf Bde, the present was Commander 5 Inf Bde, Brig Shiv Charan Singh, under whom 4 SIKH and 2/8 GR were now placed. The atmosphere was extremely tense. The Dacotas that were available were tasked not only to airlift the two units but also to continue the commitment of dropping supplies for forward posts of 4 Inf Div and 5 Inf Bde. 4 SIKH was earmarked for Along, while 2/8 GR was moved to Walong, a rice-producing area. In Operation ‘LEGHORN’, the move was by Dakotas from Jorhat to Tezu, and from there to Walong and Along by Otters. Otters had limited capacity.  With the change of orders, Advance Party 4 SIKH, under Major (Lt Col) Anant Singh, was moved to Walong on 25 Sep, followed by Battalion HQ, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies on 26/27 Sep, ‘A’ occupied High Plateau and ‘B’ Company area Maha Plateau, Mithun Track and Ladders. ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, dropped at Along were inducted to Walong later by 23 Oct, by which time the Chinese had already pushed back 6 KUMAON from Mc Mahon Line.

4 SIKH now had Companies ‘D’ at Lachhman Ridge, ‘B’ Maha Plateau (to include Mithun Track and Ladders), ‘C’ Dong Plateau and ‘A’ at Dong Hill, 3-inch mortars on the reverse slope of Dong Hill, a frontage of 6000 yards. 6 KUMAON now was deployed at Walong. Companies were shifted around, mutual support generally lacking due to large gaps. There was a shortage of supplies, ammunition, mines and digging tools. Signal equipment including sets was in poor condition. The defences were in different stages of preparation, needing much improvement. On 24/25 Oct, the enemy followed 6 KUMAON Company from Ashi Hill on their heels and a column of 600 to 700 was seen moving on track to Ladders. They attacked Maha Plateau, Mithun Track and Ladders, was beaten back suffering over 200 casualties. The enemy withdrew, putting dry bushes to fire, retrieved the dead while defenders were trying to extinguish the fire. The fire and smoke had an extremely adverse effect on the troops, their faces blackened, breathing difficult with no water available to quench thirst. A Company of 2/8 GR relieved Platoon at Ladders which moved to Maha Plateau. Chinese launched another attack on 25/26 Oct at Ladders and Mithun Track but were defeated, suffering many casualties. The mortars played havoc upon the Chinese. From Indian Prisoners of War, repatriated later, it was revealed the Chinese had named the position as ‘Tiger Mouth’.

A Chinese message was intercepted on 02 Nov, which read –

“Very strong enemy defence hit near Walong, request grant permission to withdraw”. The reply was, “No, you will carry out the entrusted task, reinforcements being sent”.

On 27 Oct, CO 4 SIKH who had taken over as Commander Walong Garrison, from CO 6 KUMAON, was relieved by Brig JC Hartley, MC, as 5 Inf Bde took over the overall responsibility. HQ 5 Inf Bde was at Subansiri, hundreds of miles away from Walong. Brig Hartley was ex 4 SIKH Company Commander during World War 2 and had earned MC. Maj Gen HS Pathania, the GOC, visited Walong to see the situation himself. At this stage, troops from 3/3 GR, commanded by Lt Col Jadav started arriving.

On 27 Oct, the enemy attacked Mithun Track again but was defeated. Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, Officiating Corps Commander visited Walong, ordered the move back of the remaining two Companies of 3/3 GR who had walked up 150 miles from Tezu to reach Walong. He had assessed 4 SIKH, 6 KUMAON and two companies of 2/8 GR were adequate to defend area Walong.

Lt Gen BM Kaul, Corps Commander returned from Delhi. He, accompanied by Maj Gen HS Pathania visited Walong on 29 Oct and ordered 11 Inf Bde under Brig NC Rawlley to take over Walong garrison.  He also ordered the raising of 2 Mountain Division. Rawlley arrived at Walong on 01 Nov. He ordered two Companies of 2/8 GR, which had moved back to Tezu, to return to Walong. He also requested for a Brigade Group to defend Hayuliang, 75 miles in the rear of Walong. Yet another change took place, 3/3 GR who had a Company in Walong were flown in fully on 09 Nov, and 2/8 GR was relieved. 3/3 GR was given the responsibility of East bank.

At this stage, available were a total of three days supplies, mortars and artillery ammunition to beat back only one attack and small arms ammunition to beat back two attacks. Meanwhile, the Chinese moved towards North East Spur, where 4 SIKH machine guns harassed them for 10 days. However, the Chinese, now clear that no breakthrough was possible frontally started developing further excursions from the flanks. They established themselves at the Center Spur, Green and Yellow Pimples, just a mile from Tri Junction. They stocked enough ammunition and supplies for a Company plus deployed there. They continued patrolling and inching forward giving clear indications of their all-out attack for Walong. It also became clear of their build-up on East Bank. One Platoon of Assam Rifles was occupying  Dong Choti and a Company less a platoon of 2/8 GR at Dakota Hill. 2 Assam Rifles had two platoons at Walong, two at Firebase and one at Yepak. The overall dispositions of troops as of 31 Oct are given on Sketch 1 enclosed.

                                                                                                                     

Sketch 1

Colour Scheme: Yellow-4 SIKH, Red- 4 DOGRA, Blue-6 KUMAON, Green-2/8 and 3/ GR, Deep Blue-Mors and Arty, Black- Assam Rifles, Pioneers, Workshop etc.

Chinese Attacks: 03 to 13 Nov

The Chinese fired upon patrols of 4 SIKH and Assam Rifles from Green Pimple. 4 SIKH established a platoon at Patrol Base and brought to bear effective fire on Chinese movement at North Eastern Spur, Yellow and Green Pimples.  ‘A’ Company  6 KUMAON, under Capt RK Mathur attacked Green Pimple on 06 Nov morning but did not succeed, because of non-availability of mortar fire, and artillery shells non-effective due to trees. The Company established itself at West Ridge, keeping Green Pimple under observation. The Chinese completed a track from Ashi Hill to Green Pimple. On 09 Nov, 3/3 GR, from Silchar, was fully flown in and were given the responsibility to take over from 4 SIKH. Its ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were able to relieve Ladders and Lachhman Ridge but because of the fast move of the Chinese could not do any more. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies occupied Dong Plateau and Dong Hill. ‘D’ Company of 4 SIKH moved from Lachhman Ridge to High Plateau and was under 3/3 GR. The Chinese now seemed to fast track their operations before the passes closed.

On 11 Nov, 6 KUMAON reported Tri Junction was not occupied. The Corps Commander who was on a visit to Walong approved to attack Yellow Pimple from the direction of Tri Junction, with all possible artillery support. The Unit less a Company secured Tri Junction on 12 Nov. Their Company East of Lohit R crossed it, climbed 10,000 feet joining the Battalion for the attack. On 12 and13 Nov, 6 KUMAON established at Tri Junction, was ordered to attack Yellow and Green Pimples on 14 Nov, the very next day, rejecting a sound request of the CO to give him a day for reconnaissance and preparation. Company 4 SIKH at Patrol Base was ordered to launch a holding attack when 6 KUMAON attacked Yellow Pimple.

At this late stage, 4 DOGRA, was moved from Naga Hills and North Cachar; ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies arrived on 13 Nov and ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies on 15 Nov. Initial orders to them were to be reserve at Walong but were tasked to assist towards Tri Junction. The officers in 4 DOGRA were Lt Col RS Pathania, CO, Maj Surajmal Singh, 2IC, Company Commanders Maj JP Makkar, Chitale, 2/Lt Sham Singh Dhillon and Maj KJS Grewal, QM Maj Puran Singh, Adjutant Rajinder Singh and Mortar Platoon Commander and Intelligence Officer Lt Kuldip Singh Brar.

Dispositions as of 15 Nov 

The deployment of troops at Walong garrison as of 15 Nov are given in Sketch 2 enclosed.

                    Sketch 2    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Colour Scheme: Yellow-4 SIKH, Red- 4 DOGRA, Blue-6 KUMAON, Green-2/8 and 3/ GR, Deep Blue-Mors and Arty, Black- Assam Rifles, Pioneers, Workshop etc.

Final Attacks by Chinese: 14 to 17 Nov

6 KUMAON launched a counter-attack on 14 Nov, a hoped victory, a ‘birthday gift’ to Nehru. The attack made some progress, but because of the paucity of artillery support, was halted 50 yards short of the objective. The Unit pressed in two more platoons from the Forming Up Position, yet making no headway, withdrew to Tri Junction, suffering 110 perished from 200 who had gone in for the attack. The Chinese launched a reposte at Tri Junction on 15 Nov but were defeated since a Company of 4 DOGRA, under Major IJS Grewal had reinforced Tri Junction. But Chinese another attack next morning succeeded to capture it. CO 6 KUMAON ordered his troops to fall back to Walong. The stragglers of 6 KUMAON included officers Maj PN Bhatia, Capt RK Mathur, Capt B Chopra and 2/Lt AS Khatri. Battalion ‘O’ Group and two Companies of 4 DOGRA moving up were trapped between Firm Base and Mortar Position, were split up in small parties to a fighting withdrawal. Just arrived, ‘C’ Company under Major Rajinder Singh, which was moving towards Tri Junction, had to turn back and withdraw to Walong.

Concurrent fierce attacks were launched by the Chinese throughout the front. They infiltrated through the gaps. They also launched attacks on Namti and Dong defences. The attacks were rather full-throttle through the 4 SIKH positions as they had harassed the Chinese build-up for days on Green and Yellow Pimple.  On night 15/16 Nov, the Chinese attacked a hurriedly prepared position of Patrol Base, where ‘A’ Company under Maj Samvatsar gave a dogged fight, suffered heavy casualties, the officer himself was seriously wounded. The Battalion Quarter Master, Captain IJ Kumar, who with some men was in the process of delivering ammunition, volunteered to evacuate Samvatsar, who refused to be evacuated. As ill fate would have it, another shell splinter hit Samvatsar who died, while Kumar was wounded and taken a PW. The enemy made use of gaps and attacked Lachhman Ridge, Maha Plateau and Mithun Track held by ‘B’ Company under Maj Harbans Singh and Ladders held by a Platoon of 3/3 GR, all fought fiercely but lost ground to a very superior enemy. The Chinese raced along South-Eastern Spur, five miles South of Walong to cut off the garrison. By now, the Chinese had cleared Tri Junction, Yellow Pimple, Green Pimple, Mithun Spur, Maha Plateau, Ladders and West Ridge.   

On the East bank, ‘D’ Company under Capt Jog Raj Palta was at High Plateau. He had earlier reported that he had seen Chinese in great numbers crossing Lohit R on rubber boats. Unfortunately, he was not believed and thus no suitable countermeasures were taken. The Company held on against the enemy’s a number of attacks, Palta himself was seen firing sten with his right hand, taking out grenade pins with his mouth and throwing on the enemy with his left hand. He got a burst in his chest and died. Under pressure, 3/3 GR positions on Dong Plateau and Dong Hill were abandoned. On the West Ridge ‘A’ Company, 6 KUMAON, was ordered to hold out till Brigade Headquarters was able to move well out of Yapak-Lohit Junction. 

On 16 Nov afternoon, the Corps Commander and the Division Commander decided with the Brigade Commander to abandon Walong and move to Hayuliang. The troops carried out a running withdrawal from their positions. Lt Col Yadav, CO 3/3 GR, was taken PW, along with a number of officers and men..

Because of Chinese pressure and continuous attacks, ammunition consumption was voluminous, and replenishment inadequate. 4 SIKH men fought offensive defence with tenacity, heroism and made supreme sacrifices, after inflicting heavy losses on the enemy. A soldier could not hold himself to his trench, leapt out, and killed eight before laying down his own life, was awarded MVC posthumously. A Non-Commissioned Officer, though wounded grievously, kept on firing a machine gun from behind a boulder, till his comrades moved into a more effective position.  A Junior Commissioned Officer had picked up a light machine gun and firing blazed into a Chinese patrol party who were trying to take up a dominating position. He himself succumbed to his injuries. A Non-Commissioned Officer who had already killed a number of soldiers from the enemy camp got wounded, walked back for eight hours, his intestines hanging out of his turban that he had tied on his stomach. Another Non-Commissioned Officer got wounded in his shoulder, kept on fighting till he found all his colleagues dead and his ammunition finished. He moved back, took 37 days to reach the Unit, got lost in the jungles, with gangrene set in his wound at an advanced stage. A non-combatant Non-Commissioned Officer, a bootmaker, outstanding hockey goalkeeper, not only volunteered but motivated and organized other non-combatants to carry ammunition and mines to the needy posts for days, till he was ambushed by the enemy. He fought back but was mortally wounded. He died, with the satisfaction of having completed the task he had undertaken – a rarest of the rare feats, was awarded VrC.

Chinese Pattern of Final Attack

                                                                                                      

Casualties

The defenders of Walong sustained enemy incursions for months and finally fought with all their might for gritty 25 days. From within the scarce resources, they even managed to launch a counter-attack that could not make much headway. At each stage of the battle, there were brave efforts of offensive defence. At numerous places, comradeship was exemplary. The Garrison out of a strength of 2191, suffered 17% killed, 13% wounded and 16% taken as PW, totalling 46%. For gallantry awards, it got paltry one MVC and 09 Vr C. Maj Jim Suri, Artillery, withdrew in time along a game track to save himself from being taken a PW. 4 SIKH suffered 82 killed, 97 wounded and 20 taken PW. 6 KUMAON had 119 killed (including 2 officers), 113 wounded (five officers) and 173 taken PW (three officers). 4 DOGRA suffered 109 killed, 23 wounded and 74 taken as PW.

The Chinese grieved much more, graveyards of Bathithwang, Tithong and Chikhong bear testimony. Indian forces suffered a severe blow yet gave a brave fight upkeeping the name of the Army and the Nation.

Observations

Frequent Changes of Command and Control. The command of Walong Garrison changed thrice as far as Brigades were concerned, each time there was a change of Division also, from one formation to another in a short time, which severely affected the planning, preparation and execution of the battle. Even Corps changed from 33 to 4 at Tezpur, just two weeks before the beginning of the war. Thus cohesiveness lacked. Brig Navin Ralley along with his BM, Maj AK Handoo, both rose to be Army Commanders, though professionally sound, but could not fathom the reality. Their ambitious planning was in Phase 1 to repulse Chinese attacks, in Phase 2 Brigade to advance to LAC and in Phase 3 to march into Tibet.

Faulty Dispositions, Ad Hocism and Misplaced Appreciation. Right from the beginning, the dispositions were faulty, the move-in of troops was in bits and pieces, resorting to ad hoc arrangements, thus lacking in cohesion and mutual support. There were troops of one battalion under command another and vice versa. Two dominating hills, Green and Yellow Pimple were not occupied ab initio, and that is from where the Chinese had built up their concentrations of further attacks.  Maximum fights took place in these areas and further towards Maha Plateau and  Ladders. The paucity of troops was a severe drawback. The large area of Center Spur itself required a Brigade strength to defend. The Chinese suffered enormous casualties in their initial attacks, they changed their aggressive activities to flanks, giving clear indications of their further advances, but their intentions were not appreciated by the defenders and measures taken to defeat them.

Laxity by Commanders.  A pause of three weeks in the Chinese offensive, made the higher commanders conclude that the Chinese attacks were petering out, they thus in their wisdom, ordered a return of 2/8 GR and two companies of 3/3 GR, which was a major folly.

Higher Commanders Not in Touch with Ground Realities. The higher commanders’ ill-planned counter attack by 6 KUMAON, without allowing them time for reconnaissance and preparation, without adequate artillery support and on top of it, reinforcing the failure by 4 DOGRA, just arrived in the nick of time, again without proper thought, was nothing but allowing the brave troops to be butchered. The full-throttled Chinese counterattack was faced heroically by the valiant soldiers of the two units. They suffered enormous casualties fighting from behind trees and boulders, succumbed to larger forces, ran helter-skelter, reaching Tezu in bits and pieces.

On 17 Nov, Gen Kaul flew in to see the situation, found the Brigade Commander in a Nullah Bed, offered to fly him and his staff out.

Indian Troops Ill-Equipped to Fight a War at High Hills. It would also be of value to understand the kind of weapons and dress Indian troops had. They were equipped with World War 1 weapons, .303 bolt action rifles and Light Machine Guns, 2-inch mortars and 3.5-inch rocket launchers and as support weapons 3 inches mortars. Men wore cotton clothing with ammunition or canvas jungle boots, for winters Angola shirt and jersey. No coat parkas or extreme winter clothing was available.

The defeat had in its wake slander, accusations, acrimony and recriminations.

Indian Political and Military Maturity Embryonic. Indian understanding and appreciation of political and military mechanisms were nascent. Nehru could not comprehend the warning by Patel to be cautious of Chinese intentions. Krishna Menon, though sharp in intellect but was waspish in conduct. As an RM, he treated armed forces, especially the higher command with contempt. Lack of military knowledge made him bring in a services officer, Lt Gen BM Kaul, though brilliant with no idea of war and battles at the helm of the affairs, commanded his fighting forces for a major period from the sickbed at Delhi. Gen PN Thapar, the Army Chief was a weakling. He failed to face the RM on matters military.

Junior Leadership and Bravery of Rank and File Outstanding. Yet, the Battle of Walong can be termed as a ray of light since the garrison did fight for 25 days continuously in spite of the terrible shortcomings enumerated above. Overall, the Indian junior leadership and the rank and file fought with utmost bravery and did bring credit to the Indian Army.

Time Magazine summarised, “At Walong, the troops lacked everything, the only thing they did not lack was gutts.”

Repercussions: Blame Game

Hereafter, the brief pertains mostly to 4 SIKH, in relation to Other Troops.

Averse Attitude of Senion Commanders. Among 82 dead, 97 wounded and 20 taken PW, two officers (Company Commanders) were killed, five wounded and two wounded taken PW. Only, one Company Commander, Maj Harbans Singh, continuously in the battle, fifth in the hierarchy, found himself officiating CO, had the responsibility for two layback positions for the Brigade stragglers to go past safely, moved his Battalion to Lekhapani and took stock of the Unit to put it back on even keel. Maj (Lt Col) Anant Singh had moved out on promotion on 14 Nov. Thereafter, the next 2IC, Maj G P Malik was sent to the Sikh Regimental Center for further posting. It was followed by a despatch of the CO, Lt COL AL Behl to the SRC. Maj Harbans Singh had with him Capt Parkash Singh, now attached to 4 DOGRA, undergoing a Court of Inquiry on disciplinary grounds, 2 Lt AS Sudan and RMO Capt KK Sikdar.

On failure of 6 KUMAON to capture Green Pimple on 14 Nov, 4 DOGRA to reinforce, and the Chinese repost with ferocity in great numbers, forcing both to withdraw suffering unsurmountable casualties, dispersed in small groups at Tri Junction, West Ridge and Mortar Position towards Yepak TCP, thus successfully outflanking Walong defences heralded the termination of the battle of the garrison.

4 SIKH and 3/3 GR Companies yet trying to fight it out a hopeless battle at Patrol Base, High Plateau, Ladders, High Ground and Dong were at their last breath, The GOC who had stayed 15/16 Night at Walong, on discussion with the Brigade Commander, decided to withdraw. The Battalion HQ could not contact the Bde HQ due to failure of communications, the CO on his own, moved back to Walong. He found the Brigade Commander and BM in a Nullah, already having left their Headquarters without ensuring the forward troops received the orders for withdrawal. By then, the only ‘B’ Company in communication, with great difficulty was contacted and was told to withdraw. Capt Parkash who had gone to the Bde HQ for further orders since communications failed, was surprised to see none there. He also moved back. Surprised themselves to be found there, the Commander was annoyed with the CO for withdrawing. In fact, the Commander was interested in moving out safely while 4 SIKH last elements fought. He ordered the CO to move to the Center, which was not contested by the latter, in spite of the fact that his Unit had done marvellous, remnants withdrawing when there was no ammunition left with them and were devastated. This made Brigade’s blame game easy.

Blame Game for Own Inaptitude. On reaching Lekhapani, the Battalion was humiliated by orders of doing PT in pack 08. It was sent on exercises of long marches again and again on the pretext of toughening up. It was shown in bad humour to all who came from Division, Corps or Command HQ or from other formations. Officers interested to see the Battalion in good humour, like Brig Satinder Singh, BGS Corps HQ, a Regimental officer was dissuaded on some pretext or the other. The Commander openly opined that the Unit had all casualties when on withdrawal.

Lt Col Pritam Singh Dhillon, 16 SIKH, was posted in as CO. He came wearing a Maj’s rank, went to Bde HQ, took out badges of rank from his pocket and requested the Bde Commander to honour him, something not done. It pleased the Commander immensely. He told the Battalion that the Unit was having a bad name due to their own doing and that he had been sent to improve matters. He was arrogant and did not listen to any advice under those trying conditions.

Astounding Facts Unpalatable to Senior Commanders. To the surprise of Maj Harbans Singh, he was ordered to be ready to move to Walong at short notice. He was told to reach the airstrip where the GOC, Commander and an officer each from 6 KUMAON and 4 DOGRA were already there. They flew to Walong to see the situation. They were received by some city officials and villagers who had since returned and were looking after the weapons returned by the Chinese, All moved across the Lohit R, pulling themselves on the ‘Doli’. They first went to High Plateau where Lt Joe Palta and his ‘D’ Company had fought. Maj Harbans Singh took out a list from his pocket to tally those who had died there. The GOC and Commander were surprised to see the dead buried in the trenches from where they fought, with an anklet, belt or disc sticking out to recognise from their number. It embarrassed the GOC and the Commander since they had maintained that 4 SIKH casualties occurred on their withdrawal. Maj Harbans Singh offered them the list which had names of one officer, a JCO Platoon Commanders and two Havildars as Platoon Commanders and 21 who had died fighting there. The GOC and Commander conferred and said that the dead should be cremated. Tree cones were collected on one of the half-exposed bodies. Maj Harbans Singh opined that the hill was dry and the wind was blowing upwards, it may burn all the bodies without having recognition carried out. But GOC personally ignited the fire, the worst happened, the entire hill caught fire. All evidence was burnt with it. Maj Harbans Singh requested the GOC to see other positions also, but they returned to Walong. After dinner when all had left, DQ told Maj Harbans Singh to return the next morning to Lekhapani. His request to meet the Commander for visit to other positions to tally with the list he carried was not agreed to. He moved back the next day while the remaining party stayed put for several days.

After a few days, parties from the units were sent for proper cremation of those who could be located. Maj (Brig) Shamsher Singh led the 4 SIKH party, on his return, he confirmed all the dead were found to be in their trenches hence his task was easy, though sad. Not a single person from 4 SIKH was found dead en route from his defensive position to Tezu. But the slur discoursed by the higher commanders could not be erased.

Lt Col Anant Singh was brought back to replace Lt Col PS Dhillon who was posted out to 16 SIKH. It took a herculean effort by Lt Col Anant Singh to assuage the hurt feeling of the rank and file. The Unit was visited by Lt Gen Harbaksh  Singh, COR, twice and also by HH Lt Gen Yadvindra Singh, Hony COR, and other dignitaries. They learnt of the outright valour of 4 SIKH, also being mainly instrumental in giving a tough time to the Chinese.

The rank and file of the Saragarhi Battalion were soon back to their elan, excelling in every field, fully geared for another battle.

The Truth Surfaces

The enemy arms captured by the Battalion are perhaps the only few taken by the Indian Army.  These weapons are today the unit’s prized possession and displayed in the Unit Officers Mess and the Sikh Regimental Center. The honour lies in the knowledge that all who died gave their lives on their battle positions in the true spirit of “Saragarhi” and it would not be out of place here to quote from a letter from the Colonel of the Regiment and then Corps Commander, Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh, VrC:-

“It is coming to light now after it has been seen that the dead of 4 SIKH at Walong were lying in their bunkers where they had fought it out to the last, that the Battalion’s performance was more than in keeping with the highest traditions of the Regiment. In one or two instances, complete platoons were wiped out without a single survivor. In this connection, two names come to my mind, and these are Nb Sub Gurnam Singh and Hav Gurmukh Singh, the performance of whose platoons was in no way short of Saragarhi epic”.

Memorials at Walong

Bibliography

  • The Chinese Betrayal – Mullick BN.
  • The Battle of NEFA – Bhargava GS.
  • Unsung Battles of 1962 – Lt Col Gurdip Singh Kler.
  • War in High Himalayas – Maj Gen Palit D K.
  • Digest of Service 4 SIKH.
  • Saragarhi Battalion – Col Kanwaljit Singh and Maj H S Ahluwalia.
  • Personal Notes of Col Harbans Singh, who commanded B Company 4 SIKH.
  • Interviews by Brig Kanwaljit Singh of 4 SIKH personnel, returned from Battle, and Prisoners of War repatriated from China.
  • Articles by Col Bhatia N N, KUMAON, Improvecrafti and Wikipedia.
  • Through Wars and Insurgency – Brig Brar KS.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

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Brig Kanwaljit Singh

Brig Kanwaljit Singh was commissioned in 1962 in the Sikh Regiment and retired in 1997. Leading Company Commander in 4 SIKH, his Company was instrumental in the capture of Barki Police Station area in 1965, later wounded was taken PW at Khemkaran. He was the leading Company Commander in four attacks in 1971 in Jessore-Khulna Sector. His Company established a roadblock at Siramani, where Paki Brigade Commander surrendered. He was wounded in the battle, had refused to be evacuated. He has participated actively in six insurgencies. His experience revolves around the command of 20 SIKH, 4 SIKH, Uri Brigade, Commandant Sikh Regimental Center and Command of TA Group, HQ Western Command. He is an alumnus of prestigious DSSC and LDMC || He has authored several articles and four books, the latest being 'An Insight - The Iconic Battle of Saragarhi -Echoes of the Frontier'.

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