Darkest day of our modern history

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New documents on the fall of the 4th Division in the countrys north-east on November 20-21, 1962, show up the darkest moment in our military history

THERE have been bad days in independent Indias history—the day Mahatma Gandhi was shot, Indira Gandhis assassination and the massacres that rocked the capital, and 26/11. The Mahatmas death was one with the paroxysm of freedom that took hundreds of thousands of lives, mainly in northern India. The assassination of Indira Gandhi and the Mumbai attack were shocking no doubt, but they do not have compare to the national collapse of 20/11 — to use the modern parlance — of 1962, almost exactly 58 years ago, down to the day.

“The dawn of 20 November 1962 was the blackest in the military history of independent India,” says the unpublished official history of the 1962 war. “Yesterday (November 20) was the day of ultimate panic in Delhi,” wrote the then US Ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith in his India memoir.

According to Galbraith, the “wildest rumours” went around — that 500 Chinese paratroopers were about to land in Delhi, that Tezpur was about to fall to the Chinese. Of the rumour that Lt Gen B.M. Kaul, the hapless Corps Commander of the now disintegrated Indian army in the Northeast Frontier Agency was taken prisoner, Galbraith cited President S. Radhakrishnans tart retort, “It is, unfortunately, untrue.”

In Delhi it was only rumour but on the eastern front actual disaster loomed. At 3 am on November 20, the last fighting formation of the 4th Division, the 48th brigade, disintegrated under Chinese fire at Chaku. In Tezpur, 100 kms south, panic and chaos were the order of the day. Gen Kaul ordered abandonment of all positions on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra and moved his headquarters to Guwahati. The administration emptied hospitals, prisons and asylums then burned currency in the Treasury and official documents. “By nightfall,” the official history recounts, “Tezpur was a ghost city.”

THAT evening Prime Minister Nehru addressed the country saying, “huge Chinese armies” had inflicted serious reverses by capturing Walong, Se La, Bomdila . He declared that India would not rest till the invader had been pushed out of India and wanted the message to be heard by all, especially our “countrymen in Assam to whom our heart goes out at this moment.” Not surprisingly, in Assam it appeared that India planned to abandon them to the advancing Chinese.

India had suffered reverses in the war that began on October 20, 1962. Though it had lost Tawang, its forces were giving the Chinese a tough time in Chushul in Ladakh and in Walong in the north-eastern tip of the country. At Se La and Bomdila, east of Tawang, India had built up the 4th Division comprising of 12,000 men with 36 guns, light tanks and sufficient rations and ammunition, commanded by a decorated hero of World War II. But in four short days, beginning November 17, this force had been taken apart, as much by the force of the Chinese attack as the incompetence of the commanders going all the way up from the division.

India China War 1962

Indian troops on the move towards the Northeast border to stop Red Chinese invaders

NEWS & ANALYSIS New documents on the fall of the 4th Division in the countrys north-east on November 20-21, 1962, show up the darkest moment in our military history mander Maj Gen A.S. Pathania, to Corps Commander Kaul, and the Chief of the Army Staff P.N. Thapar who had been monitoring the battle from the Tezpur headquarters of Kauls division. More than anything else, this collapse seared national memory and defined the outcome of the 1962 war in the minds of most Indians.’

Prime Minister Nehru did not learn of the disaster till late on November 19, the day Army Chief Thapar was relieved of his responsibilities. Panditji had earlier written a letter to President Kennedy of the United States detailing events since October 20 and noted that the Chinese now controlled most of NEFA and were poised to overrun Chushul in Ladakh. He said that India wanted air transport and jet fighters as part of the US aid package if India was to “stem the Chinese tide of aggression.”

AFEW HOURS later he heard of the disaster of Bomdila and Se La, and said that the Chinese advance now threatened all of Indias Northeast, and that an invasion through the Chumbi Valley between Bhutan and Sikkim looked inevitable. He said that till now India had wanted essential equipment and not comprehensive assistance because, as he delicately put it, “of the wider implications of such assistance in the global context” viz Indias public non-alignment posture.

But he said the situation had now changed and that unless India was given massive assistance, there will be “nothing short of catastrophe for our country.” To this end he declared that India wanted assistance of 12 squadrons (roughly 200-240) of supersonic fighters, 2 squadrons of B-47 bombers and modern radar cover. Indian personnel would man the aircraft for missions over Chinese territory, while he wanted American personnel to “protect our cities and installations from Chinese air attacks.”

According to Nehrus biographer S. Gopal, Nehru took this decision to seek a military alliance with the United States without consulting any of his Cabinet colleagues or officials except foreign secretary M.J. Desai. The US was not entirely enthusiastic about this proposal. Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, noted in a telegram to Galbraith on November 20, Nehru not only proposed “a military alliance between India and the United States but complete commitment by us to fighting a war.” The US which was aware of the Sino- Soviet split, was worried that an open commitment to India “might force Moscow to support Peiping.” But on the morning of November 21, these considerations seemed to vanish into thin air. As Galbraith put it, “like a thief in the night, peace arrived.”

According to B.N. Mullik, the powerful Intelligence Bureau chief, he learnt of the Chinese ceasefire offer at 3 am from the monitoring station run by the agency which had recorded an announcement of Peking radio saying that the Chinese would ceasefire from the midnight of November 21.

According to Neville Maxwell, Home Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri learnt of the ceasefire from the newspapers at the Delhi airport at 6 am, where he was waiting for a flight to take him to Guwahati.

THE US aid, too, vanished. According to Mullik, the total aid promised to India by the end of December 1962 was $120 million, and later another $50 million in 1964, a total of some Rs 105 crore in the prevailing exchange rates. But by the time the programme ended, after a US embargo following the 1965 Indo-Pak war, the US provided a total Rs 40 crore worth of aid, mainly trucks, radars and communications equipment.

A year later, British and American aircraft came to India and carried out a joint air exercise with the Indian Air Force. That was all that remained of the request for American air cover. The wars principal outcome was to wake the nation from its pacifist slumber.

The outpouring of patriotism was evident from the enormous donations that people made for the Defence of India Fund. Gold ornaments and jewellery donated then still lies forgotten in the vaults of the Reserve Bank of India. On November 13, the DMK supremo, C.N. Annadurai announced that the party was abandoning its secessionist platform and was pledged to support the government to push the Chinese out of India. Leaders of another proto-secessionist group, the Akali party, too, pledged support.

Courtesy: Mail Today
(This article was published in Mail Today on 21st Nov, 2010)



    • Lhendup

      Yes Sir, it�s still hurting us today, when we think about the blackest moments of 1962. The way Chinese cheated with us. We cannot forget the hurtful deceptions. It was a hurt that would take a long time to heal. Hesaab-Kitaab barobaar karna hain hame…. …………………………………………………

      14th May 1962: India protests against petrolling by the Chinese troops in Ladakh and
      renews suggestions of withdrawal by both sides in the western sector.

      20 September 1962:Chinese open fire on Indian Guards in Ladakh.

      24 October 1962: Indian rejects Chinese proposal of the line of actual control as defined by the
      Chinese and their withdrawal of 20 Km�s from there.

      25 October 1962: Towang in NEFA falls to Chinese.

      31 October: All provisions of Defence of India Act Come into force. Nehru takes over the
      defense portfollo from VK Krishna Menoon.

      03 November1962; First confinement of arms from USA to India to fight the Chinese.

      06 November 1962: National Defence Council set up.

      09 November 1962: V.K Krishna Menoon�s resignation accepted.

      16 November 1962: Chinese captured two more townships in NEFA and force Indian Troops

      21 November 1962: Chinese Government announce that its troops would cease fire along the

      23 November 1962: Censorship imposed on postal communications to and from China.

      06 December 1962: India decided to close its consulates in Lhasa and Shanghai. China closes
      down its consulates in Bombay and Calcutta three days later.

      08 December 1962: Nehru informs Rajya Sabha that Chinese forces would withdraw beyond
      water-shed in the eastern sector but would keep civil force at Dhola and

      10 December 1962: Six Nation Conference to consider Indo-Chinese conflict begins in Colombo.
      – President gives new colours to Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun.

      17 December 1962: Special Envoy of the Six-nation conference in Colombo apprises Nehru of
      the proposals to solve Indo-Chinese conflict.

      28 December 1962: Pakistan and China decides to sign a boundary agreement in the basis of
      �location of alignment of the boundary existing between Sinkiang and Pak
      occupied Kashmir.

      31 December 1962: A new post of vice-chief of Air Staff created in the Indian Air Force.

      1963 January 13 : China National Defence Ministry announces that they would withdraw
      along the Indo-Chinese boder on 14th 15th January in the Eastern Sector
      north of actual line of control of 07 November 1959, in the Western Sector
      20 Km behind the �actual line�, but retain 70 posts as civil check-posts.

      1963 May 02: Nehru informs the Chinese Prime Minister that negotiations could start
      only after China accepted the Colombo proposals in toto.

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