The 1962 war proved that the Himalayas were not an impenetrable barrier for a well equipped army to cross. But, they were not a piece of cake either. River valleys were the main routes which cut through the high peaks and ridgelines and these were what the Chinese used to make their forays into Indian territory in the NEFA or Arunachal Pradesh. Main thrusts were made on the western and eastern edges of Arunachal, Tawang valley and Lohit valley respectively. Indians fought bravely against a superior force, but had to suffer heavy losses. Lets discuss one of the rare instances where the Indian Army gave a Chinese a strong response. This was in the Nuranang river valley in western Arunachal, near Bhutan border.
Any battle in the mountains brings the topography into play, as a much larger factor than a battle in the plains. Here is an image of the valley showing steep ridge-lines and narrow valley.
The defending forces are at a greater advantage if they site their positions/bunkers in a well thought out manner. This is what the units of 4 Garhwal did when they were handled the task to defend the Nuranang valley during the Indo Chinese engagement in Oct-Nov 1962. They built defensive positions, machine gun nests, artillery positions etc. by realizing the full potential of the terrain and its topography. Their position at the top of the valley gave them an excellent view to track and engage any attacking formation which had only one winding road to climb up 4000 feet from the village of Jang. Their flanks were protected by sheer cliffs, so the Chinese couldn’t outflank them and attack from behind. They had only one direction to attack from.
Another aspect of the mountain warfare is the ratio of offensive and defensive forces. In the plains, it is a general rule of thumb that a 3:1 ratio in favor of attacking forces provides a good chance of achieving victory. In the mountains this ratio can go upto 5:1 and even 9:1 (as it happened in Kargil). The Chinese knew this and hence they had amassed a large force to attack the Indian positions.
4 Garhwal’s Alpha and Delta (A&D) coy (company) occupied the heights on either banks of the Nuranang river. They had ample artillery support too with 3.7 Howitzers and 25 pounder guns deployed to engage any attacking infantry formation. With a well entrenched defensive force, Indian soldiers and commanders were itching to take on the Chinese. And the Chinese came on 16 Nov…dressed in a Monk’s dress to confuse the Indians. Indians figured it out soon enough to welcome the fake monks with a live hand grenade. This was the first probing attack which failed for the Chinese.
17 Nov, 1962, Early morning stillness was broken by the Chinese soldiers blowing their legs up on anti-personnel mines laid around D coy’s defensive positions. Chinese came in waves…but the D coy men stood their ground…took out each attacking soldier one by one. Second attempt failed.
At around 7:15 AM, Chinese mortar and artillery opened up for half an hour to pound Indian positions with little impact. Then, the Chinese came again, and due to the covering fire, got very close to Indian positions. Indians relied heavily on grenades to break that attack. But, there were too many Chinese…they just kept coming and coming in waves. The Garhwalis used their three knot three (.303) lee enfield rifles to deadly affect. Now, this rifle may be called an antique for the time, but it still retained a deadly punch. In the words of the great cricket commentator, sri Ravi Shasrti…if a three knot three bullet hits you…you stay hit.
Soon, the Indians started running out of ammunition and radioed for help. Many young officers of the the units sitting further south of the action, volunteered to take the ammunition to the Indian posts. With the replenishment coming in the nick of time, Indians broke this Chinese attack too.
The Chinese were focusing their thrust on forward alpha positions. At 9:10 they attacked for the third time and were beaten back. Then the Chinese artillery got intense around 10 AM, signalling another attack. This time the Chinese made a three pronged attack and came in within 30 meters of Indian positions where they set up two MMGs. (Medium machine guns). The MMGs started pouring lead into the Indian LMG bunkers. These MMGs had to be silenced.
One of the Indian soldiers while lobbying grenades at the Chinese, allowed his three of his fellow men to crawl around the Chinese MMG positions. One of the Indians had a sten-gun while other two only had grenades on them. They got within 12 meters of the Chinese then lobbed their grenades. In the melee, an Indian soldier ran into the Chinese post ,grabbed the MMG and started running back. But, he was shot down by the Chinese. This brave soldier went by the name – Jaswant Singh Rawat and after the war, this whole area was named as JaswantGarh to honor his sacrifice and courage. Another man then picked up the MMG and sprinted back while the soldier giving him covering fire was martyred. This Chinese attack was also beaten back.
Then, around 2:50 PM Chinese artillery again opened up and the Chinese came for a fifth time, to be cut down by accurate Indian shooting.
Around 4 PM thing were quiet again. Indians had beaten back five Chinese attacks, hence proving the fact that a well entrenched defending force with ample supply of ammunition, artillery support and men willing to fight to the end, can stop an enemy much larger in size and firepower.
The Indian losses were 2 martyred while the Chinese losses were close to 300 killed or wounded.
You may assume that after this stupendous display of courage and willpower to fight, Indians would have held onto their positions and gave the Chinese a hard time. It was amply clear that Indian positions were sited well and if strengthened with more troops and heavier automatic fire (more light/heavy machine guns), it would have become impregnable. If you thought on those lines, then sorry to tell you, You are wrong…1962 war was lost in the minds of the senior leader ship of the army…the Lt. Generals…the Corps commanders…they took some really bizarre decisions during the course of this war which defied tactical or strategic military logic and bordered on cowardice. The soldier and junior commanders were willing to fight it out…the Generals didn’t seem to.
4 Garhwal, after defending their position through five direct Chinese infantry attacks were asked to withdraw back and gift their positions to the Chinese. While doing so, many of the soldiers too tired after fighting the whole day, fell behind the marching units…they were sadly mowed down the advancing Chinese. This was a really sad end for those men who fought valiantly and deserved better leadership.
- Ref. 1962, The War that Wasn’t- Shiv Kunal Verma.