Sunday, October 14, 2012

1962 : Henderson Brooks : An Introduction, Plus Why IAF Was Not Called, As It Was Not Fully Prepared For The 1962 War !!!

Henderson Brooks Report: An Introduction
Neville Maxwell

A Defence Ministry Committee is reported to have recommended releasing into the public domain, the official reports on India's wars against Pakistan 1947, 1965 and 1971. Also the 1962 border war against China, India's intervention in Sri Lanka and others. Reproduced here is British author Neville Maxwell's
summary of what he believes the Henderson Brooks Report contains. This article first appeared in the Economic & Political Weekly. Neville Maxwell is the author of India's China War.
WHEN THE Army's report into its debacle in the border war was completed in 1963, the Indian government had good reason to keep it Top Secret and give only the vaguest, and largely misleading, indications of its contents. At that time the government's effort, ultimately successful, to convince the political public that the Chinese, with a sudden 'unprovoked aggression', had caught India unawares in a sort of Himalayan Pearl Harbour was in its early stages and the report's cool and detailed analysis, if made public, would have shown that to be selfexculpatory mendacity.
But a series of studies, beginning in the late 1960s and continuing into the 1990s,1 revealed to any serious enquirer the full story of how the Indian Army was ordered to challenge the Chinese military to a conflict it could only lose. So by now only bureaucratic inertia, combined with the natural fading of any public interest, can explain the continued non-publication - the report includes no surprises and its publication would be of little significance but for the fact that so many in India still cling to the soothing fantasy of a 1962 Chinese 'aggression'. It seems likely now that the report will never be released. Furthermore, if one day a stable, confident and relaxed government in New Delhi should, miraculously, appear and decide to clear out the cupboard and publish it, the text would be largely incomprehensible, the context, well known to the authors and therefore not spelled out, being now forgotten. The report would need an introduction and gloss - a first draft of which this paper attempts to provide, drawing upon the writer's research in India in the 1960s and material published later. Two preambles are required, one briefly recalling the cause and course of the
border war, the second to describe the fault-line, which the border dispute turned into a schism, within the Army's officer corps, which was a key factor in the disaster - and of which the Henderson Brooks Report can be seen as an expression.

Origins of Border Conflict: India at the time of independence can be said have faced no external threats. True, it was born into a relationship of permanent belligerency with its weaker Siamese twin Pakistan, left by the British inseparably conjoined to India by the member of Kashmir, vital to both new national organisms; but that may be seen as essentially an internal dispute, an untreatable complication left by the crude, cruel surgery of partition. In 1947 China, wracked by civil war, was in what appeared to be death throes and no conceivable threat to anyone. That changed with astonishing speed and by 1950, when the newborn People's Republic re-established in Tibet the central authority which had lapsed in 1911, the Indian Government will have made its initial assessment of the possibility and potential of a threat from China and found those to be minimal, if not non-extent. First, there were geographic and topographical factors, the great mountain chains which lay between the two neighbours and appeared to make large-scale troop
movements impractical. More important, the leadership of the Indian Government - which is to say, Jawaharlal Nehru - had for years proclaimed that the unshakable friendship between India and China would be the key to both their futures and therefore Asia's, even the world's. The new leaders in Beijing were
more chary, viewing India through their Marxist prism as a potentially hostile bourgeois state. But in the Indian political perspective war with China was deemed unthinkable and through the 1950s New Delhi's defence planning and expenditure expressed that confidence.
By the early 1950s, however, the Indian government, which is to say Nehru and his acolyte officials, had shaped and adopted a policy whose implementation would make armed conflict with China not only 'thinkable' but inevitable. From the first days of India's independence, it was appreciated that the Sino-Indian
borders had been left undefined by the departing British and that territorial disputes with China were part of India's inheritance. China's other neighbours faced similar problems and over the succeeding decades of the century, almost all of those were to settle their borders satisfactorily through the normal process of
diplomatic negotiation with Beijing.
The Nehru government decided upon the opposite approach. India would through its own research determine the appropriate alignments of the Sino-Indian borders, extend its administration to make those good on the ground and then refuse to negotiate the result. Barring the inconceivable - that Beijing would allow India to impose China's borders unilaterally and annex territory at will - Nehru's policy thus willed conflict without foreseeing it. Through the 1950s, that policy generated friction along the borders and so bred and steadily increased distrust, growing into hostility, between the neighbours. By 1958 Beijing was urgently
calling for a stand-still agreement to prevent patrol clashes and negotiations to agree boundary alignments. India refused any standstill agreement, since such would be an impediment to intended advances and insisted that there was nothing to negotiate, the Sino-Indian borders being already settled on the alignments claimed by India, through blind historical process.
Then it began accusing China of committing 'aggression' by refusing to surrender to Indian claims. From 1961 the Indian attempt to establish an armed presence in all the territory it claimed and then extrude the Chinese was being exerted by the Army and Beijing was warning that if India did not desist from its expansionist thrust, Chinese forces would have to hit back. On October 12, 1962 Nehru proclaimed India's intention to drive the Chinese out of areas India claimed. That bravado had by then been forced upon him by the public expectations which his charges of 'Chinese aggression' had aroused, but Beijing took it as in effect a declaration of war. The unfortunate Indian troops on the front line, under orders to sweep superior Chinese forces out of their impregnable, dominating positions, instantly appreciated the implications: "If Nehru had declared his intention to attack, then the Chinese were not going to wait to be attacked".2 On October 20 the Chinese launched a pre-emptive offensive all along the borders, overwhelming the feeble - but in this first instance determined - resistance of the Indian troops and advancing some distance in the eastern sector. On October 24 Beijing offered a ceasefire and Chinese withdrawal on condition India agreed to open negotiations: Nehru refused the offer even before the text was officially received. Both sides built up over the next three weeks and the Indians launched a local counterattack on November 15, arousing in India fresh expectations of total victory.3 

The Chinese then renewed their offensive. Now many units of the once crack Indian 4th Division dissolved into rout without giving battle and by November 20 there was no organised Indian resistance anywhere in the disputed territories. On that day Beijing announced a unilateral ceasefire and intention to withdraw its forces:
Nehru this time tacitly accepted.4 Naturally the Indian political public demanded to know what had brought about the shameful debacle suffered by their Army and on December 14 a new Army Commander, Lt General J N Chaudhuri, instituted an Operations Review for that purpose, assigning the task of enquiry to Lt General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat.
Factionalisation of the Army: All colonial armies are liable to suffer from the tugs of contradictory allegience and in the case of India's that fissure was opened in the second world war by Japan's recruitment from prisoners of war of the 'Indian National Army' to fight against their former fellows. By the beginning of the 1950s two factions were emerging in the officer corps, one patriotic but above all professional and apolitical and orthodox in adherence to the regimental traditions established in the century of the Raj; the other nationalist, ready to respond unquestioningly to the political requirements of their civilian masters and scorning their rivals as fuddy-duddies still aping the departed rulers and suspected as being of doubtful loyalty to the new ones. The latter faction soon took on eponymous identification from its leader, B M Kaul.
At the time of independence Kaul appeared to be a failed officer, if not disgraced. Although Sandhurst-trained for infantry service he had eased through the war without serving on any front line and ended it in a humble and obscure post in public relations. But his courtier wiles, irrelevant or damning until then, were to serve him brilliantly in the new order that independence brought, after he came to the notice of Nehru, a fellow Kashmiri brahmin and indeed distant kinsman. Boosted by the prime minister's steady favouritism, Kaul rocketed up through the army structure to emerge in 1961 at the very summit of Army HQ. Not only did he hold the key appointment of chief of the general staff (CGS) but the Army Commander, Thapar, was in effect his client. Kaul had of course by then acquired a significant following, disparaged by the other side as 'Kaul boys' ('call girls' had just entered usage) and his appointment as CGS opened a putsch in HQ, an eviction of the old guard, with his rivals, until then his superiors, being not only pushed out, but often hounded thereafter with charges of disloyalty. The struggle between those factions both fed on and fed into the strains placed on the Army by the government's contradictory and hypocritical policies - on the one hand proclaiming China an eternal friend against whom it was unnecessary to arm, on the other using armed force to seize territory it knew China regarded as its own.
Through the early 1950s, Nehru's covertly expansionist policy had been implemented by armed border police under the Intelligence Bureau (IB), whose director, N B Mullik, was another favourite and confidant of the prime minister. The Army high command, knowing its forces to be too weak to risk conflict with
China, would have nothing to do with it. Indeed when the potential for Sino- Indian conflict inherent in Mullik's aggressive forward patrolling was demonstrated in the serious clash at the Kongka Pass in October 1959, Army HQ and the Ministry of External Affairs united to denounce him as a provocateur,
insist that control over all activities on the border be assumed by the Army, which thus could insulate China from Mullik's jabs.5
The takeover by Kaul and his 'boys' at Army HQ in 1961 reversed that. Now regular infantry would takeover from Mullik's border police in implementing what was formally designated a 'forward policy', one conceived to extrude the Chinese presence from all territory claimed by India. Field commanders receiving orders to move troops forward into territory the Chinese both held and regarded as their own, warned that they had no resources or reserves to meet the forceful reaction they knew must be the ultimate outcome: They were told to keep quiet and obey orders. That may suggest that those driving the forward policy saw it in kamikaze terms and were reconciled to its ending in gunfire and blood - but the opposite was true. They were totally and unshakably convinced that it would end not with a bang but a whimper - from Beijing. The psychological bedrock upon which the forward policy rested was the belief that in the last resort the Chinese military, snuffling from a bloody nose, would pack up and quit the territory India claimed. The source of that faith was Mullik, who from beginning to end proclaimed as oracular truth that, whatever the Indians did, there need be no fear of a violent Chinese reaction. The record shows no one squarely challenging that mantra, at higher levels than the field commanders who throughout knew it to be dangerous nonsense: There were civilian 'Kaul boys' in External Affairs and the Defence Ministry too, and they basked happily in Mullik's fantasy. Perhaps the explanation for the credulousness lay in Nehru's dependent relationship with his IB chief: Since the prime minister placed such faith in Mullik, it would be at the least lesemajesty and even heresy, to deny him a kind of papal infallibility. If it be taken that Mullik was not just deluded, what other explanation could there be for the unwavering consistency with which he urged his country forward on a course which in rational perception could lead only to war with a greatly superior military power and therefore defeat?
Another question arises: Who, in those years, would most have welcomed the great falling-out which saw India shift in a few years from strong international support for the People's Republic of China to enmity and armed conflict with it? From founding and leading the non-aligned movement to tacit enlistment in the hostile encirclement of China which was Washington's aim? Mullik maintained close links with the CIA station head in New Delhi, Harry Rossitsky. Answers may lie in the agency's archives.
China's stunning and humiliating victory brought about an immediate reversal of fortune between the Army factions. Out went Kaul, out went Thapar, out went many of their adherents - but by no means all. General Chaudhuri, appointed to replace Thapar as Army Chief, chose not to launch a counter-putsch. He and his
colleagues of the restored old guard knew full well what had caused the debacle: Political interference in promotions and appointments by the prime minister and Krishna Menon, defence minister, followed by clownish ineptitude in Army HQ as the 'Kaul boys' scurried to force the troops to carry out the mad tactics and strategy laid down by the government. It was clear that the trail back from the broken remnants of 4 Division limping onto the plains in the north-east, up through intermediate commands to Army HQ in New Delhi and then on to the source of political direction, would have ended at the prime minister's door - a
destination which, understandably, Chaudhuri had no desire to reach. (Mullik was anyway to tarnish him with the charge that he was plotting to overthrow th discredited civil order but in fact Chaudhuri was a dedicated constitutionalist - ironically, Kaul was the only one of the generals who harboured Caesarist ambitions.6)

The Investigation: While the outraged humiliation of the political class left Chaudhuri with no choice but to order an enquiry into the Army's collapse, it was up to him to decide its range and focus, indeed its temper. The choice of Lt General Henderson Brooks to run an Operations Review (rather than a broader and more searching board of enquiry) was indicative of a wish not to reheat the already bubbling stew of recriminations. Henderson Brooks (until then in command of a corps facing Pakistan) was a steady, competent but not outstanding officer, whose appointments and personality had kept him entirely outside the broils stirred up by Kaul's rise and fall. That could be said too of the officer Chaudhuri appointed to assist Henderson Brooks, Brigadier P S Baghat (holder of a WWII Victoria Cross and commandant of the military academy). But the latter complemented his senior by being a no-nonsense, fighting soldier, widely respected in the Army and the taut, unforgiving analysis in the report bespeaks the asperity of his approach. There is further evidence that Chaudhuri did not wish the enquiry to dig too deep, range too widely, or excoriate those it faulted. These were the terms of reference he set:
* Training
* Equipment
* System of command
* Physical fitness of troops
* Capacity of commanders at all levels to influence the men under their command
The first four of those smacked of an enquiry into the sinking of the Titanic looking into the management of the shipyard where it was built and the health of the deck crew; only the last term has any immediacy and there the wording was distinctly odd - commanders do not usually 'influence' those they command, they
issue orders and expect instant obedience. But Henderson Brooks and Baghat (henceforth HB/B) in effect ignored the constraints of their terms of reference and kicked against other limits Chaudhuri had laid upon their investigation, especially his ruling that the functioning of Army HQ during the crisis lay outside their purview.

"It would have been convenient and logical", they note, "to trace the events [beginning with] Army HQ, and then move down to Commands for more details, ...ending up with field formations for the battle itself ". Forbidden that approach, they would, nevertheless, try to discern what had happened at Army HQ from documents found at lower levels, although those could not throw any light on one crucial aspect of the story - the political directions given to the Army by the civil authorities.

As HB/B began their enquiry they immediately discovered that the short rein kept upon them by the Army Chief was by no means their least handicap. They found themselves facing determined obstruction in Army HQ, where one of the leading lights of the Kaul faction had survived in the key post of Director of Military Operations (DMO) - Brigadier D K Palit. Kaul had exerted his powers to have Palit made DMO in 1961 although others senior to him were listed for the post and Palit, as he was himself to admit, was "one of the least qualified among [his] contemporaries for this crucial General Staff appointment"7 Palit had thereafter acted as enforcer for Kaul and the civilian protagonists of the 'forward policy', Mullik foremost among the latter, issuing the orders and deflecting or overruling the protests of field commanders who reported up their strategic imbecility or operational impossibility.
Why Chaudhuri left Palit in this post is puzzling: The Henderson Brooks Report was to make quite clear what a prominent and destructive role he had played throughout the Army high command's politicisation and through inappropriate meddling in command decisions, even in bringing about the debacle in the Northeast.
Palit, though, would immediately have recognised that the HB/B enquiry posed a grave threat to his career, and so did all that he could undermine and obstruct it. After consultation with Mullik, Palit took it upon himself to rule that HB/B should not have access to any documents emanating from the civil side - in other words, he blindfolded the enquiry, as far as he could, as to the nexus between the civil and military.
As Palit smugly recounts his story, in an autobiography published in 1991, he personally faced down both Henderson Brooks and Baghat, rode out their formal complaints about his obstructionism and prevented them from prying into the "high level policies and decsions" which he maintained were none of their business.8 In fact, however, the last word lies with HB/B - or will do if their report is ever published. In spite of Palit's efforts, they discovered a great deal that the Kaul camp and the government would have preferred to keep hidden and their report shows that Palit's self-admiring and mock-modest autobiography grossly misrepresents the role he played.
The Henderson Brooks Report is long (its main section, excluding recommendations and many annexures, covers nearly 200 foolscap pages), detailed and far-ranging. This introduction will touch only upon some salient points, to give the flavour of the whole (a full account of the subject they covered is in the writer's 1970 study, India's China War).
The Forward Policy: This was born and named at a meeting chaired by Nehru on November 2, 1961, but had been alive and kicking in the womb for years before that - indeed its conception dated back to 1954, when Nehru issued an instruction for posts to be set up all along India's claim lines, "especially in such places as might be disputed". What happened at this 1961 meeting was that the freeze on provocative forward patrolling, instituted at the Army's insistence after Mullik had engineered the Kongka Pass clash, was ended - with the Army, now under the courtier leadership of Thapar and Kaul, eagerly assuming the task which Mullik's armed border police had carried out until the Army stopped them. HB/B note that no minutes of this meeting had been obtained, but were able to quote Mullik as saying that "the Chinese would not react to our establishing new posts and that they were not likely to use force against any of our posts even if they were in  position to do so" (HB/B's emphasis).
That opinion contradicted the conclusion Army Intelligence had reached 12 months before: That the Chinese would resist by force any attempts to take back territory held by them. HB/B then trace a contradictory duet between Army HQ and Western Army Command, with HQ ordering the establishment of 'pennypacket'
forward posts in Ladakh, specifying their location and strength and Western Command protesting that it lacked the forces to carry out the allotted task, still less to face the grimly foreseeable consequences. Kaul and Palit "time and again ordered in furtherance of the 'forward policy' the establishment of individual posts, overruling protests made by Western Command". By August 1962 about 60 posts had been set up, most manned with less than a dozen soldiers, all under close threat by overwhelmingly superior Chinese forces. Western Command submitted another request for heavy reinforcements,accompanying it with this admonition: [I]t is imperative that political direction is based on military means. If the two are not co-related there is a danger of creating a situation where we may lose both in the material and moral sense much more than we already have. Thus, there is no short cut to military preparedness to enable us to pursue effectively our present policy...
That warning was ignored, reinforcements were denied, orders were affirmed and although the Chinese were making every effort, diplomatic, political and military, to prove their determination to resist by force, again it was asserted that no forceful reaction by the Chinese was to be expected. HB/B quote Field Marshall Roberts: "The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming, but in our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable". But in this instance troops were being put in dire jeopardy in pursuit of a strategy based upon an assumption - that the Chinese would not resist with force - which the strategy would itself inevitably prove wrong. HB/B note that from the beginning of 1961, when the Kaulist putsch reshaped Army HQ, crucial professional military practice was abandoned: This lapse in Staff Duties on the part of the CGS [Kaul], his deputy, the DMO [Palit] and other Staff Directors is inexcusable. From this stemmed the unpreparedness and the unbalance of our forces. These appointments in General Staff are key appointments and officers were hand-picked by General Kaul to fill them. There was therefore no question of clash of personalities. General Staff appointments are stepping stones to high command and correspondingly carry heavy responsibility. When, however, these appointments are looked upon as adjuncts to a successful career and the responsibility is not taken seriously, the results, as is only too clear, are disastrous. This should never be allowed to be repeated and the Staff as of old must be made to bear the consequences of their lapses and mistakes. Comparatively, the mistakes and lapses of the Staff sitting in Delhi without the stress and strain of battle are more heinous than the errors made by commanders in the field of battle.
War and Debacle: While the main thrust of the Forward Policy was exerted in the western sector it was applied also in the east from December 1961. There the Army was ordered to set up new posts along the McMahon Line (which China treated - and treats - as the de facto boundary) and, in some sectors, beyond it. One of these trans-Line posts named Dhola Post, was invested by a superior Chinese force on September 8, 1962, the Chinese thus reacting there exactly as they had been doing for a year in the western sector. In this instance, however, and although Dhola Post was known to be north of the McMahon Line, the Indian Government reacted aggressively, deciding that the Chinese force threatening Dhola must be attacked forthwith and thrown back.
Now again the duet of contradiction began, Army HQ and, in this case, Eastern Command (headed by Lt General L P Sen) united against the commands below: XXXIII Corps (Lt General Umrao Singh), 4 Division (Major General Niranjan Prasad) and 7 Brigade (Brigadier John Dalvi). The latter three stood together in reporting that the 'attack and evict' order was militarily impossible to execute. The point of confrontation, below Thagla Ridge at the western extremity of the McMahon Line, presented immense logistical difficulties to the Indian side and none to the Chinese, so whatever concentration of troops could painfully be mustered by the Indians could instantly be outnumbered and outweighed in weaponry. Tacticly, again the irreversible advantage lay with the Chinese, who held well-supplied, fortified positions on a commanding ridge feature. The demand for military action, and victory, was political, generated at top level meetings in Delhi. "The Defence Minister [Krishna Menon] categorically stated that in view of the top secret nature of conferences no minutes would be kept [and] this practice was followed at all the conferences that were held by the defence minister in connection with these operations". HB/B commented: "This is a surprising decision and one which could and did lead to grave consequences. It absolved in the ultimate analysis anyone of the responsibility for any major decision. Thus it could and did lead to decisions being taken without careful and considered thought on the consequences of those decisions".
Army HQ by no means restricted itself to the big picture. In mid-September it issued an order to troops beneath Thagla Ridge to "(a) capture a Chinese post 1,000 yards north-east of Dhola Post; (b) contain the Chinese concentration south of Thagla." HB/B comment: "The General Staff, sitting in Delhi, ordering an action against a position 1,000 yards north-east of Dhola Post is astounding. The country was not known, the enemy situation vague and for all that there may have been a ravine in between [the troops and their objective], but yet the order was given. This order could go down in the annals of history as being as incredible as the order for 'the Charge of the Light Brigade' ".
Worse was to follow. Underlying all the meetings in Delhi was still the conviction, or by now perhaps prayer, that even when frontally attacked the Chinese would put up no serious resistance, still less react aggressively elsewhere. Thus it came to be believed that the problem lay in weakness, even cowardice, at lower levels of command. General Umrao Singh (XXXIII Corps) was seen as the nub of the problem, since he was backing his divisional and brigade commanders in their insistence that the eviction operation was impossible. "It was obvious that Lt General Umrao Singh would not be hustled into an operation, without proper planning and logistical support. The defence ministry and, for that matter, the general staff and Eastern Command were prepared for a gamble on the basis of the Chinese not reacting to any great extent".
So the political leadership and Army HQ decided that if Umrao Singh could be replaced by a commander with fire in his belly, all would come right and victory be assured. Such a commander was available - General Kaul. A straight switch, Kaul relinquishing the CGS post to takeover from Umrao Singh would have raised too many questions, so it was decided instead that Umrao Singh would simply be moved aside, retaining his corps command but no longer having anything to do with the eviction operation. That would become the responsibility of a new formation, IV Corps, whose sole task would be to attack and drive the Chinese off Thagla Ridge. General Kaul would command the new corps. HB/B noted how even the most secret of government's decisions were swiftly reported in the press and called for a thorough probe into the sources of the leaks. Many years later Palit, in his autobiography, described the transmission procedure. Palit had hurried to see Kaul on learning of the latter's appointment to command the notional new corps: "I found him in the little bedsitter den where he usually worked when at home. I was startled to see, sitting beside him on the divan, Prem Bhatia editor of The Times of India, looking like the proverbial cat who has just swallowed a large yellow songbird. He got up as I arrived, wished [Kaul] good luck and left, still with a greatly pleased smirk on his face".9 Bhatia's scoop led his paper next morning. The 'spin' therein was the suggestion that whereas in the western sector Indian troops faced extreme logistical problems, in the east that situation was reversed and therefore, with the dashing Kaul in command of a fresh 'task force', victory was imminent.
The truth was exactly the contrary, those in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) faced even worse difficulties than their fellows in the west and victory was a chimera. Those difficulties were compounded by persistent interference from Army HQ. On orders from Delhi, "troops of [the entire 7 Brigade] were dispersed to outposts that were militarily unsound and logistically unsupportable". Once Kaul took over as corps commander the troops were driven forward to their fate in what HB/B called "wanton disregard of the elementary principles of war". Even in the dry, numbered paragraphs of their report, HB/B's account of the moves that preceded the final Chinese assault is dramatic and riveting, with the scene of action shifting from the banks of the Namka Chu, beneath the menacing loom of Thagla Ridge, to Nehru's house in Delhi - whither Kaul rushed back to report when a rash foray he had ordered was crushed by a fierce Chinese reaction on October 10.
To follow those events, and on into the greater drama of the ensuing debacle is tempting, but would add only greater detail to the account already published. Given the nature of the dramatic events they were investigating, it is not surprising that HB/B's cast of characters consisted in the main of fools and/or knaves on the one hand, their victims on the other. But they singled out a few heroes too, especially the jawans, who fought whenever their senior commanders gave them the necessary leadership, and suffered miserably from the latter's often gross incompetence. As for the debacle itself, "Efforts of a few officers, particularly those of Capt N N Rawat" to organise a fighting retreat, "could not replace a disintegrated command", nor could the cool-headed Brigadier Gurbax Singh do more than keep his 48 Brigade in action as a cohesive combat unit until it was liquidated by the joint efforts of higher command and the Chinese. HB/B place the immediate cause of the collapse of resistance in NEFA in the panicky, fumbling and contradictory orders issued from corps HQ in Tezpur by a 'triumvirate' of officers they judge to be grossly culpable: General Sen, General Kaul and Brigadier Palit. Those were, however, only the immediate agents of disaster: Its responsible planners and architects were another triumvirate, comprised of Nehru, Mullik and again, Kaul, together with all those who confronted and overcome through guile and puny force.

Copyright: Economic & Political Weekly April14-20, 2001 (


Close Air Support in the 1962 War 

Gp Capt Anant Bewoor VM (Retd) argues in this article that the IAF was not fully prepared to provide Close Air Support over the battlefields of the 1962 War.

In Oct 1962 I was a cadet in NDA, in Oct 1992 I had been a senior Instructor at DSSC for three years and I had learnt much about Close Air Support (CAS), Transport Air Support, and Logistic Air Support to the land forces in those 30 years. Most of it while on AN-12s, IL-76s and very much more at DSSC as an instructor. I am therefore extremely skeptical about the IAF getting involved in CAS in the mountains, during the 1962 operations, during the 1967 -68 Sikkim tensions or in 1971. This belief gets validated with what we actually did in Kargil in 1999.

The Territory & Our Aircraft in 1962.

The battles were fought at Walong where the Lohit flows Westward. In NEFA, the battle was along the Tawang-Bomdi La- Se La axis heading for Tezpur. In Ladakh it was in the area of Chip Chap, Pangong Tso, Demchok, and territories beyond Darbuk & Chushul. Heights at Walong were close to 8000 feet, higher in NEFA and much higher in Ladakh. What we had were, De Havilland Vampires, Dassault Ouragans (Toofanis), Dassault Mysteres, Hawker Hunters, Folland Gnats, English Electric Canberra and B-24 Liberators.

Training in Hill Flying.

Back in 1962, hill flying was very restricted, because neither the Govt nor the IAF expected to fight the Chinese in the mountains, and with Pakistan,  it was to be in Punjab / Rajasthan. No one had ever tried out bombing, rocket or front gun attacks in the hills / mountains. No SOPs existed about heights to fly, dive angles, weapon release heights, escape routes, weather impact in afternoon operations, range / endurance versus weapon loads, search / rescue, helicopter support etc.

If at all any training was done it was a one off. The type of training that is truly required for quality CAS in the mountains was not even thought of in July 1962 . Quality cooperation with the Army was nonexistent. They made their plans, we made our Counter Air Op plans. TACs were for namesake. Very few IAF officers studied Army ops of war, the Army expected CAS as and when demanded, very much like Arty support, and wanted it to be on call, and under command. The IAF believed in centralised control, and the necessity of exploiting range and flexibility of air power. Truly then, in 1962 we were far from a cohesive Joint operations military machine. Our pilots had not mastered the art of transposing Grid Ref points from a One Inch map onto a million-map.

At DSSC, IAF officers were nominated, they disappeared from Wellington twice or three times during the course for "flying practice" to earn their flying bounty. By the time Diwali happened in 1962 the IAF was still known as the brylcreem boys. and we were like that only.

The Army's Eastern Command was in Lucknow, ours was in Calcutta. Kalinga Airways still flew in Transport Support Role for the Army. Ofcourse there were fighters in the "East", but they did not do range practice in NEFA, or Sikkim, they did it at Dudhkundi or Dulanmukh ranges both in the plains. Hill flying was done to give pilots exposure in handling the ac in valleys. Knowledge of every valley, entry / exit points, how to distinguish the "third ridge" from the 'fifth' was never taught to fighter pilots. This was the job of the Dak and Otter pilots.

Which Aircraft, and What would It Do?

The Vampires, Toofanis and Gnats just did not have the juice and training to go into Ladakh. In NEFA they had the range, but no training at all. Indeed the Hunter and possibly the Mystere could have done some offensive activity, but again, where was the training? Only the Canberra could have put in attacks in Ladakh where it was all in the open. For NEFA their crew were untrained for Jungle / Hills combination.

By Oct 1962 no fighter had even landed in Srinagar, forget about Leh. We just did not have the wherewithall to wage an air war against the Chinese in Oct 62. Surely now nearly 45 years later we can accept this truth? Nothing to be embarrassed about, that is how we were. The Govt of India, with Krishna Menon as Defence Minister, was least interested in defence preparedness. Ordnance factories were manufacturing coffee percolators and toasters, because they had “extra spare capacity”. But as they all shouted in Parliament, “ ------every inch of our land will be defended to the last man.” With what? 

Creating Landslides with Bombs.

It is patently incorrect and gross misuse of a bomber to create land- slides. Firstly, there is absolutely no guarantee that bombs, be they 4 or 14 will result in a mountain coming down. The mountain is not like fresh snow that can be triggered into an avalanche. In any case it takes a geologist, and the IAF had no knowledge on this subject, to determine whether bombing will make the mountain fall. One needs special ‘engineers maps’ to know which mountain can be made to crumble. Kargil proved that 500 kg bombs tend to “skip” off mountainsides. What technology of ‘iron’ bombs did we have in 1962? Deep penetration bombs can cause land slides, but only if the soil is loose, and the knowledge is available with the ‘bomber’. We had no such knowledge.

Besides, we are doing this for the Army, so that either they can retreat safely, or they can regroup for an attack. Hopefully all this while, the enemy is trying to clear the land-slide, and not by-passing it. But in 1962, the Chinese did not stick to established routes and roads.

Where all would we have bombed, and how many mountains would we have crumbled ? Is that why we had Toofs, Mysteres, Vampires, Hunters ? To bomb mountains? Who would have guided the ac to the correct target? We had no FACs trained in the mountains?

The Army was in retreat, front lines were unknown, maps were poor, hill / valley flying along the Towang-Bomdi La- Sela axis had never been done by fighter pilots. Even Dak crew were uncertain of where to go, who would be there, and who will actually receive the drop. Recollect the loss of a helicopter with S/L Sehgal, in that sector. Where would the "four ac formation" have gone? Lets forget about whether the PLAAF would have intervened. Lets ask what the IAF would have done with its fighters? We will come to the issue of attacking troops in the open as suggested based on Jaggi Nath's photo recces.
-     Two Toofanis (Dassault Ouragans) flying somewhere in the North. Though these aircraft have been based in the NE, they had done very little valley flying to familiarise themselves with the area.

Studying our Operations

It has taken a series of Chief Instructors, Senior Instructors, and DS of the Air Wing at DSSC to obliterate the false belief that in the mountains, bombs should be used to create land-slides to slow down the enemy. It took many years for the Air Wing DS / SI's to completely eliminate the thought process of "bombing for land-slides". This was done over some five to six courses by stressing this matter during Divisional discussions on ‘Defence In the Mountains’ and ‘Attack in the Mountains’. Fighter bombers are not the air arm of the GOC of a Div or a Corps. But if they are used as land-slide creators, they are in effect just that. The reason why Army DS, senior ones at that, spoke of land-slides as a part of CAS, is because it is the IAF pilots who gave them the idea in the first place partly influenced by romance from World War II movies like Guns of Navrrone and 633 Sqn etc.

Allied bombers in 1942 / 43 were never used in the Alps to block the retreat of Kesserlings troops from escaping out of Italy. How was it possible to do it with jet fighters 20 years later in NEFA ? One of the reasons why the Indian armed Forces are "like that only" is because we refuse to study our own operations. We will study Battle of Britain, Berlin Airlift, Bomber Harris's strategies, OP Rolling Thunder in Vietnam, the '67, 73 Arab-Israeli Wars, including Bekka valley, OP El Dorado Canyon- the air strikes in Libya, the Gulf war in 1991. But we behave as if 1962, 1965 and 1971 never happened. Other Air Forces may study them, but certainly not the Indian Air Force, nor the other two services.

Kargil was in 1999, even today no formal study and critiques are done at Army War College, CAW, CDM, NDC, DSSC. At least the Staff failures should be discussed at DSSC. Just because MOD refuses to declassify the Henderson Brooks report does’nt mean we do not study them based on our In-House Action Taken Reports. Or is it that there are no Action Taken Reports from any of our operations?

How Was CAS to be Done?

No wonder then that in 2005 there are opinions that we could have taken on the Chinese land forces in 1962 because the PLAAF could not operate from Tibet.  No one states how we would have actually executed the operations in North Ladakh at altitudes of 25,000 feet with Mysteres & Hunters.

The lessons of Kargil, and impact on air intake airflow, when firing guns or rockets at very high altitudes, seems to have been lost. Because six years later, in 2005, we are talking of breaking mountains and attacking troops in the open. Are fighter bombers to be used to attack individual soldiers? Not one Air Force in the world supports this theory. How much geography did fighter pilots know about Ladakh ? Who all had even flown a familiarisation sortie in that stark area? Did any one know what meteorological conditions affect an ac at 27,000 feet when flying from say Ambala to Pangong Tso and back? That’s the height that an AN-12 flies at with four engines. What height would a single engine single seat fighter climb, to feel safe and capable of coming back ? Did the aircraft have the endurance to do all this route flying and also attack Chinese soldiers? Or would one pass have been enough to say that "we did it"?

Doing is one thing, achieving results is another. Once again, the issue is not whether the PLAAF would have intervened, it is just about what would have the IAF have achieved?

When teaching Formal Appreciation at DSSC, one question we would place for consideration was,"Who did the appreciation for AM Arjan Singh to send Vampires into Chhamb ?" Would it not be pertinent today? Surely some one did the appreciation? Or were the Vampires launched just because they were there in Pathankot? Another question we used to throw at both Army & AF students was ,"Who did the appreciation to launch an amphibious assault at Cox’s Bazaar with Gorkha troops”. How many of us in this e-group are aware that some of the Gorkha troops drowned on the beaches of Cox’s Bazaar because it was too steep. Was any recce done of the beaches? Did anyone know what was the slope of the continental shelf? Was the landing done only to satisfy egos and just because we have been practicing this operation at Kakinada, and some one had to say,” Land the Landing forces”. Similarly, "who did the appreciation for ACM Tipnis to put in attacks on the Kargil heights with MiG 23, 27, MI-17" as they were done to start with? Or did we go into that battle by ' situating the appreciation'? Let us then do an appreciation of the situation obtained in Oct 1962, with the luxury of 43 years of "hindsight".

One question that must be answered first is if the IAF was to "join the battle", what would be the aim? Just to take part, whether any useful purpose would be achieved, would it have any impact on the land battle, and most important, what would we have been able to do as a Tactical Air Force in direct support of a losing defensive battle in the mountains? Would IAF aircraft buzzing around Bomdi-La, Walong, Pangong Tso and firing rockets or dropping bombs on mountain slopes raise the morale of Gen Pathania’s and Brig Hoshiar Singh’s troops? What support could the Toofs and Mysteres have given to Brig John Dalvi's 7 Brigade at the Thag La ridge?

We made many “ Blue on Blue” attacks in 1965 as well as in 1971. What would we have done in 1962? Would the enemy be identifiable in the melee that was going on? Had any fighter pilot even flown to the battle area in say June / July 1962 for familiarisation? If it can be said today that the IAF would have taken part if permitted by Govt, what actually did the IAF do as realistic training in preparation when things were hotting up for months before the Chinese attacked? The truth is that we did nothing. We cannot blame the Govt for not gearing up. It was up to the field commanders, and policy framers and operational staff in Air HQs to visualise what may happen in case of a battle in NEFA or Ladakh. The Chinese had clearly indicated what they wanted. The possible battle zones were quite easily understood in Air HQ. After all the Army had taken a “forward posture” and it was known where they were deployed. Did we limber up for the possibility of engaging ground troops in valleys at heights above 9,000 feet? We did not. We were still training for aerial combat, and CAS in the plains, with our very own private Counter Air Operations (CAO). The irony is that there were no CAO targets in Tibet or China.

Even later during the stand off across Nathu-La in 1967, there was no way that Hunters, Gnats, or Migs could have intervened. The General may have asked EAC HQ for it, but what and where would the CAS be given? So many of us have been to Nathu La on ground, even today are we training with FACs to give CAS in Sikkim? Can it be given? I have personally done supply drops on the Kerang and Gaigong plateau in North Sikkim. The biggest bug bear is “do not cross the Line of Actual Control”. How do we practice CAS in Sikkim today, without crossing the LAC.

Importance of Staff Work.

Most surely, if they had been ordered to, the IAF fighters would have gone into the battle zones. If the Daks and Otters were going there why not Toofs?. What they would have actually achieved in support of 4 and 23 Inf Divs at Se-La and Walong, is no secret. Is that why the IAF top brass said we should not take part? Was our limitation hidden under the supposed fear of reprisals by the PLAAF on Delhi and Calcutta? Forget about the Henderson Brooks report. Lets carry out a serious introspection, in-house, about all that we did from 1948 till 1999 during actual war, and in each case, how did we train and prepare for that war? Lets look at ourselves, warts, blemishes, bruises, embarrassments, hot air, truthful inputs, unrelated training, and genuine capabilities along with inescapable limitations. How have we fared in Staff work? Has it improved from 1962 to 1999 ? What did we do in Op Pawan? Are we still tripping over ourselves with two left feet, and three thumbs? Are we training for a battle that will never take place? It is worth while remembering that while the Panzers of Guderian and Rommel, along with the Stukas from the Luftwaffe did terrorise populations, what the French and British held in great regard and fear was the German General Staff. It was Patton's HQs staff work that permitted him to change direction by 90 degrees without exposing his flanks, and move in support of the American airborne divisions during the Battle of the Bulge. What was the quality of IAFs staff work in 1962? What is it today?

The field units will go into battle when ordered to. The tragedy is that Staff at higher formations know very well what are the limitations of their field units. We manufacture at least 80 psc’s every year, many more qualified Staff officers from CAW, CDM, NDC, Naval and Army war colleges. This is a very large pool of expertise, how are we exercising them to generate quality staff work. When we answer this and many more questions, we will get different answers to what we have been used to for the last 30 odd years.

I have discussed these aspects with many of my friends from fighters and bombers. They have endorsed all that I have written here. The fact that I did not fly a fighter cannot be a disqualification for me to state and ask what I have. It has nothing to do with fighter tactics, dive angles, and aerial combat etc. If we declare now in 2005, that we could have given CAS in 1962, then there is something amiss, and we must not mislead the generations who will have to fight in the 2020s. They are just leaving NDA and will join active service in 2008. They will comprise the sharp end of IAF’s lance. We must hone them with correct capabilities, and true lessons from the past.

Taken from



Anonymous said...

The agenda of B. N. Mullick (of 1962 infamy) is obvious as are the identities of his paymasters, or his “good friends” as he is quoted as referring to them in an article by AVM (retd.) A. K. Tiwary on the non-use of air power in 1962:

The degree of penetration of Mullick’s “good friends” into the current Indian power structure is not only significant, but disturbing. It is reasonable to assume that there is a critical mass of persons currently in place with a mandate to pursue Mullick’s agenda. Current events certainly point in that direction!

Apart from the ones who have been recruited, there is another constituency comprising of deluded and mentally sold out clowns who carry out their activities in the hope that they will be recruited.

Anonymous said...

It's heartening to find that Gen. D. K. Paliit's baneful role in Indian military affairs is finally coming to light.

Few are aware that D. K. Palit misused his considerable influence in Indian political circles by introducing banned apartheid diamonds into India in exchange for extravagant perks from De Beers.

This has been highlighted on pages 55-57 in the book "Glitter & Greed: The Secret World of the Diamond Empire", Janine P. Roberts, Disinformation Company, 2003. ISBN: 0971394296.

Anonymous said...

While in my previous post I have been rightfully critical of D. K. Palit, no analysis is complete or credible without objectivity.

To the best of my knowledge, D. K. Palit produced the first treatise logically enunciating Indian nuclear weaponization, which has yet to be surpassed by anybody in the Indian power structure.

That single work of his erases any of his activities during the 1962 debacle. If the powers-that-be in the Indian power structure comprised of competent persons instead of lackeys and "intellectual dung beetles",
perhaps Palit's contacts with De Beers could have been used to open a backdoor for some sort of clandestine exchange of nuclear data between India, South Africa,
and Israel (which at that point of time was closely collaborating with South Africa).

India would have lost the 1962 war even without Palit. The Nehru-Menon-Kaul-Mullick-Thapar clique would have ensured the outcome without any additional help from anybody.

However, India's continual refusal to see the writing on the wall first highlighted by Palit, and its deliberate delusions concerning the credibility of its nuclear arsenal will one day lead to events far greater than the tragedy of 1962.