Himalayan Blunder (The Curtain of the Sino-Indian War of 1962)

Himalayan Blunder (The Curtain of the Sino-Indian War of 1962)

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Item Code: NAG628
Author: Brig. J.P. Dalvi
Publisher: Natraj Publishers
Language: English
Edition: 1969
ISBN: 9788181581457
Pages: 532
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch

About the Book


The Indian military setback against the Chinese attack in 1962 was high time for an honest soul-searching. Quite a few books written" by Army officers have tried to tell their version of the untold story. Brig. Dalvi's account of the Sino-Indian War is by far the most remarkable and authentic. He was present in the theatre of war throughout, commanded a brigade and was held captive by the Chinese for seven months.


In discussing the day-to-day events from September 8 to October 20, 1962 the author graphically tells the truth which only an actual participant could experience and know. The background of the war is drawn from his first-hand information as a high-ranking military commander.


About the Author


An outstanding career officer Brig. J P Dalvi commanded the 4th Battalion of the Guards Regiment. He was in the Military Operations Directorate and took over as Deputy Commandant, Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in 1960. He later served in Ladakh as Brigadier Administration of XV Corps. He was present in the theatre of the 1962 war throughout and was held captive by the Chinese for seven months.




I have had occasion to read a number of books and other material on the Indian military debacle of October-November 1962 when the Chinese inflicted a humiliating reverse on our armed forces in NEFA and along the Himalayan border. These contributions have come from various sources, from soldiers, some of whom have participated in the fighting in various capacities, from bureaucrats, military correspondents, journalists and commentators.


Brigadier John Dalvi's account not only of the disastrous thirty days conflict but of the policies and attitudes of mind which led to it, as also of the lessons to be drawn from that tragic confrontation gives this book an unusual dimension. The author had the advantage of being a participant in the fighting when on the morning of 20th October 1962 massed Chinese artillery opened up a heavy concentration on the weak Indian garrison in a narrow sector of the Namka Chu valley of Kameng Frontier Division in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Dalvi was taken prisoner and held in captivity for seven months during which as he writes poignantly, "a wave of bitter shame" for this country overwhelmed him.


This book is partly the result of those seven months of brooding and thinking. It is remarkable not only for its sensitive writing but for its thinking in depth. No soldier who passed through that searing experience, however generous his nature, could be impervious to a deep embitterment of spirit and feeling. It is to Dalvi's credit that he does not allow this embitterment to cloud his judgement and thought.


He does not, however, spare those whom he believes were the guilty men. But neither his assessment of them nor his conclusions have the enveloping sweep of a flat vindictive indictment. Dalvi had evidently thought deeply over the military dangers inherent in the political policies of our omniscient know-alls in New Delhi long before the confrontation came. There is a dramatic but impressive picture of General Lentaigne, then commandant of the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, boldly challenging a very senior official of the External Affairs Ministry who had given a talk on Sino - Tibetan relations justifying the policy of China's subjugation of Tibet. Lentaigne warned the complacent speaker - this was early in 1951 - of the militarv threat to India by the Chinese

presence in Tibet.


Lentaigne, of course, was ignored, as were some others, by the all-seeing Pooh Bahs of New Delhi. Retribution came eleven years later. It is the great merit of Dalvi's book that while he evidently has sufficient dynamite to blow some political and military reputations sky-high, he refrains from doing so merely for the heck of doing so.


None-the-less his book throws new light on certain decisive periods notably on the vague borderland of September-October 1962. His objects and objectives are not so much concerned with the past as with the future. Major mistakes, like minor diseases, are often preventible. If so, why are they not prevented?


This is the question which Dalvi poses and asks. He is deeply concerned that these mistakes, exposed and analysed, should not be repeated, for it is obvious that he realises the basic reason why history repeats itself. History repeats itself because men repeat their mistakes.


I confess that I have never read an account of those tragic thirty days that has so stirred me cerebally or moved me so cmotionallv. I think it is because Dalvi's writing is an exercise in restraint, in the way he unfolds the evidence not merely to establish his case, but, going further, to suggest ways and means of improving our apparatus for the higher direction of war.


What is the use of the past if it has no lessons for the future? Experience, as Oscar Wilde observed, is the name men give to their mistakes.


Wise men and wise nations profit by their mistakes. Humility is the beginning of wisdom for progress starts with the thought that perhaps one might oneself be mistaken. I like Dalvi's courage, his conviction, his deep understanding of what he is writing about, his openness of mind. That is why I would do more than recommend this book. I would implore every Indian capable of arriving at an independent decision, to read it.




This Book was born in a Prisoner of War Camp in Tibet on a cold bleak night.


On the night of 21st November 1962, I was woken up by the Chinese Major in charge of my solitary confinement with shouts of 'good news - good news'. He told me that the Sino-Indian War was over and that the Chinese Government had decided to withdraw from all the areas which they had overrun, in their lightning campaign. When I asked the reason for this decision he gave me this Peking- inspired answer: "India and China have been friends for thousands of years and have never fought before. China does not want war. It is the reactionary (sic) Indian Government that was bent on - war. So the Chinese counterattacked in self-defence and liberated all our territories in NEFA and Ladakh, in just one month. Now we have decided to go back as we do not want to settle the border problem by force. We have proved that you are no match for mighty China". He concluded with this supercilious and patronising remark: "We hope that the Indian Government will now see sense and come to the conference table at once so that 1,200 million Chinese and Indians can get on with their national development plans and halt \ Vestern Imperialism".


This kindergarten. homily was, and remains, the most humiliating moment of my 7-month captivity and indeed of my life. That night I experienced a wave of bitter shame for my country. In my grief I took a solemn vow that one day I would tell the truth about how we let ourselves reach such a sorry pass. With time heavy on my hands, as I had no radio, newspapers or becks, I brooded over India's humiliation and the fate of my command.


I was repatriated, along with all the other officers of field rank, on 4th May 1963. We reached Barrackpore, the Military Airport at Calcutta'at mid-day but could not land there and were diverted to Dum Dum.


We deplaned and were greeted with correct military protocol, tinged with a chill reserve, It was only later that I found out that we had to clear ourselves of the charge of having been brainwashed - a strange charge from a Government which had itself been brain - washed into championing China's cause for more than a decade.


Without a doubt the prisoners had been declared outcasts. Apparently we should have atoned for the past national sins of omission and commission with our lives. Our repatriation was embarrasing as the national spotlight had again been focused on the Sino-Indian Conflict.


From the tarmac we were herded straight to the Customs enclosure where a sprightly team of appraisers had assembled to 'examine'our luggage. They had been told that some Indians had arrived from Hong Kong and were waiting to confiscate transistors and opium! I knew then that there had been no material change in India and we were in the same old groove.


After a cursory and stereotyped de-briefing at Ranchi, I was ordered to meet the Chief of Army Staff, Gen. J.N. Chaudhuri at Delhi on 15th May, He asked me to write a report for the personal information of the Defence Minister and himself. The aim was, in Gen. Chaudhuri's words; "To teach ourselves how not to hand over a brigade on a plate to the Chinese in future". He added that we had become the laughing stock of even countries like ... and ... (I hesitate to name these countries!)


I welcomed the opportunity afforded by the Chief's instruction for a personal report as this would give me a chance to collect my thoughts. The basic facts had been branded into my memory. To make doubly sure, I had many sessions with Lt.-Col. Rikh, Commanding Officer of 2 Rajputs and Lt.-Col. B.S. Ahluwalia, Commanding Officer of the 1/9 Gorkhas, Major R.O. Kharbanda and Captain T.K. Gupta of my Staff. We recounted, cross-checked and authenticated the facts which form the basis for this book. Rankling at our unfriendly reception and the many garbled versions I heard from friends, I wrote a forthright account which I handed over to the Chief personally. I do not know the fate of this report as I was never again asked to discuss or explain it. It may have touched some sensitive nerves.


It was soon apparent that the Army had become the centre of much controversy and that the blame for the 1962 fiasco had been cunningly shifted to its alleged 'shortcomings'. What was more alarming were the extravagant claims made by some senior Army Officers, who attained eminence only after the 1962 reshuffles, as to how brilliantly they would have handled the situation and defied the authority of Nehru, Menon and Kaul, This attitude made me despair of whether my countrymen and colleagues would ever learn any lessons from India's first attempt at conducting a modern war and strengthened my resolution to tell my story.


1962 was a National Failure of which every Indian is guilty. It was a failure in the Higher Direction of War, a failure of the Opposition, a failure of the General Staff (myself included); it was a failure of Responsible Public Opinion and the Press. For the Government of India, it was a Himalayan Blunder at all levels.


The people of India want to know the truth but have been denied it on the dubious grounds of national security. The result has been an unhealthy amalgam of inuendo, mythology, conjecture, outright calumny and sustained efforts to confuse and conceal the truth. Even the truncated 'NEFA'Enquiry has been withheld except for a few paraphrased extracts read out to the Lok Sabha on 2nd September 1963. For some undisclosed reason, I was not asked to give evidence before this body nor (to the best of my knowledge) were my repatriated Commanding Officers.


It is thus vitally necessary to trace, without rancour and without malice, the overall causes which resulted in the reverses and which so seriously affected India's honour. Some of the things that happened in 1962 must never be allowed to happen again. There is a school of thought which advocates a moratorium OR the NEFA Affair on the grounds that such 'patriotic reticence'is desirable in the context of the continuing Chinese (and Pakistani) military threats. I do not think that this theory is tenable. The main protagonists of this line played a part in the tragic drama, or belonged to the political party which provided the national leadership and their plea for silence does not spring entirely from a sense of patriotism.


There are others, mostly barren politicians, who use the Nehru legend to buttress their failures, or inveterate hero-worshippers, who express irritation at any adverse reference to Mr. Nehru's long spell as the Prime Minister of India. As was said of Lord Chatham, the British Prime Minister, 'His country men were so conscious of what they owed him that they did not want to hear about his faults'. But it is impossible to narrate a failure, which historically marked the end of the Nehru saga, without critical, often harsh comments on the principle dramatis personae who held high office and who were revered by the people. The magnitude of our defeat could not have been wrought without Himalayan Blunders at all levels. But this is not a "J'Accuse".


India has a near unbroken record of military failures through the ages. Our peasantry has always fought gallantly; but it is an indisputable fact that seldom has this bravery been utilised to win battle - field victories and thus to attain our political objectives, due to inept political or military leadership, or both. Need we follow this tragic path interminably?


It had fallen to my lot to be associated with the China problem for over 8 years from 1954 to 1962. I was first connected with the Higher Direction of War, in a modest capacity, as a Lt.-Colonel in Military Operations Directorate. Later, as Brigadier-in-Charge of Administration of the troops on Ladakh, I saw, at first hand, what passed for 'logistic support'. Finally as Commander of the key sector of Towang, North-East Frontier Agency, I was involved in our so-called operational planning to defend our borders. The years of higher responsibility were complementary and gave me a personal insight into our National Policy as well as our half-hearted military'response to the Chinese challenge.


I have tried to tell the story as I saw it unfold, over the years, to add to our knowledge. I have included the politico-military background only because this had a direct bearing on our performance in the military field, in 1962.


This is a personal narrative - a narrative of what Infantry Brigade was ordered to do and what happened when they attempted to carry out those orders. In all humility I can claim that only I am in a position to explain many nagging questions that need explaining, facts that are necessary.


The theme of the book is the steadfastness of the Indian soldier in the midst of political wavering and a military leadership which was influenced more by political than military considerations. The book records their valour, resolution and loyalty - qualities which are generally forgotten in the mass of political post-mortems which have been served up to the Indian people.


This is a record of the destruction of a Brigade without a formal declaration of war - another central fact that is often overlooked - and which coloured the actions of all the principal participants.


I have made every effort not to view things in a retrospective light or with the clarity of hindsight. I have recorded experiences, ideas and feelings as they appeared at the time. I have tried to give an objective account of all that happened, of the people involved and of the decisions they took. My opinions as a participant in the climatic finale of September-October 1962 must be subjective. The main essential is to know how the principal participants thought and reacted.


As Lord Avon (Sir Anthony Eden) says in the Preface to his Memoirs, The Full Circle: "This book will expose many wounds; by doing so it may help to heal them".


By this book I express my undying gratitude to my Commanding Officers for their trust and loyalty; to the men of all classes and from all units under my command for their selfless devotion to duty; and to my staff whose dedication sustained me in those harrowing days.


This book is the fulfilment of my promises to my friends, in all walks of life, to vindicate the reputation of the men I had the honour to command. I hope that I shall have discharged my responsibility to all those who gave their lives in the line of duty and whose sacrifice deserves a permanent, printed memorial.










The Annexation of Tibet and India's China Policy



The Uneasy Lull, 1950/55



The Twilight Years, 1955/59



The Army Mans The Border, 1959/60



Half-Hearted Preparations, 1961





The Defence of The McMahon Line - The Battle Zone; Strategy Unrelated to Means; Operation ONKAR; Wishful Thinking



The Line-Up On The Eve of Battle - 7th September 1962 - China Prepares for the Coup de Grace; China's Deception Plans; India Unprepared for War





China Crosses The McMahon Line - 8th September 1962



The Trap is Baited



"Evict The Chinese"



The Final Appreciation, 23rd/29th September 1962





Nehru Takes Over - 2nd October 1962



A Soldier Uninhibited



The Clash At Tseng long, 10th October 1962





"Defend Your Present Positions"



Feverish Activity



Occupation and Build-Up of Tsangle



The Blinkered Command



The Vain Fight For Decisions



7 Brigade Without Higher Leadership



The Ethics of Resigning a Field Command



The Trap Is Set



The Day of Reckoning, 20th October 1962



Captive of The Chinese Army





Faulty Higher Direction of War - The Ministry of Defence; The Chiefs of Staff Committee;

The Cabinet Secretariat (Military Wing); The Chief of Army Staff'; Army Headquarters; The Penalty for Hustling



India's Defence Ministers from 1947 to 1962




The Political and Economic Aftermath


Appendix I.

Letter from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the implications of the Chinese occupation of Tibet


Appendix II.

Author's Career and Credentials



Sketch I.

Kameng Frontier Division of NEFA - the route from the Brahmaputra Valley to the McMahon Line

opp. 1'09

Sketch II.

The Thagla Ridge-Namka Chu Valley Battle-zone and maintenance routes...


Sketch III.

The Massive Chinese Assaults on 20th October 1962 against 7 Brigade



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