Saturday, 22 March 2014

Henderson Brooks Report, Part IV: Dhola Post, which triggered 1962 war, was on China’s side of McMahon Line



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Mar 14

The truncated version of the Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks report (HBR) that was recently posted on the internet by Australian author and journalist, Neville Maxwell, constitutes the Indian Army’s sweeping enquiry into its only major military debacle, at the hands of China in 1962.

Since it was submitted to army chief, General JN Chaudhuri, in 1963, the report has been buried, still retaining its “top secret” classification. It is a tale of skewed civil-military relations and bumbling strategic direction, and of inconceivable military incompetence at higher levels of command.

Even so, the most telling account in the 144 pages of the HBR blogpost is that of the Namka Chu, the mountain torrent west of Tawang where the war began, and where India’s 7 Infantry Brigade was wiped out in hours, triggering a rout that ended a month later with the Chinese Army poised at the threshold of Assam.

7 Infantry Brigade was rushed to the Namka Chu as a consequence of the “Forward Policy”, which moved 56 Assam Rifles platoons to the McMahon Line to demonstrate Indian presence on the disputed border. Eastern Command issued instructions for the move on January 10, 1962.

One of these new posts was Dhola Post, which eventually triggered the war. In one of the HBR’s revelations, it emerges that Dhola was accidentally established on China’s side of the McMahon Line. For 52 years, India has held that by attacking Dhola Post, China committed aggression and started the war.

Before New Delhi ordered the “Forward Policy” in December 1961, the army moved carefully along the Sino-Indian border. According to the patrolling policy, “NO patrolling except defensive patrolling is to be permitted within two to three miles of the McMAHON Line (capitals in all quotes in original).”

This changed on February 24, 1962, when Tezpur-based XXXIII Corps, commanded by the respected Lt Gen Umrao Singh, ordered nine new border posts, included one between Tawang and Bhutan, at the Tri-Junction of Tibet, Bhutan and India. This post became famous as Dhola.

Discrepancies in the maps available then depicted an arbitrary border running due west from the border outpost of Khinzemane to Tri-Junction, rather than the watershed boundary that constituted the McMahon Line. Operating with those faulty maps, Captain Mahabir Prasad of 1 SIKH established Dhola Post on June 4, 1962, on what Henderson Brooks reveals was China’s side of the McMahon Line.

The HBR blogpost says that, in August 1962, XXXIII Corps admitted to Eastern Command that its post was wrongly sited, but not that it was on Chinese territory. Aware of the consequences, XXXIII Corps suggested that the army plays innocent. It wrote, “…to avoid alarm and queries from all concerned, it is proposed to continue using the present grid reference.”

Henderson Brookes is frank in his assessment: “This, in effect, meant that the post was actually NORTH of the McMAHON Line.”

The consequences were not long in coming. On September 8, Dhola Post was surrounded by some 600 Chinese soldiers. Instead of wriggling out from this uncomfortable position, the army chose an aggressive response. The HBR blogpost recounts that, on September 12, four days after Dhola was surrounded, the Eastern Command chief, Lt Gen LP Sen, told Lt Gen Umrao Singh, and GOC 4 Division, Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad that the “Government would not accept any intrusion of the Chinese into our territory. If they come in, they must be thrown out by force.”

Sen “clarified that the Government had always maintained that McMAHON Line was based on the watershed principle and, therefore, it ran along the THAGLA Ridge. Thus DHOLA was well inside the McMAHON Line.”

The countdown to war had begun. The day after Dhola Post was surrounded, the ill-fated 7 Infantry Brigade was ordered to the Namka Chu, while the Chinese too intensified their force build up. The HBR blogpost notes, “In fact, their build up behind the THAGLA Ridge was far greater than ours.” On September 20, the first exchanges of firing began in the Namka Chu valley.

On September 22, the government ordered army chief, General PN Thapar, in writing: “The Army should prepare and throw the Chinese out as soon as possible. The Chief of Army Staff was accordingly directed to take action for the eviction of the Chinese in Kameng Frontier Division of NEFA as soon as he is ready.”

Meanwhile, laughably given that India knew about China’s build up in the area, XXXIII Corps formulated a plan to evict the Chinese from the area of Dhola Post, using three infantry battalions to attack across the Namka Chu. This was to begin earliest by October 10.

On October 4, Army HQ announced the formation of IV Corps, bringing Lt Gen BM Kaul in direct command of the operations. The HBR blogpost recounts how Kaul personally moved from headquarters to posts, railroading 7 Brigade to the tactically and logistically unviable Namka Chu positions, with just 50 rounds of ammunition per man, one blanket, no winter clothing, and without even minor medical supplies.

Says Henderson Brooks evocatively, “The retribution was to come.” He quotes Sir Alfred Tennyson’s immortal lines from Charge of the Light Brigade, “Their’s not to reason why; Their’s not to make reply; Their’s but to do and die.”

Astonishingly, Kaul seemed oblivious of the possibility that the Chinese would actually attack. The HBR blogpost says, “On 14 and 15 October, the Corps Commander had discussions with the Divisional Commander. The theme of the discussions was how and when and with what more preparation could we attack THAGLA Ridge (across the Namka Chu). Curiously, in these discussions the possibility of the Chinese attacking us SOUTH of the NAMKA CHU was never considered.”

This surreal form of command continued till October 17, when Kaul took ill and a special plane from New Delhi, with medical specialist on board, flew him back to the capital.

The commander of 7 Infantry Brigade, Brigadier John Dalvi, who recounted events in his seminal “Himalayan Blunder”, found Kaul commanding IV Corps from a sickbed in Delhi. On October 19, the evening before the Chinese attacked across the Namka Chu and swept away his brigade, Dalvi is recounted as telling his divisional commander, “I am NOT prepared to stand by and watch my troops massacred. It is time someone took a firm stand. If the higher authorities want a scapegoat, I am prepared to offer myself and put in my papers on this issue.”

Henderson Brooks writes, “The Brigade Commander had represented almost daily before this, but, by 19 October, he had reached the end of his tether. It is apparent so had the Chinese. They struck the next morning.” 

13 comments:

ashok singh said...

let us not forget IB was controlling tactical level deployment.

Anonymous said...

Normally its hard to find a single person who is devotedly engaged in charity. Everyone gets or expects some favour by doing charity. In short its a clear cut give & take policy. Nehru should have taken the steps to clearly demarcate the Sino-India boundary before taking stands on China's inclusion to UNSC seat & accepting the Tibet's sovereignty of China. This would have been beneficial for both the countries & indirectly the entire Kashmir issue would have been died away. The 1962 was a total diplomatic failure rather than a defence strategy failure. This situation is not going to change & will always remain a bone of contention as in this age of resource shortages no party will be ready to make sacrifices.

Anonymous said...

Ajay,
McMahon line is drawn on eight miles to the inch map of 24–25 March 1914 and is signed by the Tibetan and British representatives. After Beijing repudiated Simla, the British and Tibetan delegates attached a note denying China any privileges under the agreement and signed it as a bilateral accord.

This thick line when transposed on 1: 50,000 map would cover an area approximately of more than ten miles (width) Drawn on a map of the said scale. you can imagine what geographic features could have been clearly indicated that fall in India's boundary or on Tibetan side. Watershed in this are is Thagla or could be construed to be North of it.

Do you mean to say, McMahon line while meeting the Bhutan boundary runs South of watershed as marked on McMahon Line? Are you sure the northern limit of the line is south of Thagla. (Do not look at today's Google lines)

Moreover, when the Chinese do not recognise or did not recognise McMahon Line, where is the question of its violation?

What you as a military commander would done when asked to organise defence of Tawang. Would you go to Thagla or remain confined down into Namkachu Nullaha and get butchered as did happen?

Are you sure or was Handerson sure that Brigadier Dalvi was given a map containing McMahon line or rather the mandarins of MJ Desai foreign office had given McMahon line maps to XXXIII Corps with instruction not to violate that ?

If Dhola was ordered to be established, it appears that none of the aforesaid existed.

Do not look at todays Google straight line depicting McMahon Line. There was nothing of that sort in 1960.

If Khinzemane existed as custom/ police post before Dalvi's 7 Brigade moved into the area, occupation of Dhola in almost the same line was not such a big mistake.

Now, see what were the orders for Dalvi's 7 Brigade. To establish a series of posts to depict Indian boundry. If that was the provocation why did Chinese come down upto Tejpur? To covey their ideas of the Chinese boundary (South Tibet). Well then how does blunders committed in establishing Dhola post lead to the war ?

Dhola etc are mere semantics. Had that been the provocation, it would have been limited to Dola but it was not so.

Tawang was set up on 6th February 1951 by Major Bob Khating, a Naga Officer of the Indian Frontier Administrative Service (IFAS) and the then Assistant Political Officer at Charduar. It took the Chinese 12 years preparation to Capture Tawang. What did Nehru, Menon and Foreign Office mandarins do in that period? They prevented Army being inducted there. But ko assuage Nehru's ego, one day they decide to sent unprepared Army To Thagla ?? What statecraft ??

Violation of McMahon line is beating stick with our MEA mandarins of India and often used to shift the blame on the Army...

They do it as often as possible as if it is an agreed arrangement between China and India. Chinese do not respect any such line but we tie down our Army with such imaginary lines.

You are also falling pray to focussing the blame on the Army Generals rather than explaining the real picture to Indian public. Henderson Brook was also product of Indian environment and the same bureaucratic mind-set as Koul or Desai.

captainjohann said...

I am happy you have mentioned Himalayan Blunder by Brig Dalvi which is a must read book along with Neville Maxwell's book and HBR. there are also plenty of posts by retired soldiers in various forums on this issue which also should be read along with Mullick's view.

Rohit Vats said...

One had expected that you'd bring to bear your military knowledge on the subject but you're acting as sounding board for someone's views (who was biased to begin with) w/o any critical assessment of your own.

Pray, do tell me how did HB arrive at the opinion that Dhola post was south of McMahon Line? Did he physically verify it or was it a conjecture on his part after reading the correspondence with Command, Corps and lower formation HQ?

And what is still more important to know is the present status of area where Dhola Post was established and Namka Chu. Do we consider the border to run along Thag La ridge (north of Namka Chu) or Hathung La ridge (south of Namka Chu)? If the McMahon Line still runs along Thag La ridge than how did we err in 1962 in terms of positioning Dhola post?

It is important to mention this point for another Neville Maxwell will selectively use such data to paint India as the aggressor.

Broadsword said...

@ ashok singh

It is hard to tell which would make the army look worse --- its incompetence if it was controlling tactical level deployment itself... or the impotence of its generals if they were allowing the IB to control tactical level deployment.

You choose!

Broadsword said...

@ Anonymous 11:28

Think about what you're saying. And also go and have a look at the original Shimla Conference map, rather than making hypothetical arguments about maps. Here's the link, posted below:-

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/McMahon_Line_Simla_Accord_Treaty_1914_Map1.jpg

While we're on the hypothetical issue of map scale, a pen-drawn line on a eight-mile-to-an-inch map, would need to be more than an inch thick if it were to cover ten miles. Your definition of the scale itself makes it clear that a one-inch-thick line would cover eight miles on the ground.

Frankly, I've never seen a pen that draws a one-inch-thick line. And the line on the Shimla Conference map is a fine-drawn line that is no more than one-sixteenth of an inch. That translates into half a mile on the ground.

The Thagla Ridge was not the boundary. Nor was Hathungla. The simple truth is that the boundary was contested. We knew that well. Yet we established a post there, which we were militarily unprepared to defend. The generals were a party to that. They allowed that to happen.

Sadly, good people like you mistakenly believe that defending the indefensible, including criminal failure by our generals to enforce military common sense, constitutes being loyal to the military!

In fact, you are doing the greatest disservice to the evolution of planning and thought within the military.

Broadsword said...

@ captainjohann

There is not one book by a retired military officer that is unbiased and entirely factual. Every one who wrote about that debacle was trying to rationalise and justify his failure.

Broadsword said...

@ Rohit Vats

Read my response to Anonymous 11:28 above

Anonymous said...

It is hard to tell which would make the army look worse --- its incompetence if it was controlling tactical level deployment itself... or the impotence of its generals if they were allowing the IB to control tactical level deployment.

Ajay, your remarks and sarcasm betrays the related existing realities even today, that has been allowed by GoI to foster. I hope you have read over the Chinese intrusion into Depsang Bulge and state of ITBP there. Have a think over the GOI policy on Border management and then have a relook at your unfortunate remarks.

Anonymous said...

let us not forget IB was controlling tactical level deployment.

Not in Kameng sector !!

Anonymous said...

well, like they said, the truth is hurt. Especially when you learned it after the enemy thought you a lesson.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ajay,

Thank you for showing me that map which did not exist in that form for the public in 1962.. I will keep a copy.

You being an ex Army Officer, ceratin things must be very clear to you.

The Map does not appear to be properly suveyed at many places and does not show many vital geographical features so that alaignment of the boundary can be fixed approximate specially in araes of disputes. It must be remebered that the map belongs to 1914 or earlier vinage when survey parties would not have even entered NEFA. The distance between Thagla and Dhola would be covered as per your explaination of the thickness of the line. By the way the maps where the LAC or line or McMahon line exists has not been exchanged between the two countries even till date but you seem to better advocate of Simla agreement map.

Now tell me when was India's boundry on Maps published for the first time and on what scale maps? On what maps India has been conveying her boundary to the international community? I hope you know that Survey of India (of independent India) as such was established in 1967 though it existed much before that with one division solely responsible for international boundry.
Did this so called McMahon line exist on Indian Army Operational Maps? At what scale maps ? Who took the decision to publish this or any other line dipcting India's borders ? DK Palit has described in his book that on Dhola Post and on desire of XXXIII Corps to go over to Thagla Ridge, Dr Gopalan of MEA Historical Division had clarified that McMahon line did infact run through Thagla.

Before fixing military incompetence, be competent to answer these questions.

The map shown by you shows geographiacl feature many kms apart. In the area of contention there is no dipiction if Bum La, sulu La, Khinzemane etc. The only thing for sure was that the line ran south of shyo Chu and along the ridgeline to a point of Bhutan border where two ridge lines emanated and ran soutwards. The Indian perception of this point in the form of latitude and longitude had been conveyed to the Chinese without any protest from them as they were busy occupying Aksai Chin. Dhola was stablished much south of it after due consideration. In fact Dalvi's 7 Brigade would later be ordered to throw away Chines from Thag La ridge which India considred as McMahon line. Those were his orders and not his recommendation. Unfortunately China prempted Dalvi and rather attacked his posts much south of Thag La ridge.


And for your information Chinese had already crossed McMahon Line and occupied Longju located South of the line. By then they had alredy occupied Aksai Chin and have had confrontation with Indians there. Thagla was a reason but the place for starting of large scale campign in East.

So what military inaptitude are you talking about.