China and India at War – 1962

For the next few days, we will focus on India and China as a topic. The first post is about the 1962 border war between the two countries.

America is not the first country to attempt nation building (Iraq and Afghanistan). The British Empire did it much earlier and left behind a mess in India, the Middle East and Africa. Too bad the US didn’t learn from that failure.

In the 19th century, with the reckless stoke of a pen or pencil, British Explorer McMahon drew the borders on maps creating India.

Due to this British arrogance, India has had border disputes/wars with China, Nepal and Pakistan. Source: Boundaries

In fact, before the British Empire established the Raj, India wasn’t a country, and no Chinese government was included in the changes McMahon made to the borders between Tibet and India. Source: Victorian Web

At the time, the Qing Dynasty like the Yuan and Ming Dynasties before it considered Tibet part of China.

In 1947, soon after the end of World War II, India gained its independence from Britain, and the Indian government refused to negotiate with China over land that was once was part of China-Tibet.

After 1949, Mao’s government told India that some of the land behind the McMahon line in India was part of China-Tibet and the PRC wanted that land back.

For thirteen years, China and India held a series of diplomatic conversations about this boundary issue. Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister of the PRC, attempted to convince Jawaharlal Nehru to resolve the boundary issue peacefully.

With the failure of peaceful negotiations, Chinese troops were sent to the McMahon Line. In the embedded video are actual battle scenes from the China-Indian conflict of 1962.

India’s Nehru government repeatedly rejected China’s requests to negotiate the border dispute over the McMahon Line.

Instead, the Indian army built bases and outposts in the disputed area. Then Chinese troops strengthened their defenses on their side of the disputed border.

India sent patrols into territory occupied by China and its troops were captured. Then on June 4, 1962, Indian troops built fortified outposts deep in the disputed territory.

On September 8, 1962, Chinese troops surrounded the Indian outposts to stop further advances.

In the middle of September, Chinese intelligence reported that the Indian army would soon attack due to India’s Seventh Brigade being deployed to launch Operation Leghorn.

The first move by India took place on October 9, when Indian troops crossed the river that divided the two armies and attacked Chinese positions.

The resulting battle caused the Indian Seventh Brigade to collapse and a large number of Indian troops surrendered and were taken prisoner by the Chinese.

Chinese troops then counter attacked and crossed the river pushing south as the Indian troops retreated faster than the PLA could advance.

In addition, heavy Chinese artillery bombed Indian troop positions while China moved their Eleventh and Fifty-fifth divisions to the front.

To stop the Chinese advance, the Indian army had four brigades set up defensive positions along the only mountain road leading south through the harsh terrain.

At the same time, India planned to launch an assault on the Chinese army.

In a risky flanking maneuver, the Chinese sent 1,500 troops along a dangerous mountain trail to attack India’s Army in the rear and cut them in half.

The Chinese troops succeeded, and the Chinese army followed up with an attack from the north along the road.

India’s Sixty-second Brigade collapsed the first day. Soon after, India’s Sixty-fifth Brigade abandoned their positions without a fight.

News of the Indian army’s defeat reached New Delhi, and the people panicked causing large numbers of refugees to flee south.

When Chinese troops advanced into India beyond the disputed territory, China declared a unilateral cease fire.

There were abandoned Indian weapons everywhere and the Chinese troops gathered the weapons, which were returned to India. Then the Indian troops that were prisoners of war were released.

China then withdrew its troops to the claimed border keeping the disputed territory. Similar to the Korean Conflict, the war ended without a treaty.

India’s Casualties

Killed = 4,885
POW = 3,968
Wounded = 1,697

China’s casualties
Killed 722
Wounded 1,696

Since the 1962 war, China and India have continued to argue about the disputed area, which includes a portion of Kashmir and the eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Another area in dispute is Ladakh. For centuries, Ladakh was an independent kingdom but is now part of India with obvious cultural links with China.

In Ladakh, no one knows where India ends and China begins. China and India still share the biggest stretch of disputed border in the world divided by Nepal and Bhutan from Arunachal Pradesh in the south to Kashmir in the north.

Al Jazerra English – Renewed Tension Over India-China Border

India says the border violations were probably a mistake, but China says they never happened.

Diplomatic letters that Al Jazeera acquired show that both India and China are not telling the truth about Ladakh. Indian nomads wondered into Chinese occupied territory and were warned to leave or face the consequences.

The diplomatic letters also show that China does not accept that the area is disputed. Instead, China says it is their territory.

The Indian army keeps a heavy military presence on India’s side of the border in Ladakh and the Al Jazeera reporters were not allowed to visit the Chinese side.

What did you learn about China from its actions during this conflict, and/or you may also want to discover The Sino-Vietnam War of 1979


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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4 Responses to China and India at War – 1962

  1. Sidney says:

    Why do users still use to read news papers when in this technological world the whole thing is presented on net?

    • Old habits are not easy to get rid of. When I was a child. my parents subscribed to the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. I read the comic section of the paper and as I grew older, book and film reviews. Every morning, that paper was tossed on our driveway by a newspaper paperboy riding a bicycle. When I was 12 or 13, I was one of those boys for a short period of time when a friend of mine went on vacation with his family and I became his substitute so he didn’t lose his newspaper route.

      The Herald Examiner went out of business in 1989 thanks to its stubborn owner, William Randolph Hearst, Jr. who refused to negotiate with his union employees. Like the Walton family that made its wealth from Walmart and the destruction of mom and pop businesses across American, Hearst would rather lose one of his newspapers than negotiate with his employees over wages and benefits.

      The Internet was born in 1991 when the National Science Foundation first allowed commercial use of it. It will take time before most of the major print media is gone and replaced by Internet pages because people who are used to one way of life don’t give it up overnight. If we look at the end of the era of the horse, we see it took more than 50 years before the messy adoption of fossil-fuel technology that fouls our air, water and soil today was complete. We have a few years left (2041) to reach the 50th anniversary of the birth of the commercial internet. I think it is arguable that my generation will have to die off before the conversion is total. If I’m still alive, I’ll be 96 in 2041. I think it is a safe bet that by then it will be difficult to impossible or very expense to have a daily printed newspaper delivered to your driveway. I stopped taking a newspaper decades ago and have adopted to the Internet faster than others my age but several neighbors in my local community still have the traditional paper printed newspaper delivered to their driveways the old fashioned way. When I take an early morning walk, I see them sitting in many driveways waiting to be picked up and carried inside.

  2. Xiaohu Liu says:

    This happens to be a particular interest of mine the 1962 sino-indian war.

    I joined an Indian forum for the sole purpose of breaching the topic and was impressed by one particular response. In it he tries to address the historical revisionism on the Indian side, and the subsequent myth of “stab in the back” that most Indians believe to be the truth.

    Dear Sir,
    It is regrettable that the vast majority of us Indians have been kept in the dark, and ill-served both by our government and by our intellectuals with regard to the differences with China. Perhaps a good way to address these issues would be to start with your enclosed article, and to comment it suitably.
    Indian public opinion has been almost entirely molded for decades by apologists for Nehru and his many failings. The most pervasive myth of all, which will have to be debunked if India and China are to move towards long term good-neighborly relations, is that of Chinese perfidy. For no reason at all, out of sheer greed of Indian territory, the Chinese betrayed a peace-loving brotherly country that had even antagonized the mighty United States by pleading Beijing’s cause for a place on the United Nations Security Council[/QUOTE]
    This only is the beginning of the deception. The facts are that for decades, more than a century, the nearby imperial powers, Czarist Russia and Imperial Britain, had acknowledged China’s suzerainty over Tibet. The facts are that China had not been consulted either during the establishment of the line in the west, nor during the establishment of the line in the east. Of the two, the demarcation in the east was the worse of the two, and consisted of an arbitrary line drawn by Mr. MacMahon on the map, representing the watershed of the Himalayan ridges. He did this against the instructions of the British government in India. But let us go on.
    Noted analyst Brahma Chellaney articulates this traditional view in a recent article: “In fact, Nehru, the architect of the Hindi-Chini bhai bhai [Indians and Chinese are brothers] festivity, had gone out of his way to propitiate communist China, accepting even the Chinese annexation of Tibet in a 1954 agreement without settling the Indo-Tibetan border. So betrayed was Nehru by Mao’s war that he had this to say on the day the Chinese invaded: ‘Perhaps there are not many instances in history where one country has gone out of her way to be friendly and cooperative with the government and people of another country and to plead their cause in the councils of the world, and then that country returns evil for good’.”
    Noorani, though, disagrees with the view that Nehru was duped. He says, “Nehru was distrustful of China from the very outset; he substituted old Indian maps with a new one in 1954 and ruled out any compromise. He was a hardliner, but his opponents were chauvinistic.”
    Brahm Chellaney’s account reads like bad propaganda, and is bad propaganda. Nehru accepted Chinese occupation of Tibet; he did not confirm the boundary with China, not because China offered no opportunity, but because he sought more than China was offering.
    On the other hand, Noorani assessed the situation correctly and described Nehru’s activities in greater frankness.
    Noorani describes the course of events prior to the war, “China did not protest when on February 12, 1951, Major R Khating took over Tawang, evicting Tibetan administrators. The entire area south of the McMahon Line was now in Indian control. The famed Nehru-Patel [Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, independent India’s first home minister] correspondence in November 1950 centered on the McMahon Line. Neither was interested in Aksai Chin and for good reason.
    “Patel’s ministry of states had published White Papers on the states in July 1948 and February 1950. Official maps were attached to both. The 1948 map did not even extend the yellow color wash to the entire state of J&K [Jammu and Kashmir]. In 1948 and 1950, Kashmir’s northern and eastern boundaries – as also that stretching from Kashmir to Nepal – were explicitly shown as ‘undefined’, in contrast to the clear depiction of the McMahon Line in the east. This was the true position in law and in fact. Changes in maps by either side cannot alter the position.[/QUOTE]
    Both these facts are correct and well-established.
    The position on the west had not been established clearly. The position on the east, the McMahon Line, was drawn arbitrarily by McMahon, with the hapless Tibetans consenting, but without the consent of the Chinese representative in Lhasa.
    The McMahon Line sought to establish the line south of the watershed, but very largely deviated from this principle; it actually was in places NORTH of the watershed.
    Nehru must have been aware of both the unknown situation in the West as well as the cartographic aggression by the British Empire in the East. It is impossible that he should have done what he did without knowledge of the situation on the ground.
    [QUOTE]”Nehru’s cable to N Raghavan, India’s ambassador to China, on December 10, 1952, provides a glimpse of his policy: ‘Our attitude towards the Chinese government should always be a combination of friendliness and firmness. If we show weakness, advantage will be taken of this immediately. In regard to this entire frontier we have to maintain an attitude of firmness. Indeed, there is nothing to discuss there and we have made that previously clear to the Chinese government’. He could not have been unaware of his own maps.
    The underlying belligerence that was a part of Nehru’s posiion is clear from the extract above.
    [QUOTE]”On April 29, 1954, India and China signed the famous Panchsheel [five-point] agreement on trade with Tibet. On June 18, 1954, Nehru sent a note on Tibet and China to the secretary-general of the MEA [Ministry of External Affairs], the foreign secretary and joint secretary. ‘No country can ultimately rely upon the permanent goodwill or bona fides of another country. It is conceivable that our relations with China might worsen’. That very month a new official map was published claiming a firm line in the western sector as well.
    This (the publication of the official map with a firm boundary in the west, in unilateral supersession of the previous correct position) is factual, and was a falsehood by Nehru and the External Affairs Ministry.
    “On July 1, 1954, Nehru issued a directive: ‘All our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our northern and north-eastern frontier without any reference to any line. These new maps should also not state there is any undemarcated territory. This frontier should be considered a firm and definite one which is not open to discussion with anybody’. India was thus set on a collision course with China.
    “Nehru’s demarche to Zhou Enlai on December 14, 1958, centered on the McMahon Line and on China’s maps. He did not mention Aksai Chin or China’s road through it. It was Zhou who raised that in his reply of January 23, 1959, while promising ‘to take a more or less realistic attitude towards the McMahon Line’. Nehru’s rejoinder of March 22, 1959, cited a treaty of 1842 on Ladakh and claimed ‘the area now claimed by China has always been depicted as part of India on official maps’. This foreclosed compromise.[/QUOTE]
    Here, for those who have not caught the allusion, it is necessary to recall that in 1841, General Zorawar Singh, the outstanding general of the Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir, had swept through Ladakh, conquered it (it was then a dependent principality of Tibet, itself a dependent on suzerain China) and mounted a sharp attack on Tibet. This attack failed; he was killed, his troops repelled and in a precursor of 62, they were thrust pell-mell back into Ladakh. There they made a stand and were able to beat off the Tibetan forces. The resultant peace treaty of 1842 was between the Dogra forces and the Tibetan general.
    This is from memory and may need minor correction.
    “Zhou proposed a meeting ‘so as to reach some agreement of principles as a guidance to concrete discussions and a settlement of the boundary question. Without such a guidance there is a danger that concrete discussions of the boundary question by the two sides may bog down in endless and fruitless debates’. Nehru replied: ‘How can we, Mr Prime Minister, reach an agreement on principles when there is such complete disagreement about the facts?'[/QUOTE]
    This, after he had cooked up the facts, both in the west and in the east.
    [QUOTE]”In Delhi in April, 1960, Zhou offered an ‘overall settlement’ based on two ‘principles’ – recognition of the McMahon Line in the east and the Karakoram watershed in the west. Nehru was politically too weak to accept it. He set up a joint group of officials to examine the ‘evidence’.”
    It is not clear what political weakness this reference is about. Otherwise the rest of the facts are correct.[QUOTE]
    It is a sign of the times that a major Indian website carries a special three-part report on the genesis of the 1962 war by former Times of London correspondent Neville Maxwell, the only journalist to have had access to a secret Indian army report on the debacle. The Indian army had commissioned Lieutenant-General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat to study the debacle. With the well-known Indian obsession with secrecy, their report has not yet been made public. Maxwell has made an in-depth study of the subject and is the author of India’s China War (1970), widely available on the Internet.
    Introducing his article, he says, “Indians will be shocked to discover that, when China crushed India in 1962, the fault lay at India, or more specifically, at Jawaharlal Nehru and his clique’s doorsteps. It was a hopelessly ill-prepared Indian army that provoked China on orders emanating from Delhi, and paid the price for its misadventure in men, money and national humiliation.”
    On the origins of war, its summary is indeed shocking to Indians nourished on the Nehruvian myths. It needs to be quoted in some detail: “In the Indian political perspective, war with China was deemed unthinkable and, through the 1950s, New Delhi’s defense 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 neighbors 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 neighbors. By 1958, Beijing was urgently calling for a standstill agreement to prevent patrol clashes and negotiations to agree on boundary alignments. India refused any standstill agreement, since it 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, the 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 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 frontline, 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’.
    “On October 20, the Chinese launched a preemptive 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 the condition that India agree 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.
    “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 organized 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.”[/QUOTE]
    The Henderson-Brooks Report was not written by two amateurs; it was written by a very senior general, a veteran of WWII, and by the darling of the Army, the VC winner, the bravest of the brave, Prem Bhagat.
    It was a damning indictment.
    Reading it, even today, is for a patriotic Indian with a fierce pride in the Indian Army, and the Navy and Air Force, like undergoing a public whipping.
    A Lieutenant Commander of the US Navy, James Barnard Calvin, summarizes the war in his 1984 study “The China-India Border War (1962)”: “In the war that began with skirmishes in the summer of 1962, the significant fighting occurred in October and November, 1962, along three widely separated fronts. In virtually every battle the Chinese forces either outmaneuvered or overpowered the unprepared Indians. In less than six weeks of bloody fighting, the Chinese completely drove Indian forces back behind Chinese claim lines. After achieving their limited strategic objectives, the Chinese dramatically declared ceasefire on November 21, 1962. Following the ceasefire, China kept most of their claim in Aksai Chin but gave India virtually all of India’s claim in the North East Frontier Agency [NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh] – about 70 percent of the disputed land.”[/QUOTE]
    They actually withdrew to the McMahon Line, [B]even when it was north of the watershed.[/B]
    [QUOTE]China returned to India occupied and still “disputed” Indian territory in the northeast even after Nehru had bid goodbye to the people of Assam in an afternoon radio broadcast. Clearly this war was not about territory, though India did lose territory it had come to consider as its own.
    As a student of military history, i have gone through the accounts on the Chinese side and the Indian side carefully. Contrary to the accounts of brute force Chinese massed attacks on small groups of isolated Indians who fought to the last with unmatched valour, the picture that emerges is that of the last of the Mao-led wars in history. It showed all the hallmarks of the military style prescribed by Mao in his textbook on Military Warfare, “On Guerrilla Warfare”.
    There was no frontal massed attack.
    Typically, the Chinese drove regiments, even brigades through defiles and ravines, and outflanked or attacked from the rear totally unprepared Indian positions. They attacked at night, and captured bunkers in a linear sequence* that ensured that they always had a local superiority, although overall the numbers were nowhere so disparate as to dictate a military disaster. They used noisy and alarming tactics, bugles, loud-hailers and concerted shouts, to alarm and upset a rattled, befuddled enemy fighting without good leadership, in exposed positions.
    * This reminded me so much of the enfilading tactics of Frederick the Great that I read and re-read the comparative passages several times. It was true; this was classic concentration of force on a thin section of the line, its overwhelming, and then on to the next thin section.
    Put very bluntly, NEFA 62 was not Thermopylae; it was Cannae.
    The Indians did not move; the Chinese moved, moved, moved all the time.
    [QUOTE]What exactly did India lose? During the 30-day border conflict, in two phases over October and November, 1,383 Indian soldiers were killed, 1,696 went missing and 3,968 were captured. There are no figures of Chinese casualties. Six months later, by May 25, all the captured Indians had been released. In the icy heights of Ladakh – called the western sector – where, even Nehru acknowledged in parliament later, “not a blade of grass grew”, India had to give up some 38,000 square kilometers of territory. In the eastern sector in Arunachal Pradesh, China continues to claim some 90,000 square kilometers of territory, at the heart of which lies the disputed Tawang swathe of land.
    It is time to deal with another myth.
    We are told that our troops were badly-clothed, badly-armed and badly-positioned. True, but the Chinese were not better clothed. These attacks were made, in wet weather, in October and November. There are authentic reports of serious and significant Chinese deaths due to exposure to the weather. They struggled against local conditions as much as the Indians.
    [QUOTE]Coming across these facts of history, most Indians reject them outright as biased accounts. Some do think, however, that it is important to find out the truth. If India and China have to normalize their relations, they must solve their border disputes. This is only possible if Indians leaders are backed by a democratic consensus. In order for this consensus to evolve, Indians must know the truth of the war. No better beginning can be made than the official publication of the Indian army’s own account in the Henderson-Brooks report.
    Another important input could be the publication of the official history of the war, written by a high-powered editorial team at the behest of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, a quarter century after the war. This remains classified, although another committee was appointed to see if it could be released to the public.
    India must understand that the absence of objective and authentic accounts is doing the country no good; it is merely reinforcing the trauma of defeat and failure that Indians have undergone for 40 long years, apart from making normal relations with an important neighbor difficult to achieve.
    Why, oh why, does a Chinese analyst have to post this?
    I would like to console myself with one thought.
    This was a classic Maoist campaign. Mao is acknowledged as an outstanding military genius, quite apart from his outstanding grip over politics. The old master was up against a nouveau-riche barrister who had never practised, was brought up in the lap of luxury, and had appointed the grotesque Krishna Menon as the Defence Minister. Menon, with his penchant for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, encouraged the ambitious B. M. Kaul to weaken the authority of the then COAS, General Thapar (Karan Thapar’s father, if I’m not mistaken) and to arrogate power.
    Kaul, in turn, lined up a stellar constellation: the bluff, blunt Lionel Pratap (Bogey) Sen, his COS, the sinister Monty Palit, and some hapless field officers to serve as his official cover.
    Was this a contest?

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