BATTLE OF NAMKA CHU, 10 OCT - 16 NOV 1962
"I can tell this House that at no time since our independence, and of course before it, were our defence forces in better condition, in finer fettle, and with the background of our far greater industrial production...to help them, than they are today. I am not boasting about them or comparing them with any other country's, but I am quite confident that our defence forces are well capable of looking after our security."
- Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru addressing the Lok Sabha on 25th November 1959.
Namka Chu a name seared in Indian memory, a place where the decisions made by a pacifist Prime Minister, an arrogant Defence Minister and a politically connected General caused the rout of a proud Brigade with many of its men dying like animals in a cage. Namka Chu, a gorge situated east of the remote Tri Junction of Tibet, Bhutan and India. It is 200 km from the railhead of Misamari and 60 km from the road head of Tawang. The Nyamjang river flows through from Tibet and enters India at Khinzemane. It meets Namka Chu 1½ miles south of Khinzemane. Local grazers used seven improvised bridges to take their cattle across the Namka Chu. They were from East to West known as Nos I - V, Log bridge and Temporary bridge. Following Hathung La route to Dhola Post, the track hit Bridge I. Across it the track forked, the eastward branch reached Khinzemane, the one going North West along the river and re-crossing to the South across Bridge II. This led to Dhola Post opposite Bridge III.
A little away was Bridge IV and close to Tsangle was Bridge V. Between IV and V were the Log and Temporary bridges. The bridges were useless when the river was in spate. In October one could walk across the river bed. The Thagla ridge which sprawls from west to east overlooks Namka Chu and has four prominent passes Dum Dum La (17,000 feet), Karpola II (16,000 feet), Yamatso La (16,000 feet) and Thag La (14,000 feet). To get to Tawang the road traverses from Misamari up to 2743 metres to a place called Eagle's Nest, another 200 metres to Bomdi La. Then it drops to 1676 metres to Dirang Dzong, followed by an ascent to Se La at 4180 metres, another drop to 1524 metres to Jang with a final climb to Tawang (3048) metres. From here the journey had to be along tracks with mules and porters. There were no staging areas for acclimatisation.
The dispute in this area revolved around Thagla Ridge. The Chinese claimed it was on the Tibetan side and India claimed it was on its side of the McMahon line. Accordingly in 1959 an Assam Rifles post was established at Khinzemane. The Chinese disputed it and a force of 200 Chinese pushed back the weak Indian force towards the bridge on the Nyamjang Chu at Drokung Samba which they claimed was the McMahon line. After the Chinese retired the Indians again reoccupied the post. The Chinese again tried to dislodge but this time were resisted by the Assam Rifles. This time they withdrew and started a chain diplomatic exchanges between the two Governments.
Under Nehru's forward policy some extra posts were ordered to be deployed on the McMahon line. One such post was proposed at the Tri junction. A party under Captain Mahabir Prasad from 1 Sikh went to locate the post. However due to heavy snowfall it could not access it, so they located the post at Che Dong on the southern bank of the Namka Chu. While the post was dominated by the surrounding area, it was easy to maintain with access to water. However this should have been a temporary post and should have been relocated at a later time. For some reason it never was. An Assam Rifles unit was sent to man it.
The Namka Chu Terrain
On September 8th, Chinese troops laid siege to the Assam Rifles post. In order to get a quick response the post commander inflated the number to 600 enemy troops. In many other places similar situations were met with an order to stay put. Probably because the higher number, the 7th Inf Bde were ordered to move in and evict the Chinese. The 7th Brigade was part of 4th Division commanded by Major General Niranjan Prasad. At this time two battalions of 7th Brigade, the 9 Punjab and 1 Sikh were in Towang, the 1/9 Gorkha Rifles in Misamari on its way back after a 3-year tenure in NEFA. There was no airfield and all maintenance was by air drops. Raw and un-acclimatised troops with cotton uniforms and canvas shoes were sent into the mountains. All this was done under public clamour and alerted the Chinese. The first man to protest was Lt. Gen. Umrao Singh. When Lt. Gen. Sen in charge of Eastern Command refused to heed his advice, he followed it up with a written protest.
14 Sept - 09 Oct 1962: Deployment
The 7th Inf. Bde. was commanded by Brigadier J.P. Dalvi and consisted of 9 Punjab, 4 Grenadiers, 2 Rajputs and 1/9 Gorkha Rifles plus some symbolic artillery. 9 Punjab was led by Lt. Col. R.N. Mishra. With harvesting time in the region the men had to move everything by themselves for the long arduous trek. Each man carried one blanket, 100 rounds of ammo, 2 grenades, 3 days rations and LMG clips. It came to 35 kg per person. After a forced march it reached Bridge 1 on September 14. Next morning leaving one company behind at Bridge I, Lt. Col. Mishra took the rest to Bridge II, where a company of Chinese troops was in position both sides of Namka Chu. Ignoring the Chinese shouts in Hindi to go back, he left two companies about 50 metres away and took the last one to the Che Dong post. The logs at Bridge II were destroyed and a 50-man Chinese detachment occupied the opposite side.
The next night the Punjabis at Bridge II crept in close forcing the Chinese to move most of their troops to the north bank. Meanwhile Lt. Gen. Umrao Singh's protests were causing a problem for the Government and the Army HQ. To avoid the impasse, General Thapar and Lt. Gen. Sen formed 4 Corps to handle NEFA leaving 33 Corps with Lt. Gen. Umrao Singh. Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul was put in charge of 4 Corps - an most unusual step for a Chief of General Staff (CGS) to to do with direct access to the Prime Minister. Lt. Gen. Kaul took charge on October 4th. Meanwhile 2 Rajput and 1/9 Gorkha Rifles had reached Lumpu. The men were in cotton uniforms, canvas shoes and were living in the open after marching through slushy roads. The 4 Grenadiers who had arrived at Tawang a few days earlier were in no better shape. The buildup of troops to Tsangdhar was slow. There were no porters and everything had to back packed.
Furthermore poor planning in the air drops did not help. Instead of snow clothes & ammo they got tent pegs, kerosene was dropped in 200L barrels. Many rolled down slopes and although some could be retrieved, many were given up. Especially high were losses from drops by C119s due to the higher speed of the aircraft. Meanwhile two platoons of MMGs from 6 Mahar and 34 Heavy Mortar Regiment reached Lumpu. The mortars had no ammo. A little later four 75mm guns of the 17 Field Parachute regiment were dropped at Tsangdhar. On October 6th, Lt. Gen. Kaul and Maj. Gen. Prasad made their way to Namka Chu. The Brigade HQ was located at Rongla and Tactical HQ at Zimithang. The troops were extended on a frontage of 12 miles or 20,000 yards - more than 6 times their normal frontage. Furthermore the Corps, Divisional and Brigade commanders were all there. Lt. Gen. Kaul now seeing for himself the deathtrap set up for the Indian troops tried get all available resources. He sent a message to Eastern Command for "marshalling of all military and air resources."
Late in the game Lt. Gen. Kaul realised what he had gotten into and was now desperate. The Govt. however was not ready to escalate the border clash into an all out war. Meanwhile the Grenadiers, Rajput and Gorkhas were on the way to Tsangdhar. The units had marched through severe cold, with groups of 3 men sharing 2 sheets. As mentioned they were in cotton uniforms resulting in a good deal of sick casualties; frostbite and pulmonary disorders. Two Gorkhas died of pulmonary-edema the next day. So Lt. Gen. Kaul now turned to his pet 'positional warfare' theory while Major General Prasad and Brigadier Dalvi wanted to find a way from their untenable position. The Chinese meanwhile had advantage of position and had now mustered up to a division at Thagla.
So Lt. Gen. Kaul set his plans in motion on the morning of October 8th. He decided that 2 Rajput would occupy Yamatso La west of Thag La peak as it was unoccupied using the Tseng-Jong approach. Brigadier Dalvi was stunned. The plan meant moving a battalion to a peak 16,000 feet above sea level under Chinese view with no artillery support. Brigadier Dalvi convinced Lt. Gen. Kaul to at least send a patrol of 9 Punjab to find a suitable crossing place for the Rajputs and cover them by taking positions at Tseng Jong. The Rajputs, less one company, left behind at Bridge 1 were to advance on first light October 10th.
The patrol of 9 Punjab led by Major Choudhary left on October 8th and established itself by 3 p.m. Meanwhile two companies of the 2 Rajput was in the Bridge 4 area with the rest at Dhola post. It was as unprepared with only 90 sleeping bags, no ammo for its 3" mortars. Meanwhile the close proximity between Chinese and Indian troops caused skirmishes. A grenade attack on September 20th on the Punjabis, was met with effective retaliation. 4 Punjabis were wounded and 1 Chinese was killed. October 9th passed uneventfully except for a grenade attack in the Bridge 4 area. One more platoon from the 9 Punjab had reinforced the Tseung Jong area and one section from it, was stationed at the spur of Karpo La II.
10 October 1962: The Skirmishes Begin
October 10th dawned without a hint of what was to come. At first light, Lt. Gen. Kaul was shaving while his batman was preparing tea. Suddenly the calm of the morning was shattered by the incessant fire of small arms fire and the thumps of mortars. The Tseung Jong position had come under fire and was retaliating. Around 8:00 a.m., 600 Chinese troops attacked the post. The Indians totaled 56 men with only pouch ammunition. Still they beat back the first assault. Around 9:30 a.m. the Chinese attacked a second time. By now the section at Karpo La II had moved to the flank of the Chinese. When the Chinese emerged, it opened up on them inflicting heavy casualties. The Chinese retaliated by bringing down mortar fire. As the first fire rang out the Rajputs were strung on the Southern bank of the Namka Chu. According to their orders they were hurrying up to Yamatso La. The forward company was about 450 meters from the Temporary bridge with Lt. Col. Maha Singh Rikh following behind with the second company. Lt. Gen. Kaul now proceeded to give another order. He asked Lt. Col. Rikh to hold on and set defensive positions. Protests about the positions being dominated by the Thag La ridge were brushed aside. He then left handing over command to Brigadier Dalvi saying, "It is your battle." Moreover a company of the 1/9 Gorkhas had to accompany the party to provide protection.
Meanwhile Major Chaudhary was asking for mortar and machine gun fire. Brigadier Dalvi had two 3" mortars and two machine guns but he had to make the painful decision of not opening fire as the retaliatory fire from the south bank would decimate the Rajputs who were still milling around. Helplessly they watched the Chinese reinforcements clamber up for a second attack. The Chinese attacked a third time from three directions and at this time Major Chaudhary asked the unit to withdraw. By that time the Chinese were on Major Chaudhary's position, hand-to-hand combat was in process. Somehow he withdrew what was left of his two platoons. Sepoy Kanshi Ram brought back a AK-47 snatched from a Chinese soldier. The withdrawal was made possible by the gallantry of Naik Chain Singh. Asking his men to fall back, Naik Singh covered their withdrawal with an LMG, till he was gunned down by a machine gun burst. Major Chaudhary, Sepoy Ram and Naik Singh were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. The Punjabis outnumbered 20 to 1 lost 6 dead, 11 wounded and 5 missing. Peking Radio admitted to a 100 casualties. Later that day the Chinese buried our men with full military honours in view of our men. It was a clever move to beguile the Indians into complacency. Meanwhile the Chinese started reinforcing their positions with more troops and heavy mortars. A long line of mules and porters were seen carrying equipment. Firing lines were cleared with mechanical saws, and barbed wire & punji sticks used to defend their positions.
Meanwhile the Grenadiers, led by Lt. Col. K.S. Harihar Singh, arrived and started deploying. The Chinese taunted them for their efforts to cut trees with machetes and digging tools. Attempts to withdraw the Punjabis from Tsangle were rebuffed by Lt. Gen. Kaul. The Lt. Gen. who was sick, instead of giving up his command and admitting himself to the hospital, went to his residence and commanded from from his sick bed. In the Army of 1962 this no longer seemed strange. On October 18th the Chinese preparations intensified. Officers were holding conferences and pointing out Indian positions at Namka Chu and Tsangdhar. Bearings were taken and noted down. Tsangle Post and Bridge V came under fire for 90 minutes. With a foot of snow falling, Brigadier Dalvi was forced to take whatever snow clothes from the men at Namka Chu and give it to those in Tsangle. A company of the 1/9 Gorkha Rifles was ordered to be deployed at Tsangle. Brigadier Dalvi protested at this piece meal deployment but was threatened with a court martial. The next day the Chinese activities climaxed. The Rajputs counted 2000 men with stores in the area between Tseng-Jong and Temporary Bridge. Mules and porters came across Thag La. Men were laying tape markers for night assaults. Brigadier Dalvi protested again asking to withdraw his men from this deathtrap. He offered to resign, rather than watch his men get massacred. Brigadier Dalvi thought the attack was going to come the next day and in three days his brigade would be wiped out. Major General Prasad promised he will be there the next day to share the fate of the brigade.
So by October 19th the troops were deployed as follows;
• 4 Grenadiers,
commanded by Lt. Col. K.S. Harihar Singh
- 1 Bn less 2 Coy - Bridge I
- 1 Coy - Drokung Sambha (under Div HQ)
- 1 Coy - Serkhim with 1 platoon at Hathung La
• 9 Punjab,
commanded by Lt. Col. R.N. Misra
- 1 Bn less 1 Coy - Bridge II
- 1 Coy - Bridge V and Tsangle
commanded by Lt. Col. M.S. Rikh
Total Strength - 513 men, 8 Officers
- 1 Bn less 3 Coy - Bridge IV
- A Coy - Bridge III
- B Coy - Log Bridge
- C Coy - Temporary Bridge
• 1/9 Gorkha Rifles,
commanded by Lt. Col. B.S. Ahluwalia
- 1 Bn less 2 Coy - Che Dong - Tsangdhar Track
- 1 Coy - behind Bridge II (near Brigade HQ)
- 1 Coy less platoon - Tsangdhar
- 1 Platoon - between Tsangdhar and Bridge V
• Assam Rifles
1 Platoon - Che Dong
• 34 Heavy Mortar Battery less platoon - Tsangdhar (no ammo)
• Field Regiment
- 17 Para
1 Troop - Tsangdhar (2 operational - 260 rounds of ammo, no radio sets for OP)
• 6 Mahar
1 MG Coy less platoon*
(*Platoon with 1/9 GR, rest with Rajputs at Bridge V)
• 100 Field Coy - Rong La
• Brigade HQ - 100 yards behind Rola (Dhola Post)
Against this the Chinese forces consisted of 11th Division with 3 regiments (equal to a brigade). On the night of the 19th the Chinese went into their forming up areas. In utter contempt of the Indians across the river, they lit fires to warm themselves. To Major Gurdial, the 2-in-C of the 2 Rajputs, the idea of his under strength battalion fighting the hardened veterans of the Korean war seemed suicidal. He looked around at his isolated weak companies, un-acclimatised & weak, 150 rds/rifleman, 17 magazines (28 rounds) per LMG and 2 grenades per soldier. The battalion's 3" mortars had 60 rounds of ammo, equal to five minutes firing time. The night was dark and bitter cold. The stars stood out brightly. The sentries of 2 Rajput stood wrapped in blankets shuffling around to keep warm. The men were huddled in twos and threes for warmth. Still sleep eluded them as they waited for the stand to at 0430 hours. Unknown to them in the thousands of yards that separated the posts, with visibility under 20 yards, Chinese infantry columns were infiltrating through the large gaps. Fording the river was easy. To avoid slipping they removed their shoes and walked barefoot across. Once across they dried and wore warm socks. They quickly moved past the link roads where Indian patrols might operate.
The overhead communication wires were left alone to be cut just before the attack so that the Indians may not be alerted. Once in the dark shadows of the coniferous forests the noises were muffled by the thick moss on rocks. Slowly the Chinese columns gathered into battalions. Each got into a position above and behind the Rajput companies. Other columns likewise moved to the Tsangdhar position to take on the Gorkhas. Other Chinese columns had moved 2 nights before and gone to Hathung La to carry out blocking movements. The fires and other activity of the earlier nights had kept the defenders focus on the front. The plan was to hit like a battering ram at the centre, into the Rajputs, and the left flank and cutting off the rest of the troops. At 4:30 hours Lt. Col. Rikh was woken up by his batman. Outside the temp was well below zero and the fires lit by the Chinese still flickered. His adjutant, Captain Bhatia, who was to be posted to Poona soon was checking with the companies & patrols and they reported all was well. The first pre dawn light could be seen when the darkness was broken by the hollow booming sound of mortars. The muzzle flashes were followed by a pause before the valley erupted in a roar. It was 0514 hours and the Battle of Namka Chu had begun.
20 October 1962: The Battle
At 5:14 a.m. 150 guns and mortars opened upon all the localities at Namka Chu and Tsangdhar. The 82mm and 120mm rounds crashed into trees & rocks, forcing the men in the open to take refuge in the bunkers whose firing bays faced forwards. It continued for an hour, as the Indians helplessly watched unable to counter it with any weapon. The Indian 3" mortars made an futile attempt to fire back. Even as they tried to get the range right, the Chinese ranged in on them and blew them away. The signals bunker was zeroed in quickly using 75mm recoilless guns, and blown up, killing all in it including Captain Mangat - the Signals Officer.
Progress of Battle
After an hour or so there was a brief lull for 7 - 15 minutes before the Chinese bugles and whistles for an infantry attack became audible. To the shock of the defenders, the attack was from above and behind. This meant their trenches were exposed and they had to scramble out of their bunker to face upwards. At Temporary Bridge, Subedar Dashrath Singh realised what was happening and moved Naik Roshan Singh's section to a bump 150 yards upslope. Barely had Roshan's men taken position when the Chinese came into view. With AK-47s opening up, they charged. Roshan and his men poured fire into the bunched up Chinese cutting down many.
2nd Lt Onkar Dubey with 7th platoon along with Subedar Janam Singh rushed with 15 LMG clips and 2 men to support Roshan. From the flanks he and his men poured fire on the Chinese breaking up two attacks. Firing the last 2 clips at the enemy he was severely wounded in the stomach & chest and fell down unconscious. He was later taken prisoner. Meanwhile Subedar Dashrath Singh's men turned uphill and opened fire on the advancing Chinese. The Chinese rushed down using cover from tree to tree. Dashrath and his men repulsed 3 attacks. On the fourth they came in to hand-to-hand combat losing four more men. Subedar Dashrath fell unconscious and was taken POW. On the eastern flank, Major B.K. Pant's D Coy platoon under Jemadar J.N. Bose came under attack. The crescendo of AK-47 fire overshadowed the noise of Indian LMGs and rifles.
Roshan's unit was finally overcome with every man killed. The attention now turned to Jemadar Bose's platoon. After three waves of assault there were only 10 men surviving. The gallant Bengali led the remaining men into a bayonet charge. Most of the men were killed. Major B.K. Pant meanwhile tried to rally the men. Hit at the beginning of the battle in the leg he had to take over after Major Sethi was killed in the first round of mortar attacks which collapsed his bunker. Hobbling from position to position he kept inspiring his men on. He was hit again in the stomach and leg. Still he continued to inspire his men to break a fourth attack. At this point the enemy targeted him and hit him all over with machine gun fire. He uttered the Regiment's war cry before his last breath.
Meanwhile at Log Bridge, B Company was having its own problems. As the first shells landed, Lt. Subhash Chander reacted quickly and turned his men around to face uphill. However a salvo of mortar shells set fire to his command post as well as the company kitchen. The resulting fire to ghee & wheat engulfed the post trapping him inside and burning him to death. Subedar Har Lal, of 5th platoon, now rallied his men quickly dispersing them amongst the trees and rocks. He kept exhorting his men and when ammo ran out asked them to use their rifles as lathis. Jemadar Gian Chand's 4th platoon too got a few minutes to get into position amongst the trees. They held of 3 waves of attacks before he too was overwhelmed. With Subedar Mohan Lal killed early in the battle only Naik Hoshiar with 6th platoon was left. With the other two platoons absorbing the first few attacks, 6th platoon got more time to get into position. Using their Lee Enfield .303s they inflicted heavy damage. In spite of firing upwards, the Rajputs were effective because the ricocheting bullets continued to drop the Chinese.
Little by little the superior volume of the Chinese AK-47s overwhelmed the Indians. With ammunition running out the Chinese moved in. Each and every soldier had to be overcome by hand-to-hand to combat. Percussion grenades were extensively used. As Naik Hoshiar ran out of ammo he grabbed a Sten gun and was trying to reload when a percussion grenade exploded, hitting him in the arms & chest. As he regained consciousness, he found four Chinese holding him. A services wrestler, Naik Hoshiar struggled for some time before being overpowered. Meanwhile the area under Bridge IV continued to get pounded with the Btn HQ getting special attention. Major Gurdial, 2-in-C, under mortar fire rallied his men around. Seeing no enemy activity across the river he realised the attack was coming from uphill. Frantically he tried to set the Vickers MG around to face uphill. Men were being hurried out of bunkers to face uphill. Lt. Bhup Singh joined up with Lt. Col. Rikh in the Btn command post.
The full brunt of the attack struck Lt. Bhup's 12th platoon under Jemadar Biswas, the Btn command post in the centre and Subedar Ram Chander's C platoon to the east. The bunched up Chinese were cut down by volley's of rifle and LMG fire. Yet the Chinese continued to attack. The advantage of the Ak-47s along with HE and percussion grenades thrown down proved decisive. The Indians had to throw uphill, a task much harder. As the men in the upper slopes struggled, some of the men in the lower slopes started withdrawing towards Bridge III including the 11 platoon led by Subedar B.C. Roy. Meanwhile the now depleted C Coy and the Btn HQ had held off two attacks. The Chinese attacked a third time from the south and south west. With Major Gurdial rallying them, they desperately tried to fight back but succumbed to the inevitable. Major Gurdial was overpowered and captured.
With the flanking platoons almost wiped out to a man the remnants fell back to the battalion bunker. Captain Bhatia and Lt. Col. Rikh and a few others were now in the bunker. The Chinese opened up with a machine gun trying to break through the bunker. When that failed, a Chinese soldier crawled up to the bunker and threw a grenade just as Lt. Col. Rikh was peeping out. The grenade hit his rifle and exploded, breaking his jaw and cutting his lips. Lt. Bhup rushed out and shot the Chinese soldier and dragged Lt. Col. Rikh back in. He was propped up and given an LMG to resume firing. Another Chinese LMG burst through the door killing Captain Bhatia and hit Lt. Col. Rikh again in the shoulder breaking it. He however managed to gun down the Chinese soldier. Yet another Chinese broke through and rounds hit him in the elbow and leg, consequently breaking them. The pain and loss of blood caused him to collapse. Lt. Bhup continued to hold them off with one jawan. The Chinese had now encircled three sides and were pouring machine gun fire. Finally the defenders' ammunition ran out. On this the Chinese threw percussion grenades and overpowered Lt. Bhup and the jawan.
The fourth and last locality, Bridge 3, was held by A company with a platoon of Assam Rifles holding the Che Dong are. The Assam Rifles held the top of the spur while 2 platoons No.1 and No.2, held the lower slopes 600 hundred feet below. A 3rd platoon held a position another 800 feet lower overlooking Bridge 3. The initial hour long shelling drove the Assam Rifles unit from the post. As the shelling lifted Captain Ravi Eipe began to move towards the Assam Rifles post to get a better view. As he approached there was firing from the post. Thinking it was the AR men firing in panic he shouted out. Soon he saw some figures in khaki and realised the Chinese had already taken over the post. He alerted Company Havildar Major Saudagar Singh's men to reposition themselves just as the attack began. The Chinese then attacked from the top and the West. Facing them were the 2 platoons of CHM Singh and Subedar Basdeo Singh. CHM Saudagar's men had reorganised and took a heavy toll on the attacking Chinese. CHM Singh himself snatched an AK-47 from a Chinese soldier and blew away 5 Chinese soldiers. By 0700 hours the platoons were being swarmed by Chinese troops. 1 platoon got cut off and fought to the death.
Captain Eipe was hit on the shoulder and could not take any further part. The remnants of the battered 2 and 3rd platoons were asked to withdraw. With this the last Rajput position was overrun. Temporary and Log Bridge were overpowered and the systematic mopping up began. The attack had begun at 5:14 a.m. with the shelling lasting till 6:30 a.m. By 9:30 a.m. mopping operations were in full swing till it ended at 11:30 a.m. The main positions of 1/9 Gorkha Rifles were above Che Dong on a track from the Assam Rifles post. 'D' Coy held the central location with 'A' and 'C' Coy on either side. The fourth company was above bridge II protecting the Brigade HQ. As the Gorkhas were getting into their morning stand, the first salvo of Chinese shells hit their positions. As the officers scrambled to figure the situations they found the telephone lines were dead. Now the Chinese who had infiltrated past them in the last 2 nights launched their attack. The Gorkhas fought back.
Their 3" mortars opened up only to be silenced by the Chinese guns. By 6:25 a.m., C Coy was under attack by 500 Chinese troops. Company Commander, Captain Gambhir, was killed and 2nd Lt. Dogra, platoon commander, was wounded. Lt. Col. Ahluwalia asked Subedar Major Jit Bahdur Chetri to take his men and reinforce 2nd Lt. Dogra's platoon. By 7:15 a.m. 2nd Lt. Dogra's platoon was overrun. Wounded, he continued to fight with an LMG allowing the remnants of his platoon to fall back. Subedar Dhan Bahadur Chand also covered with an LMG. By 7:30 a.m., A Coy was under attack from rear as well as the front. Lt. Col. Ahluwalia was wounded in the shoulder as hand-to-hand fighting began. With no hope, the CO ordered a withdrawal towards Tsangdhar. Meanwhile word came of Subedar Chetri's platoon being encircled and captured. Captain Mahabir Prasad and Lt. Mahindra were wounded and missing. The Gorkhas fell back in confusion. One lot went towards the Tsangdhar track the other towards Bridge II.
Many of the attempts to reach Karpo La II or Rong La were thwarted by the Chinese who got there ahead of them. Even at this point there were defiant attacks of bravery. Subedar Bhab Bahadur Katwal with 15 men was heading for Karpo La I. The route was blocked by a Chinese MMG. Subedar Bahadur lead his men in a charge with the Gorkha war cry, Ayo Gorkhali (The Gorkhas have come). The machine gun chattered and then there was silence. All the men were killed or wounded & captured. Small parties of men however did make it across the Chinese encirclement and reached Bhutan. Many others perished due to the cold & starvation as they tried to make their way in the cold, hostile and desolate mountains with no blankets or winter clothing. The Sikh Para Gunners also displayed an astonishing defiance. With no ammo they took up LMGs & rifles and fought the Chinese after the Gorkha platoons were overrun. The Chinese encircled them and called them to surrender. They refused and continued fighting till they ran out of ammo. One third were killed and the rest were wounded and captured.
7th Brigade had lost all cohesion within the first hour of the battle. By 8 a.m. the first stragglers of the 1/9 Gorkha's came back to HQs with news that the Btn was overrun. This meant his middle & left defences were already broken. Small arms fire was now homing in on Brigade HQ. Brigadier Dalvi now got Div HQ's permission to leave Rong La and fall back to Tsangdhar hoping to reform and fight. The Rajputs and Gorkhas were expected to fall back to Tsangdhar. Brigadier Dalvi and his men left for Tsangdhar after destroying all documents. However they soon found that Tsangdhar was already breached and changed directions to Serkhim. The group wandered around for days avoiding Chinese patrols. At one point they had been without food for 66 hours. Sometime on the morning of October 22nd they ran into a Chinese Company and were captured. At Bridge II, the 9 Punjab had not been shelled. After communications with Brigade HQ was cut off, they remained in touch with Div HQ. At 11 a.m. on October 20th, Major General Prasad ordered them to withdraw to Hathung La. The withdrawal attracted heavy Chinese mortar fire. This was followed by an attack on the positions of 'D' Coy under Major Chaudhary.
Once again repeated attacks collapsed the defence and all the men went down fighting. Another group of 20 men under Havildar Malkiat Singh were on their way to reinforce the Tsangla defences. They stumbled into a large Chinese force. In the unequal encounter, the Punjabis inflicted heavy casualties before going down. Havildar Singh was amongst those who were killed. With the Chinese reaching Hathung La before the Punjabis, they too had to take the route through Bhutan. At Drokung Samba, C Coy of Grenadiers came under attack from three sides by a battalion of the Chinese. Soon the bridge was blown up cutting off any withdrawal. With no hopes, the men under 2nd Lt. Rao fought wave after wave of attacks. Most including the 2nd Lt. Rao were killed. The rest of the Grenadiers at Bridge I received orders to pull out and managed to escape through Bhutan. It took them 17 days. Thus ended the Battle of Namka Chu. The word 'battle' is grossly misleading, for what was essentially a massacre. Within the first hour of the battle 7th Brigade had lost all cohesiveness. It was then essentially a desperately one-sided battle with many Indian platoons fighting to the death, to the last round, last man.
The 2 Rajputs suffered horrendously but lived up to the Regiment's reputation. Of the 513 all ranks, 282 were killed that morning, 81 were wounded and captured, 90 were captured unwounded. Only 60 men, mostly rear elements got away. The Gorkhas lost 80 dead, 44 wounded and 102 captured. The 7th Brigade lost a total of 493 men that morning. The Chinese also lost heavily. Lt. Col. Rikh was captured & subjected to repeated interrogations on the characteristics of the Rajputs. He was told it was because the Chinese suffered their maximum casualties in NEFA (North East Frontier Agency). In the bitter flush of defeat, the valour of these men went un-recognised. In the small village of Lumpu, on the track leading to the Hathung La pass, stands a memorial. A memorial consisting of a tin shed under which loose wooden boards are stacked with names of those who fell in the battle. To rub salt in the wounds, not all the men are mentioned. This is considered sufficient to honour them!
A poem by Ms. Harji Malik captures the anguish of the men;
As the brutal rock
shatters the placid glass
into a thousand irreparable fragment
A bitter grief is hurled at normalcy and peace.
Never will they be quite complete again
The crack of pain and death will always show
The weeping of wives bereft, of the anguished old
Will echo down the years of history
The wasted unspent lives, the loss of years
Too many to be counted
Too precious to be valued
A generation unborn, man's immortality...
there is the bitterness
So violent that the heart revolts and weeps
unceasing, arid, unshed tears
The sense of shame, of betrayal unforgivable
Never to be redeemed
Of sacrifice avoidable, insensate
that is the guilt we share
The valley is silent shrouded in death's immobility final and absolute.
But the soundless cry from the mountains beats upon our ears
Pitiless and Undeniable
We died, unsecured, helpless
We were your soldiers, men of bravery and pride
Yet we died like animals, trapped in a cage with no escape
Massacred at will, denied the dignity of battle
With the cold burning flame of anger and resolution
With the courage both of the living and the dead.
Avenge our un-played lives
Redeem the unredeemable sacrifice
In freedom and integrity
Let this be your inheritance
and our unwritten epitaph.
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