BATTLE OF WALONG, 18 OCT - 16 NOV 1962


Sources: Flash of the Khukri: History of 3 GR. Col. C.L. Proudfoot
Unsung heroes of the 62 War. Lt. Col. Gurdip Singh Kler
Indian Army after Independence. Major K.C. Praval


INTRODUCTION

The 1962 Chinese invasion is a tragic watershed in the military history of India. It exposed an inept Indian state both militarily and politically. But for most of the war, the fighting qualities of the Indian jawan and the young officers remained unchanged. Without a mention of the heroic resistance offered at Walong, no story of the 1962 war will be complete. Walong is a small hamlet located near the tri junction of Tibet, Burma and India. Situated on an ancient trade route, it was manned by an Assam Rifles post with a small airfield capable of only handling Indian Air Force Otters and Caribous. The hills surrounding Walong were between 10,000 to 16,000 feet. Air drops were the only way to support this sector. The Chinese carried occasional incursions through the Lohit Valley to familiarize themselves. In response, the 6th Kumaon was moved into the area in March 1962 with a company posted about 2 miles from the border. Meanwhile across the border, Chinese activity increased with posts moving closer to the border.


THE BATTLE

18 - 25 October 1962: The Initial Attacks

Although the 6th Kumaon was responsible for the Walong sector an Assam Rifles platoon was manning the post at the border. The 6th Kumaon were deployed as the following:

'A' Company - Richu NH 5200

'B' Company - East Ridge NH 5477

'C' Company - Kibithoo NH 5196

'D' Company - Ladders area NH 5483

Battalion Tactical Headquarters - Kibithoo

Battalion HQ with Admin elements - Walong NN5377

On October 18th, a recon patrol under Subedar Surendra Chand was sent to Hundred Hill (NH 4999). He recorded the presence of 2 Chinese officers and 50 OR (Other Ranks). In response one platoon of Assam Rifles was sent to Ninety Hill (NH 4990). It was under the control of Jemadar Bhairab Singh of A Coy. The 2 other platoons of A Coy were occupying Sangram NH 5199 and Richu. On October 21st light signals were observed on the Chinese side. In response Major Gamathinayagam of A Coy moved with a platoon, less a section, to the McMahon Ridge. One platoon was sent to Dichu Nullah to prevent any enemy advance from the Taluk Pass.

At 0015 a.m. on October 22nd, the Himalayan calm was shattered by the noise of Chinese mortar & machine gun fire. 300 enemy troops attacked the two platoons' position of A Coy and another 100 attacked Madiah Top (NH 5302). Accurate Indian 3" mortar fire however brought the attack to a brief halt. Little later, reinforced in numbers, the Chinese made another attack along with simultaneous assaults on Lohit II (NH 5303) and Laila (NH 5101). For 4 hours they were held back, till through sheer numbers they broke through. Naik Bahadur stepped in after his 1st and 2nd gunners were killed and manned the LMG. He kept on firing till a burst of automatic fire brought him down. The Indians withdrew to establish positions in Walong. D Coy under Lieutenant Bikram Singh was to provide the screening position at Ashi Hill (NH 5484) along with a mortar and MMG section. Lieutenant Singh had the planks over the Namti Nullah weakened from the Indian side.

When the Chinese came in at 3 a.m. on October 23rd, the first Chinese soldier stepped on the plank and fell into the nullah. As the following Chinese milled around, many lights were fired revealing the Chinese in a cramped path. The mortars and MMGs sighted on this section brought down accurate fire. About 200 Chinese troops were killed or wounded in this action against nine Indian fatalities. At 4 a.m. the screen was ordered to withdraw. Meanwhile the 4th Sikhs made contact with the enemy and subjected them to withering fire from 3" mortar, LMGs and MMGs. Meanwhile the Chinese had set off a bush fire and sneaked forward. Sensing the twin danger, Sepoy Piara Singh tried to douse the fire and fire at the enemy. Profusely bleeding he refused to be evacuated and died fighting to the end. On the night of October 25th, the Chinese tried another probe but the Sikhs held firm. As some of the Chinese started to close in, Sepoy Kewal Singh rushed out of his post and charged them with his bayonet killing a few in hand to hand combat. However he was mortally wounded.

26 - 13 November 1962: Reorganizing & Reinforcing

Over the next few days there were clashes between Indian and Chinese patrols as the Chinese rushed in reinforcements. On October 26th, B Coy of 4th Sikhs was out on an recon patrol when it was surrounded by the Chinese. While the outnumbered Indians were unable to break the encirclement, it was decided to attack the Chinese flank to surprise them. A unit led by Lance Naik Kartar Singh volunteered for the task. The unit sneaked in and launched an attack the Chinese. Surprised by this the enemy reeled in disarray allowing the encircled patrol to break free. Meanwhile the Indian defences were in a state of turmoil. Initially 5th Brigade was in charge of the Walong sector.

A reorganisation brought it under Headquarters 2nd Infantry Division which allotted Walong to the 181 Brigade belonging to 2nd Division. However the Divisional commander of 2nd Division objected, so the 11th Brigade under Brigadier N.C. Rawlley was asked to move to Walong. This changing and chopping was to the detriment of the defence of Walong. Furthermore to bring it up full brigade strength, initially 2/8 Gorkha Rifles was asked to move to Walong. But halfway through the move they were replaced by 3/3 Gorkha Rifles. Then suddenly 3/3 Gorkha Rifles was asked to move to Hayuliang. Finally when 11th Brigade took over the 3/3 Gorkhas were brought back to Walong.

So by November 3rd the following units were in place:

4th Sikhs

'A' Coy - Dong Hill East of Lohit river
'B' Coy - Maha Plateau, Ladders West of Lohit river
'C' Coy - Dong plateau
'D' Coy - Lachman Ridge
3" Mortar - Slopes of Dong Hill

3/3 Gorkhas

'A' Coy - Dong Plateau
'B' Coy - Dong Hill east of Lohit river
'C' Coy - Ladders Area

'D' Coy - Lachman Ridge

4th Dogras

1 Coy to reinforce Tri Junction area (arrived on 14th November)

Green Pimple Spur (NH 4983), which overlooked the Brigade defences was occupied by the Chinese. Since a further advance along this spur could mean the fall of the Walong airstrip, 'A' Coy was asked to retake it. Led by Captain Mathur the men moved into position for a morning assault on November 6th. Unfortunately at the last moment the promised mortar support did not come. Still at 8:50 a.m. to the cries of Kali Mata ki Jai they attacked. In spite of sustained Chinese mortar and machine gun fire the Kumaonis managed to force the forward Chinese posts to retreat. But the Kumaonis soon ran out of ammo but continued engaging in hand to hand combat. But now the determined Chinese fire forced a retreat. This was also the only option as even if they took Green Pimple they had no ammo to resist a counter attack. The company took defensive positions at 11,000 feet along the West Ridge. However weakened, it was attacked repeatedly by the Chinese and after the 5th attack it was relieved by Lt. Bikram Singh's D Coy.

Meanwhile the 4th Sikh had been aggressively patrolling, killing many of the enemy. However the 3 battalions were holding positions in such a manner that sub-units of one, were placed under another and two of the battalions held positions on both sides of the river. As seen from the above, the 4th Sikhs were spread across 6000 yards and an abnormally large frontage. The Gorkhas were spread across 3000 - 4000 yards. This made for poor command and control. The 6th Kumaon HQ was east of the river but they held the lines west of the river. The 4th Sikh and 3/3 Gorkhas held positions east of the river while their headquarters were west of the river. In addition to these 3 battalions there were a company of Assam Rifles, the 71 Heavy Mortar Battery, the 17 Field Regiment Battery, a platoon of 6 Mahar and a platoon of Engineers. This didn't make any sense and no commander tried to correct it. In spite of this all the units held firm against repeated probing attacks from the Chinese who were now at divisional strength.

14 - 16 November 1962: The Final Battle

As the enemy built up for the final attack, though the brigade's western flank became apparent, it was decided to launch a spoiling attack. The attack was to be launched on Yellow Pimple as it was dominated by the Tri Junction area. On 13th November the Btn, less Lt. Bikram's four platoons, marched to Tri Junction. At 9:30 a.m. on November 14th with the 4th Sikhs providing a diversion, Yellow Pimple was attacked by 2 companies under Captain B.N. Singh and Major Sharma. As the valiant Kumaonis charged up, they were met by heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Unfortunately the only fire support for the Kumaonis came from 3" mortars. Captain B.N. Singh's Coy reached about 20 meters from the top.

As sustained enemy fire seemed to bog them down, Subedar Govind Singh charged forward with an LMG to destroy an enemy bunker. Meanwhile another enemy machine gun nest opened up on him and the brave Subedar charged that one too, silencing it, but in the process was killed. Inspired by this feat of bravery, Jemadar Trilok Singh likewise charged another MG nest but was swept by MG fire. The other company now had closed to 50 meters before they too ground to an halt. By now the Indians had lost 20 dead and Captain B.N. Singh was wounded. 2/Lt Khatri took over. The CO of the Btn, Colonel Madiah, decided to send the two reserve platoons to reinforce the attack.

Meanwhile the Chinese had stabilized their positions and at 8:30 p.m. made a battalion size counter attack. The two companies were surrounded and sustained hand-to-hand combat took place. However the darkness allowed some of them to disengage and even though they were subjected to heavy shelling, some of them under 2nd Lts. Khatri and Jindal inched their way back to Tri Junction. Exhausted and depleted the 6th Kumaonis now braced themselves for the final attack. At 4:30 a.m. on November 15th the Chinese attacked Tri Junction. For two hours they were pummeled with machine guns and mortars but the Kumaonis held. By 6 a.m. the attack fizzled out. However Captain Bhatia and 2nd Lt. Khatri were wounded. Now the Chinese established a OP about 200 yards from Tri Junction. The next series of attacks commenced at 6 p.m. on November 15th. It was followed by attacks every four hours with human wave tactics.

The 4th Dogra reinforcements found their way cut off and only 33 men made it through. But even these were welcome as they brought in much needed ammunition. 4 more Chinese attacks were repulsed but the Indians were running out of men and ammo. Meanwhile A Coy of 4th Sikh came under constant sniping. A patrol under Subedar Harnam Singh was sent to cut the enemy off, but was thrown back. At night the Chinese attacked. Wave after wave attacked, but the Sikhs held firm. Havildar Labh Singh was wounded thrice and each time rejoined the fighting after getting first aid. Soon the Coy had lost its commander and second-in-command along with two platoon commanders.

Subedar Harnam Singh and Massa Singh were wounded. Lance Havildar Kirpa Ram the battalion tradesman kept supplying ammo to the bunkers. On one of his runs he was hit and wounded but continued his task. Another hit killed him. Meanwhile D Coy was also attacked. After the first two waves were repelled, with dead Chinese littering the ground, a third wave followed. This time after bitter fighting the position fell. The few who straggled back spoke of the gallant company commander, Lt. Yog Palta. He moved from bunker to bunker encouraging his men, pausing to fire his Sten gun and hurl grenades. A burst of LMG fire hit him in the neck and with the death of the young commander the position fell. With ammo running out, the end was near. Still the Sikhs fought tenaciously. Two platoons were wiped out to a man. The Chinese dead were piling up all around. Finally the order to withdraw came and what was left of the Sikhs made their way back. Fittingly they were the only troops who captured some Chinese arms.

On November 16th, the Chinese launched an attack against all forward posts. Between 0500 and 0530 hours supported by artillery, mortar and machine gun fire, they attacked the 4th Sikh's A Coy at Maha plateau, north of the D Coy at Lacman Ridge. By 0530 the Sikh positions were overrun and the remaining Sikhs were ordered to withdraw. Now the Gorkhas of D Company were the next target. Subedar Kharak Bahadur commanding the forward platoon held fire till the Chinese closed in. The subsequent firing killed 12 Chinese and wounded 15. A second attack at 0630 hrs was also beaten back. The Chinese now tried to flank the company. Seeing this, Naik Keshar Bahadur Gurung picked his Bren and moved to a vantage point from where he kept engaging the enemy till ordered to withdraw.

By 1500 hrs the Chinese started closing in and the Coy Cdr., Captain K.N. Bavadam, could not contact the Btn or Bde HQ. So he decided to break through the Chinese cordon on his own. He and Subedar Kharak Bahadur evacuated Major Samatsar of 4th Sikh who had been wounded. As the withdrawal proceeded they were ambushed and outnumbered by Chinese units which had slipped around them. Naik Keshar Bahadur Gurung was hit on the hip but continued to fight till another round tore into his neck. He was mortally wounded. Havildar Chandra Bahadur Pun took over the Bren and provided covering firing till the last man was able to withdraw. Unfortunately he was killed in the process. D Company now found themselves in the abandoned positions of the 4th Sikhs C Coy. The Gorkhas occupied the positions and continued the fight. Finally as the Chinese started to rain in artillery, Captain Bavadam asked the Gorkhas to pull back. In this process a number of personnel were killed including Captain Bavadam.

C Coy in Ladders Post lower down the ridge, east of Maha Plateau was commanded by Major N.B. Chand. Maintaining strict fire control the Gorkhas were fighting fiercely. Their position on the Kibithu-Walong track, on the west bank of the Lohit river got its name from the steps cut into the rock face. The Gorkhas positions were in the rock caves. As long as support from the east bank existed, the Gorkhas were safe. The Chinese attacked on 15th morning and suffered heavily. Falling back they blasted the Gorkhas with bazooka fire for the whole day but failed to make any dent. That night they made a second attack and were again repulsed. On 16th morning the Gorkhas watched the attack on the Sikhs position east of the river. The river which was supposed to be un-fordable and un-crossable was crossed by the Chinese using rubber dinghies. Once the Sikhs position fell the Gorkhas were exposed. The Chinese lined up direct fire weapons across the bank and began to methodically blast the Ladders.

The Gorkha bunkers were collapsing one by one but the Gorkhas remained put. Many men were killed in the process and the Major ordered his men to the trenches. The Chinese still could not advance. At 1000 hours, the 4th Sikh's Btn HQ was asked for ammunition and reinforcements but the Sikhs could not spare any. By now, the 4th Sikhs, 4th Dogras and 6th Kumaon had withdrawn. Major Chand ordered his Coy to withdraw at 1630 hours, with most able to escape, except for Major Chand himself, who was captured. Meanwhile east of the Lohit river, A and B Coys, along with the Btn HQ, were in a fix too. The 4th Sikh's C Coy was attacked by the Chinese at midnight on 16th November. A platoon of B Coy was sent to reinforce 4th Sikh at High Plateau. By the time the Gorkhas reached there, the Sikhs were overrun and after a brief firefight the Gorkhas returned.

At 0600 hours, A Coy at Dong Plateau was subjected to heavy shelling and mortar fire. Under this cover the Chinese started edging closer. The shelling by the Chinese set fire to A Coy positions but the Gorkhas hung on tenaciously. At 1430 hrs the Chinese again resumed a build up and as the positions became untenable, Major Chatterjee was ordered to withdraw A and B Coys by Btn HQ. B Coy led by Major R.S. Virk was intercepted by the Chinese. This forced them to change route and they subsequently were lost. 6th Platoon made it to battalion HQ on November 17th only to find the Chinese already there. The rest crossed at Dantir Nallah at 2100 hours on November 16th and were on their way to the hills across Yepak when the Chinese ambushed them further confusing the group.

At the end, Majors Chatterjee and Thapa, Captains S.N. Kapil and G.S. Bajai (artillery) and 60 – 80 ORs were ambushed on November 16th. Except for Captain Bajaj and 2nd Lt. Madaiya who had escaped, the rest were captured. Brigade HQ's orders to withdraw never reached the Gorkhas. Due to this the Chinese had already moved into positions behind them where other units had withdrawn or had collapsed. At 7:30 a.m. on November 16th, the Chinese reinforced by 2 more brigades attacked with 120mm mortar fire. By now communication with Bde. HQ had been cut off. The supply route to Tri Junction was cut off. The only other pocket was at the West Ridge where 4 platoons under the valiant Lt. Bikram Singh. At 8:30 am this ad hoc company was attacked by close to 4000 Chinese troops.

From three sides, the Chinese poured in artillery and MG fire. But the Kumaonis held till 11 a.m. till the situation became militarily futile and orders were given to withdraw. As Lt. Bikram Singh started extricating his men he was cut down. The Chinese suffered terrible casualties (almost 5 times). By midday all troops were asked to withdraw. Some managed to get back through the treacherous terrain. But many NEVER GOT THE ORDERS. They slugged it out to the last man, to the last bullet. As Brigadier N.C. Rawlley said, "6th Kumaon at Tri Junction fought and fought and fought till there was nothing left. After this there was eerie silence." Sikhs, Kumaonis, Gorkhas and Dogras fought shoulder-to-shoulder to the bitter end. Two months after the cease-fire when the Indians returned they found that the Chinese had marked the positions of the dead. Many of the bunkers showed the dead where they had last manned their weapons.


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