|The Battle of Rezang-la|
A few months ago, I interviewed the 90-year old Wing Commander who had the privilege to fly 11 years on the famous Canberras, out of which, during 8 years, he was part of top-secret 106 Squadron.
He received his first MVC for his role in reconnaissance missions over the Aksai Chin and Tibet, between 1960 and 1962.
Even during the Sino-Indian War (October-November 1962), he flew over Tibet; the MVC citation says: “As Flight Commander of an Operational Squadron , Squadron Leader Jag Mohan Nath has fulfilled a number of hazardous operations tasks involving flying over difficult mountain terrain, both by day and by night, in adverse weather conditions and in complete disregard of his personal safety. He has displayed conspicuous gallantry, a very high sense of duty and a high degree of professional skill.”
His missions proved immensely useful to learn everything about the Chinese military build-up on the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately, the political leadership refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during his sorties or use the information gathered.
‘Jaggi’ Nath’s conclusions were that China had NO Air Force on the Tibetan plateau in 1962.
The fate of the Sino-Indian War could have been totally different had India used its own Air Force, but the Government in Delhi chose to ignore to the findings of the brave airman.
Wing Commander explained: “If we had sent a few airplanes (into Tibet), we could have wiped the Chinese out and everything could have been different in the 1962 War. The political leadership did not believe me that China had no Air Force. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had used the IAF at that time? The Chinese would have never dared do anything down the line.”
It is one of the greatest tragedies of India’s modern history.
A few Notes exchanged between India and China
A note given by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing to the Chinese the Embassy of India in China brings more light on the extent of reconnaissance that 106 Squadron did before the War.
The note is dated October 11, 1962.
On September 8, Dhola Post in the Tawang sector was surrounded by some 600 Chinese soldiers; the India Army chose to respond aggressively.
The Henderson-Brook Report mentioned that on September 12, four days after Dhola was surrounded, the Eastern Command’s Commander, Lt Gen LP Sen told Lt Gen Umrao Singh, the Corps Commander and Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad, the Division Commander that the "[Indian] Government would not accept any intrusion of the Chinese into our territory. If they come in, they must be thrown out by force.”
A month later, the People’s Liberation Army would massively attack the 7 Infantry Brigade headquartered on the Namkha chu (river).
The debacle which followed is too well known to be recounted.
What is not known is that the IAF knew everything about the Chinese deployment.
The above-mentioned Chinese note says: “In the night of October 10, 1962, an Indian aircraft intruded into China's air space over the suburbs of Lhasa at 20:15 hours for reconnaissance and then flew northward along the Chinghai-Tibet (Qinghai-Tibet) highway to Damshune [Damchung, north of Lhasa where an airfield is located] where it made reconnaissance circlings over a Chinese airfield and then flew away in the direction of India.”
Damchung had been the main airport used by the Chinese in Tibet since 1955.
The note from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued: “The deep intrusion of Indian aircraft into China for flagrant reconnaissance over the capital city of, and an airfield in Tibet was obviously an action coordinated with the current military attacks by the aggressive Indian troops in the eastern sector of the Sino Indian border. The Chinese Government hereby lodges a serious protest with the Indian Government against this action and warns the Indian side that it must give serious thought to the grave consequences of such increasingly frantic activities of aggression.”
What to conclude?
China had no Air Force able to counter the Indian reconnaissance flights and no air defence able to shoot down the Indian Canberras.
Two days later (on October 13, 1962), the Ministry of External Affairs denied the Chinese ‘allegations’: “This allegation is not only completely groundless but definitely mischievous and deliberately designed to confuse the people of China, more particularly of the Tibet Region of China, with a view to seeking their support for the irresponsible and wanton aggression into Indian territory by Chinese forces across the Thagla ridge and their unprovoked cold-blooded attack on an Indian post in Indian territory on the morning of the 10th October 1962.”
|Flying deep into Tibet|
It could be, in view of the arrogance of the Defence Minister.
South Block assured Beijing: “All Indian aircraft have strict instructions to keep within the international frontiers of India and these are fully observed. The fantastic and absurd allegation of an Indian aircraft having intruded into the air space over the suburbs of Lhasa is a deliberate and mischievous invention of the Chinese authorities who seem determined to resort to all sorts of unscrupulous devices to mislead the Chinese public and to whip up anti- Indian feelings amongst the people of China.”
On October 17, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing wrote again to the Indian embassy in China: “The Indian Government, disregarding the repeated protests lodged by the Chinese Government, continues to dispatch its airplanes to intrude into China's air space. In the two months of August and September, 1962, there were another 140 verified cases of air intrusions, totalling 161 sorties (59 cases totalling 64 sorties in August, and 81 cases totalling 97 sorties in September, for details see Appendix). The intruding Indian planes wilfully circled low over Chinese territory for reconnaissance purposes, some even repeatedly circled 13 times and for as long as an hour and 40 minutes.”
It alleged that Indian helicopters “even openly landed on Chinese territory for a number of times and transported military personnel for the aggressive Indian strongpoints.”
This was wrong, as the posts were within the Indian territory, though it is true that China had different ‘perceptions’ about the location of the international border in this area.
Beijing complained that in September, “Indian planes further made large-scale intrusions into the area of Le Village in Tibet, China, this was obviously for the purpose of coordinating with the military action taken by the aggressive Indian troops in the Che Dong area of Le Village.”
Che Dong is the Chinese name for Dhola; it was certainly not under the jurisdiction of Le (or Lepo), the first Tibetan village, north of Khenzimane, the last border post in India.
The Chinese Government lodged again a protest because India was “frequently dispatching Indian planes to intrude into China's air space and deliberately aggravating tension on the Sino-Indian border. It is absolutely impermissible for Indian planes to intrude endlessly into China's sacred air space.”
Had India extensively used her Air Force and not lost the War, what could have been different?
- One can imagine that the casualties would have been less on the Indian side and more of the Chinese.
- The number of Indian PoWs who suffered seven months in Tibet, would have been far less.
- The Line of Actual Control would have remained where it was in September 1959, and the border dispute with China would not been so acute today.
- The Shaksgam Valley would have not been offered to China by Pakistan in 1963.
- Mao Zedong would have lost his job, and perhaps no Cultural Revolution would have taken place three years later. As a result, China would have been completely different today (read my post)
- There would be no scar on Indian psyche as there is today.
- No complex of inferiority vis-a-vis China as we often encounter in India today.
- The fate of the Tibetan people would have certainly been different.
- The history of the War (i.e. the Henderson-Brooks Bhagat Report) would be opened to all and not hidden in an almirah in South Block.
- And in 1965, Pakistan would have perhaps thought twice before venturing in Operation Gibraltar, in order to infiltrate military forces into Jammu and Kashmir to create an insurgency against Indian rule, which resulted in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965.
- and many more consequences...
Three years later, India had learnt her lesson, an Air Force can be useful …and by that time, there was a more decisive Chief of Air Staff (Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh).
It made all the difference and 'Jaggi' Nath was awarded his second MVC.