Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No air support to the 7 Infantry Brigade in 1962

 Air Force Officers with Monpas (Photo Bharat Rakshak)
I am posting two documents showing one of greatest folly of the 1962 War, namely the Indian leaders did not think of using the Air Force for the operations in the Eastern Sector.
The first document, a Top Secret assessment drafted in 1946 by the Commander-in Chief's Office with the War Department in London showing that Tibet can defended by Air.
The second document is an assessment by Brig. Lakshman Singh, a young Captain in 1962. He was then posted as Signals Officer of 7 Brigade on the Namkha chu/Ziminthang area. 
He is the author of Letters From The Border And Other Less Told Stories.
He explained the reasons why, according to him, the Air Force did not participate to the 1962 Operations.
The fate of the War would have certainly been different if the top Army brass in Delhi had just thought of the Air Force.



The D.M.O. (I) [Directorate of Military Operations, India] referred to a new General Staff appreciation that was being prepared on the military assistance that India would give to TIBET if the latter was attacked by either Russia or China.

2. A draft copy of this, which I bought home, is put up for information. This is a draft only at present and has NOT yet been approved by the C-in-C [Commander in Chief] or C.O.S. [Chief of Staff] India. [it was later approved].

3. An outline of the paper is as follows:  

...13. British Military position.
BRITISH ability to give direct military aid to TIBET depends on the following factors:-

  • Maintenance capacity by air.
  • Maintenance capacity by road.
  • Availability of troops, aircraft and TIBETAN airfields.
  • Time factor.
  • Ability of the TIBETANS to help themselves.
These factors will now be studied in turn.

14. Maintenance capacity by air.
  1. Working from airfields in the TEZPUR and DINJAN area. DAKOTA type aircraft could take a 3000 lb pay load to LHASA. The distance is 300 miles. The maximum number of transport aircraft likely to be available, as shown in the lowest limit for the Post War Air Force in INDIA is 7 squadrons, with a potential average serviceability of 16 aircraft, and lift of 24 tons, per squadron. The gross lift is 168 tons per sortie. Two sorties might be flown per / day giving a total daily lift of 36 tons.
  2. It is proposed to retain at least 5 airfields in NE [North East] ASSAM. This number is sufficient to provide bases for all the aircraft that would be required. Administrative base facilities either exist or could be rapidly improvised. Rail facilities for bases and airfields are sufficient.
  3. One Infantry Division normally requires 150 tons maintenance per day. In TIBET however, few vehicles would be require and fighting would not be on a heavy scale. Maintenance requirements may be calculated at 125 tons per day for one division. Approx 210 tons per day is therefore available for special engineer stores and air force requirements during the initial build up.
  4. The meteorological conditions in NE ASSAM will probably allow the following percentages of maximum air effort to be achieved in each month.
    Jan 95        Jul 50
    Feb 85        Aug 50
    Mar 85        Sep 60
    Apr 85        Oct 80
    May 70        Nov 95
    Jun 50        Dec 95
It should be noted therefore that the speed of the build up and degree of safety margin will vary with the season in which operations have to be carried out. The figures given in para 17 (c) below should therefore be road with caution, though in fact they are unlikely to be greatly exceeded.
5) We have not sufficient information on flying conditions in SE [South East] TIBET to say whether they vary greatly from those in NE ASSAM. More meteorological information of SE TIBET must be obtained. A full meteorological appreciation of the whole area is the first essential if detailed plans are to be prepared.
Maintenance capacity by road.
(a) Although there are several possible tracks loading into SE TIBET from BRITISH, INDIA, the only one feasible for use by a force larger than a company is the KALIMPONG-GYANTSE-LHASA, trade route. This is only a pack track buy could possibly be made suitable for jeeps by
  • Extensive rebuilding in the sector where it crosses the HIMALAYAS;
  • Provision of ferry facilities over the Tsang PO (BRAHMAPUTRA), South of LHASA;
  • Minor improvements and grading elsewhere.
(b) The railhead and base facilities that could be quickly got ready in the KALIMPONG-SILIGURI areas would suffice for a brigade group.
(c) The distance from a railhead at KALIMPONG ROAD to LHASA is 12 miles by NT road followed by approximately 250 miles of pack track. About 17000 animals would be needed to maintain a brigade group at LHASA by this route. It is doubtful if these could be provided, ever with the fullest cooperation of the Tibetans.
(d)    I t is not therefore worthwhile to send by land forces other than those which may be needed to prepare for the reception or air forces or air borne troops.
16. Availability of troops. Aircraft and TIBETAN airfields.
(a)    It may be assumed that one div, which is the largest force that can be maintained, could be made available.

(b)    The availability of transport aircraft for this operation has already been discussed in para 14 above. After the initial build up the number of squadrons required for maintenance might to reduce to 3 or 4.

(c)    It is impossible to estimate what offensive aircraft will be available: but the open nature of the country, the sparseness of population, and the fewness of tracks would probably enable one tactical reconnaissance squadron based in TIBET to cover the front of the whole of the div. Fighter cover could be provided from ASSAM when required, and preparations should be made to enable fighters to step forward should the enemy start to build up his air resources. Light Bombers of the Mosquito type could bomb or reconnoiter enemy rear maintenance areas.

(d)    Sites for airfields are believed to exist at TUNA [Chumbi Valley], LHASA and MANE KHORCHEN. It may also be possible to build an airfield at CHAMDO. Reconnaissance should be made now to clarify these points. All the above places are important, and would be used in the initial fly in. To hasten concentration, therefore, and to avoid uneconomical use of para troops, if their use is feasible in the circumstances at the time, arrangements should be made to improve, and keep in reasonable repair, the sites of any possible airfields at the above places.
17. The Time Factor
(a) From the time of their initial entry into SINKIANG. The RUSSIANS could produce forces in the LHASA area. As follows:-

(i) One brigade group maintained by land, 2 and half months
(ii) Alternatively, if it stopped to build maintenance airfields, 12 months
(iii) One div air supplied, 18 months
In addition
(a) A small force of mounted infantry from SINKIANG to GARYARSA [Gartok] (Western TIBET), 2 months
(b)    From the time they crossed the TIBETAN border, the CHINESE could produce forces in the LHASA area as follows:
(i) One brigade group via CHAMDO [Kham], 1 month
(ii) On brigade group via MANE KHORCHEN  [Eastern Tibet], 1 and half month

In addition: A small force of mounted infantry from SINKIANG to GARYARSA, 2 months.

(c)     Assuming that preparation had been made in the base areas in INDIA, and that our troops and aircraft had been concentrated there when RUSSIAN or CHINESE intentions against TIBET become obvious, we could carry out the following:
• Parachute engineers to TUNA, LHASA, MANE KHORCHEN and possibly CHAMDO, 3-7 days.
• One Brigade group to 1- 2 weeks
a) One bd group to MANE KHORCHEN, 1 – 1 and 1/2 weeks.
b) One brigade group to CHAMDO, 1-2 WEEKS
(a) One bd group to CHAMDO, 1-1 and 1/2 weeks.
(b) One additional brigade group to DRAS, 2-4 weeks.
(c) One small detachment at GARYRSA, 1 month (except between Oct-April).
If paratroops cannot be dropped on the Tibetan plateau owing to the height, the timings will be delayed by the period required to make local arrangements to prepare landing strips for transport aircraft. This might entail a delay of at least a month.
(d)    Our forces can probably therefore forestall either the RUSSIANS or CHINESE at the vital points of LHASA and MANE KHORCHEN, providing parachute engineers can prepare the landing strips, but the CHINESE would probably reach CHAMDO first.
The conclusions of the Note were:
•  That Tibetan Government should be approached to arrange for a nucleus of officers and NCOs for a M.I. Group (3,000 men) to be raised in India. This Bde [Brigade ] Group is for purpose of imposing delay on enemy operation on main approaches to LHASA.
•  Suitable equipment should be provided free or at a nominal cost.
•  A resident Military Mission should reside in TIBET.
•  The maximum aid that can be given is one air supplied and air transported division with offensive air support.
The Outline Plan included:
•  Construction of certain airfields by arrangement with TIBET
•  Detailed plans to be drawn up when Russian intentions against SINKIANG [Xinjiang], CHINGHAI [Qinghai] OR KANSU [Gansu province] are obviously hostile.
•  A meteorological appreciation of the whole area to be put in hand early.
•  Plan envisages employment of two bde gps in event of either Russian or Chinese aggression singly, or of one div. less one bde gp in event of attack by both, together with seven transport squadrons initially.
Finally, London believed: "This paper is prepared on the assumption that TIBET remains autonomous. I discussed with DMO who agreed that, if CHINA regained control of TIBET and entered into agreement with RUSSIA, our task would be much more difficult owing to the feet that we should not get prior information of Russian/Chinese intentions."
The use of Air Force was not only envisaged, but recommended.

It was forgotten a few years later when China attacked India.

The Official Report of the War
It is worth also quoting some portions of the Official Report of the 1962 prepared by the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the subject.
The MoD Report says:
Another aspect that comes up in any discussion is the non-use of close air support or the offensive air weapon, by both sides. Though mainly in the realm of speculation, what could have happened had air power been used in support of the ground troops throws up interesting possibilities. In fact this is a famous ‘If’ of recent Indian military history and well deserves some discussion.

…Air Strengths and Deployment
Ever since the experience of Second World War, it has been axiomatic that the use of fighter and bomber aircraft in support of ground troops was an integral part of all wars. On the eve of the 1962 conflict both China and India had fairly large air forces. The Chinese are estimated to have had about 1,500 frontline aircrafts while the Indian Air Force had 550 Fighter and Fighter Bombers. One noteworthy feature of 1962 conflict is that while on the India side there was at least air transport activity, on the Chinese side there was complete absence of any flights. In the early 50s when the Chinese moved against the Tibetans, there were reports if use of aircraft to bomb and strafe the Tibetan resistance strongholds, but in 1962 the Chinese Air Force as well as IAF fighters and bombers, were conspicuous by their absence.

…There is no accurate or authentic documentation of the thinking that was behind this decision to desist from use of the offensive air support. Air Marshall H.C. Dawan (Redt), the then Director of Operations at the Air HQ has recounted that he had sent a note to Chief of Air Staff about the use of offensive air support. His main conclusion was that the terrain in the area of operations, specially NEFA, being heavily jungle-covered, close air support would be difficult and could have very little effect on dispersed infantry. Since there was no possibility of large concentration of tanks and or vehicles in these areas, there were no worthwhile targets for the Air Force. His note further states that since India troops were critically dependent on air supply, it was best not to provoke the Chinese. Referring to the large size of the Chinese air force, he made a point that while China could easily replenish her losses, India could not. He also mentioned that Pakistan’s attitude was a question mark, and the IAF resources had to be kept in the west to deal with that threat. The note concluded by referring to international repercussions of this, as the whole world would know that India has ‘escalated’ the conflict. This would deprive India of internationals public sympathy which was with it as a victim of the aggression. Most of these considerations were equally applicable to Ladakh.

…The issue of the offensive air support is a continuous one. The advice given in 1962 by Air HQ lacked depth and was perhaps unduly pessimistic. The role played by a foreign Ambassador (U.S.) appears to have been crucial and negative to the outcome of the fighting. This might or might not have been part of a larger US design to get India under its fold, as nearly happened in the aftermath of 1962 debacle.
The conclusions about threats to India cities were much exaggerated and the same date when analyzed today has yielded different conclusions namely, India had an edge in the air. Recently a defence analyst has noted that at that time the Chinese Air Force was virtually grounded due to the dispute with Soviet Union, leading to shortage of spares. The Soviet Union also tilted its supply the transport balance in favour of India through its supply of the then top of the shelf AN-12s and MI-4s.
It was obvious that the threats on Indian cities was nonsensical.

by Brigadier Lakshman Singh
(Sino Indian conflict Op, Leghorn, NEFA 20th, 0ctober 1962)
The twin tailed Vampire fighters of IAF at Tezpur airbase regularly burnt rubber on the tarmac, taking off and landing, sorties after sorties honing their flying skills. It was a reassuring sight as they  flew low over our Signal Regiment mess, located near by.
There was a GLO (Ground Liaison Officer) attached to the Brigade HQ, I had also been instructed to keep my BE 201, Ground to Air set switched on all the times as it could be required as short notice.
Sited as we were, it was a different question as to what the GLO could have seen and on what target he could have directed the fighters. Chinese, in any case were all in the open and had the fighters arrived they would not have needed to be guided, they would have found any number of targets of opportunity to neutralize, it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel.
All it was a conjecture, when needed the Air support was conspicuous by its absence. The Chinese in retaliation will bomb Calcutta, if India brought in`Offensive Air Support' was one of the theories which went round later to explain this unexplainable.
Why should Chinese bomb a civilian target when non-of their cities was threatened, remains unexplained. Having intruded all the way into the India air space, they would also have to face the IAF. In any case there were many more lucrative targets available to them; the Div Tac HQ [Divisional Tactical Headquarters] sited in the open at Khinzamani, the Brigade complex at Towang [Tawang], the DZ`s [dropping zone] at Tsangdhar, Lumpu and Lumla, the Airforce station and Div HQ at Tezpur, and even later at Drang [Dirang] Dzong, all unprotected, bare like a new born baby.
Possibly that was the cause and not Calcutta, and the reason for `No Protection'  was simple; The integral LAA [Light Anti Aircraft] regiment has been rendered ineffective with no communication resources left with the regiment. They were now possibly acting as a transit camp.
There was a valid reason for this action and which must have been based on sound intelligence inputs or `gut' feeling about the ultimate Chinese intentions. What had happened that all the fresh units being rushed and  inducted in the battle-zone were found to be arriving without their integral radio sets. The various ad hoc HQs and entities being setup also required communication resources, which were neither available in situ nor were any where in the pipe line.
I was the Signals officer of 7 Brigade and my own meager resources were the only one to grab, albeit zealously guarded by me under the circumstances.
The easy solution evolved by some one, normally it is The `G' branch which controls such issues, was to withdraw the 62 Sets from the LAA Regiment regiment and distribute the same on as-required basis. It is  for sure since I also got a few, to augment my resources, with the characteristic unit and sub unit signs painted on. Interestingly, I also received some audit queries later, regarding the fate of the sets that were issued to my section.
In retrospect the cure was worse than the malady, with obvious results. However, the question remains; was the Air effort demanded at all by any one in the chain, the 7 Brigade (not to my knowledge unless it was done by telephone) HQ 4 Div or HQ 4 Corps and if so was it denied at some level in Delhi.

This is what Brig PS GILL the then CSO 4 Corps at Tezpur had to say on my theory sent to him by E-mail
1. Offensive Air Support was not even considered (at the appropriate levels) because of the belief the Enemy will not go on the offensive.
2. Also because NO one was sure how Air Maintenance in general (not only to 7 Bde) and movement of helicopters and such like, would be effected, there were doubts all round. As far as I can remember, the Air Force showed no keenness.
3. Because of the haste attending the Namka Chu Foray NO Planning for a protracted Operation had been envisaged. Leave that aside it was realised within a week or so (from 5 or 6 Oct) that the whole affair had been BOTCHED; and paralysis had set in. In fact the 'Botched Feeling' was noticeable all round and all levels recall also there was talk of leave being opened soon.

No comments: