Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Five Fundamental Errors

Bunker at Sela pass
Some excerpts of the Henderson-Brooks/Bhagat Report on the 1962 Sino-Indian War.
The Report speaks of Five Fundamental Errors.
These sections deal only with the NEFA operations.

149 The unbalanced posture of our forces in the KAMENG Sector [of NEFA, today Tawang and West Kameng’s district] on the eve of the Chinese offensive needs NO elaboration. TOWANG [Tawang], which should have been the main centre of strength, lacked troops; the bulk having been inveigled to a flank in the NAMKA CHU Valley, without adequate logistic support and in tactically unsound positions. That we continued to oblige the Chinese in this unbalanced posture till they struck was as grave an error as the initial sending of 7 Infantry Brigade into the Valley. These two can be combined and categorized as ‘FUNDAMENTAL ERROR NO 1’. The responsibility for this lies with the Corps Commander [Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul], though both Army Commander [Lt. Gen. L.P. Sen] and the General Staff Army Headquarters could easily also have changed it, had they been more decisive.

150 The rout of 7 Infantry Brigade was a foregone conclusion, but, in its wake, it started the snow-ball of defeat, which was to stop a month later and that also at the instance of the Chinese.

151 It is clear that much of this would have been averted had a clean break been made at TOWANG and the withdrawal to BOMDILA had been carried out as planned. The holding of SELA [pass] was accepted by the Army Commander [Sen], presumably, at the dictates of the General Staff at Army Headquarters [in Delhi]. That SELA was a strong natural tactical position there is NO doubt, but it required both extra troops and logistic support to hold it. Neither of these were planned or provided for by the General Staff or Eastern Command [in Lucknow]. Instead the lull between the two Chinese offensives brought about a sense of complacency and IV Corps were given troops haphazardly and in fits and starts. Little provision was made for adequate logistic support.

152 It is agreed that the NEFA battles were the concern of the [IV] Corps. It must, however, be made clear that this applied to only the tactical sphere. The overall defensive planning and the provision of logistic support must and always should be the concern of the Command [in Lucknow, General Sen] and the General Staff at Army Headquarters [in Delhi]. Unfortunately, the reverse happened. There was interference in the tactical level and the overall planning and provision of logistic support was conspicuous by its absence. The decision for holding SELA [pass] and the lack of overall planning and providing of logistic support can be grouped together as “FUNDAMENTAL ERROR No 2”. The responsibility for this lies jointly with General Staff Army Headquarters and Eastern Command.

153 The dispersal of forces in penny-packets, the complacency shown in the allotting of defence sectors to brigades, and the lack of urgency in developing defenses during the lull period was “FUNDAMENTAL ERROR No 3”. For this the major responsibility was that of the Division [4 Infantry Division]. It also partly reflects on the poor leadership of the [IV] Corps [Kaul] who could have stopped the dispersal and energized the preparation of defences.

Map of Kameng Frontier Division
154 The pendulum swung the other way, once the second Chinese offensive started. There was frenzied reaction to the Chinese approach to BOMDILA [between Sela pass and the foothills] from the NORTH. A battalion was hurriedly ordered up from the main defenses of BOMDILA with inadequate ammunition and fire support, and rushed to THEMBANG to meet the enemy half-way. In the first instance, the sending of this battalion to fight it out by itself in hurriedly prepared defences against a regiment or more was a mistake. Besides, even if the battalion had to be sent, this should have been planned and organized earlier. Inspite of these handicaps the Battalion fought well till its ammunition was spent. That it had to withdraw and then get disintegrated is neither the fault of the Battalion nor of the Brigade. The loss of this Battalion, 5 GUARDS, lies squarely on the [4] Division.

155 On the fall of THEMBANG and the possibility of the Road BOMDILA – DIRANG DZONG being cut and DIRANG DZONG itself being infested brought about a complete frenzy in Divisional Headquarters. Troops from Brigades were rushed for the protection of Divisional Headquarters. Withdrawals were planned and stories concocted to make the withdrawal case stronger. Indeed it reached the pitch when 62 Infantry Brigade was led to believe it was in danger. A withdrawal on it was forced so that Divisional Headquarters could withdraw.

156 NOT content with that the Division committed the Brigade to withdraw within a matter of hours on night 17/18 November the battalion holding KAILA Pass. This was the turning point in the Fall of SELA. The withdrawal of this battalion led to the panic in 1 SIKH and the abandonment of SELA and eventual disintegration of 62 Infantry Brigade.

157 The last role of the Divisional Headquarters was its flight. A strong force of all arms of over 2500 vanished within a matter of minutes. This was NOT the fault of the troops nor of the units but of the lack of centralized leadership and control in the face of the enemy. A coordinated force of that size had more than even chance of getting to BOMDILA. Efforts of a few officers, particularly those of Capt N.N. RAWAT, could NOT, however, replace disintegration of command.

158 All the above Divisional reactions can be grouped under “FUNDAMENTAL ERROR No 4”, and was fairly and squarely due to the acts and omissions of Headquarters 4 Infantry Division.

159 The Division dissolved and the last of its brigades was next to be broken up by Corps or more accurately, by a ‘Triumvirate’ comprised of the Army Commander [Sen], the Corps Commander [Kaul], and the Director of Military Operations [Maj. Gen. D.K. Palit]. Ignorant of the tactical layout, out of touch with the situation in BOMDILA, they planned an ordered the moving out of a sizeable force from the already bare BOMDILA defences. NOT that they were NOT warned, and ‘irrespective of what happed to BOMDILA’ they ordered a force to open the Road BOMDILA – DIRANG DZONG. For what purpose and for whom on the morning of 18 November is NOT clear.

160 The ordering out of the force was directly responsible for the fall of BOMDILA. There were four companies left in the BOMDILA defences. Indeed, on the flank where the Chinese attacked, there was one platoon, where there should have been a battalion. This then was “FUNDAMENTAL ERROR No5” and it sealed the fate of BOMDILA. The planners and orderers must take the blame for this.

161 BOMDILA fall. It was now the Corps Commander’s turned to give orders and counter-orders as to where the Chinese should be held. It was first BOMDILA, then right back to FOOT HILLS, then forward to RUPA, and, finally midway to CHAKU. To blame the hapless Brigade Commander of NOT being able to restore the situation is to find a scapegoat. Under the circumstances, the resistance that was offered and that the Brigade remained a fighting force, despite these orders and counter-orders- some direct to units – was due to the Brigade Commander keeping his head and striving till the last to organize what little force he had.

162 Thus ends the story of the famous ‘Fighting Fourth’ [Brigade]. In the end all that could be mustered for the last fight were six weak infantry companies out of a total force of sixteen battalions and countless other troops of the supporting arms and services.

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