But, let us be honest, during the first weeks of October 1950, Tibet was invaded by China, not ‘liberated’ of anything.
Nehru and Tibet
As the PLA makes lightning advances in Kham province, the Indian Prime Minister talks of Peace.
On November 19, 1950, Nehru writes a note to the Foreign Secretary; he is deeply upset with the notes/cables received from Harishwar Day, the Political Officer in Sikkim and Sumul Sinha, the head of the Indian Mission in Lhasa.
Nehru explains: “I am a little tired of reading the telegrams that come to us from our Mission in Lhasa and our Representative in Sikkim.”
While a drama unfolds on India’s borders, the Prime Minister (who is also Foreign Minister) is ‘tired’ of these two remarkable diplomats: “They are full of their advice to us as to what we should do and criticism of us for what we may have done. I think that it is about time that we reminded these representatives of ours what their functions are and what they are supposed, and what not, to do," remarks Nehru.
The note, addressed to K.P.S. Menon, the then Foreign Secretary, continues: “We want from them full information and appraisals of the situation. We want also their own recommendations. But, it seems to me that their messages go beyond this and indicate a lack of confidence in the Government of India and an apprehension that we might do the wrong thing unless they stop us from doing it. They live in remote parts, cut off from the rest of the world, and judge all world events from their own immediate environments. They appear to have hardly any conception of broad policies in terms of what is happening in the world.”
Dayal and Sinha are probably unable to 'understand' the implications of what is happening in the Korean peninsula and the ‘mediator’ role that Nehru wants to play in the crisis, but these two officers are witnessing of one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, a peaceful independent nation is engulfed by a bully neighbour in the name of ‘liberation’.
Nehru further observes that the last paragraph in a telegram from Lhasa (from Sinha) is ‘extraordinary’: “Our representative in Lhasa says that he would be grateful if the Government of India do not adopt a certain policy. Exactly whom does he represent there and on whose behalf is he going to be grateful? This is not a personal concern of his.”
The Prime Minister finally requests the Foreign Secretary to send some message to both Lhasa and Sikkim, “pointing out the functions of our representatives there.”
A Note from Harishwar Dayal
Two days later, on November 21, not knowing that the Prime Minister is ‘tired’ of his comments, Harishwar Dayal sends a long legal note to the Ministry of External Affairs on the importance of Tibet for India.
His points are deeply relevant to the situation on India's borders.
In the last paragraph of his communication, Dayal ‘dares’ to quote the letter from Hugh Richardson sent on June 15, 1949 addressed to South Block.
The British-born first ‘Indian’ representative in Lhasa (he will be replaced by Sinha in August 1950) had suggested that India might consider occupying Chumbi Valley up to Phari ‘in an extreme emergency.’
Take the control of the Chumbi Valley
More than a year later, Dayal brings again the same suggestion: “This suggestion was NOT favoured by Government of India at the time. It was however proposed as a purely defensive measure and with NO aggressive intention. An attack on Sikkim or Bhutan would call for defensive military operations by the Government of India,” he writes.
It is what China’s PLA theorists today call ‘active defence’.
Dayal explains his reasoning: “In such a situation occupation of the Chumbi Valley might be a vital factor in defence. In former times it formed part of the territories of the rulers of Sikkim from whom it was wrested by the Tibetans by force. It is now a thin wedge between Sikkim and Bhutan and through it lie important routes to both these territories. Control of this region means control of both Jelep La and Nathu La routes between Sikkim and Tibet as well as of the easiest routes into Western Bhutan both from our side and from Tibetan side. It is a trough with high mountains to both east and west and thus offers good defensive possibilities. I would therefore suggest that possibility of occupying the Chumbi Valley be included in any defensive military plans though this step would NOT of course be taken unless we became involved in military operations in defence of our borders.”
The Political Officer probably does not realize that China is a ‘friend’!
And he has not yet been informed that the Prime Minister was tired of his comments!
What may have prompted Dayal to write this letter is probably a meeting with members of the Himmatsinghji Committee, who are preparing a contingency plan to defend India’s borders. They may have asked him to put his views in writing in order to put some pressure on the pacifists in South Block which could only see the ‘wider perspectives’.
Retrospectively, only a solution such as the one suggested by Harishwar Dayal, could have stopped the advance of the Chinese troops.
But India's official political thinking was elsewhere. A few days earlier, Nehru explained to K.M. Panikkar, his ambassador in Beiing: “Our present policy is primarily based on avoidance of world war; and secondly on maintenance of honourable and peaceful relations with China.”
Well, China had other objectives.
I am posting below the Detailed Report on Battle of Chamdo by the 52nd Division of the 18th Army of the People’s Liberation Army.
The source of this text in Chinese is The Liberation of Chamdo, compiled by Office of Editing and Research, Political Department, Chengdu Military Area Command and Tibet Military Area Command (Chengdu, 1991).
It has been translated by two independent researchers Jianglin Li and Matthew Akester and the entire text in English is available on their blog.
Of course, it reflects the views of Mao Zedong and the Communist Party of China, but it shows that the Battle of Chamdo was a military operation conducted in a professional manner by the 18th Army, as well as other supporting forces coming from the North (Qinghai, then Amdo province of Tibet).
There was no question of ‘peace’ or ‘negotiations’ for Mao (Nehru was banking on 'talks' to peacefully solve the issue)).
Further, it is clear for the Great Helmsman that it is only the first stage before an advance towards Lhasa during the next season.
What is surprising is the elaborate planning of this military operation. Comparatively, the leaderless Tibetans are novices and stand no chance in front of the calculated tactical moves of the PLA.
It should also be noted that the Chinese learned a lot during the Chamdo operations; this is apparent in the Summary.
Did they learn for another operation, 12 years later, on the other side of the Himalayan slopes?
Probably. Look at their slogans:
Surround more, annihilate more; surround less, annihilate less
Cutting into the heart of the enemy position, penetrating, separating, surrounding and annihilating the enemy
India learned nothing during these 12 years. This is another tragedy.
India is still suffering of the crushing defeat of 1962. Stigmas of the rout are still visible in the Indian psyche.
Here is the Chinese narrative of The Battle of Chamdo.
After crossing the Jinsha river [Tib: Drichu or Upper Yantze] from October 6th to 9th, troops reached the vast plateau of a thousand li [1000 li, c. 500 km] in length and width and in coordination with brother troops, units of this division were divided into three wings, left, middle and right, forming the assault on Chamdo, a powerful pincer attack targetting the 1500-li-long position of the Tibetan army commanded by Chamdo Governor Lhalu.
During the fourteen days of rapid advance and fighting, all units were moving across the unfamiliar plateau without accurate maps.
Soldiers carried loads of 60 or 70 jin,[ c. 30 to 35 kg] climbed more than 50 high mountains and crossed rivers over 60 times.
On average, foot soldiers cover 72 li , [36 km] cavalry 80 li [40 km] a day, those who had to march day and night moved up to 34 hours continuously without enough food. However, (all units) answered the call by party committees of both the army and the division and endured extreme hardship, annihilated all the defending enemies in Chamdo on schedule, and successfully completed the capture of Chamdo.
The success of this battle, …annihilated five Dapons [commander of a regiment], the main force of the Tibetan army, and over 2000 militia, liberated the region north to Qinghai, south to Yunnan, east to Jinsha river, west to Luolong [Lhorong Dzong] and Leiwuqi [Riwoche], a vast area more than one thousand square li. The success further strengthened our unity with Tibetans west of the Jinsha river, laid the foundation for advancing next year (1951), struck blows directly and indirectly at the British and American imperialist invaders, inspired people in the near east and repaid the people of the whole country who had warmly supported us.
…Tibetans have warmly supported us (taking in and escorting individual stragglers, delivering information, guiding the way, providing transportation, building bridges, preparing firewood and fodder, etc.), all of this shows that we had good influence by carrying out the policies conscientiously before the attack and shows the tangible benefits brought to Tibetans during our westward march. This is a small accomplishment we achieved in the past, and it is also a major pointer for the future in the liberation and construction of Tibet.
In this battle, troops advanced rapidly for 15 days with heavy loads across the high plateau a thousand kilometers in length and width, wrapping up…entire (enemy?) position 1500 li [750 km] in length and accomplished the task on schedule, completely annihilated the third (two Dapons), the seventh, the eighth, the fifth and the tenth Dapon, altogether five Dapons (averaging small regiments) under Tibetan Frontier Envoy Commissioner General,[The Chamdo governor was the ‘Domey Chikyap’ or ‘Eastern Governor’] captured…over 3000 men. This victory is fundamentally due to correct leadership by leading officers of the Military Area Command and the Army Party Committee, strong support from the people of the whole country, coordination from brother troops (particularly engineer corps), favourable influence created by advanced detachment through their hard work and carrying out policies conscientiously, and the eight-month long preparation. All of these contributed to the successful conclusion of this battle.
Review of the battle process is as follows:
|Surround more, annihilate more; surround less, annihilate less|
(I) Judgement of enemy situation:
- Based on information obtained by the advanced detachment and by our own battle experience, in terms of the arrangement of their position, the enemy had no focus, no depth and attached no importance to flanks.
- Enemy lacks systematic strategic planning and command, they fought wherever they were attacked and were easily misled by us. After we crossed the river from Dengke [Dengo or Denkok on the Yangtze river], it was quite possible that the enemy might mistakenly believe, based on historical experience, that we were going to take Lhasa by way of Yushu [today’s Yushu prefecture, Qinghai] and Heihe [Nagchu].
- The enemy had never experienced large scale battle, had no knowledge of modern military science and was equipped with few heavy weapons. Their combat capability was not strong. After our powerful military forces crossed the Jinsha river, it was estimated that the following three changes may appear:
- Retreat without fighting and escape without hesitation. If this happened, it would definitely make it more difficult for us to annihilate the enemy.
- Scatter at the first contact, and the possibility of scattering everywhere in the mountains and wilderness to entangle us also existed. This would make it even more difficult for us to annihilate the enemy.
- Concentrate forces and put up strong resistance in strategic locations. This was exactly what we were hoping for, for we were absolutely sure that we would annihilate them thoroughly, straightforwardly and completely.
- In the Dengke battle, (we) did not seize the moment of strength to strike the enemy a fatal blow. The enemy might mistakenly have thought that our combat capability was not strong, getting arrogant and inattentive enough to confront us.
(II) Determination and DeploymentLiberating Chamdo, annihilating the main force of the Tibetan army in the area east of Lanchang river [Upper Mekong], Enda and Leiwuqi [Riwochey] lays the foundation for advance into Lhasa next year (1951) and liberate the entire Tibet. (We) decided to deploy a powerful right-flank encircling force composed of infantry and cavalry, providing strong points to offset each other’s weaknesses, making a detour via Batang and Nanqian [Nangchen] and pushing forward vigorously and precipitately. Troops should not be blocked by small numbers of enemy, doing everything possible to clear away obstacles and circle bravely…the entire field, cutting off the enemy’s retreats from Enda to Taizhao [Gyamda Dzong in Kongpo] and from Leiwuqi to Heihe, the two main escape routes, making it impossible for enemies to escape even if they intended to slip away without fighting.
Performance of troops in this wing is the key to success or failure in annihilating more than three Dapons of the enemy force. The middle wing cut into the heart of the enemy position by way of Shengda [Jomda county in today’s Chamdo prefecture], Yayaosongduo [Yayu Sumdo], Yiquka, Dongdong Zhuka, Duozhiduo, etc, cutting into the heart of the enemy position, penetrating, separating, surrounding and annihilating the enemy within the entire enemy position and advancing straight to Chamdo.
If the enemy did not rest, we wouldn’t rest; when the enemy took rest, we annihilate them. The left wing force crossed the river at Gangtuo [Kamtok], marching slowly by way of Tongpu, Jiangda [Jomda] and Jueyong to draw in the enemy. They seized the Damala Pass and controlled Sichuan bridge. Our slogans were “not to worry about breaking up Tibetan army’s positions, but to worry whether we can surround them. Surround more, annihilate more; surround less, annihilate less.”
II. Review of the Battle [not available]
III. A few experiences from the battle
(I) Experiences of fighting the Tibetan army
- All Tibetan troops were organized in a comparatively primitive way. Troops have neither (commanding) offices nor maps. Everything was handled by one single officer-in-charge. Special reconnaissance troops and communication tools were very outdated. Everything relied on wula, and as a result the upper and lower could not communicate during the battle. For example, during the battle when Gaqionba, the third Dapon, retreated in defeat from Jiangda to Chamdo, he was surprised to meet Moxia [Mucha] Dapon, and only at that time did he come to know that the Liberation Army had passed Dengke [Dengo] and that Moxia [Mucha] had been defeated too.
- They did not fight aggressively and lacked counter attack ability. In several battles we did not find the enemy launching strong counter attacks.
- Lack of systematic strategic thinking, as expressed by:
- No attention paid to protect flank and rear while deploying the forces. As seen from the deployment of this battle, three Dapons positioned in the front had fallen into our horseshoe-shape encirclement, 200 men were still deployed in the Leiwuqi flank.
- No knowledge of using the terrain to block our advance. While chasing and attacking the enemy, none of the bridges and passes in the route were destroyed, particularly the Sichuan bridge (this bridge is like the gateway to Chamdo). The 156th regiment was half a day’s distance from the enemy, when they advanced and seized the bridge, it was left intact.
- No night combat experience. Falling into disorder as soon as fighting began, each man escaping on his own. This was how the enemy behaved in the battle of Jueyong.
- No guards posted at encampments. In Jueyong one squad of our reconnaissance battalion sneaked into the enemy’s tents at night, and only then did they find out and began screaming and running about in disorder.
- Enemies were slow in climbing mountains: the 156th regiment was one day’s distance away, the reconnaissance battalion was two days’ distance away from the enemy, but they both caught up the enemy within 100 to 200 li. Their speed was nearly one third faster than the speed of the enemy.
- In terms of tactics: (enemy) was good at riding horses, highly skillful at shooting and utilizing terrain and landforms, but not good at operation. For example: in the battle of Shengda [Sipda in today’s Jomda county], the 155th regiment confronted the enemy across the river for more than ten hours, and over ten men were wounded. The distance in between was about 300 meters, but hardly any enemy could be seen (they were all hiding behind rocks and in dense forest). According to our observations in the battle field, beside Jazhangka and Shengda where a few fortifications were made, the other places had no fortifications. The fortifications were very poorly built, mostly piled up stones in the shape of a pigsty, which could be pushed over by hand.
(II) Tactics to be used against Tibetan army
- To deal with the weak Tibetan army with our current equipment, the key is to encircle the enemy (that is, the more encircled, the more will be annihilated; less encircled, less will be annihilated). No need to worry about breaking through Tibetan army’s positions, the only worry is not being able to encircle them. Since supplies are scarce in Kham-Zang Plateau, once the supply line is cut, enemy will retreat in disorder without fighting.
- Based on special conditions of the plateau cavalry is the key to annihilate the enemy, and the guarantee of success. Because the loads foot soldiers have to carry are too heavy, they don’t have enough physical strength to walk long distances to encircle the enemy. As is shown in this battle, the cavalry detachment was able to complete its task on time (to block the enemy), based on the distance, it was impossible for the infantry to complete it.
III. Coordination of Infantry and ArtilleryDue to weather conditions on the plateau and our equipment, vigorous activities and rapid charge are not favourable to the troops. Therefore, during combat firepower must be well organized so as to coordinate with foot soldiers continuously and effectively. In arranging firepower, the focal points should be the flank and rear, for enemy fears our artillery attack more than anything.
IV. ReconnaissanceSince there are no accurate maps available and no accountable mileage for roads, plus there are lots of rivers, forests and mountain ranges in Kang-Zang area, knowledge of enemy situation and terrain through reconnaissance prior to battle is highly important. The method is to inquire from Tibetans familiar with (the area) in various ways, and estimate how far it is based on how many days he covers certain distance. As long as we are nice to him, he would give us such information honestly.
V. ArtilleryHow to use artillery in plateau combat should be well studied, particularly how to measure distance. Observation is not easy since too many objects block the view, and as a result, distances are often misjudged as closer (than they actually are). Because the air is thin, the speed of the shells is faster.
VI. Suggestions on army structure and equipment
- Branches of army: a division should have a cavalry regiment to fulfill the task of circling and surrounding (the enemy). A regiment should have a mounted reconnaissance company to facilitate communication and reconnaissance. When the regiment engages in individual combat, (mounted reconnaissance company) can perform tasks of circling and surrounding in small actions. In addition, one engineers platoon should be allocated (can be attached to guard company) to take on tasks such as building bridges, handling boats, and clearing away obstacles so as to reduce the trouble of crossing rivers and increase advancing speed.
- Weaponry: reduce mountain artillery, increase recoilless guns, high-angle guns, dynamite, detonator, fuse and explosive.
- Tools: Quality and style of current field tools needs to be improved. Both the shovels and picks the troops are currently equipped with are not practical in combat. Besides being pointed at one end, the other end of the pick should be changed to something that can be used mainly in hacking. Shovel should be changed into American style with removable head, and can be used to dig, scratch and shovel off grass. Besides, since the plateau weather is cold, canteen should be changed into thermal canteen, and more cowhide boats, and bridge-building tools such as saws, hatchets, ropes, etc.
- Uniform: There are thorns and gravel everywhere on the plateau and clothes are easily torn, the current style of uniform must be changed and quality must be improved, otherwise it will not be able to last the season (until the next uniform issue).
It is better to make the uniform with strong and durable cloth, shoulders, backsides and knees should be reinforced. It is better that the cuffs are tightened and trousseaus in the style of jodhpurs. Weight of coat should be reduced. Comforter should be changed into soft, warm, damp-resistant, lightweight, larger size wool blanket which can be used as mattress pad as well as comforter. Raincoat and damp-resistant canvas should be combined into one, based on current raincoat size and shape, adding more rubber to make it thicker so it can be used to wear and to spread as bedding. Quality of shoes should be improved, soles should be softer and the upper should be higher, water-proof and damp-resistant. Headgear should better be helmet (the type used by pilots) with goggles fixed on. Goggle lenses should be made of plastic (at the moment two thirds of the goggles the troops were equipped with have been damaged).
- Communication tools: Office at regiment and above level should be equipped with larger radio of 50 watt or more. Current radios cannot function at 11. p.m. because signals are too weak.
- Supply: Since the current transportation condition is rather difficult, all food should be high quality, low quantity, long-lasting and easy to carry, otherwise it increases soldiers’ burden, reduces their physical strength, slows down marching speed and has negative impact on accomplishing tasks. For example, the powdered food distributed this time was heavy and the quality was poor. Grain powder was not well cooked, ration was not enough to eat, and hard to digest, causing stomach pain, abdominal bloating and diarrhea. As a result, medical patients sharply increased, and a considerable number of soldiers lagged behind. According to initial statistics, of all the stragglers in the whole division, 80% were because of the food powder.