The India-China war of 1962, fought at altitudes of over 4,000 meters, proved to be a great learning curve for Indian defense strategists. Here is a brief account of the Sino-Indian War.
This is the length of the border shared by India and China.
India and China had friendly relations as independent nations. India was among the first countries to give diplomatic recognition to the People’s Republic of China which was formed in 1949. Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai (Indian and Chinese are brothers) was a famous slogan defining the bilateral relations. The ‘Panchasheel’ Agreement, giving five principles of peaceful coexistence was signed between the two in 1954. Despite all the efforts towards a cooperative bilateral relation, the two powers of Asia witnessed a severe conflict that escalated into a war. In brief, let us understand the background, causes, summary, and effects of the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
India-China War 1962
The western end of the India-China border (parts of Ladakh in India and the Chinese Xinjiang region) have been disputed since the 1800s. Aksai Chin in Ladakh is the region between the Pangong Lake and the Karakoram Pass. Attempts of demarcating a boundary were made through the ‘Johnson Line’ (Aksai Chin in India) of 1865 and the MacDonald McCartney Line (Aksai Chin in China). The British government followed the Johnson Line, but did not initiate patrolling of the region. Also, the Chinese government in Peking had accorded to the Johnson Line, as seen through the atlas published between 1917 and 1933. Even after independence in 1947, the Government of India referred to the Johnson Line.
On the eastern end, the dispute was over the presently northern boundary of Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. The McMahon Line, defined during the British rule over India, marked the eastern end of the India-China border. China had objections regarding the common borders. In the 1950s, China made no claims to the open declarations made by India regarding its control over Aksai Chin. However, China claimed it later, around 1960.
After the Tibetan revolts, the Dalai Lama (Tibetan head) was given asylum by India. This was seen as China to be Indian support to its enemy. Before the war begun, brief skirmishes occurred along the borders for a few months, which resulted into increased tension between the two countries. However, India was not expecting China to trigger a war in the first place. The Chinese offensive against India on 20th October 1962 came as a shock to the unprepared Indian forces.
Main Reasons for the War
1. The bone of contention between the two powers were the bordering regions of Aksai Chin and parts of the present Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Sovereignty over these two areas was the primary issue. The area known as Aksai Chin was claimed by India to be part of Kashmir, and by China to be in its province of Xinjiang or Sinkiang.
2. In 1957, China constructed a road through Aksai Chin, linking the Chinese province of Xinjiang and Lhatse in Tibet. This road went south of the Johnson Line in many areas.
3. India gave asylum to the 14th Dalai Lama, the head of Tibet. He had fled from Lhasa after the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule had failed.
4. India had built several outposts around the Thagla ridge, Namka Chu, and Chushul regions along the Sino-Indian border, under the Forward Policy (to evacuate the territory of Chinese forces).
Chushul (4,337 meters) – South of the Pangong Tso Lake and north of the Chushul airfield.
– 20th October: Late on the night of 19th October, Indian posts in this area were attacked by the Chinese. China attacked Indian forces in the Chip Chap valley, Aksai Chin. Galwan valley, Pangong lake, and Chip Chap valley were easily taken by the Chinese forces.
– 22nd October: China had won over all the Indian posts north of Chushul.
– The fighting which halted at Chushul was an essential break for both the sides.
– 24th October: Until this day, Rezang la (5,180 meters) was a point of heavy combat. It was held by the Indians to prevent the Chinese from conquering a nearby airstrip.
– 18th November: At 4.35 am, Chushul was under attack again.
This battle had taken a huge toll on both the armies. The Indian forces, however, due to lack of logistical support, had to withdraw to positions in higher mountains.
Battle of Namka Chu
The location was 60 km from Tawang on the tri-junction of Tibet, Bhutan, and India. This sourced from the earlier dispute over the Thag La, a ridge which overlooks the Namka Chu, and had four passes, including the Yamatso La and Thag La.
– 20th October: China launched an offensive on the southern banks of river Namka Chu. It aimed at capturing both the banks of the river. Three regiments of the Chinese army were fighting one Indian battalion. Chinese forces fired with guns and mortars at 5.14 am. They has also cut Indian telephone lines so as to break the contact of Indian soldiers with the headquarters. A surprise attack from the rear forced the Indians to move back from Namka Chu.
Battle of Walong
Walong (east Arunachal Pradesh) sector was a part of the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) then.
– 22nd October: The Chinese force fired on Walong at 12.15 am. The Indians retaliated by using mortars, but the Chinese lighted a bushfire to confuse them. The next Chinese attack was reverted back by the Indians using accurate mortar fire. They were successful in holding back the Chinese for four hours, after which, the Chinese entered in huge numbers, forcing the majority of the Indians to withdraw from Walong.
– 23rd October: The Indians attacked a Chinese unit found furiously and cramped them in a pass, using guns and mortars. While the Indians lost nine soldiers, they killed around 200 enemy soldiers. The fight continued until the company was forced to withdraw in the afternoon.
– The confrontation at Walong continued for a few days. Also, China launched a three-pronged attack in Tawang. The Indians had to withdraw from there.
– 15th November: Tawang and Walong were seized by the Chinese.
– The Indian forces had withdrawn to the better armed positions around Se La and Bomdi La.
– Meanwhile, there was a period of calm for three weeks on both fronts. Zou Enlai, the Chinese Premier, offered a negotiation for boundary settlement. Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister, refused the proposal. He had the support of the United States and United Kingdom then.
– 14th November: The war thus resumed, by India attacking Walong, and caused heavy Chinese casualties. China too resumed its assault immediately in Aksai Chin and in NEFA.
– 17th November: The Chinese attacked Se La and Bomdi La, and cut off the main supply route of Sembang.
– 18th November: Bomdi La in the NEFA was captured.
– 21st November: A unilateral ceasefire was declared by China. This halted the fighting between the two forces.
Over 1,300 Indian soldiers lost their lives and around 1,000 were wounded, while the casualty figure on the Chinese side was a little more than 700 dead and 1,700 wounded..
As a result of the war, Aksai Chin, which was earlier patrolled both, by India and China, came under Chinese control. The Line of Actual Control was accepted to be the informal ceasefire line. It was later agreed to be the official Line of Actual Control in 1993, through a bilateral agreement.