Indian Army

Nathu La: When Indian Army Gave Bloody Nose To The Chinese

Introduction

Shortly after the 1962 war, Indian and Chinese forces clashed again in 1967, but this time the results of the war were different and the implication of this incident on the military, political leadership, and nation as a whole was quite positive and encouraging.

Pic Credit: News Intervention

When and Where Did The Clash Happen?

Nathula Clash

The Nathu La clashes started on 11 September 1967, when China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched an attack on Indian posts at Nathu La and lasted till 15 September 1967. In October 1967, another military clash took place at Cho La and ended on the same day. According to independent sources, India achieved a “decisive tactical advantage” managed to hold its position and was successful in pushing back Chinese forces. Many PLA fortifications at Nathu La were destroyed. In Cho la clash happened on October 1, following Nathula Clash.

Pic Credit: Traveller India

From the Indian army side, Gorkhas, grenadiers, and Rajputana Rifles. During the time clash, the divisional commander of our forces was none other than the man himself Maj Gen Sagat Singh Rathore, commander of the 17th mountain division. Lt gen Jagjit Singh Arora was the Corps commander, and legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw (then Lt Gen) was the eastern army commander. These three men played a decisive role in the 1971 war, with Maj Gen Sagat Singh Rathore leading his men to capture Dhaka 1971.

What Led To Clash?

Pic Credit: The Hindu

The international border between India and China is defined by the Mac Mohan line. The line was drawn connecting the highest mountain peaks of the Himalayas and an agreement was reached between then Tibet and British India, accepting the Mac Mohan line as an international border. But after the Chinese annexation of Tibet in 1950, China refused to accept the Mac Mohan line as a boundary. Thus there were small skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops in border areas. To avoid such skirmishes then Maj Gen Sagat Singh decided to fence up the area. Indian troops around the Nathula started laying barbed wire to fence up the entire area, but this invited Chinese objection. From the Chinese side, the Commissar, a representative of a CCP stationed with troops, objected, in doing so it led to an escalation of the situation, which led to a clash between Indian and Chinese troops. According to experts, it is said that competition to control the disputed borderland in Chumbi Valley is seen as a major cause for heightening the tensions in these incidents.

Also Read, Why China is Interested In Nepal?

The Clash

The fencing work had begun on August 20, 1967, On August 23, about 75 Chinese in battle dress, carrying bayonet-fitted rifles, slowly advanced in an extended line toward Nathu La and stopped at the border. The Chinese had on September 10 sent India a ‘stern warning’ via the embassy that its border defense troops were closely monitoring the situation along the China-Sikkim boundary and the Indians were to be held responsible for ‘grave consequences in case of continued ‘provocative intrusions’ by the Indian troops

On September 11, Commissar came to the spot where Lt. Col. Rai Singh Yadav was standing with his commando platoon. Commissar asked Yadav to stop laying the wire. Indian soldiers refused to halt work, and informed him that they have orders to continue work. An argument started which soon turned a bit violent. After that, the Chinese went back to their bunkers and the Indians resumed laying the wire.

Pic Credit: BBC

Within a few minutes of this, a whistle was blown from the Chinese side followed by a medium machine gun firing directed towards Indian troops from the north shoulder. Due to the lack of cover, the Indian troops initially suffered heavy casualties, it is said India lost around 60 troops. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese also opened artillery against the Indians, which left the CO of the battalion wounded, having seen their CO get hurt, the Chinese post was targeted by the battalion, and little did they know that something bad was waiting for them.

When the news reached the brigade headquarters, Maj Gen Sagat Singh ordered artillery units to target the Chinese positions, but neither Sagat Singh who was division commander nor JJ Singh who was corps commander, was authorized to use artillery, since using artillery was to mean the escalation of tensions, they asked the permission from eastern army commander, who was none other than the legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, but Sam Manekshaw was in Delhi, thus Maj Gen Sagat Singh decided to use artillery and took the responsibility of it, in case if anything went wrong. Later when this matter went to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, she gave go head to use of artillery to secure our borders.

The clashes lasted throughout the day and night, for the next three days, with the use of artillery, mortars, and machine guns, during which the Indian troops clashed with Chinese forces. After five days of the clash, a ceasefire was declared from the Indian side, though the Chinese side rejected it they were in no position to do anything other than accept it. Due to the advantageous position Indian troops had because of their occupation of high grounds at the pass in Sebu La and Camel’s back, they were able to destroy many Chinese bunkers at Nathu La. The corpses of fallen soldiers were exchanged on 15 and 16 September.

Also Read, China’s Debt Trap – Masterstroke Or Blunder?

Chinese Propaganda and Psychological war

 At the time of high tensions between India and China in 1967, China’s foreign ministry sent a note to the Indian embassy in Beijing 1967, stating that, the Chinese Government must tell the Indian Government in all seriousness: You must draw lessons from your past experience, stop provocative activities along the China-Sikkim border and cease all your calumnies against China, otherwise you are bound to eat the bitter fruits of your own making.

Even during the Doklam crisis, china used the same trick to put pressure on India, the message, sent to New Delhi through the Indian embassy, said: “The Chinese Government sternly warns the Indian Government: the Chinese Border Defence Troops are closely watching the development of the situation along the China-Sikkim boundary. Should the Indian troops continue to make provocative intrusions, the Indian Government must be held responsible for all the grave consequences.”

Pic Credit: Cerstock.com

But the Chinese must understand that this is a new India that is economically, militarily, and politically much stronger than it was in 1962. In reply to the Chinese statement, MEA gave a strong reply to its counterpart, “The Chinese Government is well aware that the Sikkim-Tibet border is a well-defined international border and has been recognized as such by China. By launching an armed attack the Chinese Government is seeking to build up tension at a point on the border which has never been in dispute.”

Whenever such clashes or skirmishes happen between India and China, the Chinese always mention about 1962 war and how India was humiliated and it should not do any kind of misadventure or not dare to challenge China, but they don’t mention the Nathula clash once, not even once. They knew that Indian forces made them have spicy golgappa, for which they haven’t even paid us. Everybody knows about Chinese propaganda, how they refuse to honor their fallen soldiers, they did it in 1967, they did not recognize the sacrifice of their soldiers during the war with Vietnam in 1978, in which they suffered a humiliating defeat and again they did it in Galwan clash. I just want to say that, a nation that doesn’t honor its fallen soldiers is doomed to fail and for me, it’s nothing more than a dead nation.

Also Read, Is China Preparing For Another Massacre?

Results of Clash

According to an account of the clashes written by Maj Gen Sheru Thapliyal, who was posted in Sikkim at the time, the Indian side lost more than 70 soldiers while the Chinese casualties were more than 400. Other than this many independent sources reported, that China lost more than 350 soldiers, and on the Indian side, we lost 88 soldiers, which matches with numbers released by the Government of India. It was a serious blow for the Chinese. Great moral booster for us, after the 1962 war, we had this psychological fear that taking on china would be a serious and costly business for us, even the political leadership felt inferior to their Chinese counterpart.

Never the less Indian Army showed that, if we have strong military leadership(like Maj Gen Sagat Singh, Lt gen J J Singh Arora, and Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw) and political leadership (like Indira Gandhi), who are willing to take the risks for safeguarding our national security and interest, they can wonders no matter with whom they are fighting with, as veterans said, we had nothing, expect raw courage in the context of 1962 war.

For their bravery and courage during the conflict, Brigadier Rai Singh Yadav, Lt Col Mahatam Singh, Maj Harbhajan Singh(Posthumous) was awarded Mahavir Chakra and Captain Prithvi Singh Dagar (P), Havaldar Lakhsmi Chand (P), Sepoy Gokal Singh was awarded with Vir Chakra.

Conclusion

With strong political and military leadership, we held ground during the Doklam crisis and the recent standoff. Now our soldiers are better equipped and better trained, remember we have one of the best mountain divisions in the world and are capable of handling any contingencies.

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Bheemanagouda M Patil

Hi, I'm Bheemanagouda Patil, currently I'm pursuing Mechanical Engineering (3rd year) from Dayanand Sagar College Of Engineering. I write on topics related defence and geopolitics.

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