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An Account of the Clash at Galwan and Killing of 35 Soldiers of the Peoples Liberation Army

Updated on June 23, 2020
emge profile image

MG is a senior air warrior, graduate from Staff College and a PG in military Science is qualified to write on war and allied matters

Background

During the days of the British Raj, a policy was formulated to keep India's northern border secure. In 1899 a British exploration mission explored the entire western Tibet and Aksai Chin. In 1903 the British under Brigadier General Younghusband launched and invasion of Tibet. The invasion was launched from Sikkim into Tibet. The Tibetans were defeated and the British Indian Army consisting mostly of Sikhs and Punjabis entered Lhasa the capital of Tibet. The Dalai lama fearing capture by the English fled to Sinkiang. The Chinese stripped the Dalai Lama of all his powers and titles.

Due to the peculiarity of the terrain and the fact that it was an area having an average height of 12 to 13,000 feet the army made slow progress and the invasion lasted almost 6 months. The British were able to enforce their terms on the Tibetans.

On the Western front in Ladakh and Aksai Chin, the area was mapped and in 1899 the river Galwan was discovered. This is named after Ghulam Rasool Galwan, a Kashmiri explorer going along with the British Indian expedition. The entire area was very sparsely populated and later Nehru was to refer to it as a place 'where not even a blade of grass grows.'

The British were keen to create a buffer in the north of India and accordingly claimed the entire area of Ladakh and Aksai Chin as part of India. Earlier in 1865 another British explorer William Johnson had mapped the entire area of Aksai Chin and Ladakh and a line called the Johnson Line was marked on the map as the outermost limits of North India.

In 1913, a conference was held at Shimla which was attended by representatives from Tibet in China. The British delegation was led by Sir Henry MacMohan who was the chief secretary of the government of India. The agreement was signed by the Tibetan representative and initialed by the Chinese representative attending the conference. This conference delineated the borders in both the west and east of India with Tibet. The border in East has been referred to as the MacMohan line. In the West, the Johnson line which Included Ladakh and Aksai Chin as part of India was accepted as the international border between Tibet and India.

In 1947 power reverted to the Indian government led by Jawaharlal Nehru. Without going into details Nehru failed to set up any administration in Aksai Chin with the result the area was almost like a no man's land. After the victory of Mao Tse Tung in 1949 over the Nationalist party he turned his attention to Tibet. In 1950 he ordered the invasion of Tibet and after a campaign of a few weeks, the poorly armed Tibetans surrendered. Nehru committed one of the biggest blunders in world history when he failed to accede to the Tibetan request for help against China, believing that ultimately China and India would be the best of friends.

The occupation of Tibet Tibet brought the Chinese border right up to the Indian border for the first time in 2000 years of world history. In the absence of any Indian administration in Aksai Chin, the Chinese occupied the entire area which was 37,000 mi.² and not only set up their administration but also constructed a road from Tibet to Xinjiang. This was discovered by the Indian government in 1954 but for five years Nehru kept quiet about it as he did not wish to spoil his relations with China. Matters came to a head when an Indian patrol in Ladakh was ambushed by the Chinese and 12 soldiers were killed. That is the time the Indian public came to know that exciting had been occupied by China.

India began to make a military presence slowly in the area still under their control in Ladakh. The pressure was mounting on Nehru from the opposition and the Indian people for some action against China. He gravely underestimated the military threat in the northern border and along with the defence minister Krishna Menon who had sympathies with Communist China failed to strengthen the army and beef up the border. In October 1962, Nehru while proceeding on a visit to Lanka, when pressed by reporters grandly announced that he had asked the Indian Army to throw the Chinese out.

The Chinese who had already occupied Aksai Chin were keen to teach Nehru a lesson and on 20th October 1962, launched an attack in Ladakh and the east across the Mac Mohan line. The Indian army was defeated and Nehru's prestige in the world and third world nations sank like a stone.

This is the genesis of the India China conflict in Ladakh.



After 1962 to the present

Nehru's death in 1964 was a watershed in Indian history. He died a broken man unable to comprehend as to why China had betrayed him when he had accepted their suzerainty over Tibet also. In 1967 Indira Gandhi became the prime minister of India. She was an ironwoman and subsequently led India in the war against Pakistan in 1971 that led to a catastrophic defeat for Pakistan and the division of the country. The independent state of Bangladesh was created from East Pakistan and 90,000 Pakistani soldiers were taken POW.

Before the 1971 war, the Chinese tried to encroach into the Indian state of Sikkim in 1967. The Indians were alert this time and massive artillery duel took place between the Indian and Chinese armies. The commander of the Indian Army was General Sagat Singh a no-nonsense soldier who further made a name in the 71 war.

The Artillery dual lasted two days and after the smoke cleared the Chinese retreated. They suffered a defeat and almost 400 Chinese soldiers were killed 80 Indians.

There was no further firefight between Indian and Chinese troops for the next 52 years except for a minor skirmish in 1973 and a face-off in 87. However, the border problem was not solved and it had the propensity to blow up at any stage. In 1960 on a visit to India, the Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai had offered a solution to the border problem. He had proposed that China would accept the Mac Mohan line in the east as the border but India must recognize Aksai Chin as a part of China.

Nehru and the defence minister Krishna Menon including the Army chief General KS Thimmiya were keen that the proposal is accepted. The opposition including leaders in Nehru's party in Congress were opposed to this deal and they created a lot of hue and cry among the people with the result the deal fell through. India missed the best chance to solve the border problem with China.

From 1989 China began to rise economically and militarily and thinking change. It became expansionist and proved through the words of Nehru in his book 'Discovery of India' that a strong China is always an expansionist China.

The Indian government's right up to 2014 continued to play second fiddle to China on the border.No infrastructure or Road for built on the Indian side while China, built railway lines and roads in Tibet and beefed up its strategic capability.

Things changed in 2014 when Narendra Modi was elected as the prime minister of India. He was not a Nehru or Manmohan Singh and he set up the building of roads and infrastructure along the border on the Indian side. The Indians also began to police the line of actual control(LAC) with troops and began to match China's deployment.

The rise of Presiden Xi in China is also a watershed in Chinese politics. As the Chinese economy became the second largest in the world and their military strength greatly increased they began to exert their power. China once again wanted to become the "Middle Kingdom" the center of the world which it was during the Ming Dynasty.

China grew aggressive in the South China Sea and egged on Pakistan and North Korea to confront India and the West.

During the last five years on the Western front, China was keen to exert its power. The Central Military Commission which is headed by President Xi probably decided to teach India a lesson like in 1962.

For this purpose, they chose the Galwan River area for a confrontation with India. The Chinese were in a dilemma because they had signed three pacts with India in which it has been specified that Indian and Chinese troops will patrol the border unarmed and no weapons would be used. The Chinese thought of an ingenious way to teach a lesson to the Indian Army.



Battle with Medieval Weapons

On instructions from the Central Military Committee, the Chinese intruded into Ladakh in several places. They were physically pushed back and diplomatic channels were opened with China to defuse the crisis. The Indian Corps Commander Lieutenant General Harinder Singh and his Chinese counterpart had meetings. it was decided to disengage.

The Chinese agreed for the disengagement on paper but physically did not vacate the intrusion. On the night of 15th, the CO of the Bihar Regiment proceeded to the area to check whether the Chinese had vacated or not. He found that the Chinese had not vacated and one of their tents were still there. He ordered his soldiers to pull down the tent and burn it.

The Chinese had been planning for this moment. They had taken wooden clubs and wired them with barbed wire and sunk nails into them. These were the clubs which were used in the fourth and fifth century. As per the orders of their theater Commander they had got ready to attack the Indians with these weapons.

After 1962, the Chinese thought the Indian Army would be a pushover. Thereafter they attacked Indians with their clubs. Though outnumbered, the Indians fought bravely but the commanding officer was the 1st to fall and he died. Unfortunately for the Chinese a few of the Sikh soldiers were carrying their kirpans( daggers) as enjoined by their religion. They counter-attacked and many Chinese were done to death by the daggers. In hand-to-hand combat, the Indian soldiers also seized many of the clubs from the Chinese and used them with deadly effect.

The Indians suffered 20 casualties but the loss of the commanding officer who is like a father figure for the troops had infuriated the Indians. Messages were passed to the camp and immediately several groups of about 11 soldiers each armed with iron rods reached the scene of the fight. They were led by burly Sikhs who dwarfed over the Chinese.

These groups now began to hunt the Chinese and tens of them were killed. More important they were able to catch the commanding officer of the Chinese troops and he was beaten to death. Later China confirmed the death of the CO but did not confirm any casualties.

The burly Sikhs and other troops after avenging went back and eye witness accounts tell us that on 16 June the Chinese flew 58 sorties of helicopters to evacuate the injured and dead. It was a bloody nose for the Chinese.

The news of the massive Chinese casualties reached the CMC and the theatre commander and the very next day the Chinese called for talks to defuse the crisis. In the meantime, the Chinese also dismantled a small dam which they had built on the Galwan river to show to the Indians that they had now decided to go back. US intelligence reports have confirmed that 35 to 40 Chinese soldiers were killed and nearly 100 injured.

The Chinese repeatedly pressed for a diplomatic solution now and finally, the Indians agreed for a meeting of the military commanders and during this meeting, it was decided to disengage. The Chinese had learned their lesson. In Moscow, the Indian defence minister who was there for the victory parade was requested for a meeting by the Chinese defence Minister which Rajnath Singh refused.

The border problem can still not be considered settled because the LAC remains undemarcated. Satellite pictures show that the Chinese have brought in tanks and guns on their side. The Indian Army has made a matching deployment.

The Chinese have suffered a bloody nose but as we know China is under great pressure internally and externally. It is also being held accountable for the Coronavirus spread. President Xi must have thought that he will be able to create a favorable atmosphere for him in China by incidents on the Indian border but it has not happened that way. They had a dream which crashed.

Last Word

The capability of the Chinese army appears suspect because it has not fought a war since 1979 and most of the army consists of conscripts who serve for four years and are not motivated to fight. China has probably realized that Narendra Modi is a different man and the Indian Army which has a glorious past if given a free hand is not easy to subdue. India and China will however have to think of a solution on the border for this state of affairs that cannot continue.

The fierce battle saw 500 soldiers engulfed in hand-to-hand combat — some using spiked clubs — in a gruesome clash that left at least 20 Indians and 40 Chinese soldiers dead. President Xi must remember Harold Robbins wrote, "Dreams die first."



Comments

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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 weeks ago from Singapore

      Flourish, I love your comments

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      5 weeks ago from USA

      That description of the fight is first rate. An excellent account here. The weapon with the barbed wires sounds and looks horrendous but also look out for a Sikh with a dagger.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 weeks ago from Singapore

      Hi, Muralikrishna, thanks for sparing time and commenting

    • hmkrishna profile image

      Halemane Muralikrishna 

      5 weeks ago from South India

      Great reading for me with information, never understood like this earlier. Every Indian wants a map what he study in the schools a reality.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      5 weeks ago

      You're welcome. China seems to do the fight-fight, talk-talk routine. They talk a lot then fight. If it doesn't work out for them they talk again.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 weeks ago from Singapore

      Kyler, thank you for your comment. The U˜S is putting pressure by sending a carrier force in the South China sea. This worries China. Let's see what happens further.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 weeks ago from Singapore

      Robert, thank you for commenting

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      5 weeks ago from Singapore

      Pamela, thanks, I also hope peace prevails but China is on the warpath

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      5 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

      This is another good article about the india and China relationship. I hope the fighting stops.

      I always learn something from your article and this was no exception, MG.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 

      6 weeks ago

      Thank you for the details of the situation. As with most foreign news it doesn't get much press in America.

    • Kyler J Falk profile image

      Kyler J Falk 

      6 weeks ago from Corona, CA

      Your articles continue to be a wonderful source of information and talking points, MG, and I'm happy to hear that the Indian troops pushed the red menace back across the border with their tails between their legs. I can't imagine doing an unarmed border patrol, nor adhering to a pact that would disarm my men, but to not only adhere to it but rush into battle with nothing more than daggers and barbed sticks... that is warrior spirit I've never seen, and their bravery is commendable.

      I hope the US and India continue their ongoing diplomatic relationship, and work more closely on this China issue to the benefit of us both.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      6 weeks ago from Singapore

      John, it's a pleasure to read your comment.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      6 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for sharing this interesting account MG. An enjoyable read. I hope a satisfactory solution is found to this border dispute before tensions escalate again.

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