Amid the recent tri-junction border dispute, China’s warning, “India should learn from historical lessons and must withdraw its forces” referring to the 1962 war. While everyone knows that Indian Army received a defeat from the Chinese forces in 1962, but there is one more chapter of the story which is quite unheard.
The skirmish of 1967
Yes, you read it right, there was a battle between two countries in Nathu La and Cho La sectors of the Chumbi Valley in Sikkim, but most people are unaware of this one. It was started with China’s help to Pakistan during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, by pressurizing India and diverting its focus to Sino-India border.
India had its position on the southern shoulder, while Chinese were on the northern shoulder. Two major parts of the pass, south and north of Nathu La, namely Sebu La and Camels’s back were held by Indians. China ordered to vacate the posts, but Major Gen Sagat Singh, GOC 17 Mountain Corps refused to do so because as per Mc Mohan line this area belongs to India. Also, as these posts were located on mountain heights, they serve to keep an eye on valley, so acquiring theses posts gives a tactical and strategic advantage to India.
In 1965, small-scale clashes began and they were almost a routine for the whole year, at times there were just hands and fists involved, but no bullets were fired from any sides. Sometimes, Chinese would come patrolling with full battle gear, stand at the borders and then return as the sun sets. They even installed loudspeakers across the border to make announcements to vacate the posts and telling about the 1962 war. Indian side did the same and installed speakers to broadcast messages against China. This was part of China’s Sun Tzu art of war, so they kept on intimidating Indians and incursions into the Indian territory continued. In one incident on 13th August they dug trenches on the Indian side and when challenged they filled up the trenches and withdrew.
On 4th Sept 1967, Maj Gen Sagat Singh directed to build a three-strand wire fencing across the border. Chinese became agitated when they saw this and ordered to stop, but fencing continued. Next day, about 75 Chinese men came in full battle gear and started shouting slogans near the border, they stood there more than 4 hours, doing nothing before withdrawing and going back quietly. On 7th September, around 100 men came and there was hand to hand fighting between the troops, before realizing they were nowhere to stand in front of the Jats. Finally, they quit and then began stone pelting causing few wounded casualties on our side. Commanding Officer of 18 Rajput made an urgent call and moved 90 men to the front posts under Major Bishan Singh and Capt. P.S. Dagar was made 2nd-in-charge.
Things went quiet for few days till 11th Sept. On 11th, there were again agitation showed by Chinese men, but this time it was a heated one and suddenly Chinese started firing resulting in casualties of the men who were constructing a fence and also, Col. Rai, who was talking to Chinese officers. Seeing this, Indian Army retaliated under Cpt. Dagar and attacked the Chinese posts. Major Harbhajan Singh who was constructing fence with his team also opened fire and this developed into a full scale battle that lasted for 6 days. The artillery posts on top of Nathu La did an effective firing destroying enemy bunkers and strategic posts and playing a key role in India’s winning the battle.
Indo China War Aftermath:
This was the first time that Chinese got bullet-for-bullet and the border has been peaceful since then. Chinese learned a lesson and never dared to attack the Chumbi valley again and withdrew their forces back to the Mc Mohan line.
This skirmish helped in establishing India’s might and much needed moral boost-up for the forces. While India will never forget 1962 war, which was lost mainly due to political leadership at that time, but China must also not forget the 1967. Also, present Defense Minister Mr. Arun Jaitely in response to Chinese ministry has clearly stated out that “India of 2017 is different from 1962 and will maintain its sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
Excerpts from the diary of Col. NC Gupta, who was posted there during the battle.