Very little is known in India about the battles which were waged in the western sector (Ladakh). With good reason. Major General (Retd) PJS Sandhu, who has reconstructed the events from Chinese sources and from interactions with PoWs (1962: War in the Western Sector (Ladakh) A view from the Other Side of the Hill) provides a grim glimpse. The Chinese plan was to destroy 43 posts out of 77 that India had set up following Nehru’s forward policy which the Chinese considered intrusions.
The first Chinese target was Indian Stronghold No. 6 on what was called the Red Top Hill, a two-layered terraced mound more than a kilometre in circumference which had a commanding hill top; it rose 200 metres with steep slopes in the north and north-east and slope gradually falling in south and south-east. It was defended by 14 J&K Militia, 62-strong of all ranks. The Chinese considered it the most dangerous Indian position in the area.
The Chinese began their attack at 8.25 in the morning. They approached the target and had taken positions over the night. By five in the morning on October 20, they were ready to go; the route of reinforcements had been interdicted and the escape route cut off. First came the artillery bombardment. The Chinese had 57 mm recoilless guns, 120 mm mortars, 82 mm mortars, 76.2 mm field guns and flame throwers. For half-an-hour, the Chinese softened the Indian positions with all the heavy firepower. Then came the assaults. They came in two waves, from south to north. By 10.45, in two hours and 20 minutes, everything was over. The only Indians moving were taken prisoners. There were 20 of them. The rest, as many as 42 Indian soldiers, had been killed. The Chinese lost eight while 26 were wounded. Maj. Gen. Sandhu notes cryptically: “No Indian solider was able to come back and tell the tale.” It was so one-sided because as “per Chinese assessment, the attacking troops had a superiority of 10:1 in numbers, and 7:1 in firepower”. Seeing that they had little difficultly in dispatching the opposition, Chinese continued the attacks and eliminated another half-a-dozen Indian strongholds. “By last light October 21, they had eliminated all the Indian posts in the Tianwendian defence area which they perceived to be intrusions.”
Sandhu says in the attack on Indian Stronghold No. 14, began with artillery guns and mortars crushing the Indian positions at 8.25, an intense barrage that lasted all of 10 minutes. The assault began thereafter at 8.35. Records Maj. Gen. Sandhu: “The Indian company headquarters was overrun right in the initial stages. No artillery guns or mortars were available to support them. The men only had small arms and open trenches to fight from. They fought to the bitter end. Not a single Indian solider escaped from the battle.” The position had been defended by 68 men of all ranks of 5 Jat. Thirty-two were wounded/taken prisoners. The rest were killed. In Maj. Gen. Sandhu’s detailed analysis, it is more or less the same story across the front which stretched 20 km west to east and 600 km north to south. Once the Chinese reached their 1959 claim line, they made no attempt to pursue the withdrawing Indians.
Sudarshan is most recently author of Adrift