Thursday, October 18, 2012

Poor military leadership, not equipment, led to 1962 debacle:

There is no reason why the Indian Army cannot rise again and give a much better account of itself. I hope when the day comes, it happens under my escutcheon.

This was what Gen J N Chaudhuri wrote in a 40-page covering note while forwarding the Henderson Brooks-PS Bhagat report on the 1962 military debacle to the Defence Ministry.

Fifty years after the Sino-Indian war, the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report remains under wraps but

The Sunday Express has learnt that around four pages of this covering note focus on wartime Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon’s interference in military matters, particularly on the shuffling of senior generals in the run-up to the month-long war.

The covering note, according to sources aware of the contents of the report, is the only place where there is a comment on the political leadership of the Defence Ministry. There is no direct comment on then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru anywhere in the letter or in the report, which confines itself to the conduct of military operations.

The important revelatory aspect of the Brooks-Bhagat report is its conclusion that shortages in ammunition and equipment were not among the primary reasons for the defeat.

In fact, the report, sources said, makes it clear that much has been stated about the “poor quality” of equipment and weapons making the Army unfit for battle. The authors have put on record that in their considered view “the levels of stores and equipment didn’t constitute a significant handicap”. Instead, they have identified poor military leadership as the main reason for the Army not having fought better than it did.

The report is in four volumes, but its main operative content is less than 150 pages, typed single space in foolscap paper with corrections made by hand in ink. The rest of the report comprises essentially annexures, minutes of meetings, operational maps and key pieces of communication.

The report was commissioned by Gen Chaudhuri, who took over as Army Chief after the war, as an internal Army report to look into just the conduct of military operations since hostilities began in early October 1962 till November 20 when China announced a unilateral ceasefire.

For the job, he picked Lt Gen Henderson Brooks who was GOC 11 Corps in Jalandhar and had not participated in the operations. The report was submitted in April 1963 and sent to the Defence Ministry with Chaudhuri’s detailed covering note.

The language of the report reflects the strong emotional fervour of the moment, especially the anger and frustration. Coming down heavily on the military leadership, the report is particularly critical of the then Chief of General Staff Lt Gen B M Kaul, who was made GOC of the newly created 4 Corps just before the war. He was based out of Tezpur, but was evacuated to Delhi on account of illness just as hostilities broke out in what was then called NEFA.
The report records him “dashing in and out” of his York Road (now Motilal Nehru Marg) residence, issuing orders from his bed, and the top brass letting him do so instead of finding a successor. These have all been cited as examples of poor generalship.

Similarly, a copy Kaul’s letter to Nehru at the height of the conflict, urging him to approach the Americans for assistance, has been mentioned and included in the annexures to underscore the loss of nerves among senior officers.

Significant space, sources said, has been given to the retreat of 4 Infantry Division which had been quickly reconstructed after the Namka Chu defeat and posted to defend the fallback line along the Se La-Senge-Dhirang axis in Arunachal Pradesh. This was after Tawang had been overrun by advancing Chinese forces. It was decided that this axis is where the Army would fight a dogged and prolonged defensive battle for which resources and logistics had been built up. The idea was that longer the campaign stretched, the more difficult it would get for the Chinese to sustain operations.’

But 4 Div withdrew without fighting, a fact that is officially confirmed and documented in the report. This entire episode of the “collapse and rout of the 4 Infantry Division” has been described in the report as “a shameful incident” of a “renowned division collapsing and retreating without putting up a fight”.

The GOC of the Division, Maj Gen Anant Singh Pathania, has been severely criticised and shown up as another example of poor generalship. The loss of nerves among key military commanders is again emphasised by citing an inland letter that Pathania wrote to Harish Sarin, Joint Secretary in Defence Ministry. He asked Sarin to give him another chance, volunteering to be even deployed as a “sepoy” at the front.

Pathania’s appointment itself has been commented upon as an example of poor decision-making by the military hierarchy. He was pulled out as Director General, National Cadet Corps and foisted on the 4 Infantry Division as the GOC, which the Brooks-Bhagat report criticised given that he had not been involved with combat troops for a considerable length of time. The report, sources said, is also critical of his predecessor Maj Gen Niranjan Prasad under whom the Division lost at Namka Chu.

The report highlights indecision at Army Headquarters and how field formations would faced problems getting clear orders or clarifications from the top brass in Delhi. In this context, Western Army Commander Lt Gen Daulet Singh, who was responsible for the campaign in Ladakh, has come in for praise. In fact, the report firmly concludes that the campaign in the western sector of the boundary was conducted far better than the eastern theatre.

The specific instance about Lt Gen Singh relates to his decision to move two battalions deployed on the Indo-Pak western front to the site of battle in the north. The report, sources said, recounts how Singh kept writing to Army Headquarters to seek approval to move troops from the Pakistan border but received no response.

Finally, he took the initiative and moved the battalions on his own to Chushul. This has been highlighted by Brooks-Bhagat as a rare example of better military leadership.

To an extent, the report also clarifies the famously known orders from the government asking the Army to “throw out the Chinese” by also putting on record the second line “at a time and place of Army’s choosing” . The report, however, does not get into the events of previous months leading up to the conflict, especially aspects like the much criticised ‘forward policy’ that led to creation of several frontline posts without the logistics to sustain them — an act deemed provocative by the Chinese.

Besides these details, the report reflects the pain over the loss of thousands of soldiers; and ends on a very sombre note, quoting a few lines from a poem by First World War soldier-poet Wilfred Owen — lines which no one is able to recall.

‘Ops in North were better than East’

The operative portion of the report is less than 150 pages. It concludes with lines from World War I English soldier-poet Wilfred Owen.

The report says levels of stores and equipment did not constitute a significant handicap. Poor military leadership was the main cause for the debacle.

The campaign in the north under Western Command was better conducted than operations in the east.

4 Infantry Division retreated “without putting up a fight”. Maj Gen A S Pathania wanted a second chance to fight as a sepoy after withdrawing his division in panic.

4 Corps Commander Lt Gen B M Kaul criticised for his poor command.

Western Army Commander Lt Gen Daulet Singh praised for showing better initiative.

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