Battle of Nuranang: Fought & Won in a Miasma of Despondency & Despair

"It was in recognition of the dogged determination, steely resolve and élan shown by the Bhullas of Alpha Coy & the raw courage displayed by the troika of Trilok, Jaswant and Gopal on 17 Nov 1962 that, the 4th Garhwal Rifles was given the Battle Honour Nuranang."


Battle of Nuranang: Fought & Won in a Miasma of Despondency & Despair

The People's Republic of China, under Chairman Mao Zedong annexed Tibet in 1950 and asserted its sovereignty over it, in the years that followed. Prior to that, Sinkiang (Xinjiang) had been similarly annexed and the construction of a 2,342 km long National Highway, G 219 was commenced and completed by 1957 to join Lhatse in South Western Tibet with Kargilik up North, in Sinkiang.

In complete disregard to the Simla Agreement of 1914, between the Colonial power Britain-Tibet and China, the boundary settled by drawing a line on a quarter inch map and known as the McMahon Line (Line), which follows the crests of the Himalayan Ranges was violated; and China occupied Aksai Chin (38,000 sq km) in the Ladakh region of the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir (Now Union Territory).

India had in those times entrusted the security as against defense of its frontier with the Autonomous Region of Tibet to the Assam Rifles in the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and the State Police in Ladakh. The posts were strung along the Line and were sited administratively than tactically. Therefore, these lacked defense potential. Surveillance was kept between posts by patrolling.

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Taking advantage of India's political reticence and bonhomie (Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai) and China's perception of the Line, the latter physically occupied territory and asserted its claim line(s) beyond the settled understanding of the watershed principle, unchallenged.

Consequently, in the Kameng and Subansiri divisions of erstwhile NEFA and present day Arunachal Pradesh, there were incidents at Longju and Khenzemane respectively, which brought to light the earlier occupation of Aksai Chin and the subsequent incremental nibbling of Indian territory by the Chinese Border Guards. This manipulated land grab by the Chinese, held the Prime Minister accountable on the floor of the Parliament.

To redeem the loss of face and a blow to his self obsessive image of a champion of non alignment and an emerging Asian leader, the Prime Minister made a vain and hollow statement under girded more by braggadocio than reality. It was in this frame of mind that, Mr Nehru said to the attendant media that, "I have asked the Army to throw out the Chinese".

More so, when the Indian Army had been made responsible for the entire frontier and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in NEFA and Ladakh in August 1959 only. The then Army Chief General Thimmayya, was surprised by such a statement, which put the onus of defending the 4,000 km Indian Border along its eastern boundary, upon the inadequately equipped, organized and ill prepared Army.

With the escape of the Dalai Lama from Lhasa, to save himself from Chinese persecution and crossing into India at the Assam Rifle Post at Khenzemane on 17 March 1959, and the Prime Minister granting political asylum to him on 4 April; got the goat of Chairman Mao and who thereafter resolved to teach Nehru and India a lesson.

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The seeds for the showdown between the two Asian countries had been sown and the subsequent unfortunate outcome for India - the war that wasn’t, followed in 1962.

The comprehensive defeat of the Indian Army was ensured by its smug, complacent, vainglorious but insecure political leadership; tactically unsound, inexperienced and weak kneed Indian Generals, and a vacillating, irresolute and out of sorts Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

However, amidst the hopelessness created by these definitive and critical determinants of the course, which any war fighting takes and lends itself to substantially decide the outcome of any conflict;

there were many incidents of sub unit/unit resilience, doggedness and valor and individual grit, gallantry and indomitable courage shown in the battles fought at Walong, Bumla, Nuranang, Nam Ka Chu, Che Dong, Rezang La, Gurkha Hill and Daulat Beg Oldi, which will forever adorn the pages of Military History for posterity to read and draw inspiration from. One such unit is Fourth Battalion the Garhwal Rifles.

One such individual and hero was Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat, Mahavir Chakra (Posthumous) and one such Battle, in the Sino-India conflict of 1962; is the one fought by the brave hearts of Alpha Company, 4th Garhwal Rifles on 17th November at Nuranang (Jaswantgarh).

"There were about 400 to 500 Chinese who were killed and severely wounded as against 2 Bhullas, Lance Naik Trilok and Rifleman Jaswant who had been killed in action."
Mural on 'Battle of Nuranang' was unveiled by Blazing Sword Div on 25 Nov at Jaswantgarh; Photo Courtesy ADGPI

The first army units to come under enemy attack on 20 October 1962, in the Namka Chu valley were those of  7 Infantry Brigade. 2nd Rajputs were massacred and lost half its strength. Similarly, 1/9 Gorkha Rifles was surprised and suffered huge losses. The other two units found their defenses untenable and took to the jungles of Bhutan and Assam for dear life.

So difficult were the odds against 7 Infantry Brigade and its units that, in 3 days time it completely disintegrated and its Commander was taken into captivity.

Brigadier John Parshuram Dalvi, was hamstrung between defying a tactically bogus order of his Corps Commander Lieutenant General Bijji Kaul; to defend a river valley with its line of bridges, and an enemy overlooking the defenses from the dominating heights of Thagla ridge or else pulling back to a more tactically sound and feasible location on the slopes of Tsangdhar and being called a coward, if the Chinese did not attack and as was being constantly prophesied by the trio of Nehru-Menon-Kaul.

This was his dilemma, the price one pays to be in command and its accompanying loneliness at crucial stages of decision making. "It takes more courage to appear a coward than risk being killed". With the disintegration of the Brigade, the heights of Towang became the next line of defense to stop and fight the Chinese.

"Brigadier John Parshuram Dalvi, was hamstrung between defying a tactically bogus order of his Corps Commander Lieutenant General Bijji Kaul."
Portrait of Brigadier John Dalvi in Dress Uniform; Photo Courtesy Michael Dalvi

Towang assumed great significance owing to its cultural landmark, its Buddhist Monastery, as also its defensive potential and being on the Bumla-Towang-Jang-Nuranang-Sela-Senge-Dirang Zong-Bomdila axis.

When, 1st Sikh was pulled back from Bumla, it was appreciated that Towang could be bypassed and cut off by the advancing Chinese and hence Towang was evacuated without a fight.

The Army then revised its plans to occupy Sela as its new line of defense. 4 Infantry Division was now tasked to defend Sela and its Brigades were accordingly deployed to defend the shoulders and the Central Heights.

62 Infantry Brigade, of which 2nd and 4th Sikh LI, 1st Sikh, 13 th Dogras and 4th Garhwal Rifles was a part of, was tasked to impose delay upon the advancing Chinese so as to allow the defenses to be prepared and coordinated at Sela.

On 29 Oct 1962, Brigadier Hoshiar Singh relieved Brigadier Nandi Lal as 62 Infantry Brigade Commander. The officer was a battle hardened soldier and was decorated for gallantry in the Second Great War. He was, in contrast to the other senior leadership in the Division and IV Corps, determined to give the Chinese a good and hard fight, no matter what.

4th Garhwal Rifles, a unit re raised on 7 December 1959 by Lieutenant Colonel S M Hasnain, and then under command of Lt Col BM Bhattacharjee was tasked to act as Covering Troops for the 4th Infantry Division Defenses at Sela. The unit was deployed astride the winding road from Jang to Nuranang ahead of Bridge 4 on the Nuranang Chu, with its Alpha Company on the left and Delta Company on the right. Bravo Company was in depth.

C Company under command Major HB Rai was tasked to demolish bridge 4 and then occupy defenses in depth. The defenses in Nuranang could not be outflanked and therefore, this made it ideal for a defensive battle. On the other hand, for the Chinese it was vital to secure Nuranang for their onward March towards Sela-Senge-Dirang Zong-Bomdila and the foothills beyond.

On the fateful morning of 17th November, the Chinese launched an attack in waves on Alpha Company and the brunt of which was taken by No 2 platoon. The attack was beaten back by the determined Bhullas (younger brother), as Garhwali soldiers are endearingly called by their officers.

Thereafter, within an hour or two followed a second attack with greater ferocity. Hand grenades were put to effective use to yet again beat back this attack and heavy casualties were suffered by the attacking Chinese soldiers.

In near quick time followed the next and third attack at around 0910 hrs, which was once again beaten back. Second Lieutenant SN Tandon the Alpha Company Commander was in his elements, encouraging and directing the Bhullas, going from bunker to bunker with the energy of youth and the spirit of a warrior - never once looking over his shoulder for help and support.

However, the Company was fast running out of ammunition and the CO Lt Col B M Bhattacharjee got replenishments sent in double quick time, with 2nd Lt Vinod Goswami volunteering to take with him a group of Bhullas from the depth Company to Alpha Company carrying bandoliers and boxes of ammunition including grenades.

"During the course of the war fighting, Naik Ranjit Singh in a motivated burst of bravado came out of his bunker and started hurling grenades at the crawling enemy troops to great effect. A bullet hit Ranjit on the head and he collapsed."
Sten Machine Gun used in the 'Battle of Nuranang' preserved in a museum; Archival Image 

The Chinese were now getting desperate for a breakthrough and brought down one of the most intense shelling upon Alpha Company defenses. Thereafter, when the bombardment lifted, the Chinese infantry launched a three pronged attack in an attempt to get to the exposed left flank of Alpha Company. By now they had abandoned their normal tactics of coming in waves and were instead trying to close in by crawling through the rocks.

Tandon and the platoon commander of No 2 platoon Subedar Udai Singh remained resolute and marshaled the Bhullas superbly.

During the course of the war fighting, Naik Ranjit Singh in a motivated burst of bravado came out of his bunker and started hurling grenades at the crawling enemy troops to great effect. A bullet hit Ranjit on the head and he collapsed.

The Chinese had by then managed to push forward and set up two Medium Machine Guns (MMGs) within 30 meters of the bunkers and started targeting the Alpha Company Light Machine Guns (LMGs) and resorted to once again attacking in waves. The situation soon became desperate.

Ranjit, though bleeding, continued lobbing grenades at the advancing enemy, which gave a window of opportunity to Lance Naik Trilok Singh Negi and Riflemen Jaswant Singh Rawat and Gopal Singh Gusain to come out of their bunkers and crawl towards the MMGs with the intent to silence these. Getting to about 10 mtrs of the MMGs, they lobbed grenades at the Gun emplacement and Jaswant in a bout of daring do raced across and leapt at the crew.

He grabbed one of the MMGs and ran towards his other two comrades, when he was shot down. Trilok, while giving covering fire to Jaswant, was also killed, but Gopal, though wounded, managed to get back into his bunker with the captured MMG. The Chinese attack once again fizzled out. Had the Chinese the option of bypassing the 4th Garhwal position at Nuranang, they would have done so.

Now, under tremendous pressure to get past Alpha Company, they launched yet another determined attack at about 1500 hrs and which was supported by artillery and mortars. Once again, Sub Udai Singh and 2nd Lt Tandon and the Bhullas stood firm.

For the fifth time on that fateful day, the Chinese had to withdraw. There were about 400 to 500 Chinese who were killed and severely wounded as against 2 Bhullas, L/Nk Trilok and Rifleman Jaswant who had been killed in action.

It was one of the biggest lapses and blunder of the war that, the Indian Army's success at Nuranang was not reinforced to stop the Chinese advance along axis Sela-Bomdila but instead 4th Garhwal was ordered to up stick and withdraw to take up defenses in Sela.

It is in the fog of war that many a times faulty and strange decisions are taken by alarmist commanders, who fail to read the tea leaves as also the development of battle and which brings certain defeat when the situation could have been upended and victory ensured. The 1962 Sino-Indian war was a disaster, which could have been averted had the Generals shown the steely resolve to fight rather than flee.

It was in recognition of the dogged determination, steely resolve and élan shown by the Bhullas of Alpha Company and the raw courage displayed by the troika of Trilok, Jaswant and Gopal on 17th Nov 1962 that, the 4th Garhwal Rifles was given the Battle Honour Nuranang and Jaswant decorated with the second highest gallantry award in the face of the enemy; the Mahavir Chakra (Posthumous).

"To keep the memory of Jaswant alive in the hearts and minds of a grateful Nation, Nuranang was named as Jaswantgarh and a memorial built by the government of Arunachal Pradesh and the regional Army Formation, at the scene of the historic battle."
Personal belongings of Rifleman Jaswant Singh (MVC); Photo Courtesy Rachna Bisht Rawat 

Furthermore, to keep the memory of Jaswant alive in the hearts and minds of a grateful Nation and the generations which follow hither to, Nuranang was named as Jaswantgarh and a memorial built by the government of Arunachal Pradesh and the regional Army Formation, at the scene of the historic battle.

In local folklore it is believed that the soul of Jaswant resides here and keeps a constant vigil on the well being and safety of all fellow soldiers who serve in the heights of Sela and beyond. Jaswant has been deified as a guardian angel and it makes every Garhwali proud of his valorous deeds, which were built on the edifice of 4th Garhwal Rifles (Nuranang).

(Brig. Sarvesh D Dangwal commissioned from IMA in 1971. Born into battle with 4 Garhwal Rifles , saw action in Jhangar, Naushera Sector in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Served in APTC for 25 years, was Comdt AIPT & DDGPT before retirement in 2008. Was instrumental in revision of entire system of PT and Testing of Army implemented in 1992 and obtaining till date. An avid reader and writer who freelances on diverse issues that impact civil society and especially those which concern the people of the hills of Uttarakhand.)

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