Operation Falcon And Chequerboard - 1986/87!

"Gen Sundarjee was not only an intellectual and thinking general, he was always a pro-active one and believed in pre-emptive actions to put our adversaries at a thorough disadvantage!" - Maj Gen Rana Goswami

Operation Falcon And Chequerboard - 1986/87!

Editor's Note

A few days back an interesting piece titled 'A TAMBRAM & THE PEKING SOUP' by an unknown author was circulating on various Fauji WhatsApp chat groups and drew keen attention and even appreciation for the events highlighted and rich tributes to Gen Sunderjee then COAS. However, then Congress led Govt of Rajiv Gandhi received criticism. With a view to bring more clarity to the happenings of the events of those times (when there was hardly any communication or transparency) MVI requested our knowledgeable veterans with first hand information or experience of those times for their responses in this context. A full fledged piece titled 'OP FALCON & CHEQUERBOARD 1986-87' with relevant maps received from Col. Rajinder Kushwaha (who served in that area) is published below to benefit our readers. Two complementary responses from Maj Gen Rana Goswami and Gp Capt TP Srivastava are also published. Comments or clarifications to these are welcome to bring greater clarity to the events.

Editor MVI

‘Operation Falcon’ pertains to India’s reaction and counter action to Chinese ingress in the summer of 1986, into Wangdung Village of Sumdorong Chu valley, formed by the confluence of Sumdorong chu and Namka Chu. The place is in Arunachal Pradesh, earlier known as NEFA (North East Frontier Agency).

Sumdorong Chu and Namka Chu flowed into this grazing ground, as a north-south flowing river, the former from the east and the latter from the west. The incident had begun in June 1986, when a Chinese company had occupied small village of WANGDUNG, it was actually a grazing ground in the Sumdorong Chu valley. The village had some 5-6 houses just farmland huts.

It is pertinent to mention here that a decision had been taken by Government of India in 1983 to prepare the defence of Tawang Monastery. Therefore, from 1983 onwards, India has been sending a small detachment (det) of IB (Intelligence Bureau) personnels to Wangdung. They had a radio set and were placed there to monitor any Chinese activity in the area. They used to withdraw in winters. In June 1986, when the det members went to Wangdung, they found Chinese Company occupying the village. They came back to Indian Brigade HQ at Khenzemene, some 30 Kms south of Sumdorong. The Brigade at Khenzemene was commanded by Brig Bhuppi Malik.

Maj Gen JM Singh was GOC 5 Mtn Div, located at Tenga. Lt Gen Narhari was GOC IV corps Cdr, located at Tezpur.  Lt Gen JK Puri, was Eastern Army Cdr, located at Kolkotta.

We must know the background to this incident.  I had served in the area in 1978-79 as TAWANG OC troops Cdr. I had foot slogged all these places. We used to have a patoon post (3 Bihar) at Niti ahead of Zimithang it was a TRIP WIRE type listening post, while main defences at SELA PASS.

In those days, main defences of 5 Mtn Div used to be around SELA PASS, which was India’s defence policy consequent upon 1962 defeat. This defensive mindset even haunts us today. Tawang troops were only early warning elements they were in true sense, sacrificial goats.

When Chinese occupied Wangdung in May- June 1986, as reported by IB det, IA Launched a 5 GR Infantry battalion company to occupy Langro La Ridge—-the ridge is on a pass overlooking the Sumdorong Chu Valley. It was on a higher ground than wangdung, putting Chinese at a great disadvantage.

Chinese confronted this company and asked them to withdraw. But Gorkha Company Commander refused to do so. Chinese delegation was led by a Brigadier, who asked the Gorkha Company cdr to fall back to their LIMIT OF PATROLLING. It is essential to mention here that Army HQ, at the behest of Government of India had laid down a “forward limit of patrolling”, which Chinese Brigadier was referring to. When Company cdr refused to budge, Chinese delegation menacingly advanced towards Langro La. At this Gorkha Company Cdr asked his LMG to fire in the air, which went over the head of Chinese Brigadier and he ran down aling with his troops.

This action of moving a Gorkha Company might have been at the behest of Div/ Corps cdrs. However, 5 Mtn Div HQ, along with a Mtn Brigade, was moved forward to Tawang at the same time. This must have been cleared by Army HQ (DGMO).  Therefore, here comes the role of Army Chief. General Sundarji. It could not have been done without his approval. As an immediate measure, 5 GR Bn, commanded by Lt Col Pathania, was asked to occupy the ridge between Bumla pass and Langro La Ridge. This ridge line dominated Wangdung village.

This is how Op FALCON had begun.

Maj Gen JM Singh, GOC 5 Mtn Div, had also worked out a plan to eliminate Chinese company in the summer of 1987 by making a flanking move from East and occupy a pass behind the Chinese.

The plan had envisaged that the Chinese company at Wangdung should not be allowed to withdraw. It was anticipated If the sanction comes to the Div, in the summer of 1987 , it would destroy the Chinese company —about a 110-odd men. The idea was, the  Gorkhas, on the eastern flank, would move through the ridge-line extension east of the Nyamjang Chu, where we knew there was no Chinese position, and occupy the pass through which this company had come across the Thagla Ridge line.  This flanking move was to ensure that they hold off any Chinese reinforcements coming from the north, along the Nyamjang Chu. This move was to occupy Nyamjang Chu pass and hold it.

This is when Govt of India (China Study Group) had panicked and wanted IA to pull back . This was the time when Lt Gen , VN Sharma, later a General , took over Eastern Comd on 01 June 1987 .

Operation Chequerboard was an exercise with troops, where a forward posture was adopted. This Tele comn exercise reportedly involved 10 Infantry divisions but actually only 3 Mtn divisions , with 50,000 troops were involved . This was a massive air lift exercise , which was done with great precision.


Maj Gen. Rana Goswami

Gen Sundarjee was not only an intellectual and thinking general, he was always a pro-active one and believed in pre-emptive actions to put our adversaries at a thorough disadvantage! Unfortunately, we had a spineless political class for the first 60-65 years of our independence, less perhaps Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi for a certain period of time, who were totally petrified of not only China, but Pakistan as well. Anyhow, all this is history and is unlikely to be repeated under the current dispensation. However, the aspect that will hinder operations 10 years from today, will be the quality of the soldier, unlike today, once the Agni Veers occupy most of the OR space within the army. With hardly any training along with poor mental and physical toughness, they could well cause embarrassment by running away from the battlefield under the pressure of sustained operations. With barely 40-45% of authorised strength of officers posted in the majority of units, even in operational areas, and the break of the Officer-OR connect, due to barely 5-6 officers present in units at any point in time due to leave, courses etc, even the impact of leadership, left at best to the JCOs under these circumstances, may not be able to inspire and hold the troops together under battle conditions. Unless corrected at the earliest, our country is almost certain to face severe embarrassment in the event of any future war!

Gp Capt. TP Srivastava

I wish I could add to what and how IAF readied itself. But would not bother with details of plans. Would only mention about the meeting in Air HQ Ops room attended by CAS. I was assisting by showing slides on OHP. Final exchange between Chiefs Gen Sundarji said "so we are ready?" CAS ACM Denis La Fontaine replied "tell us when?" I mention this for the Ignoramuses who believe that we lack jointmanship! They will succeed in destroying existing structure.

(Col. Rajinder Kushwaha is an ex-NDA, commissioned into 3 Bihar. He is a battle-hardened veteran who served in  ’71 War & has operated extensively in various insurgency environs across the country. He is a renowned author, and a highly respected defence & national security expert writing for several reputed publications such as  ‘Defence and Security Alert’ (DSA), the ‘Indian Defence Review’ (IDR) among others. You can reach him on Twitter: @RajeeKushwaha, Email ID: [email protected])

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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