The humiliating defeat the Indian Army suffered in 1962, back in the news after the Henderson Brooks report leak, could have been avoided had the political and military leadership paid attention to two military exercises that predicted the attack.
On March 17, 1960, Lt Gen SPP Thorat, commanding the Eastern Command, conducted a military exercise that accurately predicted the timing and nature of a possible Chinese attack. The Eastern Command would bear the brunt of the fighting as Chinese hordes moved into Arunachal Pradesh and came up to Tezpur in Assam.
A few months after Gen Thorat’s assessment, the Western Command carried out ‘Exercise Sheel’. Gen Thapar was the army commander and responsible for the Ladakh sector, which would also face a major assault from the Chinese in the Aksai Chin area of Jammu & Kashmir.
‘Exercise Sheel’, carried out in October 1960, made it clear that an extra army division was needed to repel a possible Chinese attack. Gen Thapar was promoted as army chief in May 1961. Inexplicably, he did not respond to Western Command’s demand for the extra division in September 1961.
Gen Thorat’s ‘Exercise Lal Qila’, conducted in Lucknow, was perhaps the most detailed military drill carried out. Its findings were accessed by military historian and author Kunal Verma, who met Gen Thorat’s family decades later. “I went through his personal diaries… he had precise knowledge about the nature and timing of the attack,” Verma told HT.
Gen Thorat made detailed studies of Intelligence Bureau reports, the terrain, the time taken by Chinese troops to cover distances and their preparations to accurately predict a Chinese attack.
Gen Thorat set three aims for his exhaustive study. First, the forces under his command must prevent ingress into India and Sikkim, besides a simultaneous attack from East Pakistan. Second, he was preparing to give assistance to Nepal if it came under attack. Third, he wanted to maintain law and order in the northeastern states during such a war.
Interestingly, Gen Thorat noted that once war was declared, he had no option but to arrange with the Indian Air Force (IAF) to take on suitable targets near the border areas.
However, the IAF was never used and this contributed significantly to India’s defeat.
Gen Thorat’s 50-page report was finally seen by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru when the 1962 war was nearing its end. According to Verma, Gen Thorat was flown down to Delhi by a special plane because Nehru wanted his advice. In fact, Gen Thorat has recorded this meeting in his autobiography ‘From Reveille to Retreat’.
“From all accounts, the meeting was initially tense as Nehru read the report and was stunned when Gen Thorat said the Chinese would withdraw from the occupied territories. Gen Thorat, as a commander of the troops during the Korean war, had dealt with the Chinese and understood their capabilities,” Verma said.
Had Nehru seen the two detailed studies in 1960, the defeat at the hands of the Chinese could have been avoided.