Army Chief General MM Naravane meets Army Chief commended troops as he visited forward areas in Eastern Ladakh and reviewed the operational situation on the ground on 24 June 2020 | ANI
Army Chief General MM Naravane visited forward areas in Eastern Ladakh and reviewed the operational situation on the ground on 24 June 2020 (representational image) | ANI
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On 11 August, The Economic Times reported that the Army had conducted a court of inquiry with respect to the Galwan valley incident of 15 June in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in action and 76 were wounded in violent “unarmed combat” with China’s People’s Liberation Army, or the PLA. The Army was quick to deny the report, raising more questions about the circumstances of the unfortunate incident.

The circumstances were unusual, and in fact, unprecedented in history of the Army. The key question being who gave the orders for the soldiers to not carry weapons? Or if the soldiers were carrying weapons as announced by the Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, who gave the orders not to use them? More so, when nothing in the 1996 border management agreement or subsequent border management protocols bars the use of fire arms in self-defence or to safeguard our territory?

Logically, the militaries should and do inquire into lapses in battle to learn lessons and fix accountability. Any attempt not to do so implies that a cover-up is being attempted for an error of judgement by the hierarchy, or with respect to systemic lapses in leadership, training, tactics and weapons/equipment. More often than not, by default, the commander on the spot and their unit gets blamed, and in a regimented system, carries the cross forever. On the eve of the 55th anniversary of 1965 India-Pakistan War, I prove the point with an example.


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From a great victory…

36 Sikh (now 4 Sikh) was raised on 23 March 1887, and within 10 years, created history in the battle of Saragarhi by an epic ‘last man last round’ stand on the Samana Ridge in North West Frontier Province on 12 September 1897. In its history of 133 years, the unit has taken part in every war fought by the Army. It was stationed in Beijing in September 1914 to guard the British Embassy and took part in the siege of Tsingtao (now Qingdao in China) in November 1914. From 1916 to 1918, it fought in Mesopotamia, Iraq and Iran. During the Second World War, it fought in Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya and Italy. In 1962, it fought a heroic action at Walong.

On 10 September 1965, the unit under the command Lt Col Anant Singh captured Barki, held by a company of 17 Punjab of Pakistan after a fierce battle. The intensity of the battle can be imagined by the fact that in close combat lasting about 70 minutes, the unit suffered 39 soldiers killed in action and 121 wounded, including two officers. The enemy was left with 15 soldiers killed in action, including the company commander Major Aziz Bhatti and 74 wounded. He was the only one to be awarded Pakistan’s highest decoration — Nishan-e-Haider — in the 1965 war. 4 Sikh was awarded the Battle Honour — Barki — and also awarded a Maha Vir Chakra, three Vir Chakras, three Sena Medals and three Chief of the Army Staff Commendation Card.


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…to a catastrophic defeat in 24 hours

On the morning of 11 September, 4 Sikh was busy reorganising the defence of Barki in anticipation of a counter-attack. It was a proud day indeed because on the eve of Saragarhi Day — 12 September — the unit had achieved great victory. But fate had something else in store for this great battalion.

On the 78th anniversary of Saragarhi on 12 September 1965, the unit suffered a catastrophic defeat due to an error of judgement by the highest commander in the theatre — General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Western Command Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh who was also the Colonel of the Sikh Regiment. The details of the incident were revealed in a book — The Monsoon War: Young Officers Reminisce – 1965 IndiaPakistan War (Roli Books 2015) — by Capt. Amrinder Singh and Lt Gen. T. S. Shergill. Circumstances leading to the incident are a first person account (pages 231-236) by Capt Amrinder Singh who was then posted as the aide-de-camp (ADC) to Lt Gen. Harbaksh Singh. I was commissioned in 4 Sikh and interacted with most of the officers, Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) and Other Ranks (OR) who took part in both the operations and I am, too, privy to first-hand accounts.


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Why the 4 Sikh was called in

In the Khemkaran Sector, our 4 Infantry Division with two infantry brigades had initially gone on the offensive on 6 September 1965 towards Kasur to secure the area up to the Ichogil Canal to deny a launch pad to Pakistan’s 1 Armoured Division. After initial success, 4 Infantry Division suffered a major setback when enemy’s 11 Infantry Division counter-attacked. The division was forced to withdraw nearly 10 km to Asal Uttar-Valtoha. The enemy captured Khemkaran and launched its 1 Armoured Division to capture Beas Bridge and Jandiala Guru on the Grand Trunk Road, 80 km to the north-east. A heroic battle was fought from 8 to 10 September around Asal Uttar – Valtoha by 4 Infantry Division and 2 Independent Armoured Brigade to decimate two armoured brigades of Pakistan’s 1 Armoured Division. The third brigade, which was in reserve, was moved to Sialkot Sector after the loss of Phillora on 10 September. However, the enemy’s 11 Infantry Division with remnants of 1 Armoured Division remained firmly entrenched at Khemkaran.

On 11 September, the Army Commander assumed that the enemy was retreating and ordered pursuit by 4 Infantry Division. The plan was to attack and recapture Khemkaran on the morning of 12 September while simultaneously establishing a road block behind Khemkaran on the road to Kasur. Since the 4 Infantry Division had suffered heavy casualties, it did not have the resources to establish the road block. The Army Commander decided to take one infantry battalion from 7 Infantry Division.


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The lapses

The battalion selected was 4 Sikh that was busy reorganising to defend Barki, which it had captured during the previous night. The Army Commander seemed sure of success and the anticipated victory next day — 12 September — would have coincided with the 68th anniversary of the Saragarhi Battle. And what could be better than the Saragarhi Battalion itself spearheading the victory. The facts that the unit had not slept for two days, had suffered heavy casualties the previous night — 39 killed in action and 121 wounded — and was neither familiar with the area, nor had time to carry out any reconnaissance, were disregarded. Around mid-day, the Commanding Officer, Lt Col Anant Singh, was called to HQ 7 Infantry Division and personally assigned the new mission by the Army Commander. Lt Col Anant Singh, probably overawed by the confidence reposed in his unit by the Army Commander and his Colonel of the Regiment, accepted the mission without expressing his reservations.

Lt Col Anant Singh was not even in touch with his unit. He discussed his misgivings with GOC 7 Infantry Division who advised him to discuss the matter with GOC 4 Infantry Division. Passing directions through the divisional staff for the unit to fetch up to Valtoha, he proceeded to 4 Infantry Division.

The plan was for 4 Sikh to infiltrate 15-20 km from the South of Road Valtoha – Khemkaran to establish a road block on the Khemkaran-Kasur road by 0500 hours on 12 September. Simultaneously, 2 Mahar supported by a squadron plus two troops of armour was to attack and capture Khemkaran. It was anticipated that Khemkaran was defended by only one infantry company, supported by few tanks. The operation was being controlled by 7 Mountain Brigade. Lt Col Anant Sigh requested the Commander of 7 Mountain Brigade to take up the issue for a 24-hour postponement for reconnaissance and planning. The matter was discussed with GOC 4 Mountain Division but rejected. GOC 4 Infantry Division and Commander 7 Mountain Brigade having fought in the area for six days were in all likelihood aware of the real situation, but did not display the  moral courage to represent to the Army Commander.


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A tired unit arrives to fight

A tired 4 Sikh arrived at Valtoha at midnight. After a short briefing, the unit commenced its infiltration at 0100 hours on 12 September. Although it was assessed that there were a few tanks in Khemkaran, it was assumed that these would be destroyed by own armour attacking the next morning. Not taking a chance, Lt Col Anant Singh decided to carry two 106 mm RCL anti-tank guns on man-pack basis because the terrain was unfit for their jeep carriers. The movement of the unit was slowed down due to the heavy anti-tank guns. One company was left behind to bring them forward and the Commanding Officer with other three companies continued to move forward. Some enemy patrols engaged the advancing columns but were quickly dealt with. However, the enemy was alerted about the infiltration column. By 0500 hours, the unit was between Machhike village and Khemkaran, about 1,000-1,500 yards from the latter.

Unknown to the unit and 7 Mountain Brigade, Khemkaran and adjoining areas to the north and south was defended with four infantry battalions and four to five squadrons of armour belonging to three different regiments. At 0500 hours, 4 Sikh had walked into the harbour — an area to which tanks in those days pulled back at night for rest and replenishment — of this armour. In fact, Lt Col Anant Singh walked straight into 3 Field Regiment (self-propelled) — armour protected artillery guns on tracks. He inquired from a young officer standing on the self-propelled gun as to whether these were the tanks of the Deccan Horse— our own attacking armour. The young officer quickly took out his revolver and took Lt Col. Singh as a POW (prisoner of war). Some soldiers close to the CO tried to make a break resulting in 1 officer and 13 OR being killed in minutes. Others entered sugarcane fields to escape. The area was surrounded by enemy armour and infantry. In the next few hours, five officers, seven JCOs and 110 OR were rounded up and taken POW. The attack on Khemkaran from the north east by one battalion and one-and-half squadron of armour failed miserably against the strong defence.

Twenty-four hours after the glorious victory at Barki, 4 Sikh had suffered a humiliating defeat on Saragarhi Day, all because of an error of judgement by the Army Commander. When Lt Col Anant Singh returned from captivity, he went to meet Lt General Harbaksh Singh who said, “Anant, I am sorry”. This catastrophic defeat was never inquired into. Very few know of the circumstances of this military disaster, but all know of the ignominy of 4 Sikh, including its commanding officer being captured and the photographs being splashed in Pakistani media.

Apart from the need to fix the accountability for those who gave orders not to carry weapons or not to use them if carried, the reputation of those killed in action on 15 June at Galwan must be upheld by holding a court of inquiry.

Lt Gen H S Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC in C Northern Command and Central Command. Post retirement, he was Member of Armed Forces Tribunal. Views are personal.

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30 Comments Share Your Views

30 COMMENTS

  1. I’m not an expert on defense, but one should read a book by a Pakistani General, probably Ayub or Gohar Ayub, I’m not sure. He mentioned that the wife of a high ranking officer, who rose to great heights, was constantly in touch with them, and they knew nearly most strategic planning of Indians.

  2. We should have a Brahmin regiment and a Gujarati regiment.Sikh regiment,Rajput regiment, Gurkha regiment will get good support from the newly formed PATRIOTIC & BRAVE regiments.

    • Hahaha, do some homework, bro. Before you talk of having an entire regiment of Gujaratis, find out if here are EVEN 100 GUJARATIS in the entire army today.

    • Better you stop conversion before we through you out by force. You despite being an alien to this land take liberty and pass sarcastic words against those who you sheltered and feed you on their garden earned money. It’s you people only who cast abuses against the nationalists and defend rapists of nuns..Hold your self before it’s too late..

  3. Not sure what Lt.Gen.Panag is alluding to. Its quite obvious that both Indian & Chinese troops were unarmed. So it should be equally obvious that there was an agreement in place to not use weapons.

    So what exactly is the purpose of the whole article ?? Except perhaps to display the writer’s knowledge of military history.

  4. That’s a good account of the Khemkaran battle.

    But more relevant account of why the author thinks firearms could have been used at Galwan despite the treaty would serve the purpose of informing the reader better.

    Also helpful would be an analysis on how Chinese forces might have responded to indians using firearms.

  5. Aam aadmi knows the truth but our soldier author in cahoots with dragon very much aware is feigning ignorance.

    Between finger 4-8 which was a buffer zone this catastrophic event happened.

    Maybe he should check with his oriental masters they can help him navigate the treacherous path of the truth first hand.

  6. I wonder why a former Northern Army Commander has to discuss military strategy and tactics in the media and The Print to carry it. Please do not stretch free press and democracy to breaking point and mockery.

    Is the General suggesting that Operational orders and debriefing of operations be in the public domain? As it is,there is enough in the public domain for even the uninitiated to surmise the situation. Discussions on Military matters are done efficiently and effectively by the Indian Military in-house , by those still in uniform. Being a democracy, the larger aspects of military actions and connected aspects are more than amply reported in the media without veterans offering “Expert” views.

    Should not the Nation leave some room for other actions like diplomacy and negotiations? Or is the General on to some agenda other than a winning case for India? E.g. will telling China in public ”look here, I have given you a bloody nose, now get back” work? Or does the senior General, who was calling the shots in these areas as an Army Commander not long ago, suppose holding a public inquiry on all border skirmishes, within days, will help the Indian Military; it will of course be music to the ears of the adversaries! I know many Indians, who have their own ideas of free speech and democracy etc, will applaud this General. But Defence, battles and wars are handled differently from Bollywood scandals. I am sure the General knows it too.

    But alas!

    • Soldiers die for the country’s pride, not for an individual’s ego or inefficiency. Yes, MISTAKES can occur, but aren’t they different from CRASSNESS? One is a built in risk of any job, and deserves to be punished lightly. The other is unpardonable and deserves to be published heavily. Only an enquiry can determine which is what. Human blood has flown in abundance and India’s pride have suffered in Galwan. How can the guilty go scot-free?

      • Yes Sanjiv, those guilty, wherever should not go unpunished. Thanks for your concern. The military (especially the Indian Military) usually takes care of the military aspects of this efficiently and effectively.
        In battles and along a live, ill-defined and tenuous border (LAC) with a belligerent adversary like China, expect intermittent skirmishes and casualties, even fatal at times. That is the lot of the soldiers. There will be no better person than the General, who was in charge of these areas not long ago, who will already know and understand this. Rest assured localized debriefings and immediate corrective actions if required, are part of a process of any military operations. The situation along LAC is live. This is not the time for public display of pseudo righteousness to call for heads to roll at any level, without even establishing a case. There will be a time and place for everything.
        Rest assured the enemy will be laughing all the way to the bank, reading such articles now (especially from senior veterans) in the Indian media.
        Regards

        • “This is not the time for public display of pseudo righteousness…”
          What you call “pseudo righteousness”, Col., has another word for it in the present context – – “indignation”. No body is calling for a PUBLIC COURT MARTIAL or media trial, but just an old fashioned… enquiry?! Are you privy to the details that it WILL be held? Then at least take Gen. Panag into confidence ; this senior veteran too seems to be feeling indignant about it.

  7. I think that Gen. Panag is overstating his demand for detailed inquiry of circumstances of Chinese moving forward in Galwan River valley and also from their Sirijap Complex to Finger 4 areas. It is approximately 6 to 7 km along the edge of the mountain in Finger 4 which is also the edge of Pangong Lake. It is a treacherous walk, but well planned and well, executed by the Chinese. They probably had planned it for this summer. The Galwan River advance by them was also well executed, but fully checked by nearby Indian Army units. It has been an agreed procedure not to carry firearms by both sides for the last 20 years. Since the Chinese were planning this for a few years since the road linking the Leh to Daulat Beg Oldi had been under construction for that long. The Chinese here wished to stick as close to the Indian Road as possible, hence selected the Galwan River mouth as their look see point. The Indian Army reaction was natural – they wished to see and possibly eliminate that lookout observation post.

    Was there any lapse or lapses as General Panag says. …. No, I do not wish to give credibility to his assertions. As a retired senior officer of the army, he knows all these Issues very well. He still prefers to raise them, in not very orderly manner.

    Both sides here observed the general rule of not carrying the firearms when going on a patrol or even visit the hill top for talks and tell them to dismantle the observation post. Unaware, the Chinese had brought nail studded baseball bats to inflict injury. Or alternatively push the Indian party from the hilltop into the river. The small Indian party was dealt with both of these actions and lives were lost. Help for the small Indian party arrived soon. The Chinese over the next day or so were dealt with a grievous punishment for that act. Their nail studied bat were turned against them in a hand to hand fight. Whatever casualties the Chinese inflicted, they got a bit more. This whole matter became a news item in the whole world. The infinite amount of analysis, including by Gen Panag was published some instigated by Chinese media some lead on by guess work of the Indian media.

    The Army inquiries are not public commission inquiry which General Panag should know. These are internal departmental inquiries on circumstances which lead to that. Also to appreciate the retaliatory work of the arriving soldiers who without firearms inflicted a huge casualties on the Chinese is well executed. …… Nobody in his right mind would wish to set up a public inquiry or a commission. It is for the Army to deal with if some bad judgment had been exercised. Any causality (in this case 20), I believe, is investigated properly by the Army, but not a public report published for enemy’s benefit.

    Now let us deal with a 1965 war decision by Lt. Gen Harbaksh Singh to send Lt. Col. Anant Singh to block the retreat of Pakistani Army retreat from Khemkaran. The Pakistani Army’s 1st Armored Division had been beaten at Khemkaran (I believe Gen Panag knows about that). They were retreating. Whatever was left of that tank force and infantry column was being sent to Sialkot. Danger of bigger losses were greater there. That front had to be reinforced, hence Generlas Ayub and Musa took that decision. That move of their’s had to be blocked. There were no new reserves at General Harbaksh disposal. Only troops were that of Lt. Col Anant Singh’s troop who had arrived from training or maybe late arrival for the battle, and presented themselves in front of Lt. Gen Harbaksh Singh. He, at once ordered them for the blocking movement of retreating Pakistani troops (Read General Harbaksh Singh’ memoirs). His move was right, but his intelligence failed him. The whole unit of about 500 men and officers fell in Pakistani hands and were made POWs.

    Was the forgoing a command failure? No, sir,….. it was not. It was an intelligence failure initially not knowing that Pakistani 1st armored division is in the vicinity of Khemkaran and not knowing that some units of their infantry are well dug waiting for Lt. Col. Anant Singh to arrive for his blocking move.

    The army did hold an internal inquiry of this debacle. The great General Harbaksh Singh, who prevented the Pakistani breakthrough at Khemkaran was not promoted to COAS. No inquiry commission was appointed to know about this debacle. There really was no need. The command decision was based on faulty intelligence, thus it occurred.

    General Panag probably knows all this, but he has run out of subjects to talk about hence indulges in low grade media politics…

    Cheers…… I believe I passed by LT. Col Anant Singh’ column on GT Road in September 10th, as I was proceeding to Delhi for my first job at DCM and our bus was stopped to let the military column pass. We cheered them. They all were Sikh soldiers, smiling at our cheers. My guess is that they were hastily proceeding to the front. Later, when I read General Harbaksh memoirs, I put two and two together and I knew that I had almost guessed it right.

    • Good comments (importantly, on an even not material to current situation on the IB or elsewhere) reflecting a military character in you, so to speak.

      But this, on an ongoing live situation, by a former Army Commander and The Print willing to carry it? Well, what shall I say?

  8. I like the opinions from Lt Gen H S Panag, but this article seemed unwarranted. Yes accountability of any failure must be determined and the person or group in question must be held responsible. What’s the mistake here? A communication gap. The GOC-in-Chief was not aware of the conditions of 4 Sikh brigade, but he gave orders. Why was he not aware of the situation? Was he not communicated properly, or he thought 4 Sikh will always do miracles! If he was aware of the situation, but still he gave the order, then he must be held responsible and action should be taken.

    • The author mentions two leads: the soldiers “had not slept for two days”, and that “they were tired”. Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh should have known, or his ADC should have known and told him – – even if Lt. Col. Anant Singh did not inform the GOC-in-C out of fake bravado. The Army has a code of discipline that the senior’s order can not be questioned and must be followed. This TACITLY assumes that the senior will give orders with a sense of responsibility and not for ego-kicks. Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh shouldn’t have been let go scot free.
      The author is fully justified in saying that the “culprit” of Galwan should be discovered through enquiry. If there is not even an enquiry being instituted, then “the man” must be, MUST be close to someone big in the BJP or to CDS Bipin Rawat (which is saying the same thing).

    • The GOC-in C was aware of the situation, but not convinced about it. Those that could have convinced him, did not speak up when they should have.

      That’s the problem. Obedience is required in the army, but a fearlessness to speak of the ground realities at all times, irrespective of what the reaction might be, should always be there! A true officer, always tries to ensure maximum benefit for the ‘entire operation’, with minimum loss for his regiment–be that in material, or men. So at all times, both those factors should decide the course of action, not personal bias, or loyalties, or rapport.

    • Yes. this congress govt made an agreement that the soldiers would not open fire even if they are beaten to death. PLA were just testing if that agreement still holds or not when modi is in power. Now modi is saying, that agreement is not valid, please open fire. Not sure if they really know to operate fire arms … this congress govt didn’t let them use fire arms for so long … hmmm

    • Not in case when enemy entered your territory. Also article 3of agreement said there will be only 5000spldiers within 20km of respective LAC.
      When china did not honour both clause of agreement then why India following that agreement.
      The truth is CDS and NSA are counter terrorism operation master , they totaly fail to anticipate chinese army plan. When china amass more than 50000 Soldier near Border from March onwards why Indian millitary not occupy their summer position pre emptively.

    • When you walk in the forest, you do so with the idea of respecting all the living beings there, but also carry a stout stick. If you encounter a snake, you try to leave it alone, but if it attacks you for whatever reason, you whack it with the stick.

      You don’t go for a walk in the forest completely unarmed, as though it were a stroll through the garden of eden. If you aren’t carrying a stick, you have no business being in a forest. That’s common sense.

      Get the analogy, or should I explain that in Hindi now, so you don’t take things literally and start talking about there being no forest in galwan?

    • Idiots like you only know the language of the illiterate mobs. There have been agreements but things change on the ground with circumstances. The Chinese had already reached far beyond what was the LAC. Best you stick to guarding your cows and take the stray ones off the roads. The General is no pushover like you bhakts

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