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1962 war report: Govt advocated caution, Army dictated policy that was militarily unsound

Report was commissioned by the Army more than half a century ago and were made public on Monday by Australian journalist.

The Army had, through the report, aimed to draw lessons from the defeat and pinpoint accountability. Reuters The Army had, through the report, aimed to draw lessons from the defeat and pinpoint accountability. Reuters

Militarily unsound plans, poor Army leadership and a baffling belief that there would be no armed response from Beijing led to the faulty implementation of the ‘forward policy’ of Jawaharlal Nehru’s government that resulted in a humiliating defeat to China in the 1962 war, say sections of the classified Henderson Brooks report that have become public.

The report was commissioned by the Army more than half a century ago and were made public Monday by Australian journalist Neville Maxwell. The Army had, through the report, aimed to draw lessons from the defeat and pinpoint accountability.

But it has remained classified and its publication drew little reaction from the defence ministry. The MoD Tuesday said the report remains top secret “given the extremely sensitive nature of the contents…which are of current operational value”.

Parts of the report, published on Maxwell’s web site briefly before being taken down, goes into details of the war and the implementation of the forward policy but is silent on the political leadership’s role and functioning as the same was not part of its terms of reference.

As first reported by The Indian Express in October 2012, no member of the political leadership including Nehru has been named in the report but it is highly critical of the Army leadership, including Lt Gen B M Kaul who was Chief of General Staff before the war and was appointed as the commander of the newly crated IV Corps that was routed in the Northeast. 

The report, prepared by Lt Gen Henderson Brooks with the help of Brigadier Prem Bhagat, is also highly critical of the then Army Chief Gen P N Thapar.

The 126-page section published Monday says that while the forward policy was a politically sound one even though its introduction “certainly increased” the chances of conflict, the military action planned around it was flawed and hasty.

“It is obvious that politically the forward policy was desirable and presumably the eviction of the Chinese from Ladakh must always be the eventual aim. For this, there can be no argument but what is pertinent is whether we were militarily in a position at that time to implement the policy,” the report says.

Going into minute details of the actions before the start of the conflict as well as a blow-by-blow account of the actual hostilities, the report blames an unsound military plan as the main reason for the debacle in the war and has said that the government had advocated a “cautious policy” that was misinterpreted by Army HQ.

“The government who politically must have been keen to recover territory advocated a cautious policy whilst Army HQ dictated a policy that was clearly militarily unsound,” the report says, adding that the full import of the government’s instructions was not forwarded by Army HQ to its formations and commands.

Quoting the government’s directive that stated that forces should be concentrated along the borders behind the forward posts from where they can be used to restore a “border situation” at short notice, the report says that the Army HQ instructions were flawed and led to a situation in which troops in small numbers were isolated at poorly manned posts all along the border, making them an easy target for a strong concentrated force of the Chinese military.

“There is no doubt that the implementation of the forward policy, in the manner it was done, was carried out deliberately by Army HQ without the necessary backing, as laid down by the government,” the report says.

The report has also been highly critical of the Chief of Army Staff for not giving the correct military assessment to the political leadership on the forward policy. It says that the internal military intelligence appreciation of the situation was that China would resist with force any plan by the Indian Army to take back territory but the same was not convincingly conveyed.

“A meeting was held in the PMO on 2 Nov 1961 and was attended among others by the defence minister, the foreign secretary, the chief of Army staff and the director Intelligence Bureau. It appears that the DIB was of the opinion that `the Chinese would not react to our establishing new posts and that they were not likely to use force against any of our posts even if they were in a position to do so,” the report says.

As reported by The Indian Express, the report has been more praiseworthy of the actions of the Western Command that was directing operations in the Ladakh sector and has said that Army HQ led by Gen Thapar refused to respond to a strong request for additional troops in the form of a new division to meet the Chinese threat.

It also says that the Western Command conducted a reappraisal on its preparedness for the forward policy and raised a pertinent question that India’s military means at that moment in time were not adequate to pursue the political decision. “It is imperative that political direction is based on military means.

If the two are not co related, there is a danger of creating a situation where we may lose both in the material and moral sense much more than we already have. Thus, there is no short cut to military preparedness to enable us to pursue effectively our present policy aimed at refuting the illegal Chinese claim over our territory” the Western Command had said but this was ignored by the Army HQ.

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