The situation is so tense at Ladakh border that it has brought Indian and Chinese forces to an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Indian forces are full of self-confidence and ready to go to any extent to defend every inch of the Indian land and foil the nefarious designs of the Chinese.
The Chinese often talk about the 1962 war when they backstabbed India and encroached a large swathe of land in Aksai Chin. However, they don’t mention the 1967 confrontation in Sikkim when the Indian army gave them a bloody nose and killed around 300-400 Chinese soldiers within 3 days.
What led to 1967 confrontation
The seeds of 1967 were laid in Indo-China war of 1965. A desperate Pakistan sought Chinese help in the 1965 war and asked them to build pressure on India along their border. The Chinese, in turn, issued an ultimatum to India for vacating both Nathu La and Jelep La passes on the Sikkim-Tibet border. At that time, 17 Mountain Division was deployed in that region which was led by Major General Sagat Singh.
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Singh received instructions from the core headquarter to vacate both the passes. However, he disobeyed instructions and refused to vacate Nathu La pass. His argument was that Nathu La’s height gave the Indian army an advantage over the Chinese and therefore, it could not be vacated. Major General Sagat Singh’s words proved to be prophetic as it helped Indian forces pummel Chinese soldiers two years later.
Indian Army’s refusal to vacate Nathu La pass enraged the Chinese and they started provoking the Indian soldiers by taunting them using loudspeakers. They insulted Indian soldiers by reminding them of their meagre salaries and below par facilities compared to the Chinese. They even reminded Indian forces of the 1962 humiliation and threatened to repeat it once again.
Major General Sagat Singh decided to respond to Chinese propaganda in the same coin. He got a message translated in mandarin and started relaying it from the loudspeakers. The message promises Chinese to make them bite the dust in the battlefield.
11-14 September 1967: Indian Army killed Over 300 Chinese soldiers
In addition to the verbal attack, the Chinese were continuously trying to intrude into Sikkim that was an Indian protectorate at that time. The repeated intrusion attempts by the Chinese prompted the Indian forces to wire fence the border so that it’s clearly demarcated. The fencing work started on the morning of 11 September 1967.
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However, the Chinese side objected to the laying of wire on the border. The Chinese political commissar, accompanied with a section of his infantry, arrived at the spot where wire fencing was in progress and asked Indian forces to stop laying the wire. The Indian soldiers refused to pay any heed to his objections that led to the exchange of heated words between the two sides. Soon a scuffle broke out and the Indian forces roughed up the commissar.
The Chinese went back up to their bunkers and engineers of Indian Army resumed laying the wire. However, within minutes, the Chinese launched gunfire at the unprepared and uncovered Indian soldiers. Many Indian soldiers lost their lives. Capt Dagar of 2 Grenadiers and Major Harbhajan Singh of 18 Rajput displayed valour of very high level as they rallied a few troops and tried to assault the Chinese MMG. However, they were both martyred. Capt Dagar and Major Harbhajan Singh were posthumously awarded Veer Chakra and MVC respectively.
When Major General Sagat Singh saw the Chinese opening the fire at India soldiers, he ordered his soldiers to retaliate by opening fire from howitzers that were mounted at Nathu La peaks. The firing from Indian howitzers, from a height of 10,000 feet, changed the game in favour of India. The entire Chinese locations came under the range of Indian howitzers and the PLA suffered huge casualties.
This confrontation continued for three days. On 14 September, a ceasefire was announced. However, around 300-400 Chinese soldiers were killed by Indian forces by that time. The casualty on the Indian side was around 65. The two sides exchanged the dead bodies on September 15.
Interestingly, at that time only the Prime Minister, not even the army chief, had the powers to order the opening of fire from howitzers. However, Major General Sagat Singh, once again, went beyond his brief and ordered the opening of fire from howitzers which resulted in a splendid victory for India.
Major General Sagat Singh’s heroics played a key role in India’s decisive victory but he was transferred by his superiors as he had violated the rules of Indian Army.