1967: When a Young Gorkha Tore Down Chinese Defence Line in Sikkim
In his book, Probal DasGupta looks at the crucial battles fought in 1967 that changed Indo-China dynamics.
(This excerpt has been taken with permission from ‘Watershed - 1967: India’s Forgotten Victory Over China’ by Probal DasGupta, published by Juggernaut.)
By 1967, relations between India and China had hit a low. Arguments over a border fence led to to two deadly battles in the Himalayas of Sikkim China border in September-October 1967. Gorkhas and Grenadier troops of the Indian army demolished Chinese PLA forces in these battles. Over 500 died in the battles and a thousand were injured.
In his book Watershed-1967: India’s Forgotten Victory Over China, author Probal DasGupta, a former army veteran, looks at what led to the battles of 1967 and the long-term impact it had on Indo-China relations.
The Fierce Gorkha Warrior
As soon as the Chinese started firing, Lance Naik Krishna Bahadur, the section commander, who had been at the rock, took charge and gathered a few more men who had arrived from Point 15450 behind him. They tried to assault the Chinese bunkers a few metres ahead of him across the border. A hail of bullets felled him, though he continued to exhort his men against the Chinese while simultaneously firing at the enemy. A machine gun finally silenced him. Intense fighting had erupted between the two sides by now.
Debi Prasad, who had been present at the scene of the brawl, had been fighting alongside Krishna Bahadur all this while. He now waded into Chinese territory, attacking PLA soldiers who were out in the open and then barged his way past them towards the Chinese forward post, barely a few feet away, across the border.
Affable, gentle and jovial, young Limbu from the hills of Nepal rushed into a fierce close-quarter combat with the Chinese at the post. Letting out the war cry ‘Jai Maa Kali, Ayo Gorkhali’, the young Gorkha thrust towards the well-armed Chinese soldiers. In a flash, he drew out the deadly khukri, raised it to the sky and brough it down on the Chinese light machine gunner before his forefinger could pull the trigger.
Debi moved like lightning as he swiped, swung and slashed, letting the traditional shiny dagger heave and strike in a fearsome display of hand-to-hand combat. He scythed through the Chinese forward line of defence, lopping off five heads as soldiers fell around him. The collective might of the enemy front line was not enough to stop this short, sturdy young man. By the time a desperate bullet knocked him dead, Debi Prasad had dismantled the Chinese defensive wall at their post across the border opposite Point 15450. He died inside Chinese territory.
In The Line of Fire
On the Indian side, at Point 15450, Ram Singh Rathore sustained injuries on his left arm as the Chinese kept firing. Unable to use his arm, he kept encouraging his men till a volley of bullets split open his abdomen. After Ram Singh died, Point 15450 was left without an officer, as the Chinese continued to charge forward.
As the Chinese advanced towards Point 15450, they brought down heavy fire on areas close to the Rai Gap (which was nestled in the slope behind Point 15450). The firing incapacitated the mobile fire controller at the Rai Gap as a round pierced his thigh. The mortar gun was thus left unattended. Kul Bhushan, who was close to him, took over the mortar and rained bombs on Chinese soldiers who had closed in towards Point 15450 by then. The impact was sudden and the Chinese advance was held back by the dropping of mortar bombs.
The Chinese were not about to give up. A route to Point 15450 existed from a cliff behind it. As a Chinese column tried to scale it, Kul Bhushan noticed some movement and took aim. He fired at them intermittently, killing a few of the climbers. That stopped further movement up the cliff.
The Indian side nonetheless suffered heavy casualties at the lower Rai Gap area but Chinese attempts to overrun the post were thwarted by an effective MMG mounted atop the nearby height of 15180, from where the Gorkhas rained continuous fire. Repeated Chinese attempts failed to capture the gap between the two dominating features of Point 15450 and Point 15180 since the doughty Jak Rif troops at Cho La presented stiff resistance along with the Gorkhas.
Though attacks on the Cho La pass and the Rai Gap, the two low-lying Indian posts, hadn’t succeeded, the Chinese kept pounding these positions. The Chinese had earlier successfully downed the Indians at Point 15450 and were now able to dominate Rai Gap with their HMGs that they had positioned in their post opposite Cho La. Knowing that KB Joshi had been in the bunker at Rai Gap a short while ago, the Chinese blew up the structure. KB’s aggressive retaliation with mortars had drawn Chinese attention to that area and they came down heavy with unrelenting fire.
As KB emerged from the demolished bunker, amid smoke and dust, the waiting Chinese snipers, who were in Indian territory now, took aim and fired. Recovering his senses quickly, he took cover just in the nick of time. KB nudged his compatriot next to him. But his buddy was dead, shot by the sniper.
When there was a momentary lull in Chinese firing, KB, the lion-hearted infantry veteran, decided to take over. Preserving his cover, he leaned over and saw the Chinese snipers at a distance – they looked self-assured and a little overconfident. His rifle had got lost while he was escaping the fire earlier but he noticed his dead buddy’s rifle next to him, slung over his shoulder. KB snatched it out of the dead man’s grasp and aimed through the aperture as his forefinger curled around the trigger. A moment later, the first Chinese sniper slumped dead. He fired again, and this time he brought down the second sniper.
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