1962 India-China War: 16 Chinese Bullets Couldn’t Kill Major Dubey

Retd Maj Onkar Nath Dubey who survived 16 bullets, recollects the Battle of Namka Chu in 1962 India-China War.

Published23 Jul 2020, 02:03 AM IST
3 min read

Video Editor: Kunal Mehra

There was so much blood that the water of Namka Chu River remained red for 2-3 days. Only three survived out of 70 men in our unit 2 Rajput. The number of dead bodies were more than 1000, including Chinese and us. I was hit with 16 bullets, all on the right side of my chest.
Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey

In conversation with The Quint, 78-year-old retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey, recollects fighting the Battle of Namka Chu, in Arunachal Pradesh, during 1962 India-China war. He had joined the Army as 2nd Lieutenant and was merely a year old in service when he was sent to Namka Chu.

He was in charge of a company of 70 soldiers of 2 Rajput. Only 3 men survived the battle, that took place between 20 - 23 October, 1962. The 3 survivors were Naik Subedar Dashrath Singh, Naik Roshan and Dubey. The young Lieutenant was awarded the Sena Medal for his bravery.

Retired Onkar Nath Dubey with Army officers after recovery. 
Retired Onkar Nath Dubey with Army officers after recovery. 
Image courtesy: Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey

The Battle of Namka Chu

The Namka Chu Valley in Arunachal Pradesh is at a tri-junction of India, Tibet and Bhutan. The territorial dispute between China and India in the Namka Chu area revolved around Thagla Ridge, that lied on the north side of the valley. India claimed Thagla Ridge was on its side of the McMahon line but the Chinese claimed it was on the Tibetan side. The battle began when Indian forces were ordered to cross the Namka Chu rivulet and evict Chinese troops who had control of the Thagla Ridge.

The Chinese troops, enjoyed numerical superiority - an 11,000 strong PLA Division against 4,000 Indian troops - and also the advantage of shooting down at the Indian Army from the heights of the Thagla Ridge. At the time the Chinese were also equipped with Russian automatic guns, while most Indian troops were using the outdated .303 British-Raj era rifles.

The battle concluded with the defeat of Indian Army. Several Indian Army personnel were killed, many others captured by Chinese troops and were kept as Prisoners of War (PoW) for several months, mostly in Tibet.

Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey chilling with fellow officers. 
Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey chilling with fellow officers. 
Image courtesy: Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey

‘Last Bullet Remained In My Body For 3 Months’

Dubey was held as a PoW for almost 3 months at Marmang Camp near Lhasa in Tibet. While he was a PoW, doctors of the International Red Cross operated on him, saving his life, as they removed 15 bullets from his body.

Unfortunately, one bullet stayed lodged in his body. This 16th bullet was taken out from his body by Indian Army doctors after he came back to India in January 1963.

The suffering was so much that even breathing was difficult, but I had no alternative but to bear the pain. Neither the International Red Cross nor I knew about the 16th bullet in my body. There were no X-Ray facilities in the PoW Camp. When I came to India, Indian doctors removed the bullet and the bone fragments.
Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey

“We used to sleep on a mat and a thin cloth mattress along with a dirty blanket. There was lack of clothes and very little and very poor food. The bandages were reused after boiling and drying,” said Dubey while recollecting his time as a Prisoner of War.

Looking back at the battle of Namka Chu, Major Dubey also told The Quint that at the time, his soldiers had been given just 50 rounds of bullets. Dubey recalls that he and his men had run out of ammunition within two days, while Chinese troops kept firing with their automated rifles till the battle ended. Despite being outnumbered, despite outdated guns, despite being short of ammunition, Dubey says Indian soldiers fought valiantly.

Our soldiers’ courage, efficiency and determination to fight was superior in comparison to the Chinese soldiers. Our soldiers kept fighting till their last bullet was exhausted.
Retired Major Onkar Nath Dubey

Retired Major Dubey also fought in the 1965 and 1971 war against Pakistan. He now lives in Varanasi with his family.

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