Saturday, June 27, 2020

Comments by Maj Gen VK Singh on book Watershed 1967 -India’s Forgotten Victory Over China, By Probal DasGupta


Comments by Maj Gen VK Singh

Watershed 1967 -India’s Forgotten Victory Over China,
By Probal DasGupta

JUGGERNAUT BOOKS, 2020

 (Extracts from the Book are given in normal font, with the comments given below in italics)

The book starts with a section titled Praise for the Book. This is the first time I have seen something like this in a book dealing with military history. I will not comment on the contents of the section. After reading the comments given in the succeeding paragraphs, readers can form their own opinions.

Introduction (Page 9-12)
The twin victories at Cho La and Nathu La have only been covered in fragments through articles and papers. This book, based on extensive interviews with the army men who were present at the scene, captures the events truthfully and aims to fix this blind spot in history. This was personally important to me, being a former army officer myself.

The author’s claim that the twin victories a ChoLa and Nathu La have only been covered in fragments through articles and papers is not correct.  This subject has been covered in detail in Chapter 8 of Volume III of the History of the Corps of Signals that was written by Maj Gen VK Singh. It is also available on his blog. This includes extracts from the diary of 2/Lt (later Col) NC Gupta, who was then the signal officer in HQ 112 Brigade. This is the most authentic account of the Nathula skirmish, as it was written as and when the events occurred. It has been quoted by Maj Gen Randhir Sinh in his book. After reading the book, it is obvious that the author has copied large portions from the blog.  

An account of the skirmish at Nathula  is also covered in the biography of Gen Sagat Singh that forms part of the book Leadership in the Indian Army –Biographies of  Twelve Soldiers, written by Maj Gen VK Singh in 2005.This is the earliest published account of the action. This too has been used by the Author, without giving any credit.

An interesting side light is that in 2019 I was invited to attend the commemoration ceremony of the centenary of Gen Sagat Singh in Jodhpur. That is where I met the Author. There was a seminar and he spoke about the Nathula and Chola incidents. His book had still not been published till then. I asked him if he had read the biography of Gen Sagat that I had written. He told me that he had read the biography written by Maj Gen Randhir Sinh and was in touch with Gen Sagat’s son and daughter. I told him about NC Gupta's diary and offered to send him copies, along with extracts from the Corps History. Next morning I went to the office of the CSO Brig DK Tiwari. I got photo copies made of the relevant pages from the Corps History.  However, the Author did not contact me to collect them. I now understand why. He had already copied them from my blog. 

Part 1: The Road to 1967
1. Secret Games: Spies, Soldiers and the Opening Gambit
2. In the Shadow of the Dragon: The War Moves East
3. Protests, Disagreements and a Temporary Truce: Advantage China

Part 1 comprising the first three chapters covers 49 pages. Most of it is irrelevant and has been included just to fill up space. 

Chapter 1 - Secret Games: Spies, Soldiers and the Opening Gambit  (Page 14-31)

The author has written about several matters, such as a CIA plot to encourage China and Pakistan to attack India; meetings between Sheikh Abdulla and CIA operatives; Pakistani attacks in the Rann of Kutch in July 1965; Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir in August 1965 followed by the full scale war on the whole of the Western Front in September; details of major battles such as Haji Pir, Asal Uttar, Dograi etc. There are 48 notes, mostly referring newspaper articles in Indian and foreign journals.

Chapter 2-  In the Shadow of the Dragon: The War Moves East (Page 32-40)
The chapter covers the Goa operation in December 1961; Pakistan’s failed attempts to obtain help from USA and China; and the cease fire between India and Pakistan on 22 September.
In the 1962 war, Harbaksh was the commander of 33 Corps, based in Siliguri in West Bengal, under whose command lay 17 Mountain Division in Sikkim. In the summer of 1965, Sagat arrived to take over the same division.
In the 1962 war, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh was appointed GOC IV Corps for a short period, when Lt Gen BM Kaul fell sick and was evacuated to Delhi. At that time, 17 Mountain Division was not in Sikkim. It moved to Sikkim only in 1964.
Sometime in the early 1960s, an American couple visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra on a holiday happened to meet Sagat at the city’s Clarks Shiraz hotel. They had been to Lisbon earlier and recalled seeing Sagat’s face on a poster in the city. The poster promised a reward of $10,000 to anyone who would bring the head of the Indian army officer Sagat Singh.8
The incident did not take place in the early 1960s, as mentioned by the Author. It happened later, in 1962, after the capture of Goa in Dec 1961. It has been mentioned on Page 307 of the biography of Gen Sagat Singh written by Maj Gen VK Singh.
Chapter 3-Protests, Disagreements and a Temporary Truce:Advantage China (Page 41-59)

This chapter covers the diplomatic exchanges between India and China after some sheep crossed over into India; the agitation outside the Chinese embassy led by Atal Behari Vajpayee, the ultimatum by China to India to vacate Nathula and Jelepla; Sagat’s refusal to vacate Nathula; minor skirmishes in 1965; the marriage of Hope Cooke with the Palden Thondup, the Chogyal of Sikkim; her friendship with Gen Sagat; the Tashkent agreement;  and the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

As the Chinese began to amass additional forces opposite the passes and heightened the pressure on India at the border, 17 orders from 33 Corps came in for 17 and 27 Divisions to vacate Nathu La and Jelep La,

This note refers to the article The Skirmish at Nathula (1967) – published in the Scholar Warrior in Autumn 2014.

As soon as India decided to withdraw from Jelep La, China promptly seized the vacated pass. 23

The link is the same as in Note 17, referring to the article The Skirmish ant Nathula (1967)

Meanwhile, opposite the Nathu La pass on the Tibetan side, the Chinese had assembled loudspeakers – twenty-one of them! They blared all day, rebuking the Indians for their actions, screaming that destiny had a rerun of 1962 in store for them. They reminded the Indians about the might of the Chinese army. The slogans, which oscillated between homilies about the virtues of communism that benefited the poor soldier and rubbishing the Indian soldiers, were in Hindi.
However, they had been translated into ‘shudh’ Hindi. Meant to be menacing and threatening, they ended up being incomprehensible to the Indian troops who were used to more colloquial language.

The installation of loudspeakers has been taken from the History of the Corps of Signals that was written by Maj Gen VK Singh. In the Army, Signals is responsible for PA equipment and the loudspeakers at Nathula were installed and maintained by 17 Mountain Divisional Signal Regiment, where he was then serving. This has been  quoted on Page 77 of Gen Randhir’s book.

Chapter 4-China’s Psychological Tactics:Softening Up the Enemy Before the Storm (Page 61-68)

This chapter covers in insurgency in Mizo Hills, the bombing of Aizwal by IAF, the beginning of the Naxalite movement; machinations of Hope Cooke in an effort to gain independence from India; and the stand-off at Doklam.   

 Chapter 5 -1966–67: Warriors Arrive at the Watershed (Page 69 -76)

This chapter covers the organisation of the Indian Army into commands, corps, divisions, brigades and battalions; brief biographical sketches of some officers (KB Joshi,  Parulekar, Ram Singh Rathore) and men (Tinjong Lama, Debi Prasad) of 7/11 GR and some officers of 2 Grenadiers (Rai Singh, Bishan Singh and PS Dagar).

Chapter 6 -The Tipping Point: A Tale of Spies and a Breach at the Watershed (Page 77-96)

This chapter starts with the arrest and deportation of two Indian diplomats in Peking in June 1967; India’s retaliation by  expelling a Chinese diplomats followed by mob attacks on the Chinese embassy in New Delhi; similar attacks on the Indian embassy in Peking; arrival of 2 Grenadiers at Nathula in August 1967;commencement of laying the wire at Nathula by 2 Grenadiers on 20 August; objection by the Chinese; visit by Corps Commander and Gen Sagat Singh to the border on 1 Sep 1967; patrol led by Maj Bishan Singh surrounded by Chinese leading to scuffle; fencing using concertina coils started on 5 Sep; brawl between Indian and Chinese soldiers at the fence on 7 Sep resulting in injury to the political commissar; meeting held HQ 112 Brigade by Gen Sagat Singh during which Maj Bishan Singh given task of completion of  fence; allotment of additional troops from Engineers to assist him. 

Chapter 7 - Hellfire at Nathu La (Page 97-105)

The opening paragraph of chapter 7 gives details of signal communications, including the new line laid overnight from the brigade headquarters in Chhanggu to Sherathang where the mortars were located. All posts were connected on telephone and radio. This network was patched to the Divisional HQ.  This information has obviously been obtained from the diary of NC Gupta that is mentioned in my articles as well as Chapter 3 of the History of the Corps of Signal, Volume III, which is on my blog. However, no credit has been given for this information.
The suddenness of the Chinese actions had forced a bunch of soldiers, over thirty according to accounts, to instinctively make a run for their lives: some even escaping from the scene. This unpleasant chapter of the battle is often dropped from narrations, but to exclude this would undermine the heroism of the soldiers who stood and fought gallantly. Months later, court martials would be held to prosecute deserters, on charges of cowardice.
This clearly brings out the fact that troops ran away from their post. Several were later court martial led for desertion and cowardice.

Bishan, who had tried to prevent the two young officers from embarking on the suicidal mission, 5 provided covering fire to the young soldiers and even downed the Chinese soldier who shot Dagar. Bishan was also wounded in the process and fell unconscious, though he survived the battle, unlike Dagar and Harbhajan. 6

Note 5 . Conversations with Bishan Singh in Jaipur.
Note 6 . Bishan Singh would later be transported to the Siliguri hospital as one of the survivors of Nathu La.

The author only mentions that Bishan Singh was injured. He has totally ignored the role of NC Gupta in saving his life. It is difficult to believe that Bishan Singh  did not reveal the true facts during the author’s meeting with him in Jaipur. One can only conclude that this was done deliberately, since that would have brought out the fact of 2/Lt Attar Singh quitting his post at South Shoulder and being taken back to the post by NC Gupta, under orders of the brigade commander.  

Sheru Thapliyal was sitting atop Sebu La, watching the action below. He saw Harbhajan and Dagar drop before his eyes. ‘They couldn’t have reached the Chinese bunkers anyway,’ remembers Sheru with sadness. ‘It was like a cruel movie playing before the eyes,’ he recalls. Then the ‘clouds rolled in and I couldn’t see any more’, Sheru reminisces fifty years later. 7
Note 7. Conversations with Sheru Thapliyal in Delhi.

The assertion that Sheru Thapliyal saw Harbhajan and Dagar drop before his eyes does not appear to be plausible. Thapliyal was located at Sebula, about 1 Km away from Nathula. From that distance it is not possible to recognize anyone, from the large number of soldiers involved in the assault. After the incident a couple of officers were asked to write their views of the battle. Apart from the officers of 2 Grenadiers, this included the OC of the Engineer Company. Copies of all these comments are available in Capt Dagar Museum. Interestingly there is also a report of Camel Back OP but none of Thapliyal.

Signal Officer Naveen Gupta and Second Lieutenant Attar Singh, who was among the younger officers in the unit, joined in and ran from trench to trench as he yelled at the men to keep the flock together and respond with fire. The morale had to be kept up.

The above is not true. Naveen did not join Attar Singh and run with him from trench to trench. In fact, Attar Singh was at South Shoulder while Naveen was with the brigade commander. 

By then, signal communication with the platoon on South Shoulder had also been lost. On Bakshi’s instructions, Naveen and a signal line repair party proceeded towards South Shoulder with a radio set for the platoon there. On arriving at the post, Naveen found the bodies of a few dead soldiers ahead of the defences. The post wore a desolate look as most men had either been killed or had left the post, barring an abandoned light machine gun (LMG). Naveen grabbed the LMG and fired a few salvos to show the post was still occupied. Bakshi radioed him that reinforcements were on their way and would take a while. To his relief, Naveen soon spotted Second Lieutenant Attar Singh and a group of soldiers coming down the slope, trying to rally the troops. The indefatigable Attar had continued to revive the men’s spirits and managed to get
some of them back on their feet and stay in the fight. In an unusual and unique episode, Attar would later be promoted by Sagat to the rank of captain on the spot, after he was told how the young officer restored the shocked spirits. The Grenadiers had suffered large numbers of casualties at the start, but the officers and men refused to back down and responded with machine guns and rifles. The melee continued amidst a gritty fightback from the Grenadiers.

The author has twisted the facts mentioned by Naveen in his diary. Naveen in fact found the post abandoned. The diary runs into 25 pages of hand written notes. Part of the diary describing the events of 11 September are given below:-

By about 0930 hrs, Chinese fire had intensified and gradually we started getting out of touch with the troops at North Shoulder and South Shoulder.  By 0945 hrs we had no contact with anyone on the position on the shoulders even on the Artillery network.  It was a panic station for me.  All the lines were down and so was the B1 to the pass.  I tried to enter the battalion net and the company net but failed.  There was no response on any of the almost dozen frequencies of the battalion in use that day for various nets.  I asked the operator at Brigade HQ to press in additional radio sets and keep trying for a response directly on ANGRC-9 working to the Artillery OP and CO of the Field Regiment.
            Around this time from the vantage position at Central Bump the Commander saw over a dozen troops running down the slopes of South Shoulder towards Sherabthang.  He also observed that some of them had shed their helmets, packs and even rifles as they ran down.  This created a panic for us.  The Commander asked me to call South Shoulder but there was no response.  We tried to observe the area of South Shoulder but could see no movement.  The shelling on the South Shoulder had also increased.
            Under the circumstances perhaps there was no other option for the Commander but to ask me to send someone to South Shoulder to restore the communication. While I had a line party and spare radio sets with me it was decided that a radio be sent to South Shoulder a distance of around 500 mtrs.  The route was open at places and involved going down around 300 mtrs and then up around 200 mtrs.  The linemen with me were new to Nathula and had never gone to South Shoulder.  Havildar Bhakuni of the Rover had gone there many times.  The choice was therefore between him and me.  Seeing the gravity of the situation and the shelling the Commander said, “OK, Commando (my pet name in Brigade HQ), off you go”. 
I reached South Shoulder at around 1000 hours.  To my astonishment I found the post totally abandoned.  I informed the same to the Commander. He asked me to look around for wounded if any and remain at the post and keep him in picture.  From the bunkers on South Shoulder I could see the Chinese in their bunker across.  By this time intermittent fog had started setting in.  I informed the Commander that I can see a few dead soldiers in the area ahead of our defences close to the fence. Barring this there is no one on the post that was designed for a platoon of Infantry.  I resorted to intermittent firing from my carbine to indicate that the post is still occupied.  Soon I found an LMG in its bunker.  I then used it very carefully to try and depict our presence on the post.
            At around 1100 hrs the Commander informed me that re-enforcements are on their way but would take at least three hours to reach and that I must hold on till then.  A little later he asked me to go around 100 mtrs down South Shoulder where he had spotted around six soldiers sitting behind a huge rock.  After firing a few salvos of LMG I went down.  I found six Jawans of 2 Grenadiers including 2/Lt Attar Singh (fresh from IMA), one Havildar and four Jawans.  I made Attar Singh speak to the Commander. Thereafter we all went back to the post and organized ourselves.
By 1200 hrs the fog had intensified. As I was watching from one of the bunkers I saw one of the dead moving. He was just next to the fence barely 10 mtrs from the Chinese bunker. Taking advantage of the fog I went ahead to try and recover him. To my surprise it was Major Bishan Singh, Tiger of Nathula who had been injured in the initial firing. He was a 6 foot tall Jat. He was badly injured. With great difficulty I managed to lift him and partly drag him into our defences. Once inside I made him speak to the Commander.  After the Commander had been briefed by him the Commander asked me to evacuate him using the four Jawans and asked me, Attar Singh and the Havildar to remain at the post. Ten minutes later the Commander asked me to return to the area of Bumps leaving the radio set with 2/Lt Attar Singh.
As would be obvious from the words in the diary, Attar Singh was not trying to rally the troops but had abandoned the post along with his men.
As regards the fact that Attar Singh was promoted to the rank of Capt by the GOC, this happened due a misunderstanding. These orders were given by the GOC when he was informed on radio that the post had been reoccupied by Attar Singh. In fact, he even ordered that Attar Singh should be recommended for a VrC. The real story was narrated by Naveen only after he returned to the Brigade HQ. When Gen Sagat came to know this he was enraged and ordered the officer to be stripped of his rank and cancelled the orders recommending him for a gallantry award. At this stage, Brig Bakshi felt that removing the rank would hurt the feelings of the men, whose morale was already quite low. On his advice, Gen Sagat permitted him to continue wearing the rank.  This has been mentioned in the Notes at the end of the article “The Skirmish at Nathula (1967)” that has been given in the Notes s by the Author at several places.
www.claws.in/images/journals_doc/2042471866_VKSingh.pdf

To the few that had had enough of the tough battle and who decided to retreat to a safer shelter, a rude surprise awaited. Sagat had decided to move closer to the scene of the battle. Like a no-nonsense army drill sergeant out to catch cadets who had loitered outside the precincts without permission, the general had   started to marshal the troops that had abandoned the battle, shouting at them, herding them back into action. Sagat stood on the road coming down from Nathu La trying to stem the rout. He even threatened to shoot anyone he found moving to the rear. Sagat hated to see his troops run away from the Chinese. When he saw a few men struggling to keep up, he screamed at them, scolding, lambasting those who had gone astray, finally collecting them like a schoolteacher at picnic and steering them back into class – up towards the forward posts, into their harnesses and back into the battle. Most of the soldiers stayed and fought valiantly, some attaining martyrdom. There were still a few who had deserted the battle that day. Over
thirty soldiers faced court martial later for cowardice. 9
Note 9. https://theprint.in/defence/remembering-the-war-we-forgot-51-years-agohow-
india-gave-china-a-bloody-nose/127356/

This note gives reference of my article WHEN THE CHINESE GOT A BLOODY NOSE. However, this article makes no mention of Gen Sagat collecting the deserters like a schoolteacher at a picnic and steering them back. But the information about Sagat threatening to shoot deserters is true. This had been told to me by Gen Sagat himself when I met him at his home in Jaipur in 1997-98. I had several meetings with him in connection with his biography, before he approved the draft. I had shared this with Gen Randhir Sinh when he was writing his biography of Gen Sagat.
In fact, 2 Grenadiers was not the only battalion that showed traces of cowardice under fire. Similar instances occurred in other units, including NC Gupta’s own company as entries in his diary reveal.
Chapter 8 - The Battle of Cho La (page 106 -120)

This chapter describes the actions of 7/11 GR in the battle of Chola. It is entirely based on the regimental history of the regiment “The Path of Glory: Exploits of the 11 Gorkha Rifles” written by Gautam Sharma and the Author’s conversation with Lt Col KB Joshi. The Author has totally ignored the role of 10 JAK Rif, which was  awarded one MVC and three VrCs.   The name of the brigade commander, Brig Kundan Singh has also not been mentioned. The regimental history of written by Col Gautam Sharma, mentions the name of the brigade commander and his conversation with Lt Col KB Joshi. It is not understood why the author has chosen to ignore his name. It now appears that the whole aim of writing the book is to eulogize the 7/11 GR. The Author has devoted 15 pages to the chapter, while the chapter which describes the battle of Nathula has been given only 7.  

Part 3 -Epilogue - After the Watershed Battles

The Epilogue covers subjects such as the war in 1971, the creation of Bangla Desh and the merger of Sikkim with India with the assistance of RAW. All these are irrelevant to the subject of the book, which is professed to cover the battles of Nathula and Chola.

The author has written 23 pages (121 -144) on the Epilogue, with 78 Notes. In comparison only 9 pages have been devoted to the battle at Nathula (97-105) and 15 pages (106-120) to Chola. 


General Comments

At first glance, the book appears to be dealing with an important event in India’s military history. This view is supported by some of the comments listed under Praise for the Book. Shekhar Gupta opines “This is a valuable addition to the still thin genre of military historiography in India.” Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (retd), feels that it is “Meticulously researched”.  Shiv Aroor calls it “A book that should forever emblazon 1967’s victory against China in India’s public consciousness as much as 1962’s defeat.”

After reading the detailed comments given above, chapter wise, I am not sure how many will agree with these words of praise. The author can be called a storyteller, but certainly not a military historian. He seems to have done hardly any research, except for taking snippets from articles. Except for the regimental history of his own Regiment, the 11th Gorkha Rifles, he has not consulted the regimental histories of The Grenadiers, The Rajput Regiment and The Jammu & Kashmir Rifles. Of course, he has made to attempt to go through the war diaries of the units or the formation HQ.

This being his first book he can perhaps be excused for gaffes such as using incorrect ranks, names and decorations. In the introduction, he mentions that under the leadership of Lieutenant General Sagat Singh, young officers and soldiers of the Indian army defeated the Chinese at Nathu La. At that time, Sagat Singh was major general, not a lieutenant general. Ranjit Singh Dayal, the captor of Haji Pir is called Rajinder Singh Dayal; Gen Shiv Charan Singh, GOC 27 Division is called Ramcharan Singh. Brig MMS Bakshi’s is said to have been awarded a VrC in 1965, whereas he actually got an MVC. According to the book, Mhow stands for Military Headquarters of War whereas it is the name of a village called Mahu in the vicinity. He also has a disconcerting habit of giving names without mentioning the rank. For instance, he mentions Kul Bhushan, Parulekar, Tinjong Lama, Debi Prasad etc. without their ranks. Kulbhushan is sometimes referred to as KB. His full name with rank Lt Col KB Joshi or Kul Bhushan Joshi is rarely mentioned. Since the battalion has another KB (Krishna Bahadur), this sometimes leaves the reader confused. Using names without ranks may be the norm in articles and stories; it is almost never done in a book on military history.

As already mentioned in Chapter 8 - The Battle of Cho La, the Author has totally ignored the role of 10 JAK RIF and its CO, Lt Col Mahatam Singh, MVC. In addition to the MVC for the CO, the battalion was awarded three VrCs. This is an unacceptable lapse and amount to an insult to the unit.

The most glaring lacuna in the book is the distortion of facts relating to 2 Grenadiers. The only authentic version of the battle is the diary of 2/Lt (later Col) NC Gupta, which gives a day by day account of the occurrences from 11-14 September 1967.  Its authenticity cannot be questioned because it was written on a daily basis as the events occurred and not in hind sight after 40-50 years like this book and some articles written by a few others. The diary clearly brings out the instances of cowardice, especially the vacation of South Shoulder at a critical juncture. The war diaries and regimental histories either ignore this altogether or gloss over it. Often, units resort to this due to a false sense of ‘Izzat’. Achievements are often glorified while failures are either totally omitted or watered down. This makes them unreliable for penning an authentic historical account. Sometimes, one gets a true picture only after comparing the unit records with those in the brigade or divisional HQ. This falsification of records is a dangerous trend that bodes ill for India’s military history.

The regimental history of The Grenadiers, titled The Grenadiers – A Tradition of Valour, was written by Col. R.D. Palsokar in 1980. Writing about the South Shoulder, he writes:

At one stage it appeared that the force fighting from the South shoulder was wiped out as it was the main target of the Chinese. The troops could not hold it and had to fall back. When the Chinese fire died down, they once again occupied the feature. The South Shoulder would have remained unoccupied had 2nd Lieutenant Attar Singh not been there. His personal example inspired the men to stay fast.
 Col RD Palsokar (Guards) is a well known military historian, who has penned a large number of regimental histories and biographies. It appears that what he has written is based on the inputs given to him by The Grenadiers, which is not his parent Regiment.
Another example of this falsification syndrome is the   article titled “The Nathu La skirmish: when Chinese were given a bloody nose” by Sheru Thapliyal in the Force journal. He writes:-
    2 Grenadiers were initially shaken up due to the loss of Capt Dagar and injury to their CO but found their man of the moment in Lieutenant Atar Singh who went round from trench to trench to rally the troops and was later promoted as Captain on the spot.
I have noticed that some officers, especially from the Infantry, take offence when they come across critical comments about their own or even other Regiments. On page 82 of his book A Talent for War: The Military Biography of Lt Gen Sagat Singh, Maj Gen Randhir Sinh has described the evacuation of South Shoulder in these words:

2/Lt NC Gupta, who was the Brigade Signal Officer and received a Sena Medal for his actions, was ordered by Bakshi to go to South Shoulder as the position seems to have been vacated. Gupta held on to the place until relieved by Atttar Singh and then evacuated the badly injured Bishen Singh in the face of the enemy. 21.  

Note 21. Personal account of Brig NC Gupta in History of the Corps of Signals.ibid. He is less than charitable towards people and units in his first person account.

One can understand the author’s unhappiness at the mention of the evacuation of South Shoulder, which he has not quoted in full, glossing over the role of Attar Singh. But is he justified in his observation that NC Gupta has been less than charitable towards people and units? In fact Gupta has mentioned several other cases of cowardice in other units, including his own company.

THE MISSNG PAGES FROM NC GUPTA’S DIARY
The story of 2 Grenadiers would not be complete without relating the episode of the missing pages of   Gupta’s diary.
 After the incident a few officers were asked to write their views of the battle. This included the OC of the field company. Gupta told the Commander that he has written it down daily on whatever paper he could find at Sherathang. This was mainly the reverse of radio logs on the sheets that have a blue line margin on the left. After about a month or two when Gupta was handing over to Capt Amar Singh to go on annual leave, the Brigade HQ gave him back the file. Like any other young officer, he kept it in his luggage and left for home. He never saw it after that. After his marriage he did give it to his wife to read but he is sure she understood nothing. This file remained at his family home in Faridabad, unread by anyone including Gupta himself.

 After I finished writing Volume II of the Corps History in 2006, I started work on Volume III, which covers the period 1947 – 72. By this time Gupta had moved to Australia but came to India every year for a couple of months.  Sometime in 2009, I asked him for some inputs about the Nathula skirmish. Gupta told me that he had a diary of the events at Nathula and would hand it over to me. After locating the diary Gupta thought that he should he should read it, to revive his memory. When he opened it, he was horrified when he found nine pages missing. These were the pages which covered the actions of that fateful morning. When Gupta told me this I asked him to  recollect the incidents as best as he could. Accordingly he made an endorsement on the handwritten pages that nine pages are missing (this endorsement still exists on the original, which is now in HQ 17 Mountain Division). After adding the details of these nine pages from memory, Gupta  came to the Corps History Cell office in Signals Enclave and handed it over to me. (Surprisingly his re-collection was good, as he discovered later). We kept the diary for some time and returned them to Gupta after making copies.

In June 2016 Mr Vijay Dagar, the nephew of Late Captain PS Dagar, VrC of 2 Grenadiers obtained Gupta’s address from the Signals Directorate. He then visited his house at Faridabad Since Gupta was in Australia he met his younger brother Gp Capt S Chandra who stays next door and learnt from him that Gupta would be coming to India on 10 June for his knee surgery. He left his card and took Gupta’s number.
When Gupta reached India, he called VijayDagar and told him that since he was getting admitted in Army Hospital R&R after five days, they could meet after his operation was over. However, Vijay came to the hospital to meet him and told him about the museum he had made in memory of his uncle, Captain PS Dagar, at Rotala, near Najafgarh. He invited Gupta to visit the museum when he had fully recovered. Gupta promised to do so and told him that he would present him a copy of his diary. 
In August 2016 when Gupta went to visit the Capt Dagar museum to present them the diary, he found that it had a lot of memorabilia that Vijay had collected from various sources. But the best was yet to come. He was stunned to see the missing nine pages of his diary in the museum! Vijay told him that he had got it from a clerk of 2nd Grenadiers. Perhaps the clerk kept a colour photo copy for himself and gave him the original. 
Then, putting two and two together things all fell in place. Obviously, someone had removed the nine pages from the file when Gupta had submitted it to the Brigade HQ. The other officers had also given their comments. Copies of all these also comments were also there in the Museum. Interestingly there is also a report of Camel Back OP but none of Thapliyal. On his return from the museum, Gupta added the original nine pages to the diary held with him. He also shared copies with the Corps History Cell, where they are still available.

In September 2019 Gupta was invited by HQ 17 Mountain Division to attend a commemoration ceremony to be held at Nathula, on the anniversary of the operation. I was also invited but could not go due to other commitments. Gupta went for the ceremony along with some other members of his family. He presented the original copy of the diary to the GOC. The first page has an annotation on the top in red ink by the brigade commander, Brig MMS Bakshi, MVC, “Notes of 2/Lt Gupta.”  

Mr Vijay Dagar is a very dedicated person, who has located almost all the surviving prime witnesses of the fate day when Capt PS Dagar lost his life at Nathula. These include:
  • Maj Cheema, OC 70 Fd Company living in Noida
  • Maj Bishen Singh living in his home town.
  • Maj Chadrashekhar living in Chennai.
  • Capt Attar Singh living in Noida.
  • A JCO of Grenadiers living in Najafgarh. Then a young sepoy.
 Mr Vijay Dagar has visited and met all of them personally. He knows many more individuals who were present that day and are still alive though they did not play a major role in the battle. He visits the unit almost every year with his son and a few relatives on 11 Sept. He deserves the real credit for keeping the legacy of Nathu La alive.

The missing pages from Gupta’s diary point to the disturbing trend already mentioned – the falsification of military records by units. That the unit could resort to even removing documents from higher HQ, which they perceived cast aspersions on their performance in battle, speaks for itself.Significantly, the ERE in the Brigade HQ at that time was from the Grenadiers. This is indeed a serious matter and needs urgent attention from those concerned with our military heritage and history.


Monday, September 12, 2016

THE AIR FORCE MUTINY - 1946

CHAPTER - 7

 

THE AIR FORCE MUTINY - 1946



            The mutiny in the RIAF (Royal Indian Air Force) occurred at almost the same time as the more serious uprisings in the RIN (Royal Indian Navy) and Army units at Jubbulpore in February 1946. Many historians prefer to call it a strike rather than a mutiny, since there was no violence and neither was any one punished. However, the term ‘strike’ is seldom used in the armed forces, collective disobedience  always being called a mutiny, irrespective of the number of persons involved and the gravity of the insubordination.  Though they occurred at almost the same time, the trouble in the RIAF was quite different from the insurrection that occurred in the other two services. While the disturbances in the Army and the RIN were confined to Indian soldiers and sailors, the unrest in the RIAF was induced by ‘strikes’ by British airmen of the RAF (Royal Air Force). Since no disciplinary action was taken against the British airmen, the authorities had to take a lenient view of the indiscipline by Indian airmen also. Unlike the uprisings in the Navy and the Army that had some nationalistic element, the demands of the RIAF personnel related mostly to pay, rations and travel concessions.

            Though the RIAF mutiny was controlled without the use of force, it had far reaching implications. The Indian Air Force -  the prefix Royal was added only in 1943 - was just six years old when World War II began, undergoing a ten fold increase in size by the time it ended. Though still minuscule compared to the Indian Army, it was a potent force that could no longer be ignored. Coupled with the more serious incidents in the other two armed forces, it reinforced the perception of the British authorities that the Indian troops could no longer be relied upon to maintain Britain’s hold over India. This necessitated a serious review of British policy, leading ultimately to the decision to pull out of India.  

            Three Indians pilots held commissions in the RAF during World War I, fighting with great gallantry. They were Lieutenant H.S Malik, 2nd Lieutenant E.S.C. Sen and Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy. Sen was shot down over Germany and became a prisoner of war, while Roy was killed in air combat in July 1918. It was only in 1930 that a decision was taken to establish an air force in India. Officers selected as pilots were sent to Cranwell in UK for training, while the ground staff, recruited as hawai sepoys (air soldiers) were trained in India. The first batch of five Indians commissioned as pilot officers comprised Sircar, Subroto Mukerjee, Bhupinder Singh, A. Singh and A.D. Dewan. The IAF (Indian Air Force) formally came into being on 1 April 1933, when the first Indianised squadron – No. 1 Squadron - was formed at Karachi, exactly 15 years after the creation of the RAF.1

            Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, it was decided to form the IAFVR (Indian Air Force Volunteer Reserve) to take over the task of coastal defence from the RAF. Following the commencement of the Japanese offensive in South East Asia in December 1941, a flight of the IAFVR was flown to Moulmein to carry out anti-submarine and convoy protection operations. After the capture of Moulmein by Japanese forces, No. 3 IAFVR Squadron was sent to Rangoon for reconnaissance and convoy protection duties. As British forces withdrew in the face of the relentless Japanese offensive, No. 1 Squadron arrived at Toungoo, where they were subjected to raids by the Japanese Air Force on the first day itself. During the next two days, Squadron Leader K.K. ‘Jumbo’ Majumdar led the whole squadron on raids against the Japanese base at Mehingson inflicting severe damage and earning a great moral victory. The exploit not only made Majumdar a hero overnight but also enhanced the reputation of the fledgling IAF in its first major operation during the war. In view of its splendid performance during the war, the IAF was given the prefix ‘Royal’ on its tenth anniversary, becoming the RIAF (Royal Indian Air Force) on 1 April 1943. 
           
            From one squadron in 1939 the IAF had grown to three by the beginning of 1942, the year which saw the greatest expansion in its size. By the end of 1942, it had seven squadrons; during the next year another two were added, bringing its strength to nine squadrons by the beginning of 1944. The number of personnel had increased correspondingly, from 16 officers and 269 airmen at the beginning of the war to 1,200 officers and over 20,000 trained airmen, with another 6,000 undergoing training, besides about 2,000 followers. In the early years of the war, 20 Indian pilots had been sent to the UK to help the RAF, which had run perilously short of pilots during the Battle of Britain. These Indian pilots served in RAF squadrons and did sterling work during the critical months, carrying out fighter sweeps over France and escorting bombers.  Seven Indian pilots were killed in operations, the remainder returning to India in mid 1942. One of the pilots who returned from the German front with a DFC was K.K. Majumdar, who later died in an air crash at Lahore in February 1945. 2

            While World War I lasted four years, World War II continued for six years. When it ended in 1945, everyone was weary and drained out. Many of the participants had been away from their homes for several years and were eagerly looking forward to a reunion with their families. Demobilisation began soon after the end of the war, but the sheer numbers of servicemen, especially from the USA and UK, made the process slow and time consuming. Hundreds of thousands of troops were literally doing nothing, waiting for ships to take them home from remote and inhospitable corners of the globe. The wait seemed interminable, and most men were unable to comprehend the reasons for the delay in sending them home. Coupled with the delay in repatriation, another major problem was the uncertain future that most of the men faced. Resettlement and rehabilitation measures obviously could not cater for all the servicemen, who knew that they would have to fend for themselves. Wartime industries that employed millions of workers were closing down, and most of the men shedding uniforms had neither the training nor the experience for the new enterprises that were coming up.

            The first sign of unrest came from American troops based in Germany who held mass parades to demand speedier demobilisation and repatriation. These parades were given wide publicity on the American forces programmes that were very popular and eagerly heard by servicemen all over the world. Similar demonstrations by American soldiers in Calcutta could not leave British troops serving in South East Asia unaffected and it was only a matter of time before the virus spread to other stations. Apart from the logistics, another reason for the slow rate of demobilisation of British servicemen was the uncertainty about the future of British rule in India. As late as June 1946, the Chiefs of Staff in London were still considering various options, one of which was to continue British rule in India, for which seven additional divisions would be needed. This would naturally result in suspending the process of demobilisation, with serious implications, especially the effect on morale.3

            Taking a cue from the Americans, British airmen at the RAF base at Mauripur refused to join duty on 22 January 1946. The Inspector General of the RAF, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Barratt, who was on tour in South East Asia, and was passing through Mauripur at the time, held a meeting with the men to ascertain their grievances. The men had many complaints, most of which were related to aspects of demobilisation that could only be dealt with at a higher level by the Cabinet or the Air Ministry. One such grievance was, ‘why is RAF demobilisation so slow compared with that in the Army and the Navy?’ Air Chief Marshal Barratt explained that practically all the points raised by the men had been explained in the demobilisation forms which were a part of the release scheme and kept the personnel fully in the picture, explaining the  reasons for the various actions taken, especially with regard to the release under classes ‘B’ and ‘C’.
           
            The men were not satisfied and demanded that a Parliamentary representative should visit them so that they could impress upon him, and he on Parliament, their feelings about the slow speed of demobilisation. A Parliamentary delegation was then in India and they asked that it should visit Mauripur. Air Chief Marshal Barratt assured the men that he would forward their demands to Air Ministry, and asked the men to return to work but they refused. He warned the airmen that nothing would be obtained under threat and urged them to return to duty. The meeting ended with no promises made. The Air Officer Commanding 229 Group stated that he would be able to get the men back to work that afternoon. After making his report to the Air Ministry, the Inspector General proceeded on his pre-arranged tour programme. The situation remained unchanged in the evening. Many of the men showed an inclination to join duty but appeared to be fearful of rough treatment at the hands of others.

In his report to the Air Ministry, Air Chief Marshal Barratt had mentioned all their grievances, asking for a reply to be sent to the Air Officer Commanding India. As regards the demand for the Parliamentary delegation already in India to visit Mauripur, he felt that the delegation was visiting parts of the Commonwealth for an entirely different purpose and it would not be wise to permit the members to address the men, as they   were not well versed in the intricacies of the demobilisation policy of the government and did not understand the feelings of the personnel in South East Asia. However, it was possible for Mr Harold Davies, the MP for Leek, who was visiting South East Asia, to meet the airmen. Mr Davies had already visited units in India, Burma and Malaya in order to keep the men in touch with the new Government’s policy and, during his tour, had spoken to hundreds of servicemen.4

News of the strike at Mauripur soon spread to Ceylon, the first unit being affected being at Negombo, where the personnel of No. 32 Staging Post refused to carryout servicing of aircraft.  The morning York service from Mauripur on 23 January 1946 was serviced by the aircrew themselves, giving an indication that something was amiss. As at Mauripur, the major complaint was that of slow demobilisation, the other grievances being bad administration and lack of sports facilities and entertainment. The men felt that personnel of the Fleet Air Arm should be drafted into the RAF to assist with key trades, and expedite the RAF release. Another cause for complaint was that RAF airmen were being asked to work on BOAC and Qantas aircraft. The men felt that this had two effects: firstly, that the air passage of civilians was delaying release of servicemen and secondly, that the employment of airmen was incorrectly providing aviation companies with cheap labour.

The Air Officer Commanding, Air Commodore Chilton was on his way to the Cocos Islands when he received news of the strike. He returned to Negombo and talked to the men, promising to remedy the local problems straightaway. As regards the drafting of personnel of the Fleet Air Arm, speeding up demobilisation and servicing of civilian aircraft, he assured them that these would be forwarded to the Air Ministry. With the resolution of grievances concerning administration, sports facilities and entertainment, it was hoped that the men would resume duty on the following day. Air Commodore Chilton decided to continue his flight since the news of the Negombo incident had reached 129 Staging Post in the Cocos Islands where it was understood that the airmen intended taking similar action.  

However, on his arrival at the Cocos Islands, he found the station running smoothly, with no sign of trouble. While he was visiting the station he received a signal asking him to return to Negombo where the situation had deteriorated. The stoppage of work by the airmen had spread from the Staging Post to the rest of the station including the Communication and Meteorological Flights. The men were well behaved but adamant. The Air Officer Commanding tried to convince the men that no good would come of their strike irrespective of what was happening in India. The men continued to complain of the delays regarding repatriation and mails. It was pointed out that by refusing to work they would delay their release and mails even more.  Releases were governed by the Manpower Committee in London and the local RAF authorities could do little more than forward the complaints to the Air Ministry.

By this time the disaffection had spread and by 26 January airmen at Koggala, Ratmalana and Colombo were also involved. It was apparent from reports received from various units that broadcasts made by the BBC on 24 and 25 January were largely responsible for the information reaching them, bringing out feelings that were dormant and encouraging them to emulate their colleagues who had joined the strike. Except at Negombo where the relations between the Station and Staging Post were not easy, at other stations the unit commanders and officers were in close touch with the men, addressing them at the first sign of trouble. However, the problems concerning repatriation and release could not be solved by them on their own, though every effort was made to take the men into confidence and explain the policy in this regard. Many of the grievances, such as disparity in releases compared to RAF personnel in UK and faster repatriation of personnel of the Navy and Army were unfounded.

Meanwhile, the strikes in RAF stations in India continued to spread. On 26 January 1946 Air Marshal Sir Roderick Carr, Air Officer Commanding, British Air Forces in South East Asia, sent a signal to the Air Ministry giving details of the stoppage of work that had occurred at Palam, Dum Dum, Poona, Cawnpore and Vizagapatnam, in addition to Mauripur. Except at Mauripur, all stoppages were of short duration but it was considered that other units were likely to be affected. The majority of units were ‘striking’ in an orderly and respectful manner in order to register a protest against the Government’s policy, and then returning to work. Air Marshal Carr considered that unless the Government shouldered the responsibility of making a comprehensive statement, even if that statement did not meet the airmen’s requirements, he anticipated that the men would strike again. Units that had returned to work had done so on the assumption that their dissatisfaction with the demobilisation policy had been presented to the Government from which they were expecting a comprehensive statement. No promises were made, but the men had been informed that the questions raised in the Inspector General’s report had been forwarded to the Secretary of State. In conclusion, Air Marshal Carr stressed that he saw no alternative to a Government statement. While he agreed that the Government should not be called upon to issue a general statement as a concession to indiscipline, he felt that in this instance, failure to do so it may have serious consequences.

            The stoppage of work on RAF stations in India influenced the personnel of the RIAF also. Reports of men staying away from work were received from Trichinopoly and No. 228 Group. The main cause of discontent - demobilisation – was augmented by complaints regarding leave, food and family allowances. In addition to speeding up their in release, the Indian airmen requested that family and ration allowances should be paid to them while on leave. They maintained that granting only one free rail warrant per annum meant hardship to airmen who had to split their leave in two or three parts. They requested that that either additional railway warrants should be given or permission granted to avail their entire leave at one time during the year.         

            The strikes in the RIAF alarmed the authorities, since they could have an adverse effect on the political situation in the country. The Air Marshal Commanding, British Air Forces in South East Asia sent a signal to all RAF units informing them of this. The signal, which was not sent to RIAF units, read:

The Government plan for demobilization must be a balanced one: our industries at home require manpower, but this cannot be provided at the risk of endangering the safety of the World. There are still defence problems in India. The public press has recently made it clear that a political crisis is approaching, a crisis which may only be solved by little short of civil war. If you wish, you may quote me as authority for this. The Government at Home are now fully aware that conscripts in the RAF have little or no pride in their service. I do not believe that these misguided airmen who took part in the recent so-called strikes appreciate that their action may be endangering the safety of India. Already their example has been followed by the RIAF. Such actions can only encourage civil disturbances and may lead to grave consequences for everyone in India including those airmen who are not due for repatriation in the near future.5       

            The Allied Air Commander-in-Chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Park was also concerned by the RIAF strikes. He signalled all commanders in South East Asia, stressing that it was essential that pay and allowances and other conditions of service in the post-war Indian Air Force should be made known to all concerned, with the least possible delay. The Government of India had set up a committee to examine and make recommendations on the terms and conditions of service to be applied to the post war Indian forces, including the Air Force. The work of the committee would be hastened with due regard to the necessity of arriving at a well considered conclusion. The message continued:

I have collected from various sources a full list of the grievances of the Royal Indian Air Force airmen and will do everything in my power to have them investigated. To do this thoroughly will take time. I must make it clear to all concerned that I cannot condone the serious breaches of discipline that have taken place during the last twelve days, and any improvement in conditions that I may be able to make will not, repeat,  not be a concession to discipline. I will always accept honest complaints if passed to me through the correct channels. I would like to assure both officers and other ranks personnel who desire to continue in the service that the Royal Indian Air Force offers a fine career to the right man.

            Meanwhile, the strikes in RAF stations continued to spread, with the most serious incident occurring at Seletar in Singapore on 26 January 1946, followed by a similar incident at Kallang on the very next day. The Allied Air Commander-in-Chief visited Seletar and had detailed discussions with the men, which he reported to the Air Ministry. Realising the seriousness of the matter, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Clement Atlee, made a statement in the House of Commons on 29 January, outlining the measures being taken to expedite repatriation and release, which seemed to be the root cause of the trouble. On the same day the men of 194 (Transport) Squadron in Rangoon stopped work. However, they returned to work the next day. The unit was scheduled for disbandment in the near future but in view of this incident, it was disbanded on 15 February 1946.

            The mutiny by ratings of the Royal Indian Navy in February 1946 added a new dimension to the problem, especially at Bombay, where the RIAF airmen went on a sympathetic strike. To subdue the mutineers who had taken control of ships and were threatening to bombard Bombay, one of the measures being seriously considered was air attacks using rocket projectiles. However, in view of the strike by RIAF personnel, the authorities felt that Indian squadrons could not be used for this purpose. Responding to an appeal from Sir Roderick Carr, Air Officer Commanding British Air Forces in South East Asia, the Allied Air Commander-in-Chief, Sir Keith Park agreed to divert some aircraft from his resources. However, in view of the recent experience in Java, he advised Carr to obtain the approval of the C-in-C India before using RAF and RIAF aircraft in an offensive role against the local population. 6

            RIAF personnel refused to report for duty at many stations for varying periods. The Naval strike came to an end on 23 February 1946, leading to improvement in the situation at Bombay, though the airmen had still not resumed duty. Other than Bombay, the stations that continued to be affected were Cawnpore, Allahabad and Jodhpur, though conditions seemed to be improving and were expected to become normal soon. However a serious incident occurred in Rangoon, where 140 RIAF personnel failed to report for duty on 23 February. When asked for their grievances, the airmen listed the following demands:-

·       Equal rights with BORs in the Unit canteen
·       Equal distribution of Unit dues between the RAF and RIAF.
·       Separate Mess for RIAF with half BOR and half Indian type rations.
·       Weekly show of Indian films.
·       Separate recreation room with Indian periodicals.
·       Full entitlement of leave for all RIAF personnel.
·       Better living conditions. 
·       Higher scale of pay and allowances.
·       Second class railways warrants
·        Speed up demobilisation.

On the night of 24 February the Commanding Officer interviewed two of the of the men’s representatives and informed them that their grievances had been forwarded to the Air Marshal Commanding Air Headquarters Burma. Grievances that could be resolved locally would be dealt by the Air Marshal personally while the remaining questions concerning pay, allowances and demobilisation would be forwarded to higher authorities. The Commanding Officer emphasized that the men must return to duty before their demands could be considered. The representatives agreed and gave an assurance that they would do so, but the men did not join duty until 28 February 1946.

In February there was strike at Kohat, the only Air Force station in India manned by the RIAF, where the Station Commander was Group Captain (later Air Chief Marshal) A.M ‘Aspy’ Engineer. An account of the strike and how it was handled has been described by Squadron Leader (later Air Vice Marshal) Harjinder Singh, who was then posted at Air Force Station Peshawar.  On 26 February Harjinder received a telephone call from Flight Lieutenant Shahzada, Adjutant of the Air Force Station Kohat informing him that the airmen had gone on strike that morning. The men had collected at the aerodrome from where they intended to take out a protest march through the city. Group Captain Engineer had asked the Adjutant to inform Harjinder that he had already requisitioned some Gurkha troops from the Army to erect a road block at the aerodrome gate, and if necessary, open fire on the strikers if they tried to force their way out. Harjinder asked his Station Commander, Group Captain Vallaine, to permit him to fly to Kohat, without giving him any reason. Fortunately, Vallaine agreed, and detailed Flying Officer Glandstein to take Harjinder to Kohat in a Harvard aircraft.

After reaching Kohat, Harjinder reported to the Station Commander who gave him some more details of the strike. Apparently the men were in no mood to listen to any officer and he advised Harjinder not to go near them. Harjinder felt that unless the situation was brought under control immediately, it would be the end of the only Indian Air Force station in the country. He asked for permission to approach the strikers and talk to them. Engineer refused, but when Harjinder insisted, he relented, telling the latter that that he would not be responsible for his life. When Harjinder approached the strikers, who had collected on the airstrip, one of them shouted: ‘Don’t let this officer come near, because he will call off the strike.’ But there were others who differed, and wanted him to come.  Harjinder proposed that they take a vote by show of hands, and was pleasantly surprised when the majority elected to hear him. After talking to the men, Harjinder found that they had heard that it was planned to bomb and machine gun the Naval ratings that had gone on strike in Bombay. When asked for their demands, they said that the Station Commander should send a message to the Commander-in-Chief in Delhi telling him that the Indian Air Force Station Kohat refuses to cooperate in bombing their colleagues in the Navy. Also in the signal it should be clearly mentioned that the Air Force Station Kohat sympathizes with the relatives of the people who have been killed in the firing at Bombay. The rest of the story is best described by Harjinder in his own words:

To my mind, it was a reasonable demand and I asked them: “Is that all?” and they all said “Yes”. So I told them:” I will guarantee that the Station Commander will do what you have asked, and what is more, there was never an intention of sending Indian Air Force Squadrons to bomb and machine-gun our naval colleagues and there must have been some misunderstanding.

After addressing the men further and quietening them down I told them that they had disgraced themselves by striking, and before it was too late they should report back to work; and as a first consequence, they should immediately fall in. The men readily agreed. I got them fallen-in in three ranks and marched them to the Cinema hall. I told them to accept any punishment that the Station Commander gave without hesitation and if the station Commander asked them: “Did you go on strike?” they should say “No, we never had any such intention.” It took me exactly ten minutes to settle the issue in this way.

After marching the airmen into the Cinema hall, I reported to the Station Commander and briefed him on what to say. In fairness to Aspy I must say he sent the signal to General Auchinleck on the lines that I had promised the airmen. When he went into the Cinema hall and asked the men whether they had intended to go on strike, the men with one voice shouted: “No.” As preplanned, he said: “All right, but as a punishment for your indiscipline this morning, I am ordering extra parades in the afternoon for the whole Station for one month.” They filed out of the hall quietly enough.

After the ‘strike’ was over, I took off for Peshawar. Some days alter I heard that the Station Commander had been called up by Delhi and given a sound dressing down because of the signal which he ah sent concerning the Indian Naval mutiny  at Bombay.7

Another strike that was defused by an Indian officer was the one at the Factory Road Camp in Delhi. The strike lasted four days and was eventually broken by sympathetic handling by Group Captain (later Air Chief Marshal) Subroto Mukerjee, who was ably assisted by Warrant Officer Verghese. After the strike ended, RAF Intelligence was asked to identify the ring leaders. Based on their report, Air Headquarters decided to discharge the personnel involved in the strike. Surprisingly, the first name on the list was that of Warrant Officer Verghese, who had been instrumental in subduing the strike. It was only after Subroto Mukerjee intervened with Air Marshal Sir Rodrick Carr that the orders for Verghese’s discharge were withdrawn.

            Though officially classified as a mutiny, the incidents in the RIAF were nothing more than ‘strikes’. In almost all cases, the airmen resorted to stoppage of work or a sit down strike. They was no slogan shouting, waving of flags or processions, as happened in the mutinies in the other two services that occurred at almost the same time. No violence was used, by the strikers or the authorities, and in most cases the strikes ended after the intervention of officers who assured the men that their grievances would be looked into sympathetically. None of the participants were punished, though a few of the ring leaders were discharged from service. Though the strikes were not serious, they brought to light the feeling of discontent among the Indian personnel serving in the Air Force, forcing the British authorities to review the dependability of the armed forces in India. This played a part in the decision of the British to quit India in 1947.






END NOTES


This chapter is largely based on N. Mansergh and Penderel Moon’s The Transfer of Power, (London, 1982); Lt. Gen S.L. Menezes’ Fidelity & Honour, (New Delhi, 1993); Air Commodore A.L. Saigal’s Birth of An Air Force – The Memoirs of Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh, (New Delhi, 1977); and documents in the Ministry of Defence, History Division, New Delhi. Specific references are given below:-


1.         Air Commodore A.L. Saigal (ed.), Birth of An Air Force – The Memoirs of Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh, (New Delhi, 1977), p. 34.

2.         Saigal, p. 216.

3.         Nicholas Mansergh and Penderel Moon, (ed.) The Transfer of Power 1942-          47 (12 vols, London, 1982), vii, pp. 894-5

           
4.         A Brief History of Events Associated with The Disaffection and ‘Strikes’ Among Personnel in the RAF units of Air Command, South East Asia, Ministry of Defence, History Division, (MODHD), New Delhi, 601/9768/H, pp. 1-2

5.         ibid., p. 10.


6.         ibid.,  p. 24.


7.         Saigal, pp. 218-21