#Military , 5124 Views
Author: Rathin Mathur
Photographs: 6 Kumaon Battalion Archive
This is the story of 6 Kumaon.
First Contact with the enemy starts in Kibithu, ahead of Walong. Massive shelling by the Chinese. Rifle and three-inch mortar fire reply. Return fire effective. First attack subsides. Second wave sees return in heavy numbers and supported by MMG and heavy mortars. When his platoon is attacked, Naik Bahadur Singh mans the LMG and keeps firing till he is hit in the chest. Even as he is injured, he does not stop till he is killed. The enemy numbers are staggering and reinforcements unavailable. The Kumaonis are ordered to withdraw.
As the battalion is ordered to fall back from Kibithu and take positions in Walong, Delta company stays en route at Ashi Hill to stall the advancing Chinese forces. Under the command of Lieutenant Bikram Singh, later to be acknowledged as ‘The Lion of Walong’, the Kumaonis await the enemy as they cross the Namti Nullah by a suspension bridge. Lt. Bikram Singh has had the planks removed and as the first of the enemy falls into the river, the rest switch on their flashlights. Lt Bikram has been waiting for this. He now gives the order to fire and this effectively executed ambush leads to 200 of the enemy dead. The objective to slow the advance of the enemy has been fulfilled. Over the next ten days, the Chinese forces move forward and occupy certain heights. There is a danger of them gaining dominance over the Walong airstrip that is critical for battle supplies.
A patrol of Alpha Company, under the command of Captain Ravi Kumar Mathur is charged with the task of dislodging the enemy from Green Pimple. The Kumaonis cross the ferocious river on archaic and rickety pulleys called ‘the flying fox’. The Indian heavy gunners that are pounding the enemy positions go quiet as the Kumaonis approach Green Pimple. The enemy spots them coming and opens fire from above. Undaunted, the Kumaonis advance. They are facing enemy fire, injury and superior numbers but they nevertheless clear the forward enemy bunkers. Completely out of ammunition, Captain Mathur and his men engage in hand to hand combat. Despite the absence of the promised mortar support, they withstand five counter attacks by the enemy. They are then deployed along the West ridge where they hold defensive positions.
The Chinese now occupy the heights of Green Pimple and Yellow Pimple with regular reinforcements coming in. The Indian military leadership has decided that they must be dislodged. 6 Kumaon is once again entrusted with what will be a rare counter attack against the enemy in this war. Throughout the entire war, 6 Kumaon is the only Indian Battalion to counter attack the enemy.
On the 11th of November, Colonel Madiah, the Commanding Officer of 6 Kumaon moves the Battalion TAC headquarters right under the noses of the enemy, climbing from 6000 feet to 13000 feet. They establish HQ in the Trijunction area.
The offensive against Yellow pimple and Green pimple will be commanded from this position. The only ammunition that the Kumaonis have at the altitude is what they are physically able to carry themselves.
The objective is Yellow pimple and two companies of 6 Kumaon are assigned to attack from two separate flanks. ‘A’ Company, under the command of Capt. BN Singh will advance from a height on the left flank. ‘B’ Company, commanded by Major B.N Sharma will approach from the right flank. Upon approach however, on both flanks there are low features that have to be scaled upwards. The enemy has the advancing Kumaonis in full view and attacks downward with heavy fire comprising artillery, mortars and LMG fire. The left flank is exposed and the Indian artillery fire is ineffective. Despite the heavy casualties, A Company continues to advance up until a few meters short of the Yellow Pimple perimeter. On the right flank, things seemed to be going better for B Company. They are met with equally fierce firepower, but their own mortars support their advance. The Company manages to destroy the advance bunkers. The Kumaoni soldiers are determined. Facing heavy MMG fire, Subedar Govind Singh charges an enemy bunker and silences them. Yet another bunker opens fire and the Subedar repeats his charge, but goes down in the act. Inspired, Naib Subedar Tirlok Singh seizes a nearby LMG and charges another bunker. He is also killed.
The incoming heavy fire is now too much to counter as both companies hold defensive positions short of the perimeter. With limited options, they await reinforcements.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are reinforcing Yellow Pimple and in the middle of the night, they launch a counter-attack. Left with no ammunition and reinforcements unable to reach, the Kumaonis once again resort to hand to hand combat until they have to fall back to the Battalion HQ at Trijunction. Of the 200 men that left for this action, only 90 return.
The Chinese now plan an attack and begin their advance to Trijunction. The Trijunction is an incredibly valuable position for the Chinese and up until the resilience demonstrated by 6 Kumaon, they have not allocated large resources to this sector. Now, they have mobilized forces marked for other sectors so that they can rapidly occupy Trijunction. However, what they haven’t planned for is the grit and guts of 6 Kumaon.
The enemy launches the attack on Trijunction at 0430 in the morning with staggering strength. The Kumaonis have little more than a solitary company to defend themselves. Many of these men, are already injured and fatigued from the encounter of the previous day. The adjutant, Major PN Bhatia leads his men by example. When the gunner is hit, he mans the LMG himself. When the mortars require reinforcements, he personally carries mortar bombs to the position. Despite personal injury, Major Bhatia refuses evacuation. Nearby, Lieutenant AS Khatri is putting up a brave and determined resistance with his men. The first enemy attack is beaten back. The enemy, however, launches another attack. Trijunction is being shelled relentlessly. The enemy is in Battalion strength against this Company and is well supported by Artillery but is unable to break through the staunch defense of 6 Kumaon. Wave after wave of attacks continue through the night, all with the same result.
Indian reinforcements find it difficult to reach trijunction, but 33 men from 4 Dogra under the command of Captain KJS Grewal get through.
The next morning at 0730, a massive attack supported by 120mm mortars is mobilized by the enemy. The Dogras and the Kumaonis face heavy casualties, but once again the attack is repulsed. The unit doctor, Captain BC Chopra sets up his medical tent right behind the frontline and with scant regard to personal safety supports the company by treating casualties and sending them back to the fight. 27 of the 33 reinforcements have been killed and it is now becoming clear that it will be impossible for reinforcements to make it through. This already depleted company has been surrounded by a Battalion strength of the enemy – they are outnumbered, perhaps 7 to 1. Lieutenant Colonel Madiah, the Commanding Officer now orders disengagement. Trijunction may have fallen, but Brig. NC Rawlley, the Brigade Commander who has been watching the action says, “6 Kumaon at Trijunction fought and fought and fought till there was an eerie silence”.
The Lion of Walong
LT BIKRAM SINGH
The enemy now rapidly moves to the West Ridge where he is met once again by his nemesis – Lieutenant Bikram Singh and the Delta company of 6 Kumaon. The frontal attack of the Chinese is repulsed. The enemy launches another attack but this time it is an attack that has ‘D’ Company surrounded from three directions with artillery and MMG support. He may be leading a little over a 100 men against an enemy strength that is well over 2000, but Lt. Bikram Singh stands his ground, giving strength and spirit to his boys. This is why this soldier is remembered 6 decades later as The Lion of Walong. When completely surrounded, he ensures the safety of his troops.
As they disengage, he mans an LMG himself and engages the enemy till his company withdraws. One of the last acts of engagement, it is typical of everything that 6 Kumaon has demonstrated in these 27 days since the first engagement – complete and selfless commitment to the task assigned with little concern to availability of resources, support or personal wellbeing.
Lt. Bikram Singh dies in his fighting position.
This battalion continues to face challenges as it disengages. The weather is inclement, the terrain is brutal and in several places the enemy is waiting to ambush. The Commanding Officer is taken Prisoner of War along with three other officers, five JCO’s and 181 other ranks. In all, 127 officers and men have lost their lives. 124 are wounded. Of the 600 odd that went into war a month ago, 418 are either killed, wounded or taken Prisoners of War. Capt. Ravi Kumar Mathur with less than 5 years of service is the only Officer left and brings the weary remnants of the unit from Walong to Tezu. This is a distance of about 200km and a walk that would take a fortnight in such conditions.
As these few survivors walk back, grieving the loss of their friends, cold, starved, would they have realised that in action after action they made the enemy fight for every victory. They were the only Battalion to have attacked the enemy- they executed every order , every task and every mission assigned to them. They were outnumbered. They had no Air and little Artillery support. They were ill equipped and yet they held the enemy within Walong for three weeks. Refusing to cede any space.
The Time Magazine wrote “At Walong, Indian troops lacked everything. The only thing they did not lack was guts.”
They leave behind their mates to the solace of these words inscribed in the memorial at Walong.
Bear witness that we loved our land,
Amidst shattered rocks and flaming pine,
We fought and died on Namti Plain,
O Lohit gently by us glide,
Pale stars above us softly shine .
As we lie here in sun and rain.”
This timeline of the Battle of Walong has been compiled by Rathin Mathur. He is the son of Late Brigadier Ravi Kumar Mathur VrC, VSM, a young Captain during the war and a Vir Chakra awardee for his gallantry and leadership during The Battle of Walong. While Rathin has relied on several sources for the timeline, his greatest resource was the first hand account narrated to him by his father.
• Article by Lt Col (Retd) Prem Andrews from his forthcoming book on The Battle of Walong based on personal accounts, War Diaries and Battle Records.
• As narrated by the Late Brig (Retd) Ravi Kumar Mathur VrC, VSM.
• “1962 – The War that Wasn’t” by Shiv Kunal Verma
• “Kumaoni Nostalgia” by Col (Retd) NN Bhatia