A Short History of Indian Division Deployments Against China 1961-2001
v.1.1 April 28, 2012
This is written from memory; over the decades memory can deceive. Please feel free to send in corrections and additions.
Prior to 1961 no division was deployed against China. In 1961, 4th Infantry Division shifted from Ambala, where it had been assigned to the Pakistan theatre, to the North East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh) in view of the increasing threat. The division was destroyed in the 1962 fighting, and reconstituted as a mountain division, again based in Ambala, as a reserve for the HP/UP border. It participated in the 1965 War against Pakistan, and shifted to Allahabad in 1970, remaining a reserve division. In 1971 it fought in the Bangladesh campaign, returning to Allahabad to become a standard infantry division, which it remains to this day. It now is part of a strike corps.
During the 1962 War, three new divisions were raised: 3rd Infantry Division at Leh, 2nd Division (later Mountain Division) for the northeast corner of NEFA, and 8th Division (later mountain division) as a command reserve for the Northeast region.
Simultaneously, 17th Infantry Division, which had been raised to replace 4th Division in the Punjab, and 20th, 23rd, and 27th Infantry Divisions were shifted from the Punjab to the Northeast, stripping the Punjab of its defenses in a bid to strengthen the Northeast. These four divisions were converted to mountain configuration. 5th Division was raised to replace 4th Division, which returned to Ambala.
Later 57th Mountain Division was raised as a command reserve, and became committed, along with 8th Mountain Division, to the growing counterinsurgency operations in the east. 6th Mountain Division was raised in 1963-64 and based at Barielly, with responsibility for the eastern part of the UP-Tibet border.
Around 1965, the division deployments were as follows:
2nd Mountain Division at Tezu (IV Corps)
3rd Infantry Division at Leh, five brigades including 121 (I) Brigade at Kargil
4th Mountain Division at Ambala, Western Command reserve
5th Mountain Division at Bomdila (IV Corps)
6th Mountain Division at Bareilly, for UP border and Army HQ reserve
8th Mountain Division in Mizoram, reserve for Eastern Command
17th Mountain Division in Sikkim (XXXIII Corps)
20th Mountain Division at Binaguri (XXXIII Corps)
23rd Mountain Division at Rangia (IV Corps)
27th Mountain Division in Sikkim (XXXIII) Corps)
57th Mountain Division in Nagaland, reserve for Eastern Command
In addition, there were independent brigades deployed on the northern border:
22nd Sector (Pratapur Sector) in Northeast Ladakh, not a formal brigade
51st (Independent) Parachute Brigade (Sugar Sector) in Himachal Pradesh
9th (Independent) Mountain Brigade in Joshimath UP
40th (Independent) Brigade in IV Corps
In 1965, India used three mountain divisions in the Pakistan theatre: 4th Mountain (XI Corps); 6th Mountain (I Corps); and 23rd Mountain, which was on its way from the Northeast to the Gurdaspur area when the cease-fire was rung down.
In 1967, 17th Mountain Division units participated in a small-scale but sharp action against the Chinese at the Nathu La (Nathu Pass), the first and only time a division raised specifically to protect against China has engaged Chinese forces in 40 years.
In 1971, a massive redeployment of mountain units took place for the Bangladesh operations. 4th, 23rd, 20th, 8th, and 57th Divisions fought in the Eastern theatre. HQ 6th Mountain with two brigades was shifted to Eastern Command as a reserve.
After the war, thinking was that the mountain division had outlived its utility and should be replaced with the standard infantry division. Some shifts due to changing strategic imperatives also took place.
As part of the buildup against Pakistan, 163rd Brigade, the reserve brigade of 3rd Division at Leh, was withdrawn along with 51st (I) Parachute Brigade from Himachal, and sent to the Fazilka-Ganganager area, neither brigade ever returned as the threat from China was thought to have reduced. 23rd Division converted to infantry configuration and went to Ranchi, while 9th Infantry Division at Ranchi, an Eastern Command reserve division raised in 1963-64 shifted to UP and the Punjab. 21st Infantry Division was raised at Rangia to replace the departed 23rd Mountain Division. 4th Mountain became an infantry division assigned to a strike corps.
Temporary redeployments took place in 1984 and 1986-87, to meet the needs of the Punjab insurgency and the imperatives of Exercise/Operation Brasstacks. For example, in 1986-87 6th Mountain Division shifted to Leh, and 57th Division entered the Punjab for CI duties, consequent on the Brasstacks crisis.
Deployments remained static till 1989, when the increasing intensity of the Kashmir insurgency required new shifts. HQ III Corps, which had been raised to control CI formations in the Northeast, plus its main components, 8th and 57th Mountain Divisions, shifted to the Jammu and Kashmir theatre. While HQ III Corps and 57th Division returned to Northeast on the waning of the insurgency, 8th Mountain Division stayed back and was subsequently lost to Eastern Command as it became a permanent part of Northern Command. In 1984-85 a new division was raised in Ladakh, the 28th, but as an infantry division, and was intended for use against Pakistan, not China.
In the early 1990s efforts were made by India and China to demilitarize the border between them, with the result that some Eastern Command divisions, previously irrecoverably committed to Eastern Command, more and more became considered as Army HQ Reserves.
During the 1999 Kargil crisis, when India feared Pakistan would invade Kashmir, three mountain divisions reinforced Jammu and Kashmir for some months.
In 2001, only 3rd, 17th , 5th, and 2nd Divisions are considered firmly deployed against China. 23rd Division has gone to a strike corps. All the rest - 6th , 20th, 21st Infantry, 27th and 57th Divisions - are now in Army HQ reserve and are free to be deployed as required.
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