The Henderson Brooks Report, Part II: Defiant Henderson Brooks pursued his own enquiry rather than a whitewash job - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 19 March 2014

The Henderson Brooks Report, Part II: Defiant Henderson Brooks pursued his own enquiry rather than a whitewash job

 By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Mar 14

Lieutenant General TB Henderson Brooks was clearly worried that his inquiry into the army’s 1962 defeat at the hands of the Chinese might be made into a whitewash job that confined itself to minor tactical questions, while ignoring the bigger issues --- questions of higher defence management --- that had actually led to national humiliation.

That worry is evident from the very start of the “top secret” Henderson Brooks Report (HBR), large chunks of which have been posted on the internet by former journalist and author, Neville Maxwell, now settled in Australia.

Despite those apprehensions, or perhaps because of them, Henderson Brooks and his co-author, the iconic, Victoria Cross winning Brigadier PS Bhagat, boldly stretched their mandate to investigate and point out flaws in the political and top military handling of the run-up to and conduct of war.

In the very first page of his report, Henderson Brooks makes the startling disclosure that the army chief  --- General JN Chaudhuri, who was appointed after the 1962 debacle led to the resignation of his predecessor, General PN Thapar --- advised him not to review the functioning of Army Headquarters (AHQ) while carrying out his inquiry.

Henderson Brooks believed that excluding AHQ from his investigation would mask crucial events and paint an incomplete picture. He says it would have been “convenient and logical” to begin tracing events from AHQ, through command headquarters, to the field formations that actually did the fighting.

According to the posted HBR, General JN Chaudhuri’s order to exclude AHQ from the enquiry meant, “The relationship between Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters and the directions given by the former to the latter could, therefore, also not be examined.”

Henderson Brooks remained determined not to let that happen. He doggedly scrutinised AHQ decisions, if not through AHQ documents, then through written orders, instructions and minutes that AHQ issued to Headquarters Western Command (HQ WC) and Eastern Command (HQ EC).

The posted HBR notes that, “the actions and developments at Army Headquarters have had to be traced from documents available at Command Headquarters. In this process, a number of loose ends concerning Army Headquarters could not be verified and have been left unanswered.””

It remains unclear why General JN Chaudhuri restricted the scope of Henderson Brooks’ “operations review”, as the inquiry ordered by the army chief on December 14, 1962, was termed. Not only was AHQ placed off limits for Henderson Brooks, his mandate was skewed towards just one part of the war --- the Kameng sector, around Tawang.

According to the HBR blogpost, Henderson Brooks was ordered, “to go into the reverses suffered by the Army, particularly in the KAMENG Frontier Division of NEFA”, i.e. the Tawang sector of the North East Frontier Agency. He was to enquire into tactical issues --- specifically what went wrong with training, equipment, system of command, physical fitness of troops, and the capacity of commanders at all levels to influence the men under their command.

Eventually, Henderson Brooks framed his own expansive mandate. Besides scrutinising AHQ wherever possible, and commenting on MoD and Intelligence Bureau (IB) functioning, the enquiry also focused on Ladakh (i.e. the Western Command) as intently as on Kameng. The posted report notes, “It is also obvious that the developments in NEFA were closely correlated to those in LADAKH, and, thus, any study of NEFA operations must be carried out in conjunction with… the Western Theatre.”

Henderson Brooks consciously viewed the big picture, choosing to examine “developments and events prior to hostilities as also the balance, posture and strength of the Army at the outbreak of hostilities.”

It is perhaps for this reason --- and for the occasionally blistering comments on political and civilian agencies --- that successive governments in New Delhi have chosen to keep the Henderson Brooks report “top secret.”

For example, the posted report is scathing about Defence Minister VK Krishna Menon’s fetish for keeping meetings unrecorded. The posted report notes “The Army Commander (Lt Gen LP Sen) in his report… has brought out that the Defence Minister categorically stated that in view of the TOP SECRET nature of the conference, NO minutes would be kept. This practice, it appears, was followed at all conferences that were held by the Defence Minister in connection with these operations. This is a surprising decision and one which could and did lead to grave consequences. It absolved in the ultimate analysis anyone of the responsibility of any major decision. This, it could and did lead to decisions being taken without careful and considered thought on the consequences of those decisions.”

Pointing out “military decisions must only be taken by those who are in the full knowledge of the military situation and can appreciate the tactical implications,” the posted HBR is withering about the deeply flawed evaluations of BN Mullick, the Director IB (DIB). Other than Mullick’s calamitous opinion that the Chinese would not use force against Indian troops that were pushing forward into contested territory, the HBR blogpost also terms “militarily unsound” the DIB’s opinion that scarce forces should be diverted to hold areas like Taksing, Mechuka and Tuting in NEFA, which the report termed the “frittering away of forces.”

The posted HBR also slams Foreign Secretary MJ Desai’s gung-ho suggestions at a time when Sino-Indian tensions were boiling over after Indian jawans moved to the disputed Thagla Ridge. Says the HBR acerbically, “The Foreign Secretary’s suggestion of establishing a post on THAGLA Ridge alongside the Chinese, viewed against the happenings in LADAKH, seems incredible.”

Yet, ultimately, the HBR reserves most of its disapproval for AHQ, which neither insulated the field formations from powerful, interfering civilians, nor allowed the units to plan and execute their battle. The posted report notes: “(F)or proper planning and orderly progress, it is essential that lower formations are left to execute orders without interference and undue pressure from Army Headquarters, who neither know the local conditions nor details of execution…”


  1. This is clearly revealed now because of the upcoming elections. So the timing is not good. Anyway all of us have moved on from 1962 - so raising these issues actually should be a non-issue. I was part of study group in 1996 which studied chinese view point of 1962. I don't think in 2014 and beyond, they have any ambition to deal with people of NE who are more or less very closely tied to Indian mainstream - India is not Ukraine and China is no Russia. Anyway sensationalizing reports written 50 years back is not going to benefit anybody. It is time to look forward.

  2. You are right in your assessment, even now no lesson seems to have been learnt.loyality to whom ? Army, political masters, or country , these questions still are not tackled . There is a misplaced concept of loyality , which hides truth and vital lessons to be learnt . We are paying the price for this.

  3. Dear Ajay,

    Exclusion of the names and investigation into their vital roles, such as :

    Holy Cow Chacha Jawahar Lal

    Krishna Menon who wanted revolution in India

    BM Mullic, DIB, the policemen who decided military tactics and strategy

    MJ Desai, the Foreign foreign Secretary

    Missing Army Chief VM Thapar

    The then Defence Secretary

    Etc Etc

    Does not surprise you

    Your focus on Army HQ is prejudiced as Army HQ did not function or not allowed to function by the Murties mentioned above. There was no records kept of the meeting at Defence Minister of Foreign Ministers office. There was no record as to how the government of the day arrived at a decision on "Forward Policy" !

    And now you are trying to bash up Army HQ which virtually did not exist. BM Koul had virtually become the Army Chief of Nehru and Menon. The Army HQ was sabotaged... Army not allowed into Western sector controlled by BN Mullic .. who was performing as theatre Commander... organising rag tag forward posts to throw out the Chinese and his post would be run over within an hour and his policemen ambushed everywhere.

    Now you are finding a needle in the haystacks.. of the Army HQ !

    Well done !!

  4. too many dhabbas.... nehru-gandi... dynastic life... blood stains... not growing out... sacrificing... indian blood dots... too much in nehru-gandhi dynasty... life...

  5. Where is the link to Part-II of the report?

  6. How easy it is to shift the blame entirely on the politicians and brush off any responsibility for the debacle by Army?

    Its very similar to shift all blames on A K Antony for all naval mishaps while not blaming any naval officer for it.

    Time for the services to do a rethink and understand that they are inches away from a probable determined RM to bring a significant change in their merry-go-round.

  7. I fail to understand why is every none so defensive about the whole episode ,yes we made mistakes and there is nothing wrong with that. For 50 years we have been in the impression that the war was always Chinas fault. We need to know the truth, we need to know . Our generation has this blind hatred based on deception and lies,we are no different from the Pakistanis in that regard.

  8. Dear Ajay,

    It is not a question of sensationalizing reports of 50yrs back. Its a question of learning from it and looking 50 yrs hence. Unlike India, China is not looking 5 yrs ahead but 50-75 yrs and may be more. To be complacent with the thought that China has no ambitions in Arunachal or Ladhak would be putting a blinder over our eyes and in the same league and insight of BM Mullic.
    We actually like to believe what we want to believe- a foolhardy and suicidal way.We seem to have a misplaced sense of security. Do we even a long term Security Strategy?Can any of our leaders including the so called stalwarts spell out where they see the country 50 yrs from now. I don't think so.Let the Media ask any one of them and you will see what I mean. The country can ill afford to pay the price for poor or no Strategic thinking and clear perception at the highest political level.We must look forward but having learnt from the past.

  9. When intentionally this guy from Australia reveals this report which he had since 1970 and whose basis he published a book " India's China war' as if India was to blame for the war. Nehru miscalculated the Chinese intentions and the Army Hqtrs was not doing its job under General Thapar because of the Kaul over ride. But it cannot escape the blame as also the political and intelligence brass of that time.Now when this report comes every one thinks what is written 50 yrears ago is all truth but nothing but the truth. As a person who served in ladakh I know how we were out Gneralled and out soldiered by Chinese who overan our posts which were dominating Chinese positions from Gurun Hill, gun Hill and Rezanla etc.Chinese were located in lower Sapngur gap and Rezang lumpa posts but still they surprised us due to better tactics and acclimitisation.

  10. The fact and truth was that India gave refuge to Dalai Lama and Tibetan followers - I really don't understand why no one talks about it - it is like Pakistan supporting Hafiz Saeed and Dawood Ibrahim (quite obviously these two humans are not being compared to Hon Dalai), second was China going thru Mao upheaval, over population and identity crisis - combined that with immature politics and military of those years

  11. People don't understand how much Jawahar lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi foresight was at that point of time - it is easy to cast aspersions on them - but the fact is that there are hardly 1 or 2 people in politics /army or civil services whose character and intelligence can come close to JLN/IG. JLN established the scientific foundation for the entire country - for 40 years there were only 5 IITs even when people like MMS/Narsimha rao/VP Singh were PM for long years.


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