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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 27 November 2010

India's China War

My interest is easily aroused when it comes to obscure conflicts. Whilst browsing through a second hand bookshop last year, I came across Neville Maxwell's weighty tome on the 1962 Sino/Indian conflict. It sat in my reading pile until recently.

For those not familiar with this war between the two largest countries in the world a brief summary. India's border with China runs from the Himalayas through the Karakorum Mountains - probably the highest border in the world. The precise border line had never been agreed and diplomatic attempts to settle the dispute failed after the 1960 summit between Nehru and Chou En-Lai.

In 1961 India adopted the 'forward policy' that involved a direct military challenge to China and led to the border war the following year. However, the Indian army was ill equipped for fighting a war at 16,000ft+. Lightly armed, poorly supplied troops, most in their cotton summer uniforms were sent in penny packets to confront around three Chinese divisions. When the Chinese counter attacked these units were caught in isolated positions. Heavily outnumbered they fought bravely, often to the last man, against properly equipped Chinese units, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Indian army was shattered and routed to the plains of NE India.

The book gives a very detailed account of the diplomacy and Indian internal politics that led to the conflict. The main interest for the military historian, the war itself, gets lighter treatment. The absurd Indian command structure and the frequent leadership changes in key units is described in detail, but the actual fighting could have done with a few more maps and diagrams. Whilst the book is very balanced, the author did not have access to the same level of papers for the Chinese side.

For the wargamer this conflict presents a few challenges in terms of terrain. However, for figures Korean War Chinese would probably be fine and the Indian army doesn't appear to have moved on much from WW2.

Overall this book is hard going, but if you want a detailed understanding of this conflict, this is the book for you.

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