In a quest for more lands and under a perception of Russian influence in Tibet, Britain goaded Tibet into a small border skirmish which they used as a cause belle to launch an invasion. The invasion was led by Francis Younghusband who, before, tried to penetrate Lhasa. Military command was held by James Macdonald. Though the Tibetan Army shadowed the British, they were ordered not to fire unless fired upon first upon. A troop of 3000 took their position at Chumik Shenko armed with primitive muskets blocked the path of the invading force on 31 March 1904. They placed themselves behind a 5-foot-high rock wall topped with sangars. The British were asked to stop and return back, but they replied that the advance should continue and that no Tibetan should block their path. The Tibetans were given orders only to fire when fired upon and hence would not fight, but nor would they vacate their positions. The Tibetans were led to believe that the Britishers were intent on negotiations. British soldiers each removed one bullet from their rifles, and since the Tibetans didn’t realize that the rifles can be instantly reloaded, they extinguished the fuses on their muskets and were left only with swords to fight. Due to this, they were not in a position to retaliate once the time came.
There was a scuffle between the British soldiers who were advancing on the wall and Tibetans and a Tibetan General fired a pistol hitting a Sikh soldier in the jaw. This rapidly escalated the situation. Henry Newman, a reporter for Reuters and an eye-witness, said that following this shot, the mass of Tibetans surged forward and soon after this, fire was directed from three sides on the Tibetans. The Tibetans were mown down by the Maxim guns even as they fled. The slaughter was so brutal that Lieutenant Arthur Hadow, the Commander of the Maxim guns detachment, later wrote ‘I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire. I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away.’ Even Younghusbad, one of the most prominent men of the expedition used the word massacre and not a fight. The Tibetan General killed was from a prominent Tibetan family. Lassa Lama was another prominent killed.
Photograph by Lieutenant G I Davys of a dying Tibetan soldier after the massacre
Tibetan losses that day were 600-700 dead with 168 wounded and the British losses were 12 wounded.
The total expedition in itself is a similar charade with British losses amounting to 202 with 34 dead, out of which 5 are British and rest Indian.