Thursday, October 24, 2013



'We were told that the Chinese will come in waves'

Last updated on: October 17, 2012 15:30 IS
Image: Then Second Lieutenant A J S Behl, second from right, at Tsangdhar in early October 1962
Claude Arpi 
'I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight... not even one of my men deserted.''We had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.'Brigadier Amar Jit Singh Behl (retd) speaks to Claude Arpi in an exclusive interview, continuing our new series on the India-China War, 50 years later.Fifty years after the debacle of the Namkha chu river, very few survivors remain to tell their side of the story of the 1962 India-China war.Claude Arpi met one of them, Amar Jit Singh Behl, then a young and 'carefree' second lieutenant from the 17 Parachute Field Regiment.After retiring as a brigadier, Behl lives with his wife in Chandigarh, where he is an avid golfer.He spoke to about the most harrowing three weeks of his life on a plateau in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh), dominating a small, but now famous rivulet, the Namkha chu.Behl and his men fought well, but were ultimately taken as prisoners of war to Tibet, where for seven months they ate boiled radish.This is the story of a brave para gunner in a war which inflicted lasting scars on the country.I joined the elite 17 Parachute Field Regiment on July 2, 1962 at the end of an officer's course at Agra cantonment. I was put through my probation tests, which included very high standards of physical efficiency tests, tactical and technical tests.I was then allowed to wear the paratrooper's prestigious maroon turban. I also completed my parachute basic course which consisted of six day jumps and one night jump. By September 6, 1962, I was a full-fledged paratrooper with a wing on my right sleeve.
I reported to Captain (later Major General) H S Talwar for orders. He commanded the troop called 'E' troop, from 52 Parachute Field Battery. I was feeling very proud to be given a chance to go to NEFA with my troops.On September 24, 1962, we were ordered to join the 7 Infantry Brigade with guns for fire support in the Operation Zone.Captain Talwar was the troop commander and I was the GPO (Gun Position Officer), looking after the firing of the guns and the overall administration of the guns.The troops with the equipment and 4 guns were loaded in five C 119 Fairchild Packet aircraft and one AN 12 aircraft. Captain Talwar travelled in the latter.The rest of us moved to NEFA via Lucknow, Barrackpore and Jalpaiguri. On October 3, we reached Tezpur where Captain Talwar received us.We were given a briefing by Major Narender Singh, the General Staff Officer (GSO 2, OPS) of the 4 Infantry Division. We were told that the Chinese will come in waves, but there was nothing to worry about, because they were not well equipped.You mean it was known that the Chinese will come in waves?It was the normal doctrinal tactics of the Chinese in Korea and elsewhere, it is how they proceeded. After the briefing, I was given a sketch of the area.
Not a proper map?
No a blueprint only, a sketch of the Thagla ridge, Dhola Post, Namkha chu (river), etc. We were told that we will go to Tawang by road and later we will be airlifted.The plans were changed and when we reached Bompu, we were told to come back to be airlifted.
The map of Thagla ridge and Namkha chu river

B>It seems there were two beautiful girls, said to be locals, but later suspected to be Chinese spies, at this place.Yes, I saw them. Everybody wanted to meet them and have a cup of tea in their teashop.The next morning we were sent to Diranga near the Bhutan border in an Otter aircraft and the next day, we left for Ziminthang by MI 4 helicopters.Ziminthang was the tactical headquarters of the 4 Infantry Division. I met Major General Niranjan Prasad, my old brigade commander of the 50 (1) Para Brigade, who was the GOC (General Commanding Officer) of the 4 Infantry Division.
Because he knew me, he called me though I was only a second lieutenant. He asked me to put up my best show. He expected very high standards from his para gunners.The next morning, with my troops (43 men) we moved on towards our assigned positions, without acclimatisation and porters.The first night we stayed at Karpola pass (16,000 feet). The next day, we reached Tsangdhar where I was to establish my gun position.Tsangdhar is a flat plateau dominating the Namkha chu. The Dropping Zone (DZ) was a bit ahead; the idea was to bring the equipment as close as possible from the Namkha chu.Unfortunately, some of the equipment went into Chinese hands and deep ravines.
It means the Chinese were only occupying the Thagla ridge, not places south of the Namkha chu.
Yes, though the 9 Punjab (regiment) was patrolling parts of the Thagla ridge. I established my gun position in two days; it was done by October 8.Unfortunately, we had recovered only two guns out of four and 80 rounds out of 250 rounds.It was because the terrain was very tough, there were many trees. But my men did well, they recovered the guns, assembled them, we were ready to launch an attack or defend the 7 Brigade, whatever the scenario would be.
Lieutenant General B M Kaul, the 4 Corps Commander, had planned to take back the Thagla ridge on October 10 (Operation Leghorn).
I don't know about October 10 or 8, but Pandit Nehru on his way to Sri Lanka made a statement: 'The Indian troops have been ordered to evict the Chinese; the time is left to the discretion of the Army.'It is in this connection that General Kaul said that we will evict the Chinese on October 10. His plans eventually collapsed.
When did General Kaul visit Namkha chu?
Around October 8, when I was putting up my guns in Tsangdhar, 2 to 3 hours walking distance from the river. Later General Kaul went back to Delhi because he was not keeping well.I believe he told the government that the operations should be called off and that Indian troops should only maintain a defensive posture.But as a junior officer, I did not know about these things.
Did you meet General Kaul?
I met him on October 3 at Tezpur airport. He saw me, called me and ordered me to ensure that I should be in Tsangdhar before October 10. I said: "I will do it, Sir."
Had he any notion of the terrain and the respective positions?
I was too junior to question him (laughing), I had only nine months of service and he was a very senior officer.But we completed everything on October 8, collecting the guns, assembling them, digging the gun pits, the ammunition pits, securing the area with machine guns, etc.We were ready in time. We were 2, 3 hours walk above the Namkha chu.On October 10 there was a clash in Tsangle (on the north of the river). Orders was that Tsangle should be held at all cost, we did know what it meant (as it was an isolated place).
After October 10, (presumably after General Kaul met with various people in Delhi), it was decided that we should go on a defensive posture.He must have briefed Pandit Nehru and (then defence minister V K ] Krishna Menon who had selected him for the task (for evicting the Chinese). It was an impossible task.
Image: A map of the operation
Photographs: Copyright: Brigadier John Dalvi
What happened on October 20?
In fact, it started before October 20.
On October 19, with naked eyes, we could see troop movements in certain gaps between Chinese defences.The Chinese were not trying to hide themselves; in fact they wanted to show: 'Look we are here in large numbers.'At night, they lit up fires; their objectives were to prove their strength and show that they had come in the rear of our defence too.All our telecommunication lines were cut. They had infiltrated through and gone to our rear.You have to realise that the bridges on the Namkha chu were nothing else but a few logs of trees assembled together. They were not bridges in the real sense.On the night of October, the message was clear, 'We are here.'That day, my nursing assistant died of pulmonary oedema. Before that, in spite of treatment, my two JCOs and one havildar major were evacuated by helicopter due to high altitude sickness. I was left with 38 halvildars and my jawans.The communications had been cut the night before, and we could not even use the wireless set due to very thick trees along the Namkha chu.
I had nobody senior to direct me. I could not get through to my commander, Captain Talwar, who was with Brigadier John Dalvi at the Brigade HQ. There was no communication with anybody.On October 19, I went to Major Panicker who was with the OC (Office Commanding) of the brigade supply depot and asked him: "I don't know what is happening. I have no communication."That night, I had my dinner, checked the sentries and went to sleep. The next morning (October 20) at around 4:30 am, even before I could check my trenches, the shelling started.
At around 9 am, while the shelling was going on, I saw a helicopter coming, but it did not take off. I sent a small patrol of two people to see what had happened. It was about 400 yards down to my gun position.My patrol came back and said: "There is a Sikh officer with a maroon turban (Major Ram Singh of the Signals) and a non-Sikh pilot (Squadron Leader Vinod Sehgal)". They were dead.After one-and-half or two hours, another helicopter came, the pilot went half way through and left.I later learnt that it was Squadron Leader Arnold Williams; he must have gone back after seeing what was going on. He never landed; he went straight from Bridge II to Ziminthang.
Brigadier A J S Behl, seen here in his maroon paratrooper turban, in Chandigarh
Though we had no communication with anybody, I ordered my guns to start firing direct. There was a prominent area, the Black Rock, where we saw a number of Chinese, we kept firing there.We fired 20, 30 rounds and kept quiet for a moment. There was one of our mortar batteries not far from us, the havildar major came to see me and ask what was happening. He was hit by an LMG (Light Machine Gun) burst and died.By that time, troops had started withdrawing from Namkha chu and Tsangle area. These people were telling me, "Don't move, keep firing" (to protect their retreat). There were officers, JCOs, jawans running away. The brigade had altogether 3,000 people.I was a young second lieutenant; I held my post, kept firing in direct roll, also using my LMGs and guns to control the situation.I felt ashamed of those who were running away. I felt proud of my troops, everybody wanted to fight it out.I will say with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggest to me that we should withdraw or tried to run away from the fight, though three jawans had died by this time, they all obeyed me till the end.They saw a large number of all ranks running past our gun position, but not even one of my men deserted.At about 3:30 or 4 pm, we had fired all our rounds and the Chinese were coming in. We had only our LMGs and guns. A large number of them came by waves.We did whatever we could, but ultimately, we had to surrender.In this period of 10, 11 hours, I had lost three jawans, two were seriously wounded, 6 or 7 were more lightly wounded.
I saved two seriously wounded soldiers: Gunner Awtar Singh and Operator Chamkaur Singh had got serious splinter hits. I tried to take them to the ADS (Advance Dressing Station), but it was not possible due to shelling.I told them, "I have a bottle of brandy, I will give you 2 to 3 large doses and pour one on your wounds. Then, keep your tongue between your teeth."
I cleaned my hands with brandy and pulled out the big shrapnel and tied up a dressing on the wounds. We kept this bandage for one month. Later, the Chinese medical officer treated them in the PoW's camp; today, they are perfectly alright.I got a splinter in my leg, but I never bothered about it.By 4:30 pm, the whole thing was over, before this I reluctantly gave order to dismantle the guns and throw important parts in the nullah, so that they couldn't be used again.We were not free soldiers anymore. I was shocked to realise that I was a prisoner of war, but felt consoled that all my jawans had stood by my orders and fought to the last.The entire picture in the area did not show any signs of organised action, but showed a state of ad hocism.

'That toothless old woman (Gen PN Thapar!!); he did not know how to fight a war'

Last updated on: July 6, 2012 19:11 IST
Late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with then Defence Minister Krishna Menon
The war was, however, preceded by a string of events. I am reconstructing the story after having spoken to General P N Thapar, the then chief of army staff and Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Somewhat peeved by the criticism, (then Prime Minister Jawaharlal) Nehru ordered Thapar to evict the Chinese from the posts they had built within Indian territory. 
The army chief was reluctant to do so because he thought it would be like 'disturbing a hornet's nest'. A meeting was held under the chairmanship of Krishna Menon, who was all for action. Thapar argued that the Indian Army did not have the necessary strength, the ratio being six Chinese to one Indian. Menon responded confidently that he had met Chen Yi, the Chinese deputy premier, at Geneva and had been assured that China would never fight India over the border issue. 
When I asked Menon specifically whether this information given to me by General Thapar was true, his reply was: 'That toothless old woman; he did not know how to fight a war.' 
Thapar had submitted a note to the government when he took over as chief in 1960. In it, he had pointed out that the equipment with the army was in such poor condition and in such short supply that China or Pakistan could easily defeat India. This was in sharp contrast to Nehru's statement, which I heard from the press gallery: 'I can tell the House that at no time since Independence has our defence been in better condition and finer fettle.'
It appeared as if the government was determined to fight the Chinese without reorganising or re-equipping the army. At Menon's meeting, Thapar was supported by only one person, V Vishwanathan, then the additional secretary in the home ministry. He said that if Gen Thapar felt that India was unprepared there was no point in being foolhardy, but Menon was obdurate about attacking China.
Faced with no option other than an immediate military operation, Thapar sought an interview with the prime minister to seek his intervention. A few minutes before his departure for Nehru's house, SS Khera, then cabinet secretary, met him and said: 'General, if I were you, I would not express my fears before Panditji for he might think that you are afraid to fight.' 
Thapar's curt reply was that he must tell the prime minister the truth; the rest was for him to decide.
Before Thapar got into his car, Khera once again said that he must realise that if India did not fight, the government would fall. Thapar did not argue further but was more convinced than ever that the decision to resist China was motivated by political considerations. 
Thapar repeated to Nehru how the Indian army was unprepared, untrained, and ill-equipped for the operation it was being asked to undertake. (Menon told me before he became defence minister that there was no army worth the name and no equipment worth the mention.)

'The Government had not taken any note of the Chinese warnings'

Krishna Menon with Maj Gen BD Kapur (Signals; CCR&D), Gen Thapar Army Chief
and Lt Gen JN Chaudhry

Nehru said Menon had informed him that India was itself producing a substantial part of the army equipment it required. Thapar emphasized that India was nowhere near the stage of even assembling the weapons required for war. He then mentioned the note he had submitted, complaining about the poor shape of the army and its equipment. Nehru said he had never seen it. 
To reassure Thapar, Nehru told him that he had received reliable information that the Chinese would not offer resistance if there was a show of force to make them vacate the check-posts. Thapar knew from where the information had come. Obviously, the government had not taken any note of the Chinese warnings that 'the Indian aggressor must bear full responsibility for the consequences of their crimes'.
The general was still not prepared to take the risk. He asked Nehru to speak to some of the army commanders. Lt Gen. Prodip Sen, commander-in-chief Eastern Army Command, who was in Thapar's room in the defence ministry at that time, was summoned. He supported Thapar and said that the army was far from prepared. Nehru repeated that his information was that the Chinese would not retaliate.
Thapar took heart from this. If that was true then even his unprepared forces might wear the crown of glory. No general can resist the temptation of marching at the head of a winning army, and Thapar was no exception. He began preparing for action. Thapar told me on 29 July 1970: 'Looking back, I think I should have submitted my resignation at that time. I might have saved my country from the humiliation of defeat.'
Shastri took me along when he flew to the Northeast to make an assessment on the ground, as he had been asked to do by Nehru. When we reached Tezpur in Assam, Lt Gen. Harbaksh Singh was in command. B N Kaul, the controversial commander, had gone to Delhi on leave. Hostilities were yet to begin. 
Harbaksh Singh explained to us how the Indian forces would do better Lal Bahadur Shastri as Home Minister despite many handicaps. He assured Shastri that it would not be a walkover for the Chinese. Shastri was happy and told me on our return flight that he would request Panditji to let Harbaksh Singh stay on in place of Kaul. However, in the evening we heard on the radio at Calcutta that Kaul was back from leave and had resumed charge.

'Had the Pakistani soldiers fought alongside us...'

The Chinese onslaught

Menon's specific instructions were not to move a single soldier from the border with Pakistan. India's assessment since Independence had been that it would have to fight Pakistan one day. Detailed plans of 'projected action', if ever it became necessary, had been prepared in the defence ministry and kept ready. The border between China had however been left unprotected because no attack was expected from there.Even as late as August 1962, a few weeks before the Chinese attack, Menon was talking of Pakistan's preparations against India. In those days, Rajeshwar Dayal, India's high commissioner to Pakistan, was in Delhi. One morning Dayal, as he told me, received a call from the defence ministry for a meeting. 
When he reached the ministry, he was ushered into a room where Menon was sitting with the army commanders, including Thapar. Dayal had barely taken his seat when Menon asked him to tell the commanders about the preparations that Pakistan was making along the Indian border. 
Before Dayal could reply, Thapar told him in Punjabi, which Menon could not understand, that Dayal should not allow himself to be tricked because the projected danger from Pakistan was part of a larger plan. 
Dayal said that he knew nothing about the preparations and that he had found no such sign at the border on his way to Delhi. Menon was annoyed and asked Dayal to send him a report to confirm that there was no evidence of preparations by Pakistan to invade India. 
Against this backdrop, Thapar had been reluctant to ask for the withdrawal of any troops from the Pakistan front, but now conditions were different. He wanted a division to be withdrawn from that sector. Nehru immediately conceded to his request.
'Normally, the time given to the defence forces to attack is a fortnight and an attack is timed at the break of daylight,' said Thapar. The Chinese attack came on 20 October, at 5 am in the eastern sector where the sun rose early, and at 7 am in the Ladakh area where daylight was late to arrive. 
As the war began, the Shah of Iran sent Nehru a copy of letter he had written to Ayub Khan, suggesting that he send his soldiers to fight alongside Indian forces against the 'red menace'. (I have seen the copy.)
I recalled what Jinnah had said at Law College in Lahore when I had asked him what Pakistan's reaction would be if a third power were to attack India. He had said that his soldiers would fight alongside Indian soldiers. Ayub told foreign powers who wanted him to help India that the fact that Pakistan did not take advantage of India's vulnerability was a form of assistance and a sufficient gesture.
At the end of hostilities, Shastri recalled the Shah's letter and said that had the Pakistani soldiers fought alongside us and 'shed their blood with Indian soldiers', it would have been difficult to say 'No' to Pakistan even if it had asked for Kashmir (Agar wo Kashmir bhi mangte to na karna mushkil hota). 
Probably he was right because emotions played a substantial part in our decisions.
Extracted with permission from Beyond the Lines: An Autobiography by Kuldip Nayar. Rs 595. Published by Roli Books.
The Rediff Special/ Neville Maxwell
'If Nehru had declared his intention to attack, then the Chinese
 were not going to wait to be attacked'
After the 1962 war, the Indian Army commissioned Lieutenant General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat to study the debacle. As is wont in India, their report was never made public and lies buried in the government archives. But some experts have managed to piece together the contents of the report. One such person is Neville Maxwell, who has studied the 1962 war in depth.
In the article that follows, Indians will be shocked to discover that, when China crushed India in 1962, the fault lay at India, or more specifically, at Jawaharlal Nehru and his clique's doorsteps. It was a hopelessly ill-prepared Indian Army that provoked China on orders emanating from Delhi, and paid the price for its misadventure in men, money and national humiliation.
When the Army's report into its debacle in the border war was completed in 1963, the Indian government had good reason to keep it Top Secret and give only the vaguest, and largely misleading, indications of its contents. At that time the government's effort, ultimately successful, to convince the political public that the Chinese, with a sudden 'unprovoked aggression,' had caught India unawares in a sort of Himalayan Pearl Harbor was in its early stages, and theReport's cool and detailed analysis, if made public, would have shown that to be self-exculpatory mendacity.
But a series of studies, beginning in the late 1960s and continuing into the 1990s, revealed to any serious enquirer the full story of how the Indian Army was ordered to challenge the Chinese military to a conflict it could only lose. So, by now, only bureaucratic inertia, combined with the natural fading of any public interest, can explain the continued non-publication -- the Report includes no surprises and its publication would be of little significance but for the fact that so many in India still cling to the soothing fantasy of a 1962 Chinese 'aggression.'
It seems likely now that the Report will never be released. Furthermore, if one day a stable, confident and relaxed government in New Delhi should, miraculously, appear and decide to clear out the cupboard and publish it, the text would be largely incomprehensible, the context, well known to the authors and therefore not spelled out, being now forgotten. The Report would need an Introduction and gloss -- a first draft of which this paper attempts to provide, drawing upon the writer's research in India in the 1960s and material published later.
Two Preambles are required, one briefly recalling the cause and course of the border war; the second to describe the fault-line, which the border dispute turned into a schism, within the Army's officer corps, which was a key factor in the disaster -- and of which the Henderson Brooks Report can be seen as an expression.
Origins of the border conflict
India, at the time of Independence, can be said to have faced no external threats. True, it was born into a relationship of permanent belligerency with its weaker Siamese twin, Pakistan, left by the British inseparably conjoined to India by the chronically enflamed member of Kashmir, vital to both new national organisms; but that may be seen as essentially an internal dispute, an untreatable complication left by the crude, cruel surgery of Partition.
In 1947, China, wracked by civil war, was in what appeared to be death throes and no conceivable threat to anyone. That changed with astonishing speed, however, and, by 1950, when the new-born People's Republic re-established in Tibet the central authority which had lapsed in 1911, the Indian government will have made its initial assessment of the possibility and potential of a threat from China, and found those to be minimal, if not non-existent.
First, there were geographic and topographical factors, the great mountain chains which lay between the two neighbours and appeared to make large-scale troop movements impractical (few could then see in the German V2 rocket the embryo of the ICBM). More important, the leadership of the Indian government -- which is to say, Jawaharlal Nehru -- had for years proclaimed that the unshakable friendship between India and China would be the key to both their futures, and therefore Asia's, even the world's.
The new leaders in Beijing were more chary, viewing India through their Marxist prism as a potentially hostile bourgeois state. But, in the Indian political perspective, war with China was deemed unthinkable and, through the 1950s, New Delhi's defence planning and expenditure expressed that confidence.
By the early 1950s, however, the Indian government, which is to say Nehru and his acolyte officials, had shaped and adopted a policy whose implementation would make armed conflict with China not only "thinkable" but inevitable.
From the first days of India's Independence, it was appreciated that the Sino-Indian borders had been left undefined by the departing British and that territorial disputes with China were part of India's inheritance. China's other neighbours faced similar problems and, over the succeeding decades of the century, almost all of those were to settle their borders satisfactorily through the normal process of diplomatic negotiation with Beijing.
The Nehru government decided upon the opposite approach. India would, through its own research, determine the appropriate alignments of the Sino-Indian borders, extend its administration to make those good on the ground and then refuse to negotiate the result. Barring the inconceivable -- that Beijing would allow India to impose China's borders unilaterally and annex territory at will -- Nehru's policy thus willed conflict without foreseeing it.
Through the 1950s, that policy generated friction along the borders and so bred and steadily increased distrust, growing into hostility, between the neighbours. By 1958, Beijing was urgently calling for a standstill agreement to prevent patrol clashes and negotiations to agree on boundary alignments. India refused any standstill agreement, since it would be an impediment to intended advances and insisted that there was nothing to negotiate, the Sino-Indian borders being already settled on the alignments claimed by India, through blind historical process. Then it began accusing China of committing 'aggression' by refusing to surrender to Indian claims.
From 1961, the Indian attempt to establish an armed presence in all the territory it claimed and then extrude the Chinese was being exerted by the Army and Beijing was warning that if India did not desist from its expansionist thrust, the Chinese forces would have to hit back. On October 12, 1962, Nehru proclaimed India's intention to drive the Chinese out of areas India claimed. That bravado had by then been forced upon him by public expectations which his charges of 'Chinese aggression' had aroused, but Beijing took it as in effect a declaration of war. The unfortunate Indian troops on the frontline, under orders to sweep superior Chinese forces out of their impregnable, dominating positions, instantly appreciated the implications: 'If Nehru had declared his intention to attack, then the Chinese were not going to wait to be attacked.'
On October 20, the Chinese launched a pre-emptive offensive all along the borders, overwhelming the feeble -- but, in this first instance, determined -- resistance of the Indian troops and advancing some distance in the eastern sector. On October 24, Beijing offered a ceasefire and Chinese withdrawal on the condition that India agree to open negotiations: Nehru refused the offer even before the text was officially received. Both sides built up over the next three weeks, and the Indians launched a local counterattack on November 15, arousing in India fresh expectations of total victory.
The Chinese then renewed their offensive. Now many units of the once crack Indian 4th Division dissolved into rout without giving battle and, by November 20, there was no organised Indian resistance anywhere in the disputed territories. On that day, Beijing announced a unilateral ceasefire and intention to withdraw its forces: Nehru, this time, tacitly accepted.
Naturally the Indian political public demanded to know what had brought about the shameful debacle suffered by their Army. On December 14, a new Army commander, Lieutenant General J N Chaudhuri, instituted an Operations Review for that purpose, assigning the task of enquiry to Lieutenant-General Henderson Brooks and Brigadier P S Bhagat.
The Rediff Special/ Neville Maxwell

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