|2ns Lt. A J S Behl, second from right, at Tsangdhar in early October 1962|
'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 Rediff.com 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.
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