Artillery Support to 7 infantry Brigade (Continued

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Baptism by Fire
Story of 2 Lt AJS Behl GPO at Tsangdhar
There were many unanswered questions in my mind about Tsangdhar both related and unrelated to communications. The only person who could have thrown some light on that was 2 Lt AJS Behl, Capt Talwar’s No 2 and the GPO at Tsangdhar, I did not know his present whereabouts. On the spur of the moment I rang up Talwar, who not only told me about Behl, now a retired Brigadier and staying in Chandigarh, but also gave me his telephone number. He was also kind enough to speak to AmarJit Behl about me. Post haste I made a call to Brig Behl followed by a letter, we established a quick rapport and he was more than willing to answer my queries and sent me an account of the events from the time he and his boys left Agra on the morning of 30th September 1962 till they became the POW’s on the afternoon of 20th October 62. No one has written an authentic account of the happenings on 20th at Tsangdhar, at least to my knowledge. What was happening at Tsangdhar from 04.45 on wards when we in the Brigade HQ were under attack with Mortar Bombs? There were three wireless links working from Tsangdhar to Brigade HQ-that of Signal Section, of your Troop and that of Mortar Bty. None came on the air that morning? What happened to Maj Ram Singh and Sqn Ldr Sehgal? There was another Bell flight from Ziminthaung to Tsangdhar piloted by Williams to check as to what was happening at Tsangdhar when Sehgal did not return I believe it was also fired upon. What is the truth? While escaping from Rongla we could see small arms firing at Tsangdhar. Who was firing at whom and of course what was happening in your own Troop? These were the questions I put to Brig Behl in my letter, not only he answered all of them, but also brought some new and startling facts to light. Most gratifying was to learn about the high morale and the fighting spirit of the men and the baptism of young Behl by fire; an inspiring story of events unfolding at a rapid pace which would have taxed an officer with a many times over seniority as compared to that of an oven fresh2Lt.

…We landed at Tezpur on 3 October. Capt HS Talwar received us all at the airport. …. We were lodged in the Light Anti Aircraft Officer’s Mess. Since we did not possess mosquito nets, the only way to defeat the mosquitoes during the night was to have a drink and go to sleep. I happened to come across Lt Gen BM Kaul the Corps Commander 4 Corps, at the Tezpur airport the day I was leaving for Darranga, on the Indo Bhutan border, with my gun position staff. He told me to ensure that I was in Tsangdhar before 10 of October failing which I would face serious consequences, some how I managed to avoid the same reaching Tsangdhar along with my boys on the evening of 8 October full two days before the dead line given to me….. ….can say with pride that inspite of no acclimatisation, all of us reached Tsangdhar next day without any problem or sickness. This route involved crossing Karpola pass, which is over 16000’ above mean sea level. ….. We were able to retrieve two guns, about 80 rounds of gun ammunition and other gun stores and equipment. The wireless set was also switched on and OP party and gun position were in communication. The Gun position was getting ready progressively, the ground was total rocks and none of the men including Capt Talwar and self were had done any acclimatisation. …. …..There was no indication of any type of any preparation of attack by the Chinese. On the contrary everybody was talking of evicting the Chinese. The Big Bang On night of 19/20 Oct, I could see the big bonfires on the Chinese side. When I attempted to contact the Brigade headquarter there was no reply. The wireless set was also not getting through due to very thick trees along the Namkachu River. ….I had my dinner checked the sentries and went to sleep. Next morning even before the ‘stand to’ heavy shelling started all around. I gave orders to my men to get into the trenches. All gun ammunition was ready and we had our personal weapons ammunition next to us.

In the initial shelling two of my men got serious splinter hits Gunner Awtar Singh and Operator Chamkaur Singh. I tried to take them to the ADS but it was not possible due to shelling. I poured brandy on their wounds told them to put there tongue under their teeth, cleaned my hands with brandy and pulled out the big sharpnels and tied up shell dressing on the wounds. By this time it was about 9 AM. There were no communications, line was not through nor the wireless set. I gave orders to the operators to keep on trying. However, there were no communications of any type with any-body. I sent a small patrol of line maintenance party to see if the line could be put through but it was all in vain. (The Chines had cut all the lines from Div TAC HQ to
the Brigade HQ from Brigade HQ to the Battalions and the DZ at Tsangdhar, from Battalions to the Companies before starting the shelling. The Signals Bunker of 2 Rajput was destroyed along with the signals operators of B1, by enemy shelling, the two operators of B1 at 1/9 GR were also shot by the Chinese -author) It was past 9.30 AM

and there was no information of any type from any side. I was worried about Capt Talwar and his OP party. Without any target indication engaging any enemy location was not possible. We saw a helicopter approaching the helipad. By that time small arm fire had also started from the black rock area and shelling was also going on. There was no sign of the helicopter taking-off again. I sent a patrol of two men to see what had happened. They came back and told me that that the helicopter was there, and two persons; one pilot and another person in a red turban were lying dead near the helicopter. Next day, when we buried them as prisoners of war (POWs) I could identify one as Sqn Ldr Sehgal and the other as Maj Ram Singh of Signals. I saw a man crawling towards my gun position and shouting don’t kill me. He came and stood in my trench with me. He was the Battery Havildar Major (BHM) of the mortar battery deployed ahead of us and wanted to know about the latest information. I told him that we were out of communication with any body. While I was explaining the local situation he was hit by small arms fire and died there only. It was a sad end to a keen soldier. The situation had become very desperate. I ordered my two guns to fire on the only area we could see clearly, the black rock by direct firing. We fired about 10 rounds per gun. By this time it was getting to be mid-day, we saw another helicopter approaching our position but it went away while it was half way to Tsangdhar, I am sure it must have been hit by the Chinese MMG fire from ground either from the black rock area or spurs right of

Tsangdhar. By this time the small arms fire from the black rock (the dominating feature on our left) had increased. The withdrawal from Tsangdhar and areas below had started along the track which passed from left of my gun position about 150-200 yards away. Some of the people yelling at us to hold on and keep the enemy away. Even some of the officers who passed that way did not bother to stop and ask a young officer if he needed any help. All they wanted from us was to keep firing so that the Chinese do not follow them uninterrupted. I felt ashamed of those who were running away. I felt proud of my troop everybody wanted to fight it out at the gun position. The enemy was closing in but the ground was such that much of the direct artillery fire was not possible. We still fired about 20 rounds per gun towards black rock and beyond supply point. The melee of the battle was confusing; our personnel withdrawing, Chinese devastating shelling and small arms firing. My three LMGs were firing and we were using our personal weapons….. At this stage when the direct firing of the guns was not possible, I reluctantly gave order to dismantle the guns and throw the parts in the nullah on our right. The gunners did this but with a heavy heart. I will say this with pride that at no stage did any of my jawans suggested to me that we should withdraw or tried to runaway 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 person deserted. (Shades of the Boy named Casabianca from he poem by Feliacia Hemans ; Quote The boy stood on the burning deck, Whence all but him had fled Unquote. -Author) Our stubborn resistance came to an end by about by about 3-4 PM and it changed our position from proud soldiers to helpless prisoners. We were made to stay at Tsangdhar that night and next morning, I buried Sqn Ldr Sehgal and Maj Ram singh with all the military respect I could manage. I was shocked to realise that I was a prisoner of war but felt consoled in my own way that all my jawans had stood by my orders and fought to the last. Even during the period we were prisoners in Tibet, their loyalty and discipline remained above board and exemplary at position where not even one person deserted.