Thursday, March 13, 2014

  108    THE TRAP IS     SPRUNG
   Headquarter Seven Brigade               Valley of River Namkachu
   20 October 1962

T WAS 5 O' CLOCK IN THE MORNING; the mountains and the valley were all asleep.  The  gurgling small waterfall, opposite the HQ,  was  quietly adding its music to the prevailing tranquil environment,  It was quiet in the Brigade HQ at Rongla, 10500 feet above sea level, in the narrow valley of river Namkachu lying  sandwiched between the Thagla feature, infested by the Chinese and Tsangdhar occupied by own troops.

I was sleeping in my one-man arctic-tent, fully clothed, as was my practice. Suddenly a mortar bomb landed in the HQ with a big bang, rudely awakening the sleeping valley and shattering the prevailing fragile pace, the make believe war  over and so were the pious hopes of all and sundry, all the way, right up to Delhi. The Chinese meant business.  It took me a few moments to locate my snow-boots and put them on and get going

My first and immediate reaction was to get the Brigade Command Radio Net switched on.  On checking the lines to the battalions were found to be out. The Chinese had done the trick and cut the lines just before commencing the shelling.

It was amazing to see the raw signalmen, some of who had joined the section only a few days back straight from the training centre, on job without fear or tension visible on their faces.  Maybe it was the team spirit; perhaps it was confidence in their superiors or sheer ignorance of the danger being faced.  No one left the radio sets or the Signal Centre even though mortar bombs were exploding over the Brigade HQ fairly rapidly.

2 Rajput who had faced the brunt of the initial Chinese attack came on air for about 15 minutes to inform that they were under attack; soon there was this ominous silence. What had transpired, as we learnt later, was that the battalion’s Signal bunker was demolished by enemy fire, killing all including the operators of my section manning the link from brigade to battalion.
We had also got through to 1/9 GR and Divisional Tactical HQ immediately. As mentioned the Chinese had cut the telephone lines from Brigade HQ to the battalions.  However, the portion of the lines from Div TAC HQ passing through 9 Punjab and 4 Grenadiers was still intact; both had tapped this line, clandestinely to eavesdrop on the conversations between Division and Brigade.  This   act, though unauthorised, kept us informed as to what was happening in their locality through   Headquarter.

Lt Col Tewari, my commanding officer, on a short visit, who had spent the night with the Gurkhas had by now come to the Signals bunker and was on the set, with me sitting on the control at Brigade HQ. 1/9 GR remained on the air till about 8 O’ Clock and then went off.

 According to Col Tewari, who was taken prisoner by the Chinese, on his return, the Chinese converging on to the bunker and firing had hit both the operators; one of the operators was riddled by bullets and must have died immediately the other was also hit though partially protected by the radio set.

First time in action for me it was all so unreal - like a bad dream which would hopefully go away.  To the Commander and his experienced staff it was real.

I can still recall Brig Dalvi’s ashen face, seeing his command disintegrating right in front of eyes, his helplessness to do any thing, his frustration on what had been happening since 8th September the date  when the Chinese had confronted our forward post Dhola.  It makes me sad even now as I can only now understand as to what must have been going on through his mind at that time and his impotence to influence the events.

Casualties had by now started to trickle to Brigade HQ.  The first officer to land in Brigade HQ was Lt. Ravi Eipe of 2 Rajput, who staggered with a few of his Jawans, worse for wear and rather incoherent, but made the gravity of the situation more obvious to the Commander and all of us.  Next to fetch up was Major Pawar of 1/9 GR Company Commander of the forward company on the left of the Brigade HQ. He walked in a dazed condition with his revolver pointing straight ahead and informed the Commander that the Chinese were just 200 yards away and following.

The Brigade having lost both command and control could do little to influence the battle.  We could only cluster together and look around and up, the question of bed tea and breakfast never arose that day and for the next few days to follow.

With the deteriorating tactical situation we were told to organise our-selves in 10 minutes flat and get out, the next destination being the earlier location of Tsangdhar to where Brigadier Dalvi having taken permission from the GOC planned to withdraw and hoped to re-establish his command: at least two of our battalions 9 Punjab and 4 Grenadiers still appeared to be intact.

In the short time available we started getting organised at a fast pace for the move. I asked Manikam to arrange for some sugar and tea leaves for the move to Tsangdhar, but according to him all the stock had already finished by the previous evening, so much for Administration in War. There were no porters and the equipment had been distributed on various personnel of the section to carry on non existing tracks. 
With this limited equipment and the approximately 40 Signals personnel with me at this time I hoped to provide hard scale communications to the Brigade HQ at Tsangdhar.

For the first time I was going to have excess of manpower than required. Hard scale as a slogan coined by Gen Kaul had by now become famous.

My last look at the till now Brigade HQ location that we were abandoning was that of a solitary goat tied to a tree scared to death and   bleating loudly due to the deafening sounds of the ongoing bombardment. It had travelled all the way from Gauhati by air, parachuted at Tsangdhar, brought down to Rongla possibly on some one’s shoulders as meat on hoof for the troops. The poor goat was now being left behind by us to welcome the Chinese.
I do not recall my feelings at that time or what was going through my mind.  It is a total blank. A thought did pass through my mind at that time, It may sound funny or improbable to some but it is factual otherwise I would not have remembered it even after so long. With mortar bombs falling all around, a couple of casualties already in the Headquarter location with the prevailing confusion and chaos and the attacking Chinese possibly very near with death or worse a serious injury happening any time being very much on cards, I did think of approaching   God. Though God fearing, I did not pray, nor do I now: immediately after the first a second thought came fleeting in, about the book of records up there of my deeds and miss-deeds, if any was being maintained, a prayer at that time would be the only entry and may be considered as a selfish action by an opportunist; an adverse entry on my report card. I quickly discarded the idea; in any case there was no time even for a silent prayer.

 Possibly my unsaid prayer did some how reach God otherwise I would have still remained ‘Missing in Action’ as I was soon to be declared by AG’s Branch at Army HQ.


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