Brigadier Amar Jit Singh Behl, a veteran of the 1962 India-China war, died yesterday at the age of 82 at a military hospital in Haryana’s Chandimandir. Brigadier AJS Behl (retired) was a decorated officer who fought gallantly against the Chinese during the Battle of Namka Chu in the northeast and witnessed action in 1965 and 1971.
Brig Behl died due to age-related issues and the last rites will take place in Chandigarh. He was commissioned into the army in 1961 as a second lieutenant and earned the prestigious maroon colours of the elite parachute regiment in 1962. In one of his interviews with Claude Arpi, a French historian and an expert on Tibet and China, Brig Behl talked about his journey from joining the Parachute Field Regiment to witnessing action in Arunachal Pradesh, erstwhile North East Frontier Agency (NEFA).
He joined the 17 Parachute Field Regiment, an artillery regiment, after completing an officer’s course in July 1962 in Agra. He underwent a gruelling test and training procedure. By September 1962, he was a “full-fledged” paratrooper with para wings.
Battle Of Namka Chu, 1962
Brig Behl, a young officer in 1962, was ordered to move forward in September and assist the 7 Infantry Brigade under Brigadier John Dalvi deployed near Namka Chu River. He was a gun position officer (GPO) in the ‘E’ troop. A battery of 36 Mortar Regiment was already present. The objective of the contentious ‘Forward Policy’ was to evict the Chinese from the Thagla Ridge and establish forward posts close to the MacMohan line. The border demarcation was based on the watershed principle. Contesting claims emerged on Thagla Ridge, a tri-junction between India, Bhutan and Tibet, which did not follow the principle.
A troop with two officers – Captain HS Talwar, 2nd Lt Behl, 2 Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and 45 men were airlifted with four 75mm howitzer guns. For three weeks, AJS Behl and his men were deployed on a plateau overlooking Namka Chu, which ended with the Chinese taking over the Indian posts and destroying the 7 Infantry Brigade.
October 19, 1962
The Chinese lit a bonfire on October 19 to show their strength Brig. Behl told Claude Arpi in the interview, “We could see them from naked eyes, they wanted us to see that they are there. On October 19, the nursing assistant in 17 Para Field Regt. died due to pulmonary oedema and three more men died due to high altitude sickness. The communication lines were cut and the Chinese had cut us from the rear and I couldn’t use the wireless due to the thick tress of Namka Chu.”
The next morning, guns echoed in the mountain and the Chinese opened fire and heavy artillery shelling began, AJS Behl said in his account he wrote for the United Services Institute (USI).
“Though we had no communication with anybody, I ordered my guns to start firing directly. There was a prominent area, the Black Rock, where we saw several Chinese, we kept firing there,” he said. Brigadier John Dalvi in his book, The Himalayan Blunder, described the valour displayed by the 17 Para Field Regiment.
The Chinese captured him and AJS Behl and his men and took them as prisoners of war (POW). “From proud paratroopers, we were now POWs of the Chinese” at Tsangdhar, he said, adding that it was a “big shock” to him.
He was repatriated after seven months and handed over to the Indian Red Cross in Bumla. He was later posted back to the 17 Parachute Field Regiment.
AJS Behl saw action three years later in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. Pakistan launched Operation Desert Hawk in April and infiltrated around 10 km inside Indian territory. A UK-brokered ceasefire diffused tensions only to get reignited four months later in Jammu and Kashmir with Operation Gibraltar and Operation Grand Slam, the last attempt by Pakistan to take Kashmir.
The officer was never out of action. In 1971, he was again on the battlefield against Pakistan. He retired as the Deputy Director General of NCC in Jammu and Kashmir in 1995.
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