Why was Sela in Arunachal Pradesh given up virtually without a fight during the Indo-China war? The 13,500-ft-high pass was a formidable defensive position. While it could be bypassed and outflanked using numerous small tracks across ridges and crests, the feature, if held resolutely, was virtually impregnable.
Brig Hoshiar Singh, Commander, 62 Brigade, deployed 4 Garhwal forward at Nuranang as covering troops with a screen of a company from 4 Sikh LI in their rear. Besides, 4 Sikh LI had two companies deployed in the south of Sela in the Two Lakes area to cover approaches that allowed a bold enemy to bypass Sela. The rest of the battalion held the left shoulder of the pass with 1 Sikh occupying defences on the right shoulder. Another battalion, 2 Sikh LI, was located east and forward of Sela with two companies at Kyela. All in all, it was a formidable deployment. Only the decisive will to hold it was lacking in higher echelons.
Beginning 5 am on November 17, a Chinese brigade-sized formation launched a series of attacks on 4 Garhwal backed up by artillery. They were all beaten off with heavy losses, the Garhwalis themselves suffering light casualties. The fourth attack was repulsed at 4 pm, the unit being ordered to withdraw to the main defences at Sela. In the meantime, Gen Pathania, the GOC, fearing an attack by light Chinese forces that had infiltrated around his headquarters at Dirang Dzong, started advocating abandonment of the Sela position and the move of 62 Brigade to help bolster up his own defences.
Brig Hoshiar Singh initially resisted the orders, but had to give in and planned a phased withdrawal with the last troops disengaging and getting clear of Bridge 2 near Nyukmadong by the forenoon of November 19. But this was not to be. The atmosphere of gloom and paranoia that had set in among the commanders passed down to the troops and a hasty withdrawal was followed by panic with most of the troops withdrawing from their prepared defences and plunging headlong into retreat.
Worse was to follow. A Chinese battalion had prepared an ambush on both sides of the road at Nyukmadong and caught the vehicle column retreating from Sela in its withering fire. There are no known survivors from this group. The marching column, the bulk of the Brigade, then came under fire when they fetched up. Attempts were made to clear the ambush with many unsung deeds of heroism being performed.
However, as darkness fell on the 18th, all semblances of command and control disappeared, the formation breaking up into small parties with every man for himself.
In the meantime, in perhaps the most disgraceful episode in the Indian army's history, the GOC and his staff abandoned their division and fled for safety to the plains. Led by its commander, 65 Brigade abandoned their positions without firing a shot on being confronted by a roadblock by a small Chinese force amounting to little over a company. The nation's prestige touched rock bottom
Intelligence Corps raising day
The Intelligence Corps celebrated the 70th anniversary of its raising on November 1. True to their motto, translated as "Ever Alert, the officers and men of the corps remain vigilant against threats to national security and the well-being of the army. Military intelligence resources are scarce, valuable and take a long time to nurture, develop and train. Thus the need to conserve them and make their optimum use in a well thought-out manner. The penchant of the staff to fritter them away in vigilance inquiries and solving petty crimes is deplorable and needs to be curbed.
The army, instead, should raise special investigative cells for vigilance, fighting crime and anti-corruption, using the existing structure of the military police. This will allow the Intelligence Corps to carry on with its true duties pertaining to intelligence acquisition, security and counter-intelligence, unhindered and unimpeded by extraneous assignments. Wishing the Corps and its officers and men more meaningful missions and more glory in years to come.
Sainik Welfare office doing a great job
District-level Sainik Welfare offices play a key role in redressing grievances of ex-servicemen and getting them the benefits of various central and state government schemes. Some of them, like the office at Amritsar, serving both Amritsar and TarnTaran districts, are indeed doing sterling work.
Led by the helpful and energetic Col Gurinderjit Singh Gill, a Bihar Regiment veteran, the team is always on the ball while carrying out their basic role, that of helping old soldiers get all the documents they require. The government must aid their efforts by providing them enough funds to be able to give grants-in-aid to World War 2 veterans and help for the marriages of ex-servicemen's wards.