In Lest We Forget Capt Amarinder Singh has written: "In an unusual mark of respect for which the Chinese are not usually noted, their bodies had been covered with blankets, pegged down with bayonets. There could have been no greater tribute to their courage than this acknowledgement by their enemy". The Chinese took six severely wounded men POW. Of these, two escaped miraculously and re-joined the battalion.
A saga of unparalleled courage during the 1962 War
FIFTY FIVE years ago, India suffered the ignominy of a military debacle at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army of communist China. Perceptive historians attribute the Himalayan blunder to Pandit Nehru’s untenable ‘Forward Policy’ and his diktat to a fund-starved, ill-equipped, ill-clad and unprepared army to ‘throw out the Chinese’.
Painful memories of that defeat still linger in the national psyche. What is not well Known Is that at several places, the troops gave an excellent account of themselves. In the west, one such battle was fought at Rezang La, a pass at 16,000 feet on the south-eastern approach to the Chushul Valley in Ladakh.
In a battle without parallel in the annals of modern military history, 123 brave hearts of Charlie company, 13 Kumaon fought to the ‘last man, last round’ on November 18, 1962. Employing their famous ‘human wave’ tactics, the Chinese launched determined, multi-directional attacks against the isolated forward post. Surrounded and heavily outnumbered, the men fought back with rare determination and beat back wave after wave of attack.
Major Shaitan Singh, the gallant company commander, crawled from trench to trench, personally motivating his men under withering fire even though he was himself wounded. The company suffered 114 casualties, but these valiant warriors neither retreated nor surrendered. When they finally ran out of ammunition, they used their bayonets and their rifle butts to clobber the oncoming Chinese.
When the snow began to thaw in February 1963, the Chinese saw what had happened at Rezang La. They permitted the Indian army to collect the bodies and the nation learnt the truth about the heroic tight put up by these brave warriors.
The body of Major Shaitan Singh, honoured posthumously with the Param Vir Chakra, lay in the open field where he had fallen while personally leading a charge to relieve a besieged platoon post. The bodies of 23 men lay around him, riddled with bullet and splinter wounds.
Maj Gen Ian Cardozo has written in Param Vir: Our heroes in Battle “The 2-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and bandage in his hands when the Chinese bullet hit him… Of the thousand mortar bombs with the defenders all but seven had been fired and the rest were ready to be fired when the (mortar) section was overrun.
All over the Rezang La defences, brave young men lay dead in their bunkers and trenches. There were multiple shell, shrapnel, bullet and bayonet wounds on their bodies. They were still clutching their cold weapons in their stiff hands. Ammunition ‘empties were strewn all around them. Some had even charged the attacking Chinese in a last inspired Durst OT raw courage.
In Lest We Forget Capt Amarinder Singh has written: “In an unusual mark of respect for which the Chinese are not usually noted, their bodies had been covered with blankets, pegged down with bayonets. There could have been no greater tribute to their courage than this acknowledgement by their enemy”.
In all, 96 bodies were recovered from the Rezang La battlefield. Subsequently, in 1965, almost three years later, a shepherd discovered two bodies at a light machine gun (LMG) position on a flank. Ten men of Charlie Company remained unaccounted for. The Chinese took six severely wounded men POW. Of these, two escaped miraculously and re-joined the battalion. In its desperate fight-back, Major Shaitan Singh’s outstanding outfit had killed over 500 Chinese.
Indeed, on that cold November day, Charlie Company, 13 Kumaon, added a new chapter of unflinching devotion to duty and supreme courage under the most adverse circumstances to the Indian army’s glorious traditions of valour and sacrifice in the service of the nation.
No nation could have expected more from the young Keepers of its frontiers; no other trained body of spirited young soldiers could have possibly fought to the muzzle as these brave men did.