"How can a man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods."
(Written at the monument that stands at Chushul)
India is a non-military nation. India's ethos are totally against violence and war. As a result, young people don't get the chance to know about the heroics of Indian soldiers in different battlegrounds, not only in India, but all over the world. One of the greatest battles fought by Indian soldiers was at the inhospitable terrain of Rezang La-Chushul against a vastly superior Chinese force. In the dark days of 1962, Chushul became a matter of national honour. However, only after 53 years, Indian people seem to have forgotten the saga of impossible gallantry of the Charlie (C ) Company of 13 Kumaon under the lion-hearted Maj. Shaitan Singh (PVC-Posthumous). This article is a feeble attempt to inform fellow-Indians about the heroes of Battle of Rezang La.
Where is Chushul? Chushul is only 15 miles from the Indo-China borer as crow flies. It has an all-weather landing strip. In 1962, it was a pivotal point in Ladakh sector as it was astride the second route into Tibet from Leh. A newly-built road rose to 17000 feet crossing the Ladakh range at desolate Chang La pass, descended into Tangtse and then went to Chushul. Chushul is located at a height of 14230 feet and is a small valley flanked by high mountains. At the northern end, there is a salt-water lake named Pangong Tso. Near Chushul, there is a gap between mountains which is known as Spanggur gap that leads to another beautiful lake. The Chinese had built an all-weather road from Rudok in Tibet up to Spanggur gap. The road was capable of carrying tanks. Needless to mention that the geographical and logistical advantages were overwhelmingly with the Chinese.
Indian build-up in 1962 Till September 1962, the defence of entire Ladakh was vested with 114 Brigade (under 3 Himalayan Division) commanded by Brig. (later General) T.N. Raina. It consisted of only two Infantry Battalions, viz., 1/8 Gurkha Rifles and 5 Jat. Initially only Gurkhas were deployed in Chushul, and when the gravity of the situation was fully understood, 13 Kumaon was hastily sent from Baramula to reinforce 114 Brigade. On 26th October, 1962, 114 Brigade set up its HQ at Chushul and started waiting for inevitable Chinese attack.
Where is Rezang La? 13 Kumaon was being deployed on October 24 during the lull after the first phase of Chinese attack. The entire Battalion was stretched at Gurung Hill, Gun Hill and Mugger Hill, the forward defenses of Chushul. However, the Charlie (C ) Company of the Battalion was deployed at Rezang La which is at 19 miles south of Chushul. The name indicates a pass which is at the south-eastern approach to the Chushul valley. Due to unfavourable geographic location, the Company could not get the protection of Artillery.
The C Company started digging up feverishly under full view of the enemy. The Company was an all Ahir Battalion. The Ahirs are the inhabitants of Gurgaon-Mewat region and are hardy cattlemen and farmers. The Company Commander was Maj. Shaitan Singh, a Rajput Officer from Jodhpur. The Commanding Officer of 13 Kumaon was Lt. Col. H.S. Dhingra, who joined his Battalion directly from sick bed.
Arms & ammunitions The three Platoons of the C Company were numbered 7,8 and 9 and had .303 rifles with 600 rounds per head. They had six LMGs and some 2 inch mortars. It has already been stated that the Company was without the protective cover of the Artillery because of its geographical location. In contrast, the opposing Chinese Infantry had 7.62 mm SLRs, MMGs & LMGs, 120 mm, 81 mm and 60 mm mortars, 132 mm rockets and 75 mm and 57mm RCL guns to bust bunkers. The number of the enemy soldiers was almost equal to that of a conventional Brigade.
Heroic fighting on 18th November, 1962 On the momentous Sunday in November, 1962, Chinese began swarming up the gullies to assault Rezang La at 4 a.m even as a light snow was falling. The Ahirs of the C Company waited till the Chinese came into range and opened up with everything they had. The frontage was soon full of dead and injured Chinese soldiers. After the failure of the frontal attack, the Chinese resorted to murderous Artillery shelling. Under the cover of this shelling, Chinese Infantry again attacked Indian positions. C Company, now severely depleted in strength, let the enemy have it again. Position after position fell after bitter fighting. The Ahirs continued fighting till the last man. When ammunitions were exhausted, these gallant Indian heroes fought with bayonets and bare hands. Out of the original strength of 3 JCOs and 124 ORs under Major Shaitan Singh, only fourteen survived, nine of them severely injured. 13 Kumaon regrouped and 114 Brigade held on to Chushul. But the Battalion war diary records mentioned that they were 'less our C Company'.
How did the world know about the heroes?Although, the Chinese announced a unilateral ceasefire on 21st Nov 1962, but the saga of gallantry came out in the open much later. In January 1963, a shepherd wandered on to Rezeng La. He was astonished by the scene. The freezing cold had frozen the dead in their battle positions. After hearing from the shepherd, arrangements were made to recover the dead soldiers under International Red Cross supervision. The Indian party recorded the scene with cine and steel cameras. The pictures vividly depicted what actually happened on the eventful Sunday morning. Every man died as hero. Major Shaitan Singh was conferred Param Vir Chakra posthumously. Another eight received Vir Chakra and four other the Sena Medal. 13 Kumaon received the Battle Honour 'Rezeng La'.
In the famous Battle of Theropylae in 480 BC, twelve hundred Greek soldiers led by King Leonidas of Sparta died fighting Persian King Xerxes to save Sparta. Leonidas chose to die to save Sparta. Similarly, C company of 13 Kumaon willingly sacrificed itself to save a little village at Chushul. This makes the sacrifice most glorious. We must not forget the heroes of Rezeng La. The coming generations of this great nation must salute these heroes who fought against overwhelming odds and secured the safety, security, honour and prestige of this great nation.
"How can a man die better
From the article submitted by the author we could get to know the saga and courage of C Company of 13 Kumaon -Battle of Rezang La. Like this many such actions would have happened about which we, the main land people, are not aware. Though we know that our military and border security force are ever alert and involve themselves in some gallantry acts, such courageous acts often goes unreported in media or television. Army must prepare documentaries on every act of the success mission and show them as promotions in every theater before the film starts. That way inspiring youth may even join army and general film goers will also know the contributions of gallantry soldiers at the border. Now a days even documentaries from Films division were also not shown in the theaters.
Thanks to Mr. Mohan for reading this article. I think it is imperative for all Indians to know the gallantry of 117 Ahirs of the Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon who took a Brigade strength of Chinese invaders under the inspiring leadership of Major Shaitan Singh, PVC (Posthumous). Almost all of them got killed. Each and every Indian soldier took 8-10 Chinese with him, but, in the process, saved Daulat Beg Oldi.
Many defence experts believe that the huge loss suffered by the Chinese at Chushul/Rezang La eventually forced them to declare a ceasefire.