When 120 Indian Soldiers Confronted 6000 Chinese Troops

Mass Cremation of the martyrs. (Image Courtesy)

Had it been in the history of any other country, it would have been a part of their folklore, a chapter in their school textbooks, a favorite story for their cinema. But it happened in India, where, either there is such an abundance of heroes and their heroic deeds that people are unable to remember or people themselves are too thankless to pay homage to their martyrs.

On this day in 1962, 120 soldiers led by Major Shaitan Singh confronted 6000 troops of the People’s Liberation Army and killed more than 1300 of them before there ammunition fell short which resulted in their martyrdom.

When the Chinese invasion of India became imminent, Charlie Company of  13 Kumaon, divided into several platoons on one ridge of two kilometers was given the responsibility of protecting the airfield of Chushul which was vital if India was to hold Ladakh. A unit of 120 Ahirs under the command of Major Shaitan Singh was deployed at Rezang La which is 30 km from Chusul.

Early morning on Nov 18, 1962, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with its 5000-6000 troops and heavy artillery support attacked the  Rezang La. 120 Indian soldiers had to confront 6000 Chinese supported with heavy artillery fire and to make matter worse the mountain behind Indian post prevented Indian soldiers from getting any artillery support. Thanks to the visionary leadership of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indian soldiers were equipped with glorious .303 single shot bolt action rifles of the World War II vintage and old 62 radio sets that refused to communicate due to frozen batteries moreover paucity of woolen clothing and automated digging tools, poor supply line were other gifts of Nehru Government. Whereas the Chinese had 7.62 self-loading rifles (SLRs) and acclimatized troops. They had enough, ammunition, rations, heavy engineering equipment, vehicles, artillery, and tanks could come right up to the Spanggur Gap as they had built a road up to their terminal post.

What did those 120 brave-hearts do then? Did they think to give up? No, they did something which set an example in military history of the world. They waited till the Chinese came into range and opened up with everything they had. The gullies were soon full of dead and wounded Chinese. Having failed in a frontal attack the Chinese let loose deadly shelling. Under the cover of this intense shelling, the Chinese infantry came again in swarms. C Company, now severely depleted, let them have it once again. Position after position fell fighting till the last man, last bullet, and last breath. When their ammunition fell short, they took their bayonets. When bayonets didn’t  work they fought with there bare hands. Not a single soldier got a bullet on his back. Most of them martyred having their weapon in their hand. Each of them killed at least ten Chinese soldiers. Around 1300 Chinese were killed and 114 Ahirs were martyred, five were taken prisoners as wounded, and one was sent the back by the commander to tell the story of the battle to the rest of the world.

This one Company was awarded one Param Vir Chakra, five Vir Chakras, and four Sena Medals. In February 1963, the first Indian party under the aegis of International Red Cross visited Rezang La found 96 bodies with multiple splinters and gunshot wounds frozen to death with weapons in their hands in the shattered trenches. Major Shaitan Singh’s body was recovered from the same spot where he was last left by the two jawans. While the other ranks were cremated with full military honors in Chushul, the body of Major Shaitan Singh draped in the national flag was flown to Jodhpur and cremated in his village with state honors.

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