Saluting our Heroes: Maj Shaitan Singh, PVC
From the Indian Army website:
The Param Vir Chakra is awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self sacrifice, in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea, or in the air. The decoration may be awarded posthumously.
*** Saluting our Heores – Major Shaitan Singh, PVC ***
A tribute to Major Shaitan Singh, a Param Veer who sacrificed his life on this date, 47 years ago.
Early November 1962: After years of “Panch Sheel” and slogans of “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai”, reality is slowly creeping back into India-China relations. The dispute over unmarked borders is in danger of flaring up. There have been sporadic reports of border clashes. The mood on the Indian side of the border is alert. The mood in New Delhi is sanguine – the political leadership is blissfully unaware of the approaching storm.
On Nov 14, the Chinese troops make their first move in the Walong sector. The invasion stuns the government, its suddenness taking everyone by surprise. Walong was being defended by the braves of Kumaon Regiment who “fought the Chinese with astounding grit and determination.” Kumaon’s heroic defence leads to the battalion being awarded five Vir Chakras for bravery and sacrifice during the battle.
But the war is far from over.
Rezong La – an icy pass at a strategic location at 17,000 feet is soon going to see some fierce action.
The troops guarding Rezong La are led by Major Shaitan Singh. Because of the nature of the surrounding terrain, they are isolated from the rest of the battalion.
Sometime during the night of 17th Nov, the Chinese make their move.
It was the end of a very cold winter night, with light snow falling. The icy winds howling through Rezang La were biting and benumbing…In the dim light of the morning, the Chinese were seen advancing through nullahs to attack No.7 and No.8 platoon positions.
…dawn broke on 18 November 1962; unusually cold, with snow falling lightly over Rezang La…This day saw a battle that was unique in many ways. Never before in the world’s military history had a major battle been fought at such an altitude. The forces arrayed were also unequally matched.
At about 0615 hours, all those deployed around Chushul, were attracted by the sound and sight of massive shelling on Rezang La, Gurung Hill and Spanggur gap – bringing entire Infantry Brigade to their respective battle positions.
The Battle of Rezang La commenced hours before the shelling that the rest of Brigade saw from a distance. In fact, the first Chinese attack was ‘silent’, with the intention to surprise the defenders of Rezang La, in which, the Chinese failed.
At about 0400 hours, it was noticed that a large body of enemy troops, scrambling up through gullies towards a platoon post.Within no time every man of the Kumaon Company under Maj Shaitan Singh was at ‘ready for action’ state. Every gully that descended to the dry bed of Rezang Lungpa was swarming with Chinese. It was still pretty dark. Maj Shaitan Singh and his brave men were now certain to face a big attack. With bated breath they waited, their fingers on their triggers.
…At about 0500 hours, when the dawn was just cracking, the first wave of Chinese assault was seen through their gun sights. Just when the Chinese came within range, Maj Shaitan Singh ordered to open fire…Evidence of large number of the enemy casualties came, when Rezang La was visited three months later.Chinese frontal attack having failed, they modified their attack plan by shelling Rezang La heavily. It was this intensive shelling which made a spectacular display of the Chinese superiority in weapons. There were no bunkers left on Rezang La…but there was no sign of panic or withdrawal. According to those who visited Rezang La, three months later:
The dead men were found in their trenches, frozen stiff, still holding their weapons. Broken Light Machine Gun bipods, and some men holding only the butts of their rifles while the remaining weapon had blown off, bore witness to the enemy fire.
The odds against the Company were heavy, superior numbers and fire power was beginning to tell…
What followed is best told in Maj Shaitan Singh’s citation.
Major Shaitan Singh, 13 KUMAON (IC 7990)
Major Shaitan Singh was commanding a company of an infantry battalion deployed at Rezang La in the Chushul sector at a height of about 17,000 feet. The locality was isolated from the main defended sector and consisted of five platoon-defended position.
On 18 November 1962, the Chinese forces subjected the company position to heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire and attacked it in overwhelming strength in several successive waves. Against heavy odds, our troops beat back successive waves of enemy attack.
During the action, Major Shaitan singh dominated the scene of operations and moved at great personal risk from one platoon post to another sustaining the morale of his hard-pressed platoon posts. While doing so he was seriously wounded but continued to encourage and lead his men, who, following his brave example fought gallantly and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. For every man lost to us, the enemy lost four or five.
When Major Shaitan Singh fell disabled by wounds in his arms and abdomen, his men tried to evacuate him but they came under heavy machine-gun fire. Major Shaitan Singh then ordered his men to leave him to his fate in order to save their lives.
Major Shaitan Singh’s supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight almost to the last man.
As the Wikipedia entry on Maj Shaitan Singh notes: The battle of Rezang La, a ridge overlooking the strategic Chushul plains in Ladakh, is one of the most glorious chapters in the history of the Indian army and has been compared by some military historians with the famed battle of Thermopylae. In the unequal war of 1962 against the Chinese , the Ahir Charlie Company from 13 Kumaon, led by Major Shaitan Singh, decided that until they were alive the Chinese weren’t going to have a look-in on Chushul, at 17,000 ft.
Of the 120 defenders, only three survived, seriously wounded. The rest, including Major Shaitan Singh, were discovered after the winter, frozen, mostly holding their weapons but with no ammunition.
This was a genuine ‘last man-last round’ defense…and it succeeded in stalling the Chinese advance in this sector. As Rajeev Srinivasan wrote:
(The last stand of 13 Kumaon)…succeeded in blunting the Chinese assault, killing as many as a thousand Chinese in the process at Rezang La and at nearby Gurung Hill. Thereafter, the Chinese did not push further towards the Chushul plain. It was a critical checkpoint on a potential Chinese advance on Leh.
The Kumaon Battalion was later the proud recipient of the Battle Honour ‘Rezang La’ and the Theatre Honour ‘Ladakh 1962’. And yet, the last stand of 13 Kumaon at Chushul is not widely known. The story of their valour is not part of our textbooks. There is no memorial for them. An ungrateful nation hardly remembers their sacrifice.
These brave men died – unwept, unmourned and unsung.
As you go about your day today, please spare a moment to remember these heroes…and please forward this to fellow Indians. We will not forget.