Major Shaitan Singh: Battle of Rezang La and the tale of a legend

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Indian Army is a not just like any army in the world. Indian Army is not made up of soldiers but made up of legends who brave everything, against all odds and ends up in the golden pages of history. Every soldier has a story to tell. From the lowest of the ranks to the generals, every single men and woman of Indian Army cherish and uphold these stories like prized possessions.

In this article, we introduce one such legendary story, one where 123 brave soldiers fought off 5000 Chinese soldiers at the Battle of Rezang La.

A plaque in memory of the battle of Rezang La, Credits in the pic

1962 Indo-China War: the confrontation between the two nations was at its height. The 13th Kumaon Battalion was deployed at Chushula sector to protect key assets mainly, an airfield. The airfield was of strategic importance as it was a key asset to secure Ladakh. The regiment’s ‘Charlie-company’ was commanded by a 42-year-old, Maj. Shaitan Singh. The company defended a position at 5000mt isolated from the rest of the battalion by the rough terrain. The Battalion was awaiting Chinese attack any time and was prepared for anything. As expected, the Chinese attacked Rezang La in the morning of November 18th. The Chinese were spotted moving to attack the areas where 7th & 8th platoons were positioned. The men lay in preparation, the attacker hours away.

November 18th 0500hrs, Chinese troops attacked the platoons. There was a heavy exchange of fire. LMGs, rifles and what not, everything that could shoot bullets were aimed at the Chinese. The attackers felt the defense’s strength as countless Chinese soldiers fell lifeless.

An Indian soldier with an MMG during 1962, Credits to owners

The Chinese called for immediate artillery support. At 0540hrs heavy artillery and mortar fire pinned down Indian soldiers. Amidst this heavy fire, an officer was running between platoons exchanging orders and encouraging the brave souls who were committed to fighting until their last breath.

Maj. Shaitan Singh was seen switching between platoons, keeping the platoon’s morale up. He knew that the defense was heavily outnumbered. Even as the defense shot down incoming attackers, countless more came in behind. It was just too hard to hold off the attack.

It was pretty much evident that losing morale is worse than losing your life. Shaitan Singh knew the inevitable and urged and encouraged his fellow men to fight until the last bullet.

The enemy soon realized that the frontal attack has failed. A 400 strong team of Chinese soldiers sneaked up on 8th platoon’s rear. However, it couldn’t advance beyond a barbed fence. Another team of 120 soldiers attacked the 7th platoon from the rear which too was unsuccessful due to Indian mortar firing. Soldiers of the 7th platoon left the trenches and ran towards the surviving members to finish them off in hand-to-hand combat. However, the bayonets were of not much use as it couldn’t penetrate properly through the Chinese’s uniform. So soldiers like Naik. Singh Ram threw his bayonet away and smashed the Chinese’s soldier’s head to the rock killing them instantly. The Chinese were so moved that they offered samman to him and sank a bayonet near his head with a helmet on top of it and a note on his bravery. Such was the bravery that ran through their blood amidst a war.

Recovery of fallen men, Credits in the pic

But everything wasn’t so well for the Indian side. Chinese pulled fresh reinforcements. The plan was simple, encircle the platoons. An attack from all side. 7th platoon fought until their last bullet and the last man. None from 7th platoon survived. 8th platoon too was crushed. Very few survived and was taken, prisoners.

Maj. Shaitan Singh also wasn’t so lucky. He was injured seriously when a Chinese MMG shot him when he was moving in between the platoons. He wasn’t ready to give up. He continued encouraging the soldiers and shouted out orders. Fearing the Chinese could target him, one of his fellow soldiers tied Shaitan Singh’s body to his and rolled downhill to a boulder to keep him off from enemy fire. He breathed his last there.

“I remembered what (Company Havaldar Major) Harphool (Singh) had said, ‘Do not let the Chinese get their hands on Major Saab’s body.’ So I opened the sling of the rifle and tied Major Saab to myself with the belt, joining our bodies together at the waist. And then, slowly, I started to roll.”, explains Ramchander Yadav in an interview.

His body was found few months after the war settled, frozen in ice, still clutching his weapon. He wasn’t the only one to be found clutching a weapon. The fallen soldiers all breathed their last fighting till their last breath and last bullet (literally, many were seen with ammo-less guns).

On November 21st, the Chinese declared the ceasefire.

120 men strong company was now 114 dead soldiers and 5 POWs. One soldier, Ramchander Yadav, company radio-man was sent back by the legend himself, Maj. Shaitan Singh to narrate the bravery of these men to the world. The POWs later escaped from Chinese sneaking from the Chinese at night.

The final rites, Credits in the pic

For the insane amount of bravery, comradeship and valor Maj. Shaitan Singh was awarded posthumously the highest gallantry award, Param Vir Chakra. The battalion received five Vir Chakras and four Sena medals for the exemplary courage showcased by soldiers at Battle of Rezang La.