Remembering Rezang La: How 120 Indian Heroes Braved Over A Thousand Chinese Soldiers

If human courage and grit alone could win battles, the Indian bravehearts would have returned victorious that day
Major Shaitan Singh, PVC
Major Shaitan Singh, PVC

Today marks 60 years since Rezang La in Eastern Ladakh’s Chushul witnessed a remarkable episode of bravery by Indian soldiers during the 1962 Indo-China War. On 18 November 1962, the 'C' Company (Charlie company), under the Kumaon Regiment's 13th Battalion, lived up to the 'Last man last round' maxim.  

The 120-strong company, led by Major Shaitan Singh, fought off over 1000 Chinese soldiers at an altitude of over 18,000 feet until they ran out of bullets. In fact, even after running out of ammunition, it is reported that the resilient Indian soldiers utilised their bayonets and engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the Chinese who were stronger in number and better equipped. This is regarded as an event with no parallel in modern military annals. 

A few men from 13 Kumaon, days before the Battle of Rezang La 13 Kumaon

Author Neville Maxwell has written in his book India’s China War that “Western Command had made Chushul vital ground, foreseeing that if the Chinese intended to take Leh, then the Spangur gap between the mountains, in which Chushul lies, made their obvious route.” Despite knowing this strategic importance, India's military leadership at the time did not take adequate measures. 

During the early hours of that fateful November day, ‘C’ Company spotted the Chinese presence in their Forward Assembly Area. Soon after, the Chinese engaged in a determined, multi-directional offence. While the Indian bravehearts were able to ward off the first wave of attacks successfully, repeated attacks from the Chinese ensured that India's outnumbered, ill-equipped and ill-clad defence frontier stood no chance. 

It is said that despite suffering from multiple gunshots, Major Shaitan Singh displayed exemplary courage to go from one bunker to another and raise the spirits of his struggling soldiers.  

If human courage and grit alone could win battles, 'C' company would have returned victorious that day. However, bravery alone was not enough for 120 soldiers wielding World War II-era rifles to defend a position at 18,000 feet against over 1,000 superior-armed and better-equipped Chinese soldiers. 

The Chinese were even better clothed to survive the –24 degrees Celsius weather. Before the day ended, 114 men of the Charlie company died. Five were taken prisoners of war from where they all eventually escaped, and one was sent back by the Chinese to narrate the account of events. 

When it comes to Chinese casualties, their official record says 500 and that is a matter of debate. Kuldeep Yadav, the author of the book The Battle of Rezang La, argues that over 1000 Chinese soldiers died.  

According to Yadav's book, the number of Indian martyrs from the battle was 110. It was only months after the incident that the Indian search party found the frozen bodies of the Rezang La heroes. In his book, Yadav says that it was February 10, 1963, when the frozen bodies of the gun-wielding men with bullet wounds on their chests were found. The fatal wound spots seem to suggest that no Indian soldier attempted to flee from the Chinese offensive. 

Retired Captain Amarinder Singh, in his book Lest we forget, said that the Chinese do not usually pay tribute to their enemies killed in action. However, Rezang La was an exception. According to his account, the Chinese had covered the bodies of the Indian soldiers with blankets and even placed bayonets over them so that the make-shift covers do not fly off. Such a mark of respect from the enemy party is the highest acknowledgement of exceptional valour. 

In honour of this famous battle, 13 Kumaon’s Charlie company was re-christened as the Rezang La company. The Indian Army’s Additional Directorate General of Public Information says that it was the first time that such a renaming took place for any regiment.  

For his courage and perseverance against near-impossible odds, Major Shaitan Singh was posthumously honoured with India’s highest wartime gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra. Additionally, Kumaon Regiment's 13th Battalion was presented the Theatre Honour ‘Ladakh 1962’. 

Last year, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the revamped Rezang La war memorial in Eastern Ladakh. Fire and Fury Corps General Officer Commanding Lt. Gen. Anandya Sengupta paid homage to the martyrs at the revamped memorial earlier today, according to local media reports. Defence Secretary Giridhar Aramane was also present at the gathering.  

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