BATTLE OF REZANG LA
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Context: November 18, 2022, is the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Rezang La, one of the few bright spots in the War of 1962 with China. On that day, 13 Kumaon’s C Company made their heroic last stand against the Chinese army in the high Himalayas of Ladakh, warding off a very significant threat and, in the process, writing a glorious chapter in India’s military history.
- The brightest of the bright spots in the pervasive darkness of 1962 was the Battle of Rezang La in the high Himalayas in Ladakh.
- The place is a massive 16,000-foot-high feature in the narrow gap between the even higher mountains surrounding the strategic village of Chushul and the Spanggur Lake that stretches across both Indian and Chinese territories.
- Rezang La is, therefore, vital for the defence of the crucially important Chushul. Any invader reaching there would have had a free run to Leh.
- Rezang La is a mountain pass on the Line of Actual Control between Indian-administered Ladakh and the Chinese-administered Spanggur Lake basin that is also claimed by India.
- The pass is located on the eastern watershed ridge of the Chushul Valley that China claims as its boundary.
- It is at the head of the Rezang Lungpa valley, which houses a stream draining into the Spanggur Lake.
- The Battle of Rezang La is often remembered as a show of great Indian strength during the war in 1962.
- Not the kind of strength to be understood in terms of military preparedness or tactical prowess — Indian troops were severely outnumbered, weren’t as well acclimatised to winter conditions as their Chinese counterparts, had inferior weaponry and more importantly, the heights of mountain tops interfered with the flight of artillery shells.
- That said, the soldiers of the Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon demonstrated the kind of strength it takes to fight till ‘the last man, last round’ on that chilly night of 18 November, 1962.
- Of the 120 men and officers of this company, 114 died. Yet they managed to inflict over 1,000 fatalities on the enemy side.
- This appears all the more impressive when we take into account that all the soldiers in the company, save for their commander who was a Rajput, were Ahirs who hailed from Gurgaon and Mewat region of Haryana, and came from communities of cattlemen and farmers.
- For them, serving in minus 30 degree temperature was a first and most had seen no active operations except in Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps this is what makes the Charlie Company of the 13 Kumaon battalion the most decorated company in the history of the Indian Army.
- Despite the fact that almost the entire company was wiped out in battle, they had put up enough of a fight to ensure that Chushul wouldn’t fall into Chinese hands.
- The 13 Kumaon regrouped and the 114 Brigade held on to Chushul, and on 21 November, the Chinese announced a unilateral ceasefire.
Major Shaitan Singh:
- It would be erroneous to talk of the Battle of Rezang La without mentioning Major Shaitan Singh, the commander of the Charlie company who received the Param Vir Chakra.
- When the Chinese soldiers attacked his platoons, he moved from one post to another to sustain the morale of his troops. This came at great personal risk as he was first hit by enemy fire on his arm, and later struck in the abdomen after which two of his troops pulled him behind a boulder to take shelter.
- Months later, his frozen body was found near that boulder along with scores of bodies of his troops.