PATRIOTISM PAR EXCEELLENCE AT REZANGLA
By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM
Major Shaitan Singh is the name of the Leader of military men of Charlie company of the 13th battalion of the Kumaon Regiment who etched their valour in the minds and hearts of both friend and foe. It is a saga of chivalry in a high altitude battle fought and lost where no quarters were asked for and none given. At an altitude of 16000 ft above sea level in the arid desert of Ladakh on 18th November 1962 hordes of Chinese troops of the PLA numbering around 5,000 battle hardened barbarians had launched a dawn attack along the Ahir company frontage of the Kumaonis in numerous waves using far superior fire power to that of the Kumaonis. Numerous assaults launched by the Chinese hordes at various Company positions were borne with cold courage and repulsed with grit and determination by the Kumaoni Jawans encouraged by the personal example of leadership of Major Shaitan Singh, their company commander whom they loved, adored and admired.
The landscape of Ladakh is such that one can have an uninterrupted line of sight for miles. Nevertheless, the Indian Army had not equipped its soldiers with weapons that could envelope the advancing enemy with their volleys of fire. The range of fire of the Indian weapons was rather limited. The Lee Enfield rifles of the Indian soldiers were of the World War I vintage with a range of 300 meters or so whereas the rifles and machineguns of the invading Chinese outnumbered and outgunned the defending-Kumaonis.
Bravery beyond the call of duty, love of motherland, denying the enemy an advantage in battle were ingrained in the training of our Ahir company Jawans of 13 Kumaon. The simple but tough Kumaonis were determined not to let the dastardly attack succeed as long as they were alive. Yogeshwar Shri Krishna was their bau ideal and they followed his dictum both in war and peace. It was the Chakradhar Krishna Ji who had given the best advice to the great archer Arjuna in battle: na dainyam na palayanam. Likewise the soldiers of the 13 Kumaon are not showing any mercy to the cruel enemy nor asking for any act of mercy. The question of mercy just does not arise.
It is beyond any doubt that the soldiers of the Kumaon Regiment kept on firing on the attacking Chinese hordes till the ammunition lasted. When the Kumaonis ran out of ammunition, they just had no intention of surrendering to the Chinese invaders and become prisoners of war. No, Never- they thought and acted upon it. At one section defended locality the attacking Chinese advanced right up to the bunker when the defenders had run out of bullets. An Ahir-soldier of the Section came out, caught hold of two Chinese soldiers and banged their heads against each other. The two Chinese soldiers breathed their last right there. Needless to say that the said Ahir-soldier was a reputed Pahalwan of the Paltan who too made the supreme sacrifice later in the day fighting against the invading enemy.
There are numerous tales told by the six surviving soldiers of the Charlie Company of the 13th battalion of the Kumaon Regiment. As many as 114 gallant officers and men had made the supreme sacrifice at the altar of defence denying their sacred motherland to the unscrupulous foreign marauders.
It is difficult not to narrate an extra-ordinary tale of valour of another Jawan of a Section of the same Ahir company. When he too like his brothers-in-arms had run out of ammunition. Well built and full of Josh, without a trace of Fear, he came out of his sangar or stone encirclement at a corner of the defended locality; pounced on the nearest Chinese soldier and his Chinese buddy, held them by scruff of the neck and rolled down the high plateau into an abyss to die with two enemy soldiers. The saga of surprise and sudden attack by the Kumaoni survives to commemorate their valour and wisdom till today.
Major Shaitan Singh, company commander of the famous Ahir company of 13 Kumaon too made the supreme sacrifice defending his motherland. He ran from one Section to another Section inspiring his Jawans to keep on fighting against the Chinese enemy till they died in action. He exhorted them in their regimental dialect to put their best foot forward. “ Do not surrender to the Chinese enemy nor ask for jeevan bhiksha nor give jeevan daan to the enemy” were the parting advice of the brave Shaitan Singh who was in fact a DEVTA to his JCOs and Jawans.
While moving at double time in the Company Defended Locality helping his boys where help was needed, he not only attracted adverse enemy fire but was also hit and badly injured. Shaitan had made up his mind NOT to surrender to the wily enemy. He knew in the heart of his hearts that he did not have enough time to live in this mundane world and wished to make doubly sure that the Chinese would not lay their hands on his dead body. He instructed his Sahayak to carry his badly injured body away from the scene of action that was about to be overrun by the marauding hordes. The Sahayak strapped the badly injured but breathing body of Major Shaitan Singh to his own and rolled down the steep slope to go away from the sound of falling feet of the Chinese. Once he was out of the danger zone, he opened the strap, hid the still warm body of his company commander in a crevice, covered the crevice mouth with stones and moved on to tell the tale of unprecedented gallantry to others of the Indian Army who cared to listen.
The next day was a little lull in battle. The invading Chinese army had received such a bloody nose that they were in no mental or physical frame of mind and body to launch another scathing attack on what was left of the defended locality. The Chinese got busy in a search and bury own dead mission next two days. When they counted their own DEAD in the battle of Rezangla, the tally stood at four figures. They were horrified at their own incalculable loss but remembered to praise the Brave Kumaonis, 114 Brave Dead, who were still in the defending mode of their motherland.
Soon the Ceasefire was declared. Snow fell and covered everything around in its white sheet. When the snow melted next Spring, the brave Kumaoni soldiers were still there in fighting mode defending their beloved Bharat Mata. It was indeed a pleasant surprise to note that all the Brave Dead of ours had bullet marks on their chest and abdomen, NONE on the back.
Gone are 114 Ahirs of the Charlie company of the 13 Kumaon still led by their loved company commander, Major Shaitan Singh but their unprecedented Bravery in Battle is told and retold generation after generation. Many Medals of Honour were awarded to them and they deserved every Medal of gallantry. The company commander Major Shaitan Singh was honoured by the Nation with the Presidential award of the most coveted medal for highest gallantry in the face of the enemy, PARAM VIR CHAKRA.
We salute thee BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE.