“Rezang La”. The very name brings shiver in the spines of many. The place where the Indian soldiers did something that we feel hard to even imagine. The sacred place soaked and sanctified by the blood shed by of the brave warriors. A place where 114 of brave Indian soldiers laid down their lives for the nation in the Sino – Indian War of 1962.
Those who have traveled to Ladakh by road would know it is a high altitude pass because of the word “La”. But those who have traveled through the Changthang region in Ladakh would know of its exact location. This hilltop and the nearby village of Chushul is a matter of national honor today. A war memorial stands commemorating the supreme sacrifice made by the 114 Indian soldiers.
A glimpse from the history:
Communist Expansion in China
At the beginning of 1949 India did not even share border with China. The communist revolution, led by Mao Zedang, had been steadily expanding it’s territory occupying the neighboring sovereign regions. By the end of 1951 the People’s Republic of China had acceded Tibet, Warlord (currently Northwestern China). Since 1951 the People’s liberation Army steadily moving towards towards it’s western border simultaneously equipping itself with the upgraded armaments and ammunition. Despite facing a disastrous famine from 1960-61, which killed tens of millions of people, the PRC continued spending more on it’s defence.
Poor Leadership at the center.
Brijmohan Kaul was Lieutenant General in the Indian Army during the period of Sino-Indian War. He was from Army Service Corps (logistics wing of Army) and had very little idea about the fighting wing. He had used his political influence and kinship with Prime Minister Nehru to advance to his high position.
During the war he took some extremely bad decisions which ultimately resulted into a disastrous defeat. He refused to provide more artillery support to the Army one of the most fatuous utterances in the history of the Indian Army: “Determined infantry do not need artillery,”. He refrained to provide Air Support through out the war. The Indian Air force which at time was far more superior than the Chinese Air Force was used only to carry the logistics.
Logistic Failure and Unpreparedness
The soldiers went into battle straight from the plains, pushed so hard across the unaccustomed high altitude terrain. They wore their cotton uniforms with a thin sweater, and they had a single blanket for the freezing nights. Often even that one blanket had to be shared. Once facing the Chinese, often they fought with 60 rounds for their bolt-action rifles. Most often, there was no resupply available at the forward positions. Battalion mortars had no ammunition. Less than 1 in 3 air drops reached the men when dropped by the C-119 Packet.
November 18th 1962
The C Company of the 13th Kumaon battalion was protecting the airfield in Chushul (which was important if India had to hold on to Ladakh) when the Chinese troops attacked the area on the morning of November 18, 1962. It was a group of more than 5000 Chinese soldiers holding position against 120 Indian soldiers. What followed was heavy firing from both the sides. Unlike the Indian soldiers, the Chinese were loaded with heavy artillery support. But Major Shaitan Singh and his Company had already decided. There was no question of going back. The soldiers had decided to fight till the last man. They decided to fight the enemies with their bare hands when their ammunition finished. The Chinese had all the details about the Indian deployments. Well aware with the numbers, The Chinese had underestimated the courage of the Indian soldiers. Initially an wave of more that 500 soldiers attacked the area. As soon as they were in the range they were shot dead by the Indian soldiers. The second wave also faced the same fate. By now, the snow had turned red due to the blood of the Chinese soldier’s. The third wave of more than 1000 Chinese soldiers now marched towards the top. By this time the Indian soldiers had ran out of ammunition. Yet they did not surrender they fought with the Chinese with bare hands. Out of the total 120 Indian soldiers only 6 managed to survive and escape. Major Shaitan Singh was later awarded with Param Veer Chakra (Posthnomously) for his supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty.
The Sino-Indian war ended with a disastrous defeat for the Indian side. But the bravery and the sacrifice made by our soldiers will always be etched in our memories