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Thursday, November 18, 2021

saluting the great martyrs of Kumaon Regiment - war at Rezang La remembered


Ever heard of Rezang La and can anyone explain – why we never read about this in History books in school curriculum ?? -  salutes to Brigadier R.V. Jatar (Retd.) who had participated in the Battle of Rezang La as a Captain in 1962, seen here with Indian Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh.  

May be – you have heard of Horatius and have studied early Roman history.      Lays of Ancient Rome is an 1842 collection of narrative poems, or lays, by Thomas Babington Macaulay. Four of these recount heroic episodes from early Roman history with strong dramatic and tragic themes, giving the collection its name.  if the name Macaulay  rang a bell -  Macaulay served as the Secretary at War between 1839 and 1841, and  played a major role in the introduction of English and western concepts to education in India, and published his argument on the subject in the "Macaulay's Minute" in 1835. 

So painful, indeed traumatic, is the story of the 1962 border war with China that the spotlight needs to be turned on whatever little did go right amidst the overwhelming disaster when almost everything else went unbelievably wrong. Sadly,  it was the incompetence of the army high command, consisting largely of amiable frauds or flatterers who had flourished until then, which drove the army to its nadir, not the rank and file or young officers… 

Rezang La, is a mountain pass on the Line of Actual Control between Indian-  Ladakh and the Chinese-administered Spanggur Lake basin, which also belongs to 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. 

Rezang La was the site of a major battle of the 1962 Sino-Indian War, where a company of India's 13 Kumaon battalion fought to the last man in an effort to block the Chinese PLA troops from crossing the ridge into the Chushul Valley. During the 2020–2021 China–India skirmishes, Rezang La was again the site of a major face-off between the two armies, which is believed to have given India trategic leverage and forced China to disengage. 

The 18,000 feet Rezang La is a desolate wind-swept pass lying 11 kilometres south of Spangur Gap, from where nearly two thousand Chinese troops attacked mere 114 men of Charlie Company of 13 Kumaon led by Major Shaitan Singh at 4am on November 18, 1962. In the next 18 hours, virtually the entire Shaitan company was decimated but not before the 13 Kumaon inflicted massive casualties on the PLA troops and also saved the Chushul Garrison from being run over by the marauding Chinese. 

It was at first light on November 18 that the first Chinese attack came. Two of the three Indian platoons opened relentless rifle, machine gun and mortar fire on the advancing Chinese and repulsed them. The Chinese casualties were heavy. Their immediate reaction was intense artillery firing on Indian positions. Later, they made a second attempt to occupy Rezang La, this time with a four-to-one numerical superiority. The Indian platoon that had previously held its fire confronted them with all the weaponry it had. After many of them had fallen, 20 of the survivors decided to charge the Indian platoon. A dozen Kumaonis jumped out of their trenches to take them on in hand-to-hand combat. Having failed in their frontal onslaughts, the Chinese then attacked the Indian positions from the rear while keeping up the artillery and mortar barrage and eventually succeeded in overrunning the platoon shortly before China’s unilateral ceasefire. 

Be it noted that these details, initially sketchy, were given to the battalion headquarters by the three grievously wounded survivors of the C Company who had managed to get there. The real glory and grandeur of the defence of Rezang La became known only three months later when, with the advent of spring, the first Indian party could climb up there. All the 109 soldiers were frozen as they had died with weapons in hand. Five of their comrades had been taken prisoner by the Chinese. Each had fired all the ammunition he had. The C Company had literally fought to the last man and the last bullet. The Chinese casualties had been removed but there was enough evidence to show that these were many. 

It was also discovered that Major Shaitan Singh, who was constantly moving from one platoon to the other, was wounded by the Chinese firing. Two of his comrades tried to carry him to safety but he told them to put him down behind a boulder and go to fight the enemy. He later died on the same spot. His body was flown to his village near Jodhpur to be cremated with full military honours. For his exemplary leadership and extraordinary courage he was awarded the Param Vir Chakra. He was the second army man to win this highest gallantry award. Several other men of the company earned the Vir Chakra, also posthumously.  

As it happened, among the dead there were three members of the same family, two brothers and their brother-in-law (sister’s husband). They were the ones who had given the company early warning of the Chinese assault. A large number of men, though not related to one another, belonged to the same village. 

General K S Thimayya, the most celebrated Kumaoni and independent India’s fourth army chief, applauded the defenders of Rezang La in glowing terms, as did his successor more than a decade later, General T N Raina, also belonging to the Kumaon Regiment.  

The inscription on the War Memorial at Chushul, Ladakh raised by the Indian Army in memory of the soldiers who died in the Battle of Rezang La, reads as below. The first four lines are quoted from Horatius, mentioned at the start : 

How can a man die better,

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And temples of his gods.

To the sacred memory of

the heroes of Rezang-La

114 martyrs of 13 Kumaon

who fought to the last man last round

against hordes of Chinese

on 18 November 1962.

Built by all ranks

13th Battalion the Kumaon Regiment. 

Heartily appreciate our Defence Minister Mr Rajnath Singh who is in Rezang la this day - Inaugurating the renovated Rezang La memorial in Chushul on Thursday, on the anniversary of the battle of Rezang La during the 1962 War with China, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that the memorial is an “epitome of passion, determination and fearless spirit of the country’s bravehearts”. Singh made a short speech as he paid tributes to the 114 Indian soldiers who had died defending their position at Rezang La on November 18, 1962. The battle prevented the Chinese from moving towards Leh during the war. 

With tears, respects to those noble soldiers of Kumaon Regiment
S. Sampathkumar
Pics from twitter & PIB;  article largely excerpted from Indian Express.

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