Maj Shaitan Singh, PVC, 13 KUMAON
Major Shaitan Singh was commanding a company at Razangala in the Chushul Sector at a height of about 17,000 feet. The locality was isolated from the main defended sector and consisted of five defended platoon positions. On 18 November 1962, the Chinese subjected the company position to heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire and attacked in overwhelming strength in successive waves. Major Shaitan Singh dominated the scene of operations, and moved at great personal risk from one platoon post to another sustaining the morale of his hard-pressed platoon posts and beat back the attack. While doing so he was seriously wounded but continued to encourage and lead his men and inflicted heavy casualty on the enemy. Major Shaitan Singh was severely wounded but refused to be evacuated and later succumbed to his injuries. This supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight to the last man last round.
In a battle without parallel in the annals of modern military history, 123 bravehearts of Charlie company, 13 Kumaon fought to the ‘last man, last round’ on November 18, 1962. Employing their famous ‘human wave’ tactics, the Chinese launched determined, multi-directional attacks against the isolated forward post. Surrounded and heavily outnumbered, the men fought back with rare determination and beat back wave after wave of attack. The gallant company commander, Major Shaitan Singh, crawled from trench to trench, personally motivating his men under withering fire even though he was himself wounded. The company suffered 114 casualties and finally ran out of ammunition, but these gallant warriors neither retreated nor surrendered.
It was only when the Chinese permitted the Indian army to collect the bodies in February 1963 that the nation learnt the truth about the heroic fight put up by these valiant warriors. The body of Major Shaitan Singh, honoured posthumously with the Param Vir Chakra, lay in the open field where he had fallen while personally leading a charge to relieve a besieged platoon post. The bodies of 23 men lay around him, riddled with bullet and splinter wounds. Maj Gen Ian Cardozo (Retd) has written in his book Param Vir: Our heroes in Battle, “The 2-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and bandage in his hands when the Chinese bullet hit him… Of the thousand mortar bombs with the defenders all but seven had been fired and the rest were ready to be fired when the (mortar) section was overrun.”
All over the Rezangla defences, brave young men lay dead in their bunkers and trenches. There were multiple shell, shrapnel, bullet and bayonet wounds on their bodies. They were still clutching their cold weapons in their stiff hands. Ammunition ‘empties’ were strewn all around them. Some had even charged the attacking Chinese in a last inspired burst of raw courage. In Lest We Forget Capt Amarindra Singh has written: “In an unusual mark of respect for which the Chinese are not usually noted, their bodies had been covered with blankets, pegged down with bayonets. There could have been no greater tribute to their courage than this acknowledgement by their enemy.”
The war memorial at Chushul:
In all, 96 bodies were recovered from the Rezangla battlefield. Subsequently, in 1965, almost three years later, a shepherd recovered two bodies, at a light machine gun (LMG) position on a flank. Ten men of Charlie Company remained unaccounted for. The Chinese took six severely wounded men POW. Of these, two escaped miraculously and rejoined the battalion. In its desperate fight back, Major Shaitan Singh’s outstanding outfit had killed over 500 Chinese.
Indeed, on that cold November day, Charlie Company, 13 Kumaon, added a new chapter of unflinching devotion to duty and supreme courage under the most adverse circumstances to the Indian army’s glorious traditions of valour and sacrifice in the service of the nation. No nation could have expected more from the young keepers of its frontiers; no trained body of spirited young soldiers could have possibly fought to the muzzle as these men did.
The supreme sacrifice made by the bravehearts of Charlie Company, 13 Kumaon, deserves greater recognition than it has received.