Definitions

Shaitan_Singh

Shaitan Singh

Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was born on December 1, 1924 at Jodhpur in Rajasthan. He was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Hem Singhji Bhati, and was commissioned in the Kumaon Regiment on 01 August 1949. Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was awarded Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal, posthumously, for his leadership and courage during the 1962 Indo-China War.

Background

The Indo-China conflict in 1962 was triggered by a dispute over Aksai Chin. Chusul sector, only 15 miles from the border as the crow flies and with an all weather landing strip was critical to the defence of Ladakh. Chushul is at 14,230 feet and is a small village in a narrow sandy valley about 25 miles long and 4 miles wide, flanked by mountains that rise to over 19,000 feet. Chushul was the solitary Indian position east of the Ladakh range. The importance of this sector was not lost on Major Shaitan Singh.

Rezang La is a pass and is on the south-eastern approach to Chushul Valley. The feature was 3000 yards long and 2000 yards wide at an average height of 16,000 feet.

During the 1962 Indo-China conflict, 13 Kumaon was deployed in Chushul sector. Major Shaitan Singh, who was a Rajput from Jodhpur commanded 'C' Company of 13 Kumaon. 'C' Company's three platoons were numbered 7, 8 and 9 and had .303 rifles with about 600 rounds per head, and between them six LMGs, and 1,000 grenades and mortar bombs.

Military Action

The 'C' Coy of the battalion, led by Major Shaitan Singh, held this crucial position at Rezang La, at a height of 5000 metres. The company area was defended by three platoon positions and the surrounding terrain isolated it from the rest of the battalion. The expected Chinese attack on Rezang La came on November 18th in the morning. It was the end of a very cold winter night, with light snow falling. The icy winds howling through Rezang La were biting and benumbing. More than the thin air and cold, the location of Rezang La had a more serious drawback. It was crested to Indian artillery because of an intervening feature, which meant that they had to make without the protective comfort of the big guns. In the dim light of the morning, the Chinese were seen advancing through nullahs to attack No.7 and No.8 platoon positions.

The Indian Army troops fell on their prepared positions to face the Chinese offensive. At 0500 hours when the visibility improved, both platoons opened up on the advancing Chinese with rifles, light machine guns, grenades and mortars. Indian artillery could, however, not be used. The nullahs were littered with dead bodies. The survivors took position behind boulders and the dead bodies. The Chinese, though they failed the first frontal attack, were not discouraged. They subjected the Indian positions to intense artillery and mortar fire at about 0540 hours. Soon about 350 Chinese troops commenced advance through the nullahs. This time, No.9 Platoon, which held fire till the enemy was within 90 metres opened up with all weapons in their possession. Within minutes, the nullahs were again full of dead bodies, mainly of the Chinese.

Unsuccessful in frontal attack, the enemy, approximately 400 strong, then attacked from the rear of the company position. They simultaneously opened intense medium machine gun fire on No.8 Platoon. This attack was contained at the barbed wire fencing of the post. The Chinese then resorted to heavy artillery and mortar shelling. An assault group of 120 Chinese also charged No.7 Platoon position from the rear. However, Indian Army 3-inch mortar killed many of them. When 20 survivors charged the post, about a dozen Kumaonis rushed out of their trenches to engage them in a hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, the Chinese brought up fresh reinforcements. The encirclement of No.7 Platoon was now complete. The platoon, however, fought valiantly till there was no survivor. No.8 Platoon also fought bravely to the last round.

Major Shaitan Singh, the Company Commander, displayed exemplary leadership and courage in the battle of Rezang La. By all accounts, he led his troops most admirably. Unmindful of his personal safety he moved from one platoon post to another and encouraged his men to fight. While moving among the posts he was seriously wounded, by a sniping Chinese MMG. But he continued to fight along with his men. While he was being evacuated by two of his comrades, the Chinese brought heavy machine gun fire on them. Major Shaitan Singh sensed danger to their lives and ordered them to leave him. They placed him behind a boulder on the slopes of a hill, where he breathed his last.

The Chinese announced a unilateral ceasefire on November 21 1962.

In this action, 109 Kumaonis out of a total of 123 were killed. Of the 14 survivors, 9 were severely injured. The Chinese suffered many more in killed. Estimates are around 800 Chinese casualties. After the war was over, the body of Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was found at the same place, dead from the bullet wound and the freezing cold. It was flown to Jodhpur and cremated with full military honours. Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was awarded Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal, posthumously, for his leadership and devotion to duty.

Citation

The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him reads:

MAJOR SHAITAN SINGH
13 KUMAON (IC 7990)

''Major Shaitan Singh was commanding a company of an infantry battalion deployed at Rezang La 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 platoon-defended position. On 18 November 1962, the Chinese forces subjected the company position to heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire and attacked it in overwhelming strength in several successive waves. Against heavy odds, our troops beat back successive waves of enemy attack. During the action, 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. While doing so he was seriously wounded but continued to encourage and lead his men, who, following his brave example fought gallantly and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. For every man lost to us, the enemy lost four or five. When major Shaitan Singh fell disabled by wounds in his arms and abdomen, his men tried to evacuate him but they came under heavy machine-gun fire. Major Shaitan Singh then ordered his men to leave him to his fate in order to save their lives.

Major Shaitan Singh’s supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight almost to the last man. In the Indo-China war of 1962, the Ahirs (almost all of them hailing from the Ahirwal region of Southern Haryana) of 13 Kumaon Regiment set an unparallel example in the military history of India by defending their motherland at Rezang La in Ladakh district of Jammu & Kashmir.

The battle of Rezang La, a ridge overlooking the strategic Chushul plains in Ladakh, is one of the most glorious chapters in the history of the Indian army and has been compared by some military historians with the famed battle of Thermopylae. In the unequal war of 1962 against the Chinese where the Indian army rarely stood to fight, the Ahir Charlie Company from 13 Kumaon, led by Major Shaitan Singh, decided that until they were alive the Chinese weren’t going to have a look-in on Chushul, at 17,000 ft. Of the 120 defenders, only three survived, seriously wounded. The rest, including Major Shaitan Singh (who was awarded Param Vir Chakra), were discovered after the winter, frozen, mostly holding their weapons but with no ammunition. This was a genuine ‘last man-last round’ defense and many times more Chinese were killed, the evidence again being frozen bodies on the slopes. Of the 120 soldiers, 114 were Haryanavi Ahirs.

This battle inspired MS Sathyu’s (1964) gut-wrenching classic movie, 'Haqeeqat', starring Dharmendra and Balraj Sahni. On this horrific battle, Major-General Ian Cardozo, in his book ‘Param Vir, Our Heroes In Battle’ writes, “When Rezang La was later revisited dead jawans were found in the trenches still holding on to their weapons... every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullet or splinter wounds. 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.”

The heroes who were awarded the Vir Chakra in 1962 defending Rezang La were Naik Hukum Chand (posthumous), Naik Gulab Singh Yadav, Lance-Naik Ram Singh (posthumous), Sub. Ram Kumar and Sub. Ram Chander. All hailed from the Rewari district of Haryana, where a Rezang La memorial has been placed in their memory in Gudiani village.

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