The Indo-China war of 1962 is a long-forgotten dark chapter of Indian history. For India, the only remarkable memory from the war was the epic Battle of Rezang La 1962. It was a battle written in history with the blood of the Vir Ahir of Rezang La. It was also a battle that made Major Shaitan Singh and his 120 Vir Ahir of Rezang La immortal in our memories.
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Battle of Rezang La (1962) (Background)
18 November 1962
The Sino-Indian conflicts over the leadership of the Afro-Asian countries preceded the war of 1962. Both the countries also held issues concerning the disputed international border. But those were not the only reasons that lead to the war.
China did not appreciate India’s role in undermining the Chinese control over Tibet. Moreover, India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama post the Tibet uprising. Even the border kept witnessing bloody incidents every now and then.
India had placed its outposts along the border, including on the MacMohan line. The Chinese, however, did not recognize the line as an international border. There were many areas over which both countries laid their claim. Thus, the border became a usual site of Chinese intrusion.
In 1959, China seized border posts in Longui and NEFA in Ladakh. The Chinese set up a camp in Spanggur. During the time spent there, they arrested Indian patrol police and killed and captured Indian policemen. They laid their eyes on Chushul and Walong too. Hence, both countries engaged in clashes in these regions. The Chinese began building roads in the border area near the Spanggur gap and Walong.
The Chinese knew that capturing Chushul would grant them easy access to roads and valleys towards Leh. China had strategic and intelligence advantage over Indians.
Protecting Chushul became a matter of national honour for the Indian Army.
Part 2 of The War
Lt Col HC Taylor raised the 13 Kumaon battalion in 1948. The battalion consisted of Ahirs as well as Kumaonis. Later, in 1956, it was suggested that the battalion be comprised only of Ahirs. The Kumaonis were transferred to 2Kumaon and 6Kumaon. Both these battalions, in return, sent their Ahirs to 13Kumaon.
The Vir Ahir of Rezang La hailed majorly from Haryana. The regions of Rewari and Narnul are, in fact, often termed as Ahirwal (the abode of Ahirs). They served in Kargil, Punjab, J&K, and North-east India. All the Ahirs in the 13Kumaon belonged to the southern region of Haryana.
Until the battle, the 13 Kumaon had served in Baramulla Valley, Kashmir. In order to protect Chushul, the 13 Kumaon was deployed at Rezang La. The events of the Battle of Rezang La 1962 happened so rapidly that they did not get enough time to acquaint with the climatic conditions of the battle area.
Rezang La is a pass at around 16,000 ft on the south-eastern approach to Chusul Valley, Ladakh. The pass is around 3km long and 2km wide. The high altitude posed innumerable troubles for the soldiers. Besides the bitter cold, lack of oxygen and breathlessness added up to the challenges of the soldiers. Communication became another problem as the radio batteries would just freeze up.
Moreover, the crests of the mountain tops are not suitable to support artillery shelling. Thus, the soldiers could not expect any remarkable fire support from Rezang la.
The 13Kumaon battalion divided its Charlie Company into platoons on one ridge of 2kms. It was an Ahir Company from Rewari, Haryana. They would protect the Chusul airfield in order to keep India’s hold on Ladakh.
Major Shaitan Singh prepared his men for any enemy offensive. He deployed C Company over 2km frontage on the Rezang la pass.
- On the forward slopes, around 3km north of the pass, Jemadar Surja took over 7 Platoon
- Jemadar Hari Ram held the 8 Platoon in the pass area.
- Jemadar Ram Chander led the 9 Platoon. They positioned around 1km south of 7 Platoon.
- The Company headquarters was behind 9 Platoon. 150 meters west of the headquarters, Naik Ram Kumar Yadav held a section of 3-inch Mortar.
The Ahirs lacked time to prepare enough defenses. They were not able to lay many mines. As mentioned earlier, they did not even have artillery support. They did as much they could. The C Company used three additional LMGs to cover gullies which were expected enemy approaches. They wired the defenses. They stocked with 6 first-line scales of ammunition with 1000 bombs for the 3-inch Mortar Section. Finally, the men prepared to fight to ‘the last man and the last round’.
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The company was ill-equipped and poorly dressed for the harsh temperature conditions. All it had was the strength of 120 Vir Ahir of Rezang La and a fierce leader, Major Shaitan Singh. With just so much, it had to stand a blood-freezing temperature of minus 30 degrees.
On the intervening night of 17 and 18 November, the battle area witnessed a snowstorm. Later, as the storm cleared up, the visibility improved up to 600 meters. Then, the Listening Post (LP) observed a swarm of Chinese soldiers at a distance of around 700-800 meters. The LP commander rushed to inform the 8 Platoon headquarters.
The LP commander returned with his Section Commander and a light machine gun (LMG). By that time, the Chinese had made it within the firing range. The LP fired a red Verey light signal and the LMG to signal the C Company. Even 7 Platoon’s LP perceived the Chinese threat and cautioned the C Company.
Major Shaitan Singh confirmed the battle positions of all sub-units. He ordered 9 Platoon to send a patrol to confirm the situation. The Platoon was sure that the Chinese had to build up through the gullies.
The Charlie Company comprehended a frontal attack from the Chinese. They were prepared with LMGs, MMGs (medium machine guns), and mortar fires. As soon as the enemy launched its attack, the Ahirs counter fired. Many enemy soldiers died or received harsh injuries. In this way, the Vir Ahir of Rezang La ferociously stood around 5 enemy attacks. Even as the enemy began regrouping, the Ahirs stood their ground. They also destroyed fire plans and maps to prevent them from falling in the enemy’s hands.
Heroes of Battle of Rezang La
Each soldier who fought in the Battle of Rezang La 1962 was a brave-hearted hero. The Battalion received ‘The Battle Honour Rezang La’ and ‘The Theatre Honour Ladakh’.
Major Shaitan Singh Bhati
Param Vir Chakra (posthumously)
Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was one Indian star that shone during the dark phase of the 1962 war. He fearlessly moved from platoon to platoon in order to keep his men motivated. After all, they had to stay put.
A Chinese MMG hit him but the Major kept fighting. Amidst the heavy machine-gun fire he was severely wounded. There was little life left in him when one of his men tied Singh’s wounded body to himself. It was important to protect Major’s body from getting in the Chinese hands. They kept rolling down the hill until Major Shaitan Singh took his last breath. His comrade hid his body there so that it could be retrieved later. In February 1963, Shaitan Singh’s body was found at the same spot where it was left during the war.
Here are some other war heroes of Rezang La who received various national awards.
Maha Vir Chakra
- Brigadier TN Raina
- Vir Chakra
- Jemadar Hari Ram*
- Jemadar Ram Chander
- Naik Hukam Singh*
- Jemadar Surja*
- Naik Gulab Singh*
- Naik Ram Kumar Yadav *
- Lance Naik Singh Ram*
- Sepoy (Nursing assistant) Dharam Pal Dhaiya*
- CHM Harphool Singh*
- Havildar Jai Narain
- Havildar Phul Singh
- Sepoy Nihal Singh
Ati Vashisht Seva Medal
- Lt Col HS Dhingra
- Jemadar Jai Narain*
While there are many heroes who have sacrificed their lives for the motherland. There’s one hero of the Indian army who has sacrificed himself for the motherland and it is believed that he is still protecting the borders after death. Whenever a situation of concern comes up on the borders, this soldier alerts his fellow soldiers of the upcoming danger. Meet Baba Harbhajan Singh: A Man Protecting The Border’s Even After Death!! – God of Small Thing
Books on Battle of Rezang La
Here is a list of books that you could read to know more about the Battle of Rezang La 1962.
- Major General Jagjit Singh’s ‘Saga of Ladakh: Heroic Battles of Rezang La and Gurung Hills, 1961-62’
- Virendra Verma’s ‘Valour Triumphs: The Saga of Rezang La’
- Ian Cardozo’s ‘Param Vir Chakra: Shaitan Singh’
- NN Bhatia’s ‘Reminiscing Rezang la: A Saga of Valour and Sacrifice’
Battle of Rezang La Documentary
‘Sentinels of the snow’
Major General GD Bakshi narrated the account of the epic Battle of Rezang La 1962 that took place during the Sino-Indian war. He opened up about the failure of the Indian leadership in 1962. Despite receiving warnings from the military and the former Home Minister Sardar Patel, Nehru overlooked the possibility of any Chinese aggression. Consequently, he shifted his focus from the modernization of the military towards other developments.
Finally, when Dalai Lama escaped after the Tibet uprising, China launched the brutal 1962 war on India. In Rezang La, Major Shaitan Singh Bhati’s 120 Vir Ahir of Rezang La fought till the end.
Some Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, the epic Battle of Rezang La 1962 is real. After the war, nobody believed the story narrated by the survivors. 120 men had actually killed 1,300 enemy soldiers. In 1963, the Indian party under the International Red Cross visited the site and confirmed the account of the war. The most heart-wrenching sight was the frozen bodies of the soldiers. Even in death their bullet-ridden frozen bodies held firm their weapons.
Even reading about the Battle of Rezang La 1962 brings tears to the eyes. The horrors of the night still shout out loud in the long-forgotten pages of history. Want to read more about the battle? Scroll up to the complete story or click here.
It is tough to believe, but 120 Vir Ahir of Rezang La actually dominated around 5000 Chinese soldiers in a battle of heavy odds. The Indian Company did not even have any artillery support. Nonetheless, the 13Kumaon changed the course of the 1962 war. The Ahirs prevented the Chinese from capturing Chushul that very day. The Battle of Rezang La 1962 broke the Chinese momentum besides causing them heavy damages. if you really came through here directly. we would suggest you to read the historic battle by scrolling up or you can click here. (It will take you to the section directly :) )
In the fight to claim Chushul, the Chinese suddenly withdrew in 1962. China declared a unilateral ceasefire from November 21. However, their forces kept firing upon the outflanked Indian troops in the eastern sector. China announced the withdrawal of its forces from 1 December. They vacated their territorial gains in the eastern sector but held on to those in the western sector.
Earlier, in 1960, China had proposed a barter deal. It would let India possess Arunachal if, in return, China got the possession of the Aksai Chin. India, on the other hand, claimed sovereignty over both the regions.
In 1962, the world’s attention was focused on the Cuban missile crisis. China took the opportunity to launch a full-fledged war on India. In fact, China’s announcement of the ceasefire came with the end of the Cuban crisis.
Chushul is a narrow barren sandy valley in Ladakh. It runs north to south with a length of 40km and a width of 5.6km. Chushul lies across the watershed at an altitude of 14,230 ft. Mighty mountains and high passes adorn the valley.
The Chinese border lies close to Chushul. In the north, the 160km long clear saltwater lake- Pangong Tso runs parallel to the Indus River. Mountain ranges as high as 19,000 feet lie on the east and the west. To the south of Chushul, there is an all-weather airfield.
The Chang La pass is situated near Pangong Lake. By going over the pass, Chushul could be reached from Leh.
In the east, the Spanggur Gap opens up into the lake- Spanggur Tso. This lake is also very close to Chinese territory. Earlier, the Chinese had constructed a road from Rudok (Tibet) to the Spanggur Gap. The road would facilitate the movement of tanks.
As the chilling Battle of Rezang La 1962 ended so did the lives of 114 Indian martyrs. 5 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war but they, later, escaped. Major Shaitan Singh, himself, sent one of his men back so that he could narrate the unbelievable spectacle to the rest of the country.
In the honor of the heroes of Rezang La, a monument was built at Chushul. The inscription at the war memorial, reminding of the supreme sacrifices, brings tears to the eyes:
“How Can A Man Die Better?
Than Facing Fearful Odds,
For the Ashes of his Fathers,
And Temples of his Gods.”
Before you leave here’s a question to you. Do you know about the largest tank battle in the world? Well, the battle and its story is something you should definitely readout. The battle was known as the battle of Kursk and here’s everything you should know about the Greatest tank battle in history: Battle of Kursk| World War 2