When a Company of 120 Soldiers Saved Ladakh and Killed 1300 PLA soldiers in 1962

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of 5,000-6,000 soldiers equipped with heavy artillery support attacked Chushul early morning of 18th November, 1962. And to make matters worse, a crest of the ridge prevented Indian artillery from lending support, leaving the Jawans to fight for themselves.

A lesser army might have retreated, but the company led by commander Major Shaitan Singh fought till last man, last round, and last breath.

Legend says that the brave 120 killed close to 1,300 enemy soldiers. Only 6 of the 120 member company survived the war.

The battle is considered to be one of the greatest last stands in the history of armed forces across the world.

Major Shaitan Singh was awarded Param Vir Chakra, the highest wartime gallantry medal, posthumously, for his leadership and courage for this battle.

Major Shaitan Singh, PVC

Story of Major Shaitan Singh Bhati, PVC

February, 1963. A Ladakhi shepherd finds his way to Rezang La in Chushul where he was surprised at the sight of destroyed bunkers, empty bullet shells and scattered weapons and ammo crates all around. But he was horrified at the sight of 114 corpses in Indian army uniform, still holding weapons with vacant eyes as their faces were twisted in pain before death. The horrific cold had frozen them all in position!

Some say dead men tell no tales, but it was incorrect. The dead had a lot to say, and when they started, they didn’t want to stop!

Brigadier TN Raina, the commander of the 114 Infantry Brigade was overwhelmed with pain when he saw Major Shaitan Singh lying by a rock in that freezing cold, with a blood-stained bandage on his left arm and his stomach ripped by MMG bursts. None of the 114 corpses, including Major Shaitan Singh—had a bullet on their backs!

Major Shaitan Singh Bhati was born on the 1st of December, 1924 in a Bhati Rajput military family of Banasar village in Rajasthan. He was the son of Lieutenant Colonel Hem Singh who fought in the Great War and had been awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services.

Shaitan Singh is an alumnus of Chopasni Senior Secondary School in Jodhpur and did his graduation from the Jaswant College in 1947. On the 1st of August, 1949, he joined the Jodhpur State Forces and after Jodhpur was merged into India, Lieutenant Shaitan Singh was transferred to the 13 Kumaon Regiment.

He was promoted to the rank of a Captain in 1955 and had taken part in anti-terrorist operations in the Naga Hills and also in the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese in 1961. On the 11th of June, 1962, he became the commander of Charlie Company of the 13 Kumaon, being promoted as a Major.

As the Chinese aggression started building up, Chinese troops started infiltrating into India. Major Shaitan Singh and Charlie Company of the 13 Kumaon was brought from Baramulla in J&K and was posted in the freezing cold of Chushul sector in Ladakh to hold off the Chinese invaders. To be accurate, the Charlie Company was at a height of 16,000 feet, with temperatures plummeting down to -20 degrees and snowing heavily at Rezang La in the sector, with 5 platoon posts from the company defending the post.

At 5am on the 18th of December, 1962, through the steep narrow valleys or nullahs—the Chinese troops by the hundreds were closing in on Charlie Company. As the enemy closed in, Major Shaitan Singh got the men ready, spirited with high morale and at his command, the men opened fire on the enemy with MMGs, rifles and mortars.

The Indian army was not only poorly equipped with WW2 era .303 rifles and other weapons but also lacked proper winter clothing at such freezing temperatures. The Chinese troops on the other hand had superior weapons and the Charlie Company was even surprised to spot anti-tank guns being brought by the enemy on wheelbarrows—firing at them from down below!

At 5:40am, the Chinese opened up a barrage of artillery and mortar fire on Charlie company, covering the advance of 350 troops through the nullah. No.9 platoon of Charlie company spotted these troops and started mowing them down with MMG fire. This scattered the enemy attack and the enemy now outflanked the Charlie Company and launched an attack with 400 men from the rear! No.8 platoon of Charlie company spotted them and though they opened fire, but Chinese mortars and HMGs pinned them down! Same was with No.7 platoon as though they decimated the enemy invaders of some 120 men, but now, the entire Charlie company was taking casualties!

For every man lost in Charlie Company, the Chinese lost 4-5 of them! Charlie Company was slowly being decimated by mortars, anti-tank gun fire and marauding rifle charges of Chinese troops! Each and every men fought valiantly, with medics running and shoving morphine on the wounded and dragging them out for safety, with every men firing their rifles and at the very edge of exhausting their ammo! Their comrades died in front of them, their own limbs, heads and arms were blown off by artillery and mortar fire in that freezing cold, but their CO’s orders stayed with them till their last breaths—

“To the last man and to the last bullet!”

Around Major Shaitan Singh, even with his effective command, his men were dying around him! His post was surrounded by dead Chinese soldiers with their blood freezing in that cold! He kept running from platoon to platoon positions, inspiring the men and shooting back at the enemy with his .303 rifle. He closed in near the positions of No.7 and No.8 platoon, inspiring them and fighting alongside them when suddenly, a Chinese MMG burst hit him in the abdomen!

He dropped down, spotting the huge amount of corpses around him. With already close to some 90 men dead, the survivors of Charlie Company decided to evacuate him but Chinese MMG fire pinned them down! They couldn’t reach their CO, who was trapped with the survivors of Platoon-8 and 7.

Ram Chander Singh was the last man to be with Major Shaitan Singh. He spots the Major and was shocked to see that Major Singh’s intestines were on the verge of being spilling out! Major Shaitan Singh was ordering him to open his belt as his belly was hurting, but Ram Chander Singh doesn’t comply and instead picks up the Major under some covering fire from the survivors.

And soon, all the survivors of Platoon 8 and 7 get out from their trenches and engage into a hand-t-hand fight against the Chinese. And soon, all were killed in action.

Ram Chander Singh takes the Major and lays him near a boulder when the Major passes his last order—

“This is my Company! I want to die here with them! Leave me here! This is an order for you!”

Ram Chander Singh acknowledges the order and leaves him there. Out of 123 men of Charlie Company, 114 including Major Shaitan Singh, succumbed to their injuries in the battle. Only a handful men like Ram Chander Singh managed to survive and make it back to our lines as the Chinese overrun their post!

Almost 4 months later, the bodies of all 114 men, still frozen and stuck in time, are recovered and are cremated with full military honors. Major Shaitan Singh’s body was sent to Jodhpur to be cremated and he was posthumously, awarded the Param Vir Chakra for his sacrifice.

Author

  • Founder of IADN. He has more than 10 years of experience in research and analysis. An award winning researcher, he writes for the leading defence and security journals, think-tanks and in-service publications. He is a senior consultant at the Indian Army Training Command (ARTRAC), Shimla. Contact him at: [email protected]

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