Colonel (Retired) Alok Mathur, SM
Military history is replete with stories of valour and sacrifice. Each battle has a legend associated with it. These are repeated through generations, written about and in modern times, converted into films. There are two which have caught the international imagination – Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean war and the Bridge on the River Kwai. In recent times, the epic courage of Captain Vikram Batra and his colleagues during the Kargil War has become a folklore.
A new chapter has been added in such sagas of courage by the recent clash in Galwan, wherein, vastly outnumbered and under equipped Indian troops surprised by Chinese treachery fought back so ferociously that the enemy could not fructify his evil designs and went back with massive casualties. This clash is now being called as “Bridge over the River Galwan.”
Much as we need to fete the valour of our soldiers in this epic, it also opens a vista to look at the valour of the Indian Army during the Indo-China War of 1962, when Indian troops fought under extreme circumstances, outnumbered and outgunned, and yet gave to the Chinese a bloody nose.
On 07, October, 1950, Red China entered Tibet and surprised the world. Lhasa was under control of Peoples Liberation Army ( PLA) by November, 1950. Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, got worried as buffer state between two Asian stood neutralised in China’s favour. India recognised Tibet in what is deemed to be outright and unnecessary appeasement.
Chinese expansionism continued. It also took East Turkmenistan under completed control and, in 1956, covertly occupied Aksai Chin in Eastern Ladakh. It built a 179 km long Class 40 Highway called G219 to join Xinjiang and Tlbet. Either Indian intelligence agencies had no knowledge of what was going on or the Government chose to remain silent. Ultimately, a senior Congress MP, Mahavir Tyagi , raised a question in Parliament about occupation of Aksai Chin. Indian prime minister replied that the area occupied by Chinese forces was cold desert and, “why worry as not even a blade of grass grows in the region.” There was a uproar in the house. The veteran leader got up removed his cap and pointing at its bald head said, “Panditji there is no hair on my head shall I hand it over to somebody else.”
In October, 1960, China and Myanmar settled their border dispute based on the Macmahon Line. Now, there were reports that PLA was moving towards the Indian border. On 2 November, the same year, the cabinet committee on security approved a “forward policy” to be followed as a show of force by Indian troops deployed along the frontier with China. China claimed a lot of territory in NEFA and Ladakh. India protested and deployed its troops in hurry. Pandit Nehru was convinced by his Cabinet and a coterie of self serving military Generals that Chinese threat was hoax and they will never attack us.
China invaded India on 20, October, 1962, with the initial thrust in Pongong Tso and Chusul sector of East Ladakh and also Tawang and Walomg Sector in Arunachal Pradesh (NEFA). 7 Infantry Brigade occupying defences on Nam Ka Chur River Valley ceased to exist within 48 hours. Tawang garrison was abandoned by 23, October, 1962. Se La & Bomdi La Brigade Defended Sectors were lost after bitter fighting. Eagle Division was totally disintegrated. In Eastern Ladakh, ferocious fight was given to Chinese in Chip Chap River near Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) north of Galwan river; at Sirijap ahead of Finger 8, North of Pangong Tso Lake and at Rezang La ahead of Chusul Air field. The Chinese used psychological warfare to cause lack of morale among Indian forces prior to the offensive. During the offensive they used human waves tactics.
Despite the great odds, vintage weapons, limited ammunition, dizzying heights and inclement weather, the Indian troops fought valiantly. War suddenly ended as China declared unilateral ceasefire on 21, November, 1962. In NEFA, the PLA moved back to Macmahon Line but in Ladakh it maintained a forward posture.
There were heavy casualties on the lndian side even as stories of great heroism emerged from the debris of war. Three brave hearts were awarded Param Veer Chakras (PVC), two in East Ladakh and one at Bum La in Kameng sector.
IC-7990 Major (later Lt. Col) Dhan Singh Thapa, PVC
Major Dhan Singh Thapa was born on 10, April 1928 at Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. His father was Shri P S Thapa. He was commissoned in the 1st Battalion of 8 Gorkha Rifles, on 28, August, 1949. He was a very bold and daring officer and well loved by his troops. He was married to Mrs. Shukla Thapa.
Major Thapa fought the war with his Battalion at Sirijap No 1 Post on the Northern bank of Pangong Tso Lake .The Blue Lake, is located in Eastern Ladakh approximately 160 kms from Leh via Karu, Shakti and Changa La pass. Darbuk and Village Lokhum is on the western edge. It is at an altitude of 14270 Feet, approximately 134 kms long West to East and 5 km in width North to South. Line of actual Control (LAC) bisects in to two parts from North to South. The Eastern part extending up to 80 kms is with China (Tibet) and 54 kms long western part is with India. In the present times also it is a hot spot.
The unit of Major Thapa was deployed on Northern bank of Pangong Tso Lake all along the Northern spurs now called Fingers 1 to 8. There were two posts ahead of Finger 8, Sirijap 2 and Sirijap 1. His company was deployed on both the posts, he was himself right in front when it was attacked by a Chinese regiment in overwhelming strength. At first light of 20 October, 1962, after being subjected to intensive heavy Artillery bombardment ,under his gallant command the greatly outnumbered post repulsed the first attack inflicting heavy casualties on the aggressors. After a short lull, a second attack supported by heavy shelling was launched by the enemy, this was also repulsed and there were Chinese soldiers lying dead all over. The third attack supported` by enemy tanks followed at a time when the post had suffered almost 75% casualties of its deployed strength. As the Chinese came in close quarter battle ensued. Major Thapa, with his few remaining troops let out the fierce Gorkha war cry “Aao Gorkhali “ and jumped upon the Chinese with Khukhris beheading and killing several of them. The posts fought to the last man and last bullet. The Chinese suffered heavy casualties.
It was assumed that all troops holding the post had fallen. however, a few survived and were taken prisoner. Major Dhan Singh Thapa will be remembered for ever to give Red troops a bloody nose. While in captivity Major Thapa never disclosed his rank to Chinese and, as a result, he was declared missing, presumed dead .His last rites were carried by his family at Lucknow. When he returned along with the other prisoners, his family was overjoyed. He was not allowed to meet his wife till he was declared reborn after dip in Ganges and performance of the rebirth ceremony. He was later promoted as Lieutenant Colonel and on retirement served as Director in Sahara Airlines. Shipping Corporation of India launched a cargo vessel in his name. The living legend died on 5 September 2005
IC-6700 Major Shitan Singh Bhati, PVC (Posthumous)
Major Shaitan Singh, a Bhati Rajput, was born on 1 December, 1924 at Village Barasar, Tehsil Phauldi , Jodhpur. His father Lt. Col. Hem Singh had served in Jodhpur Risala (cavalry). During World War I, his father bravely fought in France and was severely wounded. For his exceptional bravery, he was awarded Order of British Empire (OBE).
Major Shaitan Singh did his schooling at Rajput High School Chaupasani, which is the alma mater of many military heroes and brave hearts; he later graduated from Jaswant College Jodhpur, in 1947.He had a cool temperament and was an ace football player. He was commissioned into Jaipur State Forces in October, 1949. On merger of state forces into the Indian Union, he was posted to 13 Kumaon and was actively involved in counter-insurgency operations in Naga Hills as a Captain. Later, he also participated in Operation Polo in 196 for liberation of Goa.
During the Chinese aggression in October, 1962, the Chusul Brigade was commanded by Brig T N Raina. 13 Kumaon was given area in East and Southeast Sector. Major Shaitan Singh was appointed Company Commander of C company and tasked to give depth to Chusul Airfield from South-East gap at Rezang la. The altitude was more than 17000 feet and temperature below zero degree . Cold winds were howling and suppressing enemy movements.
Rezang la company locality, being at a tangent, was isolated from main defended area. It consisted of 5 platoon defended positions including two contingencies. The war was in its 28th day. 1/ 8 GR Company North of Pongong Tso was already neutralised on 20, October, 1962 in an initial attack. It was a long wait. Chinese Artillery bombarded the Charlie company location with high density.
The attack came in overwhelming strength, in several wave supported by mortars and medium machine guns.. Major Shaitan Singh moved from one platoon to the other without fear, personally motivating his men to fight on till last man last bullet. Against heavy odds his troops were ready to die for him and they beat back successive waves. While moving from bunker to bunker, he was hit in chest by a LMG burst which wounded him seriously.
The company of 120 fought gallantly blunting many enemy attacks. Every soldier accounted for 10 enemy soldiers since the Chinese Battalion had approximately 1000 killed /wounded. Later, in February, 1963, 98 frozen bodies were recovered with weapons in hand. 16 bodies could not be found. Six soldiers though badly wounded survived and linked up with Battalion to describe the valour of the Ahirs. Most of the troops were from Rewari Haryana. To honour the brave hearts, a memorial has been built by 13 Kumaon at Rezang la.
JC-6547 Subedar Joginder Singh, PVC (Posthumous)
Subedar Joginder Singh was son of a farmer named Sardar Sher Singh Shanan. He was born on 28, September, 1921 at village Mahlakalan , Moga, Distict Faridkot. He was enrolled in 1 Sikh on 28, September, 1936. He was an excellent sportsman and a motivated, daring soldier. He was married to Bibi Gursharn Kaur. He served during World War II at the Burma front and later at Srinagar during Indo-Pakistan War, 1947/48. He was a platoon commander during the Indo-China War, 1962.
I Sikh was holding main defences at Tawang Garrison along with 4 Gharwal and an Artillery Regiment. Subedar Joginder Singh was tasked to man an advance position on Bum La-Tawang axis East of Thang la ridge along with a platoon of Assam Rifles.
The defences were attacked by 7 battalions on 20, October, 1962. Subedar Joginder Singh, deployed his platoon at Tongpen La slightly in rear but in a dominating position to ambush the Chinese. He reported heavy movement and concentration of Chinese well in advance to his Battalion Headquarters.
He came to know that Chinese Force 419 had attacked Indian battalions deployed in Nam Ka Chu valley 0n 20, October, 1962 and a fierce battle was in progress there. 9 Punjab, 2 Rajput, 4 Grenadiers were under heavy bombardment . The battle was over in 24 hours and the Chinese were heading for Tawang. Subedar Joginder Singh was ready on the parallel axis where an attack by 11 Chinese Division commenced. The first wave of 200 Chinese assaulted at first light of 23 October 1962. Sikhs mowed down the first assault. The second wave followed, again I Sikh stood firm. Gradually as the attacks progressed the Platoon suffered heavy casualties and ammunition started depleting . Subedar Joginder was also wounded.
Meanwhile the third wave was upon them, the Sikhs fired the last bullet and then Subedar Joginder Singh ordered his boys to fix bayonet and assault the Chinese. The War cry of” Bole so Nihal” reverberated the battleground. Each Singh killed 10 Chinese. Subedar Joginder Singh was severely wounded, the Chinese overpowered him and evacuated him to their medical post where he succumbed to injuries, He was nicknamed Tiger by the then commanding officer of 1 Sikh.
Times have changed but the valour of the Indian soldier remains constant. China could not stand up to it nearly six decades back, it cannot stand up to it even now. In fact, in the present scenario, its misadventure will come at great cost. It is hoped that good sense will prevail.