When I go through the war history document of my regiment,faces of my colleagues who made the supreme sacrifice slide in front of my eyes, Brigadier (retd) R Jatar says as he talks about the famous war in Rezang La theatre in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. And as he draws plans to visit Rezang La to pay tribute to the martyrs later this year,going down the memory lane becomes unavoidable.
I was the commander of the Bravo and Delta companies of the 13 Kumaon battalion and we were holding the Magar Hill,which is adjacent to Rezang La where Major Shaitan Singh was commanding the Charlie company. On my left was the Spanggur gap with some features. Behind the gap was the battalion headquarters and behind Gurung Hill was the brigade headquarters. Chushul,which is about 14,000 feet,was the airfield,which was of immense importance for supplies and logistics. Magar Hill,where we were deployed,was thus ground of tactical importance and we were responsible for protecting the airfield, said Jatar,who was then a Major.
Firing began from the Chinese side on November 18,1962,around 4 am and continued till 9 am. My platoon,which was facing Shaitan Singhs Charlie company,heard the firing,but we were already under the Chinese artillery fire. The telephone lines of our unit were cut and the Commanding Officer in the battalion headquarters was frantic as the firing continued. I was told to send out a patrol to see what was happening with the Charlie company at Rezang La. I sent out four jawans,only two of whom returned. The other two died while patrolling the area, he says.
There was heavy casualty on the Chinese side so much so that their bodies were taken in about 25 trucks. When the 8 and 9 platoons repelled the assualt,the Chinese attacked the 7 platoon from the rear. Shaitan Singh,who,contrary to his name was the finest gentleman I have ever come across,went from company to company encouraging the troops to fight. As far as I recollect,three men lifted Major Shaitan Singh after he was hit by MMG fire. Just as they took him about 100 yards,he stopped them and told them to leave him there and return. When I saw the three coming back,I asked them why they had left him there. They said he had ordered them to do so. This was Shaitan Singh. Out of 126,114 jawans lost their lives.
While a Chinese attack was anticipated at Magar Hill held by Jatar,the Chinese chose not to do so. Jatars company pulled back on November 20,1962,while ceasefire was declared on November 21. When I became the CO of my battalion,I met the widows of Rezang La martyrs. I recollect that so valiant were our men that near the body of one of the soldiers Singh Ram the Chinese had left a note saying,Body of a brave Indian soldier, he said.
Brigadier Jatar and Colonel (retd) Sohan Roy of 15 Kumaon will visit Rezang La in August this year. Roy,a biker,has been to Rezang La twice and plans to visit the area on his bike this year.