November 15, 2002
Forty years ago, India suffered the ignominy of a military debacle at the hands of the People’s Liberation Army of China. Strategic analysts now attribute the Himalayan blunder to the untenable ‘Forward Policy’ and Pandit Nehru’s diktat to a fund-starved, ill-equipped, ill-clad and unprepared army to ‘throw out the Chinese’. Painful memories of that defeat still linger in the national psyche. However, what is not so well known is that there were many instances of raw courage and indomitable spirit even during the embarrassing course of the 1962 campaign. One such battle was fought at Rezangla, near Chushul in Ladakh.
In a battle without parallel in the annals of modern military history, over a hundred men of Charlie company, 13 Kumaon, fought to the ‘last man, last round’ on November 18, 1962. Employing their famous ‘human wave’ tactics, the Chinese launched determined, multi-directional attacks against the isolated forward post. Surrounded and heavily outnumbered, the men fought back with a vengeance. They suffered many casualties and finally ran out of ammunition, but they neither retreated nor surrendered.
It was only when the Chinese permitted the Indian army to collect the bodies in February 1963 that the nation learnt the truth about the heroic fight put up by these valiant warriors.
All over the Rezangla defences, brave young men lay dead in their bunkers and trenches. They were still clutching their cold weapons in their stiff hands. Ammunition ‘empties’ were strewn all around them. Some had even charged at the attacking Chinese in a last inspired burst of raw courage.
In ‘Lest We Forget’, Amarinder Singh has written: ‘‘In an unusual mark of respect for which the Chinese are not usually noted, their bodies had been covered with blankets, pegged down with bayonets. There could have been no greater tribute to their courage than this acknowledgement by their enemy.’’
In all, 96 bodies were recovered from the battlefield. Subsequently, in 1965, almost three years later, a shepherd recovered two bodies. Ten men of the Charlie company remained unaccounted for. The Chinese took six severely wounded men prisoners of war. Of these, two escaped miraculously and rejoined the battalion.
Indeed, on that cold November day, Charlie company, 13 Kumaon, added a new chapter of unflinching devotion to duty and supreme courage under the most adverse circumstances to the Indian army’s glorious traditions of valour and sacrifice in the service of the nation.
No nation could have expected more from the young keepers of its frontiers. No trained body of spirited young soldiers could have possibly fought to the muzzle as these men did.
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