“It was a cold winter morning at 16000 feet with icy winds howling through Rezang La… biting and benumbing.” The expected Chinese attack came through a ‘Nullah’, a dry river bed, but was repulsed with heavy machine gun fire by the brave Ahirs of Charlie Company. The enemy regrouped and attacked again and again with ever more reinforcements and finally managed to overrun the position. 109 of the 123 Jawans (soldiers) were killed. Of the 14 survivors, nine were seriously wounded. Almost everyone had fought to the last round and killed many more enemy soldiers. One estimate of Chinese casualties is close to 500 killed and wounded. Unmindful of own safety, Major Shaitan Singh, the Company Commander, went from post to post raising the morale of his men and continued to fight even after being seriously wounded. “While he was being evacuated by two of his comrades, the Chinese brought heavy machine gun fire on them. Major Shaitan Singh sensed danger to their lives and ordered them to leave him to his fate.” They placed him behind a boulder on the slopes of a hill, wherehe breathed his last and this is where he was found some days after the battle. Maj. Gen. Ian Cardozo, himself a Vir Chakra winner, writes in his Param Vir Chakra, Our heroes in Battle, that “When Rezang La was later revisited dead Jawans were found in the trenches still holding on to their weapons… every single man of this company was found dead in his trench with several bullet or splinter wounds. The 2-inch mortar man died with a bomb still in his hand. The medical orderly had a syringe and bandage in his hands when the Chinese bullet hit him… Of the thousand mortar bombs with the defenders all but seven had been fired and the rest were ready to be fired when the (mortar) section was overrun”.
Other heroes defending Rezang La who were awarded Vir Chakras were Naik Hukum Chand (posthumous), Naik Gulab Singh Yadav, Lance Naik Ram Singh (posthumous), Subedar Ram Kumar and Subedar Ram Chander. All hailed from the Revari district of Haryana where in Gudiani village stands a memorial for these brave sons of India.of the Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) fame and the CO of the battle hardened Ladakh Scouts. Awestruck by his presence among us , sucking oxygen from portable bottles we discovered that he was to be our tour guide in the wild and hostile territory. His easy camaraderie with our CO , Katta Dhillon (Later Air Cmde HS Dhillon AVSM, VM) had overwhelmed us.
The taste of the wild and vast expanse of the snow bound landscape had hit us as we got airborne again for the actual mission subsequently. From Leh we had come down the Indus river in a South Easterly direction whilst maintaining heights of about 16000 feet for abundant safety. That was to remain above ground between 1000 feet to 4000 feet in that sector to be able to return to Leh in the event of an engine failure. Neither were these territories declared fully friendly and nor were the landing grounds at Nyoma and Chushul considered safe and hospitable those days. At the sharp river bend on Indus about 35 kms South East of Chushul we had to undertake a labouring, spiralling climb to about 19000 feet to clear a range and then rapidly descended to 500 feet above ground , aligning ourselves along the road to Chushul. To get a feel of the intimidating ambience of the scene , the passenger cabin heaters were switched off in a non pressurized cabin ; the DC-3 is not pressurized and it was -40 degrees Celsius outside. Our CO wanted it that way. It was then Col Randhawa had shown us the choke point of the Rezang La in the hills and we had circled twice to pay our tributes to Late Major Shaitan Singh PVC and his valiant men. Eight years later, in the same month one more opportunity came my way to visit this shrine of the brave whilst returning in a Canberra PR 7 aircraft of No 106 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron from an operational mission in the twilight period of the 1971 war. The pilot, my Flight Commander, Channi ( Late Gp Capt Charanjit Singh VrC VSM) readily acquiesced to my request and made a low pass at about 100 feet and at 800 kph over the totally snow bound valley of Rezang La. The resounding reverberations would have echoed across the subcontinent instilling a sense of awe, I hope, in our neighbours about our resolve to defend our realm.