The Param Virs of Sino-Indian War

Introduction

They say that the most inspiring stories come from the most difficult struggles. And so, this January, we’re remembering the struggles of the Indian Army who deserve to have their stories known.

The Sino-Indian War

The year was 1962. The relatively young independent India was still having problems with its neighbours (no thanks to you Britain). And some of the more serious conflicts were the land conflicts with China.

China did not respect India’s claim to the Aksai Chin region in Ladakh and India’s official borders of Arunachal Pradesh. To deal with this the Indian government implemented a “forward policy” and set up small military posts in the conflict areas. The back and forth between India and China grew uglier by the day and what followed was the Sino-Indian war. The following stories recount the struggles of the battlefield.

Lieutenant Colonel Dhan Singh Thapa PVC:

On 21st October 1962, Chinese troops advanced to the north of Pangong Lake, intending to capture Indian territory. D company of the 1st Battalion, under the command of Major Dhan Singh Thapa was tasked to man the post there.

The official reports say:

Major Dhan Singh Thapa was in command of a forward post in Ladakh. On 20 October it was attacked by the Chinese in overwhelming strength after being subjected to intensive artillery and mortar bombardment. Under his gallant command, the greatly outnumbered post repulsed the attack, inflicting heavy casualties on the aggressors. The enemy attacked again in greater numbers after heavy shelling by artillery and mortar fire. Under the leadership of Major Thapa, his men repulsed this attack also with heavy losses to the enemy. The Chinese attacked for the third time, now with tanks to support the infantry. The post had already suffered large numbers of casualties in the earlier two attacks. Though considerably reduced in number it held out to the last. When it was finally overrun by overwhelming numbers of the enemy, Major Thapa got out of his trench and killed several of the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting before he was finally overpowered by Chinese soldiers. Major Thapa’s cool courage, conspicuous fighting qualities and leadership were in the highest traditions of our Army.
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The Chinese captured him as a prisoner of war and forced him to undergo a series of punishments against military convention.

However, he was released after the war ended and was awarded with the Param Vir Chakra.

Subedar Joginder Singh PVC:

In another part of the country, the Chinese were moving towards Towang, Arunachal Pradesh when they encountered an Indian platoon commanded by Subedar Joginder Singh. Quoting from the official reports:

Subedar Joginder Singh was the commander of a platoon of the Sikh Regiment holding a defensive position at a ridge near Tongpen La in NEFA. At 0530 hours on 23 October 1962, the Chinese opened a very heavy attack on the Bum la axis with the intention of breaking through to Towang. The leading battalion of the enemy attacked the ridge in three waves, each about 200 strong. Subedar Joginder Singh and his men mowed down the first wave, and the enemy was temporarily halted by the heavy losses it suffered. Within a few minutes, a second wave came over and was dealt with similarly. But the platoon had, by then, lost half its men. Subedar Joginder Singh was wounded in the thigh but refused to be evacuated. Under his inspiring leadership the platoon stubbornly held its ground and would not withdraw. Meanwhile the position was attacked for the third time. Subedar Joginder Singh himself manned a light machine-gun and shot down a number of the enemy. The Chinese however continued to advance despite heavy losses. When the situation became untenable Subedar Joginder Singh and the few men that were left in the position fixed bayonets and charged the advancing Chinese, bayoneting a number of them before he and his comrades were overpowered. Throughout this action, Subedar joginder Singh displayed devotion to duty, inspiring leadership and bravery of the highest order.

He was later captured by the Chinese army where he succumbed to his injuries. He was posthumously awarded with the highest military honour the Param Vir Chakra.

Major Shaitan Singh:

In the wee hours of a cold November day, the Chinese army attacked the 13th Battalion of Kumaon regiment, Charlie ‘C’ company positioned in the Chushul sector at an altitude of 5000 m from sea level. Major Shaitan Singh commanded his troops and fought against the much better armed Chinese.

The official statement released while awarding him with the Param Vir Chakra (posthumous) described his valor as:

Major Shaitan Singh was commanding a company of an Ahir infantry battalion deployed at Rezang La in the Chushul sector at a height of about 16,000 feet. The locality was isolated from the main defended sector and consisted of five platoon-defended positions. On 18 November 1962, the Chinese forces subjected the company position to heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire and attacked it in overwhelming strength in several successive waves. Against heavy odds, our troops beat back successive waves of enemy attack. During the action, Major Shaitan Singh dominated the scene of operations and moved at great personal risk from one platoon post to another sustaining the morale of his hard-pressed platoon posts. While doing so he was seriously wounded but continued to encourage and lead his men, who, following his brave example, fought gallantly and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. For every man lost to us, the enemy lost four or five. When Major Shaitan Singh fell disabled by wounds in his arms and abdomen, his men tried to evacuate him but they came under heavy machine-gun fire. Major Shaitan Singh then ordered his men to leave him to his fate in order to save their lives. Major Shaitan Singh’s supreme courage, leadership and exemplary devotion to duty inspired his company to fight almost to the last man.

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These stories of brave men inspire the determination to face adversity with courage. Moreover, they inspire us to give our best in what we do. I personally derive the strength to just hold on from them. Whatever be your own learning from army stories, I think we all can agree upon one thing – the army does much more than just protect us.

Article by Akriti

Illustrations by Ritu

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