The Essence of Bravery: The Lot of the Soldier
While travelling on a flight from Singapore to Delhi I had the company of a fairly well to do businessman.He sat in the seat adjacent to mine. We got into a conversation and this man was pretty happy to know that I had served quality time in the armed forces. One comment by the man intrigued me. He mentioned that the forces in India were a pampered lot. I asked him what made him feel this way. He replied that the forces were given more than their due and also goodies like free rations and Rum.
I narrated to him two incidents from history and after hearing them he replied that he saw my point of view and did not grudge the perks of the armed forces. In fact,later he informed me that he had donated Rs one lakh to the armed forces welfare fund. This, he informed me by email a few weeks later. I shall now relate these two incidents in some detail.These incidents bring out the bravery of the soldier who even in the face of certain death will not say 'die' but go from this world, unsung and unknown.
The battle of Stalingrad in end 1943 is one of the most famous battles in world military history. The battle for the city between the German army and the Red army had bravery written on both sides. It was a death struggle. During this battle, the Soviet High Command under Marshal Stalin issued its famous order no 227. The order simply states that the Russian army would not " step back at all under any conditions...".
The stakes in the battle were high as a loss at Stalingrad on the river Volga would have opened the floodgates to the Wehrmacht to strike deep into Central Asia and on to India. Hitler at that time was formulating a plan for the invasion of India with the help of the Indian National army.
During this battle, the Russian 37th Infantry Guards division was holding a tractor factory. This division consisted about 10,000 soldiers and was commanded by Colonel Zholudev. The German army mounted an assault and there was bitter fighting, but the superiority of firepower gave victory to the German army. The guards had to cede the factory to the Germans.
Much later the commander of the Soviet group general Yeremenko called Colonel Zholudev and demanded an explanation as to why the factory had been lost despite the explicit order by the Russian High Command.This was tantamount to disobeying order no 227.
Colonel Zholudev replied with a grim and dark face, that the division performed its duty heroically and did not yield an inch to the German army.The colonel continued and informed the general, that the soldiers fought heroically and almost all the 10,000 perished as nobody retreated even an inch. This was in the face of repeated attacks by overwhelming numbers of the German army with heavy artillery and air support. He informed the General that almost all our officers and men died fighting to the last man and bullet. Surrender or retreat was never contemplated.
General Yeremenko realized the bravery of the division who had not disobeyed order 227, but all died as per their oath of allegiance. The factory was lost as all the 10,000 soldiers guarding it was overwhelmed and thus had shown exemplary bravery. This is a classic case of bravery where honor and oath were important even if it resulted in sure death. Later the Soviet army liberated Stalingrad and the German army under Von Paulos surrendered. 93000 Germans Soldiers became POWs. There can be no more classical example of bravery than this one.
Battle in Ladakh
Another incident which I narrated was the famous last stand by the Garhwal regiment under Major Shaitan Singh. This was during the Sino- India war of 1962.
As is well-known war clouds were hovering over the Himalayas for many months, but our prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru smug in his belief that he was a ' great world leader' could not see it. The Chinese made a tremendous buildup while the Indians just sat and watched. This is explicitly brought out by Brigadier Dalvi in his book " Himalayan Blunder". On 20th October 1962 the Chinese army threw in some 15 division against a handful of Indians. They almost had a walkover in the East And NEFA( Now Arunachal Pradesh).
The Chinese also mounted a ferocious attack in Ladakh. The Chinese had the most modern weaponry. The Indians, on the other hand, faced them with vintage .303, the First World War rifles. There was a severe battle around Chusul where the Chinese army came face to face with the force under Major Shaitan Singh. The Chinese mounted the attack with a propaganda barrage on loudspeakers asking the Indian army troops to surrender.They promised an honorable treatment to all who surrendered.
The Indians, however, held firm and repeated attacks by the Chinese made no headway. The Chinese now brought in heavy field guns and started a bombardment.The Indians soldiers still held firm,but slowly the men began to fall one by one. Major Shaitan Singh led the men heroically and died fighting in the mountain heights of the Himalayas. All the 400 men died fighting to the last man and bullet. The Chinese could not take a single prisoner. These facts came out later. In addition, in a rare admission Radio, Peking acknowledged the bravery of the Indian troops in a broadcast in November 1962. It is rare for an enemy to acknowledge the bravery of opposing troops. Major Shaitan was awarded the PVC, but this is small consolation to the 400 men who died unsung and unknown. I wonder if Nehru felt any remorse for the fallen warriors.
This narration of these incidents had a profound effect and my companion realized that bravery must be honored. There are some in India who still feel that the services are demanding too much. These people must realize that it is the soldier who makes the supreme sacrifice. The situation is now tense with the ISIS threatening India and local Muslims ( albiet at present a small minority) sympathetic to them.
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