Major Dhan Singh Thapa
On a cold and unfortunate September day at Srijap near Pangongso Lake (Ladakh) the sky was covered in dust. Bunkers had collapsed and ravaging fire danced over them. Horrifying sounds of men screaming for help cut through the constant cacophony of gunshots mortar fire war cries and explosions. In a trench soldiers took cover from heavy bombardment from enemies. A young officer crawled into fetal position hid into a corner. He was shell shocked, he’d never seen such death and destruction. Afraid he covered his eyes and ears to block everything, hoping it will all end. Suddenly he feels a hand tap on his shoulder and his blood froze, he was certain his end was near. When he turned the face of a rugged man. The man grabbed his arm and thrusted a rifle into his arm. The man looking rugged had calm in his eyes with firm voice he asked
“Are you not a gorkha warrior?”
Shaking and shivering with fear the young officer replied “yes”.
The man said ” then take this rifle and fight”.
“You’re not going to die, and if you do” the man turned to address all soilers in that trench,
“none of you are going to die, each of you owe me 10 enemies. If youre going to die youll take 10 enemies with you”.
He roared ”Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali !”
And the chants followed that shook the waiting Chinese assault to their core. This man was Major Dhan Singh Thapa.
Dhan Singh Thapa was born to P. S. Thapa on 10 April 1928, in the lap of queen of hills Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. Raised near the mountains, he possessed all the qualities of a Gorkha he was strong and fearless. An energetic kid since birth he excelled in both studies and sports. Looking at the armed forces personnel in his town he knew what he wanted to be, an Indian Army officer. He worked hard to convert his dreams into reality.
He joined the 1st Battalion, 8 Gorkha Rifles on 28 August 1949, and received a temporary commission as a second lieutenant on 21 February 1951, with promotion to lieutenant on 21 February 1953.He received a permanent commission as a lieutenant on 29 September 1956, and was promoted captain on 21 February 1957
Life as officer
Being a gorkha it was a matter of great pride for him to be part of Gorkha rifles. He was fiercely loyal towards his country and conducted his duties diligently. He was a strict officer and was very punctual. He would berate any soldier found at fault during training. He told his soldiers training under his command “mistakes in shooting range are not acceptable”. He took utmost care of every soldiers working under his command, to the soldiers he was a father figure. He believed ‘ordinary man can become Extraordinary, if he rises in face of challenges’. He performed his duties with utmost dedication. Once he was down with sickness and couldn’t even move, and an inspection of his unit was scheduled the very same day. He called for 4 soldiers who helped him get up on his feat and to his car, he drove himself to the office and completed the inspection.
But this strict man also had a softer side. He was a man of cheerful disposition. He took great interest in sports and was a good footballer during his academy days. He loved playing cards and board games, a movie buff who would often shed a tear if it was downhearted. He was an army man first and family man next. Even after retirement he loved to attend any Army Function. He was a strong willed person, despite suffering from kidney failures he still went to attend his last republic day parade. If anyone used to ask him how he was, he would give a charming smile and reply “ I’m fit and fine’.
China gained its independence from British few years after India in 1949. Britishers had left both the countries in ruins. This created a feeling for empathy between the two nations. India’s then Pm Jawahar Lal Nehru envisioned both countries rising from the ashes together and gave the slogan “ Hindi Cheeni bhai bhai”, Indian and Chinese brothers. But goodwill was met with deception and distrust.
There had been long disagreement between India and China over disputed borders in the Himalaya region. To counter the increasing threat of Chinese intrusions into disputed territory, pm Jawaharlal Nehru approved the “Forward Policy” plan , which called for the establishment of a number of small posts facing the Chinese.
On the night of 20 October 1962, the Chinese forces attacked the eastern sector of the Indian defences. The same night they assaulted and overran the posts at Galwan, Chip Chap, and Pangong areas of Ladakh. On 21 October, they advanced to north of Pangong Lake, with the objective of capturing Sirijap and Yula
The post Srijap 1 was established on the northern bank of Pangong lake by the 1st Battalion, 8 Gorkha Rifles. The post was strategically important for the defense of Chusul airfield. D Company of the 1st Battalion, under the command of Major Dhan Singh Thapa, was tasked to man the post, and was responsible for an area of 48 square Kilometres. The post was manned only by 28 men of D company. Meanwhile, the Chinese set up three posts around it. On 19 October 1962, with the arrival of heavy infantry troops, the strength of Chinese forces around Srijap 1 witnessed a drastic increase. This caused Major Thapa to anticipate an attack; he ordered his troops to “dig fast and dig deep”.
Early morning on on 20 October the Chinese launched their first attack. They open fired with artillery and mortar which lasted for two-and-a-half hours providing good cover for their infantry, who moved towards the post. By the time shelling ended, around 600 Chinese troops had closed to within 150 yards (140 m) of the rear of the post. On the sight of the Chinese, the Gorkhas immediately started firing with light machine guns (LMG) and rifles, killing a large number of Chinese. The Chinese artillery caused many casualties on the Indian sideand managed destroy the communications of D Company .
Major Thapa, with his second-in-command, Subedar Min Bahadur Gurung, continuously moved from place to place adjusting the defenses and boosting the soldiers’ morale. the Chinese started attacking the post with incendiary bombs. The Gorkhas countered with hand grenades and small arms fire.
By The second Chinese wave the post only had seven men left, with Major Thapa still holding the command. In the second wave Chinese assault was supported by amphibious craft, each armed with a heavy machine. In the meantime two storm boats which had been sent by battalion headquarters to find out the status of Srijap 1 reached the location. Both the boats were fired upon by the Chinese. One of the boats sank, but the other although heavily damaged managed to escape.
Chinese third assault included tanks. Only three brave soldiers including Major Dhan Singh Thapa survived at the post. A bomb fell into Major Thapa’s bunker. Injured, tired and starved Major Thapa was not down in spirt, with super human effort he miraculously managed to escape. He came out Though ammunition was exhausted, Thapa jumped into the trenches and killed many intruders in hand-to-hand combat.
He continued to fight but was later overpowered and taken prisoner by Chinese forces. At battalion headquarters Naik Thapa reported that Srijap 1 had fallen with no survivors. Unbeknownst to him, the last three survivors had been taken prisoner.It was not known until much later that Major Thapa had been taken prisoner by the Chinese
Prisoner of War
Major Thapa was treated poorly as a prisoner of war. Against military convention he was forced to undergo a series of punishments for killing Chinese troops. He was asked to make statements against the Indian Army and the Indian government, Major Thapa blatently refused. He was tortured brutally to bring him into submission. But he didn’t faltered and didn’t loose his spirits.Back home he was presumed killed in action, and with great sadness his last rites were performed. After the war ended Chinese bureau announced the list of prisoners if war on radio. Everyone was surprised and elated with joy on hearing his name. He was released after the war ended in November 1962. For his gallantry actions on 20 October 1962, Major Thapa was awarded the Param Vir Chakra.
Thapa was a true patriot and even after going through a gruesome war, taking prisoner of war, surviving in Chinese captivation he still had the will and strength to serve his nation. He continued to serve in the Indian Army. Major Dhan singh Thapa was promoted to the lieutenant-colonel on 28 February 1970. He retired from the Army on 30 April 1980.Post-retirement, Thapa settled down in Lucknow, and served for a brief period as a director with Sahara Airlines. On 5 September 2005, Thapa bid the mortal world farewell. He was survived by his wife, Shukla Thapa and three children.
In 1980s, the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI), a Government of India enterprise under the aegis of the Ministry of Shipping, named one of its fifteen crude oil tankers in honor of the PVC recipient Major Dhan Singh Thapa.
Major Dhan singh Thapa dedicated his life in the service of nation He remained a true patriot at heart till his last breath. His life and work radiate the lessons of discipline, determination and courage. He shall remain immortal in annals of history and our memories. His actions will continue to inspire others for generations.
Shaurya Bharat Team salutes his utmost dedication and selfless service to the nation. His sacrifices shall never be forgotten. He will continue to live in our hearts and the hearts of every Indian patriots. Each of our actions shall continue to be inspired by his, and our lives to be molded under his image.