Saga of unbelievable gallantry: Battle of Longewalla (1971) – Part-I

The Battle of Longewalla (1971) is being studied in every military college and military school in the world. Let us also know the details of this unbelievable saga of the gallantry of Indian soldiers. The author provides the details of this heroic battle in this two-part article. Read the first part.

All of us have heard: "Truth is stranger than fiction". There have been many true incidents in this world which can't be believed, but these incidents did happen. In the military history, there are remarkable victories against all odds. The Battle of Longewalla was one such incident. This incident happened during 4th September 1971 (night) to 7th September 1971 (early morning) at Longewalla border post. In this famous battle, 120 Indian soldiers of Alpha-Company of 23rd Punjab with 4 personnel of BSF under the gallant leadership of Major (later Brigadier) Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri held 2000 Pakistani Infantrymen, 45 tanks from Pakistan's 1/51 Mobile Infantry Brigade and more than 120 armoured carriers successfully for more than 8 hours. The force ratio was 2:47 in favour of Pakistan. Throughout the night of 4th September till the morning of 5th September, this huge Pakistani force could not overcome these 124 Indian men with small arms, two 81 mm mortars, one HMG and one jeep-mounted M-40 recoilless gun. These gallant soldiers destroyed around twelve tanks and beat back at least three infantry assaults of the Pakistanis.

In the early morning of 5th December 1971, the old and almost-abandoned Marut and Hunter aircraft of the World War-II era arrived from the nearest Airforce base at Jaisalmer. They did the rest. They simply destroyed the remaining tanks, armoured vehicles and mercilessly assaulted the retreating Pakistanis. According to the Indian Airforce Officers who took part in the assault, it was a 'Turkey shoot'. The Pakistani force commander abandoned the command and fled. He was later court-martialed. All the Pakistani Officers and soldiers who survived the Indian onslaught were later dismissed from service.

In every military college and military school of the world, the Battle of Longewalla is studied. I feel Indians must also know about the gallantry of Indian soldiers. Let us study this battle in details.

The background

By November1971, everybody in India knew that Pakistan was going to thrust another war. The torture on the Hindu populace in particular and the supporters of Sheikh Mujib, in general, were at a peak in East Pakistan. Pakistani Army, Navy and Air Force were fully geared up for the war. Fortunately, for once, Indian political and military establishments were also fully prepared to face the war. The strategy, objective and plan were chalked out to the minutest details.

In the Eastern theatre, India's initial plan was to capture as much area as possible. But later due to the innovative approach of Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh, Commander, 4th Corps, the plan was revised. India's Eastern Command moved towards Dhaka. Please read this article for further details: Successful Deception in War-time: Para-dropping at Tangail (1971)

On the other hand, in the Western Theatre, India's main objective was not to lose large chunks of the area to Pakistan. But, for this defensive objective, India took a semi-offensive approach. In Punjab and Rajasthan, Indian Army crossed the Western border.

Rajasthan-Sindh Border: November-December, 1971

By mid-November, Indian Army took over all the border posts from BSF. Longewalla, a border post near Jaisalmer in the desert, was also taken over by the Indian Army. Major (later Brigadier) Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri, along with Alpha-Company of 23 Punjab, took over the small border post from the BSF. Only BSF Commandant, Bhairon Singh, and another three BSF personnel remained in the post voluntarily, to help Alpha-Company to get adjusted with the topography of the desert.

Now, if we consider the larger picture, Southern Area Commander, Lt. Gen. (later General) GG Bewoor shifted his Area Headquarter from Poona (now Pune) to Jodhpur for the impending war. The Division and the 30 Infantry Brigade (Brigade HQ: Thanot) under which 23 Punjab was placed, were ready to cross the border. Only 23 Punjab (HQ at Saidewalla) including the Alpha-Company at Longewalla was assigned a defensive role. The nearest airbase was at Jaisalmer, where very old Marut and Hunter aircraft were available without any night-flying device. Clearly, Indian Southern Command didn't envisage any attack from Pakistan in this area.

Surprise attack of Pakistan

On 3rd December 1971, Pakistan declared war and Pakistan Air Force simultaneously attacked Indian airbases in North India. On 4th December, 1971, since evening, Pakistani Artillery started shelling the border post at Longewalla and the adjacent Tanot Mata Temple.

But the Almighty gave clear indication that a miracle was going to happen very soon. Not a single shell did any damage to the Temple.

(To be concluded in the second part)

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