Saga of unbelievable gallantry: Battle of Longewalla (Part-II)

In the second part of this two-part article, the Battle of Longewalla has been described. Some of the drawbacks of Indian higher command has also been touched upon. Read this part to know the saga of the miraculous victory.

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

As already mentioned, Pakistani Army started Artillery shelling on Longewalla post since the evening of 4th December 1971. The shelling was partially successful to hide the sound of the movement of the armoured column. A patrol from the Longewalla post was sent at night by Major Chandpuri. The patrol under Lt. Veer reported that a 20-kilometre long armoured column with 45 tanks, 120 vehicles and around 2000 soldiers was moving towards the Longewalla post from Pakistan. Major Chandpuri ordered Lt. Veer to trail the column and informed the higher command at Saidewalla and at Thanot about the Pakistani armoured movement. He sought the order from his higher command.

Major Chandpuri's decision

Battalion Headquarter, Brigade Headquarter and Divisional Headquarter were totally unprepared. But they understood that Major Chandpuri's Alpha-Company was going to be annihilated in no time. Even then, the higher command left the decision of withdrawal to Major Chandpuri himself. Major Chandpuri took the momentous decision. After a very brief discussion with the soldiers and BSF personnel, he decided to hold the post at any cost.

The unequal battle began

Fortunately the trenches and bunkers had been dug. The jeep-mounted recoilless gun, which was earlier sent to Saidewalla (Battalion Headquarter), returned to the border post at breakneck speed. It was kept at one flank. Another flank was manned by the HMG. The soldiers hastily placed some anti-tank mines near the border. And more significantly, there was a barbed wire fence of three stands. This small enclosure was actually to keep BSF camels within this enclosure. But this small enclosure was going to play a very significant role in this Battle.

Pakistani armoured column entered India with their war-cry. The Pakistani Force Commander asked Major Chandpuri and his soldiers to surrender or to die. Alpha Company of 23 Punjab replied in unison: "Waheguru da Khalsa, Waheguru di Fateh". The armoured attack began.

The armoured assault started but stopped within a couple of minutes. The recoilless gun drew the first blood with the first fire. A tank was destroyed. Almost immediately another Pakistani T-59 tank was destroyed by an anti-tank mine. The tank-men fled leaving behind the burning tank. But immediately the infantry assault came.

'The fog of war' came to play its role. Pakistanis took the barbed wire fence for camels as a minefield. As a result, they took a round-about way to attack the post. The Indians were on a higher ground, the night was a full-moon night and the two tanks were burning brightly. There was no cover for the Pakistani infantrymen. Major Chandpuri's soldiers fired intelligently, killed many Pakistani soldiers and the assault gradually petered out.

In the meantime, Lt. Veer's patrolling party returned to the post, unharmed. Pakistan made another armoured attack, but again it was unsuccessful. Another two infantry attacks were launched on the post. But these were in vain. The Pakistani Sappers lost more than two valuable hours to check and find that there was no minefield in the barbed enclosure. The Sun started rising slowly in the east. Pakistani attack could not overcome the valiant Indian soldiers. Only two Indian soldiers died in the attack. Twelve tanks were destroyed by the Indian soldiers. Many Pakistani infantrymen lost their lives.

Role of Jaisalmer airbase

Throughout the night not a single person in the Jaisalmer airbase slept. Wing Commander Tully ensured that each and every aircraft in the airbase were in perfect flying condition. Throughout the night, the maintenance staff worked to make the aircraft airworthy. The pilots were all awake. They were ready to go for the kill. But there was one handicap. In the absence of night-flying devices, all the Marut and Hunter aircraft were 'blind' at night.

It was 4.30 a.m. It was still dark. The first two aircraft were airborne with the help of torchlights. The pilots knew that the rising Sun would guide them once they were airborne. The aircraft slowly went towards Ramgarh. They anticipated that after overcoming Longewalla post, the armoured column would move towards Jaisalmer by Ramgarh-Jaisalmer Road. But, to their astonishment, they did not find a single enemy tank on that road. They turned towards Longewalla post.

What these two pilots saw at Longewalla was nothing short of a miracle. The saw tanks ablaze, dead and wounded Pakistani soldiers all around the post and most importantly, the attack had been stalled by the soldiers of Indian Army. They immediately intimated the position to the airbase and attacked the stalled tanks. Very soon, other Maruts and Hunters joined the killing party. The Pakistani tanks, vehicles and soldiers were literally sitting ducks. They were annihilated during the entire day. Not a single tank could retreat. Very few vehicles managed to survive. The vehicles and remaining Pakistani soldiers fled towards Rahim Yar Khan. The Pakistani Commander had left the command and fled much earlier. This was a decisive victory for India.

An introspection

India was victorious in this unbelievable battle. But, at the same time, the Battle of Longewalla clearly indicated an intelligence failure. Indian Army did not have an inkling of movement of such a large armoured column till the last moment. Not only that, even after the victory, India's Southern Command did not exploit the situation and put pressure on Rahim Yar Khan. Had it been done, Pakistani 1 Corps fighting against India's 1 Corps in Pakistani Punjab would be in a precarious situation. But let us not go into these details.

Paying respect to our war heroes

Major Kuldeep Singh Chanpuri was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra for his exemplary leadership. He later became Brigadier in due course. Many others involved in the battle received other gallantry awards. The then Defence Minister, Jagjivan Ram, congratulated the soldiers for making a grave of Pakistani tanks at Longewalla. British Chief of Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal RM Carver visited the battle scene immediately after the war and saw the miracle which had taken place two weeks before his visit.

Only day before yesterday (17th November 2018) Brigadier Chandpuri has left this world. Let us avail this opportunity to pay our respect to him and his comrades in Army and Air Force who made the miracle possible by their gallantry.

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