The battle of Longewala was one of the decisive Indian victories in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war and was indeed a turning point. In this article, we are going to discuss the Battle of longewala in detail.
The Pakistani leaders by the end of November 1971 had realized that East Pakistan was undefendable to Indian offensive actions. Thus they planned to gain as much area as possible to bring India to the negotiation table. It was quite clear that open conflict was inevitable.
The Pakistan High command decided to invade the western sector of India, with the ultimate target to capture Jaisalmer. Longewala lied en route to Jaisalmer and was supposed to be the temporary base for further advancement of Pakistani troops to Jaisalmer.
Pakistan formed a new division called 18 Division to execute this plan. The 18 division consisted of 2 armoured (the 38th cavalry consisting of Chinese type 59 tanks and 22nd cavalry consisting of American Sherman Tanks) and 2 infantry brigades (51 and 206 Infantry Brigades). The 18 divisions had the strength of 40 tanks, hundreds of armoured vehicles, and 2000 infantrymen.
Indian Defensive Measures
On the Indian side, the intelligence reports suggested a probable attack in the western sector. The 23rd battalion of the Punjab regiment was deployed to deal with it. A company from this battalion under the command of Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was deployed at Lonewala, whereas the rest of the battalion was deployed at Sadhewala, 17 km north of Longewala post.
The Longewala post was at the top of a high sand dune. It was well defended by barbed wire as well as natural barriers. The company was armed with a Jeep mounted M40 RCL gun, a section of L16 mortars, a section of MMGs, and also had PIAT anti-tank weapons. They also had direct artillery support from 168 and 170 field artillery regiments of the Indian Army
When Pakistan struck the Indian airfields on 3rd December, Major Kuldip Singh dispatched a recon team of 20 men headed by 2nd Lt. Dharam Veer Bhan to the pillar 638. This recon team proved to be instrumental in defending the attack when it passed on the early warning of the Pakistani armour movement on 4th December.
Major Kuldip Singh asked for reinforcement but was informed that it would take time for reinforcements to arrive. he was given two options either hold his post as long as he could or carry out a tactical retreat. Major Kuldip chose to defend his post as carrying a tactical retreat at night against a mobile enemy was far more dangerous. Major Kuldip’s men hastily deployed antitank mines around the post. While laying mines in a mishap a soldier was killed.
The Pakistani assault began on 5th December 0030 hrs. The Indian soldiers let the tanks lure as close as 30 meters from the post, as the tanks came in the range of the PIATs and then open fired. The M40 RCL gun proved to be quite effective as it was able to penetrate the thin top of the Pakistani tanks. The tanks when reached the barbed wire, interpreted that as a minefield and thus halted their advance. The steep sand dunes were also a headache for Pakistani tank crews. Meanwhile, the Indian soldiers had the advantage of height, continued to engage Pakistani soldiers like sitting ducks. Major Kuldip Singh went from bunker to bunker, boosting the morale of the Indian troops.
After two hours of intense fighting, it was discovered by the Pakistani sappers that there was no minefield at all. But mines and Indian soldiers were not the only enemies they were fighting with. Many armoured cars and tanks were bogged down in the soft sand, thus immobilized.
With the first light of dawn, the hawker hunters and the HF 24 Maruts of the Indian Airforce arrived. The Pakistani tanks were butchered by close air support. For the IAF pilots, it was just “Turkey Shoot” as the fighter jets were way beyond the range of 12.7 mm anti-aircraft guns of the Pakistani tanks.
The remaining Pakistani soldiers fled back to Pakistan. It was a decisive Indian Victory.
Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was awarded Mahavir Chakra, the second-highest wartime gallantry award in India, for his courage and exceptional leadership.
Being the first engagement in the western sector, and a humiliating defeat for Pakistan, the battle of Longewala proved to be a turning point in the 1971 war. Pakistan lost over 200 soldiers, 34 tanks, and hundreds of armoured vehicles and trucks. On the Indian side, only 2 men were killed.
The battle of Longewala made headlines even in Britain. Field Marshal R.M. Carver, the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, visited Longewala a few weeks after the war to learn the details of the battle from Maj. Chandpuri.
Battle of Longewala remains a perfect example of exceptional military planning, leadership, and valour. There are very few examples in history where only a handful of men repelled well-equipped thousands of soldiers and tanks, Longewala was one such battle.