Pakistan publicly signed the Instrument of Surrender. It was the largest military surrender since World War II and a battle that demonstrated why the Indian Army is considered one of the best.
It is important that our youth should know the history of the sacrifices made by our brave soldiers in historical wars, such as the Battle of Longewala in 1971, which is often referred to as one of the Indian Army’s heroic battles: “The 1971 Battle of Longewala. The India army made our nation proud by winning some major battles in the past and has been active since forever to date.
The nation is secure, progressing, and developing when it can be shielded from external threats. Our army has demonstrated this by defeating Pakistan in four intense battles, showcasing to the world and in history that India possesses the power to overcome countries like China and Pakistan, thereby aspiring to become a world superpower.
Battles like Longewala are one of the historic battles fought by the Indian army during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It stands as one of the greatest Indian army victories, headed by Major Kuldip Singh in the Indo-Pak War of 1971. On December 3, 1971, Pakistan launched pre-emptive airstrikes on 11 Indian airbases, most of which were in the northwestern Indian region. This marked the beginning of the Second Indo-Pak war, one of the shortest wars in history, lasting for 13 days. At the end of the war, India had lost more than 2000 soldiers, 75 tanks, and 43 aircraft. In addition, India took 9300 soldiers as Prisoners of War from East Pakistan. In terms of territory, India gained 1500 square miles, while Pakistan only gained 50 square miles.
The war led to the liberation of Eastern Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh). All three wings—the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy—valiantly fought in the war. As India emerged victorious, Pakistan publicly signed the Instrument of Surrender. It was the largest military surrender since World War II and a battle that demonstrated why the Indian Army is considered one of the best.
Why was the Indo Pak war of 1971 war fought?
Pakistan launched the brutal genocide ‘Operation Searchlight’ to curb the Bengali resistance. The Bengalis wanted independence from the oppressive Pakistani rule. As their leader proclaimed independence, the Pakistani military unleashed its brutally designed massacre. The perpetrators killed thousands of Bangladeshis including young students and barbarically raped thousands of Bangladeshi women. Many academicians argue that it was the first time that rape was consciously used as a war weapon.
The 1971 Indo-Pak war was fought as a result of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war. At first, India provided refuge support to the Bangladeshis who had fled the atrocities. But this could not be a long-term solution. Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, tried to put international pressure on Pakistan to withdraw. Finally, in December 1971, the Indian Army captured Eastern Pakistan, which later declared its independence as Bangladesh.
The Battle of Longewala
The Battle of Longewala was one of the remarkable battles fought during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Longewala is situated in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. The International Border (IB) is situated 18kms away from the BSF Post of Longewala. During the battle, the BSF had vacated the post and a company of 120 men of Indian Army’s 23 Battalion of the Punjab Regiment took over. Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri led the company at Longewala. The rest of the 23 Punjab had moved to Sadhewala to capture Rahimyar Khan.
Both India and Pakistan believed that the deserts of Rajasthan and Sindh were not conducive to any major operations. Despite this, India decided to launch its forces from Sadhewala- Tanot- Kishangarh. It planned to capture Rahimyar Khan (Pakistan) and disrupt Lahore- Karachi rail-road link. However, Pakistan intelligence found about this plan. It thought that India still considered a large-scale operation as unfeasible in the desert. Hence, there will be no effective opposition from the Indian side. Moreover, it felt that India had not activated Jaisalmer’s airbase. So, they did not expect to encounter major action there. Based on all these assumptions, Pakistan was all set to launch a fully packed attack on India in the Battle of Longewala.
The Longewala post had underdeveloped defences, lacking mines or barbed wire erections. However, a single strand wire, initially installed by the BSF to corral camels, later proved advantageous. During the attack, it created a false impression for the enemy that a minefield surrounded the post. The force of 120 men, led by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, was equipped with two medium machine guns, two 81 mm mortars, and four shoulder-fired rocket launchers for anti-tank defence. On December 5, two jeep-borne 106mm recoilless guns and three AMX light tanks arrived to provide additional support, this is what prominent writer Arnub Kummar Das has written in one of his article the battle of Longewala.
The Beginning of the Battle
The Battle of Longewala began on the intervening night of December 4th-5th when Pakistan crossed the International Border (IB) to capture Ramgarh, aiming to neutralize the airbases at Jaisalmer. A platoon led by Lt. Dharamvir Singh detected the enemy’s cross-border entry. Lt. Singh promptly informed Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri about the intrusion across the IB. An Army Air Observation Post aircraft confirmed the entry, revealing that a 20km long armoured Pakistani 18 Infantry Division was advancing toward the Longewala post.
With approximately 3000 soldiers, dozens of armed personnel, around 60 Chinese T-59 tanks, and more than 500 trucks and vehicles, the enemy outnumbered the Indian Army. Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri urgently sought help from the battalion headquarters, but it would take at least 6 hours to arrive. Therefore, he decided to prepare his men for the impending Battle of Longewala. Meanwhile, Lt. Dharamvir continued shadowing the enemy, relaying their southward progress to Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri.
The Pakistani army, with around 3000 soldiers, had a numerical advantage over the Indian Army. Their plan was bold, anticipating a tank battle. They dispatched the 51 Bde and 22 Cavalry with its superior tank state to Ramgarh, while sending the 38 Group Cavalry to Jaisalmer. The 206 Bde would follow and capture the Longewala battalion. The Pak Air Force could only provide air cover from the next day.
Drawbacks that Pakistan faced during the war
However, Pakistan made major flaws in implementing the plan during the Battle of Longewala. To support troop movement in the desert terrain, they lacked suitable transport and used carriers and tractor trolleys. Unfortunately, these vehicles got stuck in the sand.
As a result, they were only able to cross 30 kilometers from the border by the morning of December 4. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 18 Infantry Division ordered the troops to disperse until the last light of the night. Their arrangements for repairs during the battle were inadequate, leading to the abandonment of some tanks that required engine replacements. To overcome these shortcomings, they strapped each tank with an additional fuel drum. Unfortunately, this strategy proved extremely fatal when the Indian Air Force attacked the tanks later.
The Ground Combat
The Pakistani Army launched the attack at midnight. As they approached the post, they killed five camels of the 14th Battalion BSF detachment. Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri and his men, lacking time, hastily laid an anti-tank minefield.
As the Pakistani army drew closer, the Indian Army utilized its jeep-mounted 106mm M40 recoilless rifle to combat the enemy’s tank-laden troops. Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri and his men defended their post with consistent firing alone. The Indian Air Force (IAF), led by Wing Commander Andy Bawa, could not intervene as the aircraft lacked night vision capabilities.
On the other hand, the sandy terrain did not favor the advance of the Pakistani 38 Cavalry. They had planned to bypass Longewala to reach Ramgarh, but most of their tanks and vehicles either broke down or got stuck in the desert. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) ordered them to capture Longewala. Part second will be carried in the next article.