Battle of Longewala: Truth must be told

THE BATTLE of Longewala is part of army folklore. This is a fairy tale of 100 odd soldiers and their steely resolve, which forced an entire Pakistani brigade, backed by an armoured regiment of 45 tanks, to retreat in the 1971 war. This fascinating story was also captured on celluloid in the film ‘Border’, directed by JP Dutta. The battle of Longewala has been told and retold in military journals and is held out as a shining example to students graduating from the military academies. The sheer valour displayed by Major Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri and his alpha team is just an unmatched feat.
Longewala TankBut some war veterans have challenged this story after 37 years. Major General (retd), Atma Singh Hansara, told Hindustan Times in an interview, “I dispute the ground battle completely. It is mockery of army ethos. No ground battle was fought and the army had merely rehearsed it on a sand model after the ceasefire to cover up the incompetence of senior military commanders.”

Air marshal, MS Bawa, who was directly involved in the war, also agrees with Hansara. He says, “This is a challenge. There was no contact between the enemy and the army.” He further said that the Pakistani thrust was blunted entirely by air action alone.
Atma SinghThis controversy made me go through some facts related to the battle. It is very hard for me to believe, as the story of Longewala has motivated several youngsters to join the forces. I tried to read the available journals, articles, magazines and accounts of war heroes to know the truth.
The Air Force War diary says that this turned out to be a clean battle, one of its kinds. This is the most decisive battle fought between Indian Air Force (IAF) and armour. Even Major General, RF Khambatta, GOC, 12 Infantry Division, lends credence to the Air Force’s claim. Pakistan General, Muqeem, in his book ‘Crisis of Leadership in Pakistan’, mentions that large number of vehicles, tanks and guns got bogged in sand. The enemy was the master of skies and destroyed 18 tanks and other vehicles at his leisure. The army documents related to war seems to nail the controversy. It only gives credit to Chanpuri’s men for ‘holding out’ a lonely post. The document says, “ At Longewala that day, IAF added a glorious new chapter. This was the straight battle between the Pakistan armour and IAF hunters. The bulk of Pak armoured regiment was destroyed by air action alone.”
Truth, it is said, is often the first casualty in the war. The controversy has raised several questions that need to be answered. If this is the truth, then why the army is keeping the lie still alive? Is the army taking more credit than it deserves? What incompetence military commanders are trying to hide? If former officers are correct, then what has propelled them to speak now? They should have protested before or even when the film Border was released?
The Indian army has been in news for wrong reasons, and it is time more facts were opened to put an end to this (de)famed battle. But let’s not make any conclusions unless we hear from both the forces. It is better not to conclude with half knowledge. This is something related to the dignified and respected Indian armed forces, and thus, it is in the interest of services that the truth about the Longewala battle be told to the citizens.

Clarification: I have taken the quotes from magazines, journals, war veteran accounts and websites.

0 thoughts on “Battle of Longewala: Truth must be told”

  1. Dear Sir
    Battles are fought not for heroism, but to win against an adversary. Un-fortunately the ‘Battle of Laungewala’ has been turned into a block buster by the movie Border. In fact very little of what has been depicted in the movie actually happened on ground. I relieved Major Chandpuri on 5th December 1971 during the thick of the battle.
    After bearing the brunt of enemy’s fury in the forward defensive localities of Laungewala that day, I am convinced that very few saw, let alone fired at the Pakistanis. To end the controversy, them Major (now Brigadier) Chandpuri (Gauravshali) was contacted to know the origin of ‘the Border Story’. There was some consolation when he replied, “I wish to clarify that film ‘BORDER’ is fiction and is only a dramatized version of the battle”. Had this fact been mentioned on the film reels by Mr. J P Dutta the controversy that followed may not have arisen, at the first place. But now that it has we shall endeavor to present the ‘Real Story, instead of the ‘Reel one’ in my forth coming book Laungewala, ‘The battle as we saw it’.
    I hope most controversies will finish and new ones may crop up- but at least truth shall be known to most of us.
    That is that.
    Col D R Singh(Gauravshali)
    Ex 17 RAJ RIF (Sawaiman)

  2. This is all we want as well Sir. After all as an army officer said that “Lets not fake battle for the medals.”
    Whatever be the case truth must be told otherwise it creates unnecessary controversy.

  3. well what matters is battel of Longewala was won by india even if a single round was not fired…..well if we start beliving that battel of longewala never took place so 2moro we can start beliving that nothing is going on in siachin or in NE states….all the PVC given are blunder or may be even medals awarded to Col D R Singh(Gauravshali)
    Ex 17 RAJ RIF (Sawaiman) are fake…..

  4. or this is also possible that RAJ RIF are not happy that this “battel” was not faught by them nd that all the honors went to PUN REG…..well sir everyone knows bout he inter regimental politics in army…..

  5. Dear Friends
    No! There was no rivalry at that time. We had a common adversary that we were facing.Rivalries are normal on the play field not in war.I for one want to set things straight. It is total disrespect for those who had died fighting to be told after 35 years that they died in-vain. That there was no ground battle. That is why truth must be known to all.
    Jai Mataji Ki
    Col D R Singh (Gauravshali)
    29/04/2008

  6. dear sir
    I completely agree with you that disrespect should not be to any men of war weather he died or not,he was awarded PVC or not.he must only be respected,b’cuz he was a man battling for his country.thats all sir
    jai mata di
    prarabdh bhadoria
    11/06/2012

  7. It’s absolutely horrendous to deny either branch’s contribution. Without the ground forces, the Pakistanis would have reached Jaisalmer within a few hours, and the ground boys stopped that. Without the IAF, the guys would be dead the next day. Both played an amazig role, without both branches, it would have been a failure.

    No one said Border is historically correct. When I saw it with my parents, my very first comment was that the battle was nothing like they’ve shown.

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