This photograph is taken by a reconnaissance plane and it shows the tracks of Pakistani tanks that were made during their desperate last minute maneuvers to avoid strike by the fighter places of Indian Air Force. The circled areas in the photograph show the destroyed Pakistani tanks.
During the war, Pakistan’s President Yahya Khan knew that the East Pakistan was indefensible. Therefore, he wanted to concentrate on Western border to grab as much Indian territory as possible. This territory later could be used as a tool to pressurize India during the negotiation. Pakistani Army chief General Tikka Khan proposed that Pakistani Army should enter the Indian territory under the cover of Pakistan Air Force.
The Pakistani army decided to enter through Longewala (about 80 kilometers from Ramgarh) and then hoped to capture Jaisalmer via Ramgarh. However, the Pakistani army made several strategic mistakes in planning and execution of this attack. They sent forces along with two tank battalions to Longewala at the night of 4 December 1971. But the Pak troops did not send anyone, in advance, to know about the route in the desert terrain.
The Longewala outpost of Indian Army was then held by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri and his 120 men. Their position was on top of a large sand dune which they had surrounded with barbed wires. The Indian party was in a very strong defensive position due to the height of sand dune. Also the sandy area was not easily navigable by the vehicles (as well as tanks). Apart from their usual rifles, the Indian men had only one Jeep mounted M40 anti-tank gun. The attacking Pak forces had 2800 soldiers, 65 tanks, 138 military vehicles, 5 field guns and 3 anti-aircraft guns. Pakistani forces, led by Brigadier Tariq Mir, attacked Indian outpost on the intervening night of the 4 and 5 December 1971. The attack began at 12:30 in the night.
In the first wave of attack, Pakistani soldiers killed five out of ten camels of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) available to the outpost. Indians had no time to lay a proper minefield, so they hastily laid as many mines as possible in the vicinity of the outpost. As the column of 65 Pakistani tanks advanced, the Indian soldiers patiently held fire. When the tanks were about 20 meters away, the Indians opened fire and using the sole anti-tank gun they had they destroyed two foremost tanks in the column.
The outpost was to get support from Indian Air Force (IAF) but the IAF plane could not fly because they were not equipped with the night vision. So, the outpost was told either to hold ground until dawn or flee. Major Chandpuri’s men, brave as they were, decided to defend their post. And they did! They held the advance of Pakistani forces until the sun rose above the horizon.
That rising sun of 5 December 1971 brought nightmare for the Pakistani troops. The Indian Air Force sent four Hawker Hunter fighter jets to help the Indian soldiers. Pakistani troops had not planned for such an attack. They had thought that they will easily win the outpost under the dark cover of night. But as the night waned, they found IAF jets hovering over their heads. And then began destruction. For Indian jets the Pakistani tanks proved to be sitting ducks. The desert was open, there was no place to hide, tanks’ guns were not able to hit the aircraft and they were also under fire from the Indian soldiers on ground. The Pakistani forces sent messages to ask for air support but the Pakistan Air Force was busy elsewhere. So, Indian jets had no resistance at all.
36 tanks of Pakistan were destroyed or captured, 200 soldiers were killed and 100 military vehicles were destroyed. Arrival of Indian jets had stopped the advance of Pakistani army; and when Indian tanks arrived -the Pakistani troops were forced to withdraw from the area.
Major Chandpuri’s men destroyed 12 tanks whereas 22 tanks were destroyed by the Indian jets. Some of the tanks were captured by Indian forces. The IAF attack was led by Wing Commander M.S. Bawa.
Another famous photograph that I am presenting today is that of Indian soldiers doing Bhangra (an Indian dance) atop a captured Pakistani tank.
Did you know?
- Border movie over-dramatized the Battle of Longewala. The truth is that India lost only 2 of its soldiers during the battle. Indian outpost was in a very strong defensive location.
- Major Chandpuri was later awarded Maha Vir Chakra (second highest gallantry award in India).
- Indian soldiers held Pakistan’s advance for more than six hours before the air support could arrive.
- The Pakistani divisional commander who led the Longewala attack was dismissed from service.
Here is a video that tells you the story of Longewala battle. Some of the figures used in this clip differ from what I have written in my article. My figures have been verified using Wikipedia (which, in turn, has further citations).
I hope you likes this famous photograph. Stay connected for tomorrow’s presentation when I will bring you another photograph that remained etched in the memory of mankind. Please feel free to comment and let me know your valuable feedback. Thank you for reading this article.