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Battle of Longewala: Truth must be told
The battle of Longewala is an inspiring tale of courage, determination and grit against all odds. JP Dutta captured this story in his film ‘Border’ that was highly appreciated. But some war veterans have challenged this story after 37 years.
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.
But 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.
This 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.
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Col Dharam Raj Singh
Dear Sir Facts can be brought only by those who have seen the battle from close quarters. Maj Gen Atma Singh- Vrc ,then a Major force landed at the Laungewala ALG at around 1300 hrs. This was after the enemy had broken contact at around 1200 hrs. Troops of 17 RAJ RIF (Sawaiman) commanded by yours truely received him and helped him push his aircraft under one of the Khejri trees near the Laungewala ALG. So what he has seen is almost nothing. Air Marshal Bawa in turn controlled the Air battle from Jaisalmer. Not much was visible from there as Jaisalmer is about 100 Kms from Laungewala. Most Air Force pilots who took part did a wonderful job. But they used to come in relays could not have seen the complete battle. Thus they only saw what was visible during their part of the battle (sortie). The complete battle was seen and faced only by troops on ground. It was a combined services battle where the sledge hammer blow was provided by the IAF. The truth has now been compiled by me in form of a 'book- wait for it for some more time please. Also read Brig ZA Khan's book 'The way It was Inside the Pakistan Army' in this respect. Thanks and regards Col D R Singh (Retd) 11 July 2010 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 (around 0830 hrs). 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 they fought it’. I hope most controversies will end and new ones may crop up- but at least truth shall be known to most of us. That is it. Col D R Singh(Gauravshali) Ex 17 RAJ RIF (Sawaiman) 11 Jul 2010
Jatin Verma
Please don't think that I am biased towards the Army when I say that its the regurgitation of Indian Air Force Officers who realized they didn't get the spot light in the Movie "Border" . Reasons against Bawa's Claims: 1. Maj Chandpuri and 16 others were injured in the Battle, which is not possible without direct Battle. 2. British Armed Forces have visited and inspected the site to learn about the Battle's Turning Points from Maj Chandpuri, which means they also believe in it. 3. Although Indian Air Force was majorly responsible for the Victory of Longewala, it was Indian Army that stood against the Attacking Pakistani Forces. 4. Pakistani Divisional Commander was Sacked...just because he underestimated the Terrain and Indian Strategic Post of Longelwala....whichh means Battle happened between Indian Army and Pakistani Infantry backed by Armored Column. 5. Why is it that Air Force Veterans involve in the Battle suddenly woke up to the so called "Reality of Battle" after 30 almost 30 years of war and Decorations they received for it. !!! 6. Battle of Longewala is studied at many Armed Forces Colleges around the world because it actually happened...Not just because Air Force has superiority over Armored Column without AAF Guns, but to see how 120 men can hold a post for 12 hours against a stronger and bigger Army of 2500 men !!! Everything apart, people must understand that Maj Chandpuri was a humble officer all through his tenure which is a true sign of maturity. He even sued Bawa and his likes for Defamation...but only for Re1 !! just because he doesn't need money but the Honor is Supreme for him. I appeal to sensible countrymen to
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