Thermopylae, No!! Think of something closer to home

Indians have been during the 800 odd years of Islamic invasion and the nearly 150 years of British loot and plunder as well as cultural subjugation been force fed on wrong historical data, to carry an intellectual inferiority. Ask an average Indian student about Waterloo, and it is likely (s)he would be able to come back with enough detail on that.

But what about something that actually happened closer to home, exactly half a century ago today.

If I told anyone with half a brain removed (thanks to a diet of idiotic Bollywood films and their unending inane song-and-dance routines and a series of “super intelligent talks” by HIL Pappuji and the Lord of Kailaasa) if I gave you 120 troops, an extremely limited weaponry, a non existent warning from what passed for “Intelligence Reports” and on the other side a minimum of 3000 troops consisting of bloodthirsty (but intellectually challenged) troops who rode in with nearly 100 tanks, a few hundred more of APCs and other vehicles and far superior firepower, “what would the outcome be?” Even Pappu would smile at me goofily and ask me if I had an ulterior motive in asking such a stupid question that a newt that had fallen on its head at birth would be able to answer : “all 120 would be slaughtered in a jiffy”

That answer would make conventional sense and would adhere to accepted military logic. But the guys involved had other ideas, and opted to show that Indian soldiers could give the enemy a very bloody nose and take off their pants (literally and proverbially) while snatching about a miraculous victory against all odds, virtually from the jaws of certain defeat (& death).

A (reinforced) Company of the 23rd Battalion, Punjab Regiment from the Indian Army, commanded by the then Major Kuldeep Singh Chandpuri , on the night of 4th December 1971 was left with the choice of either attempting to hold out until reinforced, or fleeing on foot from a Paapistani Mechanised Infantry Force that marched on the post they held , and were supposed to defend from the enemy. Choosing the former, Chandpuri ensured that all his assets were correctly deployed, and made the most use of his strong defensive position, as well as weaknesses created by a series of clownish mistakes in enemy tactics (if they can be called those at all- the Three Stooges would be better positioned to strategise on this). He was also fortunate that an IAF Forward Air Controller was able to secure and direct 4 vintage Hunter aircraft and 2 HAF Marut planes as well as a Krishak reconnaissance plane in support of the post’s defence. The IAF played a huge role in the proceedings and the eventual outcome

The advance patrol noted as did a recce plane that an armoured column almost 20 Km long was advancing towards the direction of Longewala. The post at Longewala had only 120 men with one jeep mounted recoilless gun and virtually no transportation. Thus when late at night Major Chandpuri was given an alternative to either defend the post with whatever resources were at their disposal or evacuate the post in a strategic retreat to Ramgarh, some 40 odd Km away. The good major realised the latter would have to be done on foot and was by far the riskier option of the two given the fact that the enemy had a big numerical advantage and was motorized.

The Hero (then) Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri

The Paapi engagement started by use of heavy artillery from across the border that killed 5 out of 10 Camels from the BSF detachment. offensive approached the lone outpost. As the huge column of 45 tanks neared the outpost, Indian defences, lacking the time to lay a prepared minefield, laid a hasty anti-tank minefield as the enemy advanced, one infantryman was killed in this. The Indians held their fire till the tanks were virtually 100 feet away. Then the Indians let loose with their shoulder held anti tank weapons. This knocked off 2 of the tanks at the head of the column. The Indians had a single Jeep mounted with a 105 mm recoilless gun, the swift and highly mobile surprise element proved to be very effective because it was able to target the Achilles heel: the thinner top armour of the Pakistani tanks from its elevated position, firing at often stationary, bogged down vehicles. In all, the post defenders claimed 12 tanks destroyed or damaged in the first lot. The initial Paapi attack stalled almost immediately when they discovered the barbed wire which was unseen in the night, and interpreted it to signify a minefield. That created utter panic and chaos amongst the 3000 odd of the bravest of the nation of cowards. Firing from the Recoilless Gun was made easier by the flames of fires when the spare fuel tanks on the Pakistani tanks, intended to supplement their internal capacity for the planned advance to Jaisalmer were easy pickings to take potshots at. Once they were hit, they exploded, providing brilliant illumination for Indians on the higher ground, and creating a dense acrid effective smokescreen acrid at the ground level for the Paapi infantry, adding to their blind confusion and terror.

Although massively outnumbering the Indian defenders by more than 25 to 1, and having surrounded them, the overconfident Paapi troops were unable to advance over open terrain on a full-moon night, under small arms and mortar fire from the outpost. This encouraged the Indian bravehearts to dig their heels in, in an already strong defensive position, frustrating the Paapi commanders and troops evermore, as they were reduced to pulling their hair out . As the day broke, the Paapi forces had still not taken the post, and were now forced to do so in full daylight.

After the 120 had despatched the enemy and burnt their American Sherman tanks, the dawn brought the IAF Hunters into play, who turned the desert landscape, crowded with bogged Paapi tanks into a “turkey shoot” . The pride of the hand me down Tanks were littered in the desert, either destroyed, crippled or even captured intact.

The artistic creation in the desert sands by the fleeing cowards tells an eloquent story with the carcasses of the tanks and APCs dotting the landscape. Look at the confused spirals they’ve drawn in the sand as the single Jeep with the recoilless gun made short work of them.

By noon the next day, the assault ended completely, having cost Paapis 22 tanks claimed destroyed by aircraft fire, 12 by ground anti-tank fire, and some captured after being abandoned, with a total of at least 100 vehicles having been destroyed or damaged in the desert around the post. The Paapi attack was first halted, and then Paapi forces were forced to withdraw when Indian tanks and troop reinforcements arrived hours later, littering the landscape with shoes, guns and other miscellaneous belongings.

The HF Marut

The outcome of this battle was amazing. A bloodied nose , nay complete annihilation of an enemy far superior in numerical and equipment, to an extent that Indian casualties in the battle were two soldiers along with one of their jeep mounted recoilless rifles knocked out. Paapi losses were 200 soldiers killed and more injured.The Paapis suffered the loss of 36 tanks destroyed and more abandoned, and lost 500 additional vehicles of all kind.

Their own enquiry into the debacle recommended an officer of the Major General rank be tried for negligence and incompetence.

Major Chandpuri received, and rightly so, an MVC for his personal valour and leadership in the face of extreme adversity.

Amazingly (as they always do, decorating themselves for losses, an art they learnt from a lecherous Indian leader who awarded himself the Bharat Ratna for his shameful lack of leadership in the China war of 62) the Paapis actually did the exact opposite. On the one hand, the Paapi divisional commander was dismissed dishonorably from service. Surprisingly (or shall I say, unsurprisingly) the commander of the Paapi 51 Brigade who mounted the “daring attack and crossed into Indian territory” was later awarded Pakistan’s high award of Sitara-e-Imtiaz. They do reward their losers just to build a false narrative of victory for their domestic audience.

Today, 7th December 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the epic and heroic battle of Longewala. Something we need to shout from the rooftops to tell the world that a few score brave men can beat a few thousand (& far superiorly equipped and armed) enemy.

The Chief of the British Army actually came down to find if this was true.

Remember folks and take pride in our brave men who put their lives every single time they are called upon to, so that we can remain safe.


By abchandorkar

Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Pune, India

26 replies on “Thermopylae, No!! Think of something closer to home”

Thanks much, Well battle of saragrahi was also on much grander scale than thermophlae ….sheer scale of numbers against 21 Sikhs will anyday overshadow thermophlae

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Very very nicely covered every aspect of the famous battle of Longewala Doctor Sahab. The images add to the wao factor. I also made my 10 years old kid read it and he also loved it. Eagerly waiting for you to write on Lachit Borphukan and how Naga Sadhu’s defended Kashi Vishwanath Temple in the 17th century……….among many jewels from our untold history.

Liked by 1 person

Very very inspiring. Salute our bravehearts, the best in the world. Such sessions are necessary to create an awareness about these and other great Indians, among our youth. High time this is done.

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