The battle of Longewala was a prime engagement between India and Pakistan during the 1971 war. The battle fought in Thar Desert of Rajasthan proved decisive in establishing that Indian military was mightier with superior tactical moves than their Pakistani counterparts. The Pakistani side suffered a humiliating defeat and a major blow to their overall battle strategy.
Since that day, Battle of Longewala has been epitomized and immortalized through documentaries, movies and serials depicting the valor of Indian soldiers fighting against all odds.
But, has anybody questioned the battle moves of Pakistani Army? Isn’t it difficult to contemplate that a battalion of 120 soldiers defeated an army (of Approx. 2000 soldiers) having 2 infantry brigades and 2 armored brigades? Well, we are not trying to question or undermine the bravery of our soldiers who despite having the option to retreat, decided to stick and hold their positions. But, we certainly want to dig deeper into the tactical blunders made by Pakistan.
1) The far-fetched plan
The plan was to launch a quick offensive and capture enemy territories which could be used as bargaining chip for areas of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Pakistan’s generals knew that they wouldn’t be able to continue the battle for long due to international pressure. Hence, they hatched a plan to invade Longewala, Ramgarh and Jaisalmer till morning. This motive forced them to launch an offensive during night.
2) Defensive Indian position
The outpost at Longewala was originally a BSF post having a strong defensive position. The post was located on a height from the ground level which gave Indian forces a clear vision of the ground beneath and hence a definite advantage over their enemy. The high sand dunes surrounding the post made it intractable for armored vehicles.
3) Poor intelligence
Capturing Longewala post was of paramount importance to Pakistan’s army as it allowed control over vast tracts of land. But, the intelligence agencies in Pakistan couldn’t report that the BSF post was now being held by a company of Punjab regiment with artillery support from 168 and 170 field regiment (Veer Rajput).
Who would have thought that a company of soldiers would stall the dreams of a nation to have a battle win against India?
4) Unaware of the ground surface
The biggest blunder was the unawareness regarding the terrain. As the military onslaught was scheduled in night, an engineer reconnaissance should have preceded the brigade to make their advance rapid. The desert inhibited the movement of the tanks which delayed the attack.
It is also said that many of the Chinese T-59 tanks used in the offensive overheated and caught fire due to difficulty in movement on sand.
5) No Air support
Multi-pronged attack is more effective than a separate ground or air attack. But, Pakistani army couldn’t get the much needed air support to ward off the Indian Air Force which proved fatal for their armored tank regiment. In all, 36 T-59 tanks were destroyed or captured making it one of the largest tank casualties for a side in a single war since World War II.
6) Hasty Decisions
The Pakistani commanders made some hasty decisions during the course of the battle which instead of helping them aided their enemies. On discovering barbed wires near the Indian outpost they quickly concluded it to be a minefield and halted their advance. After 2 hours of battle, they realized the trap that there was no minefield.
The fuel containers on Pakistani tanks were targeted by Indian military. These containers exploded to provide ample light for Indians to target Pakistani brigade soldiers and at the same time produced enough smoke and foggy view for soldiers on the ground.
While Indian company commander Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was awarded with second highest gallantry award, The Mahavir Chakra. The Pakistani commander General Mustafa was recommended to be tried for negligence during war.