That time 120 Indian troops destroyed an entire Pakistani tank battalion

In 1971, Pakistan launched a preemptive air strike against 11 Indian airbases, touching off that year’s Indo-Pakistani War. The air attacks failed but dragged India into Bangladesh’s (then called East Pakistan) Independence War from Pakistan. The Indo-Pakistan War was one of the shortest wars in history, lasting less than two weeks.

The day after its surprise air attack, Pakistan moved 2,000 troops, a mobile infantry brigade, and 45 tanks to an Indian border post at Longewala. The post was manned by 120 Indian troops with an M-40 recoilless rifle – and access to strike aircraft.

(Indian Army photo)

(Indian Army photo)

The Indians were heavily outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded. The Air Force couldn’t help until dawn because the pilots didn’t fly at night. The defenders were given the choice between abandoning the post or making a gutsy stand at their position. They decided to stay and fight. It was just after midnight, and dawn was at least six hours away.

It was going to be a long night.

Pakistan’s artillery opened up on the Indians immediately. As the enemy infantry approached the Longewala outpost, the defenders held their fire until the tanks were 40-100 feet away.

(Indian Army photo)

(Indian Army photo)

They fired on the thinly-armored tanks with the 106mm recoilless rifle, which turned out to be a devastating weapon. Advancing infantry ran into the Indian’s barbed wire and — believing they had walked into a minefield — freaked out.

The burning and exploding tanks lit the battlefield for the defenders while the smoke added to the Pakistani’s confusion on the ground. They wasted two hours waiting for sappers to clear mines that didn’t exist.

A Pakistani T-59 tank, destroyed at Longewala (Indian Army photo)

A Pakistani T-59 tank, destroyed at Longewala (Indian Army photo)

With the field lit up and a full moon overhead, the tanks attempted to encircle the defenders but found themselves stuck in the soft sand — east targets for the Indian M40.

One of the three HAL Marut used by the IAF against Pakistani armor at Longewala (used by permission)

One of the three HAL Marut used by the IAF against Pakistani armor at Longewala (used by permission)

The attackers were routed and their armored column became a turkey shoot for Indian pilots. They lost 500 vehicles, 34 of those were tanks. The infantry lost 200 troops. Indian armor soon launched their counteroffensive to relieve Longewala. The defenders lost only two men.

After two weeks, Pakistan was forced to surrender to India, which led to the formation of an independent Bangladesh. Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was awarded India’s second highest medal for gallantry for directing the defense of Longewala. The actions of the men in at Longewala were portrayed  in the (slightly stylized) Bollywood film, “Border.”

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