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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri ~ hero of Battle of Longewala is no more

Pre-script 1:  The Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) is the second highest military decoration in India, after the Param Vir Chakra, and is awarded for acts of conspicuous gallantry in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea or in the air. It replaced the British Distinguished Service Order (DSO). The medal may be awarded posthumously. 

2) Decades ago, this book titled ‘Pathinaalu Naatkal’ [14 days] impressed me most…. It was a story on Indo-bangla war … the hero is an  Indian pilot who gets captured and falls in the hands of a Paki general who hates India….. the air warfare was so wonderfully depicted with Sujatha touch of humanism….

                                Thar Desert, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is a large arid region in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent that covers an area of 200,000 km2 and forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.  About 75% of the Thar Desert is located within India, with the remaining 25% in Pakistan.  Longewala is a border town in the Thar Desert in the western part of Jaisalmer district, in the state of Rajasthan. It is very close to the border with Pakistan and is most notable as the location of the Battle of Longewala during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

The Battle of Longewala (4–7 December 1971) was one of the first major engagements in the western sector during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, fought between assaulting Pakistani forces and Indian defenders at the Indian border post of Longewala, in the Thar Desert.   "A" company (reinforced) of the Indian Army's 23rd battalion, Punjab Regiment, commanded by Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, was left with the choice of either attempting to hold out until reinforced, or fleeing on foot from a mechanised infantry Pakistani force.  Choosing the former, Chandpuri ensured that all his assets were correctly deployed, and made the most use of his strong defensive position, and weaknesses created by errors in enemy tactics. He was also fortunate in that an Indian Air Forceforward air controller was able to secure and direct aircraft in support of the post's defence until reinforcements arrived six hours later.

During the night of the 4th, Lt. Veer's platoon conducting a patrol detected noises across the border that suggested a large number of armoured vehicles approaching. These were soon confirmed by reports — from the Army's Air Observation Post aircraft flown by Maj. Atma Singh — in the area of a 20 km long armoured column on the track leading to the post advancing in the general direction of the Longewala post.  Directing Lt Veer's patrol to trail the advancing armoured column, Chandpuri got in touch with the battalion headquarters requesting urgent reinforcements and armour and artillery support. Battalion HQ gave him the choice of staying put, and containing the attack as much as possible, or carrying out a tactical retreat of the company to Ramgarh, as reinforcements would not be available for at least six hours. Considering that Chandpuri's command had no transportation, and was facing a mobile enemy, he decided to maintain the defensive position of the post where his troops at least had the benefit of prepared defensive works, rather than conducting a withdrawal at night that was a far riskier option.

The battle of Longewala saw heavy Pakistani losses and low Indian casualties. Since the Indians were able to use the defenders' advantage, they managed to inflict heavy losses on the Pakistanis. Indian casualties in the battle were two soldiers along with one of their jeep mounted recoil-less rifles knocked out. Pakistani losses were 200 soldiers killed.  The Pakistanis suffered the loss of 34 tanks destroyed or abandoned, and lost 500 additional vehicles.  Invading Pakistan troops meanwhile, had underestimated the Longewala post's defensive capability due to the difficulty of approach over sand, conducting the attack at night and in full-moon light, against stiff resistance encountered there from a well prepared defensive position located on a dominant height.

Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was awarded Maha Vir Chakra, India's second highest gallantry award.  Several other awards were earned by members of the defending company, and the battalion's commander. On the other hand, the Pakistani divisional commander was dismissed from service.  Sadly, Brigadier Kuldip Singh Chandpuri MVC, VSM (22 November 1940) a decorated Officer passed away yesterday.   He was a councillor in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation from 2006 to 2011.   The  hero of the Battle of Longewala during the 1971 Indo-Pak war, died at a hospital in Mohali on Saturday, his family said. He was 78. Brig Chandpuri was suffering from cancer. He is survived by his wife and three sons, his family said.

The 1997 Bollywood film, ‘Border’, in which actor Sunny Deol played the role of Brig Chandpuri, was made depicting the Longewala battle. The cremation will take place on Monday with full military honours. Brig Chandpuri passed out from the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, in 1963 and was commissioned into the 23rd Battalion of the Punjab Regiment. He took part in the 1965 war on the western sector and, thereafter, served in the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) for about a year. He also served twice as an instructor at the Infantry School, Mhow.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh condoled the passing away of Chandpuri, saying his exemplary and heroic leadership in the Battle of Longewala would inspire the young soldiers and officers of the defence services to discharge their duties with utmost devotion, commitment and sincerity.  The citation for his Mahavir Chakra Award reads: “Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri was commanding a company battalion of the Punjab Regiment occupying a defended locality in the Rajasthan Sector.” At the Battle of Longewala, Brig Chandpuri exhibited dynamic leadership, exceptional courage and determination in holding his command intact and steadfast. He inspired his men moving from bunker to bunker till the reinforcements arrived, the citation added.

Salute to the hero !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
18th Nov. 2018

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