HISTORY MUST HAVE THE TRUTH
THE LAUNGEWALA STORY - PART 1
BRIGADE COMMANDER AT THE BATTLE OF LAUNGEWALA
I was the Commander 30th Infantry Brigade and was put in charge of operations at Laungewala at 0400 hours on 5th Dec 1971 by Maj. Gen. K. C. Khambhatta, General Officer Commanding 12th Infantry Division. He briefed me on the telephone that enemy armour movements were heard by a patrol of 23rd batallion of the Punjab Regiment (part of 45th Infantry Brigade) located at about half-way on the track LAUNGEWALA-BORDER PILLAR 635. He estimated the strength to be couple of squadrons (30 tanks) of enemy armour on track GHOTARU-BORDER PILLAR 638. He allotted all the four tanks of the Replacement Tanks Troop which was located south of SADEWALA, as all our armour of 60 tanks were at KISHANGARH, 80 kilometres to the North-East. My Brigade was to lead the advance towards RAHIM YAR KHAN at first light on 5th Dec 1971. I happened to be at 2 kilometres West of SADEWALA (my Brigade Forward Concentration Area) alongwith my batallions 17th batallion the Rajputana Rifles (17 RAJ RIF - SAWAI MAN) commanded by Lt. Col. A. S. Grewal and the 6th batallion the 5th Gurkha Regiment(6/5 GR FF) commanded by Lt. Col. Anand Swarup, waiting for transport. My leading group of 13th batallion of the Kumaon Regiment (REZANGLA 1962 - MAJ. SHAITAN SINGH, PVC) commanded by Lt. Col. R. V. Jatar, 20th LANCERS (AMX), 6th Independent Armoured Squadron (14 T-55 tanks) under MAJ. R. D. LAW were already in KISHANGARH.
A Company under MAJ. K.S. CHANDPURI of 23rd Punjab (commanded by Lt. Col. M. K. HUSSEIN) of 45th Infantry Brigade (commanded by Brig. KHARBANDA) was holding LAUNGEWALA post. A platoon (under the present Commanding Officer who was then a Captain) had been sent out on patrol towards the border. He had reported the enemy armour movements. Pakistani medium guns (130 mm) shelled LAUNGEWALA Cross Roads – Water Point Area at 0230 hours, sound of which woke me up at my Headquarters, ten kilometres away from LAUNGEWALA near SADEWALA.
I requested General Khambhata to allot me all the available air support at first light, due to the disparate relative strengths of four Indian AMX tanks against estimated 30 tanks of Pakistan (which turned out later to be 48 T-59 and 12 Sherman Mk V American tanks). The troops were ordered back from the road where they were waiting for transport from the previous night to reopen their defences. One company of 17 RAJRIF was to proceed with the troop of tanks to reinforce LAUNGEWALA and the remainder of 17 RAJRIF was to build up on LAUNGEWALA later as per the situation. One company of 6/5 GR was to provide a screen two kms ahead of our own defences at SADEWALA.
When the leading tanks of the Pakistani force reached about a km South-West of LAUNGEWALA Post on the road to GHOTARU at about 0515 hours, Maj. Chandpuri informed my Brigade Major, Maj. Bhandari (now Col. (Retd.)) and ordered his recoilless guns to open fire. No tank was hit. In return, the Pakistani troop knocked every structure at the post to rubble (Temple escaped) and set fire to a large stack of fodder for camels. This silenced ‘A’ company completely. The left platoon fell back from their positions, leaving Maj. Chandpuri with just his company HQ personnel and one platoon on the post. Surprisingly the Pakistani armour did not press the attack.
Actually there was no physical assault on the Post by enemy tanks or infantry. This was confirmed later by a Pakistani Bangladeshi Officer who was with the leading Pakistani infantry battalion and escaped to our side after the cease fire. There was no dead body or crippled tank within 400 meters of the Post.
Our fighter planes, Hunters, flew over at telescopic first light at 0730 hours and reported there were no tanks visible. I realised the pilots were new to the desert, asked them to hang on over the target area and requested our Division HQ to send up Maj. Atma Singh, our Air OP Flight Commander, to direct the fighters on to enemy tanks. Then the Air Force had a merry day; with Maj. Atma Singh and Capt. Sangha directing the planes alternately, knocked out 23 tanks (19 T-59 and 4 Shermans) during 5th and 6th Dec 1971. It was confirmed later that there had been no recoilless gun hit on any of those enemy tanks. Our fighters dared to come singly even, once they realised there was no enemy air cover to their armoured thrust in the open desert. Two Pakistani Starfighters straffed my Brigade Column towards Border Pillar 635 on the afternoon of 8th Dec 1971, the only air attack during the whole operation. Their absence for three days is quite inexplicable. Had they been there on 5th Dec 1971, our Hunters would have been seen off.
Lt. Col. A. S. Grewal of 17 RAJ RIF and I had been on the road LAUNGEWALA-SADEWALA two kms short of the Laungewala helipad from 0900 hours onwards behind ‘A’ Company 17 RAJ RIF who did the link up. At 0915 hours our leading AMX tank was hit by one enemy T-59 which had come upto the helipad. Our tank blew up along with the its crew of three but had also hit the enemy tank which was abandoned bt the crew, leaving the gunner dead inside. At 1300 hours Maj. Atma Singh force landed on the helipad near the abandoned T-59, picked up the maps from inside the tank, reported to my HQ at 1500 hours and said that the enemy tank seemed to be a running one. My Staff Officer, Capt. Ramesh Khatri drove it back to my HQ at 1700 hours. This was the only running Pakistani tank captured in the whole operation. The shell from our AMX tank had hit the side of the main armament, ricocheted into the hull and killed the gunner whom we buried in our HQ at SADEWALA.
The 6th Independent Armoured Squadron (14 brand new T-55 tanks) under Maj. R. D. Law, VrC rushed back on tracks from KISHANGARH and arrived at LAUNGEWALA helipad area at 1300 hours restoring our morale.
Lt. Gen. Eric Vazused to start his lecture on 1971 operations that “Two factors favoured our actions during the war GOD and LUCK”. We had plenty of both at LAUNGEWALA on 5th Dec 1971.