‘Army faked battle of Laungewala’
Major General Atma Singh (retd) claims that the historic skirmish with Pak never happened and it was actually Indian Air Force that crushed the Pakistanis. A report by Rahul Singh.india Updated: Feb 29, 2008 01:38 IST
The splendid victory achieved by our army in the battle of Laungewala during the 14-day 1971 India-Pakistan war was faked, a soldier awarded a military decoration in those operations has said. It was actually our air force that crushed the Pakistanis.
Major General Atma Singh (retd), who won the Vir Chakra for gallantry at Laungewala, told Hindustan Times that no ground battle was fought and the army had merely rehearsed it on a sand model after the ceasefire to cover up the incompetence of senior military commanders.
The army had last week presented Defence Minister AK Antony a blow-by-blow account of how Major KS Chandpuri (later brigadier) leading just 100 men had frustrated a formidable attack by a Pakistani brigade (some 2,800 troops) backed by an armoured regiment of 45 tanks. Chandpuri was given the Maha Vir Chakra. His alpha company (23 Punjab) won six gallantry awards. The army’s role in the battle had motivated generations and also inspired the Bollywood hit Border.
Atma Singh was then commanding the No 12 Air Observation Post (AOP) flight, tasked with directing close air support firepower towards enemy targets on the ground. “I dispute the ground battle completely. It is a mockery of army ethos,” he said. “We are teaching military history to future commanders citing battle accounts with no credibility. IAF’s Hunter fighters saved the day.” Atma Singh’s AOP flight of five Krishak light recce aircraft undertook 80 sorties and logged more than 110 flying hours.
Colonel PS Sangha (retd), who also served 12 AOP and was awarded a VrC, said Laungewala was an air force victory without doubt. Fighter pilots won eight Vir Chakras in that battle.
A senior officer in the army headquarters dismissed doubts on the army’s accomplishments in the battle.
The officer said: "It was a moment of glory. The combat ratio of 27:1 was in the enemy's favour. That's why we presented a simulated version of the action at Laungewala to the defence minister." Antony had dubbed it a "fascinating battle".
According to the army, Chandpuri's and his men -- equipped with recoilless guns, medium machine guns, 81 mm mortars and small arms -- had engaged enemy armour. Atma Singh refuted it. "There were no signs of ground battle. I was out there in no man's land after an emergency landing at the Laungewala helipad. The enemy suffered no casualty in men or material till a Hunter hit their first T-59 tank."
Chandpuri regretted that the army's role in the battle was being questioned. He said the contribution of ground troops was in no way inferior to the IAF. "The troops on the ground fought against the enemy. The IAF hardly faced any opposition. The air force operated freely as the enemy had not scrambled its fighters," he said.
The scary prospect of being overrun by the enemy had made Chandpuri's men slightly edgy. But the army says his high standards of leadership motivated his men to fight to finish.
Major General Ian Cardozo (retd), who has authored several books on military history, said, "Truth is the first casualty of war worldwide. The fact is that the air force saved the day. But the army deserves credit for standing fast and holding the line despite overwhelming enemy forces."