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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hunter's Dawn

India and Pakistan are two countries who share a common border but have been to war with each other many times. In 1971 there was another outbreak of fighting, but things did not go as well as the Pakistani planners had hoped. The plan was to launch a lightning attack into Indian territory seizing as much ground as was physically possible before the international community could react and impose a cease fire. This would allow bargaining chips for other lands lost in the previous war. With this in mind the Pakistanis planned an armoured offensive aimed at Ramgarh.

The Indians spotted the build-up, and matched it with their own. At the border guard post at Longewala the border guards were replaced by a small force of infantry. When the Indian infantry (who were Sikhs) took over, the outgoing border guards (Hindu) worried about the state of their small shrine. However, they were re-assured by the Indian commanding officer, Major Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, that it would be looked after. Indeed, Major Chandpuri even assigned one of his sergeants to look after the shrine. Major Chandpuri pointed out that the Indian Army was well trained in diversity as it had several religions as part of it.
Major Chandpuri
The force of Indians consisted of 120 soldiers on foot, and one jeep mounted M40 106mm recoilless rifle. Some sources state there were two jeep mounted weapons, others one. The border guard post was on top of a hill surrounded by steep sand dunes, at the base of the hill was a small helicopter pad. The Indians laid some barbed wire around the border post.

On the 4th of December 1971 a patrol from the Longewala outpost heard noises of engines from across the border. An air observation post was directed into the area and soon confirmed that it was a large column of tanks. Major Chandpuri contacted his headquarters to report. He was given the option to retreat, however, as his companies only transport was the Jeep and ten camels from the border force he decided to stay where he was, instead of being cut down in the open. While on the radio some Indians went out to lay a few mines. Sometime between 1230 and 0230 the attack on the border post opened with Pakistani artillery firing on the position. Under the cover of this bombardment a column of tanks advanced. The Indians waited until the Pakistani Type 59's were at point blank range before opening fire with their PIATs and recoilless rifles. The leading two tanks were hit and destroyed, blocking the trail.
Over the next few hours several attacks were made on the outpost, each one from a different direction as the position was slowly encircled. These were thwarted by the horrible going for the tanks, with several becoming bogged in the sand. One attack was stalled when it reached the wire, which the Pakistani's mistook for a minefield. The Pakistani attack halted and waited some two hours for sappers to advance.

To make matters worse the Indians had moved up two artillery regiments that the Pakistanis were unaware of. Major Chandpuri acted as a FAO for these guns throughout the night. The defenders spotting was made easier as several of the tanks they hit burnt in the darkness which, along with the full moon gave them good vision on the battlefield. However, it was not perfect. As the sun rose a single tank was spotted sitting some 50 meters away abandoned by its crew. During the night the Indians had knocked out twelve enemy tanks.
With the morning the Indian response arrived. With a screeching roar several Hawker Hunters thundered over the battlefield. The Pakistani tanks began to drive about wildly before the outpost trying to make themselves as difficult a target as possible for air attack, and cause confusion. Major Chandpuri watched as the Hunters circled the battlefield several times waiting them to begin their attack. In the end he contacted their FAC who was orbiting in a small spotter plane and asked why were they not attacking?
The response was that the pilots had found it impossible to separate Indian tanks from Pakistani ones. When updated on the situation on the ground and the absence of Indian armour, the pilots began their attack.
The first two Hunters screamed in each loaded with twelve T-10 rockets, the first Hunter selected a tank nearing the outer perimeter of the outpost and loosed half its payload setting the tank on fire. The second Hunter picked a tank that had made it onto the outpost's helipad with similar results. This support had arrived not a moment too soon as the Indian recoilless rifles were down to their last round.
Shot from the air of Longewala, showing the track marks of the Pakistani tanks as they tried to avoid the hunters.
Later that morning Wing-Commander Suresh took off as part of a strike package. Like the others his Hunter was armed with twelve rockets. After expending these in three passes Suresh switched to the 30mm guns. As he barrelled in on a tank, coming in low and fast he found his target pointing its main gun towards him. The tank fired, its round missed the incoming plane. However, the blast and dust slapped the plane and the flash momentarily startled and dazzled Suresh. Out of control the plane skimmed over the tank and hit a sand dune with its tail. Heartbeats before Suresh had recovered and tried to pull up but too late to avoid the impact, but just enough to avoid crashing the plane. Even at full power his plane would not get above 250 knots. Suresh managed to limp his aircraft home and land safely.
I have no idea! It is what google gave me when I asked it for pictures of Indian Hunters at low altitude!
Back at Longewala the battle ended with the Pakistani's withdrawing. In total they had lost 36 tanks, 500 other vehicles and about 200 men. On the Indian side only two men had been killed, (along with five camels) and one of the Jeep mounted recoilless rifles. It might be the last loss that caused many accounts to state only one M40 was at the battle. The small shrine also came through unscratched.

Image credits:
www.indiatimes.in

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