One of the momentous events of Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 in the western sector was the Battle of Laungewala (also Longewala). Pakistan in a bold tactical move launched a major thrust consisting of its 206 Infantry Brigade and 38 Cavalry Regiment in the Rahim Yar Khan – Jaisalmer Sector on 4/5th December night. Pakistani forces had hoped to establish a firm base at Laungewala and thereafter operate beyond it to capture Jaisalmer. This would have given Pakistan a major foothold in Rajasthan sector with its own implications. But things do not go always as planned and this daring move by Pakistan was neutralized by the evening of 5th December and almost the entire force was decimated in the next two days. How was this victory achieved has been a subject of some controversy and Major General Atma Singh in this daring book aims to settle this controversy by giving eye witness and firsthand accounts of the Battle.
One version of the Battle of Laungewala is that an Army Company located at Laungewala post held its position against heavy odds and destroyed 12 Pakistani tanks with its tanks weapons and the post held its position in spite of being surrounded by vastly superior Pakistani force. Pakistani tanks’ advance was held up as they mistook a barbed wire enclosure as a mine field. Next morning Hunter aircraft from Jaisalmer arrived on the scene and were guided onto their targets by Major Atma Singh acting as a forward air controller. This is also the version that was depicted in the box office hit movie “Border” released in 1997. When Raksha Mantri Shri A.K. Antony visited Laungewala in 2008, he was given this version of sequence. These two ‘incorrect’ incidents motivated Major General Atma Singh to give his account of the battle as seen by him and a few others. In 1971, the author was commanding 12 AOP Flight deployed in the same sector. He was ordered by the Divisional Commander at 0400 hours on 5 December that his aircraft should get airborne at first light and guide Hunter aircraft from Jaisalmer onto Pakistani amoured column believed to be near Laungewala post. Unknown to the Army, Pakistani armoured column had paused near Laungewala apparently to permit its infantry to catch up with it. Captain Sangha, Flight Commander 12 AOP Flight, got airborne in his unarmed Krishak aircraft, sighted the enemy column and guided the Hunters on to it. He directed a total of four hunter missions that day.
Atma Singh himself got airborne, carried out a recce of the entire area to ascertain the extent of enemy’s incursion and thereafter guided Hunter formations including one from his aircraft on ground after he had to force land due to technical problems at Laungewala helipad. 21 Pakistani tanks had been destroyed that day by aerial attacks. The same drill continued the next day. The artillery thereafter took over and decimated the remnants of Pakistani thrust. Besides eye witness account, the author has produced writings of retired senior Indian and Pakistani officers supporting his version of the Battle. He has also included some documents as well as first person of attacks by some of the Hunter pilots to buttress his claim and discount the other version.
The book sets to settle the raging controversy once for all and in this respect, the author has written the entire story from his heart. It is a convincing document and a must read for anyone interested in recent Indian military history.