Brigadier (then Major)
Kuldip Singh Chandpuri, MVC, VSM
Born: 22th Nov 1940
at Montgomery, (Undivided India)
Commissioned in : 3 PUNJAB Regiment
on 30th June 1963
Date of Award of MVC:
5th Dec 1971
3 PUNJAB, 9 PUNJAB & a Mountain Brigade
“Kuldip Singh Chandpuri” a name in the history of the Indian Army is an acclaimed classic case of human resolve and motivation in the face of extremely heavy odds. He made a way to the heart of every Indian along with the saga of the Battle of Laungewala with Bollywood Star Sunny Deol portraying him in the famous movie “Border”. Born on 22 November 1940 at Montgomery in Undivided India, young Kuldip moved with his parents after the partition to native village Chandpur Rurki, in Tehsil Balachaur, Distt Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar. From his childhood, he was fond of games & sports, hunting and guns. His handling of guns at a young age was a probable indication of his ability to make a mark in history-but none in the family made a note of it and told him to concentrate on his studies, which he admits he was not good at. But Kuldip was destined for much more. His lust and love for joining the army made him an active member of the NCC and he cleared the highest NCC examination i.e. “C” certificate, while he was at the Govt. College Hoshiarpur, from where he graduated in 1962. Asian Connections brings you the real life hero Brig. Kuldip Singh Chandpuri who now resides in Chandigarh, in an exclusive interview with Sukhpreet S. Giani on the eve of India’s Independence Day.
Q. Who was the guiding force for you to join the Army?
A. Being the only son of my parents, my mother was not in favour of my joining the army and during those days the most common pursuit was to send the youngsters to UK and USA. However, my father and uncles (both Air Force officers) being the constant source of inspiration, encouraged me to join the Indian Army.
Q. I am sure there would be many other achievements in your career in addition to the ‘Battle of Laungewala’ (Rajasthan).
A. In 1962, I was selected in the Army and commissioned in 1963 in 3 Battalion The Punjab Regiment, which is one of the oldest and highly decorated unit of the Indian army. I took part in the 1965 war in the western sector. After the war, I was one of the few young officers selected to serve the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) at Gaza (Egypt) where I remained for a year. I also served twice as an instructor at the prestigious Infantry School, Mhow (MP) where the elite of the Indian army is imparted instructions & combat training.
Q. How did you come to know of the move of the enemy forces on the night of 4-5th Dec 1971?
A. During the 1971 war I was commanding ‘Alfa’ Company of 23rd Battalion, The Punjab Regiment occupying a defended locality, at ‘‘Laungewala’ ’ in Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan. We moved to ‘Laungewala’ in September 1971. At the time, I was a Major with merely 8 years of service and took over the post from the Border Security Force (BSF). ‘Laungewala’ is an isolated post and strategically very important, it is approximately 14 kms away from the international border with Pakistan and an important communication centre with sufficient water resources. Availability of drinking water in desert warfare dictates planning and deployment of troops. The nearest army unit was approximately 10 to 12 kms away. After taking over the post from the BSF we developed this post and made it fit, to withstand any attack of the enemy. The company at Laungewala comprised of only 120 men with full complements of supporting arms including the RCL guns and rocket launchers which are very potent anti-tank weapons. I did not have any tanks nor did I have any dedicated artillery support. The war broke out in the evening of 3rd December 1971 and the forces in the sector were assigned an offensive task across the border. The operation was to be undertaken on the night of 4/5th December. The plan however did not materialise due to certain unavoidable circumstances and was postponed. On the night of 4/5th December a platoon consisting of 30 men under the command of Lt. Dharam Vir was sent to the international border for patrolling and monitoring the movement of the enemy, if any. I was thus left with only 92 men to hold the post at ‘Laungewala’. At about 2300 hrs on 4th December, the patrol leader reported to me on the wireless, that he could hear a lot of noise of tanks and vehicles across the border. He could make out that they were heading towards ‘Laungewala’. 4/5th December being full moonlit night with good visibility and dust raised in the desert by the moving tank columns, it was not very difficult for Dharam Vir to discern that the advancing force was heading towards India with a mission.
On receipt of the information of enemy advancing towards ‘Laungewala’, I immediately informed my higher headquarters and the Commanding Officer who was also away on another mission. Realising the sudden and unexpected development, I collected all my men and apprised them about the latest move of the enemy tanks and infantry towards our post of ‘Laungewala’. Initially, in higher headquarters, some senior officer did not believe me and felt that I being a young officer was creating a flap and perhaps suffering from the ‘war fever’. However, the GOC of the Division, Maj Gen RF Khambatta and the Commander of the infantry brigade Brig RO Kharbanda, encouraged and assured that they will provide me all possible help and support. They repeatedly reminded me of the significance of the ‘Laungewala’ post and its strategic importance. While encouraging me they repeatedly told me that ‘Laungewala’ post must be held at any cost, a task assigned to me in the operational order.
Q. Were you able to motivate your men to face the much superior and large force head on?
A. A few minutes past midnight, the enemy with a squadron of tanks and mounted infantry, surrounded the post from all directions. Motivating anyone when death is imminent is not an easy job. Every man in this world is scared of death, and so am I. My face to face interaction with my troops at night and narrating the shining example of valour & sacrifices of the Sikhs during various wars paid rich dividends. Incidentally the company at ‘Laungewala’ consisted of Sikhs all hailing from Punjab. There were some dogra troops also with the company as supporting elements. I narrated examples of the unparalleled sacrifices of the great saint-soldier, Guru Gobind Singh ji and the supreme sacrifices of his entire family in their fight against suppression. This had a huge impact on the morale of the troops and created in them a spirit of self-sacrifice. They pledged to withstand with me and fight the enemy at all cost.During the hurried conversation that I had with soldiers, it was decided, that if I run away from the post, all the 92 men present on the post will be at liberty to shoot at me and if I found anyone deserting the post, I shall shoot him. This decision was unanimously accepted with cries of ‘Bole So Nihal Sat Sri Akal’. The outcome of the motivational talk an hour before the enemy surrounded the post had an everlasting morale boosting affect on the ‘jawans’.
Q. What tactics did you adopt to ensure that the ‘Laungewala’ post was not lost to the enemy outnumbering you in men and weaponry?
A. The Pakistan infantry (38 Baloch Regiment) and a squadron of Chinese made T-59 tanks, repeatedly attempted to attack the post from different directions, but the gallant men of the 23 Punjab Regiment fought with great grit and determination. The enemy artillery guns fired relentlessly, on the ‘Laungewala’ post from across the border and set it blaze. The smoke and the flames assisted the Pakistani forces to bring down accurate fire on the post, apart from that it became easy for them to locate the post. Knowing the limited resources available with me, I ensured strict fire discipline. We did not react to the enemy till the tanks and the infantry came within our effective firing range. Our RCL guns and Rocket launchers took a heavy toll of the Pakistani tanks and vehicles. The battle continued the whole night. The Indian Air Force joined the battle at 0730 hrs on 5th December and destroyed many enemy tanks and vehicles which had taken positions behind the sand dunes and were continuously firing on the post. The performance of the Indian Air Force pilots was outstanding and their hits were precise and accurate.
The air support provided to us is an unique example of the army-air force co-operation in a battle. The Indian army men fought with extreme valour and exhibited unprecedented courage in the face of the enemy. The enemy suffered heavy casualties both in men and tanks. I also suffered casualties in my company though, much lesser, than the enemy. The documents recovered from the enemy revealed that it was an infantry brigade with four infantry units consisting of approximately 3000 men and 60 tanks which had crossed into the Indian territory. After having suffered heavy losses during the day of 5th December, the enemy had again planned to attack ‘Laungewala’ on the night of 5/6th December, as by then their remaining forces had also joined the advancing column by the evening. By then, the post at ‘Laungewala’ had been reinforced by a battalion strength of 17 Rajputana Rifles. The Indian army mounted operations on 7th December to push back the enemy form the Indian territory. During the battle, ‘Alfa’ company of 23 Punjab Regiment destroyed 12 enemy tanks, whereas the Indian Air Force accounted for 25 tanks and many vehicles to their credit. Eight to ten tanks (Shermans) are reported to have fled back to Pakistan. After the war, I was awarded with the nation’s second highest gallantry award of Maha Vir Chakra whereas other soldiers who fought the ‘Laungewala’ battle got, two Vir Chakra, two Sena Medal, One Mentioned-in-Despatches and one COAS Commendation card. The lone BSF man Naik Bhairon Singh was awarded the Sena Medal. The Division Commander and the Brigade Commander were honoured with the distinguished service award of PVSM and AVSM respectively. Six pilots of the Air Force were awarded the Vir Chakra; eight Airmen were awarded the Chief of the Air Force Staff Commendation Card and Mentioned-in-Despatches. The station Commander of the airbase was honoured with the AVSM. 23rd Battalion The Punjab Regiment also had the proud distinction of having been awarded with the ‘Battle Honour’ of ‘Laungewala’ and Theatre Honour ‘Sind’.
Q. What was the immediate reaction from your family?
A. My family had no knowledge, as to where I was posted during the war. It was nothing new as the family had army background since the last three generations. My two uncles both fighter pilots, were also in the same war and both of them were decorated with the gallantry award of the Vir Chakra. I am proud to be the nephew of my uncles, who are very renowned, highly decorated and distinguished pilots of the Indian Air Force.
Q. Whom do you attribute your success in the epic Battle of ‘Laungewala’?
A. The entire credit of success goes to the men who fought along with me during the battle, my senior officers, who encouraged and supported me. Full credit of the success goes to the Indian Air Force, for providing timely air support and destroying maximum enemy armour and vehicles of the enemy.
Q. Your message to the community in Toronto on the occasion of India’s 63rd independence day?
A. I convey my good wishes on the occasion of Independence day to all Indians settled in and around Toronto. I appreciate the hardships and hard work undertaken by them before making Canada their home. They have worked with dedication to achieve their desired results and immensely contributed in the development and prosperity of such a beautiful and tolerant country like Canada. We in India are proud of our brothers and sisters living in the GTA. My respect and regards goes out to all of them. They are our ambassadors abroad and we will be proud of them, always.
Q. Would you like to tell us something regarding the gallantry in your whole family?
A. I am not the only awardee in the family. My uncles Sqn Ldr (later Gp Capt) Charanjit Singh and Sqn Ldr (later Air Commodore) Jasjit Singh both IAF pilots, were also decorated with the coveted gallantry awards of Vir Chakra during the 1971 war. Their sister’s son-in-law, Maj Harpal Singh was awarded the Vir Chakra (Posthumous) while leading an attack in the eastern sector in December 1971. My respected father-in-law Sardar Baldev Singh who retired from the Punjab Police, as Supdt. of Police (Vigilance) also received President’s Police and Fire Service Medal for gallantry. By God’s grace, the gallantry and spirit of sacrifice runs in the veins of the entire family.
To conclude, with so much to write about the Battle of ‘Laungewala’, with historians around the world working day in and day out to get the best of information from the man whose feat till date remains unmatched; Brig Kuldip Singh Chandpuri has certainly proved that guns can be mightier than the pen. As India celebrates its 63rd independence day, we at Asian Connections join in saluting the men of23rd Punjab Regiment and their commander at ‘Laungewala’ – the one and only “Kuldip Singh Chandpuri.”
How Could I Ever do it?
JP Dutta the director of the movie Border has shown Mrs Chandpuri requesting her father to get Kuldip Singh posted somewhere away from the Border and we posed the same question to Mrs. Surinder Chandpuri. A pleasant and charming mother of three young kids and a grandmother too, Mrs. Surinder Chandpuri responded, “How could have I asked my father to get Major Sahib back from the border ? First of all, during the time of the war, the families are not aware of the postings of their men and above all I hail from a family which has contributed a lot to the services.
In 1971, my father S. Baldev Singh was a DSP with Punjab Police. It is a sheer coincidence that on 26 Jan 1972, when my husband was receiving the MVC award from the President of India at New Delhi, my father was receiving President’s Police and Fire Service Medal- the highest honour bestowed on a Police Officer from the Governor of Punjab at the same time in Amritsar.” Sardar. Baldev Singh retired as SSP, Vigilance Punjab and happens to be one of the most decorated police officers in Punjab and was also awarded President’s Police medal for gallantry and for meritorious and distinguished service. “Hence, what was shown in the movie was to add some spectacle in the reel life which had hardly any relevance to the real life,” added Mrs. Surinder Chandpuri.