Human history has seen the rise and fall of a number of effective and lethal military forces. But, it rarely gets any better than the mighty Gurkhas when it comes to taking the fight to the enemies in the most unforgiving terrains. On the exterior, the Gurkhas are disarmingly quiet, peaceful, and always seen bearing a wide smile. But when someone comes threatening down their doors, their offensive demeanor and sharp khukuris are enough to send the biggest of adversaries into retreat. The Great Britain’s East India Company was one of the first to witness the wrath of enraged Gurkhas. The conflict ended with the British hastily striking a peace deal with them, and having realized their mighty, they started recruiting the Gurkhas into the British force. Since then, the Gurkhas has been Britain’s special detachment assigned to the toughest of the operations and battles. Here is a list of top 10 Gurkha contributions in wars.
10. Iraq war
Also known as the second Persian Gulf War, the Iraq war (2003 – 2011) saw the regular deployment of the British Gurkha regiment in the front line. The Gurkha’s involvement started on April 2nd, 2003 and gave a whole new dimension to the combined offensive force of the United States, Britain and other allies against the regime of Saddam Hussein. The elite Gurkha unit had hunkered down alongside the formidable force of Air Force Security Forces and the local police.
The Gurkha heritage has seen extensive operational experience which gave them added advantages in dealing with insurgent on the streets of Baghdad and other major cities. In fact the very legend that comes along with the name of Gurkhas was enough to give an enormous boost to the already deployed teams. It also helped that the Gurkhas are built to adapt to the toughest of terrains in no time, making it easier for them to get in the thick of the action without any delay.
9. Malayan emergency
When the Second World War ended, the British had taken over the control of the Malaysian economy. A series of bad decisions and economic strategies had left the Malaysians fuming and desperate because of low income and increased taxes. The situation broke beyond the boiling point when Malayan National Liberation Army started guerrilla warfare against the British authorities on June 16th, 1948. Coincidentally, the British already had an entire brigade of Gurkha stationed in Malaya at that time. So they were immediately deployed to curb the emergency situation caused by MNLA insurgents.
During the emergency, the Gurkhas were actively involved in jungle warfare against the troops of the Malaysian Liberation Army (who were already well used in the local forests). But, the Gurkhas were able to put their experiences from Second World War in Burma to a good use. They also provided frequent escort assistance to mission convoys, and handled the security of newly built local villages from guerrilla ambushes.
8. Afghanistan war
The Gurkhas were deployed by Britain in the Helmand province of Afghanistan in the mid of 2010. Since then, they have proved to be immensely skillful in thwarting off repeated attacks from Taliban insurgents. Given the cultural similarity between the Afghans and the Gurkhas who hail from Nepal, it has been far easier for them to establish a connection with the locals. But it needs no reminding that Helmand is one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan, rife with insurgent activities.
Right before Gurkha involvement, 11 British soldiers had died while attempting to secure a corridor from the Taliban. But soon, the Gurkhas showed why they are the best at what they do when at least 30 Taliban militants tried to storm into a Gurkha outpost on the edge of Helmand. On that cold September night of 2010, Acting Sergeant Dip Prasad Pun defeated all attempts from Taliban and held his position for about a quarter of an hour amid all the nerve wrecking action. He was awarded by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross by the Queen for his brave actions against such odds.
7. Brunei Confrontations
The Brunei confrontations took a form of major revolt in the early hours of December 8, 1962. It started when the North Kalimantan National Army (TNKU) started attacking Britain and Brunei alliance forces to stop Brunei from joining the newly instated Federation of Malaya. Britain wasted no time and immediately moved two Gurkha Rifle companies that were on standby in Singapore in the conflicted areas. Once the Gurkha troops landed late in the evening on the same day, they instantly commenced their advances into the Brunei Town (present day capital of Brunei, now known as Bandar Seri Begawan). Their primary objective was to regain control of all hijacked police stations and nullify any threat to the Brunei’s oil fields.
The Gurkhas carried out a series of tactical offenses which saw the rapid withdrawal of the enemy and incurred only six casualties. Though they faced a fierce resistance as they moved towards Serai, the Gurkhas along with additional reinforcements were able to completely quell the uprising within 9 days of its initiation.
6. Kosovo Insurgency
The Kosovo Insurgency started in 1996 when the conflict between Serbians and Albanians based in Kosovo took a more violent turn. By the spring of 1998, the struggle between Albanians led Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Serbian authority had taken the shape of a full-fledged civil war. So, when the international society decided to intervene, Britain decided to send their front line warriors hailing from Nepal to spearhead the international alliance in Kosovo. About 660 men from the 1st Battalion of Royal Gurkha Rifles were patrolling the streets of Kosovo along with other allied forces.
The Gurkhas were quick to prove their worth as they disarmed 70 KLA fighters in a series of raids that impressed even the biggest ranks in NATO. In fact, the rebel fighters were so intimidated by the well planned attack from the Gurkhas that they surrendered without any resistance.
5. War on Terrorism
Given their skills and efficiency in successfully completing missions in the roughest terrain and environment, the Gurkha troops have been actively involved in the war against terrorism. They have been operating in some of the most dangerous terrorist outskirts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since their first deployment in these volatile regions, they have stood through a number of fierce battles, guarded their stations, and secured their missions with a notably high success rate.
In fact, on more than a couple of occasions, the Gurkhas have made it to the headlines for their extraordinary heroes in battles against the insurgents. For Instant: Sergeant Dip Prasad Pun, who emptied his entire ammunition stack while holding up an entire group of Taliban insurgents. He even took down one Taliban attacker by throwing his machine gun stand at him. Another Gurkha made a headline when he had to behead a dead Taliban leader to give proof to his controllers of his death amid heavy fire from the enemy.
4. Falkland war
The Falkland war was fought between Britain and Argentina when the Argentinians invaded the Falkland Islands, a small British colony in the South Atlantic on April 2nd, 1982. Then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher was quick to deploy the task force to reclaim the islands. A part of this task force consisted of a Gurkha regiment – an involvement that was reportedly cheered by other troops while they were going on board.
The Argentinean troops were able to put up a fierce fight against the British in the 74-day long conflict. But, the Gurkhas barely had to fire a single round because the legend that surrounds them outdid their battle skills by a mile. Having heard of the Gurkha heroics in the world wars and other conflicts, the Argentinians were already shaken by the rumors that Gurkhas had slit the throats of 40 Argentine soldiers. The stories of fearless Gurkha and their legendary ‘Khukuri’ only further diminished their already weakened resolve to fight.
3. World War 1
Back, when the first Great War broke out, not many had anticipated seeing the Gurkhas fighting for the British, just decades after going toe to toe against them in the Anglo-Nepalese war. But, it did happen and more than 90,000 Gurkhas took part in the bloodiest of battles alongside British alliance troops. They battled with all their might in the gory trenches that mapped through France to Persia (modern Iran). It was their first participation in such large-scale warfare, but not once were they overwhelmed by the might of sheer adversaries they were fighting against.
Among countless moments of the heroic display from the Gurkhas in the First World War, one stands out the most. Rifleman Kulbir Thapa was in the middle of a heavy gun battle with the Germans in Fauquissart, France. Already injured and well behind the enemy lines, he spotted an injured ally. Despite his own injuries, he carried the fellow soldier to the safe place. Just when he was looking for a safe passage that led to his side, he came across two more injured friendlies. Exhibiting utmost respect for true comradeship, he carried all three of them across the enemy lines and through the fence wires to his side. His bravery was spectacular, praised by many scholars. Thapa became the first Gurkha to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
2. Anglo-Nepalese war
In the early seventeenth century, both the East India Company and the Kingdom of Nepal were pursuing unprecedented expansion plans which led to an inevitable conflict when the two ambitious powers collided. The unification campaign that started from the kingdom of Gorkha had already ringed alarms among the ranks of the British. So, they dispatched a group of 2500 well-trained soldiers in 1767 AD to intervene with the Nepalese expansion spree. But soon, the entire dispatch was taken down by a ferocious combination of Gurkha defense and diseases. When the war eventually broke out in 1814 – 1816 AD, the biggest of battles was fought at Nalapani.
The Nepalese Captain Bal Bhadra Kunwar, along with 600 of his men (also women and children) was able to hold up against 3500 well equipped British soldiers commanded by General Gillespie in a month-long battle. Finally, when no further help arrived against the British reinforcements, Bal Bhadra and his men made a successful escape amid heavy fire. The Gurkhas’ will to push themselves beyond the limit earned a lot of praise and admiration among the enemy ranks. Even though Nepal had to concede one-third of its land in the eventual peace treaty, the brave Gurkhas made sure they did so with their heads held high.
1. World War 2
The Second World War is arguably one of the most gruesome wars fought in the human history. All hell was breaking loose, and the Allied forces were losing their ground against the Japanese in Burma and Axis forces in Africa. Britain was quicker to deploy more than 137,000 Gurkhas to defend respective stations and take back captured areas in these regions. The Gurkhas fought in a number of battles in the dense jungles of Burma against a well-equipped and superior positioned Japanese force.
In fact, they were sent to succeed in obvious death missions because no matter how dire the task in hand is, Gurkhas never back down from their duty. On one occasion, US Air Force Colonel was rather surprised when the Gurkha Sergeant told his men were ready to jump, but the plane has to fly below 500 feet above marshy land. When the Colonel said that parachutes won’t open at such a low height, it was the Gurkha Sergeant’s turned to get surprised because he thought there were no parachutes available. The Gurkhas never hesitated to put their lives on the line when it came to executing their duty and mission. During the entire duration of the second Great War, over 23,000 Gurkhas lost their lives or went missing in action. More than 2,500 Gurkhas were also awarded for their ultimate bravery on the battlefield.
The Gurkhas have time and again proved worthy of being Britain’s personal detachment in perilous missions with colossal odds stacked against them. The fact that the Gurkha Regiment has been awarded the Victoria Cross for a record 26 times stands as a testimony to their bravery. However, dire the situation may be – giving up is not in their nature, and retreating away from a mightier rival has never been an option for them. Legends have it that even Hitler was taken aback by their battle-hardened courage. He found the Gurkhas valor so impressed that he even said if he had the Gurkhas, no army in the world could have defeated him.