Gurkhas and the Falklands War

Gurkhas and the Falklands War

On 2nd April 1982 Argentinian troops invaded the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory, in an attempt to assert sovereignty over the disputed islands. The British Government, after the initial shock, reacted quickly, assembling a Naval Task Force which set sail within days, with 3 Commando Brigade, reinforced by other units, embarked.

1st Battalion 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles (1/7 GR) was then the UK-based Gurkha Battalion and part of 5 Infantry Brigade, which would subsequently be added to the Task Force Order of Battle for Operation CORPORATE, the retaking of the Falklands. Rapid preparations for departure were made at the battalion’s base at Church Crookham, which included integrating new equipment, radios and additional heavy machine guns.

By early May most pre- deployment training had been carried out and 1/7 GR embarked with four members of 541 Troop, Queen’s Gurkha Signals on the liner Queen Elizabeth 2 at Southampton departing on May 12th. Despite the confines of a 21-day sea voyage the Battalion continued to train whilst onboard ship and also celebrated the Battalion’s 80th Birthday.

On arriving at the Falkland Islands, the Battalion was landed at San Carlos Bay on the north of the island, on June 1st. ‘D’ Company of the Battalion was left to defend the landing site, while the remainder of the Battalion was flown forward in a series of helicopter lifts, south to Goose Green, relieving 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment and taking over the guarding of some 500 Argentinian prisoners. Once their prisoners were moved on, the Battalion turned to a series of aggressive patrols across Lafonia (the southern half of East Falkland). One of these patrols is recorded as having taken prisoner a group of Argentinian soldiers, commanded by an officer and armed with anti-aircraft weapons, simply by brandishing a kukri in a threatening manner. ‘D’ Company re-joined the rest of the Battalion at this time, having moved on foot from their positions near San Carlos to Goose Green. The Company completed the move in less than 36 hours, despite some of the men carrying loads in excess of 140lb.

By June 9th the Battalion had moved east up to Fitzroy and on June 10th plans were laid for an attack by 5 Brigade towards Mt Tumbledown and Mt William.  As the Battalion moved towards its assembly area for the attack it came under sporadic but accurate artillery fire. On June 11th four members of ‘B’ Company were wounded by shrapnel and had to be evacuated. The Battalion was to cooperate with the Scots Guards, moving along a feature known as Goat Ridge to attack and take Mt William from the north. This attack would have to be completed in darkness and involve moving through areas almost certainly mined.   Unfortunately, delays to the start of the attack meant that it was daylight on June 14th before 1/7GR began to move, and they soon came under more Argentinian artillery and mortar fire. The Battalion suffered a further eight casualties, two of which were serious. Despite this being the first time the men had been under fire, their reaction was stoic. Captain (QGO) Bhuwansing Limbu, the 2iC of ‘D’ Company, is recorded to have stated, ‘jolly exciting this, isn’t it?’ to his Company commander after coming under accurate mortar fire.

Despite the delays, mortar fire and occasional accurate sniping from the enemy, D Company began its advance towards its objective of Mt. William where a large number of Argentinian soldiers began to surrender to the Scots Guards nearby or instead withdrew rapidly to Port Stanley. It is believed that the Gurkhas’ reputation had caused panic in the enemy when they realised who they were facing. It soon became apparent that the Argentinians were in the process of fully surrendering and that the war was rapidly coming to a close. All Argentinian forces on the Falklands surrendered later that day.

After another couple of nights in the hills around Port Stanley the Battalion moved back to Goose Green, where sadly on June 24th the Battalion’s only fatality, Lance-Corporal Budhaprasad Limbu, was killed after his spade struck an active grenade during work to clear the former battlefield. He would be one of only two Gurkha soldiers killed as a result of the Falklands War. The other, Corporal Krishnakumar Rai of the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, would also be killed in an ordnance explosion during clean-up operations later in 1982.

The Battalion remained in the Falklands to assist in returning normality to the local population and to utilise the open spaces of the islands for further training. Finally, the main body of the Battalion returned to the UK on the SS Uganda, first docking at Southampton and then arriving back in Fleet to a spectacular welcome on August 9th, ninety days after departure.

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