Gurkhas and the Second World War

Gurkhas and the Second World War

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Gurkha soldiers of the British Indian Army were immediately deployed in service of the British War effort.

Gurkha soldiers saw service in three main combat theatres:  North Africa, Italy and the Far East. Gurkhas fought as part of the British 8th Army in North Africa, against Italian and German troops, suffering heavy losses at battles such as Tobruk, where2nd Battalion of the 7th Gurkha Rifles was captured.

After the final defeat of Italian and German forces in North Africa in 1943, Gurkha troops remained a key component of the Allied forces deployed in the liberation of Italy from 1943 until 1945. The 43rd Gurkha Lorried Brigade, composed of the 2nd Battalions of the 6th, 8th and 10th Gurkha Rifles, fought alongside the 4th, 8th and 10th Indian Infantry Divisions and reached some of the furthest-north points of the Italian Campaign before the German surrender in May 1945. During the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, the 1st Battalion of the 9th Gurkha Rifles managed to reach the walls of the Monte Cassino Monastery itself, holding out nearby for 9 days before being forced to withdraw due to lack of supplies.

Meanwhile, 23 Battalions of Gurkha soldiers (as well as garrison, training and parachute units) fought in Malaya and Burma, remaining steadfast during early losses against the advancing Japanese assaults and proving instrumental in the fightback down into Burma, after the halting of the Japanese advances towards India at the battles of Kohima and Imphal in 1944. Gurkha troops from various regiments also formed a key part of the two Long-Range Penetration ‘Chindit’ Operations in 1943 and 1944, harassing and tying down Japanese troops from behind their lines deep in the jungles of northern Burma.

12 Victoria Crosses (of which five were posthumous) were awarded to Gurkha soldiers and British officers within Gurkha Regiments during the Second World War. In total, some 120,000 Gurkhas served in the Second World War, suffering over 20,000 casualties and over 9,000 deaths.

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