Where were the Gurkhas on D-Day?

Where were the Gurkhas on D-Day?

In June the nation comes together to commemorate the anniversary of Operation OVERLORD, the historic Allied landings on the Normandy beaches.  These landings, famously known as D-Day, not only established a crucial second front in Europe but also created an additional battleground for the Axis powers to contend with.  Without doubt, D-Day was a decisive turning point in the Second World War.  After stopping the assault on the Western Front, Allied forces fought their way into Germany and, in conjunction with the Soviets, compelled the Nazi Germans to surrender, ending World War II in Europe.  This article argues the strategic success on the Western Front was influenced by a multitude of factors, including the circumstances on other fronts like Italy and Burma.   

Although there were no Gurkha units present on the beaches during D-Day or in northern Europe, it is important to acknowledge that in June 1944, Gurkha units were actively engaged in numerous other theatres of war.  Across the globe, more than sixty Gurkha battalions and similar units were tirelessly fighting to defeat the Axis Powers and bring an end to the war. 

On 6 June, four Gurkha infantry battalions were stationed in the Middle East.  Three of these battalions soon redeployed north to contribute to the Allies’ efforts in Italy, to join other Gurkha battalions already involved there.  It was during the Italian Campaign that six Gurkha infantry battalions truly made their mark, fighting in units such as the 43rd Independent Gurkha Infantry Brigade, also known as the 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade.  This Brigade played a vital role in fighting against Nazi German troops, particularly along the Adriatic coast of the Italian peninsula.  The Gurkha brigade’s efforts were commendable, as it managed to advance to some of the northernmost points of the Italian Campaign before the German surrender in May 1945.  The bravery and contributions of the Gurkhas during this period were truly remarkable. 

During the conflict in Burma and Northern India, a formidable force of twenty Gurkha infantry battalions, as well as Gurkha garrison battalions and Gurkha parachute battalions, played a crucial role.  These soldiers were primarily deployed in the Arakan region of southern Burma and the vital operations near the cities of Kohima and Imphal, situated along the Indian-Burma border.  Their main objective was to counter the imperial Japanese forces.  Working alongside other Indian and British units, the Gurkhas valiantly defended the Arakan area and effectively pushed back the Japanese forces.  One notable achievement occurred on 31 May 1944 when the Gurkhas launched a successful raid on the remaining Japanese troops in Kohima Town, helping to shatter their resistance.  This victory showcased the unwavering determination and exceptional skills of Gurkha soldiers. 

During the Burma Campaign, four infantry battalions were actively involved in the 2nd ‘Chindit’ operation, carrying out extensive ground operations deep within Japanese territory in northern Burma.  Known as Operation THURSDAY, the Gurkha units played a central role in the British Army s 14th Army’s strategic response to the planned Japanese invasion of India.  The Gurkhas played a vital role in countering Japanese aggression and securing important locations.  

Unfortunately, three Gurkha infantry battalions found themselves in Japanese captivity after the Fall of Singapore in early 1942.  These soldiers remained prisoners until Japan’s final defeat in late 1945.  Tragically, many of them lost their lives due to the harsh conditions and brutal treatment they endured as prisoners of war.  Amidst the inhumane circumstances, the Gurkhas’ unwavering resilience and courage shone through.  Their stories stand as a testament to the indomitable strength and unwavering determination of the Gurkhas. 

On the North-West Frontier of India, six Gurkha infantry battalions stood guard, ensuring peace and stability in this region.  Meanwhile, in other parts of India, four infantry battalions were preparing for future missions, with one even training to become a Gurkha Parachute battalion.  Additionally, there was a Gurkha Garrison battalion, five Gurkha Training battalions, and ten Regimental Centres, each playing a crucial role in the recruitment, training, and administration of the Gurkha Regiments.  These centres were not just administrative hubs, but also the spiritual home for each Regiment. 

During the Second World War, more than 130,000 Gurkhas fought for Britain across various theatres of conflict.  Their bravery and resilience played a vital role in the British victory at the Battle of Imphal and the success of the Burma campaign, ultimately preventing the Japanese invasion of India.  While the Italian Campaign may not have had a decisive impact on the overall war, it did help restore respect after defeats in Hong Kong and Singapore.  Battles like Monte Cassino also kept Axis troops occupied, preventing them from reinforcing other fronts.  These campaigns collectively influenced the course of World War II by diverting enemy resources, opening new fronts, and shaping the post-war geopolitical landscape. 

Learn more about Gurkhas in the Second World War.

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