Gurkha VCs of the Second World War Italy Campaign

The Arakan Campaign, Burma – 1942–43
April 30, 2020
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May 6, 2020

Gurkha VCs of the Second World War Italy Campaign

Rifleman Sherbahadur Thapa V.C.

Born in Ghalechap in the Tanhu District of Nepal in 1921, Sherbahadur Thapa enlisted with 9th Gurkha Rifles in November 1942 and joined 1st Battalion 9th Gurkha Rifles in Italy as part of a draft replacing heavy casualties suffered during the battalion’s attacks at Monte Cassino.

By September 1944 German troops in Italy had pinned their hopes on the line of fortifications in the north of the country known as the Gothic Line. Breaking this line was considered essential to reaching the ‘underbelly’ of Europe for the Allies and 1/9GR were detailed as part of the 4th Indian Division to take a region of the line near the small Italian town of San Marino.

On the night of 18th/19 September 1944 Sherbahadur Thapa and his section commander stormed an enemy strongpoint in San Marino. Having overcome a machine gun post, he continued to engage the enemy and despite suggestions to seek cover, he lay in the open under a hail of bullets, silencing further enemy machine guns with his own accurate Bren-gun fire and keeping the Germans from advancing. After two hours of severe fighting he was ordered to retire with his Company. He covered their withdrawal alone until his ammunition was exhausted. Then, before retiring, he ran out in the face of accurate small arms and mortar fire to rescue two wounded comrades who were between him and the Germans.

His citation for the Victoria Cross ends “While returning the second time he paid the price of his heroism and fell riddled by machine gun bullets fired at point blank range….His name will live in the history of his Regiment as a very gallant soldier”.

In March 1945 at a ceremony outside the Red Fort in Delhi Field Marshal Lord Wavell presented her son’s Victoria Cross to Sherbahadur’s mother, who had travelled from Nepal especially for the occasion. Sadly there is no known photograph of Rfn Sherbahadur but his memory is immortalised in a monument erected in San Marino where close links are maintained with those Second World War members of his Regiment who still survive.

 

Rifleman Thaman Gurung VC

Thaman Gurung was born in the village of Singla in Gorkha, Western Nepal in 1924. He first enlisted with the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) and was posted to ‘A’ Company of the 1st Battalion of that regiment in September 1944, as part of the famous 8th Army.

On November 10th 1944 ‘A’ Company was ordered to send one platoon on a fighting patrol to a future attack objective named Monte San Bartolo, a high bluff with very little cover and connected to a larger feature held by 1/5RGR by a narrow, rocky saddle, covered by enemy machine gun positions. Thaman Gurung was one of two scouts in the patrol and during his advance managed to reach the base of the bluff undetected, but the other scout was not so lucky and Thaman was able to observe the enemy preparing to open fire on his companion. Thinking quickly Thaman Gurung leaped up and charged the enemy position, taking them completely by surprise and forcing them to surrender before they opened fire.

Thaman Gurung then continued on and crept towards the summit of Monte San Bartolo. Over the summit a large number of German troops were well-dug in and preparing to launch a devastating grenade and machine-gun barrage upon any troops trying to charge the hill. Despite it silhouetting him against the sky-line and placing him in full view of the German troops, Thaman charged up, crossed the summit of the hill and opened fire on the forward German positions until his ammunition and grenades were exhausted, allowing the attacking sections of his platoon to reach the summit and attempt an attack. They came under heavy fire and were forced to withdraw but Thaman refused to let up, retreating over the summit to acquire more grenades and ammunition before charging forward again, giving enough fire to allow all the sections involved in the attack to withdraw except the leading section.

With the leading section being the only ones left on the summit, Thaman Gurung once again retreated in order to acquire a Bren gun and ammunition, before charging back for a third and final time to provide heavy covering fire, allowing the final section to withdraw and expending two full magazines of ammunition before being killed. Thaman Gurung’s actions undoubtedly reduced the casualties his platoon would have taken had he not done as he did, and the information gained from the attack allowed Monte San Bartolo to be captured three days later.

Rifleman Thaman Gurung was only 20 years old when he was killed, and his actions were immediately put forward for consideration for the Victoria Cross. On 19th December 1945 Thaman Gurung’s mother was presented with his V.C. by Field Marshal Lord Wavell at a ceremony in Delhi.

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