03 March 2008

RIP: Bhanbhagta Gurung VC

Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung VC
Sep 1921 - 1 Mar 2008

ZUI this article from The Times:
Bhanbhagta Gurung won his Victoria Cross in Burma in 1945. His action was the culmination of a series of extraordinarily gallant actions by this soldier of quite exceptional courage, yet it occurred while he was in disgrace, albeit unjustly.

Born in the hill village of Phalbu in western Nepal, he was recruited into the old Indian Army soon after the outbreak of the Second World War, and joined 3rd Battalion 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles). He first saw action with Brigadier Orde Wingate’s Chindit expedition into Upper Burma in March 1943, having received early promotion to Lance-Naik (Lance-Corporal).


In the costly but ultimately successful fighting for what was known as the “Tiger” feature in September 1944, he did well while commanding a rifle section but then his luck changed and he was faced with disgrace.

His platoon commander, a Gurkha officer, sent him with his section to establish a picquet position on what turned out to be the wrong hill. The battalion commander was furious when reports reached him that the correct hill had not been secured as he intended. Bhanbhagta was charged with neglect of duty but all he would say in his defence was that he was certain he was on the hill he had been ordered to hold. His platoon commander remained silent and Bhanbhagta was reduced to the ranks and transferred to another company under a cloud.


The action for which he was awarded the VC followed 25th Indian Division’s landing at Ru-ywa on the Burma coast, an operation designed to divert Japanese attention away from General Sir William Slim’s main offensive towards Mandalay in February 1945. 25th Division’s advance to the Irrawaddy through the An pass was fiercely opposed by part of the Japanese 54th Division holding a series of hill features, including one code-named “Snowdon East”, near the village of Tamandu. 3rd/2nd Gurkha Rifles fought for two days to take and hold Snowdon but might have been denied their victory had it not been for Bhanbhagta.


After the war, Bhanbhagta’s company commander tried to persuade him to stay in the regiment, but having only a frail mother and young wife to care for his land and stock at Phalbu, he decided that he must return home. He left the Army in 1946, having regained the rank of Naik, but within a few years his regiment honoured him with the title of Havildar (Sergeant). The King of Nepal awarded him the Medal of the Order of the Star of Nepal. His three sons followed him into the 2nd Gurkha Rifles and are now pensioners.


The young wife whom he left the service to rejoin died before him. He is survived by his three sons.

His death leaves 11 surviving holders of the Victoria Cross.

The 11 surviving VC holders are:
Lt Col Eric C T Wilson VC, East Surrey Regiment - Somaliland, 1940
WO Tul Bahadur Pun VC, 6th Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1944
Flt Lt John A Cruickshank VC, RAFVR - North Atlantic, 1944
Hav Lachhiman Gurung VC, 8th Gurkha Rifles - Burma, 1945
Pte Edward Kenna VC, Australian Imperial Force - New Guinea, 1945
Lt Cdr Ian E Fraser VC DSC, RNR - Johore Strait, 1945
Sgt William Speakman VC, The Black Watch - Korea, 1951
Capt Ram Bahadur Limbu VC MVO, 10th Gurkha Rifles - Borneo, 1965
WO Keith Payne VC OAM, Australian Army - Vietnam, 1969
Pte Johnson G Beharry VC, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment - Iraq, 2004
Cpl Bill H Apiata VC, New Zealand SAS - Afghanistan, 2004

********** ******* ************


Rifleman, 3rd Bn, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles

Born: September 1921, Phalbu Village, Nepal
Died: 1 March 2008, Dharapani, Gorkha, Nepal

Citation: The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
No. 10020 Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung, 2nd King Edward VII's Own Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army.
In Burma, on 5th March, 1945, a Company of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles attacked an enemy position known as Snowden East. On approaching the objective one of the sections was forced to ground by very heavy Light Machine Gun, grenade and mortar fire, and owing to the severity of this fire was unable to move in any direction. While thus pinned, the section came under accurate fire from a tree sniper some 75 yards to the South. As this sniper was inflicting casualties on the section, Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung, being unable to fire from the lying position, stood up fully exposed to the heavy fire and calmly killed the enemy sniper with his rifle, thus saving his section from suffering further casualties.
The section then advanced again, but when within 20 yards of the objective was again attacked by very heavy fire. Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung, without waiting for any orders, dashed forward alone and attacked the first enemy fox-hole. Throwing two grenades, he killed the two occupants and without any hesitation rushed on to the next enemy fox-hole and killed the Japanese in it with his bayonet.
Two further enemy fox-holes were still bringing fire to bear on the section and again Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung dashed forward alone and cleared these with bayonet and grenade. During his single-handed attacks on these four enemy fox-holes, Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung was subjected to almost continuous and point-blank Light Machine Gun fire from a bunker on the North tip of the objective. Realising that this Light Machine Gun would hold up not only his own platoon which was now behind him, but also another platoon which was advancing from the West, Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung for the fifth time went forward alone in the face of heavy enemy fire to knock out this position. He doubled forward and leapt on to the roof of the bunker from where, his hand grenades being finished, he flung two No. 77 smoke grenades into the bunker slit. Two Japanese rushed out of the bunker partially blinded by the smoke. Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung promptly killed them both with his Khukri. A remaining Japanese inside the bunker was still firing the Light Machine Gun and holding up the advance of No. 4 Platoon, so Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung crawled inside the bunker, killed this Japanese gunner and captured the Light Machine Gun.
Most of the objective had now been cleared by the men behind and the enemy driven off were collecting for a counter-attack beneath the North end of the objective. Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung ordered the nearest Bren gunner and two riflemen to take up positions in the captured bunker. The enemy counter-attack followed soon after, but under Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung's command the small party inside the bunker repelled it with heavy loss to the enemy.
Rifleman Bhanbagta Gurung showed outstanding bravery and a complete disregard for his own safety. His courageous clearing of five enemy positions single-handed was in itself decisive in capturing the objective and his inspiring example to the rest of the Company contributed to the speedy consolidation of this success.

(London Gazette issue 37107, dated 5 Jun 1945, published 1 Jun 1945.)

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