Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung, VC

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  1. BuggerAll

    BuggerAll LE Reviewer Book Reviewer


    Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung, VC

    Gurkha who was decorated for his courage and skill in capturing a Japanese position in fierce hand-to-hand fighting
    Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung, VC

    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).

    He was with Wingate’s Number 4 Column, which had crossed the Chindwin and was on its deep penetration march behind the Japanese lines, when it was ambushed by elements of the very experienced Japanese 33rd Division and forced to disperse. Wingate had ordered his columns to do this when faced with overwhelming numerical superiority, but Bhanbhagta survived that day to be given further promotion to Naik (Corporal).

    By the end of the first Chindit operation Bhanbhagta’s battalion had been very badly damaged and needed months of training and refitting. It was not until March 1944 that it was sent to Arakan to take part in the 25th Indian Division’s thrust down the Mayu Range, running parallel with the coast and leading to the strategically important port and airfield of Akyab. 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.

    In a subsequent action when a fellow rifleman was badly wounded, Bhanbhagta demonstrated his physical as well as moral strength by carrying him on his back for three miles over difficult jungle tracks to the company base.

    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.

    The battalion’s supporting artillery had to cease firing when the leading rifle platoons began to incur casualties from supporting rounds falling short, because of crest clearance difficulties. The section of which Bhanbhagta was a member was then pinned down by machinegun fire, and a Japanese sniper in a tree added to the menace.

    Unable to get the required rifle elevation from the prone position, Bhanbhagta stood up and shot the sniper dead. After that the section advanced until, 20 yards from the objective, it was held up again. Without waiting for orders and shouting for the rest of the section to follow, Bhanbhagta charged towards the top of the hill. He threw two grenades into an enemy fox hole directly above him, killing the two occupants before rushing to the next enemy trench which he cleared with the bayonet.

    Savage hand-to-hand fighting then ensued with no quarter given. Bhanbhagta cleared two more foxholes single-handed. For a fifth time he went forward alone and leapt on the roof of a bunker to throw two phosphorous grenades into the slit. Two burning and partially blinded Japanese ran out and he killed them both with his kukri.

    Crawling into it, he crushed the surviving machine gunner’s head with a rock, as there was insufficient room to swing his kukri. He then organised a Bren light machinegun to fire from the bunker, and his leadership of this small party was largely responsible for repelling the subsequent enemy counter-attack.

    Snowdon East was taken but Bhanbhagta’s company lost half its men dead and wounded; 66 Japanese dead were counted. Bhanbhagta was awarded the Victoria Cross and the 2nd Gurkha Rifles the battle honour “Tamandu” to add to their many others.

    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.

    Bhanbhagta Gurung, VC was a smiling, hard-swearing, gallant and indomitable peasant soldier who, in a battalion of very brave men, was one of the bravest.

    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.

    Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung, VC, 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles, was born in September 1921. He died on March 1, 2008, aged 86
  2. RIP Old Warrior.
  3. Bravest of the bravest of the brave - rest in peace
  4. very sad to hear the news, a true brave hero, mine and Mrs Stilts thoughts go out to his family. Rest in peace.

  5. For those of you of the right age the DC Thompson comic"The Victor" used to feature on its cover tales of , mostly, WW11 medal winners, in the bad old days before the race relations acts, it was amazing how many stories involved colonial troops as they were then, also how kids of my age took it for granted that we were all in it together.

    I wish his family well and hope that some help is forthcoming from the government. Thanks to all his generation who did so much for so little.
  6. RIP to a true hero.
  7. Wow - i think the above few sentences describes the carnage of the burma campaign perfectly. RIP.
  8. Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung, VC - Now that's what I call a hero!
  9. I don't do RIP threads, but this ones fitting.....

    Godspeed Sir
  10. RIP Havildar
  11. I hate to seem like I jumped on a bandwagon, but bloody hell.

    Rest well, endless respect.
  12. A picture of Havildar Bhanbhagta Gurung courtesy of The Victoria Cross Association. Looking at all the medals he received makes me think of all those Soviet Generals you saw wandering about the place with a chest full of decorations, only in this case he actually earned them.

    Agreed, those are the bits of the article that made me pause as well. So tight he can't even swing his arm so he crawls in and uses a rock and then carries on. Truly humbling. Assuming he was a Hindu like most of the Gurkhas seem to be and a believer I shall rise a drink and hope he achieves another step along the path of samsara to moksha.

    Good to see his three sons carried on the family tradition although talk about being overshadowed by your parents.
  13. Absolute total warrior. This is why the Gurkhas are feared and respected. RIP.