19: 5th Gurkha Rifles

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Badges of 5th Gurkha Rifles

Brief History
They were raised as the 25th Punjab Infantry or Hazara Gurkha Battalion in 1858. Their base was Abbottabad and remained so until 1947. This town was founded in 1853 by Major James Abbott, the first British deputy commissioner of Hazara District. It is a hill station situated northeast of Rawalpindi at a height of 4,120 ft. It is still the regimental centre for the Frontier Force of Pakistan. Tribal Areas

In 1860 they were at the Palesina camp when it was attacked by 3000 Mahsud tribesmen. The fight only lasted 15 minutes but it was ferocious and caused heavy casualties on both sides. But the kukri prevailed and the tribesmen retreated.

The Second Afghan War
The 5th achieved their reputation under Major-General Roberts as part of his Kurram Valley Field Force. They were in the 2nd Infantry Brigade, at first under Brig-Gen Thelwell and then under Brig-Gen Baker. Their first battle was at Peiwar Kotal in which they were led by Roberts in a night attack on the Afghans positioned on the heights. This action resulted in the award of seven orders of merit for the regiment and a VC. The recipient was Captain J. Cook. Up until 1911 only British officers of the Indian Army could receive a VC, after that date Indians were granted the honour.
Captain John Cook VC
Captain Cook led repeated charges against enemy barricades with a joint force of 5th Gurkhas and 72nd Highlanders. At dawn, as the Afghans fled their positions, Cook collected a few men and charged and killed a large number of enemy who were trying to rescue one of their guns. During this operation he saved the life of Major Galbraith by wrestling to the ground an Afghan about to shoot him. The Afghan was a powerful man and sank his teeth into Cook’s arm and would not let go until he was shot in the head. Cook survived this battle but was fatally wounded 4 months later at Kabul. His was the first of the 7 VCs awarded to the 5th.
The Mangiar Defile 1878
A few days after the battle at Peiwar Kotal, the Field Force explored the southern route to Kurram through the Mangier defile. The main body negotiated the defile without trouble but the rearguard and baggage were suddenly attacked by the Mangal Pathans. The situation was saved by the ‘steadiness and gallantry of the 5th Gurkha Regiment’ who repelled every attack made by the large number of tribesmen who had massed to attack the force. The fighting lasted 5 hours but the baggage was saved. Two officers were injured, Capt F T Goad, Assistant Superintendent of Transport and Capt C F Powell of the 5th Gurkhas. They both subsequently died of their wounds.
Charasia 1879
Their first battle honour had been gained at Peiwar Kotal on the 2nd Dec 1878, their second was gained at Charasia on 6th October 1879. Again, they were part of the main attacking force this time commanded by Brig-Gen Baker. Again they were with the 72nd Highlanders and they carried out attacks on two positions before defeating the Afghans
Kabul to Kandahar
Marching in Hazara c1903

Roberts led a force of 10,000 troops and 8,000 followers together with 11,000 animals (camels, horses, mules etc). It was a distance of 325 miles and lasted 22 days from 9th August to 31st August 1880 with one day’s rest on the 24th. The Gurkhas were better able to cope than most of the participants having been bred and brought up in the mountains. For all of them, however, including Roberts himself, it was an extremely arduous journey; they suffered blistering heat during the day while carrying 30lbs of equipment, and freezing cold by night. Then there was the ever present dust kicked up by so many men and animals, sickness, and the danger of attack or capture by sadistic tribesmen.

The march was followed up immediately by the battle of Kandahar on 1st Sept which was another battle honour for the 5th even though they were not required to perform to the same extent that they had at Peiwar Kotal and Charasia.. Overall, the 5th had shown such courage and hardiness that when Sir Frederick Roberts became Lord Roberts of Kandahar he chose for heraldic supporters of his new coat of arms two hillmen, a Seaforth Highlander (72nd) and a 5th Gurkha.

Second Battalion, 1886
A second battalion was raised on 20th October 1886 from a cadre of the 1st battalion and from the 42nd, 43rd and 44th Gurkha regiments. Their first significant action was in the Hazara Black Mountain Expedition of 1891.
Lt Guy Boisragon VC
While 2/5th were in the Black Mountains, the 1st battalion were in the far north corner of Kashmir supporting the newly formed Kashmir Imperial Service troops against the Hunzas and Nagirs. On 2nd Dec 1891, Lt Boisragon won the regiment’s second VC. His citation says: ‘During the attack on Nilt Fort, Lt. Boisragon led the assault, forcing his way through difficult objects to the inner gate when he returned for reinforcements, moving fearlessly to and fro under heavy fire until he had collected sufficient men to drive the enemy from the fort.’
Lt J Manners-Smith VC
The third VC for the 5th was won on 20th Dec 1891 by Lt. Manners-Smith who was on the Indian Staff Corps attached to the 5th Gurkhas. His citation says: ‘Near Hilt Fort, Lt. Smith led the storming party at the attack and capture of a strong position occupied by the enemy. For nearly four hours on the face of the cliff which was almost precipitous, he moved his handful of men from point to point, and during this time he was unable to defend himself from any attack which the enemy chose to make. He was the first man to reach the summit within a few yards of one of the enemy’s sangars which was immediately rushed, the Lieutenant pistolling the first man.’
The Tirah Campaign, 1897
The 5th were asked to supply marksmen for a small force of scouts in this campaign. They proved so successful that more Gurkhas were added from the 1st and 3rd Gurkhas. They wore shorts for the first time, a contraversial move that was unwelcome in some quarters. After the campaign they reverted to knickerbockers until shorts came in for good in 1906.
World War I
The first battalion suffered heavily at Gallipoli. They arrived later than most of the troops but within a few hours of landing lost 129 men and 7 British officers. They were brigaded with 1/6th Gurkhas but these two battalions were so badly depleted that they were removed to the isle of Imbros for a month to wait for 2/10th Gurkhas to join them. When they did return to the battle in August 1915 they found themselves in hell. The heat was unbearable, the smell of unburied corpses in no-man’s land and the flies from these corpses only added to the demoralised state of the troops. Some success was had by the 6th Gurkhas but lack of support caused them to retreat again.. As summer dragged on disease took it’s toll but when the cold winds came in November the cold was even worse than the summer heat. Throughout this, the Gurkhas were stoical and uncomplaining, even when suffering from frostbite. When General Munro ordered the evacuation, the last Allied troops to leave Gallipoli were C Company of 1/5th Gurkhas. The second battalion served in Mesopotamia. A third battalion was raised in November 1916, fought on the North-West Frontier and Iraq, then was disbanded in 1921.
Inter War Years
The 5th was given the title of ‘Royal’ in 1921 and permitted to wear a red lanyard instead of a green and black one. This is called ‘The Royal’ and is handed to the recruit by the commanding officer. The battle honours of the regiment have two North-West Frontier honours (1930 and 1936-39) as well as one for Afghanistan 1919. They would have had to work extremely hard to be awarded these since no other regiment received them despite the fact that 20 British battalions and 20 Indian battalions (including the Guides) claimed such honours and were turned down.

5th Gurkha Rifles North West Frontier 1923.

Damdil, 1937
The most notable example of Gurkha indomitability happened in the Waziristan operations of 1937. Eight men and their Lance-Naik formed a piquet at Damdil. They came under attack from a group of 40 fanatics. They were all wounded in a ferocious struggle but managed to win through.
World War II
The 1st battalion served in Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Italy. The second battalion served in Burma and Japan. A third battalion was raised in October 1940 and served in Burma, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. A fourth battalion was raised in March 1941, served in Burma and was disbanded in December 1946.
Burma 1942
2/5th was one of five Gurkha battalions in retreat from Burma as the Japanese pressed on with their invasion. They suffered one of the longest retreats in history to reach the bridge across the Sittang river and India on the other side. They were one of the four battalions chosen to fight a rearguard action. It was a dramatic fight culminating in the last minute blowing of the bridge to prevent the Japanese from following them. Dozens of men were left on the wrong side of the fast flowing river. Weeks later 40 badly wounded survivors of 2/5th reached India after making their way north to cross the river.

The army had lost not only men, captured by the Japanese, but weapons and equipment as well. It took many months of preparation before they were in a position to re-enter Burma. When they did, in 1943, the Gurkhas proved invaluable and the 5th showed this time and time again. It was in Burma that three of the regiments’ wartime VCs were won. The three men were:

Havildar Gaje Ghale VC (24-27 May 1943)
Rifleman Agansing Rai VC (24-25 June 1944) [see photo]
Subedar Netrabahadur Thapa VC (25-26 June 1944)

The fourth VC was awarded to Rifleman Thaman Gurung of the 1st battalion in Italy on 19th November 1944.

Thaman Gurung VC
‘A’ Company 1/5th Gurkhas was sent to Monte San Bartolo to scout the steep approaches. They knew that the Germans had machine-gun posts covering their approach and they moved up the spine of a hill in single file. Thaman Gurung was the leading scout and came upon a slit trench which he promptly charged with drawn kukri. The surprised Germans surrendered and were sent down the hill. The capture alerted the rest of the enemy who opened fire with mortars. Thaman ran towards them firing a sub-machine gun and throwing grenades.. When he ran out of these, he ran back for more to cover his platoon’s withdrawl.

The leading section was pinned down, so Thaman seized a bren-gun and ran up the hill firing at the enemy. He survived long enough to empty two magazines and for the section to withdraw before being killed.

Partition 1947
The 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalions went to the Indian Army. Such was the confusion and lack of communication at the time that the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles had two weeks notice to leave Abbottabad where they had been based for 89 years.

Post Independence

On Independence, the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles was one of the six Gurkha regiments that remained part of the new Indian Army, they were renamed the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) in 1950. The Regiment now has a total of six Battalions and has, participated in virtually every major action the Indian Army has undertaken in its four wars with Pakistan, including the first airborne operations undertaken by the army during the 1971 war. The Regiment has participated in the following actions:

The 4th Battalion was also a part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force which served in Sri Lanka and fought with LTTE. This is where Col Bawa was injured and later died, with many of his officers and soldiers.

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