22: 8th Gurkha Rifles

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Badges of 8th Gurkha Rifles

8 Gurkha Rifles

The 8 Gorkha Rifles is a Gorkha regiment of the Indian Army. It was raised in 1824 as part of the British East India Company and later transferred to the British Indian Army after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The regiment served in the World War I and World War II, before being one of the Gurkha regiments transferred to the Indian Army after independence in 1947. Since then it has served in a number of conflicts including the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971. Today the 8th Gorkha Rifles is one of the most celebrated regiments of the Indian Army, having received numerous citations for bravery in the field of battle, and even producing one of the two field marshals, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, of the Indian Army.


Formation and Early Campaigns

The “Shiny Eight”, as the regiment is popularly known in the Gorkha fraternity of the Indian Army, can trace its history back to the 16th Sylhet Local Battalion, which was raised in 1824 as part of the British East India Company and since then the identity of the Regiment has undergone a number of transitions before reaching its present designation as the 8 Gorkha Rifles, which it achieved in 1907.

Military assignments commenced as soon after the raising of the Regiment when the first battalion formed the spearhead for operations in the First Anglo–Burmese War of 1824-25. The services of the Regiment were to be requisitioned again when the British went to war with Bhutan in 1864. Two battalion columns of the Regiment sallied forth, shoulder to shoulder to crush the Bhutanese revolts and the stronghold of Devnageri. The first Victoria Cross (VC), awarded to Richard Ridgeway, came to the Regiment in October 1879 in its first ever operational mission when its units were summoned to deal with Nagaland Rebels. This was the first time that a regular army unit was ever been employed in the Naga hills.

The Regiment’s second Victoria Cross was awarded to Charles Grant, for his actions on the during the Manipur Expedition on the North-East Frontier on 27 March 1891 whilst attached to the 2nd Battalion. Following the disaster at Manipur, Grant volunteered to attempt the relief of the British who were being held captive with a force of 80 Gurkhas. Inspiring his men with his example of personal daring and resource, the lieutenant captured Thobal, near Manipur, from a force of 800 Manipuris on 30 March 1891. For the next ten days Grant and his small force held Thobal, before on 9 April 1891, having run out of food and having almost no ammunition left, they were forced to abandon the position. In his report following the incident, Lieutenant Grant recommended every member of his party be awarded the Indian Order of Merit, which was at that time the highest award a native member of the British Indian Army could be awarded. This recommendation was later accepted and all of Grant’s men were also rewarded with six months pay and allowances.

The Younghusband Expedition of 1904 was another operation that brought a VC to the Regiment, awarded to John Duncan Grant—no relation to Charles Grant—for his actions during the British expedition to Tibet. Braving the high altitude climes of Tibet, the expeditionary force successfully stormed the Tibetan fortress of Gyantse at 18,000 feet.

World War I

World War I (1914–18) testified to the enigmatic valour and heroism of the Regiment during the course of combat service in Italy, France, Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq) and Egypt. During the fighting in France, the 2nd/8th distinguished itself by fighting virtually to the last man during the Battle of Loos on 25 September 1915, hurling themselves time after time against the weight of German defences. Having mustered almost eight hundred men to begin with, by the end of the day they had a frontage of just one officer and forty-nine men.

The Regiment won 14 battle honours during this period:

  • La Bassee, Festubert, Givenchy, Neauve Chapelle, Aubers, France and Flanders 1914–15; Egypt, Megiddo, Sharon, Palestine, Tigris, Kut-at-Amara, Baghdad, Mesopotamia 1916–18.

Following the war, it also participated in the Third Afghan War, earning the Afghanistan 1919 Inter War Years

During the years between the two World Wars, the 8th Goorkhas were based in India, where they undertook various garrison duties, in between service on the North West Frontier. It was whilst the 2/8th was based at Quetta in the mid 1930s that a member of the Regiment would display outstanding courage, this time not during war but during peace. In 1935 a series of powerful earthquakes rocked north-west India and thousands of people were killed. The men of the 2/8th worked tirelessly in their efforts to help free many of the civilians that were caught beneath the ruins. Nandlal Thapa received the Empire Gallantry Medal for repeatedly risking his life entering buildings that were in danger of collapsing amidst the aftershocks in order to rescue injured survivors. At the time the Empire Gallantry Medal was the highest award for gallantry for actions performed not in the face of the enemy, although later when the George Cross came into being in 1940, Nandlal Thapa received the George Cross to replace his Empire Gallantry Medal.

World War II

The Regiment’s battalions also saw active overseas actions in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tobruk, El Alamein and Burma during World War II where the Regiment earned its fourth VC and twenty-two battle honours. Lachhiman Gurung was awarded the VC during the Burmese Campaign. In January 1943 the 2nd Battalion was attached to the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade which had just returned from the Western Desert after having been almost destroyd at the Battle of Gazala At the end of the month the brigade was renamed as the 43rd Indian Infantry Brigade (Lorried). The brigade and its Gurkha battalions were sent to Italy in mid 1944 as an Independent brigade.

The Regiment’s World War II Battle Honours include:

  • Iraq 1941, North Africa 1940–43, Gothic Line, Coriano, Sant’ Angelo, Gaiana Crossing, Point 551, Italy 1942–44; Tamu Road, Bishenpur, Kanglato-ngbi, Mandalay, Myinmu Bridgehead, Singhu, Shan-datgyi, Sittang, Imphal, Burma 1942–45.

Post Independence

The 8th Gurkha Rifles, along with the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9th Gurkha Rifles, was transferred to India on independence in 1947. The regiment became one of the Gorkha regiments (India) when the spelling was changed for all of the transferred regiments.

Kashmir Operations

Soon after partition, the 2/8 Gorkha Rifles saw action in the Leh operations of 1948. The battalion made a forced march over inhospitable terrain and reached Leh. Major Hari Chand and his company were involved in a series of raids that demoralized the Pakistani forces, this included destruction of the Pakistani mountain guns at the village of Basgo which had been brought in to consolidate the raiders hold over Leh. In this action, Major Hari Chand and four other ranks were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC) and Vir Chakra (VRC) respectively.

Sino-Indian war of 1962

One Param Vir Chakra was awarded to Major Dhan Singh Thapa, of the 1/8 Gorkha Rifles, during the Sino Indian War. To date this is the only recipient of the Param Vir Chakra for the Regiment.

Later Period

The Regiment was also involved in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan conflicts during which members of the regiment were awarded 4 Maha Vir Chakras. The Regiment was also actively involved in the operations in Sri Lanka where again members of the regiment were awarded for gallantry winning one Maha Vir Chakra and four Vir Chakras.

In 1979 when the 1/8 became a Mechanised Infantry Regiment, a further battalion was raised on July 1, 1979 and named the 7/8 Gorkha Rifles.

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