Tag Archives: Kukri

Just Extra Mags and a Kukri

A small-framed soldier of the 4th Battalion, 4th Prince of Wales’s Own (PWO) Gurkha Rifles, engaged in house-to-house fighting in a Burmese village, CBI Theatre, 1945.

Raised in 1941, 4/4 saw WWII service in India’s border areas in Nagaland, Manipur, and Mizoram, and the Far East. One of the Gurkha regiments that was partitioned to the Indian Army in 1947, the motto of what is today the Fourth Gorkha Rifles is “Kayar Hunu Bhanda Marnu Ramro” (Better to die than live like a coward) (National Army Museum UK/One of 11 photos collected by Company Sergeant Major G R C Willis, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. NAM. 1989-10-67-4.)

Note the Sten Mk 3 sub-machine gun and the kukri in the belt at the Gurkha’s back. Due to the local conditions, the Gurkha has whittled down most of his ’37 Webbing to just a pair of basic pouches– which could carry either two BREN magazines, a half-dozen Thompson/STEN mags, four grenades, or boxes of 303– and a utility pouch, normally carried on the chest, worn to the back while what looks like the mouth of a canteen is poking up from his right. Still, with as many as 13 32-round mags, this skinny little guy could have over 400 rounds of ammo at the ready– an aspect oft-forgotten by those who poo-poo the use of SMGs on the battlefield. 

The 4/4 used beasts of burden for everything else.

Troops of 4/4th Gurkha Rifles crossing the River Irrawaddy in Burma. Each man carries his own weapon and essential supplies, while the ever-present mules shoulder the burden of extra ammunition, food, and water. NAM. 1989-10-67-5 by Sergeant Major G R C Willis, 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment.

The hardy soldiers from Nepal were well represented in the CBI in 1944-45 as 3rd Battalion/6th Gurkha Rifles; 3rd Battalion/4th Gurkha Rifles and the 3rd and 4th Battalions, 9th Gurkha Rifles, all took part in the Second Chindit Expedition of 1944. Other Gurkha battalions fought in the swamps and forests of the Arakan.

In lighter notes, the STEN has always been my favorite burp gun and one that is absolutely just the most enjoyable to fire. We’ve already talked about my kukri obsession several times…

Truncheons and Gurkhas

Earlier this month, 70 newly minted Nepalese Gurkhas swore allegiance to (British Army’s) Royal Gurkha Rifles regiment in a unique ceremonial parade known as the Kasam Khane.

As noted by MOD:

Kasam Khane is the ceremonial parade during which new Riflemen swear their allegiance to the Regiment. The recruits on parade had already made an oath of loyalty to the Crown on enlistment in Nepal, however Gurkha soldiers have the unique tradition of pledging an additional oath of loyalty to the Regiment on completion of their training and arrival at Battalion. Only then can they proudly claim to be a Rifleman of the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

In batches of three they march out in front of the parade to where the Queen’s Truncheon is being held by the Battalion’s Gurkha Major and on command each reaches out with their right hand to touch it, cementing their oath.

The Queen’s Truncheon is a magnificent 6ft-high artefact made of bronze and silver. Many British Army regiments have Regimental colours which are highly revered by the regiment’s soldiers. Once a rallying point for that regiment’s troops on the battlefield, the colours instil a sense of duty and honour to that particular regiment.

The Queen’s Truncheon, awarded to The Sirmoor Battalion (later the 2nd KEO Gurkha Rifles) after the Gurkhas distinguished themselves by holding the Ridge during the Siege of Delhi, is awarded the status of a Colour for the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Gurkhas on the Sharp End

The British Army’s Nepalese Gurkhas have been putting it on the line for the Crown going back to an agreement with the circa 1815 East India Company.

Gurkhas in the Western Desert, July 1942 cleaning their iconic kukri. Note their Enfield No IIIs, Brodie helmets, and shorts. Note the distinctive Terai slouch hat on the Gurkha standing to the rear, a piece of kit the soldiers still wear today. 

Growing to a force of 10 two-battalion regiments by WWII, after India became independent in 1947 the British retained four regiments by agreement that, in 1994, were all amalgamated into the Royal Gurkha Rifles, which form the bulk of today’s 3,600-man Brigade of Gurkhas.

And they have been busy since the thawing of the Cold War. To commemorate the 19 men killed while serving in the Brigade since 1999, Gurkha Company Catterick earlier this month unveiled a monument to commemorate fallen Gurkhas in recent conflicts, with new recruits trooped in front of it to remind them to stay frosty out there.

 

Leap of Faith

Some 77 years ago today, in the remote mountainous frontier area between India and Burma, an extremely understrength parachute light infantry brigade began an epic week-long battle against a Japanese force that was both much larger and much better armed– never an ideal task for airborne troops.

The place was Sangshak and the paras were from the 50th Indian Parachute Brigade, made up of 152 (Indian) and 153 (Gurkha) Parachute Battalions along with supporting troops.

The battle was never supposed to happen, it turned out that the Japanese 15th and 31st Divisions, infiltrating toward India, blundered into the Indian/Gurkha paras while the latter were working patrols. Nonetheless, it was a nightmare for all involved.

As noted by Paradata:

The Indian Parachute Brigade group held up the Japanese advance for six days, in appalling conditions, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy but at great loss. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting revolved around the Sangshak church within 200 yards of Brigade headquarters. Counter-attacks with bayonet and Kukri drove the Japanese back.

And from The Museum of the Parachute Regiment & Airborne Forces in Duxford:

On the 26th March, with both sides nearing complete exhaustion, the arrival of the 5th Indian Division allowed the Brigade to ‘fight its way out’ back to Imphal, having lost 40 officers and 585 men.

Patched back up, the Indians and Gurkhas would later finish the war with a drop into Rangoon.

“Rangoon Assault – As The Chutes Of Three Gurka Paratroopers Open Up Over Their Dropping Zone Near Rangoon, Three More Gurkhas Stolidly Step Out Of USAAF’s C-47’S Of The Combat Cargo Task Force, Eastern Air Command. This Is Precision Jumping In The Airborne phase of the land, sea, and air attack launched south of the Japanese held capital of Burma. Parapacks, containing equipment and supplies needed by the paratroopers, are carried like bombs under the bellies of the plane. They will be dropped as soon as the men have cleared the aircraft. U.S. Signal Corps photo via NARA 342-FH-3A37292-A57336AC

“Killing Japanese Is Great Sport To This Husky Gurkha Paratrooper, Who Smiles As A Fellow Member Of His Unit Helps Him Buckle On His Equipment While He Waits His Turn To Board A Usaaf C-47. Pilots Of The Combat Cargo Task Force, Under Major Gen. George E. Stratemeyer’s Eastern Air Command, transported these fighters to the jumping ground behind Japanese lines. U.S. Signal Corps photo via NARA 342-FH-3A37291-57336AC

LIFE Magazine Archives – Jack Wilkes Photographer

Mind the Kukri! Gurkha Paratroopers prepare to drop into Burma during Operation Dracula on May 1, 1945. The Gurkha Paratroopers were dropped from C-47s of the 2nd Air Commando Group on Elephant Point at the mouth of the Rangoon River where they captured/destroyed several Japanese gun positions overlooking the sea approaches to Rangoon. LIFE Magazine Archives – Jack Wilkes Photographer

Note the weapon bag with Enfield .303 inside. LIFE Magazine Archives – Jack Wilkes Photographer

One anecdote from the formation of the Gurkha parachute unit at Delhi in October 1941 was that the hardy mountain men were absolutely ready to jump out of a moving airplane to fight, but were greatly relieved when later told they would do it with a parachute!

Gurkha Paratrooper going into action against the Japanese near Rangoon, Burma SC photo via NARA 342-FH-3A37293-B57336AC

Gurkhas Still Gurking, Despite the Coof

In the past, we’ve extensively covered the Nepalese Gurkhas and, how their continued overseas (basically mercenary) service in the British Army, Indian Army, Royal Brunei military, and Singapore Police Force, is both highly sought-after by the contracting branch and life-changing for the Gurkha.

While the recent COVID restrictions have wrought havoc around the globe, the Brits still managed to have the required 340-strong Gurkha trainee draft fully fleshed out “despite one of the most challenging selection procedures in history.”

Ayo Gorkhali

Field Marshal Viscount Slim, who had plenty of experiences in which Gurkhas saved his bacon, in his Unofficial History, said, “The Almighty created in the Gurkhas an ideal infantryman, indeed an ideal Rifleman, brave, tough, patient, adaptable, skilled in field-craft, intensely proud of his military record and unswerving loyalty.”

Official caption: “A Royal Gurkha soldier of A (Gallipoli) Company (CO), 1ST Battalion (BN), The Highlanders, United Kingdom (UK) Army, takes time from searching for illegal weapons to say hello to a little boy in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Royal Gurkhas played a key roll in searching house-to-house for illegal weapons during Operation TIMBERWOLF. The search in the Prijedor area near Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina under Operation JOINT FORGE found over 40 tons of weapons and ammunition during the three-week TIMBERWOLF operation by the Stabilization Force peacekeepers, 9/18/2003”

DOD DF-SD-05-12255 via National Archives

With a reputation of being heroic and honorable, one of the last true cultivated warrior castes, there are numerous stories of Gurkhas also being heartwarming.

Testing the Bhojpure

Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria has been cleaning and testing a relic Bhojpure kukri (khukuri) from the large collection of original 19th century Nepalese Government military stores that IMA and Atlanta Cutlery scored back in 2003. Of course, he is a little late to the party as I picked up one of these a few years back and found it to be just a remarkable edged weapon. Truly excellent once you got the yak grease off.

Here is Matt testing it:

Speaking of Gurkas, this year’s intake at Infantry Training Centre Catterick has gone off swimmingly.

However, with Nepal still in COVID-19 lockdown, the 2021 Intake could be delayed, which could mean some uncertainty in the manning of the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Indian Army’s seven Gorkha regiments, and the Singapore Police Force’s Gurkha Contingent.

Gorkhas, Gurkhas, Gurkha and Gorkhali

In honor of the whole “May the 4th be with you” thing, let’s talk a bit about the current deployment of the most real-life Mandalorians, the homegrown warriors of Nepal:

Britain

Ever read about the British Army’s (Cold War-era, 1947-94) Brigade of Gurkhas and wonder why the unit numbers are so wonky? For instance, the principal infantry units were four regiments, all of one battalion, each:

2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles)
6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles
7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles
10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles

1/7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles Regiment boarding the Cunard liner Canberra for the Falklands to go fight the Argentinians, in 1982, note the M72 LAWS anti-tank rocket and copious L1A1 semi-auto inch pattern FALs

That’s because these hardy Nepalese fighters, which had been part of the British Army going back to an agreement with the circa 1815 East India Company, originally numbered 10 two-battalion regiments, numbered 1-10, in the British Indian Army in 1903 when that force was reformed. When India broke away from Britain and formed their own proper force in 1947, it was agreed between New Dehli and London to split these troops in a 4:6 ratio, so the Indians picked up:

1st King George V’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment)
3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles
4th Prince of Wales’s Own Gurkha Rifles
5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
8th Gurkha Rifles
9th Gurkha Rifles

In more modern times, the names have morphed to a more British and Indian version.

In 1994, the four units still raised by the UK were all amalgamated into the Royal Gurkha Rifles, which form the bulk of today’s 3,600-man Brigade of Gurkhas. They stay up to strength through a yearly intake of 432 potential recruits– for which as many as 20,000 young Nepalese men apply. At the end of 36-weeks training, 270 are accepted.

British Gurkha recruits successfully complete their training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick 2017 

Since 1858, no less than 26 members assigned to British Gurkha units have earned the VC. In 2010, Sgt. Dipprasad Pun, 1/RGR, was decorated with the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (just under the VC) for single-handedly fought off a large Taliban attack on his lightly manned position. Pun is the grandson of Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun, 3rd/6th Gurkha Rifles, who received the VC in 1944 for single-handedly charging and capturing two Japanese light machine guns in Burma.

Recently, some 120 Gurkhas from 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, usually based at Gale Barracks in Aldershot, have been busy at Wellington Barracks training to mount the Queen’s Guard in London for the next eight weeks. They will be standing guard on public order duty at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle as well as over the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

Naturally, they have their kukris:

The Staff Captain, Captain Tom Mountain inspects every detail during the inspection of The Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment.

The Staff Captain, Captain Tom Mountain inspects every detail during the inspection of The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment.

And will be using them in the Keys ceremony apparently.

A member of 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment challenges on Guard during the drill practice for the Ceremony of the Keys The Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment Kukri

A member of 10 Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment challenges on Guard during the drill practice for the Ceremony of the Keys The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment

Looks like the Queen is in good hands.

India

As for the Indians, they kept the old pre-1947 regimental numbers, dropped the royal tie-ins, and started spelling Gurka as the more correct “Gorkha.” They also expanded the force from six to seven regiments, each with a whopping 6-7 battalions, in essence, more than tripling the size. Today’s Indian Army now has the very robust:

1 Gorkha Rifles
3 Gorkha Rifles
4 Gorkha Rifles
5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force)
8 Gorkha Rifles
9 Gorkha Rifles
11 Gorkha Rifles

They seem pretty hardy, too.

Singapore

Further, the Singapore Police Force has, since 1949, fielded their own 2,000-man Gurkha Contingent. They are kept whole by taking the 120 best candidates of the British Army’s yearly 423-man intake, who in turn sign a 27-year contract right out of the door.

As described by the SPF, “The GC was formed to provide a ‘strong-arm’ within the Police Force capable of quelling civil disturbance and carrying out specialist security tasks…These Gurkhas possess the qualities best suited to service in the Contingent, specifically: physical and mental robustness, resourcefulness and an uncomplaining dependability.”

An example of the “dependability” part of that, along with their notion of being “visibly invisible” in Singapore:

Brunei

Across from Singapore, the Sultanate of Brunei maintains the 2,000-strong Gurkha Reserve Unit (GRU), which was formed in 1974 as a special guard force of the Royal Brunei military, protecting the royal family, oil facilities and other vital infrastructure. Rather than recruiting directly from Nepal, members are formerly of British, Indian and Singapore units.

Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, General of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces, inspecting local Gurka units

Since 1962 British Army Gurkhas have been based in Brunei. There is always one infantry battalion of The Royal Gurkha Rifles, supported by troops from The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, The Queen’s Gurkha Signals, The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, and The Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company based in Tuker Lines, Seria, making later recruitment in the GRU an easy task.

Elsewhere, the Gurkha’s past service to the Commonwealth still lingers.

In Hong Kong, Chinese since 1997, there are some 40-50,000 ethnic Nepalese, descendants of Gurkhas stationed there over the years while it was a British colony and their families. They have a vibrant culture.

Back home

Plus, of course, there is the standing Nepali Army, also known as the Gorkhali Army, which numbers 95,000 men (and women) in eight divisions.

They have been fighting a low-key Maoist insurgency for years (the country shares a 900-mile Himalayan border with China), as well as sending thousands overseas on UN Peacekeeping duties, providing Geneva/New York their own smiling Gurka units on the cheap.

They have been on 58 missions since 1958.

A Gorkhali Army contingent in South Sudan, March 2019. Note the UN berets

Some 5,000 are on the UN’s dime right now.

Stumbled across this old gentleman in my travels

I saw this on display at the Berman Museum in Anniston and thought you would appreciate it.

This beautiful ivory-handled Nepalese kukri belonged to an officer of the 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles, during WWII. The unit served in Iran and Syria before seeing much harder service in Italy.

There, the unit was stationed close to the U.S. 10th Mountain Div and gave a good account of itself with one Gurkha, Rifleman Ganjabahadur Rai, earning the Military Medal for his “naked kukri” attack on a German patrol.

The 10th ended its war in Burma, where the Japanese no doubt tasted cold steel.

While 10 GR was one of the few Gurkha regiments retained in the British Army after the end of the Empire, in 1996 they were amalgamated with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, bringing the regiment’s 104 years of service to an end.

That kukri, though

The above video starts off a bit silly but shows the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas performing the traditional Khukuri Dance at the Last Night of the Proms Concert at the Royal Military School of Music recently.

“The dance is a combination of patterns of drill, where the dancers demonstrate their skills of handling the Khukuri knife. It is believed, the dance was derived from the occasion of celebration when a soldier returned from war with the glory of victory.”

Sure, it is a dated weapon, but don’t doubt that you could drop those four guys off somewhere behind the lines with just their kukri and they wouldn’t beat you back to base with a host of trophies.

 

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