In 1815, the British Army tried to conquer Nepal. But it was easily defeated by Nepal’s warriors: the Gurkhas. So the British officers decided that, if they couldn’t beat them, they’d get the Gurkhas to join them. A peace agreement ceased all British conquest in Nepal, and the Gurkhas agreed to be recruited into the Crown’s military. The Gurkhas have fought in several wars, including both world wars and the Falklands War. Known as some of the most skilled and fiercest warriors in the world, the Gurkhas have impressed (and terrified) everyone around them. On the 200th anniversary of their service, here are some of the bravest soldiers and stories to ever come out of the Gurkha ranks.
1 Dipprasad Pun
In Afghanistan in 2010, Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun single-handedly fought off 30 Taliban soldiers. As Pun was keeping guard on the roof of a checkpoint, the attackers came at the complex from all sides with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.
It took less than an hour for Pun to kill them all. He went through all of his ammo—400 rounds and 17 grenades, as well as a mine that detonated—to defeat each attacker. When he ran out of ammo, a Taliban soldier climbed up to the roof, only to be hit with a machine-gun tripod that Pun threw at him.
Pun’s valor was rewarded with a Victoria Cross, the highest British military decoration awarded for bravery.
2 Gajendera Angdembe, Dhan Gurung, and Manju Gurung
The Gurkhas leave no man behind. When a squad of troops was ambushed out in the open in Afghanistan in 2008, one soldier, Yubraj Rai, was hit and fatally wounded. But Captain Gajendera Angdembe and Riflemen Dhan Gurung and Manju Gurung carried Rai across 325 feet of open ground under heavy fire. At one point, one of the soldiers resorted to using both his own rifle and Rai’s rifle at the same time to return fire on the enemy.
In 1945, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung was stationed in a trench with only two other men when over 200 Japanese soldiers opened fire. Gurung’s comrades were severely wounded. As grenades flew in one after another, Gurung tried to throw each one back.
He was successful with the first two, but the third exploded in his right hand. His fingers were blown off and his face, body, and right arm and leg were badly wounded.
As the Japanese stormed the trench, Gurung used his left hand to wield his rifle, defeating 31 enemies and preventing the Japanese from advancing. Gurung survived, and was awarded with a Victoria Cross later that year.
Bhanubhakta Gurung, who fought against the Japanese in Burma in World War II, was awarded with a Victoria Cross for capturing a bunker almost all by himself.
Starting in a platoon of only 10 troops, Gurung came under heavy fire from machine guns, grenades, mortars, and a sniper. Gurung shot the sniper out of a tree, and then charged uphill alone. He threw grenades into a foxhole where enemies were shooting from and took another three foxholes with his bayonet.
Far ahead of his comrades, Gurung then charged the bunker with two smoke grenades and his kukri knife, the famed curved blade of the Gurkhas. He defeated two Japanese soldiers with the knife, and another one with a rock.
Gurung then held off a counterattack with three other men at the bunker, this time using a rifle.
5 Agansing Rai
In 1944, Agansing Rai led a platoon of Gurkhas up a Burmese ridge in an open field against machine guns and two anti-tank 37 mm guns. Despite suffering heavy casualties, Rai and his men eliminated all the men at each 37 mm gun emplacement, one of which was hidden in a nearby jungle. Rai was later awarded the Victoria Cross.
As gunfire flew above his head in Burma, Rifleman Ganju Lama withstood a broken left wrist and wounds to his right hand and leg to take on three Japanese tanks in World War II. He crawled in the middle of the battlefield, destroyed each tank one-by-one with anti-tank guns, and defeated the men fleeing from the tanks, allowing none of them to escape. Lama was then taken to a hospital on a stretcher and would earn a Victoria Cross.
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In another battle against the Japanese on the Burmese front in 1943, Sergeant Gaje Ghale was assigned to take a position that the Gurkhas had twice failed to capture. He led his platoon through heavy fire and suffered injuries in his leg, arm, and torso. But disregarding the injuries, Ghale engaged in hand-to-hand combat with his adversaries, taking the position. He then held off a counterattack with his men before letting his wounds get cared for. Ghale was later awarded the Victoria Cross.
8 Peter Jones
Some of the British men who commanded the Gurkhas showed tremendous bravery as well. In 1943, Colonel Peter Jones led a battalion of Gurkhas against the Germans at the Battle of Enfidaville in Tunisia. As the Gurkhas charged the Germans with their kukri knives under fire from machine gun posts, Jones shot down the emplacements with a Bren gun. Jones was wounded in the neck but still joined the hand-to-hand fighting afterward, where he sustained additional injuries to his eye and thighs. He only accepted treatment after the battle was won. His effort was rewarded with a Distinguished Service Order decoration.
9 Bishnu Shrestha
In 2011, 35-year-old retired Gurkha Bishnu Shrestha was riding a train in India when 40 robbers stopped the train and began stealing passengers’ belongings. Still carrying his kukri knife, the Gurkha took on the robbers, themselves armed with knives, swords and pistols. Shrestha managed to kill three robbers and injure eight others, which persuaded the other robbers to flee. The retired soldier also saved another passenger from rape.
During the Borneo confrontation in 1965, Captain Rambahadur Limbu made three trips into enemy territory. On the first trip, facing heavy gunfire, two of Limbu’s men were shot—one killed and another severely wounded. Before the enemy could advance, Limbu pushed them back with grenades. He then crawled 100 yards across the battlefield back into Gurkha territory to alert his comrades of what had happened. Limbu then went back to the wounded soldier, still under fire, and carried the man back across the same 100 yards to safety. With the battle still raging, Limbu returned to the field a third time to retrieve his dead comrade. Limbu’s heroics earned him a Victoria Cross. Of all the Gurkhas that have been awarded the Victoria Cross (and there were many), Limbu is the only one still surviving.