Havildar Bhanbhakta Gurung, who has died aged 86, was awarded a VC when serving as a rifleman in the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles in Burma on March 5 1945. At that time the Fourteenth Army was making a drive towards Mandalay in central Burma, and the task of the 25th Division (of which 3rd/2nd Gurkhas was part) was to engage in diversionary action along the coastal sector of Arakan. The 3rd Battalion landed at Ru-Ywa and advanced to the high ground east of Tamandu. Capturing the area would assist British progress to the Irrawaddy through the An Pass, but the enemy here was the formidable Japanese 54th Division and a machine-gun battalion. The dominant feature was Point 582, nicknamed Snowdon, to the east of which was another high hill known as Snowdon East. No enemy was encountered on either hill and by the evening of March 4 A Company was in position at both points. However, during the night the Japanese attacked Snowdon East in overwhelming strength, killing half the Gurkhas on it; the remainder, completely out of ammunition, managed to cut their way through to their comrades on Snowdon. The following day B Company, with which Bhanbhakta was serving, was ordered to retake Snowdon East ‘regardless of cost’.
Bhanbhakta’s citation (in which his name was incorrectly spelled Bhanbhagta) recorded that: ‘On approaching the objective, one of the sections of the company was forced to the ground by a very heavy light-machine-gun, grenade and mortar fire, and owing to the severity of his fire was unable to move in any direction. While thus pinned down, the section also came under accurate fire from a sniper in a tree some 75 yards to the south. As this sniper was inflicting casualties on the section, Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung stood up and, while fully exposed to heavy fire, calmly killed the enemy sniper with his rifle, thus saving his section further casualties.’ Bhanbhakta then began to run for the top of the hill, yelling for his comrades to follow him. Though the casualties were heavy, the section ploughed forward until within 20 yards of their objective, when the Gurkhas were again halted by exceptionally heavy fire. Without waiting for any orders, Bhanbhakta dashed forward alone and attacked the first enemy foxhole. Throwing two grenades, which killed the two occupants of the trench, he immediately rushed on to the next enemy foxhole and killed the two Japanese in it with his bayonet. All this time he was under continuous light-machine-gun fire from a bunker on the north tip of the objective, and two further foxholes were still bringing fire to bear upon the section. Bhanbhakta dashed forward and cleared these trenches with bayonet and grenades. He then turned his attention to the machine-gun bunker, and realising, as the citation put it, that it ‘would hold up not only his platoon which was not far behind him, but also another platoon which was advancing from the west’, he pushed forward a fifth time to knock out the position.
‘He ran forward and leapt on to the roof of the bunker from where, his hand grenades being finished, he flung two No 72 smoke grenades into the bunker’s slit.’ Two Japanese rushed out of the bunker, partially blinded by the smoke and with their clothes aflame with phosphorous; Bhanbhakta promptly killed them both with his kukri. One Japanese soldier remained inside, holding up 4 Platoon’s advance with the machine-gun. Bhanbhakta crawled in and, prevented by the cramped space from using his bayonet or kukri beat the gunner’s brains out with a rock. Most of the objectives had now been cleared by the men behind, but the enemy which had been driven off were collecting for a counter-attack beneath the north end of the objective. Bhanbhakta ordered the nearest Bren gunner and two riflemen to take up positions in the captured bunker with him, from where they repelled the enemy counter-attack. Bhanbhakta, the citation concluded, ‘showed outstanding bravery and a complete disregard of his own safety. His courageous clearing of five enemy positions single-handed was in itself decisive in capturing the objective and his inspiring example to the rest of the Company contributed to the speedy consolidation of the success.’ As a result of this engagement, his Regiment gained the battle honour ‘Tamandu’.
Bhanbhakta was a Gurung, one of the two main tribes from which the Second (King Edward VII’s Own) Gurkha Rifles (the Sirmoor Rifles) enlisted their men. He was born in September 1921 at Phalpa, in western Nepal, and joined the 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkhas in 1940. He took part in the first Chindit operation in 1943 when Brigadier Orde Wingate led some 3,000 men on a destructive mission behind the Japanese lines in Burma. By 1944 he had achieved the rank of naik (corporal) but was reduced to rifleman for an offence which was subsequently found not to have been his fault. It was said that this unfair loss of rank played a part in his determination to prove that he had been unjustly treated – but in fact Bhanbhakta was a reasonable man and not one to bear a grudge. After the war his company commander tried to persuade Bhanbhakta to continue serving but he had a frail widowed mother and a young wife at home, so he decided to leave. When he quit the regiment in January 1946 he had already regained his former rank of naik and had been given the honorary rank of havildar (sergeant). In the years after the war he visited his Regiment in Malaya, Hong Kong and in Britain, and was always greeted as an honoured guest. In addition to his VC he was also awarded the Star of Nepal, 3rd class. In 2000 the Gurkha training block at Catterick was named after him. His three sons also served in the 2nd Gurkhas. Bhanbhakta suffered from asthma for many years and for the last four years of his life was housebound at his youngest son’s house at Gorkha, where he died on Saturday. His company commander described him as ‘a smiling, hard-swearing and indomitable soldier who in a battalion of brave men was one of the bravest’
The Daily Telegraph – 4 March 2008
Supplement to The London Gazette of Friday, the 1st of June, 1945
War Office, 5th June, 1945
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:
No. 10020 Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung, 2nd King Edward VI’s Own Gurkha Rifles, Indian Army.
In Burma, on 5th March, 1945, a Company of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles attacked an enemy position known as Snowden East. On approaching the objective one of the sections was forced to ground by very heavy light machine-gun, grenade and mortar fire, and owing to the severity of this fire was unable to move in any direction. While thus pinned, the section came under accurate fire from a tree sniper some 75 yards to the South. As this sniper was inflicting casualties on the section, Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung, being unable to fire from the lying position, stood up fully exposed to the heavy fire and calmly killed the enemy sniper with his rifle, thus saving his section from suffering further casualties.
The section then advanced again, but when within 20 yards of the objective was again attacked by very heavy fire. Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung, without waiting for any orders, dashed forward alone and attacked the first enemy fox-hole. Throwing two grenades, he killed the two occupants and without any hesitation rushed on to the next enemy fox-hole and killed the Japanese in it with his bayonet.
Two further enemy fox-holes were still bringing fire to bear on the section and again Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung dashed forward alone and cleared these with bayonet and grenade. During his single-handed attacks on these four enemy fox-holes, Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung was subjected to almost continuous and point-blank Light Machine-Gun fire from a bunker on the North tip of the objective. Realising that this Light Machine-Gun would hold up not only his own platoon which was now behind him, but also another platoon which was advancing from the West, Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung for the fifth time went forward alone in the face of heavy enemy fire to knock out this position. He doubled forward and leapt on to the roof of the bunker from where, his hand grenades being finished, he flung two No. 77 smoke grenades into the bunker slit. Two Japanese rushed out of the bunker partially blinded by the smoke. Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung promptly killed them both with his Khukri. A remaining Japanese inside the bunker was still firing the light machine-gun and holding up the advance of No. 4 Platoon, so Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung crawled inside the bunker, killed this Japanese gunner and captured the light machine-gun.
Most of the objective had now been cleared by the men behind and the enemy driven off were collecting for a counter-attack beneath the North end of the objective. Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung ordered the nearest Bren gunner and two riflemen to take up positions in the captured bunker. The enemy counter-attack followed soon after, but under Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung’s command the small party inside the bunker repelled it with heavy loss to the-enemy
Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung showed outstanding bravery and a complete disregard for his own safety. His courageous clearing of five enemy positions single-handed was in itself decisive in capturing the objective and his inspiring example to the rest of the Company contributed to the speedy consolidation of this success.