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Battle of Pirkanthi

Battle of Pirkanthi – The Indomitable Second Third Spirit

By Lt. Col. A.K. ‘Sam’ Sharma

It was a shock for a pretty classmate of mine to know that I lived inside the Red Fort; as a matter of fact it was not only me, but half our paltan.did; the other half was billeted in the Rashtrapati Bawan complex. We were the garrison battalion in New Delhi, on ceremonial duties. I was putting up in the British Infantry Lines (BI Lines), the Commanding Officer (CO), James Chanda, in Shah Jahan’s chambers! From my office on the second floor of the massive stone and masonry Khyber Barracks, I could look down on 300 years of Mughal history! This was quite unnerving at times; like, whenever I thought of elephants trampling those convicted to death on shahi firman, and regal whim and pleasure, or the royal debauchery in the queens’ chambers, or later on during the Raj, the high-handedness during the Indian National Army (INA) trials.

Our Quarter Guard was located on the road leading to the Diawane Am from Delhi Gate, the only one from which tourists and sight-seers were permitted. It was quite a draw especially with the foreigners. Some even mailed on-the-spot letters of appreciation to the Adjutant,Vicky Verma. They were in appreciation of the very smart Gurkha Guard sentries, their precise, clock-work and lightening drill movements, and of course their gleaming nickel-chrome plated ceremonial khukris and the jaunty South African Gorkha hats that the johnnies sported ever so cockily. One of the British tourists went all ga ga on noticing the English Regent’s trade-mark Crown over the regimental crest; on one of the sports trophy shields displayed in the court yard. He was over come so much by nostalgia and British pride, that he sat down then and there in the mid-day sun and scratched out a ten page paean as an eulogy to the virtue and accomplishments of English Arms! Apparently, he was much impressed by the fabled Gorkha loyalty to the Crown. He also probably knew that the in 1857 Sepoy Mutiny the The 3rd Gurkhas had stormed the Kashmiri Gate on 23 June and won ‘Delhi’as a battle honour for the Regiment

The Regiment was then known as “The Kumaon Battalion, later known as “Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles” but indeed, it was a fact was that despite repeated rockets from the Adjutant General (AG), 2/3rd repeatedly refused to replace the Crown with the Ashoka lions. It was always so in 2/3rd, and I quite suspect that the sardar bahadurs had really quite not accepted the idea of black Indian officers as adequate compensation for the departing gora sahibs, who quit only reluctantly. Believe, that, on the last day of their duty with the 2/3rd, they did nothing but knocked around the football pitch , playing their faithful Gurkha troops till totally and tearfully pissed on beer, which each scorer had to guzzle down.. and it was a very high scoring game, they say! .The Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) also had the Nepal naresh’s portrait; in full military regalia in the JCO’s club, on which they once again repeatedly refused the CO’s request for pulling down.

In fact these fellows never still really care much for the CO in 2/3rd, where the Subedar Major (SM) calls all the shots still. in all administrative and welfare matters relating to the troops..Even during the assault on Pakistani-army-held Pir Kanthi feature in J&K on 27-28 June 1948, during the first war with Pakistan over Kashmir. The CO was reluctant to attack without adequate artillery fire support, but was over ruled by the S M sab, who admonished him for expecting the ideal text-book war-fighting conditions in military campaigns. He cited instances from the Allied campaign of 1942 in the Western Desert where he had worsted the panzers of Afrika Korps of the British-bug-bear, the German General Rommel—the original Desert Fox and given even him the jitters single-handedly. In the event, the 2/3rd boys legged it the up the mountain as fast as only the Gurkhas can. In short but classic section-level fire & move assault manoeuvres; without the supporting fire of the big guns; banking entirely only on the stutter of their own 303 Bren light machine guns (LMGs), merely for the sake of upholding the basic principle of “one leg on the ground” they reached the top and assaulted the objective with full throated battle-cries of “Ayo Gorkhali “on their lips! These doughty soldiers totally surprised the enemy with the speed and stealth of attack, capturing most of them in their beds and the others with their pants down in the latrines! The ones that resisted, were deftly dispatched in the lightening flashes of their drawn eleven-inch service khukris that were crying out to blooded in the true close-combat tradition and fighting spirit of these plucky peasant soldiers from the hills of Nepal. Capt Kaptan Singh Rana won a Vir Chakra as also did Lance Naik Purna Bahadur Thapa and Rifleman Jas Bahadur Thapa, 22 were Mentioned in Dispatches and 17 awarded commendations for gallantry. 11 made the supreme sacrifice and 50 wounded in action. The enemy paid a very heavy price too; they lost 54, with another 34 believed killed, and two were taken in as prisoners of war. Every one was much pleased, impressed and happy. The paltan won the Battalion battle honour “Pir Kanthi”, as result of which the Regiment got to get the Regimental Battle Honour ‘Uri’, the first to be won by the 3 Gorkha Rifles post-Independence

Raised by Lt Col E P Mainwaring, in April 1887, the Battalion eventually found itself re-christened as 1st Battalion The 18 Garhwal Rifles; that is The Garhwal Rifles Regiment of the Indian Army of today. The Second Third , started life with a nucleus of Garwhali troops, gathered from existing Gurkha unit; as ’39th ( The Garwhali) Regiment of Bengal Infantry’. The 2/3rd of today per se was raised in Lansdowne in January 1891 The other battle honours of this crack fighting machine are Festubert ; Neuve Chapelie; Ypres; Aubers, Flanders,Jerusalem, Palestine; Meggiddo; Ill Castello; Monte Della Gorgacce; Italy;La Basse; Deir el Shein, North Africa. All valour, sacrifice, devotion to duty in the face of the enemy and some very gutsy old fashioned soldiering.

Earlier, under the British during WW1 battles in Europe, two of the 2/3rd johnnies, Rifleman Kulbir Thapa (Flanders, France) and Riflerman Karna Bahadur (Palestine.); were decorated with top-most gallantry award of all times; the Victoria Cross (VC). These have always been cast from the melted down gun-metal of the Turkish Guns captured by the British in the Crimea after the fabled “ The C h a r g e of the Light Brigade. No wonder, that, even an inspecting Field Marshal/ General has to salute a private/ sepoy decorated with this gallantry award! This pair also has the unique distinction of being the first two of the British Indian Army for winning this award. They were bestowed upon this rare honour; for outstanding and conspicuous gallantry in the face of the enemy; at that time the Germans. Kulbir saved the life of a critically wounded British Officer, and two of his own galla (buddies) by hauling them on his shoulders under the murderous automatic fire of the German Gattling machine guns in Palestine, and the other by Karna Bahadur who, armed with a Lewis Gun, destroyed a German Machine gun nest that was pinning down his company commander, Lt F Barter, who was him self a Victoria Cross winner, and also had the Military Cross under his belt.

So much for the josh and the fabled ‘Second Third Spirit’, which I also experienced first hand whilst commanding the Support Company in the Red Fort in the mid-1980s. It is truly moving, the ‘Second Third Spirit’, I mean. It has lived down the periodic “unfit for war” tag that 2/3rd has managed right from when Sir Roberts was the Commander-in –Chief, to when Field Mrshal Carriappa became the Chief Of Army Staff, to the last one when the paltan moved out of Delhi to an operational area in J&K around 1982/8. Smarting under this last rebuke, they, however, got there act together in real quick time on the drum-beats of the ‘Cock O the North’-the Regimental march past pipe-band tune of The 3rd Gorkha Rifles. And by the time they found themselves deployed on the LoC in Poonch , the Second Third Spirit broke through in true form and style of yore once again. Capt ( now full Colonel) Jayant Thapa; a fifth generation soldier of The Regiment, won the coveted Shaurya Chakra, in true tradition of his Gurkha forefathers, when single-handedly he rescued a battalion soldier felled wounded by a treacherously camouflaged M-16 jumping anti-personnel mine in an unmarked mine-field, covered by enemy light automatics.