October 9, 2006

Gurkhas...

This is cool, if you know anything about these guys: Gurkha Spirit Triumphs in Siege of Nawzad

...The first major attack began at 1.50am when a Gurkha corporal spotted armed men "leopard crawling" towards the compound 60 yards away. He opened fire killing four.

Ten minutes later a coordinated assault began from three directions. Every one of the six sand-bagged positions around the compound and on its roof were hit by rocket-propelled grenades. The command post on the roof received four separate hits.

For many of the Gurkhas, seven of whom had just finished training, it was their first experience of combat. "For the first five minutes under fire I was just so frightened," said Tkam Paha Dur, a 19-year-old Gurkha rifleman, to the amusement of his comrades."After that it became just like a live firing exercise."

With the Taliban closer than 50 yards, Rifleman Nabin Rai, 20, manning a heavy machinegun on the roof, had several rounds ricochet off his weapon before a bullet went through the gunsight and hit him in the face.

"His commander called for him to be medi-vacced out, but he refused to come down from the roof," said Major Rex. "Later he was again hit, this time in the helmet. He sat down and had a cigarette, then went back to his position."

With a full moon negating the advantage of British night vision equipment, the Taliban launched another full-scale assault the next night, using dried up underground watercourses to move men and ammunition around the British position.

"We took two or three RPG hits on one position and significant machinegun fire from a range of about 20 yards," said Lt Angus Mathers, 26.

"They had used tunnels and knocked holes in the compound walls to get close."

The Gurkhas threw 21 grenades at the Taliban position before an Apache helicopter arrived overhead.

The pilot later described the situation as "like the Wild West", with tracer converging on him from numerous positions. He hovered 20 yards above the compound firing back with the helicopter's cannon while the empty shell cases cascaded on to the heads of the Gurkhas below...

Many have said that the Gurkhas, Nepalese hill-men of several tribes, are the best natural soldiers in the world. Brave, deadly in battle, and unfailingly cheerful and good-natured.

I'd opine that we ought to be raising some Gurkha battalions ourselves, but they would not fit in at all with the ways of the US military, which tends to use people as interchangeable parts, transferring them here or there. But a Gurkha battalion is a home and a little world unto itself, and the British officers who join it learn Gurkhali, and the rather odd Gurkha culture. And they often spend their whole career with their battalion.

The book to read is Bugles and a Tiger, by John Masters. I give it my highest recommendation. It's a rare treat if you are interested in either military things, or India...

Excerpt below:

....Most Gurkhas are Hindus of a sort, though their reiigion does not sit heavily on any except those of the higher castes, which the 4th did not enlist. In Flanders in 1914, when our 1st Battalion had had no food for a couple of days, food at last appeared in the trenches—several hundred cans of corned beef, each canclearly marked with the canning company's trade mark, a bull's head. No Hindu, however lax, can eat beef; but this time it was going to be beef or nothing. The colonel sent for the senior Gurkha officer and wordlessly pointed to the rations.

After a moment came the quiet reply, "Sahib, We are here to fight the Germans. We cannot fight if we starve. It will be forgiven us. Remove the labels, and let it be corned mutton."

Gurkhas vary in shade from pale wheat-gold to dull, dark brown. Their skulls are usually round—but, whatever the shape, always thick. I saw a Gurkha havildar (sergeant) bend down to tie his bootlace just behind a particularly fractious mule. The mule let drive, and both iron-shod hoofs smashed with murderous force into the havildar's temple. He complained of a headache all afternoon. The mule went dead lame.

Though there are, of course, exceptions, the distinguishing marks of the Gurkha are usually a Mongolian appearance, short stature, a merry disposition, and an indefinable quality that is hard to pin down with one word. Straightness, honesty, naturalness, loyalty, courage—all these are near it, but none is quite right, for the quality embraces all these. In a Gurkha regiment nothing was ever stolen, whether a pocket knife, a watch, or a thousand rupees. Desertions were unheard of, although once the men had gone on furlough to their homes in Nepal they were quite inaccessible to us. There were no excuses, no grumbling, no shirking, no lying. There was no intrigue, no apple-polishing, and no servility. The perfect man—or, at the least, the perfect soldier? Not quite. The Gurkha was slow at book-learning, and he liked gambling, rum, and women; and, in his own home, he was apt to be unkempt....

Posted by John Weidner at October 9, 2006 7:57 PM
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