Friday, September 11, 2009

CAPTAIN COURAGE


INSPIRATION

Neither is his name mentioned in any of our war stories nor did he find a place in our history lessons. Neither is he a hero for any child nor do most of us think about him in particular while paying tributes to our National Heroes. Neither did he lay down his life guarding our borders nor did he die saving his fellow countrymen. This is a small story of a warrior who laid down his life for a cause his Company and his Army believed in. And this is a small tribute to remember all those Indian soldiers without whose supreme sacrifice various peace keeping missions across the world would have been futile. Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, we do remember you....


EARLY LIFE

Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, was born on 29 November 1935, in Gurdaspur, Punjab into a Rajput family. He was commissioned in the 1 Gorkha Rifles on 9 June 1957 and later went on to be part of a peace keeping mission which brought about his date with destiny.

THE BEGINNING

After the Belgians quit
Congo, a civil war situation developed in that country. When the United Nations decided upon military intervention to retrieve the situation, India contributed a brigade of around 3000 men to the U.N. Force. In November 1961, the U.N. Security Council had decided to put a stop to the hostile activities of the Katangese troops in Congo. This greatly angered Tshombe, Katanga's secessionist leader, and he intensified his 'hate the UN' campaign. The result was more violence against UN personnel.

During the second half of November, while elements of 3/1 Gorkha Rifles were moving out for deployment within and around Elizabethville, there were violent attacks on UN personnel. On 28 November 1961, two senior UN officers were taken captive, beaten and later released. Major Ajit Singh of 3/1 Gorkha Rifles was also taken captive and his driver was brutally murdered, when they went to the rescue of some UN officials. Some days later, a company of 3/1 Gorkha Rifles was fired upon and many UN personnel were abducted from various parts of Elizabethville.The Gorkhas soon re-consolidated.

HIS HEROICS

On 5 December 1961, 3/1 Gorkha Rifles was ordered to clear a roadblock established by the enemy at a strategic roundabout at Elizabethville , Katanga . The plan was that Captian Gurbachan Singh Salaria with two sections of Gorkhas and two Swedish armoured personnel carriers would advance towards this roadblock from the airfield to act as a cutting-off force.

This small body, under Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, came under heavy fire from an enemy position when they reached about a mile from the road-block. Captain Salaria appreciating that he had run into a subsidiary roadblock and ambush and that this enemy force might reinforce the strategic post and thus jeopardize the main operation, decided to remove this opposition.

Captain Salaria was not deterred by the superior enemy strength and fire power. He decided to take the enemy, head-on, to achieve the objective. He once decided to attack the position which, it was later discovered, had about 90 men defending it together with two armoured cars. Supported by a rocket-launcher and bayonets, he led a charge with his bands, comprising just 16 Gorkhas, into a tactical position. They also used grenades and unsheathed khukris. Fully realizing the disproportionate ratio of force of his small platoon of 16 men, against more than 90 opponents, he soon rallied his men behind him and charged the enemy position in a fierce khukri assault.

In this gallant engagement, Captain Salaria killed 40 of the enemy and knocked out the two armoured cars. This unexpected bold action completely demoralised the enemy who fled despite their numerical superiority and protected positions. Captain’s bold action, ferocity of the attack and the blood curdling war cry of the Gorkhas - Ayo Gorkhali (The Gorkhas Have Arrived) and the flashing khukris was too much for the enemy, which fled in confusion leaving its dead and wounded behind.


By January 1962, the ONUC with the help of the Indian Brigade (particularly the 3/1 Gorkha Rifles), had creditably regained full control over Katanga, but not without the supreme sacrifice made by many Indian soldiers in 'blue berets' of the likes of Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria. Captain Salaria was wounded in his neck by a burst of automatic fire but continued to fight till he collapsed due to profuse bleeding. His gallant action prevented any enemy movement towards the main battle scene and thus contributed very largely to the success of the main battalion’s action at the roundabout and prevented the encirclement of UN Headquarters in Elizabethville. Subsequently, he died of his grave wounds.

THE HONOUR

Captain Salaira’s personal example, utter disregard for personal safety and dauntless leadership inspired his small but gallant force of sixteen Gorkhas to hold on to their position, dominate the enemy and to inflict heavy casualties despite the enemy’s superiority in numbers and tactical position.

His courage and unflinching devotion to duty were in the best traditions of the Indian Army. For his extraordinary leadership and devotion to duty, Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria was awarded the highest wartime medal, Param Vir Chakra, posthumously.


Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria's brother unveiling his potrait at National Defence Acaddemy

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