Thaman Gurung, V.C. – A Brave Gurkha Gives His Life To Save His Comrades In WW2

 
Gurkhas in action with a 6-pounder anti-tank gun in Tunisia, 16 March 1943.
 
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Since their first interactions with the British East India Company in 1814, the Gurkhas are renowned for their bravery and skill in combat. These Nepalese hill people were brought into the folds of the British Empire and formed the Brigade of Gurkhas.

By 1944 these brave warriors had fought across South East Asia, Europe, and North Africa, and had earned a reputation for excellence. Among the long list of brave Gurkhas, is one name: Thaman Gurung.

By November 10, 1944, Gurung, and the 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles had helped punch through Germany’s Gothic Line and continued their push into northern Italy. As his infantry platoon was advancing, Gurung and his mate were scouting ahead of the troops. Cautiously moving through the hills of central Italy, the two Nepalese men likely felt at home in this green, but rugged terrain.

Gurung and his comrade were crawling up the face of a small hill, being careful not to make a noise. They knew there must be a German position nearby, but they did not know where. Gurung was crawling forward when his partner drew his attention to a gap in the rocks just below the top.

The Gothic Line, German's defensive position in central Italy, it halted Allied advances until it could finally be broken in August, 1944.
The Gothic Line, German’s defensive position in central Italy, it halted Allied advances until it was finally broken in August 1944

A German machine gun was in a perfect position, concealed from the main Gurkha advance, but with a line of fire which could cut through the entire platoon. If that happened, it could halt the entire advance, and cost the lives of many Allied soldiers.

Grabbing his Thompson sub-machinegun, Gurung charged down headlong into the German position. Taken completely by surprise, the enemy surrendered without a shot being fired.

The hills of central Italy. This rugged terrain must have looked familiar to the Gurkhas, who grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The hills of central Italy. This rugged terrain must have looked familiar to the Gurkhas, who grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas

He crawled the rest of the way to the top, where he discovered another German position, well dug in on the other side of the hill.  They were preparing to send grenades down onto the forward Gurkha section. Gurung knew he had to buy his platoon enough time to make it to the top. He jumped up, silhouetted against the sky, and charged forward firing burst after burst into the German line.

A Royal Scots Gaurdsman taking position with a Bren Light Machine gun. This was the weapon Gurung used to cover the last section as they retreated.
A Royal Scots Guardsman taking up position with a Bren Light Machine gun. This was the weapon Gurung used to cover the last section as they retreated

It bought the forward section just enough time to reach the summit, but by the time they were there, the German machine gun fire had intensified. Now Gurung was trapped, on an exposed slope with machine guns in front of him, and a coverless hill crest behind him. Despite the obvious risk to himself, he pulled back to the crest, firing more bursts into the Germans. Finally, he threw two Grenades into the German trench before retreating. It bought all but the forward section enough time to retreat, regroup and attack.

Now safely on the other hill face, Gurung grabbed two more grenades and again charged the Germans. Crossing back to Gurkha lines, Gurung saw the platoon retreating, but the forward section covering them from the crest, under heavy fire.

An Illustration of Thaman Gurung from the war.
An Illustration of Thaman Gurung from the war.

He yelled at them to get out of there, and grabbing a Bren gun, and as much ammunition as he could carry, he charged up the hill alone. Dropping to the ground, Gurung laid down a heavy cover of fire, buying the forward section enough time to pull out with the rest of the platoon. After sending a full pair of magazines down into the German position, Gurung’s luck tragically ran out. He was killed by enemy fire, but not before he facilitated the safe retreat of almost his entire platoon, with minimal casualties.

For his gallant actions and dedication to the safety of his brothers in arms, Rifleman Thaman Gurung was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery, the highest honor awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. His success that day, and the information gained from the engagement allowed the hill to be taken three days later.