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Saluting our Heroes: Capt Gurbachan Singh Salaria, PVC

5 December 2009 839 views 11 Comments

From the Indian Army website:

The Param Vir Chakra is awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self sacrifice, in the presence of the enemy, whether on land, at sea, or in the air. The decoration may be awarded posthumously.

*** Saluting our Heores – Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, PVC ***

Captain Salaria

A tribute to Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria who sacrificed his life on this date,  48 years ago.

The heroic story of Captain Salaria that I am about to share with you is probably the most unusual in this series. He did not lay down his life defending our borders…nor did he die saving fellow citizens. But – in the finest traditions of the Armed Forces – Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria laid down his life for the honour of his men and the cause that his Army believed in. Captain Salaria, Sir, I salute you.

Late November, 1961, Elizabethville, Congo: For men of 3/1 Gorkha Rifles, the last few days have been grim. Their colleagues have come under repeated attacks by the Katanga forces. One of the senior officers, Major Ajit Singh has been taken captive…and his driver brutally murdered while on a mission to rescue UN officials. The honour of Gorkhas is on the line.

The deployment is unusual because the troops are part of the UN Peace Keeping Forces. In fact the UN operation in Congo (Organisation de Nations Unies au Congo, ONUC 1960-63) will go down in history as the mission in which the largest number of Indian troops participated.

The initial contribution has been enlarged to Brigade level comprising 1 Dogra, 2 Jat, 3/1 Gorkha Rifles, a squadron of 63 Cavalry, 4 Mahar and others.  Moise Tshombe, the leader of the breakaway Katanga province commands thousands of troops under Belgian army officers. Although a ceasefure was effected in September 1961, the situation is worsening again. The job of restoring normalcy has fallen on Indian troops.

In the days leading up to December, the Gorkhas decide to re-consolidate.

Here is what happened next (drawn from Captain Courage by Colonel Anil Shorey):

On 5th Deccember, one of the 3/1 Gorkha Rifles companies, supported by two Swedish armoured cars, decides to take on a road-block that the gendarmarie have put up between the headquarters of Katanga Command and the airfield.

As a part of the attack plan, a detachment, consisting of two sections of this battalion, is advancing from the airfield in two Swedish armoured personnel carriers so as to cut off the enemy’s retreat from the road-block.

This small body, under Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, comes under heavy fire from an enemy position about a mile from the road-block. Captain Salaria decides to attack the enemy position which, it is later discovered, has about 90 men defending it together with two armoured cars. Supported by a rocket-launcher, he leads his men, comprising 16 Gorkhas, into a tactical position using 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 rallies his men behind him and charges at the enemy position in a fierce khukri assault.

In the fighting that followed, more than 40 rebels are killed  and Captain Salaria is gravely wounded.

Two bullets have pierced his neck and he has collapsed on the last line of trenches. The ferocity of the attack, the blood curdling war cry of the Gorkhas – Ayo Gorkhali (The Gorkhas Have Arrived) and the flashing khukris are too much for the gendarmarie…and they flee in confusion, leaving their dead and wounded behind.

As the Indian Army website notes:

Captain Salaria prevented the enemy from going to the roundabout thereby saving the UN Headquarters in Elizabethville from encirclement. His leadership, courage, unflinching devotion to duty and disregard for his personal safety 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.

CITATION

Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, 3/1 GORKHA RIFLES (IC-8947)

On 5 December 1961, 3/1 Gorkha Rifles was ordered to clear a roadblock established by the gendarmerie at a strategic roundabout at Elizabethville , Katanga .  The plan was that one company with 2 Swedish armoured cars would attack the position frontally and 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.

Captain Salaria with his small force arrived at a distance of 1500 yards from the roadblock at approximately 1312 hours on 5 December 1961 and came under heavy automatic and small-arms fire from an undetected enemy position dug in on his right flank.  The enemy also had two armoured cars and about 90 men opposing Captain Salaria’s small force.

Captain Salaria appreciating that he had run into a subsidiary roadblock and ambush and that this enemy force might reinforce the strategic roundabout and thus jeopardize the main operation, decided to remove this opposition.  He led a charge with bayonets, khukris, and grenades supported by a rocket launcher.  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 Salaria was wounded in his neck by a burst of automatic fire but continued to fight till he collapsed due to profuse bleeding.  Captain Salaria’s gallant action prevented any enemy movement of the enemy force 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.  Captain Salaria subsequently died of his wounds.

***

Captain Salaria had turned 26 just five days before he died in action. As you go about your day today, please spare a moment to remember these heroes.

Related Posts:

Saluting our Heroes: Maj Shaitan Singh, PVC

Saluting our Heroes: Maj Somnath Sharma, PVC

Saluting our Heroes: The “Param Vir Chakra” series

11 Comments »

  • 1. Jiggs said:

    Shantanu..

    Thank you very much for this superbly researched post on Capt. Salaria. We need to know more on our heroes rather then the ones who pretend to be heroes.

    Thanks once again.

    Vande Mataram

  • 2. Sanjeev Sabhlok said:

    Dear Shantanu

    Even though I don’t find time to comment on all posts, I do browse through them. So please keep up the good work.

    I particularly commend this series of yours on war heroes (and by implication the armed forces more generally – each of them a hero): something to inspire those of us who wish to contribute equally to India – but possibly in different spheres (in my case public policy).

    Regards
    Sanjeev

  • 3. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Jiggs, Sanjeev: Thank you. My fond hope is to print a booklet of the “Saluting Our Heroes” series at some point. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, pl do forward and share these posts with your friends and other Indians.

    Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!

  • 4. Anon said:

    Shantanu, thanks for this series on Our Real Heroes.
    Agree with Jiggs when he says “We need to know more on our heroes rather then the ones who pretend to be heroes.”

    On the anniversary of ^ December, will you also start a Ram Janmabhoomi – Dhancha thread? Thanks.

  • 5. Anon said:

    Apologies for the off topic comment on Ayodhya,

    *** Comment Moved Here ***

    *** NOTE by MODERATOR ***

    Anon: Pl. leave comments on the appropriate thread. You can search for posts using the “Search” box 9bottom of the screen, middle bar) or using the “Categories” drop down menu.

    There is indeed a category of posts on ShriRam Janmabhoomi.

    Pl. be aware that comments posted on inappropriate threads may be deleted without notice.

  • 6. Anupam Sarwaikar said:

    Shantanu,

    Great work as always!

    Anupam

  • 7. B Shantanu (author) said:

    Thanks Anon, Anupam. I am considering printing this series as a booklet. What do you guys think?

    And of course would love to have it translated…Any thoughts?

  • 8. Ajay Anand said:

    Dear Shantanu,

    Excellent hair raising post.
    Continue the good work.
    Printing a booklet is a great idea.

    Ajay

  • 9. Sham singh said:

    What fine handsome Gentleman lost his life at 26 for the sake Of WORLD-PEACE? My salute goes to such hero of WORLD.

  • 10. salaria said:

    hi…
    thank u so much.. captain gurbachan singh salaria was my grand father’s brother.. i have heard a lot about him from my father since my childhood.. keep doing good work..

  • 11. chuman kumar singh said:

    today is 3rd.Sep.2011 time 11.30pm Midnapore[w][west-Bengal] and since morning don’t know how this name Cpt.G.S.Salaria is striking in every moment or i say that am just reciting this name in mind. so i look at this page. though i knew about him 10yrs ago[ by a t.v series named PARAM VIR CHAKRA might be on DD1 hope so] but now suddenly why the name strikes ……..and so much ….i don’t know…?

    MAY BE I LOVE MY NATION TOO MUCH OR MAY BE RESPECT AND LOVE FOR MY COUNTRY’S MARTYRS …. JAI HIND JAI JAWAN.

    its my real feeling don’t take it emotional blub or internet scrap

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