Remembering Capt Gurbachan Salaria on His 84th Birth Anniversary
Captain Gurbachan was an Indian Army officer and the only United Nations Peacekeeper to receive the Param Vir Chakra
Video Editors: Mohd Irshad Alam, Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria was an Indian Army officer and the only United Nations Peacekeeper to receive the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest military honour.
This is a story of his valour and supreme sacrifice.
His Early Life
Gurbachan Singh Salaria was born on 29 November 1935, in Jamwal, a village near Shakargarh in undivided Punjab. He was the second of five children of Munshi Ram and Dhan Devi. His father, Munshi Ram was a part of the Dogra Squadron of the Hodson's Horse in the British Indian Army.
Salaria was mesmerised when he heard the stories of soldiers’ valour and courage from his father. He had decided what he wanted to become after growing up.
A Young Indian Soldier
After the Partition, Salaria's family moved to India and settled in Jangal village in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab.
After passing school, Salaria joined the Joint Services Wing of the National Defence Academy. On graduating from the NDA in 1956, he enrolled into the Indian Military Academy. After passing out of IMA on 9 June 1957, Salaria was initially commissioned into the 2nd battalion of the 3rd Gorkha Rifles. He was later transferred to the 3rd battalion of the 1st Gorkha Rifles in March 1960.
The Congo Crisis and Mission UNOC
In June 1960, the Republic of the Congo became independent from Belgium. But during the first week of July, a mutiny broke out in the Congolese Army and violence erupted between black and white civilians. Belgium sent troops to protect fleeing whites and two areas of the country, Katanga and South Kasai, subsequently seceded with Belgian support. The Congolese government asked the United Nations (UN) for help, and on 14 July 1960, the organisation responded by establishing the United Nations Operation in the Congo.
Two Indian infantry brigades composed of 467 officers, 401 JCOs and 11,354 jawans participated in this peacekeeping mission. A flight of six Canberra Bomber aircrafts of the Indian Airforce were also deployed.
Captain’s Supreme Sacrifice
On 5 December 1961, the 3rd battalion of 1st Gorkha Rifles was tasked to clear a roadblock by rebels on the way to Élizabethville Airport at a strategic roundabout. The plan was to launch the first attack by Charlie Company, led by Major Govind Sharma. Captain Salaria, with a platoon from Alpha Company, stationed close to the airport road was supposed to block the rebels and attack them if required. The rest of Alpha Company was kept in reserve.
Captain Salaria and his troops reached the specified location with their armoured personnel carriers. They were positioned around 1,500 yards from the target. His rocket launcher team was soon able to get close enough to the rebels' armoured cars to destroy them. This unforeseen move left the Katangese confused and disorganised. Salaria felt that it was prudent to attack before the rebels reorganised.
“I am going in for attack. I am certain I will win.”Captain Gurbachan’s last words over the radio to another officer
With a small force of 19 he fought against a rebel force of 90 armed men. He charged towards them, engaging in a hand-to-hand kukri assault whilst shouting the Gorkha war cry, "Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali." Salaria and his men killed 40 rebels. Captain Gurbachan was shot twice in the neck but that did not deter his spirit. The rebels soon disintegrated.
His second-in-command rushed him to the airport hospital in an armoured personnel carrier. However, the captain succumbed to his injuries.
Param Vir Chakra
For his valour and supreme sacrifice, he posthumously received the Param Vir Chakra, the highest military honour in India.
Here is an excerpt from the citation:
“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 Gurbachan’s supreme sacrifice is etched in history.
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