Service No: IC-8497
Date of Birth : Nov 29, 1935
Birth Place: Gurdaspur, Punjab
Last Rank: Captain
Service Years: 1957–1961
Unit : 3/1 Gorkha Rifles
Arm/Regt : 1 Gorkha Rifles
Operation: Congo Ops
Awards: Param Vir Chakra
Date of Martyrdom : Dec 5, 1961
Capt Gurbachan Singh Salaria was born on 29th Nov 1935 in Jamwal village near Shakargarh( erstwhile united Punjab) and subsequently his family moved to Jangal village in Gudaspur district of Punjab. Son of Sri Munshi Ram and Smt Dhan Devi, he joined the illustrious King George Royal Indian Military College (Now known as Rashtriya Military School) Bangalore in 1946 and later moved to the King George Royal Military College Jalandhar (Now Rashtriya Military School Chail in Himachal Pradesh). Capt Gurbachan then went on to join the 9th batch of National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla and subsequently the Indian Military Academy. IN 1957, he was commissioned into 1 Gorkha Rifles, an infantry regiment known for its fearless soldiers and numerous battle exploits.
Capt Gurbachan Singh Salaria was part of the Indian contingent for the UN operation in Congo. The UN operation in Congo lasted from July 1960 to June 1964. The objectives of the operation included ensuring the withdrawal of Belgian forces, preventing civil war and removing all foreign military personnel not under UN command and all mercenaries. India sent 99 Infantry Brigade for the operation in March 1961 and Capt Gurbachan Singh Salaria’s unit, 3/1 Gorkha Rifles was part of that brigade.
Congo Ops: 05 Dec 1961
During Dec 1961, Capt Salaria’s unit, 3/1Gorkha Rifles was deployed in Elizabethville in Katanga province, the Headquarters of UN Command. It was located in the conflict ridden south eastern part of the country. On 5th Dec 1961, Capt Salaria was tasked for a challenging mission of removing roadblocks set up by the rebels near the airfield. Capt Salaria with a small force of 16 soldiers, supported by a 3-inch mortar, attacked the enemy roadblock near Elizabethville airfield and established a UN roadblock there. However, Capt Salaria and his platoon met strong opposition from a large number of rebels armed with automatic weapons and armoured carriers. The rebel force consisted of 90 heavily armed men and two armoured carriers.
Despite a numerically superior enemy Capt Salaria decided to take them head on and launched a deadly assault leading his men with the Gorkha cry, ” Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali” meaning “Victory to Mahakali, Gorkhas are here”. He moved on the battlefield exemplifying the motto of his regiment, which says, “Kafir hunu bhanda marnu ramro” meaning “It is better to die than to be a coward”. Capt Salaria was like a man possessed and his naked courage came to the fore during the operation. He attacked the rebels ferociously and eliminated many of them quickly in close combat. However during the heavy exchange of fire he got a burst of automatic fire into his neck and fell down. He later succumbed to his injuries and was martyred. The entire rebel force soon got disintegrated owing to the sustained assault by Capt Salaria and his comrades.
Capt Gurbachan Singh Salaria was given the nation’s highest gallantry award, “Param Vir Chakra” for his cold courage, unfaltering leadership and supreme sacrifice. He became the first and the only recipient of this coveted award given to a soldier in an UN operation.
The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him reads:
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 armored cars would attack the position frontally and Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria with two sections of Gorkhas and two Swedish armored 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 armored 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 armored cars. This unexpected bold action completely demoralized 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’s personal example, utter disregard for personal safety, and dauntless leadership inspired his small but gallant force of 16 Gorkhas to hold on to their position, dominate the enemy and inflict heavy casualties despite the enemy’s superiority in numbers and tactical position. Captain Salaria’s leadership, courage, and unflinching devotion to duty and disregard for personal safety were in the best traditions of our Army.
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