Gurbachan Singh Salaria

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Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria (born 29 November 1935; Gurdaspur, Punjab – 1961) is a military war hero, who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra, India's highest wartime military award.


Background

Gurbachan Singh Salaria was from village Jangla near Shakragarh in Gurdaspur, Punjab. He belonged to an agricultural family and his father's name was Chaudhary Munshi Ram Salaria. [1] [2] Salaria clan is found in both Dogras [3] and Sainis. [4] in rural Gurdaspur [5] Both groups claim a Chandravanshi Rajput [6] descent and were enlisted as martial races in colonial era.

Military career

He was commissioned in the 1st Gorkha Rifles (The Maluan Regiment) on 9 June 1957. 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. On 5 December 1961, a 3/1 GR Company supported by 3-inch mortar attacked a road-block, established by the Katangese troops, between HQ Katanga command and the Elisabethville airfield at a strategic round about. The enemy roadblock was destroyed and the Gorkhas established a UN roadblock there.

When Captain Salaria in platoon strength tried to link up with the Gorkha Company to reinforce the roadblock, he met strong opposition in the old airfield area. The enemy brought down heavy automatic and small arms fire on his force from a dug-in position on the right flank. The enemy held the area strongly with two armoured cars and 90 men. Captain Salaria was not deterred by the superior enemy strength and firepower. He decided to take the enemy, head-on, to achieve the objective. The Gorkhas then charged the enemy with bayonets, khukris and hand-grenades. A rocket launcher supported them in the attack. In this sharp encounter, Captain Salaria and his men killed 40 of the enemy and knocked out two enemy cars. His bold action completely demoralised the enemy who fled despite numerical superiority and well-fortified positions. However, in the engagement, Captain Salaria was wounded in the neck by a burst of enemy automatic fire, but he ignored the injury and continued to fight till he collapsed due to excessive bleeding.

Subsequently, he died of his grave wounds. Captain Salaria prevented the enemy from going to the roundabout thereby saving the UN Headquarters in Elisabethville 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

The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him reads: 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 Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria with two sections of Gorkhas and two Swedish armoured personnel carriers would advance towars 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 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 ot 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 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.

Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria’s leadership, courage, and unflinching devotion to duty and disregard for personal safety were in the best traditions of our Army.

References

  1. ^ The great Indians, PP 151, One India One People Foundation in collaboration with Authorspress, 2006 , One India One People Foundation
  2. ^ Stories of heroism, Volume 1, pp 17, B. Chakravorty, India. Ministry of Defence. Historical Division, Historical Section, Ministry of Defence, Govt. of India, 1988
  3. ^ Gazette[e]r of the Gujrat District, 1921, By Punjab (Pakistan), Published by Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1990
  4. ^ "The Saini do not appear to have returned any large clans except in Hushyárpur, of which district some of the largest clans are shown in the margin, and in Gurdáspur where 1,541 Saini showed their clans as Salahria." W.Chichele Plowden , ( 1883 ), Census of British India taken on the 17th of February 1881, Volume III , London , Eyre and Spottiswoode , p. 257
  5. ^ "The Saini have a Salahri got." Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North West Frontier Province, pp 848, H. A. Rose, IBBETSON, Maclagan, Published by Asian Educational Services, 1990 2076 pages
  6. ^ "He went to a landlord at Nathal who was called the King of the area. He was a Saini Rajput...." A farmer who fought against injustice,Madan Mohan Sharma, The Daily Excelsior, June 28, 2010