Courage under fire

Indian soldiers helped turn many a battle around

Second Lt P.S. Bhagat, personally cleared 15 minefields in 96 hours in Ethiopia in January 1941. He later rose to become lieutenant general in independent India’s army. Second Lt P.S. Bhagat, personally cleared 15 minefields in 96 hours in Ethiopia in January 1941. He later rose to become lieutenant general in independent India’s army.

INDIAN ARMY PERSONNEL—native Indians, Nepali Gurkhas, natives of future Pakistan and Bangladesh, and Britons who were commissioned or enlisted in the Indian Army—won nearly 6,300 awards in World War II. The tally included 31 Victoria Crosses (VC), which were the highest military gallantry honour, seven George Crosses, which were the next in order, 252 Distinguished Service Orders, 347 Indian Orders of Merit and 1,311 Military Crosses.

The VC was awarded for “... most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or preeminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy”. Here are the 31 bravehearts who won the award.


Second Lt Premindra Singh Bhagat (Corps of Engineers) was the first Indian to win the Victoria Cross in the war. When his men were chasing the enemy after the capture of Metemma in Ethiopia, he personally cleared 15 minefields in 96 hours from the night of January 31, 1941. Bhagat rose to the rank of lieutenant general in independent India’s army.

Company Havildar Major Chhelu Ram (6th Rajputana Rifles; posthumous) was already wounded when he took command of his company at Djebel Garci, Tunisia on the night of April 19, 1943. He led them in a hand-to-hand fight, was wounded again, but continued rallying his men until he fell.

Subedar Lal Bahadur Thapa (2nd Gurkha Rifles) spotted enemy posts on both sides of a pathway winding up a narrow cleft when he was commanding two sections at Rass-es-Zouai, Tunisia on the night of April 5, 1943. Stealing his way up, he killed them all, including a machine-gunner, with his khukri and bayonet. Then he fought his way up the bullet-swept approaches to the crest, where he and his men killed four. This enabled an entire division of troops (more than 15,000) to advance further.

Subedar Richhpal Ram (6th Rajputana Rifles; posthumous) led an attack at Keren, Eritrea on February 7, 1941, and repelled six counterattacks. Then, without a shot left, he brought the few survivors of his company back. Five days later, his right foot was blown off when he was leading another attack, but he continued to encourage his men until he died.


Naik Yeshwant Ghadge (5th Mahratta Light; posthumous) was commanding a rifle section on July 10, 1944 when he came under heavy machine-gun fire at close range, which felled all except him. Ghadge threw a grenade which knocked out the gunner, rushed at the post shooting another, and clubbed to death the two remaining members of the crew. He was shot finally by an enemy sniper.

Rifleman Thaman Gurung (5th Gurkha; posthumous) was patrolling Monte San Bartolo, Italy on November 10, 1944 when his gallantry helped his platoon withdraw from a difficult position without many casualties. The platoon also picked up some valuable information that resulted in the capture of the area three days later.

Sepoy Ali Haidar (13th Frontier Force) and two other men of his section were the only ones who survived machine-gun fire during the crossing of the Senio River on April 9, 1945. Haidar then attacked the nearest strong point and, in spite of being wounded, put it out of action. He was again wounded while attacking a second strong point, but he crawled closer, threw a grenade and charged the post. Two enemy soldiers were wounded, the remaining two surrendered. His company was able to cross the river and establish a bridgehead.

Sepoy Namdeo Jadav (5th Mahratta Light) carried two wounded men to safety under heavy fire through deep water, up a steep bank and through a mine belt on April 9, 1945. His party was almost wiped out. Determined to avenge them, he eliminated three enemy machine gun posts. Finally, climbing on top of the bank he shouted the Maratha war cry and waved the remaining companies through. He not only saved many lives but enabled the battalion to secure the bridgehead and crush all enemy resistance in the area.

Sepoy Kamal Ram (8th Punjab) was part of a company that was advancing on May 12, 1944 when it was held up by machine-gun fire from four posts on the front and flanks. Ram volunteered to get round the rear of the right post and silence it. He attacked the first two posts alone, killing or taking prisoner the occupant. Together with a havildar, he went on to destroy a third post.

Rifleman Sher Bahadur Thapa (9th Gurkha; posthumous) was part of the company that was resisted by a German-prepared position on September 18–19, 1944. Thapa and his section commander, who was badly wounded afterwards, charged and silenced an enemy machine gun. Then he went alone to the exposed part of a ridge, where, ignoring a hail of bullets, silenced more machine guns, covered a withdrawal and rescued two wounded men before he was killed.


Lt Col Arthur Cumming (12th Frontier Force) led a counterattack with a small party when the Japanese attacked his position near Kuantan, Malaya on January 3, 1942. His men were felled, and he was bayoneted twice in the stomach, yet Cumming fought on till the rest of the battalion could pull out. Later, he drove in a troop carrier, braving enemy fire, to pick up scattered men when he was again wounded. But his effort saved his entire brigade.


Captain Michael Allmand (6th Gurkha; posthumous) and his platoon were 20 yards short of Pin Hmi Road Bridge when the enemy opened heavy fire. His men sought cover, but Allmand charged alone, hurling grenades into the enemy gun positions and killing three Japanese with his khukri. Inspired by his action, his men followed him and captured the bridge. Two days later, Allmand took over command of the larger company, and charged through a marsh towards Japanese position braving enemy fire. He personally killed a number of enemy machine-gunners and led his men to the high ground that they had been ordered to seize. Again, in a third action, he attacked a rail bridge at Mogaung, in which he walked alone with trench foot to charge at a Japanese machine-gun nest, but was felled. He died shortly afterwards.

Major Frank Blaker (9th Gurkha; posthumous) was commanding a company on July 9, 1944 when they were stalled by close-range firing from machine guns. The major went ahead of his men through heavy fire. Despite being wounded in the arm, he located the machine guns and charged alone. He continued to cheer on his men even while lying mortally wounded, inspiring them to accomplish the objective.

Naik Fazal Din (10th Baluch; posthumous) personally attacked the nearest bunker when his section was held up by fire from enemy bunkers during an attack on March 2, 1945. As he led his men against the other bunker, six Japanese, two wielding swords, rushed out. Fazal Din was run through the chest by one of them. As the sword was withdrawn, he wrested it from the hands of its owner and killed him with it. Killing another Japanese with the sword, he waved it aloft to encourage his men before collapsing.

Havildar Gaje Ghale (5th Gurkha) was in charge of a platoon attacking a strong Japanese position on May 24–27, 1943. Wounded in the arm, chest and leg, he continued to lead assault after assault, encouraging his men by shouting the Gurkha battle-cry. Spurred by his action, the platoon stormed and captured the position.

Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung (2nd Gurkha) and his company were pinned down by an enemy sniper on March 5, 1945. Gurung stood up, exposing himself, and calmly killed the sniper. The section advanced but came under heavy fire again. Gurung attacked the first enemy foxhole, throwing two grenades and killing two occupants. He rushed to the next enemy foxhole and killed the Japanese in it with his bayonet. He was under machine-gun fire during the entire action. He cleared five enemy positions single-handedly, and his party repelled a counterattack with heavy loss to the enemy.

Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung (8th Gurkha) was manning the most forward post of his platoon on May 12, 1945 when it was attacked by 200 enemy troops. He hurled back the two grenades that fell on his trench, but the third exploded in his right hand, shattering his arm and wounding him in the face and right leg. Yet he loaded and fired his rifle with his left hand for four hours, calmly meeting each attack by firing point blank. Afterwards, it was found that he had killed 31 Japanese with only one arm.

Jamedar Abdul Hafiz (9th Jat; posthumous) and his platoon were ordered to attack an enemy position on April 6, 1944. The only approach to the position was across a bare slope and up a steep cliff. Hafiz led the assault, killing several of the enemy himself and then pressed on regardless of machine-gun fire. He received two wounds, the second of which was fatal, but routed a vastly superior enemy and captured an important position.

Lt Karamjeet Singh Judge (15th Punjab; posthumous) dominated the battlefield with numerous acts on March 18, 1945. As a platoon commander, he destroyed ten enemy bunkers. Then he directed one tank to within 20 yards of another and asked the tank commander to cease fire while he went in to mop up. While doing so, he was mortally wounded.

Rifleman Ganju Lama (7th Gurkha) was attempting to stem the enemy’s advance on June 12, 1944 when his company came under heavy machine-gun fire. Lama took his anti-tank gun, crawled forward to 30 yards of the enemy tanks and knocked out two of them. Despite a broken wrist and two serious wounds to his both hands, he moved forward and killed the tank crew as they tried to escape.

Rifleman Tul Bahadur Pun (6th Gurkha) found that he, his section commander and another trooper were the only survivors in a section that attacked a railway bridge on June 23, 1944. The section commander then led a charge on the enemy position but was badly wounded, as was the third man. With a Bren gun, Pun continued the charge alone, reached the position, killed three, put five more to flight, and captured two light machine guns and much ammunition. He then gave accurate supporting fire, enabling the rest of his platoon to reach their objective.

Rifleman Agansing Rai (5th Gurkha) killed three machine-gun crew under withering fire on June 26, 1944. After taking the enemy position, he killed three more machine-gunners who were firing from the jungle. He then attacked an isolated bunker single-handedly, killing all four occupants. The enemy fled in fright, and the second post, too, was captured.

Sepoy Bhandari Ram (10th Baluch) was pinned down, along with his platoon, by machine-gun fire on November 22, 1944. Although wounded, he crawled up to a Japanese light machine gun, in full view of the enemy, and was wounded again. But he continued crawling to within five yards of his objective. He then threw a grenade into the position, killing the gunner and two others. This action inspired his platoon to rush and capture the enemy position.

Lance Naik Sher Shah (16th Punjab; posthumous) was commanding a left forward section of his platoon on January 19–20, 1945 when it was attacked by an overwhelming number of Japanese soldiers. He broke up two attacks by crawling right in among the enemy and shooting at point-blank range. On the second occasion, he was hit and his leg was shattered. When the third attack came, he again crawled forward, engaging the enemy until he was shot in the head.

Naik Gian Singh (15th Punjab) was in charge of the leading section of his platoon on March 2, 1945 when he went on alone firing his Tommy gun, and rushed the enemy foxholes. Though wounded in the arm, he went on hurling grenades. He attacked and killed the crew of a cleverly concealed anti-tank gun, and then led his men down a lane clearing all enemy positions. He went on leading his section until the action was completed.

Naik Nand Singh (11th Sikh) was commanding a leading section of an attack on March 11–12, 1944 when he was ordered to recapture a position gained by the enemy. He led his section up a steep, knife-edged ridge under heavy fire and, although wounded in the thigh, captured the first trench. He then crawled forward alone and, wounded again in the face and shoulder, and captured the second and third trenches.

Undaunted, Havildar Umrao Singh picked up a ‘gun bearer’ (a heavy iron rod, similar to a crowbar) and used that as a weapon in hand-to-hand fighting. He struck down three Japanese infantrymen, before falling to a rain of blows.

Havildar Parkash Singh (8th Punjab) drove his own carrier forward and rescued the crew of two disabled carriers under heavy fire on January 6, 1943. Again in the same area on January 19, he rescued two more carriers that had been put out of action by an enemy anti-tank gun. He then went out again and brought to safety another disabled carrier containing two wounded men.

Jamedar Prakash Singh Chib (13th Frontier Force; posthumous) was commanding a platoon on February 16-17, 1945. He was wounded in both ankles and relieved of his command, but when his second-in-command was also injured, he crawled back and took command again, directing operations and encouraging his men. He was wounded in both legs a second time, but continued to direct the defence, dragging himself from place to place by his hands. When wounded a third time, he lay shouting the Dogra war-cry as he died, inspiring his company that finally drove off the enemy.

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Havildar Umrao Singh (Artillery Regiment) was a field gun detachment commander whose gun was in an advanced position supporting the 8th Gold Coast Regiment on December 15–16, 1944. After a 90-minute bombardment from 75mm guns and mortars, Singh’s position was attacked by two companies of Japanese infantry. Using a Bren gun, he held off the assault and was wounded by two grenades. A second attack killed all but Singh and two other gunners, but it was also beaten off. The three soldiers had only a few bullets remaining, and these were rapidly exhausted in the initial stages of the third attack. Undaunted, Singh picked up a ‘gun bearer’ (a heavy iron rod, similar to a crowbar) and used that as a weapon in hand-to-hand fighting. He struck down three infantrymen, before falling to a rain of blows. Six hours later, after a counterattack, he was found alive but unconscious near his gun, almost unrecognisable from a head injury, still clutching his gun bearer. Ten Japanese soldiers lay dead nearby.

Subedar Ram Sarup Singh (1st Punjab; posthumous) was commanding a platoon attacking a strong enemy position on October 25, 1944. They routed the enemy and he was wounded in both legs. But he insisted on carrying on, and his dashing charge alone halted an enemy counterattack. In this action, he killed four of the enemy. He was again wounded, in the thigh, but continued to lead his men, killing two more of the enemy, until he was mortally wounded.

Acting Subedar Netrabahadur Thapa (5th Gurkha; posthumous) was in command of a small isolated hill post at Bishenpur, Burma, on 25–26 June 1944 when the Japanese attacked. The men, inspired by Thapa’s example, held their ground and beat off the enemy, but casualties were very heavy and reinforcements were requested. When these arrived some hours later, they also suffered heavy casualties. Thapa retrieved the reinforcements’ ammunition himself and mounted an offensive with grenades and khukris, until he was killed.