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Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa VC (Victoria Cross)

Rajeshwor Yumnam *

 Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa VC
Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa VC



Acting Subedar Netrabahadur Thapa, was born on 8 th January 1916 in the village called Rahu in Nepal.

Netrabahadur Thapa was an acting Subedar with 2/5 Gurkha Rifles during Battle of Imphal. The battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Eustace during the June of 1944. On 25/26 June 1944 at Mortar Bluff, a feature very close to the old Silchar track or Tongei Maril, Bishenpur, Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa was in command of a small isolated hill post, when the Japanese attacked in force.

The men, inspired by their leader's fine example, held their ground and the Japanese were beaten off, but casualties were very heavy and reinforcements were requested. When these arrived some hours later they too became casualties, but the subedar, undeterred, retrieved the ammunition himself and took the offensive with grenades and kukris, until he was killed. For this valour action Netrabahadur Thapa was awarded the highest Military award of British and Commonwealth force, the Victoria Cross. Five VC's were awarded in battles of 2nd World War in Manipur.

"At half past six on June 25th forty-one Gurkhas under Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa were sent off up the steep hillside with signalers and with soldiers and mules carrying food and ammunitions, to take over the isolated post of Mortar Bluff, a small round pimple rising out of open grassland and barely large enough to contain a platoon". (Imphal, 1962)

The War Diary of 2/5 Gurkha Rifles recorded the following incident:
"25th June 1944(Sunday):- Order Received for Bn. to march from Bishenpur at 1000 hrs for EVANS KNOB ( hills overlooking Silchar Track). Arrived there 1600 hrs and occupied Northants' old positions. D Coy, less 1 Pl. and 2 x 3" Mortars moved forward to B.P. Piquet. 1 Pl. D Coy( Sub. Netrabahadur Thapa) plus two secs of C Coy moved forward to MORTAR BLUFF Piquet. Enemy started attacking M.B. at 2000 hrs practically all ammunition and grenades expended. The enemy, estimated one Coy were attacking from all directions, and many enemy had succeeded in getting inside the wire. 2 Secs of B Coy were send up with ammunitions at 2230 hrs. All communication broken. Heavy rain all night.

26th June 1944 (Monday):- At 0415 hrs. information received that MORTAR BLUFF had been overrun and occupied by the enemy. A, C and Bn. HQ plus 2 x 3" Mortars moved out at 0530 hrs and arrived at B.P. Piquet at 0740 hrs, and were there shelled by 75mm. Major McGill severely wounded on head and later died. 3 Havs also killed, 2 wounded and 1 Sub wounded all by one shell. Several man and mules also killed and wounded".

His Citation reads:

Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa was in command of the garrison of 41 men of the 2/5th Royal Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force) which on the afternoon of 25th June, 1944, took over the isolated piquet known as Mortar Bluff situated on the hillside commanding the base at Bishenpur in Burma( wrongly written, it should be Manipur). The piquet position, completely devoid of any cover, was situated some 400 yards from the next piquet, from which it could be supported to some extent by 3 inch mortar fire, but was commanded by Water Piquet, a short distance away on high ground to the South, which had been over-run by strong enemy forces on the previous night and was still in enemy hands. Owing to its commanding position the retention of Mortar Bluff was vital to the safety of other positions farther down the ridge and to Bishenpur itself.

The relief had been harassed by enemy snipers at close range but was completed at 1830 hours without casualties. A little more than an hour later the enemy began to attack. For this purpose a 75 millimeter and a 37 millimeter gun were brought on up to the high ground overlooking the position and poured shell after shell at point blank range for ten minutes into the narrow confines of the piquet, and this was followed by a determined attack by not less than one company of Japanese. A fierce fight ensued in which Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa's men, exhorted by their leader, held their ground against heavy odds and drove the enemy back with disproportionate losses. During this time Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa with tireless energy and contempt for his own safety moved from post to post encouraging his young N.C.Os and riflemen, of which the garrison was largely composed, and tending the wounded.

A short lull followed during which Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa gave a clear and concise report on the telephone to his Commanding Officer and asked for more artillery defensive fire. Having done this he made preparations to meet the next onslaught which was not long in coming.

Under cover of the pitch dark night and torrential rain the enemy had moved round to the jungle from the cover of which they launched their next attack. Still in considerable strength and as determined and ferocious as ever the enemy poured out from the jungle across the short space of open ground to the piquet defences under cover of small arms and 37 millimetre gun fire from a flank. For a time our men held their ground until, as ill-luck would have it, both the L.M.G. and T.M.G. of one section jammed.

With much reduced fire-power the section were unable to hold on, and the enemy forced an entrance and over-ran this and another section, killing or wounding 12 out of the 16 men comprising the two sections. Having no reserve Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa himself went forward from his Headquarters and stemmed any further advance with grenades.

The situation was however critical. With more than half his men casualties, ammunition low, and the enemy in possession of part of his perimeter, Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa would have been justified in withdrawing, but in his next report to his Commanding Officer he stated that he intended holding on and asked for reinforcements and more ammunition.

So efficient were his plans for defence and such was the fine example of this gallant Gurkha officer that not a man moved from his trench and not a yard more ground was gained by the enemy, despite their desperate attempts.

Thus the night passed until at 0400 hours a section of 8 men with grenades and small arms ammunition arrived. Their arrival inevitably drew fire and all the 8 were soon casualties. Undismayed, however, Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa retrieved the ammunition and himself with his platoon Headquarters took the offensive armed with grenades and khukris. Whilst so doing he received a bullet wound in the mouth followed shortly afterwards by a grenade which killed him outright. His body was found next day, khukri in hand and dead Japanese with a cleft skull by his side.

True to the traditions of the service and his race Subadar Netrabahadur Thapa had fought against overwhelming odds for 8 hours before he was killed. His fine example of personal bravery and his high sense of duty so inspired his men that a vital position was held to the limit of human endurance.

His valour and devotion to duty will remain an epic in the history of the Regiment.[London Gazette issue 36742 dated 12 Oct 1944, published 10 Oct 1944.]


* Rajeshwor Yumnam wrote this article to e-pao.net
The wrtier can be contacted at yrs001(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on May 13, 2015.


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