The British Army has contained many famous units throughout its long history, ranging from the 95th Rifles of the Napoleonic era through to the SAS. Counted amongst them is the Gurkhas, Nepalese soldiers who have fought alongside the British forces since the first Gurkha unit was raised in 1815 following the Anglo-Nepalese War. This week we'll be covering the British Army's Gurkha units during the Cold War period, featuring an brief overview of their history, training and some role play material.
Prior to the Cold War the Gurkhas had been loyally serving in the British Indian Army for over a hundred years, primarily in the Far East and on the North West Frontier of British India. They also served in both World Wars, but this required a special dispensation known as Pani Patiya. It is believed that crossing the sea means that Gurkhas forfeit their privileges of caste and rights, failing to obtain the dispensation results in heavy punishment. Others who may have unwittingly taken food and water with the transgressor are also placed under the same ban.
The First World War saw some 200,000 Gurkahs fight on the Western Front and throughout the Middle East from the Suez Canal to Syria. The Gurkhas won 26 Victoria Crosses during the conflict but lost twenty thousand men, this includes a battalion of the 8th Gurkhas that fought to the last man during the Battle of Loos by hurling themselves time after time against the weight of the German defences. After the war the Gurkhas went back to being peace-time soldiers on the frontiers of India, though they still took part in many conflicts such as the Third Afghan War and the Waziristan Campaign.
Went the Second World War broke out the Gurkhas once again sailed across the sea to fight for Britain. They fought from Syria through the Western Desert through to Italy and Greece. In the Far East they fought in Malaya, Singapore, the retreat from Siam and throughout the Burma campaign. At war's end they were involved in various peace-keeping missions including Vietnam after the Japanese surrender until the French returned. They had been in the thick of the fighting against the Japanese in Burma, yet when they arrived in Vietnam they found that the Japanese had been allowed to keep their weapons and eventually the two former enemies fought alongside one another against the Vietnamese nationalists.
By 1947 there were ten Gurkha regiments (some twenty battalions) in the 'old' Indian Army, with the Partition of India these were divided between the 'new' Indian Army and the British Army. Six regiments (twelve battalions) were transferred to the 'new' Indian Army whilst the remaining four regiments (eight battalions) were integrated into the British Army as the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Brigade also consists of The King's/Queen's Gurkha Engineers, The King's/Queen's Gurkha Signals and the Gurkha Transport Regiment.
The Brigade of Gurkhas would see service throughout the twelve years of the Malayan Emergency and later in Brunei and Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation. Their HQ and main training base was later established in Hong Kong where the Gurkhas were deployed on security duties that included patrolling the border checking for illegal immigrants entering the territory. They were never allowed to be deployed to Northern Ireland nor they were ever assigned to the British Forces in Germany, but they did take part in the Falklands War. The Gurkhas' reputation preceded them in this conflict in 1982 as the Argentines surrendered rather than fight when confronted by the Gurkhas, even if the Argentines were entrenched in strong positions!
Selection and Training
During the Cold War period the British Army needed 400 recruits a year for the Gurkhas, every year there were 8,000 young men eager to join. Old soldiers were sent into the hills to do the preliminary selection and whittled it down to 800 potential recruits who were sent to the depots at Dharan and Pokhra for medical and selection. Most of the Gurkha recruits were subsistence farmers scratching out a living at around 7,000 feet, often travelling barefoot for many miles up and down mountains whilst carrying heavy loads. As a result the Gurkhas all have immensely powerful legs, but they are prone to tuberculosis and one of the first tests they have to pass is a chest X-ray. Living in the mountains, thus away from the population and noise of cities, also means that they have excellent eyesight and hearing.
Though whilst to Western eyes the Gurkhas may all look alike, the Gurkhas belong to a tribal or clan system which has different dialects and differing physical traits. This often meant that the individual Gurkha regiments recruited from specific areas of Nepal. The small, quick-witted Rais and the taller, slower-speaking Limbus from Central East Nepal formed the recruitment pool of the 7th and 10th Gurkha Rifles; on the other hand the 2nd and 6th took Gurungs and Magars from Central West. Though the stated difference between the two was that the Gurungs had finer features.
Those who were accepted were sent via aircraft for ten months training at the Brigade's main base in Hong Kong, something that was often a culture shock for the young Nepalese men. They had to be taught how to live in the modern world and learn English in addition to basic soldiering. The training was tough and maintained a discipline long out of fashion with British regiments. Their accommodation consisted of large wooden huts that were so out of date that for a time the Royal Marines kept one at the Commando Training Centre just to show recruits how rough life was in the old army. Yet the Gurkhas lapped it up and considered it an insult if their training was softened for any reason.
Historically there were two types of officers in the Gurkhas; regular British officers and the King's/Queen's Gurkha Officers (K/QGOs).
The British officers (of which there were only 17 to a Gurkha battalion) had to attend the two-month Nepalese Language Qualification Course at the Hong Kong training depot and was expected to immerse himself in Gurkha culture and tradition. He was told to never shout at a Gurkha as that would only lower his prestige in the eyes of the Gurkha and he had the responsibility to maintain his own standards, thus develop a mutual relationship of trust with his men. If a Gurkha lost faith in his officer that officer was finished, but once trust is established the Gurkha would follow him to hell and back. The British officers also looked after their men, even going as far as keeping an eye on the men's gambling (which was only allowed during the religious festive of Diwali).
Queen's Gurkha Officer sat somewhere between warrant officers and full commissions, meaning they had no authority over British troops and were technically subordinate to any British officer regardless of rank. Most QGOs were typically old hands who had come up through the ranks and served as either platoon commanders or as deputy commanders of companies. A scheme started in the 1950s introduced Gurkha officers commissioned from the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy who were on par with British officers and had greater promotion prospects (one Gurkha became a Lieutenant-Colonel).
Service and Duty
The main base for the Gurkhas was at Hong Kong, where they were primarily employed on internal security duty (typically picking up fugitives from Communist China), there were other postings and the battalions had a rotation system for these postings. Each battalion spent two years in the UK followed by four years in Hong Kong, two in Brunei and then back in Hong Kong for a further two years before they started the sequence all over again.
There were other postings: to the Jungle School in Brunei, to the Demonstration Company at Sandhurst or the Demonstration Company at the NCO Training Wing at Brecon and four-month long postings to Korea where a large platoon of Gurkhas formed the United Nations Honour Guard. Additionally there was something like a thousand Gurkha soldiers in Nepal at any one time, either working at the Dharan base or travelling to and from their homes on leave.
More details can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigade_of_Gurkhas
Gaming the Gurkhas
Probably the easiest way to use the Gurkhas in Savage Worlds is a bridge campaign between Weird War 2 and Tour of Darkness, covering the post-WW2 period in Vietnam before the French re-occupation and First Indochina War. This would only cover the 1945-46 period but would feature a number of clashes with the Viet Minh, but plenty of Weird Wars elements be can thrown in. For example this would involve trying to beat the Viet Minh to a secret Japanese (or Vichy French) research base located deep in the jungle.
A mash-up of Weird War 2 and Tour of Darkness can, to a degree, also be used to cover the Mayalan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation. The former saw the use of alot of old WW2 era equipment, though the latter would require some conversions from Tour of Darkness. A Falklands War based game would be a little trickier since the Gurkhas never got to see much action (for reasons listed earlier), but the conflict took place over a large part of the South Atlantic and a forgotten Nazi base in the far south could come into play.
Equipment wise the Gurkha used standard issue British weapons such as the L1A1 SLR and General Purpose Machine Gun (use M60 stats), though they were also issued with the American M16 depending on the mission requirements. Every Gurkha also carried a kukri, a knife that is similar to a machete and is used as both a tool and weapon in Nepal.
Suggest using the following stats for the kukri: Str+d6
Particularly in the Far East the Gurkhas wore Tropical DPM fatigues, this gives them a +1 bonus to their Stealth rolls whilst in a jungle environment.
Below is the suggested stats for a Gurkha soldier;
Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6
Skills: Fighting d8, Intimidation d8, Notice d6+2, Stealth d6, Shooting d6, Survival d8, Tracking d8
Charisma: -2; Pace: 5; Parry: 6; Toughness: 4
Hindrances: Bloodthirsty, Loyal, Small
Edges: Alertness, Marksman, Woodsman