Confidential

Her Majesty’s Royal Gurkha Rifles

The Royal Gurkha Rifles in the Nahr-e Saraj region of Helmand province, during a joint patrol with soldiers from the Afghan National Army. Photo via Flickr.
 

History of the Royal Gurkha Rifles

In 1814, Britain had its first encounter with the Gurkhas Rifles while invading Nepal. During the conflict, Britain was astounded by the bravery and courage in the field of the Gurkhas, who were only armed with traditional eighteen-inch knives called kukris. The British Army declared defeat after six months and decided to resolve the conflict by signing the Treaty of Sugauli. This treaty ended the war in peaceful circumstances. Most importantly, the agreement allowed Britain to recruit Gurkhas soldiers for the British military service to bolster their strength. Consequently, in 1891, the new Regiment was named the 1st Gurkha Rifle Regiment. 

The 1st Gurkha Rifle Regiment fought the First and the Second World Wars alongside Britain, where around 43,000 Gurkha soldiers lost their lives. Since 1816, the Anglo-Nepali alliance has remained strong still today. Indeed, the goodwill of Nepal will not ever be underestimated by Britain, especially when assisting with finance and human resources. For instance, in 2021, around 3,500 Gurkha soldiers served in the British armed forces in several bases in the UK and Brunei. 

 Gurkha Rifles
  Training of Gurkha soldiers of the British Indian Army in the Malayan jungle. Photo via Picryl.

The Queen’s Truncheon

The Truncheon is a symbol of artistry in the Victorian Age. Since His Majesty King Edward VII’s visit to India in 1876, the Truncheon played a symbolic role in the Regiment. New recruits of the Royal Gurkha Rifles sworn in on the Queen’s Truncheon to become Riflemen. 

 Gurkha Rifles

Structure

Between the end of the Anglo-Nepali war and the First World War, the Gurkha regiments grew significantly and numbered from 1 to 10, known as the Gurkha Brigade. 

After the independence of India in 1947, the original ten regiments were divided between Britain and India. For instance, four of the ten regiments 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles: The Sirmoor Rifles, 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles, 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles, 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles were transferred to the British Army, and the other six remained part of the Indian Army.

Subsequently, in 1994, the RGR was reorganized into three battalions, becoming a rifle regiment of the British Army. 

  • – 1st Battalion of the RGR: the amalgamation of the 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) and 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles. Based in Shorncliffe, Kent. Additionally, role: Air Assault Infantry (ADMIN – 11th Infantry Brigade and Headquarters Southeast) (OPCOM – 16th Air Assault Infantry Brigade)

  • – 2nd Battalion of the RGR: 7th Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Gurkha Rifles. Based in Brunei, Southeast Asia. Additionally, role: Jungle Training Infantry Battalion in British Forces Brunei.

     
  • – 3rd Battalion of the RGR: 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles, based in Aldershot Garrison in Southeast England under Specialized Infantry Group

Gurkha soldiers are primarily recruited in Nepal. However, British officers in the Royal Gurkha Rifles need to speak Nepali. Also, Gurkhas must be healthy, fit, and without physical abnormality (including damaged eyesight). 

Responsibilities 

The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) perform different duties in the field. For instance, the Infantry is the main operation within the Army. Moreover, they are responsible for peacekeeping and combat missions. 

Moreover, in Brunei, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles is specialised in Jungle Warfare, carrying out exercises in Australasia. While in the UK, the Royal Gurkha Rifles joined 16 Air Assault Brigades responsible for the Army’s rapid air response and airborne formation. The battalion can be deployed anywhere and anytime on short notice. 

Recruitment and Training 

Every year, the British Army recruits 300-400 individuals from Nepal. The recruitment process is based at Jawalakhel and Pokhara. Firstly, the selection stage concerns several physical tests, English language tests, and numeracy assessments. Secondly, the last stage of the selection process is in Kathmandu, which involves a medical and a second interview. 

Eligibility criteria for recruitment:       

Education: Minimum School Leaving Certificate 3rd Division.

Age: 17-21 years.

Chest: Minimum 79 cm. 

Height: Minimum 5ft 2in.

Eyesight: No glasses and contact lenses.

Teeth: Not more than four faults. 

Physique: Without physical abnormalities

Passport: A valid Machine-Readable Passport (MRP) to register.  

The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) training lasts for nine months. It concerns a range of disciplines such as career management, cultural training, language training, and trade selection, as well as six months of Combat Infantryman’s Course. Remarkably, the Gurkha soldiers responsible for the Jungle Warfare Division receive training to fight and survive high temperatures and jungle terrains. 

Equipment

The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) use several different weapons on the field such as:

  • SA80 Individual Weapon 
  • L115A3 Long Range ‘Sniper’ Rifle – This rifle is part of the Sniper System Improvement Programme (SSIP) as it provides effective and telescopic range day and night. First used in Afghanistan in 2008.
  • L129A1 Sharpshooter Rifle – mostly used in the infantry of the Gurkha Rifles.
  • L16A2 81mm Mortar – maximum range of 5650m.
  • The Javelin anti-tank – targeting tanks and light-armoured vehicles.

Guns

  • L7A2 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) – employed as light weapon and in a sustained fire (SF) role.
  • Combat Shotgun – operational system ARGO (Auto-Regulating Gas Operated) Twin System. EOT tech sight day and night.
  • L111A1 Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) – integral close-range support (1500-2000m).
  • Light Machine Gun
  • The Heckler & Koch 40mm Grenade Machine Gun (GMG) – usually used on WMIK (weapons mount installation kit) Land Rovers.

Missions

In 1997, the Royal Gurkha Rifles carried out operations in Afghanistan, Bosnia, East Timor, Iraq, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Sierra Leone. For instance, the 1st and 2nd battalions have been on the field for 15 operational tours. As a result, a total of 54 soldiers have been wounded, and 15 have died. 

Operation Herrick 

Between 2003 and 2014, the Brigade of Gurkhas had supported the British forces in Afghanistan in the so-called Operation Herrick. The 1st Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was first sent to Afghanistan in 2006. Today, the Brigade is still fighting in Afghanistan. Indeed, in 2018, the 1st Royal Gurkha Rifles Light Aid Detachment (LAD) intervened in Afghanistan in support of Operation Toral 7. Indeed, the main tasks assigned to 1RGR LAD are delivering training, munitions, and support, including mechanic recoveries, to the Afghan security forces. 

 Gurkha Rifles
A Gurkha from 1 Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles is pictured providing security for Royal Engineers constructing a new road called Trident. The road will allow greater movement for the local Afghan population. Photo via Flickr.

Operation Telic

From 2003 to May 2011, the UK fought in the Second Gulf War, also known as Operation Telic. Similar to Operation Herrick, the Brigade of Gurkhas had assisted the British forces. Indeed, 168 Gurkha supply specialists were responsible for providing supplies to British soldiers throughout southern Iraq. 

 Gurkha Rifles
B Battery RHA Op TELIC 10 2007. Photo by Mcbwebb via Wikimedia Commons.

Notable Royal Gurkha Soldiers

Acting Sergeant Dipprasad Pun – Sergeant Pun single-handedly fought off thirty Taliban soldiers with 400 rounds and 17 grenades. As a result of his actions, he received the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross medal by Queen Elizabeth.

Rifleman Bhanbhagta Gurung – During the Japanese offence in Tamandu in 1945, Rifleman Gurung risked his own life clearing five positions of the Japanese resistance. King George VI awarded Rifleman Gurung at Buckingham Palace.

Author

Bianca Bonardi

Bianca is a graduate student in Criminology at Goldsmiths College of London. She recently finished her post-graduate studies in Terrorism and Security at King's College of London. Her research is mainly focused on Middle East issues and International Terrorist threats.

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