Monday, October 3, 2011
Introducing the Gurkhas
The Gurkhas were Nepalese soldiers fighting on behalf of the British Empire. In all about a quarter of a million men volunteered to serve and, as was the case in the Indian divisions, they fought under the command of British officers. They did so with distinction in places like Syria, Greece, North Africa, Italy and Burma. Nepal's location next to the Himalayas created the necessary conditions to produce very tough and resilient troops, very well suited for operations in mountanous terrain such as the one encountered in Italy. Fond of engaging in hand to hand combat with a kukri -a very sharp Nepalese curved knife- Gurkhas were also fierce warriors, respected and feared by their foes. An account of a British officer from the 78th division found in Matthew Parker's book 'Monte Cassino' tells the following story which helps explain why: 'I came across some Gurkha soldiers who were laughing uproariously. When I asked what the joke was, one who spoke some English explained that they had been out on patrol when they came across three Germans asleep in a slit trench. They cut off the heads of the two outside men but left the chap in the middle as he would have a terrific shock when he awoke!'
Unfortunately, as far as manufacturers of Gurkha figures go, there is only one option in the market to this day.
Airfix Gurkhas - Part 1
Luckily for us Airfix decided to make twice as many figures as they typically released for their WWII sets. The figures are slightly smaller than their other 54mm figures, although that could perhaps be by design.
Airfix Gurkhas - Part 2
These guys are wearing a tropical outfit, which means that they were likely fighting the Japanese in Burma. Given their jungle setting, you would probably expect them in a greener shade of khaki, but apparently, they wore the same uniform as other Gurkhas in the Middle East. But what I should have done is given them a slightly darker skin tone for greater realism. Note that one of them is handling the kukri knife, ready to take on his enemy in hand to hand combat.
Airfix Gurkhas - Part 3
Here we have three more figures with kukris and a guy handling what looks like an oversized Bren gun. Not featured here, but I recall seeing it at some point many years ago, is one more pose of a Gurkha casualty, lying face up on the ground with one of his arms around his head holding his kukri.
I wonder if these guys would be acceptable to use in a scene about Monte Cassino. The alternative would be to use regular British Infantry, as Gurkhas fighting in Italy wore the British battledress, but then in the pictures you would not be able to tell that they were Gurkhas... a tricky decision. I guess we will cross that bridge when we get there!
Here are some links to other participants in the Cassino campaign. Note that I face similar dilemmas with some of them in terms of the uniform that they are wearing not being the same as the one worn in Italy.
(British might also be used for Polish and Canadian who also fought there)
(Could also be used for Free French Moroccan Infantry)