Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria, who was awarded the Param Vir Chakra (PVC) posthumously in 1962, was born in a village in Punjab on 29 December 1935. On his birth anniversary on Wednesday, we bring you the story of his gallantry.
Salaria went to the King George Royal Indian Military College (now known as the Rashtriya Military College) and subsequently to the National Defence Academy (NDA). He later graduated to the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and was commissioned in Gorkha Rifles in June 1957.
In 1961, Captain Salaria was sent to Katanga, Congo, to join the United Nations Operations in Congo. The force had been created to control the civil war which broke out after the Belgians decided to leave their former colony. India had sent nearly 3,000 personnel to be a part of this operation to tackle Katangese secessionists.
The citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to Captain Salaria describes the action on 5 December 1961, when 3/1 Gorkha Rifles was assigned to clear a roadblock set up by rebel forces at a strategic roundabout at Elizabethville, Katanga. This was the town where the UN had set up its headquarters.
The plan was to attack the position frontally using one company with 2 Swedish armoured cars. Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria with two sections of Gorkhas and two Swedish armoured personnel carriers would advance towards this roadblock from the airfield. They would act as a “cutting-off force”.
Captain Salaria and his small force came under heavy automatic and small-arms fire from an undetected enemy position when they were about 1500 yards from the roadblock. The enemy also had two armoured cars and about 90 men, says the citation.
Eager to prevent the enemy from reinforcing the roadblock, Salaria decided to lead a charge with bayonets, khukris and grenades with a rocket launcher to support them.
Gallantry At Its Best
“In this gallant engagement, Captain Gurbachan Singh Salaria killed 40 of the enemy and knocked out the two armoured cars. This unexpected bold action completely demoralised the enemy who fled despite their numerical superiority and protected positions,” says the citation for the Param Vir Chakra awarded to him.
A burst of automatic fire hit Gurbachan Singh Salaria in the neck but he continued to fight till he collapsed due to profuse bleeding. He subsequently died of his wounds and was awarded the Param Vir Chakra posthumously.
“Captain Salaria’s gallant action prevented any enemy movement of the enemy force towards the main battle scene and thus contributed very largely to the success of the main battalion’s action at the roundabout and prevented the encirclement of UN Headquarters in Elizabethville,” reads the citation.