THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR
This is a picture of the last stand of the 66th Foot at Maiwand.. Partly as a result of this particular debacle it was decided that colours would not in future be taken on active service. The dog in the picture, Bobbie, received the Afghan War Medal from Queen Victoria in 1881 but got run over by a hansom cab the year after.
Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks wrote, "The ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY can justifiably claim to have proved themselves an elite throughout their long history. Many Regiments lay claim to this title for social reasons, but not the ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY. They have earned it by sheer professional efficiency."
The Battle of Maiwand
"A drawing by R.C. Woodville of E/B Battery gunners passing between the 66th Regiment of Foot on the left and Indian cavalry on the right, troops who fought at Maiwand"
The British and Afghans at War. Click on picture to enlarge.
picture courtesy Fred Larimore
A uniform from the period. Unknown soldier.
Sergeant Mullane, Royal Horse Artillery, winning the Victoria Cross by
saving a wounded gunner during the retreat from the attacking Afghans.
Promoted Capt., in Feb., 1867, Blackwood was specially selected from a large number of Gunner officers, in the autumn of 1871, by Lord Napier of Magdala to command the Artillery in the Looshai Expedition, under Brigadier-General Bourchier, C.B., R.A., which was mounted as a result of numerous incursions culminating in the massacre at the Winchester plantation. After many skirmishes and the capture of villages, Bouchier dictated the terms of peace to the Looshais and, in his despatch, dated 29th, March 1882 wrote:
"Captain Blackwood and officers, R.A., nobly sustained the reputation of the corps. The word "difficulty" was known to them." Shadbolt adds: "A report drawn up by Blackwood on the Artillery in the campaign contained many valuable suggestions as to the nature of the gun most suitable for such service, and on the management of artillery and the equipment of elephants in mountain, jungle and morass campaigning; and was printed and published by the Government of India." For his service in the expedition, Blackwood was rewarded in Sept., 1872 with a Brevet Majority.
Blackwood next commanded a horse artillery battery in the absence of Lieut-Col. Hills, C.B., in England, and, promoted to a regimental Majority in 1876, exchanged into "G" Battery, 3rd Brigade, R.A., which he brought to such a state of efficiency as to excite "the approbations of the highest military authorities in India". In Feb., 1878, H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge remarked that the battery was "in a very high state of efficiency: Major Blackwood highly commended." In the summer of 1878, Blackwood repaired to Europe on account of his health, and was thus prevented from taking part in the first campaign of the second Afghan War. He was nevertheless pleased to learn that G/3 had been selected for active service with Roberts' Kurram Valley Field Force, in spite of a divesting outbreak of Ludianan's disease amongst the battery's horses.
On his return to India he was appointed to the command of "E" Battery, "B" Bde., R.H.A., consisting of six other officers, 164 men, 200 horses, and six 9-pounder guns, at Kirkee. On 16 Jan., 1880, he proceeded with the battery on active service to Kandahar, marching first to Bombay, whence it took ship to Karachi and was conveyed by rail to Nari, where it was halted for nearly six weeks awaiting transport. On leaving Nari the battery marched through the Bolan Pass to Quetta which it reached on 25th March, before proceeding to Kandahar where it arrived on 5 April 1880. On 4 July E/B marched with the Brigade group under the overall command of Brigadier-General G.R.S. Burrows to support local troops under the Wali of Kandahar, taking to the field in consequence of Ayub Khan's approach from Herat. Burrows' force consisted of a cavalry brigade under Brigadier-General Nuttall, comprising E/B, 3rd Scinde Horse, and 3 Bombay Light Cavalry; and an infantry brigade, comprising 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, 1st Bombay Grenadiers, and 30th Jacobs Rifles.
On July 14th when the Wali's troops mutinied at Girshk on the left bank of the Helmand River opposite the British line of march, Blackwood was immediately ordered to get his guns over in support o Nuttall's cavalry. After a difficult passage and a laborious pursuit which involved digging ramps for the guns so that they could be got over innumerable irrigation ditches he caught up with Nutthall, who immediately ordered him to bring the four guns that were clear into action against the mutineers six smooth-bore guns at a range of 1,800 yards - a the start of the action, about 1 p.m., the last two guns were still struggling forward under Lieutenant Hector Maclaine (qv). An artillery dual of half an hour's duration followed, and Blackwood was afterwards able to write, in was to be his last letter home, that he "got into action four times, and did a fair amount of execution". A Corporal of the battery told his folks, "One shell dropped close to the Major, but he stood his ground and gave his words of command in the same as if we were on the field of drill without shot or shell flying about... There is not a man in the whole Battery but what would go through fire and water for a Commander like the Major."
The action ended with Burrrows' force in possession of the smooth-bores which were formed into an additional battery under Burrows' orderly officer, Captain Slade, R.A., and manned by soldiers from the 66th Foot under the guidance of a few Gunners from E/B. Late on the evening of 26 July Burrows decided to march early next day on the strategically important village of Maiwand and eject a number of tribesmen who were holding if for Ayub Khan and his army. Preparations for the move caused considerable grumbling amongst the Navtive Infantry units missed their breakfasts as a result of mismanagement by the commissariat staff. The British units appear to have fared better, for their officers whose quartermasters were accustomed to early patrols departing daily before first light. "E" Battery, too, had no trouble. After the skirmish with the mutineers at Girishk Blackwood had written that thirst was a "caution", and it appears that he had taken prompt steps to ensure that his battery was not caught out again by a sudden charge of plan.
The force marched, headed by a troop of the 3rd Bombay Cavalry thrown out as skirmishes in front of the same regiment, with a troop of the Scinde horse on its left and fifty sabres of the latter regiment on its right. At a short distance behind Lieutenant Maclaine's division of two guns followed. Behind them came Nuttall, Blackkwood and the staff, followed by Lieutenant Fowell's division of E/B, flanked by two squadrons of the Bombay Cavalry. The infantry covered the advance to Slade's smooth-bore battery in the centre, with the Bombay Grenadiers in column on the extreme left, and between them and the guns, a half a company of Sappers and Miners. On the extreme right of the smooth-bores was the baggage, which was protected on its right by the Khushk-i-Nakhud River. Next in the from the baggage came the 66th Foot in column and Jacob's Rifles also in column. The baggage guard drawn from the 66th followed directly behind it. The rearguard was made up of Lieutenant Osborne's division of E/B and a squadron of the Scinde Horse.
Intelligence now reached Burrows that Ayub Khan with 6,000 regular infantry, 4,000 regular cavalry, thirty guns, and anything up to 20,000 ghazis, was marching across his front in a race to Maiwand, away to the north east. Burrows knew that he must attack as his only means of diverting Ayub Khan's advance. At about 10:30 the advance guard of cavalry, moving to the left to avoid the village Mundabad in case it was occupied, began to get engaged with the leading units of Ayub's army on the plain beyond the Mundabad Ravine, which ran along the other side of the village towards Khig. As Burrows was giving orders for Nuttall to ride forward with his cavalry and reconnoiter Mundabad, Blackwood according to E/B's Veterinary-Surgeon, said to the General, "I had better go forward to the edge of that village and open fire". In due course he moved up with Nuttall, taking Lieutenant Fowell's division with him and made his crossing near the village, but realizing it would take some time to get the guns over at the point he was heard saying to Maclaine, "I cross here, you cross further down."
"Blackwood moved forward with Nuttall, and Fowell led his division over the edge of the ravine. The detachment of commanders carefully picked a way for their guns and wagons. It was easier than they had expected, the down slope was fairly steep but the ground held well together. The stocky little wheel-horses strained back almost on their haunches in the breeching of their special harness, to hold back their limbers and guns, sliding down with a cascade of sand and stones, hooves ploughing great\, dusty furrows in the yellow earth as they disputed every step against the thrust of their limber-poles... reaching the broad sand and gravel bed of the ravine, the brakes were freed, the gunners remounted. Numbers One, the detachment commanders, called their teams forward, drivers, kicked their mounts into a trot, slapped whips over the necks of their lead horses and went for the opposite slope at a trot. Some quick whip-work, horse cries of threat and encouragement and the division was over the brow, wheels crunching comfortably over the hard earth and pebble surface."
The smooth plain ran gently upwards, north to the skyline a mile ahead where the ground was dotted with Afghans of Ayub Khan's cavalry screen, a motley collection of regular troopers and the mounted tribesmen, their drab greys and khakis relieved by the occasional red or green jacked of some dandy, a well-to-do farmer's son or a petty chieftain. Severely hundred horseman could be distinguished, and many others faded dimly into the mirage over the top of the conves slope. On the command "Action Front!" the gun teams wheeled and halted, horse holders grabbed their detachments' mounts and cantered away and a sudden silence fell as the Numbers One listened for their trails around until muzzles faced the enemy. The noise and dust subsided, the hoof-beats died away and a sudden silence fell as the Numbers One listened for their next orders. Then the two guns belched a salvo and again, but it was no use - visibility was too poor by far for seeing whether any damage had been done to the Afghans, or even for observing the fall of shot. All that could be said was that the enemy were drifting slowly back into the haze, which was the last thing that Blackwood wanted, knowing that he must goad the Afghan main force to give battle without delay.
"I must get nearer!" he cried to Nuttall. And almost before the cavalry brigade commander had given his assent he fought himself and his escort galloping after Blackwood, northward up the gradient. Behind came Fowell, terrain like a parade ground, no obstacles for his division to avoid - then the teams and their guns flying smoothly over the this surface, exhilarated gunners riding escort. Cavalry matched artillery, riding protection o both sides, while the forward screen spurred frantically to keep ahead of Blackwood."
Topping the slope Blackwood was presented with a view extending nearly three miles across the plain of Maiwand. Between the entrance to the Garmao Valley on the left and the village of Maiwand, squatting on the road that led to the Khakrez Valley and Kandahar, on the right, he could see the dark masses of Ayub Khan's infantry, the nearest only a mile and a half awy at ideal artillery fighting range. Unconcerned by the lack of cover and no longer bothered with reconnaissance, Blackwood ordered his two guns into action with no consideration over than to make the enemy react. "He realized that he would need every gun that he could get, and asked Nuttall for Osborne's division of E/B to bed called forward from the rearguard, and for the smooth-bore battery as well. Nuttall agreed. He was fully aware that he wanted more guns; and not only guns but infantry - in a hurry! If this stratagem worked, Ayub Khan's whole army would converge upon him. Besides, he could now see large numbers of men dressed in the white battle-garb of the ghazi sallying forth from Maiwand to take him in the flank if he was not careful. So he sent his orderly officer... hurrying back down to towards Mundabad to urge these request upon the force commander."
Machaine, meanwhile, having seeing the mass of the enemy, was dashing forward on the left of the plain to engage them at audaciously close range. This was the sight that pre-occupied Burrow when he first came up, and he sent a galloper to order him back. Blackwood equally startled by Maclaine's boldness, exclaimed, "Those guns are going much too far to the left!" and sent a trumpeter to recall him. At length Maclaine returned to the battery. It was about 11 a.m. when Blackwood opened fire from his final position, and at about quarter past when he steadily advancing Afghan guns replied. For three quarters of an hour the artillery dual continued with neither side making much impression on the other. On the British side this was attributed to the skill with which the Afghans had chosen their positions and poor visibility brought about by swirling dust and heat wave.
Gradually the Afghans advanced creeping forward in groups, making good use of the ground. On the British left the Afghan horse massed threateningly and in the centre of the tribal cavalry hovered, screening the targets which Blackwood sought. A nullah running parallel with the right of the Briti9sh position had unaccountably been left unoccupied by Burrows, and it became the temporary shelter of thousands of ghazis not more than two hundred and fifty yards from the 66th Foot's firing line on the right of the British position. Burrow' line gradually bent to conform to the enemy's encroachments so that both wings were thrown back, and E/B guns line was between the Bombay Grenadiers and Jacob's Rifles. The ground between the three divisions of E/B was held by the half company of Sappers and Miners.
At half past one of the smooth-bores ran out of ammunition. Slade was convinced there was more in the wagons with the baggage at Mundabad, but the rest of their battle supply had been thrown into the Helmand, near Girishk, abandoned through lack of transport. He send three officers to bring up more but none could find any, and he then took extraordinary step of ordering the battery to the rear to collect what there was, if any, and come back into action on the left. It was since been said that the withdrawal of the smooth-bores and the most disastrous psychological effect on the Native Infantry.
Shortly before the withdrawal of the smooth-bores, the full effect of the Afghan artillery began to be felt in the firing line, and the steady flow of casualties to the rear was increased by many unwounded men who left the line in search of water. At about this time Blackwood was hit in the thought by a bullet but was none the less seen continuing "to work his guns until he could do no more." When the efforts became too much to bear he gave command to the battery to Slade and retired a short distance to have his wound dressed at one of the Regimental Aid Posts. But when he realized that the attention he need could not be obtained any closer than the Field Hospital, in the bed of the Mundabad Ravine, he retuned to the line to sit behind the 66th Foot to help them judge ranges. About an hour later when the battle reached its climax with the ghazi making their unstoppable charge, Blackwood found that his would prevented him from mounting his horse, and some where near one of the R.A.P.'s "realizing the gravity of the situation he gave his field glasses to a Jemadar of the cavalry and ordered him to right immediately to Kandahar to warm General Primorse of the fate that had overcome the brigade, and to produce the field glasses as a token of the authenticity of the message".
Abandoning his charger, Blackwood made his way back to his friends in the 66th Foot and joined them in their gallant fighting withdrawal to Khig. Before he reached the village, however, his would broke out afresh, and Lieutenant Pearch of the 66th, in one of the remarkable acts of selflessness that marked the retreat, stopped to help him bind it up. He struggled on into the ravine and up the other side, where a determined stand was made. Falling back again he limped to the scene of the next stand, survived, and fell back to the walled garden where the last stand of the 66th Foot was fought. And there, in the last garden before the open plain he was killed - his body afterwards being left exposed with the other dead until the approach of a punitive column under General Daubney several weeks later induced the local villagers to bury them with the minimum of effort where they had fallen. The shallow graves were opened by Daubneys men, and Blackwood's remains were identified by Captain Slade, who arranged for a small tomb to be build over the place nearly where he was buried.
Refs: E/B R.H.A. at Maiwand, R.A. Journal, Vol LV, No. 3 (Latham); My God Maiwand, Operations of the South Afghanistan Field Force 1878-80 (Maxwell); The Second Afghan War (Hanna); The Afghan Campaign of 1878-80 (Shadbolt).
The western border of British India was defined during the colonial period by three wars with Afghanistan. These wars were part of The Great Game with Czarist Russia for control of Central Asia. During the Second Afghan War, on July 27th, 1880, the British Indian army suffered one of its worst defeats ever. The Battle of Maiwand in south-western Afghanistan near Kandahar led to the rout of General Burrow's Bombay Sepoys by Ayub Khan. This issue of The Graphic appeared just as the stunning news of the defeat hit London. The name of the battle site was not even known at that time.
The full text of The Graphic article (London, August 7, 1880) published in London with early news of the British defeat at Maiwand ran as follows:"THE AFGHAN DISASTER - Later and fuller details of the conflict at Khushk-i-Nakhud have somewhat modified the impression made by the terrible word "annihilation," which was by many persons not unnaturally interpreted almost in its literal sense. We now know that there was a hotly contested fight lasting over several hours, and that, lamentable as the losses were, half the defeated brigade reached Candahar. Still the destruction of life was almost unprecedented heavy, judging by the records of modern warfare, for this fight was quite unlike Isandlwhana, where a small body of Europeans, unprovided with the usual South African laager, were literally overwhelmed by a multitudinous horde of savages. At Khushk-i-Nakhud General Burrows, rashly, as the event proved, offered battle, quitting a defensive position for that purpose. The result of the action showed that both in men and guns he was overmatched, but, even if he was correctly informed of the strength of Ayoob Khan's force, he may not have considered himself overmatched. Remembering the records of Indian battles, a General with 2,400 men, a large proportion of whom were Europeans, may have considered himself on part with a purely Asiatic enemy five times as numerous. According to present accounts, which, however, may possibly be modified hereafter, the Bombay Sepoys were unable to withstand the impetuous charge of the Ghazis, and t
hus threw the 66th into hopeless confusion. The defeat gradually became a rout, but it would seem that our unfortunate fellows did not fall so much beneath the swords of the pursuing foe as from the effect of thirst and fatigue. Some of the missing may, perhaps, have since come in, but it is more likely that those who sank from exhaustion were murdered by the surrounding villagers, and it is well know that the Afghans do not make prisoners. The miseries of that flight to Kandahar, when many of the fugitives, at the hottest season of the year, went for four-and-twenty hours without a drop of water, will probably long be remembered. The most satisfactory feature of this disastrous business at present seems to be that Ayoob Khan either could not or would not follow up his success. If he had shown some of the vigor and promptitude of a really great general, he might have seriously imperiled our hold of the country. It is to be hoped that by this time reinforcements have poured in, and that Ayoob has lost his opportunity without hope of recovering it."
... from the reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D., 1880's ..."Having completed my studies there, I was duly attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon. The regiment was stationed in India at the time, and before I could join it, the second Afghan war had broken out. On landing at Bombay, I learned that my corps had advanced through the passes, and was already deep in the enemy's country. I followed, however, with many other officers who were in the same situation as myself, and succeeded in reaching Kandahar in safety, where I found my regiment, and at once entered upon my new duties. The campaign brought honours and promotion to many, but for me it had nothing but misfortune and disaster. I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. I should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, my orderly, who threw me across a pack-horse and succeeded in bringing me safely to the British lines."
It was at Maiwand that the men of the 66th Foot (along with MAJ. BLACKWOOD, Royal Horse Artillery) made a gallant stand, while the Native Infantry, who were now thoroughly disorganized, retired to Kandahar under pursuit of the Afghan cavalry. The 66th Foot, along with the Native Infantry that did not retire, were hard pressed and fought in a number of well organized and disciplined small groups. One party stood back to back and kept the Ghazis at bay until their numbers were so reduced that the remaining men rushed out and died in hand-to-hand fighting. Another party, retiring to a more defensible position behind a low wall, were eventually nearly all killed. The 66th Foot had 61 % casualties and E/B Royal Horse Artillery had 23% causalities. Two of the Horse Artillery guns and five of the smooth-bores were abandoned on the battlefield. The entire force suffered a total of 44% casualties.Maiwand is essentially a story of bravery and endurance in the most adverse conditions, and of unselfishness and dedication in a long and difficult retreat. It is about the extraordinary courage of the native infantry who, despite suffering huge casualties, stood their ground in the open until finally overwhelmed by numbers; of the gallant sacrifice of those young British soldiers of the 66th who were surrounded but fought on around their Colours to the last man. Then there was the steadiness of the cavalry who stood and suffered heavily through 3 hours of bombardment without being able to take any action, and the discipline of the Horse Artillery who "maintained their military formation and morale throughout" and became the backbone of the retreat "to whom", in the words of the Viceroy, "many of the survivors of the 27th July owe their lives". This was reflected in the decorations awarded to men of E/B Battery: two VCs (Sgt Mullane and Gnr Collis), a CB (Capt. Slade) and eight DCMs.
|Ali Musjid||21 November 1878||Unusual to be paired with Ahmed Khel clasp.|
|Peiwar Kotal||2 December 1878||-|
|Charasia||6 October 1879||-|
|Kabul||10 - 23 December 1879||Awarded to those engaged in operations around Kabul. Includes columns under Brig-Gen C.J.S. Gough who joined Roberts on 24 December.|
|Ahmed Khel||19 April 1880||Unusual to be paired with Ali Musjid clasp.|
|Kandahar||1 September 1880||Awarded to those under Roberts engaged in the action on 1 September. Also to those who took part in a reconnaissance of Kabul the previous day.|