H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

The second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) online

. (page 2 of 32)
Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 32)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


three-gun battery on the proper left of the Khyber River was perched on a mere
ledge about half-way up the face of a beetling crag, and its guns covered the level
sweep along which lay the only line of approach to the Afghan camp at the mouth
of the defile commencing at Ali Masjid."



THE TAKING OF ALT MASJID n

the meanwhile, the sappers and miners, under the protection of a wing
of the 14th Sikhs, were set to work to render the steep and rugged path
leading down to the valley, practicable for artillery, and detachments
of the 81st and 51st Foot were directed to take possession of the nearest
of the Rotas spurs, in order to cover Appleyard's right flank and to
watch the enemy holding the true left of the Afghan position ; whilst
the Cavalry Brigade, under Brigadier-General C. Gough, was drawn
up on the reverse slope of the Shahgai Heights. Wliile these movements
were in progress, the two guns of the Royal Horse Artillery, with
elephant equipment which had come up with the advanced guard,
opened fire, at a distance of two thousand eight hundred yards, on
the enemy's fortifications. Their guns promptly replied, and, as the
Afghan gunners had previously ascertained the correct ranges all
round AU Masjid, their practice was admirable ; and had they used live
shell instead of round shot, the British losses would have been heavy.
At noon, the Elephant Battery, consisting of three 40-pounder B.L.
Armstrongs, under Major C. W. Wilson, and the 3rd Battery under Major
T. M. Hazlerigg, came into action, the latter a few hundred yards in ad-
vance of, and to the right of the former. At first their fire was not
very accurate, the shells either dashing against the great mass of rock
that rises close behind Ali Masjid, or falling into the deep gorge between
the two hills ; but, the correct range once found, the parapets of the
Fort were quickly reduced to ruins and considerable loss inflicted on
their defenders. Yet, the enemy's artillery was only partially silenced,
and the Afghan gunners stuck with remarkable tenacity to their guns.
At two o'clock, the British ammunition began to run short, the wagons
carrying the spare powder and shot were far in the rear, and there was
still no sign of Macpherson's Brigade. The situation, from the political
point of view, was, in Cavagnari's opinion, growing critical ; for he
feared that, unless the Afghans were attacked, the Afridis and IMoli-
mands would go over to them in a body, a secession which might
oblige Sir S. Browne to remain on the defensive till reinforcements



12 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

could reach him. Influenced by the PoHtical Officer's opinion, the
General took ujd a more commanding position on high ground beyond
Lala Chena, and ordered Appleyard to press forward without waiting
for Macpherson's co-operation; the Mountain Battery, 11.9 Royal
Artillery, to estabhsh itself at a point from which it could support
him by shelling the fortifications he was about to attack ; and the
4th Brigade, under Brigadier-General W. B. Brown, consisting of
the 51st Light Infantry and the 6th Bengal Infantry, to cover his
right flank by advancing along the rocks under Rotas, and driving
the enemy from its spurs. Hardly had these orders been given than
the Afghan fire which had slackened for a time, burst forth with
renewed energy, whilst the British guns on the ridge, o-\ving to the
threatened failure of their ammunition, were unable to reply with
corresponding vigour. Major T. C. Manderson's troop of horse-
artillery, however, with an escort of the lOtli Hussars and a company of
Sappers, found its way dowa to the bed of the river, where, at a range of
a thousand yards, it took up a good position for shelling the Afghan
works on the semicircular hill, though not without drawing on itself
a rather heavy fire from the enemy's guns.

The movement along the base of Rotas was soon brought to a
standstill by a precipitous cliff crowned by the enemy's skirmishers ;
and, though Appleyard did his best to carry out his instructions,
progress, owing to the intricate nature of the ground, was so slow that
Sir S. Bro^-ne, seeing the impossibility of pushing the attack home
before dusk, and feeling certain that, by morning, the movements of
Tytler and Macpherson would have shaken the enemy's confidence,
determined to postpone the assault till daybreak. Unfortunately,
before Lord William Beresford to whom he entrusted the dangerous
task of conveying a message to Appleyard, could reach the 3rd Brigade,
part of its troops were already in action. Very injudiciously, the 27th
Punjab Infantry, commanded by Major H. Birch, and a detachment
of the 14th Sikhs, under Lieutenant F, G. Maclean, had been allowed



THE TAKING OF ALI MASJID 13

to get far ahead of the rest of the Brigade ; ^ and, unconscious that the
bulk of the troops had ceased to afford them support, these isolated
bodies continued to fight their way up the steep sides of the ridge,
Maclean leading, on the right, with his Sikhs ; Birch, on the left, with
a portion of his Punjabis ; and the remainder of the 27th, under
Captain Swetenham, some distance in the rear.^ Suddenly, issuing
from thick jungle, the Sikhs found themselves under a heavy fire.
Pressing boldly on, they succeeded in getting within sixty yards of the
breastworks, but here, Maclean having been shot through the shoulder,
they had to seek temporary shelter under a cliff and to call back for
assistance to the Punjabis. Birch, with a few of his men, rushed to
their aid, to be shot dead before he could reach tliem.^ His lieuten-
ant, Fitzgerald, seeing him fall, dashed forward with fifteen of the Sikhs
to try to recover his body, but the enemy's fire proved too deadly.
Fitzgerald, twice wounded in the rush, was struck for the third time
and killed outright in the very act of raising Birch, and most of his men
shared his fate.*

1 " The point in doubt is whether the 81st Foot were ordered to attack at
the same time as the 14th Siklis and the 27th Punjabis, or whether they were held
in reserve to support the attack as it developed. It seems, however, that they
did in part advance and were recalled. The accoimts vary so far, as I am aware,
but this I know, that no European soldier came back wounded from the assault,
nor was any dead European soldier foimd on the hillside next morning, so that
it is evident that the brunt of the attack did not come on them, but on the Native
regiments of the Brigade." — Evatt's Eecollections.

2 IMr. Archibald Forbes says that " Swetenham heard the call, but, with an
acceptance of responsibihty which does him perhaps more credit than would the
successful command of a forlorn hope, he dared to disobey it, for the sound had not
reached Birch and Maclean, out there to his front, on the steep slope trending
up to the Afghan position. . . . Had Swetenham obeyed the recall, he would
have left them to their fate, and he held that his higher duty was to disobey and
follow the fortunes of his advance."

^ " Whilst examining the bullet woi.md of Captain Birch, which was in the
region of the heart, it was found that a locket containing a picture of his wife had
been carried into the wound by the bullet." — Evatt's Beeollections.

* During the night several men of the 27th Pimjab Infantry crept up to the



14 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

The position of the assaulting party was now extremely critical,
but, fortunately, the Commanding Engineer, Colonel F. R. Mannsell,
who arrived, at this juncture, at the foot of the slopes and assumed
command of all the troops in the neighbourhood, prevented the enemy
from improving his success by pushing forward a company of sappers,
and ordering up every available man from the rear ; and at nightfall,
when hostilities had ceased all over the field of operations, Maclean and
his Sikhs stole from the shelter of the cliffs, and fell back on the 27th
Punjab Infantry.^

Sir S. Browne, who had spent an anxious day, was destined to spend
a yet more anxious night. Of the 1st and 2nd Brigades, he had still
no tidings ; the 3rd Brigade, broken up into various small bodies, was
in a dangerous position, scattered over a difficult and intricate country,
where low scrub and high grass offered the enemy every advantage, in
case the Afridis and Mohmands should combine with the Amir's
troops in a night attack ; the 4th Brigade was cut off from rendering
assistance to the 3rd by the river and the numerous drainage lines
which intersect the valley ; the artillery ammunition was nearly ex-
hausted, and the wagons with fresh supplies were still in the Pass,
strugghng painfully forward in the face of the difficulties unavoidable
where crowds of undisciplined camp followers, commissariat animals
and vehicles are cooped up in a narrow and steep defile.

bodies of their officers, and, with the devotion so often displaj^ed by the Native
soldier towards his British leader, sat by them till da^vn, when they were
removed and sent to Peshawar for burial.

^ It had seemed for a time as if Sii- S. Browne's force would be left wntliout
any hospital establishment, for the order issued on the evening of the 20th, for-
bidding any but mule transport to enter the Pass, paralysed the action of a de-
partment to which only camels had been allotted. Fortimately, Surgeon-Major
Evatt was a man of resource. He obtained permission from the principal medical
officer at Jamrud to pack a number of doolies with blankets, brandy, beef-tea
and dressings, and he and Surgeon-Major Creagh managed to force their way to
the front, where they arrived just as the men wounded in the assault, were
being carried down to the river.



THE TAKING OF ALI MASJID 15

ETAT-DE-SITUATION ^ OF SIR S. BROWNE'S DIVISION ON THE
NIGHT OF NOVEMBER THE 22nd, 1878.2

Main Body.

On the Sliahgai Heights —

E Battery, 3rd Brigade Royal Artillery.

13th Battery, 9th Brigade Royal Ai-tillery (heavy guns).

3 Troops 10th Hussars.

2 Squadrons 11th Bengal Lancers.

2 Squadrons Guides Cavalry.
In front of Shahgai Heights on right bank of Khyber River —

Brown's Brigade.



81st Foot.

1 4th Siidis.

27th Punjab Infantry.
In the bed of the Khyber River below Shahgai Heights —

I Battery, C Brigade Royal Horse Artillery, escorted by a troop 10th
Hussars, and covered by the 2nd and 3rd Companies of Sappers and
Miners.
On a spur of the Rotas Heights, to the right, overlooking the Khyber River —

Appleyard's Brigade.

11th Battery, 9th Brigade Royal Ai'tillery (mountain guns).

51st Light Infantry.

6th Bengal Infantry.
Troops belonging to Main Body had cooked rations, but no warm clothing.

TuBNiNG Force.
Macpherson's Brigade —

On Sapparai Plateau, its left flank covered by four companies 20th Punjab
Infantry.
Tytler's Brigade —

Part at Pani Pal ; part at KataKhustia, commanding the road through the

Khyber Pass.

The troops belonging to Turning Force had neither food nor warm cloth-
ing.

With the dawn came rehef from anxiety. Just after Sir. S. Browne

had ordered an assault in force, and whilst he was awaiting the occu-

1 Technical phrase used by Napoleon to denote strength, position, and con-
dition of a Force.

2 See sketch of dispositions for the attack on Ali Masjid.



1 6 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

pation of some commanding ground on his right preparatory to the
advance, news was brought in by a Kashmere trader that, on the
pre^^ous evening, the enemy had heard that Tytler had crossed the
Sapparai, and that he himseK had seen the Afghan cavalry escaping up
the Khyber defile. A little later. Lieutenant J. J. S. Chisholme of the
9th Lancers, rode up to report that he had just spoken with Captain
Beresford, R.E., who, with another engineer officer and a small party
of men, had crept forward at peep of day, to reconnoitre Ali Masjid,
and had discovered that the place had been evacuated during the night.
On this confirmation of the welcome news — for an assault would have
entailed a great loss of life — the General and his Staff scrambled
down to the enemy's encampment, which they found in a state of the
utmost confusion, and of indescribable filth. Food and clothing,
arms and ammunition, lay scattered about in every direction, and in
the tents were many sick and wounded men. From the camp, General
Browne ascended to the Fort, where, amid the ruins created by his
guns, many more wounded were found, abandoned by their comrades
in their hasty flight. All were removed as soon as possible to the
field hospital, and later on to Peshawar.

The portion of Tytler's Brigade which had given Ali Masjid so
easily into Sir S. Browne's hands, had begun the descent to Kata
Kushtia about three o'clock in the afternoon of the 21st. The waylay
down a deep, dark, narrow ravine, sometimes in the bed of the torrent,
sometimes through thorny acacia scrub. Climbing over boulders,
scrambhng through difficult places on hands and knees, sliding down
rocks so steep and high that return would have been impossible, each
man, in turn, handing down his rifle to the comrade in front of him — the
Guide Infantry and the 1st Sikhs made such despatch, that by 4.30,
they had reached a rocky ledge a hundred feet above the little hamlet
of Kata Kushtia, and about two miles in rear of Ali Masjid. Here,
Jenkins decided to await the result of the engagement which he knew
to be still proceeding. His force was too small and too exhausted



THE TAKING OF ALI MASJID 17

with fatigue and hunger to assume the offensive, whilst its presence in
the strong defensive position he had taken up, might be expected to
reaHze the hopes which had been built on its advance. News of its
arrival in the Khyber was certain to reach the garrison of Ah Masjid
before long, and, unless the day had gone against Sir S. Browne's main
body, the fear of being taken between two fires and having their retreat
cut off, would exercise its usual dispiriting influence on the Afghans.
Such a contingency as a failure of the front attack on Ali Masjid,
was not so utterly impossible that it could be left entirely out of
account, and Jenkins and his men must have had some very uneasy
moments when they recalled the frightful difficulties of the road by
which they had come, the swarms of Mohmands and Afridis whom
they had seen on the hill tops, and had to tell themselves that no help
could be looked for from the comrades whom they had left behind
them at Pani Pal. At first, however, they had small time for such
reflections, for hardly had they lined the rocks commanding the defile
than a party of Afghan cavalry came leisurely trotting up the Pass.
A volley from eight hundred rifles, at a distance of from three to
five hundred yards, startled them out of their security, and sent
some of them galloping back to Ah Masjid, whilst others dashed boldly
forward and made good their escape. Presently, a second body of
cavalry trotted round the spur close to Jenkins's position. Catching
sight of his troops, they hesitated for a moment, then, urging their
horses to their utmost speed, they, too, rushed past under a storm of
bullets, leaving, hke their predecessors, several of their number on the
ground. When they had disappeared. Captain A. G. Hammond, of
the Guides, proposed to take a company and occupy Kata Kushtia,
thus completely blocking the Pass, but Jenkins refused to entertain
the proposal. Darkness was falling ; the sound of firing beyond Ali
Masjid had died away. What had been the result of the engagement
he had no means of knowing ; and to weaken liis force by dividing it,
and expose a small body of his men to a possible attack under conditions



c



1 8 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

which would prevent his coming to their assistance, seemed to him
unjustifiable. Therefore, as there was no further chance of work that
night, and no hope of food before morning, the troops lay down among
the rocks, whilst their commander wrote the following letter to Sir S.
Browne which he entrusted to one of his own men, with orders to
find his way, as best he could, to Head Quarters, accompanied by one
of the prisoners just taken.

Kata Kushtia,

November 21st, 1878.

My dear Sir Sam, —

I am here with Guides and 1st Sikhs. The enemy's cavalry came
undei our fire from three to five hundred yards, and after considerable
loss galloped up the valley in disorder. No infantry and guns have
come our way.

1st Brigade and rest of 2nd are at Pani Pal ; the road between
that place and this is very difficult, and our mules could not come down,
consequently we are very hungry, both officers and men. If you can
signal to 2nd Brigade, I should like the mules with our food to come
down to Tor Tang and then on to us ; the road between that place
and Pani Pal is very easy, I believe. I presume, of course, that the
Rotas mountain is in our hands. I send a prisoner, a cavalry man
— he at one time belonged to the Indian army — who may give you
information.

I shall hunt for flour in Kata Kustia as soon as it is daylight, but
I expect these fellows have cleaned the place right out ; you have no
flour to send me, I suppose ? ? ? I hardly think the men could march
without some food.

Yours sincerely,

F. H. Jenkins.



THE TAKING OF ALI MASJID 19

Early the following morning three hundred Afghan Infantry, led by
an officer on horseback, approached Jenkins's position, but, seeing the
troops drawn up to receive them, they broke their ranks and tried to
make good their escape up the rocky sides of the defile. It would have
been easy to shoot them all do-RTi, but Jenkins, unwilling to kill brave
men caught in a trap, sent one of the captured horsemen to assure them
that, if they surrendered, they would be well treated. On receipt of
this message, the Afghan ofiicer recalled the fugitives, and, forming
them up, made them pile arms, at the same time tendering his own
sword to Jenkins, who courteously returned it to him. Then, much to
the astonishment and delight of the prisoners, they were allowed to sit
down and eat the food they carried with them. This detachment had
held the outlying pickets of Ali Masjid during the night of the 21st,
and only at daybreak of the 22nd, had its commander discovered that
he and his men had been deserted by the rest of the garrison, who,
finding the Khyber closed against them, had hastily decided to retire
on Jellalabad by the Bazar Valley.

Tytler and Macpherson had been undisturbed during the night, but
with the return of day numerous bodies of Mohmands and Afridis
were seen moving about the hills ; and the former general, fearing lest
they should cut his communications with his lieutenant at Kata
Kushtia, determined to descend at once into the Khyber with the 17th
Regiment, leaving the Sikhs strongly entrenched at Pani Pal. In their
joy at this decision the troops forgot their hunger — successive messen-
gers despatched during the night had failed to bring up the commis-
sariat train — and they acliieved the descent of the ravine in high
spirits, to be met on issuing from it by the good news of Sir S. Browne's
success. In a surprisingly short time, they fraternized with the Afghan
prisoners, who were quite willing to share their cakes with such friendly
foes ; indeed, it was well for the whole Brigade that the retreating
Afghans had been amply supplied with provisions, as, but for what they
could spare, the_men of this column had no food till midnight of the



20 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

22nd, when a half ration sent from Ali Masjid was served out to them.

Macpherson's Brigade had been even earher afoot than Tytler's.
Crossing the Flats, and turning southward at Pani Pal, it followed
the track along which Jenkins had reconnoitred the previous day ;
first, over rolling, grassy dowTis, and then, over broken, rocky ground,
thickly strewn with boulders. Before reaching the Rotas Heights
it fell in with the messenger carrjdng Jenkins's letter to Sir S. Browne.
A little further on, the 20th Punjab Infantry, their special task
accomplished, rejoined the Brigade, bringing with them fifty prisoners
whom they had captured after a brush with a body of two hundred
Mohmand fugitives, upon whom they had unexpectedly stumbled.^
Satisfied by the information he had now received, that he should
meet with no opposition, Macpherson ordered the 20th, the Gurklias
and guns to await his return, and pressed forward with the Rifle
Brigade to the summit of the heights, where he found the sangars
defending the Mohmands' late position intact, but deserted. From
that commanding point, the course of events in the valley at their
feet had been clearly visible to the tribesmen, and the moment they
perceived that Ali Masjid had changed hands, they abandoned all
thought of resisting the invaders and dispersed to their villages.

After enjoying for a brief moment the sight of the British flag

floating on the ruined walls of the Afghan stronghold, Macpherson

retraced his steps to the spot where he had left the bulk of his force,

and thence led the whole of the 1st Brigade down to the Khyber by

the Tor Tangi, or Black Defile, a gully in what the General himself

characterized as " the most curious pile of mountains ever traversed

by soldiers." Night soon overtook it on its perilous way, and only

by setting fire to the bushes and grass could the men keep the track,

any deviation from which meant certain death. Food, of course,

they had none, and, what was far worse, they met with little or no

1 The command of the detachment had devolved on Captain W. H. Meikle-
john, as Major Gordon had been disabled by a fall.



THE TAKING OF ALI MASJID 21

water on the day's march. Yet nothing could have exceeded their
cheerfulness and alacrity. Even when after hours of " slipping
down rocks and floundering about in the dark " they had to bivouack
at midnight, hungry and thirsty, without shelter or warm clothing,
not a grumble was to be heard, and their commander might well
declare that he " was delighted with his men."

As Sir S. Browne was forbidden by his instructions to operate in
the country lying to the south of the Khyber, it was impossible for
him to follow up the Afghan Infantry in their retreat through the
Bazar Valley, but the fate of these unfortunates was far harder than
that which would have awaited them had they fallen into his hands ;
for, though the Afridis spared their lives, they robbed them of their
arms, supplies and clothing, and left them, starving and naked, to
find their way, as best they could, across the mountains to Jellalabad ;
whereas the sick whom they had left behind at Ali Mas j id, and the
men captured by Jenkins, many of whom were in a very weakly
state, were well nursed and kindly treated during their short
captivity. Yet these prisoners, in the end, fared badly too ; for, on
being dismissed — each man with the gift of a blanket and a
couple of rupees, but without arms — they were waylaid by the Moh-
mands, who_stripped them of all they possessed and turned them back
to Peshawar. Here, many of them took service under the Engineer
officers, and did excellent work in maMng the new Khyber Road.
Being well paid, they saved a good deal of money, and, on the con-
clusion of peace, got safely back to their homes.

The capture of Ali Musjid, with its twenty-four pieces of ordnance,
was acliieved at a cost of : —

2 British officers killed.

1 British officer wounded.

2 British soldiers lulled.

10 British soldiers wounded.
12 Native soldiers lolled.
23 Native soldiers wounded.



22 THE SECOND AFGHAN WAR

Owing to the great extent and rugged nature of the field of opera-
tions, the number of the enemy's killed and wounded was never
accurately ascertained; but, with their whole position exposed for
many hours to a crushing artillery and rifle fire,^ their losses must
have been heavy, even without counting the men who perished in
the retreat through the Bazar Valley,

The Afghan troops having disappeared from the scene and the
Tribesmen showing themselves, for the moment, friendly towards
the winning side, all the four Brigades composing the First Division
of the Peshawar Valley Field Force, were permitted to enjoy twenty-
four hours well earned and much needed rest in the positions taken
up by them on the 22nd of November : only the Commissariat and
Transport Departments were busy, working hard to bring up supphes
in preparation for a further forward movement.^

Observations.

Observation i. The Viceroy's peremptory order to attack Ali
Masjid on the 21st of November, nearly wrecked Sir S. Browne's
careful and well-thought-out plan for the reduction of that fortress.
Time was an essential element of its success, since a long detour



Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 32)