H. B. (Henry Bathurst) Hanna.

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

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had to be made by the Brigades engaged in the turning movement ;
yet this order, coupled with the proliibition to cross the frontier till
sundown on the 20th, gave them only a twelve hours' start of the
main body of the Division — a quite inadequate advantage considering
the nature of the country into which they were about to penetrate.
Their march furnishes a striking example of the danger of interfering
with a general when he is once in the presence of the enemy, and the
futihty of trying to conduct a campaign at a distance from the scene

1 The Artillery expended 639 rounds of ammunition, the Infantry, 11,250.

2 Tytler's and Macpherson's belated transport rejoined them in the Kliyber,
having followed the longer and easier of the two roads which branch off at Pani


of operations. Even Napoleon who, of all men, was the one who
might most safely have assumed such a responsibility, always refused to
accept it. ToMassena, he wrote, in 1810 : — " I am too far off and the
position of the enemy changes too often for me to give advice as to
the way in which the attack should be conducted " ; and, again, in
1813, to Soult : — " I have no orders to send ; it is impossible to give
orders from such a distance." Had Browne, like Biddulph and
Roberts, been simply directed to cross the Frontier on the 21st, full
discretion being left to him as to the day on which he was to deliver
the attack on Ali Mas j id, it is highly probable that he would have
delayed it till the 22nd, and have detained the 1st and 2nd Brigades
at Jamrud till the 21st, when, starting at dawn, with the whole day
before them, they and their Transport and Hospital Estabhshment
would have had no difficulty in reaching the Flats (Sapparai) before
dark, and there, having entrenched themselves, they would have
spent the night in perfect security and comparative comfort. The
troops belonging to the Main Body would meantime have occupied
the Shahgai Heights — or, better still; after seizing the Bagiar Pass,
they might have spent the day in improving the road for the passage
of the Artillery on the morrow and in reconnoitring as far as Shahgai.
On the 22nd, all four Brigades would have started out well fed and
fresh, and the combined movement have been executed with absolute
precision, and, in all probabihty, without loss of Ufe. Hampered by
a time-limit imposed by persons who had no means of judging of the
difficulties to be overcome, such precision was unattainable — Mac-
pherson, at least, knew this from the beginning. " I saw," he wrote,
" that the task given me was an impossibility in one day, and I
begged for two. Ross^ at Peshawar was quite of my opinion, and the
result proved that we were right."

Observation 11. The sending of large bodies of troops, accompanied

1 Brigadier- General C. C. Ross, commanding at Peshawar.


by a transport train and hampered by camp followers, into the
mountains after daylight, is a measure greatly to be deprecated,
because : —

(a) It is impossible to secure the front, flanks, and rear of such
a column, and, in this unprotected state, a well planned ambuscade,
or a determined attack by a handful of men, must create a panic
among the followers and a stampede among the cattle, in which the
soldiers themselves may become involved,

(b) Progress at night in wild mountainous regions will always be
very painful and slow, and, as a consequence, the troops must suffer
so severely from exposure and fatigue as to render them incapable of
long-sustained effort next day, just when such effort is most needed.

(c) The difficulty of maintaining touch in a long straggling column
often advancing in single file, great in broad daylight, is nearly
insuperable at night, for, even when the moon is at its full, the narrow
gorges, shut in by high steep hills, through which the pathways chiefly
run, are intensely dark.

Sir S. Bro\^Tie, as was to be expected in an officer experienced in
frontier warfare, had no love for night marches ; though unable on
account of his instructions to avoid one altogether, he did his best to
secure that the troops engaged in the turning movement should reach
their camping ground as early as possible on the night of the 20th ;
but a miscalculation of the distance from Jamrud, the mistake made
in the nature of the transport of both Brigades, and the delay in
pro\iding Macpherson with rations, frustrated his intentions in this
respect. Such miscalculations and delaj^s, however, must always
be reckoned with at the beginning of a campaign before things have
properly shaken down into their places ; a fact which adds emphasis
to what has been said above as to the folly of tjdng a commander
down to any particular date. To expect an unwieldy machine like
an army, carrying all its provisions and equix^ped with every variety
of pack animal, to manoeuvre with as little friction as a company,


argues an astonishing ignorance of war ; yet, such an expectation must
have been in Lord Lytton's mind, when he ordered Sir S. Browne to
take Ah Mas j id within twenty-four hours of crossing the Frontier.

Night marches are usually undertaken with a view to surprising
an enemy, and may be successful when the distance to be traversed
is short, the route known, the troops unimpeded by transport, and when
the enemy has no reason to expect an attack. In mountainous
countries, however, they are no less futile than dangerous. The hill-
man, ever on the alert, liidden among his native rocks, dogs every
step of the invaders, who may think themselves lucky if, before
dawn, they do not exchange the character of surprisers for that of
the surprised. In the particular case under consideration, not only
was it impossible to conceal the flanking movement, but nothing would
have been gained by conceahng it, for, as Browne was forbidden to
enter Afridi territory, a way of escape through the Bazar Valley was
always open to the garrison of Ali Masjid, and, tliis being so, the
sooner the Afghan troops reahzed that their position was untenable,
the better for both sides.

A fine example of a night march justified by the conditions under
wliich it was undertaken and cro\\Tied by full success, occurred in
1878, a few months before the Afghan War, when, to punish a raid
of the Utman Kliels on British territory. Captain Wigram Battye
with a detachment of the Guides, consisting of one British and ten
Native officers, and two hundred and sixty-six men, started after dusk
for Sapri, a village belonging to the offenders. To deceive the Tribes-
men as to his real destination he made a long detour, yet he reached
Sapri before dayhght, taking its inhabitants entirely by surprise,
and capturing it without loss. In this case success was due to the
correctness of the intelhgence furnished by the Political Officer ;
to Battye's own knowledge of the district and its people ; to the close
proximity of his objective to the British Frontier, which made it
possible to dispense with baggage and commissariat ; to the secrecy


of his preparations ; and to the rapidity with which his men, all
mounted on handy ponies, were able to move.

Observation in. The Staff, rather than the Commissariat Depart
ment, must be held responsible for the blunder of equipping the
1st and 2nd Brigades with bullocks instead of mules. It is the duty
of the latter to collect every kind of animal likely to be needed in
a campaign, and to provide for its maintenance and efficiency ; it
is for the former to decide what particular transport shall be used on
each occasion, according to the nature of the country to be traversed
and the character of the force to be employed — knowledge which the
Staff alone can justly be expected to possess.

These observations apply less to Macpherson's Staff than to
Ty tier's, since the 1st Brigade only reached Jamrud on the 20th,
whilst the 2nd had been encamped there quite long enough for its
Staff officers to see the Transport and to insist on its being adapted
to the work in prospect.

Observation iv. Political considerations may modify a plan of
campaign, but they should never be allowed to interfere with a
general's dispositions and movements when once fighting has begun.
There was only a remote chance that a postponement of the attack on
the Afghan position, would bring about a temporary coahtion of the
Tribesmen with the garrison of Ali Masjid, but such attack, prema-
turely dehvered, was pretty certain to fail, and, in faihng, to jeopardize
the safety of all four British Brigades. In the end, Browne had to
recall the orders which Cavagnari's reading of the situation on
the afternoon of the 21st of November, had induced him to issue,
and the result proved the groundlessness of the Political Officer's


Observation v. The following letter from Colonel R. G. Waterfield
to Sir S. Browaie, presents a vivid picture of the pei-plexities and
uncertainties attendant on all operations in wild and mountainous
countries, especially when these operations include movements in


which the connection between the various corps engaged in thorn, is
temporarily broken : —


November 2\st, 1878, 6 p.m.
My dear Sir Sam, —

I will just tell you how I have acted on your orders so that
you may understand and counteract any mistakes. I gave your
orders for the Heavy Battery to encamp and protect themselves for
the night to Major Wilson — then to Stewart of the Guides and
Colonel C Gough, and I told them how matters stood. I also told
Hazelrigg of the Field Battery exactly how matters were, and that he
and Wilson were to look out and not hit Appleyard and his men if
they took the hill. I rather suspect they will not take it, and will
have a rough night of it.

I then went on and found that the ammunition was not up and
that Hazelrigg was sending back wagons for it.

From Mackeson's Bridge along the causeway, to the foot of the
slope, is one hne of ammunition wagons under Churchward, which
camiot move, and yet there are plenty of elephants. I advised him
to put in the elephants and walli up the wagons, crowds of grass-
cutters aiid some grain. I advised all this to push up, and I think it

I told all the ammunition to push along, and I tliink it will all
get up all right and in good time, but I doubt if your artillery ammu-
nition will.

Then, at the foot of the slope up to Mackeson's Bridge, I met
the officer commanding the rearguard. He was intelligent, and I
told him to make a cheerful night of it, and to protect all that could
not get up to the heavy guns on the upper ground.

From the rearguard to Jamrud, nothing is on the road — all clear.


At Jamrud, Colonel Armstrong appears quite clear on all points,
and I have told him the orders given by you.

He mil at once push on the second line of ammunition, under-
standing from me that this is the one thing wanted. It will push on
to you and I hope arrive before morning. Armstrong seems very
good and intelligent and I should bring him forward.

Now about the other columns. Colonel Armstrong says that
about 12 o'clock the party in charge of the ammunition, 4th Rifles,
returned to Jamrud, saying that they had lost their way. I flashed
for instructions and got none. I then tried to push the ammunition
through, but could get no guide. It is supposed that the two Brigades
(Tytler's and Macpherson's) on the right have all their ammunition,
and that of the first line, except the Rifle Battahon and Gurkhas.
The ammunition of the latter was brought back by Beatson, who
followed in the track of the two Brigades with a party of men to pick
up sick men. They will therefore be a little short of ammunition.

The question is whether Colonel Armstrong can push on any
ammunition after the two regiments — I say decidedly not. They
will lose their way, and the only way is to send their ammunition
up the Pass in the hopes that you will meet at Ali Masjid.

Nobody seems to know the route taken by the Brigades, and it
would be impossible to follow them, and so I think that the only thing
for the ammunition is to go up to you.

I would use my elephants in helping up ammunition wagons.

Now I'm off. 7.30.

Yours truly,



No baggage moving until further orders.


^ The Occupation of Dakka


i Sir S. Browne's position at Ali Masjid, in November, 1878, bore
I a close resemblance to that of Sir G. Pollock at Peshawar, in 1841,
; and, looking to the sickly condition of his troops and their lack of
equipment and transport, he would have been justified in following
his predecessor's example, and refusing to take a single step in advance
till his Division had been placed in all respects on a proper footing ;
for if, on the one hand, his men, 'in the first flush of military en-
thusiasm, were as eager to press forward as Pollock's, after three
years of weary, disastrous warfare, were reluctant to stir ; on the
other, the motives and considerations urging to prompt action in
the last phase of the first Afghan War, were entirely absent in the
first phase of the second. No one now questions Pollock's wisdom
in withstanding the pressure put upon him by pubHc opinion, at home
and in India, to induce him to rush forward to the relief of Jellalabad,
nor doubts that, if, in the end, he not only reached that city, but
entered Kabul and rescued the English men and women held captive
at Bamian, his success was due to the two months' delay which he
turned to such good account in reorganizing his forces and restoring
the health and spirits of his troops. A similar period devoted to
; preparation in the winter of 1878, would have endangered not a single
' British or Native life, nor have affected the amount and nature of
the resistance to be encountered ; and if Browne, a man of good judg-
ment and much independence of character, did not insist upon such
delay, it was simply because he had no inkhng of the magnitude


of the task that was to be imposed upon him. His instructions
assumed that, Ali Masjid once captured, his work would be con- j
fined to clearing the Khj^ber of the Amir's forces, and that as soon I
as the necessary troops— to be selected for local knowledge and j
frontier experience— had been estabHshed at its western extremity,
he might safely withdraw the bullc of his Division to British territory,
leaving Colonel Jenkins in military, and Major Cavagnari in political j
charge of the Pass ; and it was in full reliance upon these instructions, j
in the confident expectation that the policy embodied in them would
undergo no material change, that he embarked upon an advance
which was to carry him to Gandamak, and narrowly to escape landing
him at Kabul.

Leaving Appleyard with the remaining troops of the 3rd and
4th Brigades at Ali Masjid, whilst the 1st and 2nd Brigades were
concentrated at Kata Kushtia, under the command of Macpherson
as senior officer on the spot— the General started for Dakka on the
morning of the 24th November, with the 10th Hussars, Manderson's
troop of Horse Artillery, the 14th Sikhs, and a company of Sappers.
The Guides Cavalry joined him at Kata Kushtia, which lies just where
the gorge of the Khyber proper expands from fifty to six hundred
yards in width,^ and where the Khyber River takes its rise in a spring
whose crystal waters, impregnated with sulphuret of antimony,
had been one of the chief causes of the sickness and mortality that
prevailed amongst the troops occupying Ali Masjid in the first Afghan
War, and were to prove no less fatal to the regiments holding that
position in the second.^ At Lala Beg, three-quarters of a mile beyond
Kata Kushtia, the Pass widens out once more, and the advancing
Force sighted a good many hamlets, each with loop-holed walls and I

1 Tlio rugged, precipitoufs sides of this gorge rise from the river at an angle
of 75°, and in places actually overhang it, shutting out the day.

2 Between the 1st September and 27th October, 1839, the garrison of Ali
Masjid lost 243 men, more than one-tenth of its total strength.


one or two towers so substantially built of clay, mixed with chopped
straw, as to be capable of resisting the fire of field guns. The number
of these hamlets gives an air of fictitious prosperity to this little valley,
which in dry seasons is often entirely deserted by its inhabitants.^
A little further on, the road, a mere tortuous track, became steep
and difficult, and, at an awkward corner, one of the Artillery guns
overturned, and three of its horses were flung over the side of the
cliff, where they hung suspended in mid-air, their weight threaten-
ing at every moment to drag the gun and the remaining horses after
them. There was nothing to be done but to cut their harness, and
let them fall eighty feet into the stony bed of a dry water-course.
One was killed on the spot ; one so severely injured that it had to
be shot ; but the third, strange to say, escaped with a few bruises.
Leaving the Sappers to improve the road, and the 10th Hussars to
guard them whilst they worked, Sir S. Browne continued his march
over the Lundi Kotal — a col three thousand five hundred feet
above sea level, two thousand three hundred above Peshawar —
and down a steep road, cut shelf-like in the face of the precipice,
to Lundi lOiana, a village lying a thousand feet below the summit
of the Pass on its western side. Here, where the whole Brigade
was to have bivouacked, he heard that the Afghan troops had retired
from Dakka, and realizing that the place would be in danger of
destruction at the hands of its neighbours, the Mohmands, whose
chief village, Lalpura, lies facing it on the other side of the broad
and rapid Kabul River, he sent on Jenkins and Cavagnari with the
Guides to occupy it that night. The little party pushed on as quickly
as the deepening darkness and the roughness of the road would permit ;
but the Mohmand thieves had been beforehand with them, and they

1 Irrigation is impossible in this valley, whose inhabitants have to depend
upon tanks for their own water supply ; and as tlie rainfall never exceeds a few
inches in the year, it is no unusual thing for the fields to yield no crops.


emerged from the Pass to find Dakka swept bare of all its contents,
and its despoilers safe on the other side of the river. On the follow-
ing day, Sir S. Browne and the rest of the troops arrived, and took
possession of the Fort, a large walled enclosure, flanked by sixteen
towers, containing the barracks lately occupied by the Afghan gar-
rison, and the house and garden where the Amir lodged when visiting
this outpost of his dominions. The Khan of Lalpura, a big, broad-
shouldered man of unprepossessing appearance, very soon came
into camp to pay his respects to the British General and his Political
Officer ; and the ostentatious cordiaHty with which he was received
by the latter, may be regarded as a gauge of the political and military
difficulties of the situation which a too hasty advance had created.
Cavagnari was not the man to show undue consideration to Native
potentates, great or small, and this particular potentate, whose troops
had been on the way to reinforce Ali Mas j id when that fortress was
evacuated by its garrison, had little claim on his forbearance. But
Mahomed Shah could put twenty thousand armed men in the field,
his territory commanded Browne's Hue of communications, and if
these were to be kept open and his troops provisioned, the Mohmands,
as a tribe, must not take sides against him ; so the offences of their
chief were poHtely ignored, and his reception so framed as to relieve
his mind of the fear that Cavagnari still harboured the intention of
superseding him by one of the sons of Nuroz Shah, his predecessor
in the Khanship.

Though the attitude of the Afridis and Mohmands during the
operations of the 21st and 22nd, had been threatening enough to add
considerably to Browne's anxieties, they had not openly opposed
his advance. It was one thing, however, to conciliate this or that
chief, or to secure the momentary good-will of this or that section
of a tribe, but quite another to induce its individual members to
respect the peace of the Pass. On the advance from Ali Masjid to
Dakka no opposition had been met with, but loiterers or stragglers


had been cut off by unseen foes, and it was clear to Browne that,
so far from being able to leave the protection of the Pass to a weak
Brigade, it would be all he could do to keep it open with the whole
of his Division, however skilful the dispositions by which he might
seek to add to their strength and lighten their labours. It is curious
to note how completely the simple programme in which Lord Lytton's
views of the probable course of events in Afghanistan had found
expression, went to pieces at the first contact with hard facts. There
was no revocation or alteration of Sir S. Browne's instructions, but
those clauses which were to come into force upon the capture of Ali
Masjid, dropped silently away, leaving that General to adapt himself
to the changing circumstances of the situation, as might seem best,
from day to day. His first act was to strengthen his own position
by calhng up Macpherson's and Tytler's Brigades from Kata Kushtia,
and Gough's Cavalry Brigade from Ali Masjid ; to order the forma-
tion of a really mobile frontier Brigade, consisting of No. 4 Peshawar
Mountain Battery, the 3rd Sikhs, and the Guides, with Jenkins
in command ; and to give greater unity to the troops holding the
Shahgai Heights and Ali Masjid, by breaking up the 4th Brigade
(Brown's), and transferring its regiments to the 3rd (Appleyard's).
At the same time, he pushed forward Cavalry recormaissance parties
in every direction, to ascertain the resources of the country in food
and forage, and to get wind of any hostile gatherings of Tribesmen
that might need to be summarily dispersed. He kept the Engineer
officers and Sappers and Miners busy improving the road over the
Lundi Kotal ; constructing strong posts to shelter his outlying pickets ;
fortifying the ridge overlooking Dakka Fort ; and building two boats
of considerable carrying capacity to secure his connexion with the
northern bank of the Kabul River. He caused the high grass in the
vicinity of the road between Lundi Khana and Dakka to be burned ;
he placed, by day, strong pickets on the knolls adjacent to the Fort,
withdrawing them at night, and he ordered that all marauders caught


red-handed should be shot there and then ;— in a word, he took every
precaution which his wide experience of frontier warfare could suggest
to protect the traffic created by the presence of a large British force
at Dakka, but with only partial success. The whole country swarmed
with robbers. Bands of them hung about Dakka and infested the
Pass. They lay in wait for, and cut up camp followers and stragglers ;
they fired upon smaU parties of soldiers ; they were ever on the watch
to steal horses, mules, or cattle watering in the river. Invisible and
ubiquitous, they gave the troops no rest. Escorts and covering
parties had to be doubled to enable the most necessary functions
of camp hfe to be carried on at all, and the strain grew daily more
severe as fatigue and sickness reduced the number of men fit for duty.
Bad, however, as things were around Dakka, they were far worse
round AH Masjid. Not a yard of the road between Jamrud and
Lundi Kotal was safe, although dihgently patrolled by strong bodies
of troops. The camps were fired into by night, and by day ; the
ArtiUery men employed in removing the Afghan guns from the Fort
were attacked at their work ; strongly guarded convoys, en route to
Dakka, were boldly intercepted in the Khyber, grain and stores
carried off, and the transport animals themselves hurried away into
the hills. Emboldened by repeated isolated successes, the Afridis
occupying the upper part of the Pass, very shortly persuaded their
kinsfolk inhabiting its lower end, who had, so far, been comparatively
quiet, to combine with them in still more daring measures. The
united Tribesmen attacked the outlying pickets and advanced posts
at Ali Masjid, seized the Shahgai Heights— thus severing Dakka
from its base at Peshawar— and drove Major Pearson and his signal-
ling party from their station on the Sarkai Hill, kiUing one signaUer,
three foUowers, and several mules, a loss which might have been

Online LibraryH. B. (Henry Bathurst) HannaThe second Afghan war, 1878-79-80 : its causes, its conduct and its consequences (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 32)