Battle of Maiwand
The Battle of Maiwand on 27 July 1880 was one of the principal battles of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Under the leadership of Ayub Khan, the Afghans defeated two brigades of British and Indian troops under Brigadier-General George Burrows, though at a high price: between 2,050 and 2,750 Afghan warriors were killed, and probably about 1,500 wounded. British and Indian forces suffered 969 soldiers killed and 177 wounded.
The battle (27 July 1880)
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Before the battle the campaign had gone well for the British. They had defeated Afghan tribesmen at Ali Masjid, Peiwar Kotal, Kabul, and Ahmed Khel, and they had occupied numerous towns and villages, including Kandahar, Dakka, and Jalalabad.
Ayub Khan, Shere Ali's younger son, who had been holding Herat during the British operations at Kabul and Kandahar, set out towards Kandahar with a small army in June 1880, and a brigade under Brigadier-General Burrows was detached from Kandahar to oppose him. Burrows' brigade, some 2,500 strong with about 500 British troops including a battery of 9-pounder cannons, advanced to Helmand, opposite Gereshk, to oppose Ayub Khan, but was there deserted by the levies of Shere Ali, the British-appointed wali of Kandahar. The levies were defeated and 4 smoothbore 6-pounder guns and 2 smoothbore 12-pounder howitzers captured. Burrows fell back to a position at Kushk-i-Nakhud, halfway to Kandahar where he could intercept Ayub Khan if he headed for either Ghazni or Kandahar. He remained there a week during which time the captured guns were added to his force with additional gunners drawn from the British infantry.
On the afternoon of 26 July information was received that the Afghan force was making for the Maiwand Pass a few miles away. Burrows decided to move early the following day to break-up the Afghan advance guard. At about 10 am horsemen were seen and engaged, and the brigade started to deploy for battle. Burrows was not aware that it was Ayub's main force. The Afghans, who numbered 25,000 including Afghan regular troops and five batteries of artillery including some very modern Armstrong guns. The Afghan guns gradually came into action and a three hour artillery duel ensured at an opening range of about 1700 yards, during which the British captured smoothbore guns on the left expended their ammunition and withdrew to replenish it. This enabled the Afghans to force the left hand battalion back. The left flank comprising Indian infantry regiments gave way and rolled in a great wave to the right, the 66th Regiment, the backbone of defence, were swept away by the pressure of the Ghazi attack.
E Battery / B Brigade Royal Horse Artillery (Captain Slade commanding) and a half-company of Bombay Sappers and Miners under Lieutenant Henn (Royal Engineers) stood fast, covering the retreat of the entire British Brigade. E/B RHA kept firing until the last moment, two sections (four guns) limbering up when the Afghans were 15 yards away, but the third section (Lt Maclaine) was overrun. Maclaine was captured and held as a prisoner in Kandahar, where his body was found at Ayub Khan's tent during the British attack on 1 September, apparently murdered to prevent his liberation. The British guns captured during the action were also recovered at Kandahar.
E/B RHA came into action again some 400 yards back. The Sappers and Miners retreated as the guns withdrew. Henn and 14 of his men afterwards joined some remnants of the 66th Foot and Bombay Grenadiers in a small enclosure at a garden in a place called Khig where a determined last stand was made. Though the Afghans shot them down one by one, they fired steadily until only eleven of their number were left, and the survivors then charged out into the masses of the enemy and perished. Henn was the only officer in that band and he led the final charge.
The retreat to Kandahar (27–28 July 1880)
Word of the disaster reached Kandahar the following day and a relief force was dispatched. This met the retreating force at Kokeran.
The British were routed, but managed a withdrawal due to their own efforts and the apathy of the Afghans. Of the 2,476 British troops engaged, the British and Indian force lost 21 officers and 948 soldiers killed, and eight officers and 169 men were wounded: the Grenadiers lost 64% of their strength and the 66th lost 62%, including twelve officers, of those present (two companies being detached); the cavalry losses were much smaller. British and Indian regimental casualties (listed by brigade) were:
- 1st Infantry Brigade (Brigadier-General George Burrows, commanding)
- 1st Cavalry Brigade (Brigadier-General Thomas Nuttall, commanding)
Awards for bravery
Two Victoria Crosses were awarded for acts of valour performed during the battle and during the retreat to Kandahar. Both medals went to members of E/B Battery, RHA. One was awarded to Sergeant Patrick Mullane, for attempting to save the life of a wounded colleague during the withdrawal of their battery from the field; the other went to Gunner James Collis, who during the retreat to Kandahar drew the attention of enemy fire upon himself instead of upon wounded colleagues.
The battle dampened morale for the British side, but was also partly a disappointment for Ayub Khan, Governor of Herat and commander of the Afghans in this battle, because he had lost so many men to gain a small advantage. Ayub Khan did manage to shut the British up in Kandahar, resulting in General Frederick Roberts's famous 314-mile relief march from Kabul to Kandahar in August 1880. The resulting Battle of Kandahar on September 1 was a decisive victory for the British.
The loss of the Queen's Colour and Regimental Colour of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Maiwand, following so soon upon the loss of the Colours of the 1st/24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment at the Battle of Isandlwana (22 January 1879) during the Anglo-Zulu War, resulted in Colours no longer being taken on active service.
Maiwand in poetry, art, and fiction
- "There was thirty dead an' wounded on the ground we wouldn't keep -
- No, there wasn't more than twenty when the front began to go;
- But, Christ! along the line o' flight they cut us up like sheep,
- An' that was all we gained by doing so.
- I 'eard the knives be'ind me, but I dursn't face my man,
- Nor I don't know where I went to, 'cause I didn't 'alt to see,
- Till I 'eard a beggar squealin' out for quarter as 'e ran,
- An' I thought I knew the voice an' - it was me!
- We was 'idin' under bedsteads more than 'arf a march away;
- We was lyin' up like rabbits all about the countryside;
- An' the major cursed 'is Maker 'cause 'e lived to see that day'
- An' the colonel broke 'is sword acrost, an' cried."
Poems of the victory at Maiwand have passed into Pashtun and Afghan folklore. As Afghan legend would have it, the battle created an unlikely hero in the shape of an Afghan woman called Malalai, who on seeing the Afghan forces falter, used her veil as a standard and encouraged the men by shouting out
- Young love if you do not fall in the battle of Maiwind;
- By God someone is saving you as a token of shame;
She also spoke the following landay (Pashto Poetry):
- With a drop of my sweetheart's blood,
- Shed in defense of the Motherland,
- Will I put a beauty spot on my forehead,
- Such as would put to shame the rose in the garden
The battle was the subject of several paintings and was covered extensively in the illustrated press. Frank Feller, a Swiss artist domiciled in England painted The Last Eleven at Maiwand in 1882 depicting a small group of men from the 66th Regiment making a last stand. The events surrounding E/B Battery Royal Horse Artillery were portrayed by Godfrey Douglas Giles, Richard Caton Woodville and Stanley Wood.
A cast iron statue of a lion (the Maiwand Lion) was built by George Blackall Simonds in Reading and unveiled in 1886 to commemorate those who died in battle. A monument was built in the 1950s on the Maiwand Square in Kabul in commemoration of the battle by an Afghan architect Is-matulla Saraj.
A memorial was erected in central London to a remarkable canine survivor of the engagement: Bobbie, the regimental mascot. Bobbie was wounded during the fighting, but was spotted the following day by survivors, making his way back to the fort.
The fictional Doctor Watson, companion of Sherlock Holmes, was wounded in the Battle of Maiwand (as described in the opening chapter of A Study in Scarlet). He may have been based upon the 66th regiment's Medical Officer, Surgeon Major Alexander Francis Preston.
The battle of Maiwand is also mentioned in Jeffery Deaver's short story The Westphalian Ring. The main character, Peter Goodcastle, had served in the Royal Horse Artillery there and had turned to burglary to avenge the shoddy treatment he had suffered on his return to Britain. In the short story, he was arrested by none other than Dr. Watson, but later managed to escape suspicion by outsmarting Sherlock Holmes. So the two men may have already met earlier.
The battle has also been documented in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story The Summer.
- Robson, Brian. (2007). The Road to Kabul: The Second Afghan War 1878-1881. Stroud: Spellmount. p. 239. ISBN 978-1-86227-416-7.
- British Battles - Second Afghan War (Maiwand)
- Headlam, Major General Sir John. The History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery - From the Indian Mutiny to the Great War Volume III-Campaigns (1860-1914). Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution. p. 44.
- Headlam, Major General Sir John. The History of the Royal Regiment of Artillery - From the Indian Mutiny to the Great War Volume III-Campaigns (1860-1914). Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution. pp. 44–49.
- Sandes, Lt Col E.W.C. (1948). The Indian Sappers and Miners. Chatham: Institution of Royal Engineers. p. 726.
- http://www.commandogunner.co.uk/New%20Photos/PastHistory1/PastHistory1.PDF 145 (Maiwand) Commando Battery
- Headlam, Major General Sir John. The History of theRoyal Regiment of Artillery - From the Indian Mutiny to the Great War Volume III-Campaigns (1860-1914). Woolwich: Royal Artillery Institution. p. 49.
- British Empire - Camp Afghan (Maiwand)
- Peter Harrington (1993). British Artists and War: The Face of Battle in Paintings and Prints, 1700-1914. London: Greenhill, pp. 202-204
- The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum
- The 66th Berkshire Regiment
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Maiwand.|
- Malalai of Maiwand
- Maiwand Monument
- Maiwand Lion, Reading, Berkshire, UK
- Project Gutenberg edition of "A Study in Scarlet" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Remember the battle of Maiwand by Eric Margolis, 15 April 2007
- Online Afghan Calendar with Historical dates (also Battle of Maiwand)