Battle of Maiwand

Coordinates: 31°44′00″N 65°08′00″E / 31.7333°N 65.1333°E / 31.7333; 65.1333
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Battle of Maiwand
Part of Second Anglo-Afghan War

"Maiwand: Saving the Guns". Royal Horse Artillery withdrawing from Afghan attack at the Battle of Maiwand, painted by Richard Caton Woodville
Date27 July 1880
Result Afghan victory

United Kingdom British Empire

Afghanistan Afghanistan
Commanders and leaders
United Kingdom George Burrows Afghanistan Ayub Khan
2,476 British/Indian troops 25,000 Afghan warriors
Casualties and losses
1,200 killed[1] Unknown, estimates from 2,000—5,000[2]

The Battle of Maiwand (Dari: نبرد میوند, Pashto: د ميوند جگړه), fought on 27 July 1880, was one of the principal battles of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Under the leadership of Ayub Khan, the Afghan forces defeated a much smaller British force consisting of two brigades of British and Indian troops under Brigadier-General George Burrows, albeit at a high price: between 2,050 and 2,750 Afghan warriors were killed, and probably about 1,500 wounded.[3] British and Indian forces suffered 1,200 dead.


Before the battle, the campaign had gone well for the British. They had defeated Afghan tribesmen at Ali Masjid, Peiwar Kotal, Kabul, and the Battle of Ahmed Khel, and they had occupied numerous cities and towns, including Kandahar, Dakka, and Jalalabad.

Ayub Khan, Sher Ali Khan'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, 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 (4.1 kg), 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. Burrows's troops engaged and defeated the rebellious levies and captured 4 smoothbore 6-pounder guns and 2 smoothbore 12-pounders howitzers (5.4 kg). Burrows then 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.[4][page needed]

Map of the battlefield

The battle (27 July 1880)[edit]

Frank Feller: The Last Eleven at Maiwand
John Elder Moultray: The Last Stand of the British at Maiwand

On the afternoon of 26 July information was received that the Afghan force was making for the Maiwand Pass a few miles away (half-dozen km). 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 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 ensued at an opening range of about 1,700 yards (1,600 m), 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 battalion back. The left flank comprising Indian infantry regiments gave way and rolled in a great wave to the right; the 66th Regiment, as a result of this pressure was swept away by the pressure of the Ghazi attack.[4][page needed]

E Battery of 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 Battery kept firing until the last moment, two sections (four guns) limbering up when the Afghans were 15 yards (14 m) away, but the third section (Lieutenant 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.[citation needed]

Depiction of the battle in a near-contemporary Persian source, from the Collected Works of Riyazi

E Battery came into action again some 400 yd back (370 m). 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 (two officers and nine other ranks)[5] were left, and the survivors then charged out into the masses of the enemy and perished. Henn is the only officer who has been positively identified in that band and he led the final charge.[6] No Englishman lived to tell the story of the Last Eleven at Maiwand. It was reported to the British later that year by a former officer of Ayub Khan's army, who said that the Afghans had been truly impressed by the bravery of those men.[5]

The retreat to Kandahar (27–28 July 1880)[edit]

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 1,200 men. 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:[citation needed]

One estimate of Afghan casualties is 3,000, reflecting the desperate nature of much of the fighting,[3] although other sources give 1,500 Afghan "regulars" and up to 4,000 Ghazis killed, and 1500 seriously wounded.[8]

Awards for bravery[edit]

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.


Afghan commanders after their victory

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 (505 km) relief march from Kabul to Kandahar in August. The resulting Battle of Kandahar on 1 September 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 2nd/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[citation needed].

Maiwand in poetry, art, and fiction[edit]


Rudyard Kipling, who had researched this battle in 1892, included the small yet dramatic poem entitled "That Day" about the action at Maiwand in his Barrack-Room Ballads collection:

"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."

The events of the battle were also commemorated in a poem by Scottish poet William McGonagall entitled "The Last Berkshire Eleven".[9]

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.[citation needed]


The Maiwand Lion in Forbury Gardens, Reading, the unofficial symbol of the town

The battle was the subject of several paintings[10] 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 Berkshires' 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.[11][12] The battle has also been documented in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's short story The Summer.

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.

British author Tim Symonds refers in detail to Watson's life-changing Maiwand experience in his novel 'Sherlock Holmes And The Strange Death of Brigadier-General Delves' (MX Publishing 2022)

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Lee, Jonathan (2019). Afghanistan: A History from 1260 to the Present. Reaktion Books. p. 380. ISBN 9781789140101.
  2. ^ Robson 2007, p. 239.
  3. ^ a b "Battle of Maiwand". Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Headlam 1931.
  5. ^ a b Stacpoole-Ryding & Chaloner 2008.
  6. ^ Sandes 1948, pp. 278–281.
  7. ^ "145 (Maiwand) Commando Battery" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 March 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2011.
  8. ^ Gore, David. "My god - Maiwand". The British Empire, Imperialism, Colonialism, Colonies. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  9. ^ "The Last Berkshire Eleven". McGonagall Online. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  10. ^ Harrington 1993, pp. 202–204.
  11. ^ "The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum". Archived from the original on 12 October 2007.
  12. ^ Groves 1887.


External links[edit]

31°44′00″N 65°08′00″E / 31.7333°N 65.1333°E / 31.7333; 65.1333