Argaum I

The British pursuit of Scindia and Berar began almost thirty-six hours after the battle of Assaye. On the morning of 25 September 1803 Stevenson’s army, less most of the surgeons, moved north to the Ajanta ghaut and down it. They recovered four brass field guns abandoned by the enemy, but apparently failed to find a further fourteen which had been hidden during the retreat. Wellesley’s hircarrahs reported 120 cannon in the Mahratta armies before Assaye, none of which appear to have got down the ghaut. The Begum Sumroo’s four Regular Battalions certainly had their field pieces, probably sixteen to twenty of them, when they left the Borkardan camp before the end of the battle.

Even after thirty-six hours there were unmistakable signs of a panic. Bodies of men and animals dotted the road, especially down the ghaut itself which at that time represented a kind of border. The route was strewn with baggage and equipment, most of it useless. The people here were subjects of the Nizam. The Mahrattas had treated them as enemies and suffered for it on the night of the 23rd and all during the 24th. Villagers along the way killed wounded Mahratta soldiers who were unable to keep up, and collected abandoned personal possessions for their own use. They may well have buried the missing gun tubes; brass was and is valuable for many purposes in India.

Wellesley’s first concern in connection with his own army was to care for his wounded. Some were collected into ‘hospital’ groups on the night of the 23rd, but most remained where they fell. There were not enough surgeons or medical supplies for more than 1,000 injured men. All that could be done for most of them on the 24th was to make them as comfortable as possible on the ground, protect them from marauders and the burning Indian sun, and make sure that all had plenty of water. This treatment was neither as inhumane nor as harmful to the wounded men as it seems today. The weather was warm and dry. Casualties who did not bleed to death on the first night were often better off with wounds undressed. The surgeons had more knowledge and skill than we realize, but they worked with unsterilized instruments and bandages and nature unaided often did a better job.

Once the wounded were collected, there was the problem of burying the dead and collecting equipment. The dead of both sides lay in irregular heaps, especially where the 74th had rallied round its colours. The pioneers were set to digging orderly graves for the British and allied casualties west north-west of Assaye near the Juah. Enemy dead were counted approximately and then interred in multiple graves.

The twenty-six iron guns captured around Assaye were burst by being double-charged and having shot wedged in their bores. They were destroyed because they were not worth moving, but the brass pieces were ‘so good and so well equipped that they [some of them, at least] answer for our service’. The British also secured thousands of small arms and other personal possessions of the enemy of some value.

Wellesley’s next problem was to replace casualties. The King’s 74th had been removed from the active roster. Every officer was either killed or wounded; all the survivors were needed to care for their wounded comrades. Maxwell of the cavalry was dead; so was Captain Hugh McKay of the 4th Native Cavalry. Mackay had been detached for months and was doing outstanding work in handling all the ‘public’ bullocks, including the magnificent Mysore draft beasts. He had asked Wellesley for permission to return to his squadron for the battle, but had been refused. He joined against orders, charged at the head of his squadron and lost his life. There were other damaging losses: two of Wellesley’s small staff were severely wounded.

The five EIC battalions had not lost enough rank and file to make them ineffective for combat, but the 1/8 had lost four and the 2/12 six European officers, including its commander.

Wellesley recalled the 1/3 Madras, one of the two EIC battalions sent away before Assaye to reinforce Poona. They were no longer necessary to prevent its capture because the enemy too had lost heavily, especially in the Regular Battalions. Perhaps Captain Vesey of that corps had learned his lesson.

Wellesley, who could not spare enough British soldiers for a fortified hospital without weakening his army excessively, wanted to accommodate his wounded in Dowlutabad. It was a strong, commodious fortress on a conical hill, and lay only fifty miles away with no major streams on the route. Dowlutabad belonged to the Nizam of Hyderabad, had an ample garrison and presumably enough supplies. Wellesley asked Stevenson to apply for permission to use the place through Rajah Mohiput Ram who appears to have been the senior officer in the Nizam’s army under Stevenson’s command. However, the killadar of the fortress refused to receive the wounded and their attendants. The garrison was unusually jealous of details of the fortress’s construction and would not allow English officers to approach within 500 yards.

There were only two other choices, Aurungabad and Ajanta. At that time Aurungabad was not a strong place, just a sprawling group of fortifications more or less connected and poorly garrisoned. Scindia’s Regular Battalions – even the four which had not been destroyed at Assaye – could easily have taken it. Ajanta was better and closer than Aurungabad, only about twenty-three miles away. Fortress and town, connected by a stone bridge, were smaller than Dowlutabad and Aurungabad, but comfortable and strong enough to offer some resistance even to a regular Mahratta army with artillery, but not sufficiently powerful for the Nizam’s killadar to refuse to receive the British wounded. The journey north had to be slow and easy and was postponed until all wounded men had received the full medical amenities available. Their transfer was begun about 1 October and apparently completed on the 8th, or perhaps a day or two earlier.

While the wounded were moving into Ajanta, both Wellesley and Stevenson had moved down the ghaut to the north. The two armies remained separate but would co-operate to defeat the enemy in battle where possible and capture his bases if he would not fight. It was known now that both Scindia and Berar had retreated to Burhampoor where some of the former’s infantry had taken refuge. Stevenson was ordered to take the city and arrived there on 8 October.

The Mahratta cavalry had moved west from Burhampoor and threatened to raid the Peshwa’s territory around Poona and further south. Wellesley consequently moved west from the bottom of the Ajanta ghaut to protect the area in case Scindia and Berar were serious in their intentions. He received information to the contrary, however, and was back in Ajanta on the 8th.

The enemy again threatened to march on south. Again Wellesley moved in the same direction, this time above the ghauts. He was halfway back to Aurungabad on the nth, only to receive intelligence that the two Mahratta armies had separated, at least temporarily. Scindia had retired west; Berar had moved back towards Burhampoor but was too weak to threaten the Hyderabad army seriously.

Stevenson took Burhampoor on 16 October without serious fighting and collected some money from the civilian population in accordance with Wellesley’s orders. He moved further north on the 24th and after a short siege captured Asseergurh, which was much stronger than Burhampoor and full of military supplies. These two places with Ahmednuggur, Jalna and Baroach had been Scindia’s important military bases in the Deccan. Now all of them were taken.

Perhaps more important than the fall of the fortresses was the surrender of ten of Scindia’s European officers who confirmed that Pohlmann’s thirteen Regular Battalions had disbanded during the retreat after Assaye. One of the officers, Major John James Dupon (or Dupont) who surrendered or was captured in Burhampoor or Asseergurh, had commanded Filoze’s four-battalion compoo. However, there were apparently still at least ten more such officers, eight with British names, in Scindia’s service.

We should note some manoeuvring of the field armies during Stevenson’s sieges. Wellesley moved north on 17 October to be within supporting distance of the Hyderabad force, and was at Ferdapoor, a day’s march north-east of Ajanta, on the 19th. He made the move in case the Mahratta armies had reunited and were about to attack Stevenson. The enemy junction did not take place, however, so Wellesley moved no further. Stevenson was strong enough to beat either Mahratta force separately, a fact the two chiefs undoubtedly appreciated.

Berar did not try to save Scindia’s fortress of Asseergurh, but instead marched south and east as if to raid the Nizam’s territory. His army actually passed between the two British forces about 20 October. Wellesley learnt of Berar’s movements and returned to Ajanta the next day. The following eight days saw some of the finest marching ever done by a British army in India. Wellesley moved south and east covering as much as thirty miles a day, siege train and all. At least once he came within sight of Berar’s army. The Mahrattas are said to have been driven from five campsites in two days until finally Berar lost his nerve and moved north-east again towards his own capital.

We should note the significance of Wellesley’s ‘two army’ strategy. He used Stevenson to capture places of importance while he himself prevented the enemy from raiding friendly territory. When the Mahratta chiefs moved with cavalry only, they were reasonably safe but could accomplish little. A force of cavalry alone could not even take a mud-walled village. Scindia in early September and Berar in late October could have made a dash for Hyderabad City, but they held back because Wellesley would have followed them. They might not have been caught but would have been prevented from plundering in their fashion. Since Mahratta cavalry served mostly for plunder, an arduous and dangerous raid deep into Hyderabad with small expectations of profit was not attractive.

Berar would not cross the Godavery with his cavalry only and retreated north to join his regular infantry and artillery. Wellesley learnt of this decision on 10 November and for a week stopped where he was, near Chicholi, fifteen miles north of the Godavery. Stevenson was to get ready to move on Gawilghur, the principal enemy fortress in the hills which separated Berar’s country from Hyderabad. Wellesley had already decided that Gawilghur would be Stevenson’s next objective.

On the 11th Scindia’s vakels (negotiators) had arrived in Wellesley’s camp asking for an armistice. Wellesley was not surprised; he had detailed information about General Lake’s victories against Perron, Scindia’s semi-independent French subordinate who ruled a vast area to the north, including Delhi and Agra. As has already been mentioned, Lake began hostilities against Perron independently of Wellesley’s declaration against Scindia. He marched from Cawnpore on 7 August, one day before Wellesley moved on Ahmednuggur. Lake took several important fortresses, including Alyghur, during the next month. He won a battle at Delhi on 11 September and occupied the old Mogul capital. However, according to Wellesley’s most recent information Perron’s army was still undestroyed and active early in October. Lake’s magnificent victory at Laswaree was still three weeks away.

Scindia would benefit from an armistice in his southern theatre of operations if he could quickly transfer any of his strength north against Lake. But this was hardly practical. The two theatres were too far apart for Scindia to shuttle units from one to the other. The journey would have taken nearly two months. Besides, Perron was not really subordinate to Scindia any longer.

Wellesley saw no harm in granting Scindia an armistice for a short time, if he could separate him from Berar. The British armies would then be able to take Gawilghur and move on against Berar’s capital more easily. Wellesley agreed to a cessation of hostilities, but insisted that it begin only if and when Scindia moved his entire force fifty miles east of Ellichpoor. Thus his army could neither help Berar nor suddenly move against Poona or Hyderabad. Wellesley did not count on any good faith from Scindia, but he had nothing to lose and a good deal to gain if the armistice terms were met.

By then Wellesley’s system of intelligence was functioning almost perfectly as regards any major enemy movement. Small Mahratta detachments were able to march without having their movements reported, but not the main armies. The British commander knew Berar had moved towards his own infantry and artillery at about the same time as the armistice agreement with Scindia’s negotiators was completed. Scindia was moving in the same direction, either to unite with Berar and continue the war, or fulfil the conditions of the armistice agreement. Stevenson had begun his march for Gawilghur on 15 November. A day later Wellesley began his own to the north and east from the Godavery to join the older commander in that area. Since the four forces were converging on roughly the same point, something was likely to happen.

Wellesley’s army was at Rajoora on the 23rd and at Akola on the 27th. He sent word to Stevenson that he would meet him near Parterly on the morning of the 30th. The two commanders met on schedule, conferred briefly, and then about noon climbed to the flat top of a fortified tower in Parterly. It was unusually large and well built and allowed an all-round view of the country from the top. The Mahrattas, presumably both Scindia and Berar’s forces, were in plain sight to the north. Bisnapah’s Mysore light cavalry was expertly skirmishing with the opposition; he would undoubtedly report soon.

Wellesley got out his telescope and began to examine the area behind the skirmishing horsemen. He could see a large army to the north, beyond the village of Sirsoli but south of the village of Argaum. It was already formed into something resembling a line. Was another battle imminent? Wellesley’s mind began to work like a computer on times, positions and probable speeds. If the Mahrattas had formed their line – and it certainly looked as if they had – they would be unlikely to retire before nightfall.

Though Berar had infantry and artillery with him, those of Scindia in the Deccan were known to be nearly wiped out. The Begum’s Regular Battalions were north of the Tap tee. The enemy forces could not be more numerous than at Assaye and probably not of such quality. Wellesley now had both British armies at hand. The only problem was one of fatigue: his own army had moved eighteen miles since dawn; Stevenson’s appears to have moved hardly less; and it had been a hot day. Wellesley was once more faced with the choice of attacking with an exhausted army or allowing the enemy to slip away. Again the decision was to attack, and orders to that effect were given quickly.

The baggage and siege trains of both armies went into separate camps sufficiently secure to be proof against Mahratta cavalry of any strength. As at Naulniah, Wellesley chose his camp guard carefully. It was composed of his favourite 1/8 Madras, the pickets of the day before, and about three squadrons of Mysore horse. The guard had several field pieces as well as the four 12-pounder siege guns.

The British armies advanced north from Parterly apparently in four columns. Wellesley’s cavalry was on the extreme right; his infantry came next. Stevenson’s cavalry was on the extreme left with his infantry adjacent to Wellesley’s. Stevenson’s total British infantry force was only slightly, if at all, less numerous than Wellesley’s because his one King’s infantry and his five EIC battalions were stronger individually than Wellesley’s two King’s and five EIC battalions. Stevenson was weaker in British cavalry; he had only two EIC regiments against Wellesley’s one King’s and three EIC units, but he still had several thousand Mogul cavalry which were more numerous and more effective in battle than Wellesley’s Mysore light horsemen. Wellesley’s Mahrattas were marching separately at this time; his orders to them were carried by a messenger who ‘missed his road’ so ‘they were not engaged during the 29th’.

Stevenson’s infantry column was led by his pickets of the day; his strong European infantry battalion, now officially the King’s 94th Foot came next followed by his five full-strength EIC Madras battalions. I believe their order was the 2/2, the 2/9, the 1/11, the 2/11, and the 1/6. These battalions were fresher than Wellesley’s; their order was undisturbed by their halt near Parterly.

Wellesley’s infantry battalions were not in order, probably because one brigade had countermarched. His pickets of the day were in the lead, but were followed by the 2/12 and the 1/10 Madras. Then came the King’s 78th, the King’s 74th and three more EIC Madras units, the 1/2, the 1/3 and the 1/4.

The four British columns approached the village of Sirsoli and the plain of Argaum from the south. This area is in the black-earth section of Nagpoor State and is now noted for its production of wheat and cotton. At that time it was covered with millet, the individual stalks of which were seven to nine feet tall. A man on foot could neither sec nor be seen. When Wellesley had observed the country from the tower in Parterly, his elevation and the fact that the whole flat plain is slightly tilted up to the north had allowed a distant but unobstructed view of the enemy’s Argaum line. Now he could see little from around Sirsoli even on horseback. The plain was still exceptionally flat, but it was cut almost haphazardly by deep narrow canals. A nullah or wet-weather river ran generally north and south from before Sirsoli almost to Argaum.

Wellesley made a quick personal reconnaissance to the north and reached a spot from which he could see that the Mahrattas were still in place. The deep narrow canals caused him considerable anxiety. Almost certainly, the enemy had taken up a situation behind one or more of them. He did not like attacking a Mahratta army head-on in a position of its own choice, but there appeared to be no alternative unless he did not attack at all. There were only about three and a half hours of daylight left, enough for a careful assault, but not for any extensive preliminary manoeuvres. Wellesley again decided on attack.

He returned to Sirsoli as the head of his infantry column passed the village. He ordered them to oblique slightly to the right to clear a bend in the central nullah; Wallace was told to guide his pickets of the day to the east for about 1,000 yards, enough space for seven and a half under-strength battalions to form into line, with battalion guns between each unit. The infantry line was then to halt.

Wellesley met Stevenson near Sirsoli. The old colonel was too weak from sickness to mount a horse, but his mind was clear. He exercised all command functions from a comfortable seat in the howdah of an elephant. Arthur quickly explained his battle plan. Stevenson’s infantry line would form in line with his own, but on the west side of the nullah. The colonel’s cavalry under an exceptionally able EIC officer, Lieutenant-Colonel A. Sentleger of the 6th NC, was to protect the left or western flank of the entire infantry line with Stevenson’s two EIC mounted regiments and presumably several thousand Mogul horse. Wellesley’s own cavalry was to protect the right or eastern flank.

So far everything appeared to be going perfectly. Another ten minutes and the British armies would be in formal combat alignment, a considerable accomplishment in view of the fact that the two commanders and their forces had been more than twenty miles apart at sunrise. But battles seldom go as planned. As Wellesley’s pickets passed the nullah, changed direction and began to march east, they came clearly into the view of the Mahratta gunners south of Argaum; the millet did not grow in the semi-dry water course. The sight of the British column may have given the Mahratta commander the first sure evidence of the presence of a considerable British force.

In any event, the enemy guns opened fire, although the range was about 3,000 yards. In the era of solid-shot artillery a column almost in line was a tempting target regardless of range. A round ball from one of the Mahratta guns, frequently 18-pounders even for field service, could kill several men. As often happened in those days, the first rounds were more accurate than those which followed. The air overhead was filled with the awe-inspiring sound of the passage of large shot; perhaps many of them were visible too. One of the balls struck a British bullock-drawn 6-pounder. The ten animals attached to it appear to have survived, but wheeled to the rear and went off in panic. Another gun team did likewise, although apparently it was undamaged.

The two runaway guns drawn by panicking bullocks careered back into the two King’s and six EIC half companies which made up the pickets of the day. The Europeans dodged the guns and kept their position, but the sepoys unaccountably broke. A mass of 250 men, twenty bullocks and two guns pushed back without warning into the next two battalions. Although the sepoy units had fought valiantly at Assaye, they were also seized by the unreasoning fear that sometimes causes the best of soldiers to misbehave. Fortunately, Wellesley himself was within 150 yards. He rode towards them and endeavoured to stop their flight. When this did not succeed, ‘… instead of losing his temper, unbraiding them, and endeavouring to force them back to the spot from which they had fled, he quietly ordered their officers to lead the men under cover of the village.’

Argaum II

Meanwhile, the King’s 78th came up with pipes skirling, past the temporarily disordered sepoys, every Highlander in perfect step and kilts snapping in unison. Red tunics, white belts, gleaming weapons and tall black bearskins made them appear superhuman. The Madras sepoys were good soldiers too and clamoured for another chance. Wellesley took them to their places on the right of the line, made sure they were properly positioned with their battalion guns between each units and had them lie down.

Once his own infantry was all in position, Wellesley ordered Stevenson and Wallace to take the whole British line forward cautiously. Wellesley personally galloped off to the head of his cavalry column which had halted for orders. He advanced with the four cavalry regiments – with Dallas sick and Maxwell killed, they lacked an experienced field officer – and their eight gallopers into the flat, but canal-bisected area well to the east of the Sirsoli–Argaum nullah. The cavalry could usually see over the millet; the enemy line opposite them stretched to the east for a considerable distance, more than the British cavalry could efficiently occupy. But this was unimportant; there was nothing in the rear for the enemy to attack save Bisnapah’s Mysore cavalry which was more than capable of caring for itself.

Wellesley advanced to within 800 yards of the enemy and formed his cavalry into line, each unit slightly separated from the next. He ordered the troopers to dismount, but had the eight cavalry gallopers advance another 200 yards or more until the gunners could see the enemy line clearly; they then opened fire. Wellesley instructed each unit commander separately. They were to wait until the 6-pounders made an impression on the enemy and then to attack, but Wellesley cautioned them not to charge headlong into a canal.

The British commander then returned to his infantry in the centre. He had ordered his own and Stevenson’s battalions to advance in rough alignment while he was taking forward the cavalry. The infantry, which consisted of three fine King’s regiments and ten veteran EIC units with a total of twenty-eight guns in pairs, placed in the intervals between the battalions and on the flanks, was no more than 1,000 yards from the enemy when Wellesley returned. Infantrymen could rarely see the Mahratta line because of the level ground and the millet, but every man knew it was there. The canals were not difficult to cross either on foot or mounted, but ranks had temporarily to be broken. Where necessary, field guns were unlimbered and manhandled over the narrow cuts and reassembled on the other side. All units had been kept roughly in line by Stevenson, Wallace and their own mounted officers. The old colonel on his elephant had an advantage in this terrain.

The infantry had advanced for about 2,000 yards under desultory Mahratta fire but suffered only a few casualties because the enemy gunners were initially at almost maximum range. Later on they were fatigued. In the muzzle-loading era, even the best of artillerymen did not shoot well when they were tired and dirty and their pieces overheated. The Mahratta gunners were handling poorer weapons than Pohlmann had at Assaye, and their targets were mostly hidden by the millet.

Wellesley allowed his infantry to continue its slow advance until it was within 500 yards of the enemy. Then he gave a prearranged signal, perhaps with his hat. The white Mysore artillery bullocks, five pairs per team, wheeled to the rear and brought the gun muzzles to bear on the enemy. The European gunners, the matrosses and the Indian lascars unlimbered smartly, loaded and fired. The first rounds that day were aimed at the opposing infantry. Each piece was cool, clean and handled by a skilful, disciplined crew. They appeared not to hurry, but they were probably delivering three rounds per minute. Round shot and grape tore into the Mahratta infantry and artillery. By this time the enemy guns were so hot that they were almost useless.

Back to the British cavalry on the extreme right. Their eight 6-pounders were in action for ten minutes before they began to accomplish what Wellesley had anticipated. They probably knocked out any artillery the Mahratta cavalry might have had, and then sent solid shot ploughing through the semi-formed enemy horse. Field guns were important in cavalry actions in India; one shot often caused several casualties and had a tremendous effect on morale. Both Hindoos and Muslims had a fatalistic acceptance of death which made them extremely, but passively, brave. They could not, however, stand artillery fire and their units began to waver visibly. The commanding officers of the 19th Dragoons and the three Native Cavalry regiments, four corps that had been companions for many months of active campaigning, went forward individually and with caution. When each unit came within about 200 yards of the enemy and the ground was clearly practical for horse, they increased the pace to a full trot which was about the optimum speed for the proper employment of shock from momentum and weapons.

For a few seconds each British regiment had a real fight. The Mah-rattas were good horsemen. Many were well armed and partially armoured. A few had the courage and ability with their tulwars to challenge British troopers individually. But they lacked the coordination of discipline and training and the uniform weapon efficiency that is the result of practice. British sabres were better because of the temper of the steel and the strong muscles of the men who used them. Hours of sword exercise produced skill, dexterity and power for cutting and thrusting. Most important of all, the British cavalry were in formation so that every trooper could use his weapons and to some extent support his comrades on either side.

The cavalry combats on the right flank were all successful. Berar’s Mahrattas broke and went off in panic, leaving perhaps a few misfit artillery pieces and some other fairly useless equipment. The British units did not immediately pursue, although some of Bisnapah’s horsemen may have done so even at this early stage of the action.

In the centre where Wellesley was personally in command, the opposing Mahratta infantry probably had been unable to see the cavalry action just described, although it apparently was concluded before the central part of the battle began in earnest. Because of flat terrain, high grain and deep ditches, the battle appears to have been fought in three separate parts.

The artillery assigned to British infantry battalions did not find it easy to disorganize the enemy regular infantry. The Mahratta commander in this area was the Rajah of Berar’s brother, Manoo Bappoo, a braver man than either the Rajah or Scindia. He kept his disciplined infantry steady and sent forward a unit of 1,000 to 1,500 Arabs, the best professional soldiers in India. They came on unsupported and attacked the two King’s regiments in the centre of Wellesley’s section of the British line. They fell almost to a man, mostly by the fire of the Highlanders and the British artillery, but some survived the hail of lead and iron to die on Scottish bayonets.

One wonders if Manoo Bappoo realized that both King’s units of Wellesley’s army were in the centre of his line; their normal places were on the flanks. At 500–600 yards one line of men in red jackets and white belts looks much like another, especially through growing millet. Manoo Bappoo’s Arabs might have fared better against EIC units.

Perhaps a few minutes before, the two left flank battalions of Stevenson’s section of the infantry line, the 1/6 and the 2/11 Madras, were attacked by Scindia’s cavalry. The Mahratta horsemen came within about one hundred yards, but were already in the process of refusing to close when the two EIC battalions delivered their volleys. The action appears to have become little more than a feint.

Soon after the elimination of the Arabs, Wellesley sent the entire infantry-artillery line forward; the units moved individually and carefully, not in a line en echelon assault as at Assaye. The infantry guns were manhandled forward beside the battalions to which they belonged, keeping up a slow fire during the advance. Both infantry and artillery had to cross ditches in order to get at the enemy.1 One battalion after another would cross a canal, form on the other side, and continue the attack.

Manoo Bappoo’s regular infantry probably numbered no more than 15,000 including artillerymen. They were well posted and reasonably well led, but weakened by seeing the Arabs defeated and receiving perhaps twenty minutes of intermittent artillery fire. Some, though probably not all, units tried to exchange volleys of musketry with the British battalions. The battle in the centre was decided in these isolated infantry duels. In every case the King’s and EIC units quickly won. Manoo Bappoo’s men withdrew to the rear in panic. As often happened, once the better troops of an Indian army were defeated, the rest fled. The large body of enemy infantry in the second Mahratta line seems not to have fired a shot before it went to the right about and headed for safety. Victory in the centre came at least half an hour after Wellesley’s cavalry had won on the right.

We know less about what happened on the British left, Stevenson’s flank, mainly because there were only a handful of Europeans involved, none of whom wrote a surviving account. Lieutenant-Colonel A. Sentleger competently commanded a composite EIC and Mogul cavalry force, but we do not know the details. I assume that he employed essentially the same tactics as Wellesley on the right.

Scindia’s negotiators were still with Wellesley’s army. They had tried unsuccessfully to persuade him not to attack their master because of the armistice, but Wellesley pointed out that the armistice was not to go into effect until Scindia had complied with its terms. Instead of going fifty miles east of Ellichpoor, he had actively joined Berar. Wellesley obviously had no choice except to consider him an enemy.

Scindia’s army at Argaum was all cavalry and formed in two large divisions one behind the other. As already mentioned, Scindia’s horsemen attacked early in Stevenson’s advance. Sentleger’s cavalry may have had a part in the action. Both EIC and Mogul mounted units appear to have had light field pieces attached to them which probably opened fire in the same manner as Wellesley’s had done. They may eventually have charged, but the fighting on the left cannot have been severe. Stevenson’s two EIC cavalry regiments lost a total of two Europeans and eleven Indians wounded, one Indian killed and one missing. Scindia’s army certainly left the battlefield before Wellesley’s infantry attack in the centre had been completed.

On the other hand, when the Mahratta centre finally did break, Sentleger as senior cavalry officer present seems to have taken over Wellesley’s four British regiments as well as his own two and the Mogul horse and continued the pursuit of the unfortunate enemy infantry for two days. Thousands of Mahrattas were killed, especially during the first moonlit night. Elephants, camels, horses and bullocks, many of them laden with baggage, were captured. Wellesley himself was in the saddle until midnight. The Mysore horsemen under Bisnapah went after the enemy throughout the hours of darkness. The Mahratta allies under Goklah and Appah Dessaye joined in the next morning.

The total casualties for both British armies appear to have been 361, with only fifteen European and thirty-one Indian deaths. The Mahratta losses may have been as high as 5,000 or even 10,000. They lost all their artillery, thirty-eight pieces, and their ammunition. Argaum was a magnificent victory won at relatively small cost.

One wonders why the Mahrattas fought here at all. They had lost at Assaye when they had Scindia’s Regular Battalions instead of Berar’s against a British force half as powerful. An obvious answer is that the Mahratta generals did not know that Wellesley and Stevenson had joined forces. Bisnapah and his Mysore light cavalry had covered the junction of the two armies splendidly and screened their subsequent advance. The tall millet may have been a contributing factor.

Another answer may be Manoo Bappoo’s pride in his own regular infantry and his confidence in the Arabs. He probably had not been at Assaye and may not have seen British troops in action. Once he knew that he was opposing both Wellesley and Stevenson, his control of an enormous army may have been so faulty that a retreat from his carefully taken position was next to impossible.

The relative ease of victory should not tempt us to overlook either the sound professional performance of the British commander and his armies or the disadvantages under which they fought. As usual Wellesley’s army had marched their eighteen miles by noon and moved on at least a further four miles to Sirsoli. Most units probably covered nearly twenty-four miles before they began to fight the battle. Stevenson’s army probably covered about twenty miles. But all British units continued as required without complaint.

The British armies at Argaum did full justice to their training and their months of active campaigning. The artillery was particularly efficient; Wellesley praised both artillery commanders. But the guns were a part of infantry-artillery and cavalry-artillery teams, not a separate arm. All units handled themselves well on an exceptionally difficult battlefield. Wellesley’s two King’s infantry regiments resoundingly defeated the ill-conceived attack of the Arabs, suffering moderately severe casualties. Stevenson’s 1/6 and the 2/11 Madras defeated Scindia’s horsemen at long range; they suffered hardly at all; during the whole day only eleven sepoys were wounded. The only unit in Stevenson’s army to suffer moderately was his King’s regiment, the 94th Foot, to use its new name. It lost two killed, thirty-seven wounded and two missing.

We should look again at the slightly unusual order of Wellesley’s infantry battalions which may have contributed to the momentary panic at Sirsoli. The pickets led as usual, with two King’s half companies at their head. Harness’s Brigade under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Adams of the 78th came next, but with the battalions reversed. The 78th was at the rear, the 1/10 in the middle, and the 2/12 next to the pickets. Adams may not have realized at the beginning of the battle that he was in charge of the brigade. As mentioned earlier, Harness tried to carry out his regular duties, but Wellesley had to order him back into his palanquin. Had the 78th been in front, there would have been no panic except perhaps from six sepoy half companies. The momentary discomfiture, if it was caused by the battalion transposition, was more than made up for by the presence of Wellesley’s two battalions of Scots in the middle rather than at the ends of the line when they defeated the Arabs in the only serious infantry combat of the entire battle.

Wellesley’s personal contribution to the victory at Argaum began days before when he sensed that he and Stevenson should again move closer together. For only the fourth time in more than seven months, the two armies were in sight of each other. The first had been at Aklooss in mid-April; the second and third had been before and after Assaye.

At Parterly as at Naulniah, Wellesley was faced with the decision whether or not to attack with units which would undoubtedly not be at their best because of fatigue. Again he chose to fight immediately, because if he let the opportunity slip the enemy would surely have retired during the night. It should be clearly understood, however, that the British forces were not really over-tired. There is no indication that any unit was ineffective, and they were all in fine marching trim.

Wellesley’s personal reconnaissance before Argaum involved less riding and included nothing as dramatic as the discovery of the ‘secret ford’ at Assaye. But during his ride north, apparently along the central nullah and then probably to the east of it, he was able to get the entire battle area firmly in mind and issue his orders on that basis. His rallying of two and a half battalions of sepoys may have been of extreme importance.

Once the infantry of both armies was in position, Wellesley left them with appropriate orders under veteran commanders to take charge of the cavalry himself. He personally positioned the four regiments and gave them definite and simple instructions. He then returned to the combined infantry line because the battle would be won or lost there. He was on guard against and finally overcame the problem of the ‘canals’ which might have defeated a less able commander. In a few minutes he evolved a shift in tactics to fit the unusual circumstances the ditches presented. He accomplished with fire from both artillery and infantry what he could not do with a single shock assault. He remained at hand to see that all went well.

In spite of his illness Stevenson made significant contributions to the victory at Argaum as well as to the successful campaign which it terminated. After a quarter of a century in India he had in 1799 come under the influence and intermittent command of a man almost young enough to be his son, but he never complained and did his level best. It cannot have been easy for him to learn a new strategy and new tactics; he had grown up in the ‘God will provide’ school of logistics under commanders who moved ponderously when they moved at all. By the time of Argaum, however, he had assimilated the ideas of his mentor about precise movement, efficient staff work and the importance of detail.

Stevenson had learned neither quickly nor painlessly; Wellesley’s coaching was effective but not always pleasant. When Stevenson took counsel of his fears or allowed Mahratta brindarries to annoy him, he received prompt admonishment. But he persevered in the use of Wellesley’s advice and found that it worked. On several occasions he became audacious and beat the enemy at their own game, but he did not go too far and bring on a battle when unsupported. In fact, ‘the colonel with great prudence and propriety halted’ so that the two armies could meet at Parterly at noon on the 29th.

Stevenson’s movement towards Gawilghur – after he had equipped his army for the siege at Asseergurh – had brought on the battle at Argaum. He fought there propped up in the howdah of an elephant, but he fully deserved Wellesley’s praise; he had definitely become what is quite rare in military history, a capable subordinate commander of a semi-independent army.

British Attack French and Spanish Territory in Asia 1740-62 Part I

Joseph François Dupleix who initiated French intervention in Burma

Negrais Massacre

Coinciding precisely with Clive’s triumphal progress in Bengal, and yet utterly devoid of either glory or consequence, the Burmese or ‘Negrais Affair’ is readily consigned to oblivion. As with other things Burmese, the facts are obscure and the locations unfamiliar. Quite reasonably one could dismiss the whole business as just another example of that disastrous British obsession with off-shore properties – Pulo Run, Pulo Condore, and now the island of Negrais. Alternatively – and this was the view taken by Alexander Dalrymple, a man of whom more will be heard – Negrais was the first uncertain step towards the re-establishment of the Company’s trade in south-east Asia. It should be bracketed not with Pulo Run but with Singapore, not with Pulo Condore but with Hong Kong.

From the Company’s settlements at Masulipatnam, Madras and Calcutta, English private traders had been calling at the ports of southern Burma ever since the mid-seventeenth century. Syriam, their usual destination, was the main outlet for the Mon kingdom of Pegu which also controlled the wide Irrawaddy delta. Here rubies and lac (a resinous red dye) were sometimes available although the main attraction was Burmese teak, the finest shipbuilding material in the East. For repairing Indiamen the timber was freighted to Bombay and Calcutta while the smaller vessels operated by country traders were usually repaired and indeed built in Syriam itself. By the 1730s the volume of this business had justified the appointment of an English ‘Resident’ who although not a Company servant handled both Company and private business. His few European companions included a representative of the French Compagnie des Indes whose ships’ timbers were also repaired with Burmese teak. But there seems to have been no great hostility between the two and when in 1743 Syriam was twice sacked as a result of renewed fighting between the Mons and the up-country Burmans, both men withdrew to their parent establishments at Madras and Pondicherry.

With southern Burma in turmoil and with the European trading companies locked into their own war over Jenkins’s ear and the Austrian Succession, no further attempts were made to reopen a Burmese establishment until 1750. In that year Mon representatives appeared in Pondicherry with a proposal which Dupleix, having just handed Chanda Sahib on to the throne of the Carnatic, was happy to consider. The Mons wanted military assistance against their Burman rivals. There was the possibility of opening another grand field for French ambition. More to the point, Dupleix welcomed the proposal as a means of securing a safe haven on the opposite side of the Bay of Bengal.

The absence of harbours on the Coromandel Coast has already been stressed. With the arrival of those squadrons under Barnett (then Peyton), La Bourdonnais, and Boscawen and with the consequent inauguration of the Bay of Bengal as a theatre for naval warfare, this deficiency became critical. Every monsoon the fleets must desert their station or risk the sort of losses suffered by La Bourdonnais after the capture of Madras. Similarly every time ships needed refitting they must leave the coastal settlements to the tender mercies of the enemy and make for Dutch Trinconomalee (Sri Lanka), Mauritius or Bombay.

Under the impression that they might have found a solution, Boscawen and Lawrence had just wrenched the port of Devikottai from the Raja of Tanjore. But Devikottai proved as useless for ships of deep draught as every other inlet on The Coast. Word, therefore, that Dupleix had sent a French envoy to Pegu to negotiate for a Burmese harbour threw Madras into consternation. President Saunders wrote immediately to London and, without waiting for an answer, prepared to forestall the competition by occupying the island of Negrais.

At the south-western extremity of Burmese territory and therefore the nearest point to Madras, Negrais had been recommended by one of the numerous Englishmen engaged in private trade between The Coast and Burma. Curiously neither he nor Saunders seems to have been aware that the Company actually had a claim on the place. Sixty years previously it was to Negrais that Captain Weltden had repaired after he and Samuel White had been attacked at Mergui. Weltden had allegedly hoisted the English flag on the island and had left an inscription, beaten in tin, recording his claim. It was a pity that this memorial was not rediscovered. The memory of the Mergui massacre might have alerted the Negrais settlers to the possibility of a repeat performance.

Negrais had been chosen by Saunders on the grounds that it had potential for ‘a capacious harbour for shipping being well secured against all sorts of winds’. What he did not realize, but what the thirty-odd pioneers quickly discovered, was that it was not secured against all sorts of tides. After a few weeks of being flooded out every time a high sea and a spring tide coincided, the disgruntled and fever-ridden settlers sailed away to the mainland and the comparative comfort of Syriam.

In the meantime the Court of Directors in London had received Saunders’s letter and approved his anxiety about a French naval base in the Bay. In 1752 they wrote endorsing the Negrais settlement and in 1753, on learning that Dupleix’s envoy was in high favour at Pegu, Saunders made a second attempt to establish a settlement. This time it was on a much larger scale. Four ships were to convey the new pioneers across the Bay and two covenanted servants, one from the St Helena Council, the other from Benkulen, were to take command. The appointments were made by the directors in London who no doubt recalled the disastrous jealousies aroused when such matters were left to Madras. But it is indicative of the unpopularity of the enterprise that the Benkulen man opted out, preferring even Sumatra’s pestilential climate to waterlogged Negrais. Shipwrights and labourers had to be impressed into service; the guard of thirty-odd Europeans and seventy peons mutinied soon after arrival.

To the problems of fever and flood was added that of famine. It was hoped that the settlers would soon be either self-sufficient or able to obtain rice from the mainland. But the Burmese refused any trade and, though the island abounded in game, it was also a paradise for tigers. The settlers lived off turtles; the tigers lived off settlers. Hunt, the man from St Helena, died of dysentery, the work of fortification ground to a standstill, and the Mon authorities steadfastly refused to countenance the new settlement.

Nevertheless the disconsolate settlers, now commanded by Henry Brooke, a writer from Madras, stayed put. By 1754 the Mon-Burman war was going badly for the Mons. Disappointed in their French allies, there seemed to be a real prospect of the Mons granting, in return for military aid, not only Negrais but also the adjacent mainland port of Bassein plus extensive privileges in Syriam. The British contingent in Syriam played along with their Mon hosts; but to Saunders in Madras and to Brooke at Negrais it was now evident that they were backing a loser. When Burman troops occupied Bassein and much of the intervening Delta, Brooke therefore switched allegiance. Missions were exchanged between Negrais and Alungpaya, the Burman sovereign, who was then encamped beside the mighty Shwe Dagôn pagoda at a place which he renamed Yangon (Rangoon). The Company moved its Syriam establishment to the new capital and by 1756 both Company and private ships were calling there for repairs.

While the storm clouds gathered in Bengal, Burma seemingly basked in sunshine. At last the British had backed a winner and, within a month of Siraj-ud-Daula’s capture off Fort William, Alungpaya had taken Syriam, the French had been expelled, their agent roasted alive, and the British were constructing a fort at Bassein which, with a fine sense of Highland symmetry, they called Fort Augustus. Amazingly for a sovereign who considered himself more than a match for the Moghul, Alungpaya had even committed his favourable sentiments to writing by opening a correspondence with George II, or rather ‘The King of England, Madras, Bengal, Fort St David and Devikottai’. In a letter which took the form of a tray of gold covered with Burmese characters there was barely room to do more than recite the titles of the writer. But the ‘King of Burma, Thailand and Cambodia’, ‘the Lord of the Mines of Rubies, Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron and Amber’, the Lord, too, of ‘the White Elephant, the Spotted Elephant and the Red Elephant’ not to mention ‘the Vital Golden Lance’, many golden palaces, sundry other kingdoms, etc, in short ‘the Descendant of the Nation of the Sun’ did positively transfer the desired site at Bassein and looked forward to ‘a constant union and amity with His Majesty of England, Madras, Bengal [etc] and his Royal Family and subjects’.

Perhaps if this letter had received the gracious response it undoubtedly deserved, lives could have been saved. It did indeed reach George II but no answer whatsoever did either he or the Company send; the last that is heard of the priceless missive is an unseemly wrangle about whether the tray had originally been encrusted with rubies and, if so, what had happened to them. By opening a correspondence with a mere earth-ling the lord of all those elephants had chanced his solar dignity. It was not something he did lightly. In the following year he put his seal to a treaty of friendship with the Company but thereafter, as the months slipped by without so much as an acknowledgement from the Hanoverian, he began to take an exceedingly dim view of British protestations of amity.

There were, though, other sources of friction. British ships putting into Rangoon for repairs and cargoes had fallen foul of Alungpaya’s officials and had even joined the Mons in several abortive attempts to storm the place. The Bassein/Negrais settlers were not held responsible for these outrages but, under the terms of the new treaty, Alungpaya did expect them to supply him with the guns and powder which had so often been promised. Yet, excepting the odd presentation cannon and a few barrels of powder, of arms – as of answer – came there none. Worse still, it appeared that the Company was now keen to wash its hands of both Alungpaya and his country. In Madras Saunders had been replaced by the more sceptical Pigot, in Negrais Brooke had been relieved by a man who succumbed to the climate almost immediately, and in London, with rumours rife of Siraj’s advance on Calcutta, the directors had espoused a retrenchment which included withdrawal from Negrais. News of Plassey failed to change the corporate mind. ‘Schemes of this kind,’ they wrote in 1758, ‘must be deferred till more tranquil times.’ It was, after all, year two of the Seven Years War.

But it was also year six of the Negrais establishment which, against all the odds, now boasted some substantial buildings, plentiful stocks of teak and a modest population. A partial evacuation was effected in April 1759 but there remained a small guard under Ensign Hope and a considerable civilian population. In view of frequent French visits to the Bay of Bengal it seemed prudent to maintain a presence. Later in the same year Captain Southby came ashore from the Victoria as Hope’s replacement. His arrival coincided with that of an East Indiaman in search of provisions plus three small Burmese vessels accompanying the local Governor. October was one of Negrais’s better months. While the Victoria unloaded and the Indiaman took on water, Hope and Southby entertained the Governor ashore with two days of feasting and compliments. Of Portuguese extraction, he seemed to appreciate the hospitality and to enjoy the company.

His hosts were thus totally off guard when at the farewell reception the Governor’s Burmese escort suddenly bolted all the doors and drew their daggers. Hope and Southby were cut to pieces immediately. Of the other European officers and guards only one escaped and only two were taken prisoner. The rest were butchered along with countless Indians. If the figure of sixty men and four women is correct for those taken off by the boats, the carnage must have been at least three times that of Plassey. The settlement was then looted and burnt to the ground. A week later Captain Alves of the Victoria, while remaining on station to warn off other British shipping, went ashore for a last look. The corpses were now rotting, the tigers gorged, the fires out. Alves, then on the threshold of a long and intriguing career as a private trader, was profoundly disturbed. It was ‘one of the most shocking sights I ever beheld’.

What, if anything, lay behind the Negrais Massacre is unknown. Alungpaya would deny all responsibility and, nine months later, Alves would travel unmolested right up to Mandalay to secure the release of the prisoners. One can only bracket the mindless carnage with all those other tropical affrays in which the degree of premeditation is as unfathomable as the degree of provocation.

Happily no such uncertainty surrounded British thinking. The object of Company policy over Negrais had been to prevent the French from gaining a naval base in Burma and so supremacy in the Bay of Bengal. In the event Alungpaya had done the job for them. His sack of Syriam in 1757, which had resulted in the extinction of the French interest, coincided almost exactly with Watson’s bombardment of Chandernagar. Taken together, these two reverses meant that henceforth the French could operate in Indian waters only at a severe disadvantage.

It also meant that for the British Negrais became superfluous. Significantly the first, partial evacuation of the settlement had been carried out from Calcutta and it was from there that Hope, Southby and Alves all hailed. The Burmese adventure had been Madras’s initiative and Madras could no longer support it. Alungpaya had been disappointed in his expectation of military assistance, and the Negrais settlers had been left to fend for themselves, because Madras had neither the men nor the matchlocks to spare. Indeed when in 1758 the orders for withdrawal arrived from London, Fort St George was itself under siege. The Seven Years War had at last been joined in India.

In this war, as in that of the Austrian Succession, military manoeuvres in India would be restricted to the Carnatic, although with a related campaign in Hyderabad. And as in the old war so in the new, the French opened proceedings by attacking Forts St David (Cuddalore) and St George (Madras) while the British closed them, three years later, with a grand assault on Pondicherry. This helpful resemblance, though, is superficial; for the important point is that in every instance the outcome was different. This time Fort St David was attacked first and taken, Fort St George held out, Pondicherry did not. The result was therefore decisive. French ambitions in India collapsed. It was the end of a chapter, not the beginning.

The outcome owed much to the availability of supplies, troops and above all funds from Calcutta. If Madras’s troops had saved Bengal in 1756-7, Bengal’s rupees saved Madras in 1758-60. It was not just a question of repaying a favour. Had the French made good their second bid for hegemony in the Carnatic, Bengal itself would have been threatened. Clive was well aware of this and in not returning to Madras after the recapture of Calcutta – as he had promised and as Madras desperately urged – he took a terrible risk. It paid off thanks to the heroics of the squadron under Admiral Pocock, Watson’s successor. Not for the first time, Clive’s reputation was saved by the Royal Navy.

More even than in the earlier war, seapower proved crucial. Three naval battles, each more decisive than the last, offset the French superiority in land forces and dictated the course of the struggle ashore. As in the Americas so in India; it was courtesy of the King’s navy that Britain emerged from the Seven Years War with a global empire. Any narrative, therefore, that presumes to disentangle the Company’s history from that of the British Navy, or indeed of British India, may be excused from treating the final phase of the Anglo-French struggle in any detail.

British Attack French and Spanish Territory in Asia 1740-62 Part II

Fort St George on the Coromandel Coast. Belonging to the East India Company of England 1754

Briefly then, the French took the field first. In September 1757 the first reinforcements to reach India since the outbreak of war had been landed at Pondicherry. Because of the imminent monsoon, the fleet which brought them immediately scurried back to Mauritius. Without a fleet, the French held their offensive. In February Pocock’s fleet arrived on The Coast from Bengal and in April a second French fleet under the Comte d’Ache made its way up to Pondicherry. Pocock managed to intercept and just about came off best in a very untidy encounter. He failed, though, to disable the French vessels which duly landed a second regiment, a train of artillery, and the Comte de Lally as Commander-in-Chief and President of all the French settlements.

With d’Ache remaining on The Coast to distract Pocock, de Lally immediately took the offensive. His now formidable army crossed the dunes to Fort St David, quickly drove the garrison from straggling Cuddalore, and began the laborious ritual of constructing breaching batteries to pound the Fort. The British held out for less than a month. It was a great disappointment considering the supposed strength of the place and, true to form, the directors blamed their servants; ‘the whole siege was one scene of disorder, confusion, mismanagement, and total inattention to every branch’.

Such bluster carries little conviction. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, and quickly deserted by most of their native troops, the Fort St David councillors had little chance. They had counted on Pocock coming to their rescue but adverse winds prevented his approach. With four batteries trained on their walls and with insufficient troops to mount a foray, they wisely capitulated. De Lally razed the place, then took Devikottai, and finally staged a triumphal march through Pondicherry. Apart from some insignificant garrisons at places like Trichy and Arcot, all that now hindered a continuation of his triumphal progress north to Hyderabad, de Bussy and Bengal was Fort St George.

De Lally favoured an immediate advance and had this been possible, Madras might well have fallen. But no siege could be effective with Pocock’s squadron still in the offing. De Lally therefore ordered d’Ache to engage it. D’Ache refused, probably because he preferred to cruise in search of the year’s fleet of Indiamen. This meant a four-month delay until the October monsoon would oblige Pocock to desert his station. De Lally passed the time with an attack on the still independent ‘Tanjoreens’, a traditional expedient for raising funds; Madras readied itself for action.

Thus far the British had not been wholly passive observers of French progress. Trichy had seen yet more manoeuvres as a French force invested the fort and was then drawn off by a largely sepoy army under Captain John Caillaud of the Company. Meanwhile Fort St George itself was being ringed with the whole Vaubanesque vocabulary of ravelins and lunettes, glacis and bastions. The vulnerable west front was said now to be ‘pretty well secured’ (Ives) with more angles and faces than the much-cut Pitt diamond. Partly overgrown and partly over-built, they are yet visible in today’s Fort St George, the most impressive relic of the Company (as opposed to the Raj) in India. But as well as an acute shortage of troops thanks to Clive’s absence in Bengal, Madras was hamstrung by an incompetent commander in the bumbling person of Colonel John Aldercron of the 39th. This was the regiment brought to Madras by Watson in 1756, the first Royal regiment to serve in India. Its artillery had been siphoned off to Bengal by Clive and for the next three years the efforts of the Madras Council ‘were directed to getting the use of Aldercron’s troops without Aldercron’ (Biddulph). They succeeded when in 1758, as the entire regiment was recalled to England, half its members signed up in the Company’s forces. At about the same time the first detachments of a new regiment, His Majesty’s 64th under the able Colonel Draper, landed at Madras. With Stringer Lawrence still at the head of the Company’s troops and Draper leading the royal troops, Madras awaited de Lally’s army of 6000 with a garrison of 4000, ten times that of 1746.

Meanwhile Pocock had at last cornered the reluctant d’Ache. Off Negapatnam – where else? – the British won a victory which, if not exactly resounding, confirmed d’Ache’s anxieties. Taking this engagement with the previous one, he had suffered 900 dead and wounded to Pocock’s 300 while his ships, though still afloat, stood badly in need of repairs. Nothing would now stop him, not even a Council of War, from withdrawing to Mauritius. He limped away in September. In so far as Pocock was also obliged to withdraw ahead of the monsoon, it did not materially affect the balance of power.

But it did mean that de Lally, unlike La Bourdonnais, had to reach Madras overland. It was not Lawrence’s intention to contest this advance but with seventy miles between the French capital and the English, it was obvious that their supply line would be vulnerable. Accordingly a small British force was left to hold Chingleput, a strategic fort twenty miles south of Madras. De Lally debated whether to take it but decided that he could afford neither the men nor the time. The monsoon was slowing his progress and, even without fighting, it was 12 December 1758 before he finally entered Madras’s Black Town.

The siege now began in earnest – but with a British offensive. Learning that the French troops had discovered Black Town’s main distillery, Draper deemed the moment ripe for action. Six hundred men with a couple of guns charged out of one of the fort’s gates and, having terrorized the township with a militarily pointless but psychologically useful manoeuvre, charged back through another. They lost both their guns and sustained heavy losses; but so did the French.

In the event this puzzling action proved to be the only serious engagement of the entire siege. De Lally’s batteries opened fire in January but the new defences stood up well to the heavy bombardment. Even when a breach was made, so properly contrived and so hotly defended were those ravelins and lunettes that no escalade was deemed possible. Siege warfare, like the art of fortification, depended heavily on convention. Each side knew what to expect of the other and, as the shot and shell whistled overhead, each was busy underground digging mines and counter-mines. Certain actions were, however, taboo. In the midst of hostilities de Lally had occasion to complain to Pigot, the Fort St George President, that someone had presumed to fire on his headquarters. It was, of course, a terrible mistake. Pigot had been under the impression that de Lally had based himself in the Capuchin church. Obviously he was wrong. ‘If you will do the honour to inform me at which pagoda [place of worship] you fix your headquarters, all due respect will be paid them.’ After all, ‘in war mutual civilities and mutual severities may be expected’.

De Lally, a stickler for the civilities if not the severities, had convinced himself that under the rules of engagement the British ought to have handed over Chingleput. In fact they had reinforced it. By February Caillaud (a Company officer in spite of his name) and the sepoys from Trichy had joined the Chingleput garrison and had advanced almost to San Thomé on the outskirts of Madras. A determined French assault failed to dislodge them; equally Caillaud was incapable of breaking through the French cordon. But once again the besiegers were beginning to feel like the besieged.

This impression was reinforced by news from further afield. Although Clive still declined to desert Bengal’s rich political and commercial pickings, he had at last dispatched a considerable force by sea to the Northern Circars. These were the coastal districts of Hyderabad north of Masulipatnam which had been ceded to de Bussy by the Nizam. The expedition, under Colonel Francis Forde, was intended as a diversionary tactic to prevent French troops being moved down to the Carnatic.

In the event Forde quickly exceeded these modest expectations. De Lally had obligingly recalled de Bussy to assist in operations against Madras. The ablest of French generals thus became a disenchanted and obstructive subordinate while his conquests were squandered by the less experienced Marquis de Conflans. In early December, as de Lally came in sight of Madras, a pitched battle was being fought near Rajahmundry in which the British and their local ally won a decisive victory. Three months later Forde would take Masulipatnam and sign a treaty with the Nizam for the expulsion of all French troops and the cession of the Northern Circars to the Company.

For the hard-pressed garrison of Fort St George still more cheering news arrived from Anjengo in late January. Pocock, who had been in Bombay, had met up with the fleet of Indiamen conveying the rest of Draper’s regiment from England and was now rounding Sri Lanka. Within a week the first vessel arrived off Madras with ammunition and treasure; and on the evening of 6 February six more ships were ‘descried in the north-east standing towards the road’. They anchored off the fort that night. Next day the garrison woke to the sight of de Lally’s entire army decamping towards the west.

‘Joy and curiosity carried out everyone to view and contemplate the works from which they had received so much molestation for…42 days,’ writes Orme. With that remorseless concern for detail that distinguishes his work, Orme claims that the fort had fired 26,554 rounds from its cannon and 7,502 shells from its mortars. 1,990 hand grenades had been heaved from the battlements, 200,000 cartridges fired from the muskets. His casualty count gives 934 as the dead and wounded amongst the British but ‘the loss of men sustained by the French army is no where acquired’. ‘Thus ended this siege, without doubt the most strenuous and regular that had ever been carried on in India.’ Orme, who had devoted seventy strenuous and regular pages to it, heaved a sigh of satisfaction. ‘We have detailed it, in the hopes that it may remain an example and incitement.’

Although the tide had turned, the British were slow to take advantage. Before moving against Pondicherry they needed more troops – the new arrivals barely offset those lost during the siege – and undisputed command of the sea. In September d’Ache and his fleet reappeared on The Coast. Pocock, for the third and last time, moved to attack. The result was much as before only more so. D’Ache limped into Pondicherry and two weeks later sailed back to Mauritius never to visit The Coast again. In the following month Eyre Coote, Clive’s second in command at Plassey, arrived with a new battalion from home.

With de Lally’s unpopularity and Pondicherry’s insolvency provoking open mutiny amongst the French troops, Coote moved rapidly to the kill. In January 1760 he routed the enemy at the battle of Wandiwash, half way to Pondicherry, and by May had reduced all the outlying French garrisons and had begun the blockade of Pondicherry. In desperation de Lally looked for allies among the native powers. His best hope, a formidable army under the adventurer Hyder Ali from Mysore, abandoned him in August. In the same month Coote also received reinforcements but of a more reliable nature. Among the new batch of recruits sent from home was ‘part of a Highland regiment supplied by the government’. Evidently excited by these first Highlanders ever to serve in India, Orme was moved to record the event in a sentence of such puzzling obscurity that only unedited quotation can do it justice.

These mighty aids [the Highlanders] witnessed in this quarter of the globe, as equal efforts, wheresoever necessary, in every other, the superior energy of that mind, who possessing equally the confidence of his sovereign and the nation, conducted the arduous and extensive war in which they were engaged against their great and only rival.

The Highlanders had little opportunity to exercise ‘the superior energy of mind’ because Pondicherry, unlike Madras, was to succumb more to starvation than bombardment. The blockade depended heavily on the British fleet which made only the briefest of monsoon excursions to Trinconomalee and was back off the city by December. There, like La Bourdonnais before Madras, it was overtaken by a cyclone; several ships were sunk, many more dismasted. De Lally hailed the event as his deliverance and, had d’Ache reappeared, the blockade must have collapsed. But d’Ache was still in Mauritius and, as Pocock’s scattered men-of-war returned to their station, French hopes evaporated. On 16 January 1761 the emaciated garrison finally surrendered. Not a cat, not a rat, not a crow had survived the ravenous attentions of the besieged. They marched out from a ghost town and the British engineers moved in to destroy its fortifications once and for all. Although peace in Europe would eventually restore both Pondicherry and Chandernagar to their rightful owners, they would never again constitute a threat to British supremacy.

Begun with a pre-emptive snip in Burma, the process of clearing France’s exuberant growth in Indian waters had continued with a lop in Bengal and a veritable felling programme in the Circars and the Carnatic. It ended with a cosmetic flourish when Mahé, the only French establishment on the Malabar Coast, was overwhelmed by an expedition from neighbouring Tellicherry.

But the British were not to have it all their own way. Britannia, in the words of the song written by Thomas Arne a few years earlier and now lustily sung by every Tilbury tar, ‘ruled the waves’ but only around India; elsewhere Britons were all too easily ‘made slaves’. In 1760 Benkulen and its satellite trading posts on Sumatra’s west coast were ‘shamelessly’ surrendered to a French flotilla; and in the same year the Company’s men were driven from their unhappy home at Gombroon in the Persian Gulf.

Even the trade with China was at risk to French warships lurking in the Straits of Malacca. Taken along with the withdrawal from Burma, the temporary loss of Benkulen highlighted the Company’s weakness east of India. Henceforth the protection of the immensely valuable China trade would become something of an obsession occasioning a significant reawakening of interest in almost every shoreline in south-east Asia. Many and often bizarre would be the solutions propounded. But few were quite as improbable and sensational as the first, a major offensive against the Philippines in 1762. It was launched, like so many of the later eastern initiatives, from Madras.

British naval squadron in the 1760s: Capture of Manila 6th October 1762 in the Seven Years War: picture by Dominic Serres

The Philippines Expedition

The Philippines still belonged to Spain, her consolation prize for losing out to Portugal in the spice race, and Spain had thus far stood neutral in the Seven Years War. But when, in 1761, after the breakdown of Anglo-French peace talks, the Bourbons renewed their Family Compact, Whitehall detected a hostile alliance and formally declared war on Madrid. Indeed, plans for an offensive had been hatched well ahead of the actual declaration and predictably they were directed at Madrid’s colonial empire. In a two-pronged attack Pocock, lately returned to England from his tussles with d’Ache, was to storm Havana while on the other side of the world Draper, who had left Madras immediately after the siege, was to lead an assault on Manila.

The Philippines expedition seems to have been the brainchild of Lord Anson, now First Lord of the Admiralty. Twenty years previously, in the War of Jenkins’s Ear, Anson had rounded Cape Horn, attacked Spanish possessions in Peru, and then crossing the Pacific had taken a Spanish galleon laden with Mexican silver off the coast of Luzon (the Philippines). One or two such galleons reached Manila every year giving the mother country an access to the trade of China, India, and the archipelago which, though small by comparison with the turnover of the English Company, was nevertheless immensely profitable. Anson’s idea was to close this Spanish trapdoor into ‘the eastern treasure house’ by occupying Manila.

To that extent the whole scheme was a product of Whitehall’s global strategy and not of the Company’s ambitions – a distinction that becomes increasingly relevant in the late eighteenth century. The first that the directors heard of it was when Anson divulged the plan to Sulivan, the Company’s chairman, in December 1761. The declaration of war came a week later and just seven weeks after that Draper and the British contingent sailed from Plymouth. If the idea was to take Manila by surprise, the effect was also to take the Company by surprise. The Philippines undoubtedly lay within the area covered by the Company’s trading monopoly and since the Company had come to rely on the British government for military assistance in India, the government argued that it had a right to reciprocal assistance for any national schemes within that monopoly area. Thus Draper was not only to find ships and troops from among the Royal forces in India but also to enlist Company troops, artillery and transports.

Time did not permit of an exploration of this novel argument but, by way of sugaring the pill, it was emphasized that Manila, once taken, would be handed over to the Company. The capture of Pondicherry, like the recapture of Calcutta, had occasioned an unseemly row between Royal and Company officers. It was important to reassure the Company on this score and, lest Manila should be handed back to Spain at the end of the war, there was also mention of a second base, ideally on the southern island of Mindanao, as an alternative settlement.

The directors, though, remained distinctly cool. As will appear, they had reason to believe that they already had an option on a settlement in the vicinity of the Philippines. But informed that their co-operation would be an ‘acceptable testimony of their due sense of the King’s most gracious attention to their interests’ during the struggle with de Lally, they could hardly refuse. They did voice serious doubts, particularly about depleting either their forces or their shipping in India; and they also made it clear that, whatever the commercial compensations Manila might or might not afford, they expected their assistance to be paid for.

General William Draper, British army commander at the Capture of Manila 6th October 1762 in the Seven Years War

These reservations were shared by President Pigot and Colonel Lawrence when Draper reached Madras in July 1762. Although such worries were genuine enough, a further concern that weighed heavily with the Madras Council was the likely effect of the expedition on Madras’s private trade with Manila. As with Burma so with the Philippines; English trade in a variety of guises had been reaching Manila ever since the middle of the seventeenth century. By Governor Pitt’s time one or two private vessels had been sailing for the Philippines every year with Indian piece goods and returning to Madras with Mexican silver. This invaluable source of silver must dry up if the Spanish were ousted from Manila. It was not obvious that the indigenous produce of the Philippines would ever sustain a like trade, nor that whatever security a British Manila might afford to the China trade would offset this loss.

Even now, as Draper frantically assembled his armada in Madras, most of the local councillors, his erstwhile comrades-in-arms from the days of the siege, were more concerned for a vessel that had just left for Manila. On board her was £70,000 worth of their private trade and, according to Draper, ‘they were afraid that the venture would suffer by the loss of Manila and took any method in their power to discourage the attempt’.

Faced with what he chose to construe as wilful sabotage, Draper was able to obtain from the Company only three small transports, 600 sepoys, and 300 European troops most of whom were deserters from the ranks of de Lally’s army. ‘Such banditti had never been seen since the time of Spartacus’, he observed. The Company did, however, provide him with a sufficient complement of civilians to form a Manila council and take over the administration and commerce of the place. They included Henry Brooke, lately of Negrais, presumably because of his experience of pioneering. Draper preferred to rely on the officers of his own (Royal) regiment, which seems now to have included some of those recently tamed Highlanders. They would be the backbone of the expedition and when he sailed from Madras at the end of July, he was still quietly optimistic. ‘Tho’ we cannot do all we wish,’ he wrote by way of valedictory, ‘we are determined to do all we can and try we will.’

Six months later he was back, en route to England, with news of a wholly satisfactory outcome. Word of the war having been slow to reach the extremities of the Hispanic world, the fleet had sailed into Manila Bay unopposed. Unopposed the British troops had been landed at Ermita, just a mile from the fort (and today the heart of Manila’s nightlife), and against only token resistance the first battery had been set up. A week later the first breach was successfully stormed. British and Indian losses had been ‘trifling’ – barely thirty fatalities – and under the terms of surrender the Spanish were to pay an indemnity of £1 million. In addition, one of the Acapulco galleons, a gigantic vessel of some 2000 tons, had been taken. And finally Manila had reluctantly been handed over to the Company. ‘In short’, announced the jubilant Draper, ‘it is a lucky business.’

Unfortunately the luck ran out with Draper’s early departure. The Company would hold Manila and claim sovereignty over the Philippines for only eighteen months. But that was long enough for some of the troops to mutiny, long enough for the Governor to fall out with his own council, with the military and the navy, and long enough for a Spanish-Filipino resistance so to harry the British that they scarcely dared venture outside the fort. It was with a sense of relief that in April 1764 the place was finally handed back to Spain in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Paris. All along the Company had been developing its own ideas about how best to support the China trade and re-establish its interests in the south-east Asian archipelago. They did not include the occupation of Manila and it was entirely appropriate that the man who eventually stepped in, when the Company’s governor had resigned in disgust, to hand back Manila was also the moving spirit behind these other initiatives. His name was Alexander Dalrymple.


c.1915–19 A photograph from 1915–19 of Jamrud Fort on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass. The fort was built in 1836–37 by the Sikh general Hari Singh Nalwa, a fort builder, after conquering the area from local tribesmen. Built with thick walls, the poorly protected fort was captured by the Afghans later in 1837. Jamrud later served as a British base, notably for operations in Afghanistan in 1878–79 and in the Tirah Campaign of 1897–98. It was the collecting station for the Khyber tolls and a base of the Khyber Rifles, an auxiliary unit for the army raised among local tribesmen.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837), the well-known Sikh general, proposed to build a big fort at Jamrud. The proposal was opposed; nevertheless the foundation of the fort that has survived was laid by General Hari Singh Nalwa on 6 Poh 1893 Sambat (18 December 1836) and the construction was completed in 54 days. “Jamrud…noted for its fort built with 10 feet (3 m) thick walls c.1836 by the Sikh Hari Singh Nalwa, one of Ranjit Singh’s generals, was originally named Fatehgarh to commemorate the Sikh victory over the disunited tribes.”

The establishment of unrivalled rule in the Punjab did not, however, provide for the removal of all threats: the Afghans were still in charge of the frontier and regularly took the opportunity to raid Sikh territory. In these early years of the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was riven with civil war as the multitudinous grandsons of Ahmad Shah Abdali fought each other for the throne. The kingdom descended into a period of vicious scheming in which princes were killed or blinded by their own brothers and no depravity was unexplored in the pursuit of the crown. Some of these royal pretenders sought succour from Ranjit, he being the new regional power most possessed of the capacity to assist their ambitions; one such supplicant was Shah Shujah, for a time king in Kabul before being deposed by Dost Muhammad. Ranjit agreed to ensure the safety of Shah Shujah, who then went into comfortable exile in British territory; the price of his rescue was the Koh-i-Noor. One of the great symbols of power in northern India was now in Sikh hands.

The other, however, was not: the Khyber Pass remained in Afghan territory, despite regular outbreaks of fighting between the Sikhs and their neighbours. In these first decades of the century, Peshawar changed hands several times, and the Sikh armies had some successes, but while the critical points of the frontier were out of their control, security would be elusive. It was not until late in the reign of Ranjit Singh that an attempt was made to fortify a border outside Peshawar in the hope of ending costly Afghan incursions. In 1836, the powerful Sikh general Hari Singh took charge of revitalising the frontier protections and built a fort at Jamrud, just outside Peshawar on the Khyber road. The rounded, pinkish castle that stands there today is of later British construction, but the value of a fortification at the site is clear, commanding as it does the approach to the mouth of the Khyber Pass.

Immediately upon its completion, Jamrud Fort became an alarm that set the Afghans on a path to war. The King of Kabul, Dost Muhammad, understood the fortifying of the frontier to mean that the Sikhs were planning an invasion of his territory and the capture of the Khyber Pass. Accordingly, he levied his forces – declaring a jihad against the infidel Sikhs – and advanced through the Khyber Pass in the spring of 1837, placing Jamrud Fort under siege on 23 April. Although the Sikh forces in the fort were under strength, and Hari Singh lay ill in Peshawar, stout resistance prevented the Afghan army taking the fort, even after heavy artillery bombardment; around 1,000 Sikhs held off an Afghan force of perhaps 25,000. Such an imbalance in numbers, however, made the Sikh position dangerous, as the Afghan army cut off all supplies of food and water and continued their shelling of the fort. The situation began to look hopeless. Sikh commanders inside the besieged stronghold met and decided that their only chance was to get a message to Hari Singh in Peshawar and trust in his bringing reinforcements to their aid. A volunteer was sought for the hazardous mission of taking a despatch through the siege lines, and it was a woman, Harsharan Kaur, who came forward. Accepting the risk of her death, Harsharan made her prayers, disguised herself as a dog, and set out in the middle of the night, walking on all fours, picking her way carefully through the Afghan encampments.

Against the odds, she was successful, and arrived in Peshawar several hours later: Hari Singh immediately ordered the cannon shot that would tell the besieged that rescue was on the way, and raised himself from his sickbed to set out to lift the siege. With his forces, Hari Singh advanced on Jamrud and heavy fighting took place outside the fort; eventually, the Afghan army began to lose ground and the Sikhs gained the advantage. Forced to raise the siege, the Afghans retreated the short distance into the Khyber. Once inside the Pass, the natural defensive excellence of the rocky cliffs provided refuge and respite for the retreating army, and hard fighting followed: for some time, both the Sikh and Afghan forces were static, none making headway amid such terrain. Eventually – despite the death of Hari Singh during this fighting – the Afghan forces withdrew and the Khyber Pass was finally in Sikh hands.

With their frontier now fixed upon the natural mountain border of the Subcontinent, the Sikhs had secured their kingdom and reached their apogee under Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Through long years of chaos – introduced in part by invasions through the Khyber Pass – Sikh rule had come to triumph, a native Indian state emerging from internal decay and outside invasion, just as the Mauryan Empire had done more than two thousand years before. This success was, however, long in coming but short in life: Ranjit Singh had taken the Sikhs to their most glorious days but his kingdom would not long outlast him. Just a few years after his death in 1839, Sikh rule in the Punjab was threatened by the rising new power in India: the British Raj.

Portuguese in the Indian Ocean

Under Malik Ayaz’s stewardship Diu at 1500 had risen to be one of the great ports in India. About one half of his income came from the port. This wealth and Diu’s strategic location enabled the Malik to acquire a considerable degree of independence from his overlord, the sultan of Gujarat. His initial reaction to the Portuguese seems to have been similar to that of many other independent or quasi-independent rulers of Indian port cities: he was happy for them to come and trade in his port on a basis similar to that of all the other foreign merchants there. As a Portuguese chronicler noted, he was always in these early years pressing them to send to Diu ‘two ships loaded with copper and spices so that he could trade with us’ (Fernao Lopes de Castanheda, Historia do Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos Portugueses, 9 vols., Coimbra, 1924-33, II, lxxxv). In vain: we have noted Portugal’s designs. Malik Ayaz had to choose between resistance or submission. Co-operation in peaceful trade was not offered.

Resistance took two forms, military and diplomatic. In 1508 he helped the Egyptian fleet under Amir Husain defeat and kill the viceroy’s son, D. Louren^o d’Almeida, at Chaul. But he feared reprisals, so ‘on the one hand he wrote letters of condolence to the viceroy and on the other he fortified the city, as one who expected repayment for the help he had given Amir Husain, which repayment was not long delayed’ (Joao de Barros, Asia, 4 vols., Lisbon, 1945-6, 11, ii, 9). The viceroy at Diu in 1509 achieved a notable victory over the combined Egyptian-Gujarati fleet.

From then on Malik Ayaz concentrated on guileful defence. In 1513 he was able to out-manoeuvre Albuquerque’s attempt to establish a fort in Diu. Seven years later another Portuguese reconnaissance was defeated, as were Portuguese attempts to go above him and get his overlord, the sultan of Gujarat, to allow them a fort. At his death in 1522 he could be well satisfied, for he left a still independent and prosperous Diu to be governed by his son.

Diu’s downfall came because it was sucked into closer control by the sultanate of Gujarat. In 1526 a new ruler, Bahadur Shah, came to power. He was able to acquire much closer control over Diu, and change its governors at will. Meanwhile from 1530 he was involved in sporadic warfare with the Portuguese, who had become desperate to conquer Diu and so close it off as a haven for the ‘illegal’ spice trade. An open Portuguese attack in that year was beaten off thanks to Diu’s formidable defences. Five years later Bahadur’s situation had changed radically. He had been defeated by the Mughal emperor Humayon, and now desperately needed Portuguese help. In 1535, fatefully, he allowed them to build a fort at Diu. Two attempts by Gujarati forces in 1538 and 1546 to retake the port failed, and by the mid 1550s at least the Portuguese had finally achieved their main objective: all Gujarati ships leaving the great ports of the Gulf of Cambay had now to call at Diu, pay customs duties, and take a cartaz which obliged them to call at Diu again on the way back and again pay duties to the Portuguese. This was a very substantial accomplishment indeed. Nor was this Portuguese control threatened when Gujarat was incorporated into the Mughal empire in 1572.

Portuguese Superiority

One rather different case study can be used to complete this analysis of Indian reactions to the Portuguese. It concerns artillery, one of several areas where they did have an advantage and an impact.

Portugal’s important victories, such as the conquests of Goa and Malacca, the defeat of Amir Husain in 1509, the defences of Diu in 1538 and 1546, and their general superiority in naval warfare, need some explaining, for the Portuguese were operating with a comparative handful of men. A really big expedition would still include only about 2000 or 3000 Portuguese and mestizos. Typically these would be backed up by an at least equal number of local auxiliaries, while the ships on which they travelled would also be primarily crewed by Indians. In the whole empire, from Mozambique to Macao, there may have been a maximum of 10,000 men, Portuguese or Eurasian, available for military service at any one time. There were also complaints that the quality of soldiers sent out from Portugal declined during the century, so that at the end they were mere scum: beggars, jailbirds, and people taken forcibly off the streets of Lisbon. The brittleness of Portugal’s land defences was revealed in 1570 when a concerted attack on Portuguese areas (in part provoked by the Portuguese) from the rulers of Calicut, Bijapur, and Ahmadnagar was beaten off with great difficulty; indeed the Portuguese fort near Calicut, at Chale, was lost.

Portuguese success was based both on the fact that, except in 1570, they were never faced with united opposition from local powers, and on naval superiority. The first is obvious enough. There is no doubt that had the full weight of Deccan armies been turned on their areas in the Konkan and Kanara, in co-ordination with Mughal attacks in Gujarat, then the Portuguese could have been driven out. However most of the time Portuguese activities did not threaten the interests of these land-based states.

The reason why the Portuguese were successful in naval battles, and so could supply besieged forts like Diu from the sea, is also obvious enough. Their ships were better and, crucially, they had artillery on them. At first the Portuguese were confronted by galleys, or large merchant ships which carried soldiers but no cannon. These ships, whether oared or not, were comparatively flimsy because all they needed to be able to do was cruise before the monsoon winds in the Indian Ocean. But the Portuguese ships had to be able to sail from Europe to India, and to withstand much harsher weather.

The key was the cannon on the ships. Artillery had been developed during the fourteenth century in Europe, and was used on ships by the end of this century. In Asia generally crude cannon were occasionally used on land in the fourteenth century, and much more widely later: they played a crucial role in Babur’s victories in 1526 which established the Mughal empire. But it does seem that European cannon were better cast, and European gunners more skilful: hence the use of both when available by Indian states. The problem was that the concept of using them on ships at sea was not known when the Portuguese irrupted into the Indian Ocean, partly because Indian Ocean ships, being usually sewn not nailed, were too rickety to survive the recoil of cannon. Here lies the prime reason for their fast early successes. The Portuguese, indeed, were well aware of this advantage. From the very start they were routinely instructed not to board an enemy, but rather to stand off and, using artillery, slaughter the enemy with impunity.

The response of Indian rulers to this situation was a complex one. The advantages of cannon were early demonstrated, as an account of Cabral’s voyage in 1500 makes clear. While his fleet was in Calicut the zamorin asked him to capture a coastal ship. Cabral agreed, and the zamorin sent along a Muslim agent to watch how the Portuguese fared. Cabral sent off a caravel armed with a large bombard and sixty or seventy men. After two days they caught up with the local ship,

. . . and asked them if they wished to surrender. The Moors began to laugh because they were numerous, and their ship was very large, and they began to shoot arrows. And when the captain of the caravel saw this, he ordered the artillery fired, so that they struck the said ship, and it surrendered at once . .. The king (zamorin) marvelled greatly that so small a caravel and with so few people could take so large a ship in which were three hundred men at arms. (The Voyage of Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil and India, London, 1937, p. 78).

This demonstration, and later Portuguese bombardments of his capital from the sea, made the zamorin stop marvelling and start catching up. In 1503 two Milanese cannon makers deserted the Portuguese and joined up with the zamorin. In three years they cast 300 cannon, and taught local people how to make and use artillery. By 1506 the zamorin had a fleet of 200 ships, protected by bales of cotton in the gunwales and carrying cannon on board.

Despite this the zamorin and other Indian rulers proved unable to challenge formal Portuguese naval dominance in the sixteenth century. Geoffrey Parker has provided the best explanation for this. Their ships were not strong enough to withstand an artillery bombardment from the Portuguese, nor to absorb the recoil of large ordinance. There was however no real reason why Portuguese-style ships could not have been built by Asian rulers. It was just that this would not have been cost-effective. It was cheaper to take cartazes and so not need to arm one’s ships. If the Portuguese failed to honour the protection they had sold, Asian rulers often could retaliate on land. As Parker neatly sums up: ‘The ultimate defence of local Asian rulers was, thus, not the gun but the permit and the prison.’

Here then is another area where, when we disentangle a specific case, we find the Portuguese having an impact and an advantage. Their naval dominance, based on artillery on ships, was comparable with other instances we have already noted where they had successes, where they ‘made a difference’, such as the rise of Cochin and the decline of Calicut; such as their central achievement of establishing a series of fortified areas around the Indian Ocean littoral; such as their contribution to the redirection of Gujarat’s massive trade in the sixteenth century.

Yet it needs to be stressed that this sort of impact was rather atypical. Thus their infantry was no better organized than that of most of their opponents. Proper regiments were not formed until the eighteenth century. Before then Portuguese soldiers simply joined up, without proper training, uniform, or even standardized weapons, with a fidalgo of their choice for the campaigning season. The companies were disbanded at the end of each season, that is when the rains started in May or June, and the soldiers left for several months to beg for their food in the streets of Goa.

In other technological areas also recent studies seem to make clear that the Portuguese enjoyed few advantages. Habib notes important technological changes in western Europe from 1450 to 1750, which cleared the way for the industrial revolution. In the most general sense, the two main areas of innovation were the development of mechanical devices, clocks, screws, and gear wheels being examples, and the more concentrated application of power and heat. The mass dissemination of many of these innovations in some parts of Europe (Italy, the Low Countries, France and later England, but not Iberia) was of crucial importance in explaining later European dominance in Asia. Indians generally failed to appreciate these new devices; this failure told heavily in the eighteenth century. But two points must be stressed. First, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries India was, on most criteria, one of the advanced countries of the world. Second, the Portuguese, at least in the sixteenth century, also knew nothing of these innovations except, ironically, for artillery. Leaving this aside, in the vital area of technology also, the European-Asian balance changed long after the end of Portuguese power.

Portuguese Man at War

This is the name given to a very dangerous species of jelly fish. The real reason behind it resides in how well equipped this creature is, and is a comparison to the way the Portuguese ships fought in India.

Vice-Roy of India, D. Afonso de Albuquerque, a military genius of the highest degree commanded a fleet of six ships manned by four hundred men, and entered Ormuz Bay, being surrounded by 250 warships and a 20.000 men army on land ready to dispatch the small Portuguese flotilla. When the King of Ormuz sent aboard an emissary to question Albuquerque, the great Commander told the messenger one phrase: Surrender yourselves!!!

This must have provoked an inner laugh from the messenger who left. When the battle begun, Albuquerque made his fleet circle like a carrousel and destroyed most of the ships. He then proceeded to conquer Ormuz with 400 men.

How could this be achieved one must ask. The technical explanation may make some sense, but will not explain the courage of taking such a risk. In fact we all know that during the U. S. Civil War, canons had to be loaded from their mouths. This was in the XIX Century. However, Albuquerque’s canons were equipped with breeches that did not require the canons to be brought backwards to be loaded. It meant that while the enemy’s canons fired a shot, the Portuguese canons could fire six with a range of 1,800 meters against 700 meters of the enemy’s canons. The next issue is that the Portuguese artillery men had discovered the propulsive effect of water. If you throw a stone at a low angle near the surface of the water, the stone will be propelled by the water’s surface and gain more speed. The second row of canons were placed very near the floating line and the stronger fire power was further enhanced by the water effect, causing the steel balls to not only hit the ship but hit the one behind the first one. Being fired at close to the floating line, the ships would start sinking very fast.

Then one must be aware that the Portuguese knew they were always outnumbered, a certainty that led them to employ all their courage and determination in the fights and battles they engaged. In many cases, just mentioning the Portuguese would distress an entire army or fleet, knowing the fierceness and bravery of the Portuguese warriors.

Running forward

One of the techniques that the Portuguese warriors employed against their enemies who held the Moorish bow was just more than unusual. They knew that the Moorish bow would be very effective within the range from 50 meters to 400 meters. So when 40 Portuguese soldiers disembarked to face a first row of 300 archers also armed with tulwars, their first act was to run like madmen towards the archers, with their rapiers and left handlers in hand. The archers would be stunned by this totally insane act, as due to the heat, very few would wear armors. This stunning delay would again act in favour of the Portuguese who would close de 50 meters range with a few more seconds of advantage.

The Portuguese knew about the 50 meters bow effectiveness and that their only hope was to run frontward to cut that distance, after which their highly seasoned maneuver of the rapier and the left handler would destroy the tulwar in no time, one after the other. One blade would stop the tulwar strike and the other would dispatch the enemy, and this was one methodically in no time.

Running front wards for cover was a tactic that brought the Portuguese warriors great fame and respect for their bravery.

A unique exchange of insults

In 1537 some Portuguese sailors committed a crime, considered a grave diplomatic offense. In front of the city of Diu, the Sultan Bahadur Shah was received on a Portuguese ship. The diplomatic conversations did not go well and the Sultan and his entourage left angrily. Some less disciplined Portuguese sailors made the Sultan’s boarding the small boat that would take him back a pretty difficult task, one of them managed to hit the Sultan’s head with an oar which caused him to drown. The shameful action caused an outcry of indignation and revenge which echoed from the Muslim kingdoms of the Gulf of Cambay to Egypt and Constantinople.

The Sultan’s widow offered all of her fortune to finance a punitive expedition against the Portuguese. The Portuguese fortress of Diu had a garrison of 600 Portuguese commanded by D. Antonio da Silveira. The Turk Suleiman Pasha and the Sultan of Cambay united their armies, and arrived at Diu with 70 Turkish galleys and a land army of 23,000 men. Having taken some Portuguese as prisoners, Suleiman Pasha sent a letter by one of the prisoners to be delivered to D. Antonio da Silveira. It must be said that Suleiman was a court eunuch that gained power after a Court Coup, having beheaded the entire Turkish royal family and therefore usurping the throne.

When Antonio da Silveira received the letter from the Turk, he turned to his companions saying: Let us see what does the castrated dog has to say, and read the letter in public.

Suleiman Pasha promised the Portuguese free leave of people and goods as long as they returned to the Coast of Malabar and handed over the fortress and their weapons. Suleiman promised to skin alive all of the Portuguese if they did not obey his conditions, referring that he had the largest army in Cambay, among which were many who participate in the taking of Belgrade, Hungary and the Island of Rhodes. Finally he asked Antonio da Silveira how would he defend the pig-sty with so few pigs!

D. Antonio da Silveira ordered paper and ink to be brought forward, and in the presence of all, dictated the reply to the Pasha:

“Most honored captain Pasha, I have carefully read your letter. If in the Island of Rhodes were the knights that are in this pig-sty you could be assured that you would have not conquered it. You are to learn that here are Portuguese, used to killing many Moors and are commanded by Antonio da Silveira that has a pair of balls stronger than the balls of your canons and that all the Portuguese here have balls and do not fear those who don’t have them”.

A bigger insult could not be imagined. The Pasha was furious and ordered that the remaining prisoners were killed, and a fight of giants begun. During more then a month Antonio da Silveira fought bravely, remaining only less than 40 Portuguese capable of fighting, but causing so many casualties to the Turks that these gave up the siege and retired from Diu.(in Gaspar Correia: “Chronicle of the Feats in India”, vol. IV, pages 34-36)

The bullet that was a tooth

It is sometimes in chronicles written by foreigners that for some centuries have studied Portuguese History, that some interesting details are found.

A Dutch priest, Philippus Baldaeus, who accompanied the Dutch fleets that fought the Portuguese in the Indic Ocean, tells a most interesting story: During the first Siege of Diu, a Portuguese soldier who was manning one of the bastions of the fortress that was being attacked by the Turks, found himself as the only survivor, having used all bullets but still having some gun powder for one more shot, and finding nothing else to charge his firearm with, decided to extract one of his own tooth and armed the weapon with it, firing against the enemy that was considering he was out of ammunitions.

It is just a little detail in a great battle that is readily forgotten. The Dutchman however, relates this fact with great respect for a brave warrior, which does honor to the Portuguese soldier.

Phillipus Baldaeus: “A Description of ye East India Coasts of Malabar and Coromandel” chapter X, page 533 of the English translation. Chronicles of the time

1415 To organize the expedition to Ceuta ships were rented while others were built in Portugal to carry the expeditionary forces that were formed by the King’s vassals and by men supplied by the nobles. The enthusiasm was so great and so great was the impatience to serve, that a nobleman aged 90 years old presented himself with his troops.

1512 Fernao Lopes de Andrade, with a fleet of 17 sails manned by 350 Portuguese and some Malays attacks the fleet of Pate-Onuz that was coming from Malacca, composed of 90 sails and a garrison of 12,000 men. After a brave fight that took many hours, victory descended at the hands of the Portuguese, at whose hands many ships fell, while others were burnt or sunk. This battle, which filled with terror the various kingdoms of the region, was one of the most outstanding victory the Portuguese achieved in India.

1516 The King of Fez, having placed siege on the Portuguese fortress of Arzilla with 100,000 men is forced to abandon the siege. Note: Nothing else is referred in this short chronicle.

1518 Conquered by the great Afonso de Albuquerque, the famous city of Malacca grew in trade, and the oppulence of its citizens and the grandiosity of its buildings excited the neighbouring princes and the wish for its dominance. Many tried to after the Portuguese Arm showed it was not invincible. Of all, Mahamet, now king of Bintan learnt from spies that the fortress had only a garrison of 200 men, many of whom were sick. Grabbing the opportunity of such a situation and its timing, Mahamet came with 1,500 chosen infantry men and many well armed elephants, and by sea a fleet of 60 ships full of men and of instruments of expugnation.

Here a Nature’s wonder happened. Once the alarm was sounded and word passed around that the enemy was at sight, it happened that the sick soldiers, excited by the military preparations, tried to get up and suddenly the fevers that opressed and tied them to their sickbeds left them and they ran to the walls, mixing with the healthy ones, and with noble pride and unique bravery faced the furious assault. Many have witnessed a bullet remove the head of a Portuguese and his body remaining still for a space of time. Mahamet kept fighting for 20 days, yet all the assaults on the fortress were bravely repelled, until, all hope lost and having suffered 330 casualties, the assault was ended and the King returned home. This glorious event costed the lives of 18 Portuguese. Note: The number of casualties is pointed out with such an exactitude that it may be questionable.

1529 Lopo Vaz de Sampaio, with a fleet of 6 galleons and 13 light ships defeats the Samorim’s fleet of 130 sails. Note: Nothing else is referred in this short chronicle.

1538 The pirate known as Pate-Marcar that infested the Indian seas with 50 ships and 8,000 men disembarked at Beadalla. There, Martim Affonso de Sousa with 400 Portuguese attacks and defeats the pirate. Of the enemy’s fleet that was anchoured, 25 sails were set on fire while the remaining where taken as well as 400 canons and 1,500 guns.

1546 In the second siege of Diu, the place became so narrow that the captain-major of the fortress proposed to his council that they got out of the fortress, and at the enemy’s ground would give them battle and die over the bodies of the turks. The enemy did not ignore the state of the fortress, deciding on a final assault, hoping for a most certain victory. Exploding a mine that they have placed below the tower of St. Thomas which was destroyed, the Turks attacked from all sides with such might that the Portuguese resisted in a very costly way. The battle was burning everywhere, often with the enemy riding on the fortress walls, fighting at close quarters. Many fell, but more took their place, and it was such the fire that the Turks threw that the Portuguese had to fight among the flames.

The captain-major ordered that some basins of water were brought so that the soldiers could refresh their bodies from the heath of the fire that surrounded them. At the occasion of this providence an unusual case took place that is worthy of note. Antonio Moniz Barreto commanded the defense of a tower, and was lowering towards a basin to refresh himself, was pulled by an arm by a soldier who shouted: how come? Do you want to loose His Majesty’s tower? Barreto replied: I am burning, I must refresh myself. The soldier shouted again if the arms are good, the rest is nothing! Antonio Moniz Barreto heard the admonishment of that courageous soldier that later gave him all sort of favours and named him the fire soldier.

1538 The illustrious Nuno da Cunha, Governor of India, to rescue the fortress of Diu that the Turks have dangerously surrounded, resorted to a most unique artifice. Having sent some ships to give battle, in each of them had four torches placed before arriving by night. The small fleet started firing their artillery, among war cries and shouts which caused great effect among the turks who though the lights corresponded to a much bigger fleet, seeming like the whole of Portuguese India was after them, immediately raised the siege, not wanting to taste their fortune against the Portuguese.

1550 Death of the celebrated D. Pedro de Menezes, captain of Tangere. Having commanded eighty horsemen against three thousand moors, he was killed; however his death was avenged with the retreat of the enemy.

1551 The Prince of Chembe with an army of 30,000 men is defeated by 4,000 Portuguese commanded by the Vice-Roy D. Affonso de Noronha.

1559 A Portuguese fleet of six sails manned by 200 soldiers defeats another from the Samorim, composed of thirteen sails and a garrison of 2,000 fighting men.

1559 The kings of Malabar, joined against the Portuguese, attack the fortress of Cananor with a mighty army. The besieged, with the aid of 400 Portuguese that arrived in a small fleet, defeat the enemy who lost 15,000 men. The battle lasted from 3 hours in the morning until 4 hours in the afternoon.

These accounts were published in “O Panorama” 1840 edition, vol. I and IV.

Nuclear Submarine Project – Arihant

INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered submarine. The ship submersible ballistic, nuclear (SSBN) submarine was launched at the Indian Navy’s dockyard in Visakhapatnam, which is the headquarters of India’s Eastern Naval Command.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has inaugurated the vessel into the Indian Navy, asserted that the indigenously built submarine would be used for self defence. The name Arihant derives from two words – Ari meaning enemy and Hanth meaning destroy.

Arihant, India’s first indigenously built nuclear submarine, cost $2.9bn. It was jointly developed by the Indian Navy, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at the naval dockyard in Visakhapatnam. Russian designers assisted in building the vessel.

Other companies involved in the development of the submarine are Tata Power, a division of Tata Group and Larsen & Toubro (L&T), a technology, engineering, construction and manufacturing company.

The project, earlier known as the advanced technology vessel (ATV), has been under development since 1998. Construction of five more nuclear-powered submarines is also being planned. According to a report in the Indian Express, the hulls of the second and third submarines have already been constructed.

Arihant will be commissioned into the Indian Navy after extensive sea trials for at least two years. Initially harbour acceptance trials (HATs) would be conducted followed by sea acceptance trials (SATs).

Arihant has been developed as part of the military modernisation programme undertaken by India. The Indian Navy has a fleet of 16 diesel-electric submarines leased from Russia and Germany. However, the disadvantage with diesel electric submarines is that they cannot stay under water for an extended period.

“INS Arihant is India’s first nuclear-powered submarine.”

Conventional diesel-electric submarines have to ascend to the surface each day to eject carbon dioxide produced by the generator. Nuclear-powered submarines, on the other hand, can stay under water for long durations without being detected. Arihant is expected to enhance the Indian Navy’s capability of delivering nuclear weapons from all terrains.

Arihant’s design is based on the Russian Akula-1 Class submarine. It weighs 6,000t. At a length of 110m and breadth of 11m, Arihant is the longest in the Indian Navy’s fleet of submarines and can accommodate a crew of 95. It can reach a speed of 12kt-15kt on surface and up to 24kt when submerged.

Arihant will be able to stay under water for long periods undetected due to the nuclear-powered 80MW pressurised water reactor (PWR). The PWR was developed by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre with assistance from a Russian design team.

The submarine’s exterior is uneven and the hull is placed on a mat covered with tiles. The tiles help in absorbing sound waves and provide stealth capability to the submarine. Compared to conventional submarines, the conning tower of Arihant is situated near the bow instead of the centre.

The central part of the submarine’s body consists of the outer hull and an inner pressurised hull. The starboard side consists of two rectangular vents that draw in water when the submarine submerges into sea.

The Indian Navy and the DRDO together designed the submarine. Once the design was finalised detailed engineering was implemented at L&T’s submarine design centre using 3D modelling and product data management software.

Tata Power designed the control systems for the submarine. Walchandnagar Industries, a company specialising in execution of heavy engineering projects, designed parts of the steam turbine.

Tests and delivery

The trials are being conducted at a concealed test area called ‘Site Bravo’. During harbour acceptance trials, the nuclear power plant and auxiliary systems of the submarine will be tested for stability.

“Arihant has been developed as part of the military modernisation programme undertaken by India.”

The most crucial part of the trials will be the firing of the reactor. Once the reactor is fired all systems on board are tested on the inherent power of the submarine.

Arihant will be taken for a series of high-speed runs during the sea acceptance trials and its various components will be tested at different depths, temperatures and pressure.

The final phase of the trials will include weapon trials. During these trials actual firing of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) will take place from the platform.

The crew of Arihant will be trained on the 12,000t Akula-II submarine. The submarine will be taken on lease from Russia in 2010 for ten years. Apart from the Akula-II submarine, six Scorpene attack submarines will also be acquired by the Indian Navy between 2012 and 2017.

Arihant armament

Arihant will be capable of carrying all types of missiles and will have underwater ballistic missile launch capability. It will carry 12 K-15 SLBMs that can be launched even under ice caps.

Tested in 2008, the K-15 missiles are 10.4m long and have a diameter of 1m. The 6.3t missiles can carry a 5t nuclear warhead targeted 750km away. The K-15 missiles, however, will be replaced later by the 3,500km range K-X missiles.

Apart from the K-15s, the submarine will carry a range of anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles and torpedoes.

Submarine propulsion

A significant progress in the development of Arihant took place when the land-based pressurised water reactor became operational in 2004 at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in Kalpakkam, Chennai. Following this, miniaturisation of the land-based PWR had to be carried out to enable it to fit into a confined space in the submarine. The reactor consists of 13 fuel assemblies each having 348 fuel pins.

Several companies supplied components of the reactor. High grade steel supplied by Heavy Engineering Corporation, Ranchi was used to build the reactor vessel. The steam generator was provided by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL); and Audco India, Chennai built the pressure valves.

The PWR consists of a huge pressure hull, a tank containing water and a reactor. It also consists of a pressure vessel built from unique steel, a control room as well as an auxiliary control room.

The propulsion plant housing the reactor is 42m long and 8m in diameter. The complete propulsion plant along with the primary, secondary, electrical and propulsion systems occupy half of the submarine. To reduce the weight of the plant, light water and enriched uranium was used as opposed to non-enriched uranium used in land-based reactors.

Control and communication systems

Arihant is fitted with a combination of two sonar systems – Ushus and Panchendriya. Ushus is state-of-the-art sonar meant for Kilo Class submarines. Panchendriya is a unified submarine sonar and tactical control system, which includes all types of sonar (passive, surveillance, ranging, intercept and active). It also features an underwater communications system.

A new submarine promises to give the world’s most populous democratic nation a powerful second-strike nuclear capability. The INS Arihant, India’s first nuclear ballistic-missile submarine, will finally give the country nuclear weapons that could survive a surprise first strike and go on to deal a crushing retaliatory blow to the enemy. The new sub will complete India’s triad of air, land and sea nuclear forces.

India tested its first weapon, an eight-kiloton device nicknamed Smiling Buddha, in 1974. Although small in yield, the device was a remarkable technological achievement that thrust the young country into the exclusive, so-called “nuclear club” that had until then consisted of the United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China.

India is believed to have 520 kilograms of plutonium—enough for, according to the Arms Control Association, “100 to 130 warheads.” New Delhi describes this a “credible minimum deterrent” against neighboring nuclear powers China and Pakistan. India has a firm No First Use policy with regard to nuclear weapons, vowing to never be the first to use them in any conflict and only use them to retaliate in kind.

Nuclear-armed submarines are an ideal basing solution for a country such as India. While less accurate than land-based missiles and less flexible than air-launched weapons, ballistic-missile submarines are the most difficult to destroy in a first strike. Hiding in the vastness of the oceans, a nuclear-armed submarine is nearly invulnerable. And, in the logic of nuclear deterrence strategy, an invulnerable nuclear arsenal makes for an invulnerable country.

The Arihant program goes back more than three decades, to the vaguely named Advanced Technology Vessel. Begun in 1974, ATV was broadly conceived as a project to research nuclear propulsion and, down the road, field a indigenously developed and constructed nuclear-powered submarine. The program was a collaboration between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, the Indian Navy and the Indian government’s Defence Research Development Centre.

By 1995, ship-sized reactor trials were underway at the Bhabha Centre in Mumbai. According to Combat Ships of the World, the reactor had been under development since 1985, weighed 600 tons and was “entirely unsuccessful.” By 1989, Russian nuclear scientists and engineers joined the project, and yet the program still failed to yield a viable reactor. In 1998, the Indian government threw in the towel and purchased a reactor design outright from Russia, and by 2004, a working eighty-megawatt prototype reactor had been built, tested and achieved criticality.

Hull began construction in 1998 at Visakhapatnam, but could not be completed due to the lack of a working reactor. The hull itself is variously reported as based on the Russian Akula/Project 971–class nuclear attack submarine or the ex-Soviet Charlie II class. Combat Fleets of the World claims it is based on the Akula, and lengthened an additional thirty feet to accommodate a missile compartment. Other sources claim it is based on the Charlie II class, one of which was leased to India from 1988 to 1991 and served as INS Chakra. At either rate, the submarine is estimated to be 330 to 360 feet long, with submerged displacement of 6,500 tons. It is the smallest ballistic-missile submarine in the world, with the possible exception of the North Korean Gorae class.

Thanks to nuclear propulsion, Arihant can do twelve to fifteen knots on the surface and twenty-four knots underwater. Maximum diving depth is unknown, and probably a closely held secret, but the Akula class is known to dive to six hundred meters. The submarine is manned by a crew of ninety-five to one hundred.

Arihant was officially launched in 2009. The onboard reactor reached criticality in 2013, and the ship began sea trials in late 2014. It was officially commissioned into service in August 2016. According to Naval Technology, the total price tag was $2.9 billion.

Arihant’s name literally translates to “Slayer of Enemies,” and the ship’s armament makes it the greatest concentration of firepower in Indian history. The submarine was built with four missile tubes mounted in a hump behind the conning tower. The four can carry twelve K-15 Sagarika (“Oceanic”) short-range ballistic missiles. K-15 has a maximum range of just 434 miles, making it capable of hitting just the southern half of Pakistan.

Alternately, the sub can carry four K-4 medium-range ballistic missiles with a 2,174-mile range, capable of hitting targets as far away as Beijing. Both the K-4 and the K-15 are nuclear capable, but the warhead yield is unknown. India has yet to master multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) technology, so whatever the yield of the warhead, K-4 and K-15 carry just one of them.

In order to be credible, a seagoing nuclear deterrent must have at least one submarine on patrol at all times. The second ship in class, Aridhaman, is under construction in Visakhapatnam, and India plans to have as many as four boomers by 2020—the same number as the United Kingdom and France. With the four nuclear-armed boats completed, India may finally achieve its goal of strategic invulnerability.

Covert Shores

The “Rani”1858 – A New Rebellion

Governor-General of British territories in India Charles Canning’s next decision meant that, instead of a series of mopping-up operations, conducted in the next campaigning season when Campbell had originally intended to take Lucknow, the British were suddenly faced by a whole new rebellion, requiring them once more to fight on through the hot weather and the monsoon. As a collective punishment for the support that so many taluqdars of Awadh had given to the cause of their deposed king, Canning issued a proclamation that all except for six named individuals would have their land-holdings resumed. Other than a promise of life and liberty to those who were not personally implicated in murder, the only concession offered was that dispossessed taluqdars should depend on the justice and mercy of the British government. In view of its previous dealings with Awadh, he might as well have said they should depend on the mildness of the summer sun or the gentleness of the monsoon rain. The result, as Outram and John Lawrence warned him would be the case, was to drive those who had previously been in arms to a more determined resistance. Those who had been neutral, or had helped British fugitives, took up arms themselves rather than suffer the loss of their place in the world. The insurgents who had been driven from Lucknow, instead of quietly dispersing to their homes, remained in the field with renewed hope.

Canning had prepared this proclamation long in advance and only waited for the recovery of Lucknow before issuing it, on the grounds that such leniency as it contained would otherwise be regarded as evidence of British weakness. He sent it to London for approval, unaware that Palmerston’s administration had fallen on 12 February 1858 and the Conservatives had returned to office after a generation in opposition. The new President of the Board of Control, Lord Ellenborough, a former Governor-General of India, wrote to Canning on 24 March saying that, once Lucknow was taken, Awadh should be treated with the conventions appropriate to a country conquered after defending itself to the last in a desperate war, rather than those applicable to the suppression of mutiny and rebellion. He was appalled when he received on 12 April the terms of the Awadh declaration, sent long before Canning knew of the change of ministry. It was especially unexpected given that Canning had previously insisted that no one be punished without due process, if only to avoid alienating the many respectable Indians who supported the maintenance of British rule (a policy pilloried in The Times and Punch as `The Clemency of Canning’). In a minute denouncing Dalhousie’s annexation of Awadh as based on fraud and deception, Ellenborough said that hostilities there `had rather the character of legitimate war than of rebellion’. Canning was told that the ministers wished to see British rule in India rest upon the willing obedience of a contented people. `There cannot be contentment where there is general confiscation.’

Due to an error on parliamentary procedure, the draft of this despatch was circulated among MPs for several weeks before it reached the Secret Committee of the Court of Directors. The subsequent scandal threatened to bring down the minority `Derby-Dizzy’ government. To save his colleagues Ellenborough resigned, though the Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby, supported his judgement by telegraphing to Canning that a clear distinction had to be made between the taluqdari militias and sepoys previously in the British service. Canning considered resigning, especially as the news of these proceedings soon reached India and thus prolonged the resistance in Awadh. After a few days, however, he decided, as senior officers in wellpaid appointments generally do, that it would be in the public interest for him to remain in post. The Times suggested that the ministers had tried to provoke his resignation so that they could lay their hands on a valuable piece of patronage.

While Campbell marched to Lucknow, the second front was opened according to plan. Major General Sir Hugh Rose, then aged fifty-six and more practised as a military diplomat than a field commander, had arrived in India for the first time on 19 September, to command of the Bombay Army’s Poona Division. He was resented by those who saw him as an inexperienced interloper, and at first the inevitable consequences of the friction of war on any plan was taken as evidence of his mismanagement. On 17 December he took over the newly formed Central India Field Force, consisting of the 14th Light Dragoons (who had returned to Bombay from the Persian Gulf in May 1857), the 86th Foot, the 3rd Bombay Europeans, the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry and 25th Bombay NI, elements of the Hyderabad Contingent, a siege train and four horse or field batteries, with sappers and miners from Madras and Bombay, totalling some 6,000 combatants organized in two brigades.

Rose, with the 2nd Brigade, left his base at Mhow, 10 miles south-west of Indore, on 6 January 1858. His first task was to relieve Sagar (Saugor), 200 miles away to the northeast, a mud fort held by seventy European gunners and the 31st Bengal NI since the mutiny of two other sepoy regiments in the original garrison eight months earlier, and containing 150 European women and children. On the way, he demolished the insurgent stronghold at Rahatgarh, despite a surprise attack by Mardan Singh, Raja of Banpur. This prince had previously supported the British, hoping that they would return his ancestral district of Chanderi, seized from the previous raja by Sindhia and then administered by the British to fund the Gwalior Contingent. When they did not, Mardan Singh decided to recover it irrespective of their approval and did so with the aid of the local nobles. After the fall of Rahatgarh he retreated to Barodia, but was again defeated by Rose’s column and was himself wounded. Sagar was relieved on 3 February and Rose was later joined there by a Madras brigade from Jabalpur, 80 miles to the southeast. While he waited, he collected supplies, bullocks and baggage-elephants, and augmented his siege train with heavy guns from the Sagar arsenal.

On 27 February he advanced northwards. Mardan Singh, with his ally the Raja of Shahgarh, tried to hold the hill passes between Sagar and Bundelkhand, but was outmanoeuvred at the cost of some British casualties, including Rose’s horse shot under him. Mardan Singh fell back, adopting a scorched-earth policy, and the British reached his capital only to find it deserted. Meanwhile the 1st Brigade (previously the Malwa Field Force), advancing on a separate axis, recaptured Chanderi for Sindhia. After marching 120 miles in twenty days, Rose’s main force had almost reached Jhansi when, on 20 March, urgent messages arrived from both Canning and Campbell. After his defeat at Kanpur on 6 December, Tatya Tope had rallied with the Gwalior Contingent at Kalpi and now suddenly struck southwards against Charkhari, a small Bundela state whose raja supported the British. The raja, holding out in Charkhari fort, 80 miles east of Jhansi, appealed for help and Rose was ordered to his relief.

Rose, supported by Sir Robert Hamilton, the Governor-General’s Agent in Central India, who accompanied his march, decided to maintain his aim. He reasoned that to leave a strong fortress and garrison in his rear would boost insurgent morale by giving the impression he feared to attack it. If the British laid siege to Jhansi, Tatya Tope would leave Charkhari and come to its assistance, whereas even if they headed for Charkhari, it might fall before they arrived. Accordingly, operations against Jhansi began on 21 March, the same day that Campbell completed his capture of Lucknow. The first siege batteries opened fire on 25 March and the remainder the next day, when the 1st Brigade joined Rose’s camp. The fort, built on a granite outcrop within a walled city 4½ miles in circumference, was one of the strongest in Central India, and had a garrison of about 12,000 troops, with over thirty guns. Many were regular soldiers from Jhansi’s former army, disbanded at the time of the British annexation. All trees and buildings around the city had been levelled to deny the besiegers their raw materials and to give clear fields of fire.

The Rani, since the massacre of the previous June, had been in correspondence with the British authorities, denying any responsibility for what had occurred and claiming that such support as she had given the sepoy mutineers was in response to force majeure. This was, however, much the same story as that told by the King of Delhi and Nana Sahib. Lurid tales of sexual assault had no more foundation here than elsewhere. The widely believed story (the subject of a touching poem by Christina Georgina Rosetti) that, after a spirited defence, Captain Skene, the British political agent, finding further resistance useless, shot first his wife and then himself, was quite false. Nevertheless, sixty people had been very cruelly killed and the British were not prepared to take the Rani’s words at face value. She was instructed to assume the government of Jhansi state pending the restoration of British rule, when they would investigate what had occurred. In the meanwhile, she had to face incursions from her neighbours, the rajas of Datia and Orchha, who had their own claims on Jhansi territory. In a spirited response, she made alliances with the rajas of Banpur and Shahgarh, reassembled her late husband’s army and called on the local land-holders to join her with their militias. They had driven out the invaders and now, with the apparent return of the good old days, stood ready to treat the Central India Field Force in the same way. As the British showed no sign of allowing the Rani to retain possession of Jhansi, she decided to defy them in arms rather than tamely submitting to their return.

As Rose expected, Tatya Tope left Charkhari and marched to relieve Jhansi. He arrived late on 31 March with some 20,000 men, including Mardan Singh’s troops, and over twenty guns. After crossing the River Betwa, they lit a huge beacon to signal their presence to the defenders, who acknowledged it with shouts and gunfire. During the night, leaving his siege works held by a third of his force and a contingent of Orchha troops, Rose redeployed the remainder, about 1,900 strong, to meet the anticipated attack. The next morning the insurgents’ first line advanced and began a firefight. Rose, meeting them with his 2nd Brigade, pinned them with his field artillery and ordered his infantry to lie down while his cavalry and horse artillery attacked on both flanks. Rose himself led a charge by a troop of the 14th Light Dragoons. The insurgent firing line crumpled and fell back to its reserve, 2 miles in the rear, where Tatya Tope had his command post. With the British closely following, the retreat become a rout before the second line was reached. Tatya Tope’s artillery opened fire, but was countered by the advancing British guns. The 1st Brigade, marching towards the sound of gunfire, drove a force of about 3,000 insurgents from a village with a bayonet charge, but in the heat of the day the men were too exhausted to pursue them and they withdrew in good order. Elsewhere, the British cavalry pressed Tatya Tope’s retreating men hard, and captured their guns before they escaped back across the river, covered by smoke and flames from forest fires burning behind them. British casualties totalled less than 100, against an estimated 1,500 among their opponents.

Rose resumed the siege, where a masking bombardment had prevented the defenders from sallying out to support their intended rescuers. The engineers had already reported a practicable breach and efforts to close it with wooden palisades had been defeated by red-hot shot. Women as well as men, inspired by the Rani’s proclamation that, even if defeated, they would earn eternal glory, laboured on the walls and the Rani herself was observed encouraging them. Accurate shooting by the British siege gunners had dismounted most of her guns, but nevertheless, when Rose launched a moonlight assault at 3.00 a. m. on 3 April there were still enough left, with other improvised explosive devices, rockets and missiles of various kinds, to bring it to a momentary halt. The engineers led the way to the city wall and while one column entered the breach, two others scaled the ramparts. The first two officers were killed as they led the way over the walls, but their men followed and fought their way through fiercely defended streets and houses to reach the palace, designated by Rose as the point where all three columns were to meet. A group of fifty Afghans of the Rani’s bodyguard held the palace stable yard until flames drove them out.

Fighting in the city continued into the following day. The 86th and the Bombay Europeans, fighting to avenge their massacred compatriots, gave no quarter to any male of military age, and their comrades of the Bombay Native Infantry followed their example. The estimated number of those killed varied from three to five thousand, with many others subsequently executed. British casualties amounted to about 40 killed and 200 wounded, including 2 killed and one wounded out of the 7 Engineer officers, always among those most at risk in siege warfare. The 86th lost men to suicide bombers who blew up buildings inside the palace as the British entered.

During the day the Rani was persuaded by her advisers that the battle was lost and that she could do more for her cause by escaping to carry on the fight elsewhere. Wearing a breastplate, sword and pistols, she rode in the midst of her Afghan cavalry with the infant maharaja on her saddlebow, and escaped with members of her household and a baggage elephant through the sector held by the Orchha troops. Rose seems deliberately to have left an opening there, with a view to allowing the Rani to leave rather than hold out in the citadel, which could only be stormed with heavy losses. They encountered an outlying picquet, but rode on for 21 miles towards Kalpi before halting. The Rani’s father and her finance minister became separated from the main party and sought refuge with the Raja of Datia, who sent them back to his British friends at Jhansi, where they were later hanged.

Rose had given strict orders against looting, but much destruction of valuable cultural property went on nevertheless. Everyone knew the story of how Mahmud the Iconoclast, the first great Muslim invader of India, had refused to accept an offer of ransom for the holy Shivalingam of Somnath, saying he would not stand forth on Judgement Day as one who took money to spare an idol, but then found it full of precious stones when he destroyed it. In the temples of Jhansi, images of Hindu deities were broken up, and the gold and jewels adorning them carried off by the victorious troops. Despite Rose’s orders to spare women and children, many were killed by collateral damage and others by their own husbands and fathers, as some of the British at Lucknow had planned to do, for fear of the usual consequences when a city was stormed. There were, however, other cases in which British soldiers, finding widows and orphans without food, gave them their own rations. The Rani’s scorched-earth policy had had little effect on the British, who received supplies from Sindhia and Orchha, but the ordinary people of Jhansi starved and Rose subsequently fed them with government grain seized as lawful contraband.

The next morning, 4 April, when the Rani’s escape was discovered, a squadron of light dragoons and Bombay light cavalry was sent in pursuit. They found the Rani at breakfast and one officer almost reached her before a bullet wounded him. Forty of her Afghan troopers sacrificed themselves to protect her flight and the British, with their own horses failing, could not overtake the rested mounts on which the rest of her party escaped. Late on 5 April, escorted by a party of Tatya Tope’s cavalry, she reached the headquarters of the Peshwa’s army in Bundelkhand, commanded by Nana Sahib’s nephew Panduranga Sadashiv, Rao Sahib, at Kalpi, 85 miles north-east of Jhansi.