SAS Wargames Club

SAS Wargames Club
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Sikh Wars

Intro by Dave Vallance...

... Who were the Sikhs

Up to the start of the 18th century, most of India was ruled by the Moghuls, basically Moslem descendants of the Mongol invaders back in the Middle Ages. In 1707, the last Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb died. Mughal power had slowly been on the wane, and it was on its last legs. The resulting power vacuum between the remaining Mughals, Afghans and Persians left a hole in the territory of the Punjab, in North West India.

The Sikh religion had begun as a reforming ideological system in the 15th century, where some Islamic and Hindu theories were merged into a unified belief under the founder and first Guru, a chap called Nanak. He had decreed that both Islam and Hinduism were faulty, so he selected most of their finer points and created the new religion of Sikhism.

Followers and subsequent Gurus increased dramatically but their beliefs were persecuted and they eventually were 'herded' into the Punjab area where the Moghuls (who were still ruling then) could keep an eye on them. The original Sikh belief was of passive non confrontation, but continuous persecution changed this to a belief that in order to survive, they must fight back.

A 'confederacy' of Sikh chieftains (called Misldars) organised themselves into 12 Misls (commands) and was formed in 1748. These forces drove out the last of the Mughals, repelled nine determined Afghan invasions, and in 1764 captured the city of Lahore, traditional capital of the Punjab.

These 12 Misls were known as the 'Dal Khalsa', the 'Army of the Pure', and by 1760 had become the dominant power in the Punjab, and once they had this power, they all started to squabble amongst themselves, as to territorial disputes they had taken from the Mughals and they started to fight amongst themselves. What was need was a strong leader to give the Misldars a slap and bring them into line.

Cue one Ranjit the time he was 18, he had become leader of one of the strongest Misls, the Sukarchakia. After seizing Lahore by a ruse in 1799, he proceeded to campaign against any of the Misls who were still giving grief, and eventually he had forcibly reunited these Misls, reduced many neighbouring states to tributory status, following a 40 year campaign to do so.

Now, it must be pointed out that the Sikhs were not the only residents of the Punjab..stand by for a roll call...Moslems, Hindus, Rajputs (another warrior race), Ranghors (who were Moslem Rajputs), Najibs and Dogras from the foothills of Kashmir up in the western end of the Himalays, all made up the single unified state, now known as the 'Sardar Khalsaji'. or the 'Khalsa State'.

The British, under the auspices of the Honourable East India Company were soon the be the dominant power in India, having defeated the French and various Indian rulers who got in their way, (don't forget, Wellington had fought some of his earliest campaigns out in India) recognised the Sardar Khalsaji as the Kingdom of Lahore, and by 1801 Ranjit proclaimed himself Sakar-i-Wala, or head of state...the British called him the Maharaja of Lahore.

By 1834, Ranjits territory ran from the Himalayas to the north east, parts of Afghanistan to the west, down south west to the River Indus and south to the River Sutlej which was the border between him and the British. Once I've sussed out how to do it  (any help gratefully received) I'll plonk a map in here somewhere.

In June 1839 Ranjit died, drunken and debauched beyond his years, and blind in one eye from a small pox attack in his youth..there then followed a struggle between his family and others hungry for power, which resulted in the Sikhs invading the British held part of India.

What happened after Ranjits death...

The Sikh Army, the Khalsa, was by now the most powerful faction in Sikh politics, and anyone who was after power had to have the army on their side.

Ranjit had several wives and mistresses and numerous off spring (the Randi Bugger!)...his eldest son, Kharak Singh succeeded the throne but was promptly assassinated 18 months later, believed by poisoning. His half brother, Sher Singh took over but he was also nobbled soon after when a stone arch 'accidentally' fell on him as he was passing underneath. Any other sons or uncles were now loathed to take over as the office certainly had an element of risk

Ranjits widow, the beautiful but cunning Rani Jindan, had given birth to Ranjits eighth son, Dalip. She and the Prime Minister, Lal Singh (who was her lover and rumoured real father of Dalip) now plotted to have Dalip raised as the Maharaja, with themselves acting as regents with the power actually being in their hands, as Dalip was only a boy..

However, they realised that they would be powerless without the Army on their side. They came up with a cunning plan..they would invade British held territory, knowing that the Khalsa would smash itself to pieces against the well disciplined British and East India Company's forces, thus eliminating the main threat to their plans They would then come to terms with the EIC but still holding the reigns of power at Lahore through Dalip acting as a puppet Maharaja.

On 11th December 1845, the Khalsa crossed over the border at the River Sutlej, under the command of Lal Singh, together with the CinC, Tej Singh (who was also in on the plan)..the first Sikh War was on.

The Sikh Army, by jingo yes sahib...

Basically, the Sikh Army was split into two. First, there was the State Army, the Fauj-i-Ain (the force with drill) and secondly there was the Feudal Army, the Jagidari Fauj

I'll deal with the State Army first,

By tradition, Indian warriors ( I keep telling you, not bloody Sitting Bull! ) were virtually all irregular cavalry, and anyone who fought on foot was considered a peasant, old or a woman...sometimes all three..however Ranjit (remember him?) knew at some point the cordial relationship with the British would end and that they would swallow up the Punjab as they had been doing with loads of other Indian realms. Ranjit realised that his hordes of irregulars would be no match against the disciplined red coats.

Ranjit decided that he would buck against the norm and raise a well trained, equipped, and disciplined force of infantry and artillery. He started this process with the first battalion being raised in 1805. The proces was slow in recruiting but by sheer  force of character and will he managed to increase the infantry steadily so by about 1836 there at least 40 regular battalions and numerous artillery pieces.

The infantry wore red coats (some accounts they were ex British Army cast offs), with white or dark blue trousers. Various colours of turbans and facings could be seen to identify the units. This was the winter uniform, the summer one being a white cotton coat substituting the red one. However logistics were not all that brilliant so it was common to see battalions both wearing summer and winter uniforms at the same time. ( "are you not cold in that, Lakaka Singh?" " No, Jopra Singh, I am sweating my bollockings off!").

They were armed with flintlock muskets, (copies of the Brown Bess), bayonets, and swords. Sometimes they also carried shields, (the dahl)...they were trained to manouevre and fight in the French fashion, and one ex Peninsular veteran who fought against the Sikhs said that their..  firing and drill were better than what he had seen fighting the French..however, they were lacking in bayonet fighting, much preferring to use their swords and shields should the need arise.

A battalion were known as a 'paltan', derived from the French word 'peleton; meaning a company. The battalions were named after their commanding officer or some significant Sikh character, such as a prophet or guru. Flags were triangular in shape, quite large, normally the field colour being bordered by a contrasting colour, with various symbols on the field. However the flags were not held in such high esteem as the British, who obviously considered a 'bad show' of ones colours were lost.

The French Connection...

Where was I? Oh yes, how come the froggies got involved? Ah, I started on the State Army, the Fauj-i-ain, and the development of the regular infantry in 1805..Ranjit managed to entice several deserters from the East India Company to help train his fledgling army as he offered more pay. One was a British deserter called Price who arrived in 1809, but the majority were Anglo-Indians. However, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, several soldiers of fortune were recruited by Ranjit to help train his State Army from 1820 comes another roll call...
Jean-Francois Allard       1822
Jean-Baptiste Ventura     1822
Claude Auguste Court     1827
Paolo di Avitable (with a name like that, he must be Italian - which he was) 1827

These were all ex officers in Napoleons army.

There was an American soldier of fortune, one Alexander Gardner, who also turned up at one point. I have seen a piccy of him dressed in a tartan suit of trews and jacket, together with a tartan turban!! That would be a challenge to paint up in 15mm..

A British account states that there were about 39 foreign 'advisors'. 12 were French, seven Anglo-Indian, four Brits, four Italian, three American, three German, two Greek (!...Stavros Papadopolous Singh)..two Spanish, one Prussian, and one Russian...all but one (Gardner) Americans were actually British deserters

Allard died in 1839, and most of the others buggered off home after Ranjit died. Some of those who stayed on were two Anglo-Indians, a John Holmes (who was killed by his own troops in 1848), a Henry Charles van Cortlandt, and a Spanish engineer called Hurbons. There was also a French cavalry officer named Francois Henry Mouton and an English artillerist, a Richard Potter. only Hurbons, Mouton and Potter are specifically known to have fought against the British...

Well, thats about it regarding the foreign advisers that help Ranjit get the State Army off the ground.

Back to the State Army.........

The regular infantry organisation were of single battalion units (the paltan), but there are records showing that two battalions were formed into a single regiment (the rajman) was the norm however to just have the single battalions working separately and the rajman was merely an administrative function.

3 or 4 battalions made up a brigade, which was the basic formation on the battlefield. There were no divisions or corps as such, brigades being lumped together depending on the situation facing them. A regiment of cavalry, either regulars or Ghorchurra, and a battery of guns completed the brigade.

The Fauj-i-Khas - The 'Royal Army' (aka the French Legion, or in Sikh, the Francese Campu)
Within two months of their arrival, Allard and Ventura created the elite Fauj-i-Khas, an independent brigade of 4 regular battalions, 2 regular cavalry and some artillery. Allard was also appointed the commander of all the Fauj-i-Ain cavalry.

The first two battalions were the Paltan Khas and the Paltan Dewa Singh, followed by the third in 1823, the Ghurka Paltan. The fourth battalion, the Paltan Sham Sota, was raised in 1824. The legions cavalry were raised from scratch . First was the Rajman Khas Lansia (Royal Lancer Regiment) and then the Rajman Daragun Anwal (First Dragoon Regiment). A 24 gun battery under the command of a Muslim, one Ilahi Bakhsh, rounded off the Fauj-i-Khas

The Fauj-i-Khas became the best drilled, best uniformed, best armed and best equipped team in the whole of the Fauj-i-Ain.

The Ghurkhas were actually hillmen from Jammu and Kashmir, in the foothills of the Himalayas...Ranjit recruited two battalions as he admired the two real Ghurkha battalions  fighting for the British..they wore green jackets, white trousers and peakless bell topped shakos, in sympathy of the British ones who were also in green..

Ranjit gave permission for these 4 infantry units to carry French tricolour flags, in recognition of Allards and Venturas service with Napoleon and the service they gave to Ranjit. the flags had the Sikh motto 'tegh, degh, fatteh' (cauldron, sword, victory) stitched on in Persian script, so you may find these appearing on the game

Regular Cavalry
As Ranjit already had a corps of cavalry, the Ghorchurra, and the pick of the horses going to the artillery, the regular cavalry was always going to be a problem in raising this force, as a consequence there were not many of them around. There were six rajmans of dragoons and two of lancers (which included the two previously mentioned above). There were also two cuirassier regiments, 400 of their cuirasses being brought from France by Allard on returning from leave, the cuirasses were actually the bronze carabinier type from the old Napoleonic French cavalry. The rest were made by local armouries in the Punjab using these originals as their blueprints.

Both the dragoons and lancers were red coats and dark blue trousers, with various coloured turbans and facings. The cuirassiers wore blue coats and trousers with the spiked Persian helmet (khalud) with chain mail aventails hanging down from the sides and rear..although they were pretty to look at they were not much cop when it came to fighting the Brits....ooops, bit of a clue there...

The Artillery (the Topkhana)
Horse artillery (Topkhana Aspi - I remember this by thinking of Aspi - Asspi - Ass/donkey - Horse) 6lb guns, but batteries consisted of any number of guns, from 4 to 12 Ammo wagons drawn by oxen so were not as rapid as ours.

Field artillery (Topkhana Jinsi) oxen drawn, therefore very slow..9lbs upwards..again varying numbers of guns in batteries

Heavy/siege guns (Topkhana Fili) elephant drawn...24lbs upwards..

British accounts report that the Sikh artillery were made of a heavier metal so a Sikh 9lb gun barrel was much bigger than the equivalent Britsh 9lder, and they often outgunned us in any artillery duels.

Gunners for all types wore black coats, white or blue trousers, and a tall 'bearskin' looking hat (believed to be actually made of felt stretched over a bamboo frame).  The artillery was considered to be the best of the Khalsa, and they refused to leave their guns..several accounts state that when the crews were overrun by a British bayonet charge, they would fling their arms around the guns, kiss them, then die...

If you want to look at the sort of heavy artillery that was about in artillery, just Google 'Jaivana'

The British...

India at this time was governed by the Honourable East India Company (aka John Company - I've no idea why), who created three 'Presidencies' of Bombay, Madras and Bengal. It was the Bengal army that fought in the 1st Sikh War, together with some of Her Majesties (HM) British troops. They also fought in the 2nd War, with some of the Bombay troops joining in the fun. Ironically it was the Bengal troops (sepoys) who started the Mutiny some 10 years later, with the 3rd Light Cavalry having the honour.

The sepoys were high caste Hindu soldiers, led by British officers, and the Bengal Army numbred some 74 battalions

The British
Infantry - wore their usual redcoats, dark blue trousers, white cross belts and black shakos, which was totally unsuited for the Indian climate. The shakos were often covered by a quilted cloth, with a 'havelock' cloth hanging down to cover the back of the neck, or more often a peaked cap, similar to Napoleonic Prussian Landwehr' caps, in white.' Trousers were changed to a pale blue or white linen pair. Armed with percussion lock smoothbore muskets.

These regiments, each a single battalion, took part in both wars.

9th (East Norfolk), 10th (North Lincoln), 24th (2nd Warwickshire - yes the Zulu War regiment), 29th (Worcestershire), 31st (Huntingdonshire), 32nd (Cornwall), 50th (Queens Own), 53rd (Shropshire), 60th (Kings Royal Rifle Corps, wearing green jackets), 61st (South Gloucestershire), 62nd (Wiltshire), 80th (Staafordshire Volunteers), and finally the 98th.

It was the norm for one Britsh battalion to be brigaded with two or three sepoy battalions.

There were two Ghurkha battalions, the Nasiree and the Simoor, who were the first Ghurkha units raised and used in a campaign by the British. Both dressed in dark rifle green, black facings

Cavalry - only 4 cavalry regiments were involved in these wars -

3rd (Kings Own) Light Dragoons
14th (Kings) Light Dragoons
9th (Queens) Lancers
16th Lancers

The first three were all in blue, the 16th wearing redcoats..the lancer caps were covered in black or white covers.

There were no Britsh artillery units involved, all the guns being provided from the Bengal Army.

The Bengal Army
This Army was the largest of the three presidencies. The infantry wore the usual red coats white or blue trousers, and a peakless shako (designed so their foreheads could touch the ground when praying). Local dress took over though, the trousers were replaced by the dhoti, a loose knickerbocker type nappy..Honour titles were sometimes bestowed on battalions if they had performed well, ie 16th (Grenadiers), 26th and 43rd (Light Infantry), but their function was still the same..They were a little afraid of the Sikhs, but once it was shown that the Sikhs could be beaten, their confidence improved

There were two European Battalions, the 1st and 2nd, the 1st becoming called Grenadiers, the 2nd becoming Light Infantry.

Their were three types of Bengal cavalry -

The first was the single regiment of the Governor Generals Bodyguard, dressed as Light Dragoons, in red jackets, blue trousers, black shakos
Second were the twelve Bengal Light Cavalry regiments, (BLC) all dressed in French grey with orangy-red facings (the 5th had black), shakos covered in white linen cloth. They were armed as Light Dragoons, except the 4th Regiment, who were lancers.

Last were the Bengal Irregular Cavalry (BIC) - there ware about 18 regiments, each one having its own distinctive uniform (akin to the French Napoleonic Hussars)and armed with the lance .They wore a long, loose coat called the alkalak, baggy trousers, and various forms of head gear form Albert helmets, fezes, turbans, or a combination of all three. These were the forerunners of the famous Bengal Lancers

In the artillery, their were the usual horse and field batteries, with 6lb and 9lb guns being used. The native crews wore blue jackets and a hat similar to that of the Sikhs, but the horse artillery wore a blue coat and a brass helmet with a red falling horse hair plume hanging down. It looked identical to the French Dragoon helmet of the Napoleonic wars.

The Commander in Chief was Sir Hugh Gough, a fiery old gentleman in the Blucher mold (they do look very similar in contemporary photos taken at the time of Gough)
His tactical repetoire was of a frontal assault with the bayonet, using the British troops to lead the way. His famous quote during the Battle of Sobraon, upon being told the guns were getting low on ammo, was .."Thank God, at last I can get at them with the bayonet"

The Governor General was Sir Henry Hardinge, who offered to serve under Gough, but kept interferring with Gough's plans, with Gough feeling awkward upon having to run things past  Hardinge, even though he was acting as a subordinate.