The 2nd Afghan War
|British Indian vs Afghan|
The Second Afghan War stemmed from the British fear of Russian invasion of their Indian territories via Afghanistan. When a Russian mission arrived at the court of Sher Ali, the unpredictable Afghan ruler, in Kabul, the British insisted that the Afghans accept a British mission as well. When this was refused, an ultimatum was presented: and war inevitably followed.
There were two main campaigns. For the first, launched in November 1878, the British sent three armies simultaneously into Afghanistan: the Peshawar Valley Field Force (Lt-Gen Sir Samuel Brown, VC); the Kandahar Field Force (Lt-Gen Donald Stewart); and the Kurram Valley Field Force (Maj-Gen Frederick Roberts).
Brown forced his way through the Khyber Pass to Jalalabad, despite an initially unsuccessful attempt to outflank the Afghan forces stationed there.
Stewart advanced unopposed to Kandahar.
Roberts advanced through the Kurram Valley, driving the Afghans before him until he reached their main defensive position at Peiwar Kotal. There he attacked: planning to pin the Afghans in place with frontal demonstrations while he stormed the position from the flanks. His flank attacks were unsuccessful, but his frontal demonstrations turned into successful attacks which, combined with artillery fire onto the Afghan baggage train, caused the Afghans to withdraw in panic.
Realising that defeat and invasion was inevitable, Sher Ali appealed unsuccessfully to the Russians, and then fled to Russia: leaving his throne to his son Yacub Khan, who, with the Treaty of Gandamack, 26th May 1879, agreed to accept a British Envoy in Kabul in exchange for the withdrawal of British forces to India.
campaign was a punitive strike following the murder in September 1879 of Sir
Louis Cavagnari, the British Envoy in Kabul, and members of his staff and
escort of Guides massacred after an heroic defence
Roberts rejoined the Kurram Field Force and marched to Kabul: fighting a hard battle at Charasia (where Gatling Guns were used for the first time by the British Army). On reaching Kabul, Roberts established a British military government but the harsh regime that he imposed led to insurrection.
Unable to defend the whole city, Roberts withdrew to cantonments at Sherpur where, on 23rd December 1879, the whole Afghan army threw itself against the defences in a desperate assault. The assault was unsuccessful and, re-inforced, Roberts reoccupied the city the next day. Yacub Khan abdicated, and was replaced by his cousin, Abdur Rahman.
In April 1880, Stewart, who was marching from Kandahar to join Roberts at Kabul, was attacked by Afghan fanatics at the battle of Ahmed Khel. Although at one point it looked as if the initial rush of the Afghans would overwhelm the British force, the 3rd Ghurka Rifles and 2nd Sikhs formed square and stood fast until the rest of the line steadied and the Afghans were repulsed.
With the Kabul area now quiet, Ayub Khan, a popular Afghan prince, claimed the right to rule Kandahar. Elements of the old Afghan Regular Army and Ghazi religeous fanatics flocked to his cause and, at Maiwand in July 1880, he defeated a British brigade: forcing it to retreat to Kandahar.
Roberts was tasked to relieve Kandahar and, with a force consisting on three brigades of infantry, one of cavalry and four mountain batteries, covered 305 miles in 23 days under the worst conditions possible. He reached Kandahar on the 31st of August and, on 1st September, destroyed the Afghans at the Battle of Kandahar.
With stability now restored, the British withdrew: leaving Abdur Rahman to rule Afghanistan: free of a British Envoy as long as he had no dealings with the Russians.