The Afghan regular army of 1919 was not a formidable force (in fact, it never had been formidable) and had only about 50.000 men. There were also another 80.000 frontier tribesmen, first class fighters for the kind of war fought in the Frontier.
For their part, the British and British Indian Army had eight divisions, five independent infantry brigades and other three of cavalry. There were also three frontier brigades and some units of frontier militia and irregular corps. The British had also motor transport, wireless comunications, armoured cars and RAF detachments to increase their firepower and reach (Kabul itself suffered a bombing raid).
The main problem for the British was manpower. The troops in India were not the hard veteran and first class soldiers of other times. Great Britain had just finished a very costly global war and its will to fight and military capacity were very low. The Indian Army had been also heavily commited to the Great War, suffering 115,000 casualties from a million men sent overseas. Many of its units were still overseas and other had begun a process of demobilization. In the British Army, units from the Territorial Army had taken the place, during the Great War, of the Regular Army units serving in India and these Territorials were only interested in demobilisation and returning to Britain.
The prospect of war was grim for both Regular Armies.
The war began on 3 May 1919 when Afghan troops crossed the frontier at the western end of the Khyber Pass and captured the town of Bagh, strategically important to the British as it provided water to Landi Kotal, a town garrisoned by two companies from the British Indian Army.
In response, the British Indian goverment declared war upon Afghanistan on 6 May and ordered a general mobilisation of the British and Indian forces. It was necessary to reinforce the two companies posted in Landi Kotal and the only battalion availaible, the 2nd Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, was sent clandestinely through the Khyber Pass aboard a convoy of 37 lorries.
Meanwhile, the serious prospect of an uprising in Peshawar was abated on 8 May and more reinforcements were available, growning the Landi Kotal garrison to brigade size. Finally, on 9 May the British and Indian forces launched an attack on the Afghan forces that had seized Bagh the previous week. The attack failed when the brigade commander, Brigadier G.D. Crocker, split his forces and, as a result, was unable to achieve the necessary concentration of force to capture his objetives.
A second attack made two days latter, on 11 May, proved successful, perhaps because it was supported with 22 machine guns and 18 artillery pieces. Using their bayonets, the British and Gurkha battalions drove the Afghans into the Lower Khyber and over the border. The RAF followed them, carring out a number of bombing runs, and the tribesmen that might have been expected to counterattack in support of the Afghan decided against doing so, turning their efforts to looting the battlefield.
The Chief Commissioner of the North West Frontier, Sir George Roos-Keppel convinced the Viveroy, Lord Chelmsford (yes, him!) to continue the advance to pursue the Afghan across the frontier.
On 13 May, British and Indian troops seized control of the western Khyber without opposition and occupied Dacca, defeating an infantry assault of the Afghan infantry. Another force of 3,000 Afghans was also defeated in a direct assault of their positions on a hill.
In this moment of the campaing, trouble struck the British rear areas along their line of communications through the Khyber Pass, where the Khyber Rifles were disarmed after they had become disaffected and began to desert en masse. Lord Chelmsford decided that the situation could be resolved by continuing the advance into Afghanistan, and gave the order to the brigade in Dacca to march towards Jalalabad, but fighting broke out further to the south and in the eastern Khyber.
On 27 May, the British commander in Quetta decided to attack the Afghan fortress at Spin Boldak and captured it, seizing the initiative in the south. But the situation in the center of the war zone, around Kurram remained desperate for the British. The Afghan forces in this area were under the command of General Nadir Khan, that possessed a force of 14 battalions. The British at Thal, under Brigadier General Alexander Eustace, had only 4 battalions of inexperienced Indian troops. Then, the Waziristan Militia were disaffected, and turned on their officers, adding a new problem.
Nadir Khan seized the opportunity and decided to attack Thal, shelling and assaulting the fort with his infantry but was unable to take it. The British decided to sent an strong column to relieve Eustace´s force at Thal and, after a hard fight against a blocking force of tribesmen, this column cleared the way through Eustace´s garrison.
|Thal Fort, 1919|
The next day, 2 June, the British brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, launched an attack on the Afghan regulars positioned away to the west of Thal, but Nadir Khan sent out an envoy to deliver a message to the brigade commander. This one told Dyer that Amir Amanullah had ordered Nadir Khan to cease hostilities and asked him to honour the request for an armistice that Amanullah had sent to the British Indian goverment on 31 May. Dyer, suspecting that this request was only a ruse on Nadir Khan´s part, decided to continue his attack and the Afghan forces retired from the area. Dyer followed them with cavalry and armoured cars from the 37th Lancers while the RAF attacked and dispersed about 400 tribesmen that were in the area.
On 3 June the armistice was finally signed, but some fighting continued in Chitral and in North Baluchistan for a time. It was not until 8 August 1919 that this small war concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Rawalpindi.
And there was the tribal insurrection of Waziristan...
Another long entry about this small war. I expect to finish this series with the outcome of the campaing and then, towards the game!