Foolish political policies and military incompetence lead to bloody disaster for the British in the First Afghan War!
In 1876, George Armstrong Custer and some 268 some members of the US Army’s 7th cavalry were “massacred” in battle against native Lakota and Cheyenne warriors in the valley of the Little Bighorn River. This signal, but ultimately meaningless, defeat of a “modern” military force by technologically inferior tribal warriors is very well known in America; thanks to countless books and not a few films that deal with the subject.
What is almost universally forgotten is the far greater and more politically significant destruction of a much larger British army just 34 years earlier, by Afghan tribesman in the snowbound passes of eastern Afghanistan.
Afghanistan was a pawn in the “Great Game” for control of Central Asia and India. Seen here in a political cartoon of the day, Afghanistan is courted…
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ln 1881, in the Sudan, a leader emerged from out of the sands of the desert. He was a man of the desert; a mystic and a man of God. His name was Muhammad Ahmad and claimed to be the “Expected One”, the true “Mahdi”. He soon gathered a force of followers from the desert tribes, and declared jihad.
The Mahdi’s Army grew and his revolt spread. The Dervishes (as they came to be known) captured towns and defeated small Egyptian forces sent to destroy them.
Then, in 1883, the Turkish governor of Egypt hired William “Billy” Hicks, a retired British Colonel and several British subordinates to lead a modern army into the Sudan and crush the Mahdi. Hicks Pasha had at his disposal 10,000 regular infantry armed with modern rifles, 1,000 irregular cavalry, 14 field pieces and 6 Nordenfelt multiple barrel machine guns.
The Mahdi (R), and as…
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This is the fifth part of our series on Elite Warriors of the Dark Ages. The Household Cavalry of one of history’s greatest generals helped to restore the lost western provinces of the Roman Empire. A multi-ethnic unit of armored cavalry, they were mobile fire-brigade of the Byzantine Empire.
From the 5th century on, Roman and Byzantine (Eastern Roman) armies increasingly came to rely upon cavalry as the elite strike force of any field Army. Heralding the coming age of cavalry dominance, the wars of Justinian to reclaim the lost western provinces of Italy and North Africa in the 6th century were largely conducted by elite bodies of cavalry; supported by relatively poor quality infantry. Extraordinarily, the core of the Byzantine army of this Reconquista was the private military household of Justinian’s principal general, Belisarius; and later, that of his successor, the eunuch Narses.
Figure from contemporary mosaic…
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On 11 January 1879, a British Army crossed the Buffalo River, the boundary between the British Natal province and the independent native African kingdom of the Zulus. After the refusal by the Zulu king Cetshwayo of an insulting British ultimatum, a British army prepared to march on the Zulu capital, Ulindi; with the goal of defeating and annexing the Zulu kingdom.
The Zulu War of 1879 was not officially sanctioned by the government of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It was instead the work of an ambitious colonial official, Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, High Commissioner for Southern Africa. In an effort to compel the various states of South Africa into a British confederation (which would be comprised of British-run Cape Colony, Natal, and the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State), Frere had initiated a policy of annexation of local African…
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THE TURNING POINT OF THE FIRST ANGLO-SIKH WAR COMES AT ALIWAL; AS SIR HARRY SMITH FIGHTS THE PERFECT BATTLE, AND THE 16th LANCERS RIDE TO GLORY.
Following humiliation in the First Afghan War (1839 to 1842), British prestige was badly eroded. In the Punjab, the independent and well-armed Sikhs were looking to take advantage of perceived British weakness to expand their kingdom into the Bengal. At the close of 1845, the growing instability of the Sikh government and tensions between they and the British East India Company led to the outbreak of war between Britain and the Sikh Kingdom (the First Anglo-Sikh War).
The Khalsa, the semi-independent professional army of the Sikh Kingdom (arguably the most “modern” and disciplined non-western army in the world at the time), began hostilities on December 10, 1845 by crossing the Sutlej River into British territory. The British forces near the frontier, under…
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