Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Lion in Persia Part 1 - Reshire, and the charge of the 3rd Bombays

Herat, and the scandalous wife of Meerza Hashem Khan

The Anglo-Persian War of 1856/7 was actually more of a punitive expedition, and came out of the Great Game - the struggle for Asia between the British and Russian Empires. Persia had coveted the Afghan city of Herat for decades, but had been warned off by Britain, who was keen to keep Afghanistan intact as a buffer protecting India from the Russians. Now, egged on from St Petersburg, Persia had taken the city of 25th Oct 1856.

There was a further casas belli, over the affair of Meerza Hashem Khan. He had been in the Shah´s court for many years, starting as a page in the harem, and he was married the sister of one of the Shah´s wives. Therefore this lady, whose name or picture sadly I cannot find, was a member of the Royal Family. Now, rumours started spreading that she and the British ambassador, Charles Murray, has more than "diplomatic" relations - rumours which Murray did nothing to squash when he hired a house near his residence for the wife. As the clamour increased Murray claimed that in fact he was going hire Meerza Hashem Khan as a secretary, and send him to the city of Fars. Strangely enough this didn´t help, the outraged brother of the lady took her and delivered her to the Perisan authorities, and Meerza bolted to the British mission, where he was given sanctuary. Murray demanded the wife's return, the Persians demanded Meerza, and harsh words were spoken until diplomatic relations were broken off.

Persia had possibly calculated that the British had been so weakened by the Crimean War, just finished, and so fearful of moving troops from India where tensions were rising, that they would not respond to the seizure of a city not even in British territory. They were wrong, Britain declared war.

Persian troops (Illustrated London News)

The Invasion

Relieving Herat directly would have involved marching through Afghanistan, traditionally a bad idea, so an expedition was prepared to land on Persia's southern coast.

The First division, under Major General Foster consisted of 2,300 British regulars and 3,400 Indian sepoys of the Bombay Presidency, setting sail from Bombay in November 1856. They picked off the Gulf island of Kharag on then way, before landing near Bushire, Persia's main southern port. Foster's force at this point included...

64th (2nd Staffordhire) Regiment
4th Bombay Infantry
20th Bombay Infantry
26th Bombay Infantry
2nd European light infantry
2nd Baluch Battalion
3rd Bombay Light Cavalry
Bombay Sappers & Miners
4th troop Horse Artillary
3rd and 5th Light Field batteries

Bushire was protected by an old Dutch fort at Reshire,  Commander Felix Jones, the Politial Offier, reported as follows....

"This was on the morning of the 9th, and, by noon, the enemy were observed to be in some force in the village of Reshire. Here, amid the ruins of old houses, garden-walls, and steep ravines, they occupied a formidable position. But, notwithstanding their firmness, wall after wall was surmounted, and finally they were driven from bordering on the cliffs at the margin of the sea. This was carried at the point of the bayonet, the enemy then only flying in despair down the cliffs, wheremany met their death in their endeavours to escape through the ravines of the south. The nature of the ground, however, rendered pursuit difficult to the Horse, though many were cut up in a chase of some distance. Details of this spirited affair will be given by the proper officers. I shall, therefore, merely observe, that the enemy received at first a lesson he will not readily forget, for the tribe families of Dashti and Tungestoon comprising its ranks are regarded as the most brave, as well as the most skilled, in the defence of posts like Reshire, where regular troops cannot work with full effect. Brigadier Stopford, C.B., met his death here, and other loss was experienced. The wounded were received into the ships the same evening, and provisions were thrown into the camp from seaward during the night."

 The Battle of Reshire, from the Illustrated London News

By all accounts it was a hard fight, officer casualties being recorded as Brigadier Stopford, and Lieutenant-Colonel Malet, of the 3rd Light Cavalry, and Lieutenants Utterson and Warren, of the 20th Bombay Regiment. One consequence of the assault was the awarding of the very first Victoria Cross to a member of a British Indian Army, 38 year old Captain John Wood of the Grenadier company of the 20th Bombay Native Infantry.

His citation in the London Gazette reads as follows;

"On the 9th of December, 1856, Captain Wood led the Grenadier Company, which formed the head of the assaulting column sent against Bushire. He was the first man on the parapet of the fort, where he was instantly attacked by a large number of the garrison, who suddenly sprang on him from a trench cut in the parapet itself. : These men fired a volley at Captain Wood and the head of the storming party, when only a yard or two distant from that Officer; but, although Captain Wood was struck by no less than seven musket balls, he at once threw himself upon the enemy, passed his sword through the body of their leader, and, being
closely followed by the men of his company, speedily overcame all opposition, and established himself in the place. Captain Wood's decision, energy, and determined valour, undoubtedly contributed in a high degree to the success of the attack. His wounds compelled him to leave the force for a time; but, with the true spirit of a good soldier, he rejoined his regiment, and returned to his duty at Bushire before the wounds were properly healed

Subedar Major Mohammed Sharief and Subedar Peer Bhatt of the same regiment were also recommended for awards for bravery.

The British/ Indian force entered Bushire on 10th December after a 5 hour naval bombarment by the steam gun sloops "Victoria,"  " Falkland, " Semiramis," and " Feroze," had silenced the guns of the city. The surrender was taken from Mehdy Khan. Sirhang, (commander) of  the Nihawed regiment, and the garrison of Bushire, who had taken charge on the death of the previous garrison commander, Sirteep, of the Azerbijan Regiment.

It was clear by now though that troops would be needed and a 2nd dvision left from Bombay, headed by General Sir James Outram, who would take charge of the whole expedition. The troops he bought included the...

Poona Irregular Horse
1st Scinde Irregular Horse
Madras Sappers & Miners

Outram marched on the city of Shiraz, taking the city of Bazjun, which was abandoned without a fight, and on February 5th they stopped near the village of Khoosh-Ab to stock up on water. All this time the Persians had been retiring in front of them, and although Outram tried to catch up on 6th and 7th Feb it was clear that he might as well retire back to Khoosh-Ab, and then Bashire. However, seeing the British depart the Persian commander in chief, Shooja-ool-Moolk, suddenly grew bolder.A night attack was lauched on the rear guard by calvalry, and an attempt to catch the British as they retired. At daybreak 7,000 men the Persian army occupied a position overlooking the British route, so Outram gathered his forces, about 4,500 men and he attacked.

The battle of Khoosh-Ab

In his official report Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram estimates the Persian forces as .....

Guards, 900
2 Karragoozloo Regiments. 1,500
Shiraz Regiment, 200
4 Regiments of Sabriz, 800
Arab Regiment, 900
Kashkai Regiment, 800 - 1.100
Sufenghees, 1,000.
Cavalry of Shiraz, 300
Eilkhanee Horse, 500- 800.
Guns (said to be), 18

His description of the battle is as follows;

"Our artillery and cavalry at once moved rapidly to the attack, supported by two lines of infantry, a third protecting the baggage. The firing of the artillery was most excellent, and did great execution ; the cavalry brigade twice charged with great gallantry and success; a standard (of the Kashkai Regular Infantry Regiment) was captured by the Poona horse; and the 3rd Light Cavalry charged a square, and killed nearly the whole regiment; indeed, upon the cavalry and artillery fell the whole brunt of the action, as the enemy moved away too rapidly for the infantry to overtake them. By ten o'clock the defeat of the Persians was complete ; two guns were captured; the gun ammunition, laden upon mules, fell into our hands; and at least 700 men lay dead upon the field. The number of wounded could not be ascertained, but it must have been very large.
The remainder fled in a disorganised state, generally throwing away their arras, which strewed the field in vast numbers, and nothing but the paucity of our cavalry prevented their total destruction and the capture of the remaining guns".

The charge at the Battle of Khoosh-Ab

The most famous incident was the battle was the charge of the 3rd Bombay Light Horse against a regiment arranged in square to repel cavalry - by the recieved wisdom of the time, such a charge was impossible. Somehow the 3rd managed it, breaking the square and destroying it, so that only 20 of the 500 escaped. Two lieutenants, Arthur Thomas Moore, who first broke into the square, and John Grant Malcolmson, were awarded Victoria Crosses for their part in the action, as described in the London Gazette..

"On the occasion of an attack on the enemy on the 8th of February, 1837, led by Lieutenant- Colonel Forbes, C.B., Lieutenant Moore, the Adjutant of the Regiment, was, perhaps, the first of all by a horse's length. His horse leaped into the square, and instantly fell dead, crushing down his rider, and breaking his sword as he fell amid the broken ranks of the enemy. Lieutenant Moore speedily extricated himself, and attempted with his broken sword to force his way through the press, but he would assuredly have lost his life, had not the gallant young Lieutenant Malcolmson, observing his peril, fought his way to his dismounted comrade through a crowd of enemies to his rescue, and, giving him his stirrup, safely carried him through everything out of the throng.
The thoughtfulness for others, cool determination, devoted courage, and ready activity shown in extreme danger by this young Officer, Lieutenant Malcolmson, appear to. have been most admirable, and to be worthy of the highest honou

The British continued back to Bushire.

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