Above is a pic of Lt. Colonel James Galbraith, Regimental Colour in hand, alongside Bobbie the regimental dog and some of the other "Last Eleven" survivors of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, making their last stand in one of the walled gardens just South of Khig village, a few miles West of the Afghan town of Maiwand.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The British Army at Charasiab, October. 6th 1879

For some time now I've been researching the make-up of the forces General Roberts commanded at the Battle of Charasiab.  There are many secondary sources which list these forces and they are largely consistent but like much else from the Second Afghan War, sometimes they are not.

One particular complication re: Charasiab is that for various reasons some regiments were split up into two or more elements and the seperate elements assigned to different sub-commands.  Another complication is that some units which were part of Roberts' Kabul Field Force and made the march to Kabul were not present at the battle at all.

Luckily I managed to track down three primary sources online which I believe helped me work out a little more accurately which specific units and portions of units were directly involved in the battle, and where they were positioned.

In case you're interested here are the three sources with a LINK to each:

(1)  41 YEARS IN INDIA - Lord Roberts' 1896 autobiograpy


(the above link can only bring you to the cover-page -- to reach the related material scroll up to Chapter L (approach to Charasiab) and/or Chapter LI (the Battle itself) OR type "charasia" into the search bar and jump to the 3rd match)

(2)  RECOLLETIONS OF THE KABUL CAMPAIGN - written by Joshua Duke, who served as a Medical Officer during the campaign

(material related to Charasiab is contained in CHAPTER IV, starting on page 112 )



LINK to General Baker's dispatch re: the battle

Before getting into the details re: the Army Lists, I'll lay the scenario out very briefly:

October 1879.  A British Army under the command of Major-General Frederick Roberts is en route to Kabul, to exact vengeance for the massacre on September 3rd  of the British Embassy led by Major Cavagnari.  Due to a severe shortage of transport animals, General Roberts' is unable to move his entire Kabul Field Force at once, instead moving first one portion, then sending the same pack animals back to move the other. 

On October 5th Roberts and the larger part of his Field Force reached the village of Charasiab (sometimes referred to in period writings as "Charasia", "Charasiah", or "Chaharasia"), located about 2 miles South of the last mountain-range seperating them from Kabul.

There were two roads for the British to take forward: one to the East, skirting the Logar River through the "Sang i-Nawaishta" Gorge on their right, and one to the West, skirting the Kabul River to their left.

The Afghans occupied the hills North of Charasiab and the mountains all around.

Although a substantial portion of his Field Force was still out of reach, on the morning of October 6th General Roberts chose to attack the Afghan positions before they could be further reinforced by additional tribesmen from nearby areas and regulars reported to be already en route.

General Roberts launched a feint attack to the East while dispatching his main attack to the West.  Despite the very strong advantage of the Afghan position, the British attack succeeded in routing all the assembled Afghan regular and tribal forces and clearing passage to both the East and West roads North to Kabul.  But it was a close-run thing, as Wellington might have put it, and despite resulting in a near-total victory* for the British, at several points during the course of the battle the result hung in the balance and might have gone either way

(*What could have made it a more "total victory" is if the British had been able to cut off or pursue and destroy the substantial Afghan forces which survived the battle and managed to escape.)

Over the past year or so I've posted a bunch of pics of my table laid out in various incomplete versions of what will hopefully in the not-too-distant future be its full Charasiab glory, as well as Google Earth images of the battlefield, but for now we'll use two more familiar maps of the battlefield, the first from the "British Battles" website and the second from the "British Empire" site:

Without further ado, here's my take on the British Order-of-Battle...


(combined Art. commanded by Capt. Swinley)

1.   F-A Battery RHA, 6 guns    (Held in reserve w/Roberts)
2.   G-3 RA, 6 guns                   (3 with White’s feint attack,
                                                   disposition of other 3...?)
3.   No. 2 Mt. Battery, 4 guns    (2 with each attack at the start, but 2
                                                   reassigned to Baker's attack, which
                                                   then included all 4 Mt. Guns)

Total 16 guns


4.   9th Lancers - 1 squadron, Capt.  Apperley
5.   5th Punjab Cavalry - 2 squadrons, Maj. Hammond
6.   12th Bengal Cavalry - 3 squadrons, Maj. Green
7.   14th Bengal Lancers (Murray’s Jats) - 3 squadrons, Lt. Col. Ross

Total 9 squadrons cavalry

*NOTE: much of the cavalry was assigned to guard the lines of communication between Charasiab and Brigadier Macpherson’s troops escorting the baggage & reserve ammunition from Saiadabad to the South, and also to serve as piquets to the East & West to deter attacks on the British camp by large gatherings of tribesmen visible on the heights on both sides of the Logar Valley -- which is why out of a total of 9 squadrons, barely 2 squadrons worth of cavalry were engaged during the battle. 


8.   67th Foot - half battalion (Lt. Col. Knowles)
9.   72nd Highlanders (Lt. Col. Clarke)
10.  5th Punjab Inf. (Maj. Pratt)
11.  23rd Bengal Native Infantry (Sikh Pioneers) (Lt. Col. Currie)
12.  5th Gurkhas (Maj. Fitzhugh)
13.  No. 7 Company Bengal Sappers & Miners (Lt. Nugent, RE)

Total equivalent to 5½ battalions of infantry

14.  2 Gatling Guns (Maj. Broadfoot)

NOTE:  The above British Inf, Cav, & Art. forces were split into three parts, one for the main attack on the British left commanded by Brigadier Baker, one for the feint attack on the British right commanded by Major White of the 92nd Highlanders, and one held in reserve at the British camp with Gnl. Roberts.

Brigadier Baker (main attack on British left):

1.   12th Bengal Cavalry
2.   No. 2 (Dejarat) Mt. Battery - 2 guns (Lt. Allsopp)
3.   2 Gatling Guns (Capt. Broadfoot)
4.   72nd Highlanders (700 bayonets, Lt. Col. Clarke)
5.   5th Punjab Inf. (200 bayonets, Capt. Hall)
6.   5th Gurkhas (300 bayonets, Maj. Fitzhugh)        
7.   No. 7 Company Bengal Sappers & Miners (Lt. Nugent, RE)
8.   23rd Bengal Native Inf. (Sikh Pioneers) (350 bayonets,
       Lt. Col. Currie)

Total 1,650 Infantry, 450 Cavalry

Major White (feint attack on British right):

1.   One combined squadron of cav from 5th Punjab Cav & 9th Lancers
       (Major Hammond)
2.   3 field guns G-3 RA
3.   2 Mt. guns No. 2 (Dejarat) Mt. Battery (Lt. Montanaro)
4.   Wing of 92nd Highlanders (284 bayonets, Major Hay)
5.   100 men of 23rd Bengal Native Inf. (Sikh Pioneers)
      (*originally 450 but 350 reassigned to reinforce the
        main attack on the left)

Total  384 Infantry, 140 Cavalry

General Roberts reserve at camp:

1.   RHA battery - 6 field guns
2.   450 cavalry  - 14th Bengal Lancers (Murray’s Jats) & elements other
      Cav regts.
3.   Approx. 650 Inf. (½ battalion 67th Foot & elements of other
      Inf regts.)

ADDITIONAL TROOPS AWAY with Brigadier General Macpherson at Saiadabad, near the Logar River crossing:

1.   1 squadron 5th Punjab Cav.
2.   2 Mt. Guns, No. 2 (Dejarat) Mt. Battery
3.   one wing of the 67th Foot (other half of the battalion)
4.   full battalion 28th Punjab Infantry


3 ½ battalions of infantry
2 weak squadrons of cavalry
7 guns

2,600 troops

...consisting of 1,090 British & 1,513 Native troops

(Field Hospital led by Surgeon Major Bourke)


(using a 1:15 figure-to-man ratio)


2 guns No. 2 Dejarat Mt. Battery w/4 crew each. . . . . . . . .8 figs
2 guns G-3 RA w/4 crew each. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 figs
1 Gatling Gun w/4 crew. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 figs   

+1 Art. higher command              

TOTAL:     21 Artillery figs


5th Punjab Cav & 9th Lancers combined detachments. . .12 figs
12th Bengal Cav. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 figs

+1 Cav. higher command

TOTAL:     25 Cavalry figs


72nd Highlanders. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 figs
           (*in 2 basic units of 20 figures each)
5th Gurkhas. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 figs
5th Punjab Infantry. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 figs
23rd Pioneers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 figs*
           (*in 2 basic units of 20 and 10 figs each)
92nd Highlanders. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 figs
No. 7 Company Bengal Sappers & Miners....6 figs

+8 Inf. higher command

TOTAL:     144 Infantry figs

TOTAL 3 COMBAT ARMS:     190 figs

(Above total includes 10 combat arms higher command figs)

+ 2 General Staff figures

Grand total:  192 figs


14th Bengal Lancers (Murray’s Jats) & elements of 9th Lancers & 5th Punjab Cavalry (450 sabres)
Wing of 67th Foot & other Inf. elements (600-700 bayonets)
F-A RHA w/6 guns


3 field guns of F-A RHA. . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 figs
14th Bengal Lancers (Murray’s Jats). . . . 24 figs
Wing of the 67th Foot. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .40 figs

+1 Cav Higher Command fig, +2 Inf Higher Command figs.  + 3 Gnl. Staff figs.


GRAND TOTAL of troops, including Roberts’ reserve: 274 figs

274 figs x 15 = 4,110 men

This number is pretty accurate vis-a-vis the historical record of 4,000 troops w/Roberts at the battle, properly erring by being slightly generous to Brits, who will have their work cut out for them in the scenario, with the Afghans occupying multiple strong defensive positions.

NOTE: removing the 6 figure No. 7 Company Bengal Sappers & Miners would give me a total force of 268 figs, which multiplied by 15 = 4,020 men, virtually exactly the size of Roberts' force.  But... it would mean dropping a unit that was really there, and I love my Sappers & Miners!  I will wait and see how the play-tests go and whether or not the Brits have too many or too few troops, or perhaps just the right number.


As with most battles of the Second Afghan War, historical reference concerning Afghan forces engaged at Charasiab consists almost exclusively of contemporary British estimates.  These range from "several thousand" to "thirteen regular regiments, (and) between eight and ten thousand (Tribal) Afghans."  Standard size of Afghan regular infantry regiments on paper was 690 men but of course that does not mean that the 13 Afghan Infantry regiments present at Charasiab were all up to full compliment, and it's very likely that few if any of them were.  There were also a great many Tribesmen ensconced on the mountains above the battlefield to the East and West, who never became engaged in the battle.  How many of them may be counted amongst Lord Robers' "ten-thousand Afghans" I don't know.  If things had gone differently, those additional Tribesmen would no doubt have descended upon the British, but that's not what happened.  For this scenario, I only want to involve the Afghans occupying the hills and mountains on the battlefield itself.

From a more macro view, my "go-to" Colonial rules set The Sword And The Flame (aka: TSATF) suggests a Pathan-to-British ratio of 2:1 for "balanced" games.  But of course, the devil's in the details, and it all comes down to the specifics of the scenario.  The scenario at Charasiab involves a substantial but by no means large Anglo-Indian army facing off against a larger Afghan force occupying a series of very strong defensive positions.  With the British having a grand-total of 192 figures (not counting the reserve, which for now I'm leaving out of play), twice as many troops for the Afghans might just be too much.  On the other hand, in reality the British were facing at least three or four to one odds in terms of troop strength and possibly more.

Commander:  Sardar Nek Muhammad Khan

Other Afghan leaders:          General Ghulam Haidar Khan
                                             General Muhammad Afzal Khan
                                             Sardar Muhammad Zaman Khan

12 Mountain Guns on heights to the West of the Sang-i-Nawishta Gorge
4 Armstrong breechloaders in front of the Gorge (supported by 3 battalions of Regular Infantry)
20 guns in total (4 more guns somewhere on Afghan heights to the West)


4 guns in front of Gorge = 2 guns w/8 crew
12 guns on heights West of Gorge = 6 guns w/24 crew
4 remaining Afghan guns = 2 guns w/8 crew positioned at West edge of heights (…or not, just leave them out???)


2 x 61 fig. tribes ½ rifles, ½ sword-&-shield. . . . .122 Tribal figs
1 x 61 fig. Ghazi tribe, fanatic sword-&-shield. . . . .61 Ghazi figs
2 x 85 fig. regular infantry “Brigades”. . . . . . . . . . .170 Reg. Inf. figs
8 x 4 fig. gun crews. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Art. Figs

GRAND TOTAL:         385 figs

At a figure-to-man ratio of 1:15 this translates to 5,775 men, somewhere on the lower end of British estimates of Afghan strength.  If it turns out the British have too easy a time with the scenario, the Afghan numbers could be increased, but due to the very strong defensive positions I doubt this will be the case.

Another interesting element is what Donald Featherstone might call the "Military Possibilities" concerning additional Afghan troops believed to be on their way to reinforce the Afghan positions at the time the battle took place...


3 Inf. regts. from Ghazni
3 Inf. Regts. from Kohistan
6 Inf. Regts. & 3 Cav. Regts. from Herat (Afghan Turkistan)

IN GAME TERMS this could translate to:

42 Inf. figs from Ghazni
42 Inf. figs from Kohistan
42 Inf. figs & 25 Cav. figs from Herat
(…or 85 Inf. figs & 25 Cav. figs - but is that just too much?!?!)

Again, depending on how well-balanced the scenario proves itself to be during play-testing, use of these potential Afghan reinforcements could provide an "equalizer" -- though my expectation is that it is the British who will probably need more troops, perhaps to be provided by Robers' real-world substantial reserve force, due to the very strong defensive positions occupied by the Afghans at the start of the game.

NOTE:  I have been unable to find ANY MENTION WHATSOEVER of Afghan Cavalry, be it Tribal irregular horsemen or Regular Army Cavalry troopers, being present at Charasiab.  The only mention of any mounted Afghans is a reference to mounted leaders on horseback atop the mountains at the North edge of the battlefield, encouraging their men and mocking the British.  If anyone reading this has read something to the contrary, relating to the presence of any regular or tribal Afghan cavalry being present during the battle, I'd love to hear from you!

Beyond the narrow matter of Afghan cavalry, if anyone out there has some supplementary or contradictory info with regard to the British order-of-battle as discussed above, I'd truly appreciate hearing from you in the comments section below!


This is the first time in a LONG TIME I've put a post up here without any visual content whatsoever.  Even though I highly value the research and thought I put into the above post... I have something I figure I can add to spice things up just a lttle bit -- my homemade version of the Sang-i-Nawishta monument that had stood at the Southern edge of the Sang-i-Nawishta Gorge since it was put there at the order of Mughal Emperor Sha Jahan some time in the early 17th Century.  Shah Jahan ordered a road built through the gorge, linking the Logar Valley with Kabul to the North.  When when the road was done the "Carved in Stone" monument was erected at its Southern entrance to mark the event.  Sang-i-Nawishta translates to "carved in stone" and became the name for the gorge itself.

After his army won the victory and he advanced North and occupied Kabul, General Roberts had the "Sang-i-Nawishta" stone transported to the Sherpur Cantonments and  placed in front of his tent.

Here's my scratchbuilt attempt at a 28mm version, using a couple of garden wood-chips, a square shaped antique Mughal coin and an early 20th Century Iranian coin (turns out the winged lion holding a sword on those Iranian coins is almost identical to the 17th Century Mughal emblem used by Shah Jahan's regime) mounted onto a 40mm Round Rock Base from Itar's Workshop...

Friday, January 2, 2015

Online collection of original Second Afghan War pics

While Googling around for some Battle of Charasiab-related info -- probably connected to the 14th and 12th Bengal Cavalry -- I happened across a collection of period photos from the Second Afghan War, several of which I've never seen before, available at a site called World Digital Library.  The source they credit is an album of photos donated to the Library of Congress.  As someone who's been seriously interested in this campaign for about 40 years, and has been researching and collecting every tidbit of information I could find -- especially contemporary VISUAL information -- it's always a great feeling to find something new, and it includes some uniform and equipment details of special value to me, and hopefully perhaps a few others as well.

I've posted a handful of the photos below, just to show you the quality and some of the great details, but you will find a handy LINK to the web-page where the collection resides at the bottom of this post.

First up is a photo of a Royal Artillery Mountain-Gun and crew alongside a Royal Artillery 40lb. breechloader, drawn by a pair of elephants.  What's of special value to me in this pic, is the fact that the Mountain-Gun crew is dressed khaki uniforms, while the 40lb. crew is dressed wears Royal Artillery Service Dress of blue.  This kind of proves -- if it were ever in doubt -- that during the 1878-1880 war in Afghanistan, gun crews from different artillery units could have and probably did serve their guns side-by-side while dressed in completely different uniforms.  It also pushes me to make a final decision and paint my own Royal Artillery Mountain-Gun battery crews in solid khaki uniforms...

Next up is a photo which I believe shows one of the pair of Gatling Guns which was part of General Roberts' army that marched on Kabul in the aftermath of the massacre of Cavagnari and his Guides escort.  What's interesting here is that most of the gunners appear to wear Royal Artillery blue, while two or three of them -- who all happen to be holding the reins of various mules -- wear the "transitional" or "mixed" dress of khaki jackets with blue trousers... BUT, after I blew up the photo and examined it more closely, I realized it might be possible that the two or three men wearing khaki and holding the reins of the mules might possibly be 72nd Highlanders, as you may be able to discern a tartan pattern on the pants -- or perhaps the trews -- of the fellow standing second from right in the photo.  At various times during the Second Afghan War and many other Victorian colonial campaigns, men from infantry units were detailed to serve as impromptu artillery crewmen or  transport or support staff, and I may recall reading in the "Abridged Official History" of the war that some infantrymen served along with the gunners crewing the pair of Gatling Guns that participated in the battle of Charasiab and the defense of the Sherpur Cantonments.  So... does the photo show an example of uniform variation within a single gun or battery crew... or does it show a mix of uniforms for a mix of troops detailed to serve together?  If someone reading this blog post is privy to more information related to the photo and happens to know the answer, please be sure to leave a comment and share it...

Third is a photo of the Medical Doctors who accompanied General Roberts' famous "Kabul to Kandahar" march in August of 1880.  What's great about this photo is the incredibly wide array of uniform styles on view.  Of course these men probably belonged to many different regiments, but I think the point is still valid.  Some wear puttees, others wear boots, one even wears buttoned gaiters, which are rarely if ever seen in depictions of British troops during the Second Afghan War...

Finally, number four shows an elephant-drawn Royal Artillery battery.  The gunners appear to wear Blue Service Dress, and I believe the photo's location must be the Baba Wali Kotal just outside Kandahar, as it is a very striking and singular landscape:

There are a lot more photos at the below web-page, and I highly recommend anyone interested in the Second Afghan War to pop over and look through them.  A few may already be familiar to you, but speaking for myself there are a good number more photos that I had never seen before.

Here's a LINK directly to an incredible set of photos forming a PANORAMA OF KANDAHAR filled with plowed-fields, walls, karez (irrigation canals), roads, the British camp, the Baba Wali mountains in the background, and what may be the rocky high-ground above the village of Gundigan in the far left foreground...

I'm very glad I found these photos and I truly hope some of you will enjoy seeing them as well, and HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone kind enough to stop by and spend some of their time reading this blog!