Sikh Forces in Afghanistan 1929-1935
Sikhs in British Armed Forces: Sikh Forces in Afghanistan
OPERATIONS AROUND PESHAWAR, 1929
At this time there was much political unrest in India and there was a great deal of seditious activity, stimulated by Abdul Ghaffar and his organization of “Redshirts” in the Peshawar District. Towards the end of April, 1930, serious riots broke out in Peshawar and the 1st/11th Sikhs were moved there to reinforce the garrison. Although it did not take part in the restoration of order in Peshawar city, companies were dispatched to outlying districts to assist the civil authorities in restoring order.
The internal unrest spread to the Mohmand frontier and a Mohmand lashkar was concentrated near the border villages of Matta Mughal Khel and Shabkadar. On the 30th of May the 1st/ 11th Sikhs set out with 1he 16th Mountain Battery, R.A., and marched from Peshawar for Shabkadar Fort. The Battalion bivouacked for the night on the bank of the Kabul river and then marched into Shabkadar the next morning. It remained in this area for two weeks and was employed in assisting the civil authorities to secure the arrest of political firebrands in the district, while the Royal Air Force attempted to disperse the Mohmand lashkar. The lashkar was, however, located in caves and the bombing of the R.A.F. proved to be unsuccessful, so the 1st/ 11th Sikhs were ordered to move forward and escort a mountain battery detailed to shell this area. The advance induced some two hundred Mohmands to move forward from the line of foothills and engage the Sikhs. The Mohmands followed up the subsequent withdrawal and the Sikhs inflicted a large number of casualties on the enemy as they attempted to close in on the rearguard. Although this fighting was not of a serious nature, the Mohmands lost a considerable number of casualties, with the result that the lashkar dispersed.
During this time Peshawar had been invaded by an Afridi lashkar, followed by a hostile gathering on the Utman Khel frontier, south of the Swat river. The 1 st / 11 th Sikhs were sent off to join a column under Brigadier Fordham to operate against the Utman Khel. The column traversed the Utman Khel country for five days in some long marches over difficult country and, although there was no actual fighting, the presence of troops in that area had a subduing effect on the tribesmen. The column returned to Peshawar, where they arrived on the 23rd of June, and for six weeks the situation remained quiet.
At the beginning of August information was received that the Afridis were again collecting a lashkar for a second invasion and the 1 st / 1 th Sikhs were sent out to hold an extended outpost line from the Bara river to the Khyber railway. A few days later the Afridis infiltrated into British territory, but avoided the outpost line held by the Sikhs. On the 11th of August the Battalion was withdrawn from outpost duty to Peshawar and during the next few days took part in a number of abortive operations with the Nowshera Brigade to come to grips with the enemy. Although there was no fighting, these offensive operations forced the Afridis to withdraw and Peshawar was definitely clear by the 15th of August.
KHAJURI PLAIN, 1930-1931
As a result of these Afridi incursions the Government of India decided to deny the use of the Khajuri and Aka Khel plains to the Afridi tribesmen by establishing a blockade line and by constructing a network of motor roads across the two plains to facilitate the rapid movement of troops. While the Jhansi and Rawalpindi Brigades were detailed to occupy the Khajuri plain, the Nowshera Brigade was given the task of establishing a blockade line from Jamrud to Fort Mackeson.
For the next three months the Sikhs, were employed in holding the blockade line. Although it was possible to watch nearly the whole front by a few standing patrols by day, a very large number of patrols had to be employed by night. The blockade proved most effective, ,since, after hostile parties had been ambushed and surprised on several occasions at the beginning of the blockade, the Afridis ceased attempting to move through. In addition to these duties, the Battalion constructed many miles of motor track and patrolled into tribal territory.
On the 8th of December the Battalion fought a small action with the Afridis in the Mandai defile, when some tribesmen followed up the Sikh rearguard, which inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy. The Battalion also fought another minor action on the 2nd of January, 1931.
On the 5th of January the 1st / 11th Sikhs were relieved of their duties in the blockade line by the 3rd/ 17th Dogras and went into camp at Garhi Jani with the remainder of the Nowshera Brigade. During the stay of three weeks in camp the Battalion was employed in road-making and road construction and expeditions into the Zao valley. During this time it had five engagements with the Afridis. The most noteworthy was carried out on the night of the 12th of January, when the 1st / 11th Sikhs moved out independently across five miles of broken transborder country and surrounded the village of Algadi before dawn. A wanted gang of Afridis, which had been engaged in smuggling traffic through the Kohat Pass, were in the village, and, owing to the bold initiative of two sepoys, were all killed or captured. Algadi was then burned to the ground and the Battalion returned to the Brigade, which had been operating in the Zao valley and withdrew to camp without loss.
From Garhi Jani the 1st / 11th Sikhs moved to Jhansi Post on the left bank of the Bara river and remained there with the Nowshera Brigade until the end of operations in March. The Brigade was employed on constructing roads and making permanent posts. In addition, regular expeditions were carried out in the Tirah district, but the area was peaceful and there was only one small action with the tribesmen. This took place on the 15th of March, when the Brigade moved over the Kandao Pass, The tribesmen followed up the rearguard, found by the 1st / 11th Sikhs, and there was some fighting when the rearguard covered the withdrawal.
On the 23rd of March, 1931, the Nowshera Brigade handed over the completed line of permanent posts and piquets to battalions of the Khyber and Peshawar Brigades and then returned to Nowshera. The 1st /11th Sikhs had earned a great reputation on these operations and the fine spirit of the men invariably caused comment. In his report on the Battalion the Commander of the Nowshera Brigade, Brigadier C. A. Milward, wrote
” In the field the battalion moves exceptionally well and on some twenty-five operations it has always carried out to my complete satisfaction the role allotted to it. . . . It proved itself most reliable in face of the enemy and I felt complete confidence always. . . . The keenness, zest and skill of the men was beyond praise. . . . I cannot speak too highly of the loyalty displayed and the devoted service to Government carried out by this battalion during the past and highly testing year. The spirit displayed by all ranks under most trustworthy Indian officers, against `Redshirts,’ Congress, Utman Khels and Afridis, in the hot weather and cold on work and all duties, has been simply magnificent.”
The summer of 1931 was peaceful and it was not until December that the 1 st / 11 th Sikhs were again called out to assist the civil authorities in breaking up the “Redshirt” organization, which had continued carrying out subversive work for the past nine months. From Christmas Day onwards for about six weeks a minimum of two companies was continuously employed in aid of the civil authorities.
MOHMAND OPERATIONS, 1933
In August and September, 1933, the 1st/11th Sikhs took part in operations against the Upper Mohmands. The Peshawar and Nowshera Brigades marched methodically up the Gandao valley in two columns towards the Nahakki Pass to cover the construction of a motor road into the Mohmand territory.
The Peshawar Brigade was in the lead and by the 2nd of August had arrived at Ghalanai. On this day the Sikhs moved forward to Dand Banda and relieved the Guides Infantry, who moved on to join the Peshawar Brigade. The 1st/ 11th Sikhs remained in this camp throughout August and it became the headquarters of the Nowshera column while the construction of the motor road proceeded. The road had to be protected every single day by the troops of the two brigades. Piquets moved out every morning at 5.30, remained out all day and returned to camp between 6 and 7 p.m. It was very monotonous work, but there was scarcely any fighting during the whole period. On the 13th August the Sikhs had their only small battle when a party of tribesmen engaged one of the piquets covering the road.
The motor road was ready for traffic as far as Ghalanai by the 1st of September and the Sikhs moved forward there on that date and were followed four days later by the remainder of the Nowshera Brigade.
The Battalion provided a guard of honour at a jirga held by the Governor of the North-West Frontier Province at Ghalanai on the 3rd of September. A few days later the Battalion moved forward to Katsai Camp, some five miles forward of Ghalanai, and provided defensive posts for the construction of the road forward from Katsai. Here the Sikhs were engaged with small parties of tribesmen who tried to harass road construction.
On the morning of the 15th of September an R.A.F. aeroplane made a forced landing about a mile from Katsai Camp. A strong detachment of the Battalion turned out to bring in the pilot and air gunner, who were both unhurt. In moving out, the Battalion met considerable opposition from the tribesmen, who made great efforts to stop the Sikhs reaching the aircraft. However, the two airmen were successfully recovered and Captain J. V. Gordon and two Indian ranks received immediate awards of the Military Cross and Indian Distinguished Service Medal, respectively, for gallantry in dashing ahead of .the troops and actually effecting the rescue under very heavy fire.
On the next day the Peshawar Brigade moved out from Ghalanai to cover the salvage of the aircraft. The tribesmen followed up the withdrawal of the Brigade in the afternoon and a piquet held by a platoon of the 1st/ 11th Sikhs, under Jemadar Sundar Singh, was very heavily engaged by superior numbers of tribesmen. Repeated attacks were driven back and Jemadar Sundar Singh was awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal for his skilful and stouthearted defence.
The Mohmands now accepted the British terms and operations came to an end. The Battalion returned with the Peshawar Brigade to Nowshera on the 5th of October.
A fortnight later the 1st/ 11th Sikhs were transferred to the Khyber Brigade and during the next two years were either in the Khyber Pass or in posts on the Kajuri Plain.
The Battalion marched out of Nowshera on the 21st of October, receiving a great send-off from all units in the station, and reached Jamrud on the 23rd of October, where they took over four Khyber piquets.
On the 11th of December His Excellency The Commander-in-Chief inspected the Battalion at Jamrud and presented the Indian Distinguished Service Medal to Jemadar Sundar Singh, Lance-Naik Channan Singh and Sepoy Indar Singh.
He was very pleased with all he saw and thanked all ranks for their work in the Mohmand operations.
On the 12th of January, 1934, the 1st/ 11th Sikhs moved from Jamrud to Fort Salop on the left bank of the Bara river in the Kajuri Plain and had a detachment at Jhansi Post. Both of these posts were established during operations in 1930-31 and are situated well inside Afridi tribal territory. While at Fort Salop Field-Marshal The Earl of Cavan visited the Battalion.
The Sikhs remained on the Kajuri Plain for six months. There were no incidents of any kind and the Afridis did nothing to disturb the peace throughout this period.
In the middle of July, 1934, the Sikhs moved from the Kajuri Plain to Landi Kotal by lorry. While at Landi Kotal the Battalion again found itself split up and two companies were located in Bagh Fort and the permanent piquets in that area. The 1st/ 11th Sikhs remained in Landi Kotal until the end of February and then marched back down to the Kajuri Plain and this time occupied Fort Milward in addition to Fort Bara and Jhansi Post.
In October, 1934, His Highness The Rajah of Faridkot was appointed an honorary officer to the Battalion.
The Battalion remained on the Kajuri Plain until November, 1935, when it was specially selected to join the Jubbulpore Brigade. This was thoroughly well deserved after eight strenuous years on the Frontier and the men were naturally delighted, since they would have an opportunity of seeing their families and would be at a station where guards and duties were not heavy.
During their stay on the Frontier the Sikhs had little opportunity for hockey and athletics and, although the Battalion entered for most tournaments and invariably put up a creditable performance, there was no notable success, with the exception of a fine win in the Peshawar Silver Jubilee Hockey Tournament. This was an open tournament and some twenty-five civil and military teams from all over Northern India took part. It was therefore an excellent performance and compensated for the defeat by the 2nd/ 11th Sikhs in the semi-final of the Punjab Native Army Tournament at Jhelum.
The 1st/ l1th Sikhs arrived in Jubbulpore on the 20th of November and soon settled down to new conditions in a peace station. Everyone enjoyed the next year; for the first time for a long time the Battalion was all together with no detachments; there was very little in the way of guards and duties; officers and men were with their families; the men were able to get down to hockey and sports; while officers had good shooting and also hunting with the Nerbadda Vale Hunt.