Saturday, August 07, 2010

Crag Piquet (Part II) 15th December 1863

The North-West Frontier didn't seem to be too popular with you all, though for me, my interest is somewhat piqued, maybe a small skirmish game say very much in the old vintage style wargaming would be ideal. Rules? Figures?

Anyway I might as well finish off Crag Piquet, here is the action from the 15th/16th December that finally wrapped it all up after three months of being stuck at Crag Piquet. This from an account by FS Roberts. (see part I to catch up on where we are at).

Sir Hugh Rose had been accorded permission to take command of the troops in the field, and had sent word to General Garvock not 'to attempt any operations until further orders.' James (the Commissioner), however, thinking that the situation demanded immediate action, as disturbances had broken out in other parts of the Peshawar valley, deprecated delay, and pressed Garvock to advance, telling him that a successful fight would put matters straight. Garvock consented to follow the Commissioner's advice, and arranged to move on the following day.

The force was divided into three columns. The first and second--consisting of about 4,800 men, and commanded respectively by Colonel W. Turner, C.B., and Lieutenant-Colonel Wilde, C.B.--were to form the attacking party, while the third, about 3,000 strong, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Vaughan, was to be left for the protection of the camp.

At daybreak, on the 15th, the troops for the advance, unencumbered by tents or baggage, and each man carrying two days' rations, assembled at the base of the 'Crag piquet'. Turner, an excellent officer, who during the short time he had been at Umbeyla had inspired great confidence by his soldierly qualities, had on the previous afternoon reconnoitred to the right of the camp, and had discovered that about 4,000 men were holding the village of Lalu, from which it was necessary to dislodge them before Umbeyla could be attacked. On being told to advance, therefore, Turner moved off in the direction of Lalu, and, driving the enemy's piquets before him, occupied the heights overlooking the valley, out of which rose, immediately in front about 200 yards off, a conical hill which hid Lalu from view. This hill, which was crowded with Hindustani fanatics and their Pathan allies, was a most formidable position; the sides were precipitous, and the summit was strengthened by 'sangars'. No further move could be made until the enemy were dislodged, so Turner lined the heights all round with his Infantry, and opened fire with his Mountain guns.

Meanwhile, Wilde's column had cleared off the enemy from the front of the camp, and formed up on Turner's left. On the advance being sounded, Turner's Infantry rushed down the slopes, and in ten minutes could be seen driving the enemy from the heights on his right; at the same time the 101st Fusiliers, the leading regiment of Wilde's column, made straight for the top of the conical hill, and, under cover of the fire from the Mountain guns of both columns, and supported by the Guides, 4th Gurkhas, and 23rd Pioneers, they climbed the almost perpendicular sides. When near the top a short halt was made to give the men time to get their breath; the signal being then given, amidst a shower of bullets and huge stones, the position was stormed, and carried at the point of the bayonet. It was a grand sight as Adye and I watched it from Hughes's battery; but we were considerably relieved when we perceived the enemy flying down the sides of the hill, and heard the cheers of the gallant Fusiliers as they stood victorious on the highest peak.

Now that the enemy were on the run it was the time to press them, and this Turner did so effectually that the leading men of his column entered Lalu simultaneously with the last of the fugitives. The rapidity of this movement was so unexpected that it threw the enemy inside the walls into confusion; they made no stand, and were soon in full retreat towards Umbeyla and the passes leading into Buner.

While affairs were thus prospering on our right, the enemy, apparently imagining we were too busy to think of our left, came in large numbers from the village of Umbeyla, threatening the camp and the communications of the second column. Wilde, however, was prepared for them, and held his ground until reinforced by Turner, when he made a forward movement. The Guides, and detachments of the 5th Gurkhas and 3rd Sikhs, charged down one spur, and the 101st down another; the enemy were driven off with great slaughter, leaving a standard in the hands of the Gurkhas, and exposing themselves in their flight to Turner's guns. During the day they returned, and, gathering on the heights, made several unsuccessful attacks upon our camp. At last, about 2 p.m., Brownlow, who was in command of the right defences, assumed the offensive, and, aided by Keyes, moved out of the breastworks and, by a succession of well-executed charges, completely cleared the whole front of the position, and drove the tribesmen with great loss into the plain below.

All opposition having now ceased, and the foe being in full retreat, the force bivouacked for the night. We had 16 killed and 67 wounded; while our opponents admitted to 400 killed and wounded.

The next morning we were joined by Probyn with 200 sabres of the 11th Bengal Lancers and the same number of the Guides; and after a hasty breakfast the order was given to march into the Chamla valley. My duty was to accompany the Mountain batteries and show them the way. As we
debouched into comparatively open country, the enemy appeared on a ridge which completely covered our approach to Umbeyla, and we could descry many standards flying on the most prominent points. The road was so extremely difficult that it was half-past two o'clock before the whole force was clear of the hills.

General Garvock, having made a careful reconnaissance of the enemy's position, which was of great strength and peculiarly capable of defence, had decided to turn their right, a movement which was to be entrusted to the second column, and I was told to inform Turner that he must try and cut them off from the Buner Pass as they retreated. I found Turner close to Umbeyla and delivered my message. He moved forward at once with the 23rd Pioneers and a wing of the 32nd Pioneers in line, supported by the second wing, having in reserve a wing of the 7th Royal Fusiliers.

When we had passed the village of Umbeyla, which was in flames, having been set fire to by our Cavalry, the wing of the 32nd was brought up in prolongation of our line to the right. The advance was continued to within about 800 yards of the Buner Pass, when Turner, observing a large body of the enemy threatening his left flank, immediately sent two companies of the Royal Fusiliers in that direction. Just at that moment a band of 'Ghazis' furiously attacked the left flank, which was at a disadvantage, having got into broken ground covered with low jungle. In a few seconds five of the Pioneer British officers were on the ground, one killed and four wounded; numbers of the men were knocked over, and the rest, staggered by the suddenness of the onslaught, fell back on their reserve, where they found the needed support, for the Fusiliers stood as firm as a rock.

At the critical moment when the 'Ghazis' made their charge, Wright, the Assistant-Adjutant-General, and I, being close by, rushed in amongst the Pioneers and called on them to follow us; as we were personally known to the men of both regiments, they quickly pulled themselves together and responded to our efforts to rally them. It was lucky they did so, for had there been any delay or hesitation, the enemy, who thronged the slopes above us, would certainly have come down in great numbers, and we should have had a most difficult task. As it was, we were entirely successful in repulsing the 'Ghazis', not a man of whom escaped. We counted 200 of the enemy killed; our losses were comparatively slight--8 killed and 80 wounded.

We bivouacked for the night near the village of Umbeyla, and the next morning the Bunerwals, who, true to their word, had taken no part in the fighting on the 15th or 16th, came in and made their submission.

.... So back to Napoleonic's next week ....

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