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Recently a member brought to my attention a thread on this forum which aims to denote the factual integrity of Saraghari as a myth. The essential crux, of this denotation, is that the British and Sikhs always re-wrote their losses in order to exhibit a sense of victory and self-proclaimed glory. In short, the initiator of the myths and facts analysis believes that the battle has been considerably hyped at the expense of his poor, yet silent suffering race. I could not resist going back to the history books again, and have written a rebuttal (if you may) to our doubting friend. I have used several significant military sources, all with proven credibility, and other verified texts in constructing the below article. If, however, some members feel I might have overstepped the mark then please inform me. 'Strength down to half but good news! Each one of us has now two rifles.' -Dispatch from the battle at Saraghari, 1897 A.D. (1) Leonidas and his 300 Spartans established a new and unique military doctrine at Thermopylae. Named after the locus of their last stand, the Thermopylean conflict is a sporadic occurrence in military pragmatism. Fundamentally it pits a much superior offence against an inferior defense (although anomalies exist). Leonidas and his 300 men themselves faced a much superior force of 100-150,000 Persians during their last stand. (2) Their main aim was to detract or delay the foe until a much poignant rival force could be collated from mainland Greece. In this they succeeded, although by forfeiting their own lives. A step-by-step surgical analysis of their strategy inaugurates the following: -The defense will often be an archetypal last stand. Its constituents will be foolhardy in the defense of their aims, but not to the extent of heedlessness. -The offence will be forced to blunt it's initial thrust, or establish a new stratagem, as the defense will occupy a much better strategically placed locus. At Thermopylae Leonidas placed his men in a narrow passage. The Persians were forced to re-vamp their initial tactic and faced a Spartan picket bristling to the teeth. -The offence will be forced to utilize a tidal technique, although this is not necessary. A well ensconced, and established defense, cannot be attacked with a straight-forward march and confront technique. Often attrition will have to be adopted as a principle Modus operandi, and the defense will be assaulted by different companies in a repetitive fashion. -The foremost aim of the defense is to either buy time for reinforcements or a collation of forces on an unprecedented scale. If it succeeds in this, despite forfeiting itself, it has succeeded in it's designs and desires. -Technological, geographical, intelligence and disciplinary ingenuity all play a pivotal role in a Thermopylean conflict. If possessed by the defense, then a plausible modicum of success is ensured although to what extent is determined by it's own subsequent conduct in the engagement itself. These doctrines were well established in the mind of Lt. Col John Haughton, of the 36th Sikhs, as he marched towards fort Lockhart in the Samana ranges of the Hindu Khush. An avid veteran of Afghani warfare his mission was clear. To neutralize any plausible ally of Czarist Russia, in the North-West Frontier, via utilizing several companies of his battalion efficiently and fluidly. His forward base was to be at Fort Lockhart, neighbored by it's sibling Fort Gulistan in the present day North-Western Frontier. Initial intelligence briefings indicated that local Islamic leaders had been whipping up a pandemonium in the regional Afghani Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen. Haughton ordered his officers to be on their guard whilst simultaneously dispatching a small task-force towards Saraghari. The latter was a military outpost, constructed for helicographic contact between Lockhart and Gulistan. Despite their immediate vicinity, both forts were separated by rugged and mountainous terrain and were not immune to elemental disruption. The helicograph became a pivotal tool for keeping both in contact, a fact which did not escape Afghani watchers. On September 3rd, 1897 A.D., 5,000 Orakazai horsemen attacked Gulistan. The 130 Sikhs, occupying the fort, under Maj. C.H. Desvoeux and Lt. A.K. Blair offered exceptional resistance forcing the Orakazais to retreat. (3) Five days later a more substantial force of tribesmen returned. Two days later they were forced to retreat via Haughton himself, who arrived with 150 Sikhs from Lockhart. (4) Realizing that Saraghari might be a potential target, Haughton reinforced the communications outpost until at full strength it possessed one NCO and 20 OR's (other ranks). The ingenuity of the tribesmen was to however obfuscate him soon, and thrust him into dire straits. On 12th September, the 19 year oldhelicograph operator, Gurmukh Singh, reported a mass movement towards the outpost, to his superior Havildar Ishar Singh. Both men ascended to a higher platform and attempted to analyze the situation. The Havildar finally gauged that it was potent sign of war. Waves upon waves of Afridi and Orakzai tribesmen were marching towards Saraghari. Calmly ordering Gurmukh Singh to inform Haughton and request reinforcements, Ishar Singh prepared to be besieged. Haughton's reply has not been properly established. Two conflicting versions have been put into play. The initial states that he sent a reliving force towards Ishar Singh but it encountered marauding tribesmen, whereas another states that his resources were stretched. The former seems more likely. Under the aegis of Gul Badshah, the tribesmen were striving to conquer Gulistan. (5) The latter would have been a mass improbability if Saraghari had been reinforced by Lockhart. Thus it seems Haughton's substantiated refusal was justified not by a lack of manpower, but by a stringent blockading of his passage towards Ishar Singh. Ultimately, whatever the vindication Ishar Singh found himself solely confronting a murderous horde of blood thirsty tribesmen. Whilst Havildar Singh called a Chinese Parliament* and attempted to form a course of action, Gurmukh Singh repeatedly cast up to date minutes to Haughton. At 9.00 am he signaled the arrival of Afridis and Orakzais. Subsequently battle was joined. The 20 men under Ishar Singh refused to surrender to the foe. The ancestors of the latter had indulged in religious bigotry, and rapine on their sacrosanct land of Punjab. Their own ancestors had refused to give or take any quarter from them, and they too wanted to emulate this valorous tradition. By the time the first shot had been fired, all 21 men inside the post had determined to die defending their mission. The location of Saraghari prevented Gul Badshah from employing the tried and tested tactic of foolhardy charges. He was forced to adopt attrition as a means of achieving his goal. Organizing his men in batches of 150-180 companies (6) he dispatched them towards the communications post. The Havildar meanwhile had been witnessing these proceedings and gauged the inferiority of the tribal artillery. Armed with the newest Martini-Henry rifle, effective up to 600 yards, the 21 besieged waited until the tribal waves were in range and then fired. (7) Their murderous volley repeatedly dwindled the attackers until finally, before midday, Gul Badshah himself came to the fore. An astute negotiator, Badshah brought his entire skill set to the fore. He argued with Ishar Singh that resistance was futile and the deaths of his 20 men would achieve nothing. If all 21 emerged from the fort then he would let them leave unharmed, whilst Haughton would vindicate them due to the numerical foe they faced. Both Singh, and he, were leaders of men and thus knew the intricacies of the battlefield and leadership. The aphorism live to fight another day would serve them both well. Singh, with an emphasized candor, rebutted his offer word for word and a resigned Badshah summarily left. The battle then recommenced. Haughton meanwhile was attempting to gauge the numerical superiority of Badshah. Along with his men, veterans of earlier Afghan campaigns, he identified 14 religious ensigns. Bringing his past experience to the fore, he summarily concluded that Ishar Singh faced 10-12,000 tribal's out of which only less than 200 were able to engage the Sikhs at any given time. (8) The unequal locus of Saraghari was too narrow for an en-massed assault, and too open for a lightening skirmish. Ishar Singh, so far, had utilized the battlefield well but would he be able to hold out until a much superior relief arrived? The fate of Gulistan, and neighboring British protectorates, was no longer in his (Haughton's) hands. Only time would tell if a single NCO, and his 21 men, proved successful or not. Gurmukh Singh continually kept on relaying up-to-date briefings to Lockhart. By now more than 3-4 hours had elapsed since first contact and the 21 Sikhs had eaten no food or drunk water. They had fought off two assaults and suffered two casualties. Still, they continued to operate like clockwork fixedly targeting the offenders and either forcing them to retreat or killing them. Their own numbers were also beginning to dwindle. Bhagwan Singh was the first to be killed thus reducing the strength of the defenders to 20. Ammunition was also beginning to run out. Gurmukh Singh signaled to Haughton, asking for more ammunition, the Lt. Col attempted to disperse the masses swirling on the Lockhart-Saraghari rout with no success. He signaled back his inability. (9) By now Badshah himself was in desperate straits. Saraghari's location made his favored stratagem of a massed charge obsolete. The defenders were not willing to surrender, and his remaining numbers were becoming swiftly disgruntled as more time elapsed since the initial engagement. Despite breaching two pickets, the communication post still stood defiantly. Discipline was lacking among his men, who preferred the commands of different leaders simultaneously, and moral was low. Then, he spied a chance at victory. Sending his non-fighters to the scrub bordering the outpost, he had them set it on fire thus blinding the defenders (who, by now, it is believed had only less then eight men). He then sent two men to make a breach on the defender's wild side. Haughton, and his men, watched with increasing trepidation as the blinded defenders attempted to put out what they perceived as being an internal fire. This allowed several tribesmen to make a breach and enter the outpost. (10) With misery the Lt. Col watched as Ishar Singh took a last minute decision to continue fighting. Via Gurmukh Singh's relays, Haughton learnt of the Havildar's final decision. Ishar Singh ordered his men to fall back to the outpost's inner layer, whilst taking a bayonet and jumping into the mass of the bloodthirsty foe himself. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting he was wounded several times before finally being killed. His action, and sacrifice, allowed Gurmukh Singh enough time to relay to Haughton that the stampede which the defender's now faced itself was constrained by the outpost's size. Ultimately the inner layer itself was breached. The remaining Sikhs fought back with intense gusto until their last breath in an emulation of their Havildar. The 19 year old Gurmukh Singh, then himself jumped into the fray. According to Haughton, he signaled a request to enjoin the fray. The Lt. Col granted him his last desire with a heavy heart. (11) Saraghari had finally fallen. It is not known what subsequent course Badshah took next. His men, it seems, were mutinous and wanted to rest. His initial incentive had been to seize Gulistan but he had failed in this respect. Paramount discipline, and an efficient chain of command, was also lacking among his men. They preferred the commands of several different tribal chieftains at a time. Thus he was forced to give in and wait. By the next day however he found himself besieged. A potent relief force had been collated and attacked the resting tribesmen on the night of the 13th. Clockwork discipline again played a part, and Badshah was routed. Thus ended the Afghani attempt at conquering Gulistan. Havildar Ishar Singh, and his men, had succeeded in their mission. An Analysis. Despite more than a century elapsing since the battle of Saraghari, it is still being passionately debated in academic and military circles. The below points are often raised whenever the battle is studied: 1.) Did the Afghans gain a Phyrric victory? 2.) What was their ultimate goal? 3.) Is it possible for 21 men to face an onslaught by 10,000 men? 4.) What allowed Ishar Singh to hold out for the better part of a day? 5.) How accurate is Haughton's initial assessment of 10-12,000 attackers? 6.) How many casualties were incurred by the tribesmen on the 12th and the 14th? A.1.) Did the Afghans gain a Phyrric victory? A Phyrric victory is a victory gained at such a cost that any subsequent actions/courses are rendered obsolete by the reduction in the victor's forces. The Afghani incentive was to conquer Gulistan. They did not succeed thus a Phyrric victory is out of the question as they cannot be deemed as being the victors at Saraghari. A.2.) What was their ultimate goal? Gulistan, but what they intended to do subsequently is a mystery. Most historians promulgate that after Gulistan, Lockhart would have been the second target. Again, this might or might not be related to the factual truth. The swiftness with which Gul Badshah lead his men indicates that either he wanted to pursue a Fabian strategy, i.e. collate resources and men until they outnumbered Lockhart and thus force Haughton into submission; or launch a massed strike against it as well. A.3.) Is it possible for 21 men to face an onslaught by 10,000 men? Military history does not propose 'what happened' but 'what could, should or would have happened.' If we surgically analyze Saraghari we will see several different elements supporting the Sikhs. 1.) They were well entrenched and experienced soldiers. 2.) They could easily counter any decisive assault due to their location which would have been narrow for 200 men or more. 3.) They occupied higher terrain, thus they were well placed to witness any raid forming and counter it. 4.) They possessed a superior range in firearms. Their Henry Martini rifle reached up to 600 yards, thus giving them a longer reach. 5.) One has to remember that Haughton estimated there to be 10-12,000 attackers based on the banners and tactics of the tribesmen. How many actually attacked the outpost at a single time (the tidal wave theory) has not been established. Contemporaneous Afghani sources state 150-180, although these would probably have dwindled as the attackers reached the terrain on which Saraghari was situated. One also has to remember that the classic Charge-Trench ideologue did not exist at Saraghari. This was not Beersheba where horsemen charged trenches. Saraghari was a well fortified structure thus blunting the Afghani offensive. A.4.) What allowed Ishar Singh to hold out for the better part of a day? An able NCO, Singh was already a prior veteran of Afghanistan. Subsequently he was also well versed in military strategy and adaptive, essential traits which assist all military leaders. He utilized the high vantage of Saraghari, the instruments at his disposal and the training of his men. High Vantage- This would have considerably reduced the number of foes approaching, slowed their ascent and also given him time for a counter-offensive. Instruments at his disposal- The Martini-Henry rifle possessed an accurate range of 600 yards (548.64 m). Ishar Singh is said to have ordered 'fire'when the tribesmen passed the 300 yard (274.32 m) mark. Although the tribesmen possessed their own arsenal, this was not as advanced as the Sikh rifles. Combined with the clockwork precision of his men, the superior Martini would have played a cardinal role in Singh's strategy which was to delay the foe. Training of men- Via Gurmukh Singh's briefings, it has been theorized that Ishar Singh utilized a clockwork plan of action. This called for equal teams of soldiers firing upon the charging foe. Given his own prominence in the affair he would have divided his 20 men team (Gurmukh Singh was signalling) into either 4 lots of five or 5 lots of 4. The former would have seen three teams firing from their own respective positions in the outpost. One team would then have been replaced by another fresher team, while it reloaded and reinforced another. The fourth relieving team would have also reinforced another simultaneously, thus ensuring a rapidity in the assaulting fire. Via the 5 lots of 4 a similar pattern would have emerged although it's effectiveness is debatable. A.5.) How accurate is Haughton's initial assessment of 10-12,000 attackers? Valor aside, the British military was not as obdurate as is cast. It rapidly adapted to the foe's tactics and learnt lessons from near defeats and victories on the battlefield. The First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars (ranging from 1839-1880 A.D.) had taught it several new principles of Afghani warfare. Haughton himself, a Lt. Col, would have engaged in the Second Anglo-Afghan war and thus observed the proceedings. Afghani tribes, and even military leaders, preferred an en-mass cavalry charge against strategic locations. The psychological effect of seeing a mass body of horsemen, bearing down upon them, would have petrified many opposing forces into surrender. Afghani cavalry tactics often called for 150 men or more (12) to line up in equal lines and charge the foe. Not only did this provide momentum but also immediate relief if required. Whilst confronting such a horde the British would often dismount and then engage. The massed attacks on the 3rd of September, and afterwards, corroborate Haughton's estimates. On the aforementioned date it was estimated that at least 5,000 tribesmen, or upwards, attacked Lockhart. Whilst engaging forts, Badshah would have been well aware of the need of continuous momentum, and rejuvenated men. Cast as crude, his strategy, if looked at from a new light makes profound sense. He would have utilized the tidal theory. 10,000 men divided into 150 companies would have given him 66-67 attacking formations. Their large number would have allowed for continuous momentum, replacement of men and also simultaneous action if they would have been confronted by a joint task force from both Gulistan and Lockhart. He would have reinforced his initial 5,000 with double that number to be on the safe side. A.6.) How many casualties were incurred by the tribesmen on the 12th and the 14th? Upon capturing the field, the relieving force accounted 450 bodies. The latter were the tribesmen who had been killed on the 12th,13th and 14th. Gul Badshah would initially state that Ishar Singh and his men killed 150 of his tribesmen although he would soon change the number to 180. (13) British estimates varied. Given that the attacker often forfeits more men then the defender (14), it can safely be said that at least 30-40% of the casualties would plausibly have been inflicted by Singh and his men. The British estimated there to be at least twice as many wounded tribesmen. The latter never ventured to release the official number of their dead and wounded given their ironic defeat. Upon learning of their gallantry, the British government gloriously applauded the actions of the 21 deceased at Saraghari. Entranced by their valor Queen Victoria awarded each of the Sikhs the Indian order of Merit (the sub-continent's then highest military honor) and allotted a pension and land grant for their next of kin. Presently the battle has been reduced to military textbooks, but it's legend still abounds. These 21 men engraved an unique niche in historicity along with Leonidas and the countless others who engaged in a Thermopylean battle. In death they serve as an inspiration beacon, forever proclaiming 'duty onto death!' The deceased: Havildar Ishar Singh (regimental number 165). Naik Lal Singh (332). Lance Naik Chanda Singh (546). Sepoy Sundar Singh (1321). Sepoy Ram Singh (287). Sepoy Uttar Singh (492). Sepoy Sahib Singh (182). Sepoy Hira Singh (359). Sepoy Daya Singh (687). Sepoy Jivan Singh (760). Sepoy Bhola Singh (791). Sepoy Narayan Singh (834). Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (814). Sepoy Jivan Singh (871). Sepoy Gurmukh Singh (1733). Sepoy Ram Singh (163). Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1257). Sepoy Bhagwan Singh (1265). Sepoy Buta Singh (1556). Sepoy Jivan Singh (1651). Sepoy Nand Singh (1221). Sources and footnotes: *Chinese Parliament- A military congregation where rank is not customary or obligatory. Any decision manifested is entirely democratic. 1.) Accessed from http://magellanclubforkids.com/2012/09/20/against-all-odds/ 2.) Cassin S.J; (1977) The Greek and Persian Wars 500-323 B.C. Osprey publishers, pg. 11. It is customary to acknowledge that whereas modern scholars give this figure, contemporaneous scholars estimated at least a million Persian soldiers to be present. 3.) Sidhu S.D, Virdi A; The Battle of Saraghari, The Last Stand of the 36th Sikh Regiment. Gyan Khand Media, India, pg. 3. 4.) ibid, pg. 3. 5.) ibid, pg. 4. 6.) Badsey S; (2008) Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry, 1880-1918, Barnes and Nobles, UK, pg. 150. Additionally see 3,000 years of Warfare for a profound exegesis of Attrition. 7.) Accessed from http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/LAND-FORCES/History/First150/238-Defending-Saragarhi.html 8.) Accessed from http://defenceforumindia.com/forum/military-history/12117-battle-saragarhi-21-sikhs-versus-10-000-pathans.html 9.) Accessed from http://khalsa-raaj.blogspot.co.nz/2011/09/battle-of-saraghari.html 10.) Accessed from http://swordarm.in/?page_id=21 11.) Accessed from http://magellanclubforkids.com/2012/09/20/against-all-odds/ 12.) Badsey S; (2008) Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry, 1880-1918, Barnes and Nobles, UK, pg. 150. 13.) Maj. Gen. Jaswant Singh Letter to H.M. Queen Elizabeth II Institute of Sikh Studies (1999). 14.) Singh; A (2010) The Last Sunset, Roli Publishing a division of Lotus Books. See sub-section titled First-Anglo Sikh War. http://tisarpanth.blogspot.co.nz/2014/08/21.html?view=magazine The question and answer component was done with the aid of a military historian. If you possess any questions on it then please post them below, and I will forward them to him. Thank you.