Contributed by David Gore

Saving The Guns
Saving the Guns
Panorama of Battlefield
On 3rd July 1880 a British/Indian column of some 2700 fighting troops under Brigadier George Burrows set out from Kandahar. It consisted of one Infantry and one Cavalry Brigade on their way to support a force of 6000 British-equipped and allegedly friendly tribesmen in putting down a rebellion by one Ayub Khan. Ayub, the Governor of Herat, and his followers intended to replace the new Amir of Afghanistan, a British protege, at Kabul. In the event most of the 'friendly tribesmen' mutinied and went to join Ayub, leaving Burrows' force to face the approaching rebel army alone in countryside where every man's hand had suddenly turned against them.

Burrows' infantry consisted of the 66th (later the Royal Berkshire) Regiment equipped with the Martini-Henry 0.45 BL rifle, and two Regiments of Bombay Native Infantry: the 1st Grenadiers and 30th Jacob's Rifles, both with the Snider 0.577 BL rifle firing a round heavy enough to bowl over the most dedicated fanatic. However the 30th had seen no active service and included a high proportion of young recruits whose weapon training was incomplete. There were two cavalry regiments, the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry (260 sabres) and 3rd Sind Horse (200 sabres), and half a Company of Bombay Sappers & Miners. The Artillery consisted of the six 9 pounder RML guns of E Battery, B Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery and six smoothbore guns (6 and 12 pounders) just recovered from the Afghan mutineers with detachments provided by hurriedly-trained men from the 66th.

Advance to Contact
Narrative of Captain Mosley Mayne, commanding a squadron of the 3rd Bombay Cavalry.
Mosley Mayne
Captain Mosley Mayne
"Even by nine in the morning the heat had become intense. It was to become hotter still, with the temperature reaching over 120 degrees in the shade, had there been any. Fifty sabres of my Regiment under Lieutenant TP Geoghegan formed the Advanced Guard, some 600 yards ahead of me, with my Squadron and four guns of Major GF Blackwood's E/B Battery providing support. We were marching along a wide flat valley, its sandy desert floor cut by dry watercourses and covered with flinty stones and scattered scrub. The shimmering haze, which had already given way to mirages, made it difficult to see clearly for more than about 1500 yards across the baking ground."

"The orders for our move to intercept the enemy at Maiwand had been given late the night before, much of which had been spent in packing up our camp at Khusk-i-Nakhud which was to be struck by 5.30 a.m. It was thus an already tired force that began marching north early that morning, the 27th July, few of whom had eaten since the previous evening. At about 10 a.m. we saw small bodies of cavalry far away up the valley and a little later when a halt was sounded and Brigadier Burrows, his deputy Thomas Nuttall and their staff rode up to the front, I used a pair of powerful glasses to observe the enemy. I saw several large bodies of cavalry moving across our front while a few smaller groups came nearer and watched us. Beyond their cavalry and far away on the slopes beneath the high hills towards Gurmao I saw dark masses which I first took for belts of trees. As I later learned it was in fact Ayub's army in column of route marching from the west towards Maiwand, whose buildings and trees I could see 3 or 4 miles ahead of us."

"A mile or so further on we reached the village of Mundabad, just a few houses and mud-walled gardens, which our scouts had reported to be unoccupied. On the northern (enemy) side of this village was a wide ravine, 50 to 100 foot wide with its banks up to 20 foot high. Here Major Blackwood and Brigadier Nuttall halted to reconnoitre.
Guns Moving
Guns Moving
While this was happening I saw Lieutenant Hector Maclaine on our left with his two guns and an escort of Sind Horse galloping off towards the enemy, coming into action on the open ground about a mile in front of the ravine. Major Blackwood then ordered me to escort Lieutenant NP Fowell's two guns to a position on the right about 500 yards beyond the ravine and from there at about 10.50 a.m. we fired the first rounds of the battle, shelling the enemy's cavalry who quickly fell back."

"In due course the rest of the force arrived and took up positions in the open some 1500 yards beyond the Mundabad ravine with the six guns of E/B deployed in the centre of the line, the Grenadiers and the Smoothbore Battery on the left flank and Jacob's Rifles and the 66th on the right where a shallow dried-out water course gave some protection. Most of the cavalry were held behind the left flank and the baggage and its guard remained back at Mundabad under Colonel JHP Malcolmson of the Sind Horse."

The Battle Begins
based on an account by Captain Mosley Mayne, 3rd Cavalry.
"When the enemy cavalry cleared the front we were able to see indistinctly masses and masses of men. Due to the haze it was only when they moved about that we could distinguish them as men and not a dense forest." Intelligence sources had estimated the enemy strength at ten regular Kabuli and Herati infantry regiments totalling 6000 men and 4000 cavalry supported by 36 guns. The unknown factor was the number of tribesmen and Ghazis (religious fanatics who fought like fiends) that had joined Ayub during his march. In the end we found that there were at least 15,000 of these irregulars, so that our little force was suddenly confronted by an army of over 25,000 men. "They began to open fire, battery after battery, till we could count about 30 guns. My Squadron was in line on the right flank of Major Blackwood's guns; there was not a vestige of cover and my horses now began to suffer."

"This bombardment continued and by noon the mass of Afghan cavalry in loose open order had moved round to threaten our left flank, while crowds of white-robed Ghazis advanced on our right from the direction of Maiwand. Sharp firing in our rear told that the Baggage Guard too were engaged." Two of the smoothbore guns were moved across to support the 66th commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Galbraith, so that when the Ghazis with their banners attacked our right flank they ran into a blizzard of Martini-Henry rounds and case shot and were mown down in scores. However the superior numbers of the enemy despite their heavy losses had effectively turned both our flanks, our firing line on the left being extended by moving two companies each of the Grenadiers and the Rifles across there while our rear was being protected by the cavalry and their carbines.
Guns Moving
Lead Team

"The enemy, cleverly using dry watercourses and folds in the ground as covered approaches, now succeeded in establishing positions only about 500 yards away in a ravine running parallel to our front where only their banners and the heads of their mounted leaders were visible (it later proved to be an extension of the ravine in front of Mundabad). Suddenly guns opened up from this ravine right in front of my position and Major Blackwood was wounded. My Squadron had by this time been standing passively for fully three hours under fire from artillery and now small arms, and I had lost more than a third of my horses and was at about only Troop strength. Around 1.30 p.m. the remnants of my unit were moved across to reinforce the left rear of our force where I found that a lot of Ghazis with masses of cavalry behind them were pressing very close. From there I saw Captain John Slade coming out of action at a trot with the smoothbore guns which, being without their own transport, were withdrawing to replenish with ammunition. This seemed to unsettle the men who I heard remarking "what is this, our guns going back?"

But the fate of Burrows' force was probably already sealed half-an-hour before. By then, if he was to avoid the envelopment of his tiny fighting line of just over 1700 men by this army which was at least ten times stronger, he needed to have made a measured withdrawal to the strong defensive position offered by Mundabad and its ravine. There water, all his reserve ammunition and supplies were available to him. Instead his men, who were still completely exposed in the open having suffered the depredations caused mainly by the enemy's artillery but also by thirst and exhaustion from the brazen heat beating down on them, were now closely and inextricably engaged with the enemy.

Casualties in the British/Indian line had begun to rise sharply. Although on the right the 66th were almost untouched, the Grenadiers on the left had lost a third of their strength and Jacob's Rifles, who had lost almost a quarter, had their only British officer killed and were seriously unsettled - in part by the departure of the Smoothbore Battery. Captain Slade, who had taken over command of E/B from the wounded Blackwood, had lost a quarter of his manpower and over half the horses.

Saving The Guns
Saving the Guns
At about 2.30 p.m. the Afghan horde surged forward again and this time succeeded in overwhelming the two isolated and inexperienced companies of the Rifles. They fled into the rear ranks of the Grenadiers and, as Burrows reported, "the infantry gave way, and commencing from the left, rolled up like a wave". Gunner WM Williams of E/B Battery described the gun position where "many of the draught horses were kicking and plunging in the last agonies of death. The enemy, led by their chiefs who carried large silken banners of various colours, charged down on the guns, yelling and shouting as they came on". After firing a couple of rounds of case shot, Captain Slade gave the order to limber up. On the left Maclaine's two guns were overrun and a vicious fight ensued around them with handspikes, sponge-rods and Khyber knives. Sergeant Patrick Mullane won his Victoria Cross when he managed to save one team and, having run back under fire to pick up a wounded driver and place him on the limber, smashed his galloping horses through the ranks of Ghazis. On the right Lieutenant EG Osborne's two guns got out with difficulty but he was shot dead helping his gunners to hook on. Slade deployed the four remaining guns of the Battery about 400 yards back to try and cover the retreat; but the situation was beyond saving and he had to withdraw to Mundabad from where E/B covered the remnants of broken units streaming off the battlefield.

The Cavalry Charge
based on accounts by Brigadier Thomas Nuttall, commanding the Cavalry Brigade,
and Captain Mosley Mayne, 3rd Cavalry.
Nuttall's Cavalry Charge
Cavalry Charge
A vain attempt was made by the cavalry to charge the enemy and so give the infantry time to reform but "the terrible artillery fire to which they had been exposed, and from which they had suffered severely, had so shaken them" that they were unable to deliver the charge fully home and it "was of but little effect". Captain Mayne, who took part, wrote that "a minute or two was spent in forming a sort of line but we were all mixed, our men and Sind horsemen. The word was given to charge and we went off, heading to about the point where the 66th had been before the break. We got amongst and cut up a group of Ghazis who were closely pursuing the Grenadiers but the charge bore away to the right and we retired into the ravine in front of Mundabad." In the ensuing confusion Mayne himself with the remnants of the 3rd Cavalry joined the rearguard for the retreat formed by Slade and E/B's guns with a Troop of the Sind Horse under Lieutenant AM Monteith.
Destruction of the 66th
based on the account by Bryan Perrett in "Against All Odds!"
Last Stand of 66th
When the fugitive Grenadiers, Rifles and Sappers charged into the dry watercourse occupied by the 66th they swelled and disorganised the ranks forcing the Regiment out into the open. Colonel Galbraith had no alternative but to conform to the general retreat and withdraw, which they did losing some eighty soldiers before reaching the main ravine in front of Khig, a 1000 yards to the east of Mundabad. In crossing the steep-sided ravine the Regiment lost what remained of its internal order. Those on the left made for Mundabad which was in turmoil: Slade's guns were firing away, the rearguard was being put together, while frantic efforts were being made to get the wounded off on carts, horses, camels and mules but without most of the civilian transport drivers who had already fled.

The remainder of the 66th succeeded in effecting a rally on the south bank of the ravine at Khig when Colonel Galbraith uncased one of the Colours around which, as he fell, a group of about 200 formed. They were surrounded, their CO was dead and they were doomed but, losing men all the while, they retired slowly through Khig to a mud-walled garden where a second stand was made. There died Major Blackwood the wounded commander of E/B Battery, Lieutenant Henn commanding the Sappers & Miners, and the remaining officers and men of the 66th who in turn supported the Colours until each soldier was shot down. Even in the flush of their victory, the Afghans were awed by the end of the 66th. "Surrounded by most of the Afghan army, they fought on until only eleven men were left, inflicting enormous loss on the enemy", wrote one of Ayub's senior artillery officers. "These men charged out of the garden and died with their faces to the foe, their conduct was the admiration of all who witnessed it."

The Long Retreat to Kandahar
based on accounts by Captain JR Slade RHA
and Captain Mosley Mayne, 3rd Cavalry.
Captain Slade
Captain J. R. Slade
For the survivors of Burrow's force the retreat over the 45 miles to Kandahar was an ordeal that was even worse than the battle itself. Only the artillery and the baggage guard had been able to preserve their unit discipline and it was around the former, now under Captain Slade, that a rearguard was hurriedly formed. He described the scene: "All over the wide expanse of desert are to be seen men in twos and threes retreating. Camels have thrown their loads; sick men, almost naked, are astride donkeys, mules and camels; the bearers have thrown down their doolies (covered litters) and left the wounded to their fate. The guns and carriages are crowded with the helpless wounded suffering the tortures of the damned; horses are limping along with ugly wounds and men are pressing eagerly to the rear in the hope of finding water. Hordes of irregular horsemen are to be seen amongst our baggage animals, relentlessly cutting our men down and looting. A few alone remain with Brigadier Burrows to try and turn the rout into an orderly retreat."

"And so it goes on for five or six miles, till the sun begins to sink serenely into the horizon. The cries for Water! Water! become more frequent and louder. Most suffer in silence for they can hardly speak. The wounded open their mouths to show a dry parched tongue. After a long search in the dead of night a deep well full of muddy water is found in the village of Hauz-i-Madat. There is just sufficient to satisfy the wounded and those in severe distress, but none can be spared for the already worn out and exhausted horses. Everyone's hand is against us. Villagers from all sides creep up behind the low mud walls and fire on us, and many a gallant fellow who had battled against the trials of the night fell victim to the jezail (a long Afghan musket)." Gunner James Collis of E/B won his Victoria Cross for drawing the fire of these snipers onto himself and so enabled many wounded and straggling soldiers to escape.

"At last the River Argandab is reached; it is 11 a.m. and 32 miles from the battlefield. With what joy and delight do the unfortunate men and horses, who have not wetted their lips during the night, welcome the sight of it!". But they still had 13 dangerous miles to go before reaching the Citadel at Kandahar. Mayne, who was one of the last of the rearguard to arrive, came in "at 6 p.m. Wednesday 28th July rather exhausted having had no food since Monday evening the 26th. My horse could hardly walk he was so done". There were 2566 British/Indian troops at Maiwand: of these 962 (37%) did not survive the battle and the retreat. Only 161 wounded reached Kandahar.

Over 2000 horses and other transport animals had been killed or captured and during the retreat five smoothbore guns had to be abandoned for lack of horses able to draw them. Lieutenant Maclaine of E/B, whose two 9 pdr guns were captured in the battle, was wounded and later was himself captured in the search for water. A month later his captors cut his throat when General Sir Frederick Roberts, following his epic march from Kabul, attacked and defeated Ayub's army outside Kandahar in the final operation of the 2nd Afghan War. Roberts then captured all Ayub's guns, which had proved so lethal at Maiwand, and recaptured the two guns of E/B that had been overrun during the battle.

Roberts' success was in part due to the damage that Burrows' force had inflicted at such cost on Ayub Khan's army a month before. It took Ayub a week to clear the Maiwand battlefield of his dead which included 1500 of his regulars and up to 4000 Ghazis. More of his men left for home with the bodies of their kinsmen and he had to leave 1500 seriously wounded behind at Maiwand. Whatever the criticisms of Burrows' battlefield tactics, and they were many, his troops' exertions had helped to achieve the strategic objective he had been set of preventing Ayub's advance on Kabul.

Viewing this costly defeat from across the intervening century it is easy to become engrossed with who was to blame, the criticisms of the British command (See "'Background Notes on the British Defeat at Maiwand') and the controversies that raged about these events - and in some respects still do. Brigadier Burrows received sympathetic treatment and was eventually promoted. Following adverse reports submitted by Burrows and Nuttall, the commanding officers of the two cavalry regiments (Major AP Currie, 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry, and Colonel JHP Malcolmson, 3rd Sind Horse) faced court martial the following year but were acquitted "with honour".

Gnr Collis
Gnr Collis
But Maiwand is essentially a story of bravery and endurance in the most adverse conditions, and of unselfishness and dedication in a long and difficult retreat. It is about the extraordinary courage of the native infantry who, despite suffering huge casualties, stood their ground in the open until finally overwhelmed by numbers; of the gallant sacrifice of those young British soldiers of the 66th who were surrounded but fought on around their Colours to the last man. Then there was the steadiness of the cavalry who stood and suffered heavily through 3 hours of bombardment without being able to take any action, and the discipline of the Horse Artillery who "maintained their military formation and morale throughout" and became the backbone of the retreat "to whom", in the words of the Viceroy, "many of the survivors of the 27th July owe their lives". This was reflected in the decorations awarded to men of E/B Battery: two VCs (Sgt Mullane and Gnr Collis), a CB (Capt Slade) and eight DCMs.

Fifteen years later James Collis forfeited his Victoria Cross when he was found guilty of bigamy. But it was restored to him in 1901 by Edward VII who said that if it came to it Collis could wear it on the scaffold! Collis was typical of the hardy British soldier who went to fight the Empire's wars for a shilling or so a day and his keep. They had good fellowship, harsh discipline and all the excitement and danger a young man could ask for. Kipling may well have been thinking of what some of the survivors of Maiwand had faced when he wrote in The Young British Soldier (1892) :-

The Unfolding Battle
The Approach to Battle
The Battlefield
British Commander
George Burrows
Afghan Commander
Ayub Khan
British and Indian forces
British Army

66th Regiment of Foot

Royal Horse Artillery E/B Battery

Indian Army

1st Bombay Native Infantry

30th Bombay Native Infantry
(Jacob's Rifles)

3rd Bombay Light Cavalry

3rd Sind Horse

Bombay Sappers and Miners

1st June Ayub Khan's rebel army leaves Herat on the 350 mile march towards Kandahar.
Mid-June Blocking force of 600 local tribesmen established at Girishk (beyond the Helmand river 80 miles west of Kandahar).
3rd July British/Indian column leaves Kandahar to support Girishk force.
10th July Column reaches Helmand river.
11th July Girishk force mutiny and defect to Ayub's approaching army but are forced to relinquish Smoothbore Battery.
15th July Burrows, now unable to hold Helmand river line, withdraws 35 miles to Kushk-i-Nahku.
20th July Ayub's army begins crossing the Helmand at Haidarabad.
23rd July Opposing cavalry screens in first contact.
26th July Burrows decides to intercept Ayub at Maiwand. Issues orders at 10.30 p.m.
27th July Day of the Battle.
5:30am Kushk-i-Nahku camp struck.
6:30am Column starts march north to Maiwand encumbered with commissariat.
10:00am Ayub's Army first observed. Strength estimated at over 25,000.
10:50am British artillery opens fire. Other troops start deploying.
11:20am Afghan artillery (30 guns) begin bombardment.
Midday Afghans threatening both flanks of British firing line and engage the baggage guard at Mundabad.
12:15pm The 66th decisively repulse initial Ghazi attacks.
1:00pm Afghans suffering heavy casualties in their repeated attacks but with their superior numbers now threaten to envelop the British/Indian position.
1:30pm Burrows' troops continue to suffer under heavy Afghan artillery bombardment. Smoothbore guns withdrawn to replenish.
2:00pm British/Indian casualties from the unrelenting artillery bombardment mount. The British find that the enemy have succeeded in moving guns to within 500 yards of their line. Afghan infantry and cavalry press them on all sides.
2:30pm Renewed Afghan attack swamps the British left where Jacob,s Rifles break into the Grenadiers position and the infantry rolls up. Horse Artillery nearly overrun, two guns lost. Depleted cavalry charge fails to restore the position. 66th withdraws on Khig where they are isolated. Burrow's force completely defeated.
3:00pm Rearguard formed at Mundabad around E/B Battery RHA and a 45 mile withdrawal to Kandahar begins, harassed by a few Afghan horsemen and villagers along the way.
3:30pm Remnants of the 66th surrounded at Khig make a last stand around their colours but are slaughtered.
Dusk The retreat continues with the lack of water for man and animal a serious problem.
28th July Throughout the day, small groups of survivors arrive in Kandahar.
11:00am Rearguard reach water at the Argandab river.
6:00am The last survivors of Burrows force enter the Citadel at Kandahar having lost nearly a thousand men killed during the battle and the retreat from it.
Background notes on the British defeat at Maiwand
Complete Text
Initial Influences
Smoothbore Battery
The Commanders
Initial Deployment
The Afghan Artillery
The Cavalry
British/Indian Casualties
Starting Force: 2566
Died: 962
Wounded: 161
Afghan Casualties
Starting Force: 25,000
Died: 5500+
Wounded: 1500+
Campaign Medals
Further Reading
Maiwand - Tragedy of Errors
by P H C Hayward CBE
Burrows, Brigadier-General GRS
"Report on Operations 26-28 July"
(Kandahar 30 Aug 1880)
Hughes, Major General BP
Honour Titles of the Royal Artillery
(RA Institution c.1975)
Maxwell, Leigh
"My God - Maiwand!"
(Leo Cooper 1979)
Mayne, Captain Mosley
3rd (Queen's Own) Bombay Light Cavalry
"Maiwand - A Personal Account"
(Kandahar, 4 Nov 1880)
Nuttall, Brigadier-General T
"Report on Operations of Cavalry Brigade on 27 July"
(Kandahar 3 Aug 1880)
Perrett, Bryan
"Against All Odds!"
(Arms & Armour Press 1995)
Primrose, Lieutenant General JM
"Kandahar Force Operational Summary
27 June - 28 July"
(Kandahar 6 Sept 1880)
Suggested Reading
Barthorp, Michael
The North-West Frontier -
British India and Afghanistan 1839-1947

(Blandford Press 1982)
Bidwell, Brig. RS,
The Royal Horse Artillery
(RA Institution, Woolwich)
Forbes, Archibald,
The Afghan Wars 1839-42 and 1878-80
(Darf 1987)
Gore, David
Soldiers, Saints and Scallywags(Hungerford Books)
Hanna, Col. HB,
The Second Afghan War
Hills, Maj-Gen. Sir J,
The Bombay Field Force 1880
Hopkirk, Peter
The Great Game
Illustrated London News
James, Lawrence,
Raj - The Making and Unmaking of British India
(Little, Brown & Co 1997)

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Journals of the Royal United Services Institution
1880 - 1881
Latham, Brig. HB,
E/B Battery RHA at Maiwand
(RA Journal, Vols. 55 & 80)
Mangan, JA,
The Games Ethic and Imperialism:
Aspects of the Diffusion of an Ideal

Menenzes, SL,
Fidelity and Honour:
The Indian Army from the 17th to the 21st Century

Moreman, TR,
The British & Indian Armies on the North-West Frontier 1849-1914
(Journal of Imperial & Commonwealth History No. 20, 1992)
Parry, D.H,
The Victoria Cross, Its Heroes and their Valour
Petre, FL,
The Royal Berkshire Regiment Vol. 1.
Roberts, Field Marshall Lord Frederick Sleigh,
Forty-one Years in India
Robson, Brian,
The Road to Kabul - The Second Afghan War 1878-81
(Arms & Armour Press, 1986)
Shadbolt, SH,
The Afghan Campaigns of 1878 - 1880
Vernon, NP,
Soviet Historians on the Russian Menace to India in the Second half of the 19th Century
(Indian History Congress, Calcutta 1976)
Warburton, R,
Eighteen Years in the Khyber 1879-1898
Younghusband, George,
Indian Frontier Warfare
The Royal Berkshire Regimental Museum

The Wardrobe, 58 The Close,
Salisbury, Wilts SP1 2EX,

Visit their Web Site

The Royal Artillery Historical Trust

Fire Power:
The Royal Artillery Museum
The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich,
London SE18 6ST

Visit their Web Site

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