Christopher Trevelyan © 2003-2014 |

The Indian Army on campaign 1900-1939

46 Punjabis on the Swat Border 1915

by Christopher Trevelyan         

    In June 1915, serious tribal developments in Upper Swat required the demonstration of a sizeable military force to calm the situation. As such, the Malakand Moveable Column under Brigadier-General Beynon was formed, and marched to Chakdara near the Swat border. It was made up of the troops below:

Guides Cavalry.

90th Battery R.F.A.

25th Mountain Battery (less one section).

No.6 Company, 1st Sappers & Miners.

1/2 battalion, 1st Durham Light Infantry.

46th Punjabis.

82nd Punjabis

94th Russell's Infantry

2-1st Gurkha Rifles

          On 20th August, Beynon received information from the Political Agent for Malakand, that a large force of up to twenty thousand tribesmen under Mullah Sandaki were marching down the left bank of the Swat River with the intent of invading Lower Swat. To meet this threat, Beynon moved his column to Haibatgram, which was just west of a mountainous spur near Landakai. From this spur, which ran up perpendicular to the Swat River on its left bank, Beynon chose to meet the Mullah's forces.

         In preparation for the expected conflict, a row of 11 piquets were constructed just east of Landakai spur. The 2-1st Gurkhas held No.1 to No.6 Piquets on the right away from the river, while the 46th Punjabis held No.8 to No.11 Piquets on the left, nearest to the river. Behind and to the west of the piquets lay the main British camp and column headquarters at Haibatgram. It would not take the Swat tribesmen long to arrive, and when they did, they numbered nearly four thousand.

         At 10:00 p.m. on 28th August, the telephone wire linking the piquets to headquarters was cut. Only fifteen minutes later, the attack began, with the full weight directed against the 2-1st Gurkhas in piquets No.3 and No.4 on the right of the line. Heavy fighting raged on until midnight when the assault let up, and a lamp message relayed to camp that all was well.

        Next the Swat tribesmen switched their focus to the lower piquets held by the 46th Punjabis. No.8 Piquet, commanded by Subadar-Major Habibullah Khan, 46th Punjabis, was in particular singled out…

        There were no less than eight separate rushes, made on this sangar (piquet) during the night, some of the  enemy reaching within ten paces of the wall. One standard bearer was shot down about this distance and, in spite of all attempts by the enemy to recover the lost standard, it was captured by the occupants of the sangar, when the enemy retired in the morning. This sangar was occupied by Punjabi Mahommedans, many of whom, as is necessarily the case in this regiment, were very young soldiers...

         The piquet held by Subadar Budhi-ul-Zaman, 46th Punjabis, and made up of Orakzais and Afridis, also received mention for being 'boldly defended'. At around 3:00 a.m., men from the 2-1st Gurkhas and 82nd Punjabis were sent out from camp with ammunition, but it was found that the engaged piquets still had ample supply. The fighting continued on until the early hours of morning, with each piquet having its turn. By around 5:00 a.m. the tribesmen had finally had enough, and their attack petered out.

         The British force suffered a total of three men of the 2-1st Gurkhas wounded and eight men of the 46th Punjabis wounded; one of the later afterwards died. The Swat tribesmen lost almost 100 killed and severely wounded.

         At 7:15 a.m., Beynon sent a force made up of the following troops to intercept the retreating tribesmen:

Guides Cavalry.

90th Battery, R.F.A.

25th Mountain Battery.

2 companies, Durham L.I.

2 companies, 46th Punjabis.

2 companies, 94th Infantry.

         Shortly after 8:00 a.m., upon sighting the enemy on the right bank of the Swat River, both batteries went into action. The target of the 25th Mountain Battery was the Fort of Kak. Some damage was done, and fires within the fort were set, but the Mountain Guns were not powerful enough to cause any serious damage to the fort's walls. The target of the 90th Battery R.F.A. was a tribal gathering that proved somewhat more rewarding however…

         The tribesmen obviously considered themselves out of range as their standards were openly displayed and groups of men were seated among the trees and houses. These gatherings were quickly broken up, the enemy retreating up the Shamozai valley on the right bank of the river.

         Given the limited results of the 25th Mountain Battery against the walls of Kak, Beynon ordered the Battery to a higher position, where it could fire into the Fort. This had the desired effect, and soon its defenders were seen fleeing its walls, only to be harried by Maxim gun and rifle fire, as well as shrapnel rounds from the 25th Mountain Battery. Shortly afterwards, Major Blois-Johnson with a Cavalry patrol forded the Swat River and entered the fort where they killed four of the enemy and continued the firing of the fort. Although a few more hostile tribesmen were spotted later that day, the vast majority had fled, thus ending the action. On 5th September, the Malakand Moveable Column returned to Chakdara.

         For their good work on the night of 28th-29th August 1915, Lt.Col.G.H.G. Mockler, Major J.Hardcastle, and Subadar-Major Habibullah Khan, all of the 46th Punjabis, were Mentioned in Despatches. In 1971, well into retirment, Major Hardcastle still recalled how proud he felt marching back to camp with that captured standard at the head of the regiment. Subadar-Major Habibullah Khan was also awarded the Indian Distinguished Service Medal. Later, after the war, while the 46th Punjabis was stationed in Egypt, Subadar-Major Habibullah Khan was also given the opportunity to go on the Hajj pilgramidge to Mecca. Subadars Budhi-ul-Zaman and Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 46th Punjabis, were also awarded the I.D.S.M. while serving on the N.W.Frontier of India, most probably also for this action.

                  Events remained quiet on the Swat border until the night of 21st October 1915, when a hostile party of tribesmen burnt the small post of Bandagai. On 23rd October, the posts of Sado and Serai were evacuated by Levies, only to be burnt by the enemy soon thereafter. The post of Katgala, two miles from Serai, was also burnt. These forces were then joined by those of two Mullahs, and soon around three thousand Bajauris had crossed into the Adinzai Valley with the intent of linking up with the Swat and Dir tribes to attack the Malkand Moveable Column at Chakdara.

         Lieutenant-Colonel Luard, 1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, temporarily in command of the Malakand Moveable Column, therefore decided to attack before events got out of hand. At 5 a.m. on 27th October, Luard moved out to engage the enemy with the troops listed below. By 4 p.m., his force returned to base after attacking, routing, and pursuing the enemy. The British force lost one killed and three wounded, while the tribesmen lost sixty to eighty killed, and two hundred wounded. Six prisoners and a standard were also taken. The operation was a complete success, and the Swat border remained quiet thereafter.

3 Squadrons Guides Cavalry.

90ht Battery, R.F.A.

1 Section, 25th Mountain Battery.

No.6 Company, 1st Sappers and Miners.

1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (less 2 companies).

46th Punjabis

82nd Punjabis

94th Russell's Infantry.




The Medals of Lt.Col.R.D.Beadle, who while still a Captain, served with the 46th Punjabis at both actions.