by Mitch on March 15, 2013 0 Comments

Afghan Highlanders, 1879. During the Second Anglo-Afghan War, Afghan soldiers wore kilts in imitation of British Highlander troops from Scotland, whose skills the Afghans admired.

In 1874 a new government in London, led by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), adopted a more aggressive stance in India and appointed a strong-minded governor general. In an atmosphere of growing tension, a Russian delegation, apparently uninvited, visited Kabul in July 1878. The British issued an ultimatum asking for equal rights of access to Kabul. When this ultimatum was rejected, the British crossed the border and thereby started the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1879).


The Afghans were quickly defeated, and the war was concluded with the Treaty of Gandamak (May 29, 1879). The treaty included the stipulation that Afghanistan would remain an independent nation, but would conduct its foreign policy via the British rulers in India in lieu of regular subsidies and a British guarantee regarding the ...

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by Mitch on March 15, 2013 0 Comments

Battle of Kandahar 1880

As the British prepared to withdraw their army from Afghanistan, a column was ambushed and wiped out at Maiwand. The survivors fled back to Kandahar where they and the British garrison were besieged by an Afghan army under Ayub Khan. The British high command feared that the defeat and impending disaster at Kandahar could turn the planned British withdrawal into a rout. Therefore Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Roberts was ordered to take a column of British and Indian troops from Kabul and relieve the garrison in Kandahar. On 8 August 1880 Roberts began an epic march in which he covered 480km (300 miles) in three weeks. Just before the arrival of Roberts at Kandahar, the Afghans raised their siege and retired to a strong defensive position along a ridgeline to the west. On 1 September Roberts began his attack with a diversion against the Baba Wali Pass ...

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by Mitch on March 15, 2013 1 Comment

Royal Horse Artillery fleeing Afghan attack in the battle of Maiwand, Second Anglo-Afghan War, 1880. 

From the British perspective, Russian plans for territorial expansion toward the south threatened to destroy the ``Pearl of the Empire,'' India. When Russian troops set out to subdue khanate after khanate, British observers expressed concern that Afghanistan might become the base for a Russian advance into India. The British therefore initiated the First Anglo-Afghan War (1838-1842), in which Britain tried to impose a puppet regime in Afghanistan. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and the attempt to annex Afghanistan to British India failed. Instead, rival Afghan tribes join forces to fight the British, and Dost Mohammad returned to the throne in 1843.


Dost Muhammad expanded Afghan territory by adding Balkh and Baldakhshan in 1855 and Heart in 1863. Nevertheless, Russia continued to advance steadily toward Afghanistan, formally annexing Tashkent in 1865 and Samarkand in 1868. Although ...

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by Mitch on July 20, 2012 0 Comments

The history of colonialism is also the history of war. Armed combat took place between invading colonizers and indigenous people, from the Spanish invasion of central America, to the British expansion into the Australian continent, to Germans in the Congo. It also took place between competing colonial powers, often involving local people as well. The wars between the French and British in North America through the eighteenth century, for example, were consistently about securing territory on that continent. Especially from the middle of the nineteenth century, the technologies of firearms, and what historians sometimes call the arms gap, decided outcomes.


The arms gap sometimes enabled the massacre of local people by colonizers, with or without government consent. For example, the mass killing of the Kenyan Mau Mau rebels and civilians by the British after 1952 took the force it did partly because of technology available. But it was not always ...

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Anglo-Zanzibar War

by Mitch on July 10, 2012 0 Comments

August 27, 1896

The Anglo-Zanzibar holds the distinction of being the shortest war in history, clocking in at 38 minutes.

When Khalid bin Barghash, the new Sultan of Zanzibar came to power in 1896, he wanted the country to be free from British control. One requirement by the British was for the new Sultan to seek permission for enthronement from a British consul. Barghash refused, which the British did not take lightly. They offered him a choice: leave the palace by his own free will or be removed forcefully.

When the appointed time came to make his decision, the Sultan responded by barricading himself within the palace and scrambling a defense force. Five British military vessels were in the harbor outside the palace and opened fire once the deal had expired.

Three Zanzibari ships were sunk, shore defenses were destroyed, and a handful of defending soldiers were killed. Although the ...

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by Mitch on July 7, 2012 0 Comments

Even as late as the Boer War at the end of the nineteenth century, the British Army found itself relying upon long-range naval guns to supplement the light field artillery normally used in colonial warfare. A battery of six naval 12-pounder guns in direct support and another battery of eight naval 12-pounder guns and two 4.7-inch naval guns to support the flanking mounted troops or in reserve.


British forces in the Second Boer War were initially outgunned by the long range Boer artillery. Captain Percy Scott of HMS Terrible first improvised timber static siege mountings for two 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns from the Cape Town coastal defences, to counter the Boers' "Long Tom" gun during the Siege of Ladysmith in 1899–1900.


Captain Scott then improvised a travelling carriage for 4.7 inch guns removed from their usual static coastal or ship mountings to provide the army with ...

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Overthrow of Colonialism: Northern Africa

by Mitch on June 7, 2012 1 Comment

French Harkis soldiers.

The overthrow of colonialism depended upon the development of nationalism, which marked a break with primary forms of resistance to colonialism in nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century northern Africa. Initial resistance was based on regional and Muslim solidarity, like the resistance of ‘Abd al-Qadir to the French in Algeria between 1830 and 1847. Meanwhile, in Tunisia and Egypt, there was a renewal of ideological leadership through the development of nationalist ideologies and the reform of Islamic thought. Nationalist and Islamist ideologies were formulated by those exposed to modern European thought and appealed to new social categories created by the modernizing programs of African state builders such as Tunisia’s Ahmed Bey and Egypt’s Muhammad ‘Ali. Educated in Western languages and political concepts, administrators, professionals, and entrepreneurs identified their interests within the nation-state. They provided the personnel of the colonial state system after the French occupation of Tunisia in 1881 ...

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The Indian Army Mid-20th Century

by Mitch on June 3, 2012 0 Comments

A sepoy of the 1st Afridi Bn receives some friendly words of advice from the subedar-major at Port Tewfik, Egypt. The regiment moved to Syria for training as a Commando unit, but resumed its role as conventional infantry in 1943. Reborn as the Khyber Rifles, the regiment is now part of the Pakistan Army. (IWM E14177)


The Indian Army entered the Second World War woefully underprepared. The amount of money devoted to the army by the Government of India had slowly declined after the end of the First World War. Despite a subsidy from Great Britain it was left desperately short of modern weapons and equipment and it did not possess sufficient men able to handle mechanical transport - not a single member of the Royal Deccan Horse, for example, knew how to drive. Only with the recruitment of a large number of Madrassis and Mahrattas did this situation begin to ...

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Syria-Lebanon I

by Mitch on May 16, 2012 0 Comments

Captured MS.406 fighters of GC I/7, in July 1941.

On 13 May 1941, the fears of de Gaulle and Spears were realised when German aircraft landed in Syria in support of the Iraqi rebel Rashid Ali, who was opposed to the pro-British government. On 8 June, 30,000 troops (Indian Army, British, Australian, Free French and the Trans-Jordanian Frontier Force) invaded Lebanon and Syria in what was known as Operation Exporter. There was stiff resistance from the Vichy French and Spears commented bitterly on ‘that strange class of Frenchmen who had developed a vigour in defeat which had not been apparent when they were defending their country’


In 1941 Beirut added war between Vichy France and Britain to its stock of conflicts. The fall of France in June 1940 had shattered Lebanese Christians, many of whom had based their lives on French power and culture. Many Arabs, however ...

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Book Review: Subhas Chandra Bose In Nazi Germany: Politics, Intelligence, and Propaganda 1941-43.

by Mitch on April 18, 2012 0 Comments

Romain Hayes. Subhas Chandra Bose In Nazi Germany: Politics, Intelligence, and Propaganda 1941-43. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. xxx + 249 pp. $30.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-231-70234-8; ISBN 978-0-231-80018-1.

Reviewed by Jaideep Prabhu (Vanderbilt)
Published on H-War (April, 2012)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Prabhu on Hayes

Why does a land that has had no history of anti-semitism revere a man who allied himself with the Third Reich and the Axis powers? The man in question, Subhas Chandra Bose, was everything that the Indian freedom movement and its leading figures was not--while Mohandas Gandhi eschewed violence, Bose was the founder of the Indian National Army (INA), and while Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi positioned the Indian National Congress (INC) largely in support of the democratic allies, Bose led the INA in concert with Axis troops against the Raj in Southeast Asia.

In this book, Romain Hayes takes up the task of analyzing ...

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