Aliwal – First Anglo Sikh War site

Famous for the Battle of Aliwal, during the First Anglo-Sikh Wars fought on 28 January 1846.

After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on June 27, 1839, the British decided to annexe his kingdom. As political intrigues led to confusion and disorder, the Maharaja’s army fought a series of battles against the British starting in 1945 called the Anglo-Sikh Wars. Even though they had no leader, the army fought ferociously to defend their kingdom and their honour and bravery on the battle-field was admired by the British themselves. However, several treacherous commanders betrayed them to the British, refusing to send manpower, ammunition and supplies at key moments and with very high casualties, the army was finally defeated and the British added Punjab to the rest of their territories.

The Battle of Aliwal

The 40,000 Sikh infantry massed against Smith’s 10,000 men at Aliwal covered a frontage of about two miles connecting the villages of Aliwal and Bundri. They were supported by 37 pieces of artillery and flanked by cavalry. In the initial stages of the battle Smith’s forces advanced and took Aliwal. The capture of Aliwal meant the loss of the Sikhs’ best ford across the Sutlej, they therefore had to recapture it and attempted to do so with a body of 1000 cavalry. Smith saw this threat and immediately dispatched a squadron of 16th Lancers and a squadron of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry.

The 3rd failed to charge while the squadron of the 16th under Captain Bere did so, and routed 1000 Sikh cavalry (over ten times their number). Aliwal was not lost but the cost to the 16th was the loss of 42 of the 100 who charged. Smith’s main body continued to be harried by the Sikh guns; he therefore ordered the main body of the 16th under their Commanding Officer, Major Rowland Smyth, to take the guns. Smyth led his two squadrons in a headlong charge against the guns that continued to fire until the moment they were overrun. The momentum of the Regiment was so great that they charged past the guns and were faced by the massed squares of the Sikh infantry. Smyth realised that to pull up and retire would enable the Sikh infantry to lay a withering fire in his rear, he therefore spurred his horse, jumping into the centre of the first square and charging on through. Naturally the 16th followed their Commanding Officer and charged head on into the square. “We had to charge a square of infantry – at them we went, the bullets flying round like a hailstorm.” (Sergeant Gould).

Many were injured including Smyth who received a bayonet wound to his abdomen. However he still managed to reform his Regiment and charge back through the broken Sikh squares. This proved to be the decisive action with the Sikhs breaking contact and attempting to withdraw back across the Sutlej under heavy British artillery fire; they left 3,000 dead and all their guns on the British side of the river.

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