How some command decisions of the First Anglo-Sikh War were taken…. In Flashman’s words IV

And continuing the account of Flashman in his role of “military advisor” to the chief of the Khalsa army invading British India…

~~ To win, the Khalsa need only take Ferozepore and wait for Gough to come and be slaughtered by overwhelming odds and big guns. To lose, they must be divided, and the weaker part sent to meet Gough with as little artillery as possible. If I could contrive that the first battle was on near level terms, or even odds of three to two against us, I’d have given Gough victory on a lordly dish. Daft he might be, but he could still outmanoeuvre any Sikh commander, and if they didn’t have their big guns along, British cavalry and infantry would do their business. Gough believed in the bayonet: give him a chance to use it, and the Khalsa were beat – in the first battle at least. After that, Paddy would have to take care of the war himself.

So I figured, with the sweat cold on my skin, my ankle giving me hell’s delight, and Lal mumping on my elbow. D’ye know that steadied me – encountering a liver whiter than my own. Well, it don’t happen that often. This is what I told him:

“Call your staff together – generals and brigadiers, no colonels. Tej Singh as well. Tell ’em you won’t attack Ferozepore, because it’s mined, you don’t trust the deserters’ tale of Littler’s weaknesses, and as Wazir it’s beneath your dignity to engage anyone but the Jangi lat himself. Also, there’s a risk that if you get embroiled with Littler, and Gough arrives early, you may be caught between two fires. Don’t let them argue. Simply say that Ferozepore don’t matter, d’you see – it can be wiped out when you’ve settled Gough. Lay down the law, high-handed. Very good?”

He nodded, rubbing his face and biting his knuckle – he had the wind up to such a tune that I swear if I’d told him to march to Ceylon, he’d have cried Amen.

“Now, your gorracharra are deployed already – send them against Gough with their horse artillery, pointing out they outnumber him two to one. You’ll meet him somewhere between here and Woodnee, and if you detach some of your force to entrench at Ferozeshah or Sultan Khan Wallah, you’ll reduce the odds, d’you see? Gough will do the rest – “

“But Tej Singh?” he bleated. “He has thirty thousand infantry, and the heavy guns -“

“He’s to sit down here and watch Littler, in place of your gorracharra. Yes, yes, I know – that don’t take thirty thousand men. He might divide his force in turn, leaving only enough to watch Ferozepore, while the rest follow you as slowly as Tej can decently arrange – it’ll take him time to bring ’em down from the river, and if he sets about it in the right spirit he can waste the best part of a week. I dare say – “

“But to divide the Khalsa?” goggles he. “It is not good strategy, surely? The generals will not permit -“

“To hell with the generals – you’re the Wazir,” cries I. “It’s bloody good strategy, you can tell ’em, to send your most mobile troops to meet the Jangi lat when he least expects ’em and his own men are so fagged they’ll be marching on their chinstraps. Tej Singh will back you up, if you prime him first -“

“But suppose…. suppose we beat the Jangi lat – he has only ten thousand, and as you say, they will be tired -“

“Tired or not, they’ll tear your gorracharra to pieces if the odds ain’t too heavy! And I doubt if Gough’s as weak as you think. Good God, man, he’s got another twenty thousand somewhere between Ludhiana and Umballa – he ain’t going to send ’em on furlough, you know! And the Khalsa will be in three parts, don’t you see? Well, none of those three parts is going to be a match for Gough’s boys, let me tell you!”

I believed it, too, and if I wasn’t altogether right it was because I lacked experience. I was trusting to the old maxim that one British soldier is worth any two niggers any day. It’s a fair rule of thumb, mind you, but I can look back on my military career and count foor exceptions who always gave Atkins a damned good run for his money. Three of them were Zulu, John Gurkha, and Fuzzy-wuzzy. I wasn’t to know, then, that the fourth one was the Sikh.

To be continued….


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