Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Battle of Panipat, 1526 - Afghans vs Mughals

In 1526 Babur captured Kabul. For several years he tried to re-conquer his hereditary domain but failed, The deficit economy of mountainous plateau of Afghanistan forced Babur’s attention towards India. The stories of riches of India and plunder picked up by his ancestor Timur inflamed Babur passion . Moreover Babur required glory and money to keep the afghan soldiers under his control. Otherwise they would desert Mughal standards and join the rebellious chieftains, who from their hilly stronghold, were threatening Babur’s shaky rule.

Babur decided to test the quality of Ibrahim’s military responses by conducting frontier raids. In 1519 Babur took the Bajaur fort, plundered Bhira and then returned to Kabul. In 1520 he led a plundering expedition upon Sialkot. He continued such raids till 1524.The inaction of Ibrahim lodi’s government encouraged Babur to stake every thing towards decisive throw of dice. Babur crossed the Rubicon when he launched his main invasion in the winter of 1525. His force crossed the Indus over Attock.

Initially the Delhi court thought Babur was leading yet another plundering expedition. But when they won Punjab , Ibrahim realized the gravity of situation and set his military machine in motion.. Ibrahim himself accompanied the army, which was under his general Bahadur khan. Lethargy, indiscipline and indecisiveness dogged the lodi army. After one day march , the lodi force halted for two or four days. It was as if Ibrahim didn’t know what to do, advance or retreat.

Ibrahim had more than one hundred thousand men and one thousand elephants. However it is improbable that he brought this whole army to fight the Mughal invaders. It was impossible to move one thousands elephants simultaneously because each such animal daily required huge amounts of water and fodder. Moreover while the Rajput ruler, Rana Sanga threatened the southern boundary of Ibrahim’s domain, recalcitrant afghan chiefs created problems in the eastern parts. To guard against these two threats, Ibrahim had to detached substantial number of troops and elephants.

One of the Ibrahim's commander Daud Khan lodi advanced seven miles from the main army to test the Mughal army’s strength. Several skirmishes occurred between the afghan and the Mughal advance guards before the main battle was fought. Babur mobile cavalry took many afghan prisoners.

Thanks to his long experience of fighting in central Asia, Babur was adept at using violence to terrorize his opponents. On march 1526 , Babur deliberately killed all his afghan prisoners and made a pyramid with their skulls. On 12 April 1526 two opposing forces finally met at Panipat.

Babur needed a quick victory, because he was far away from his base Kabul. The Uzbkes were threatening to invade his domain. To provoke Ibrahim into hasty action , as advised from deserters from the lodi side, decide on night attack. The sally on the night of 19 April was made under command of Mahdi Khwaja. Since Babur troops were not trained for night attacks, it was not decisive.

On 21 April Babur decided to try his luck. Babur realized that since Ibrahim is commanding bigger force, he might attempt to attack Mughal flanks. So Babur deployed his army with its right side protected by the suburb of the town named Panipat. To protect the left side of his army , Babur ordered his army to dig a ditch. At some places ditch was covered by mud to allow counter attack by small groups of two hundred cavalry each. These units were know as “braves”

Babur anticipated the mad onrush by Ibrahim's foot soldiers and might elephants . he insisted on constructing field fortifications. His men collected seven hundred carts. These carts carried guns as well as troops baggage. Ustad Ali was ordered to join up these carts with ropes of raw hide. Babur admits in his memoirs that it is typical ottoman tactic for stopping an enemy cavalry charge. Ustad ali had witnessed battle of chaldiran fought near Tabriz between ottomans and Safavids. Between every two carts in Babur’s line. Six wooden tripods were set up. The matchlocks were to support their handguns on these tripods while firing. The matchlock men under Ustaad Quli supplanted by cannon in cart under Mustafa were in charge of securing front of Mughal army.

!8 year old Hamyaun commanded the right wing of the Mughal line. The Mughal left was under Muhammad Mirza. The advanced guards were under Khusrau Kukaldus. Abdul Aziz was in charge of reserve. The Mughal center was divided into two parts. The right hand of Mughal center was under chin Timur and Khalifa Khaja commanded the left part of it. The most crucial component of Mughal force was Tulghama contingents. . they were the flanking parties. Their aim being to charge at enemy’s sides and thereby to turn their flanks. after this the two Tulghama contingents were to join hands at the rear of enemy thus completely surrounding him. The Uzbeks of central Asia were adept at implementing this tactic.

Babur plan was to allow Ibrahim attack first and then check it through prudent use of filed fortification, cannons and matchlocks. If this succeeded . the afghan attack would come to a halt. Babur then planned to throw his fresh Tulghama parties against Ibrahim;s exhausted troops to encircle and eliminate them.

When the order to advance was given , Ibrahim's troops moved forward and the troops on Ibrahim;s left were able to reach Mughal right. The reserve under Abdul Aziz strengthened the Mughal’s right. Simultaneously Babur ordered the braves to counter-attack, and Ibrahim's left wing came to a halt. Moments later, the Lodi right wing, with some elephants, clashed with Mughal left. There was close quarter hand to hand combat with Ibrahim's infantry, armed with swords. A combination of arrows loosened by croos0bow men , and the shots of matchlock and cannon, forced out elephants. Lodi troops were confused, they were undecided whether to advance again or retreat, Babur realized that decisive moment has arrived. His ordered his center to stand firm and right and left wings to advance and attack the Lodis. To add confusion, Babur simultaneously launched his trump cards, the tulghama contingents. The turning parties, galloping forward at high speed, shouting “hai, hai”, discharged arrows towards the flank of enemies. At this point Babur’s army looked like two horns of a crescent attempting to swallow the lodi army. Troops on the right and left of Ibrahim felt the pressure of tulghama parties and started retreating towards center. The rain of arrows loosened on Ibrahim;s massed troops by the mounted archers resulted in massive resulted in massive slaughter. The lodi soldiers tried to flee the battlefield but were slaughtered., Ibrahim, like paurava, possessed personal courage and he fought and died in the battlefield. Even his arch enemy Babur paid respect to his dead body, touching it and crying out over it , ‘honour to your courage’.

Over seventy percent of Ibrahim’s forces suffered casualties. About 35,000 soldiers on lodi side were wounded and the 15,000 dead soldiers from the lodhi force lay scattered on battlefield. The battle lasted for six hours .

India's Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil

Above depicts both moghul and afghan cavalryman in action.Behind is matchlock-man with a protective mantlet.These and cannons were Babur's ace card at Panipat.The first picture depicts Baburid cavalry,heavy and light.

Afghan foot archer