Tuesday, 29 July 2014

British campaign against Mohmands (1935)

1935's photograph showing Mk-II light tanks in the Mohmand tribal area. The first operational use of tanks in British India was against the Mohmands in 1935

In 1933,  a road from Shabqadar to Gandab was constructed by British despite the resistance offered by a lashkar of Haji Sahib of Turangzai. In 1935 Badshah Gul (son of Haji Sahib) persuaded the Lar Mohmands to destroy the Gandao road on the sector south from the Karrapa Pass, leading to renewed hostilities. On 22nd August 1935,  Brigadier Auchinleck (who later became commander-in-chief of British Indian army and of middle eastern theater during WWII)  led over 30,000  troops against Mohmands with air support commanded by Basil Embry. Tanks were used which was the first operational use of tanks in India. The Mohmands had nothing to face the Tanks with. Having no word for Tanks, they called it  “the snakes that spit”.

During the operations, Royal Air Force gave close support to ground troops and helped in the destruction of the villages and breaking up the Mohmand fighters who had taken positions in Karappa, Ali Kandi and Pir Kalay. It was reported that the commanding officer ordered the bombing of every village in Pindiali, Danish Khel and Bazid Khel areas. For four days bombs were dropped in Burhan Khel, Essa Khel and the rest of the Mohmand area. A leader titled "Ethics of bombing" in "The Statesman" newspaper supported such action by concluding
"If the Government of India have to teach a lesson to the marauders a lesson – what , from the point of view of the party attacked , is the difference between being bombed from above or shelled from opposite or being attacked by machine-gun or rifle-fire?" (9 September , 1935)

British troops were ordered to occupy Dhand , resulting in hand-to-hand fighting and the deaths of several British officers. The British troops were unable to remove the tribesmen from their positions and on 24th August a severe battle took place in Karrapa. Both sides suffered heavy losses. Bombs were also dropped in Ghalanai on 23rd August , but still the Mohmands and Bajauris were holding their positions.

The Governor , Sir Ralph Griffith got leaflets in Pashto distributed in the Mohmand area, proclaiming that the government intention were to construct a road in the area for the convenience of the tribes, and that it will be constructed at all costs. On the leaflet he wrote   "The dawn will come even if the the cock does not crow".

Open and organized resistance by the Mahmands had ceased.  However sporadic raids and ambushes of the British troops continued . In October, a contingent of 5/12 Frontier Force Regiment and the Guides , supported by artillery, was ambushed by a powerful and well-concealed body of Mohmands. In the fierce hand-to-hand fighting that ensued , the British force suffered heavily. Haji Sahib of Turangzai made an appeal with some success to the Bar Mohmands and other tribes. Before it could escalate into an all tribes war, the British force was withdrawn on 23rd November 1935. A peace settlement was finally made in 1936.

The operation against Mohamand Pashtuns provided a practical test of the various changes in the British army introduced during the early 1930s. Of greater significance was the deployment of Mk II light tanks.


1- "Pukhtun Economy and Society", Akbar Ahmed, p-69
2- "History of the Pathans", Haroon Rashid, pp-502-503
3- "Reforming the Pukhtuns and Resisting the British: An Appraisal of the Haji Sahib Turangzai's Movement", A Qadir, p-78
4- "The life and times of Hajji Sahib of Turangzai" , Muhammad Fahim Khan, Islamic Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 329-341

British headquarters of  Brigadier-General Claude Auchinleck during the unrest in the Mohamand territory, 1935. The tent camp is located near the Nahakki Pass

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