Friday, May 6, 2016

21 vs 10000- Battle of Saragarhi

Recently, I came across a Facebook post by Eric kirsch regarding who the great warriors really are, and who are the real HARD MEN. He wrote about the Battle of Saragarhi, where 21 Sikhs defended a fort against 10000 afghan pashtuns. Sounds familiar, reminded of movie 300, yes Spartans vs Persians, it’s sad though that most of us, apart from Sikhs, know more about the Spartan war (thanks to the movie) then this battle. 

One way it could have been told to us is by including it in the textbooks; after all it was one hell of a David vs Goliath battle. No wonder, most Historians compare this battle to the battle of Thermopylae, both had similar background, a tiny defending force facing a huge contingent of army, holding their post for time enough to strengthen their army back home, and both fighting till their death.
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Battle Of Saragarhi

The Sikh led by Havildar Ishar Singh, chose to fight till death, considered by many military historians as one of the history's greatest 'Last Stands'.

The Battle of Saragarhi was fought before the Tirah Campaign on 12 September 1897 between 21 Sikhs of the 36th Sikhs (now the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment) of British India, defending an army post against 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen, other estimates put the opposition force above 13,500+.

The 21 Sikhs defended against a massive border incursion while positioned in sentry defense of the foremost positioned tiny garrison on the line.
Details of the Battle of Saragarhi are considered fairly accurate, due to Gurmukh Singh signalling events to Fort Lockhart by heliograph as they occurred.

A Quick Run through the battle:

  • Around 9:00am, around 10,000 Afghans reach the signaling post at Saragarhi.
  • Sardar Gurmukh Singh signals to Col. Haughton, situated in Fort Lockhart, that they are under attack.
  • Colonel Haughton states he cannot send immediate help to Saragarhi.
  • The soldiers decide to fight to the last to prevent the enemy from reaching the forts.
  • Bhagwan Singh becomes the first injured and Lal Singh is seriously wounded.
  • Soldiers Lal Singh and Jiwa Singh reportedly carry the dead body of Bhagwan Singh back to the inner layer of the post.
  • The enemy breaks a portion of the wall of the picket.
  • Colonel Haughton signals that he has estimated between 10,000 and 14,000 Pashtuns attacking Saragarhi.
  • The leaders of the Afghan forces reportedly make promises to the soldiers to entice them to surrender.
  • Reportedly two determined attempts are made to rush open the gate, but are unsuccessful.
  • Later, the wall is breached.
  • Thereafter, some of the fiercest hand-to-hand fighting occurs.
  • In an act of outstanding bravery, Ishar Singh orders his men to fall back into the inner layer, whilst he remains to fight. However, this is breached and all but one of the defending soldiers are killed, along with many of the Pashtuns.
  • Gurmukh Singh, who communicated the battle with Col. Haughton, was the last Sikh defender. He is stated to have killed 20 Afghans, the Pashtuns having to set fire to the post to kill him. As he was dying he was said to have yelled repeatedly the Sikh battle-cry "Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal" (Shout Aloud in Ecstasy! True is the Great Timeless One). "Akal," meaning Immortal, beyond death, the Supreme Creator God unbound by time and non-tempor.

The following day when thousands of British Army reinforcements arrived and successfully repelled the Afghan's, exactly 21 Sikh MEN were found, most shirtless, all knives drawn from hip sheaths, and covered in blood surrounded by over 600 dead Afghan fighters.

All of the 21 Sikh non-commissioned officers and soldiers of other ranks who laid down their lives in the Battle of Saragarhi were posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest gallantry award of that time, which an Indian soldier could receive by the hands of the British crown, the corresponding gallantry award being Victoria Cross.
A fight till death

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