War Between: Maratha Empire Vs Afghan Army - King of Afghans
Battle Leaders: Sadashivrao Peshwa (Maratha's) Vs Ahmed Shah Abdali (Afghan's)
Battlefield: Panipat, Haryana, Bharat (India)
Weapons Used: Muskets, Swords, Bow and Arrow, Armour, Light & Heavy Artillery, Camel mounted artillery
January the 14th, 1761 would see one of the most epic battles in the entire world fought between the Hindu Maratha forces under the command of Sadashivrao Peshwa fighting the invading forces of Ahmed Shah Abdali, supported by three groups of Indian muslims. The Rohilla, The Afghans of Doab region and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. The battle itself saw some of the largest casualties in a single day, with both armies in classic battle formation. It is said some 60 -b 70,000 lost their lives in the battle itself, An eyewitness report from the Afghan side stated that 40,000 Maratha warriors were slaughtered in a single day after the battle.
This time the Hindu side had, actually secured some light artillery from the French, but would this be a match for the heavier artillery and the Camel mounted light cannons the Afghans possessed? The Maratha's clearly knew they were heavily outnumbered, alongside the fact that they had some 200,000 non-combatants in tow, whom sought their protection from the Occupiers, yet still they charged into battle.
Ahmed Shah Abdali had received word of Maratha advances from his son and was furious, he put together an Army made up of Afghans, Balochis, Rohilla's and they reached Lahore and Delhi. Defeating any enemy garrisons along the way. Abdali then managed to convince Shuja-ud-Daula to join them, despite the fact the Marathas had earlier helped Shuja's father against the very same Rohillas. The Marathas received word and raised an army and advanced towards the Mughal capital of Delhi. The captured Delhi in 1759, but were soon betrayed when the Jat's withdrew their support. Abdali seized the opportunity to attack a smaller Maratha force in Burari Ghat.
The Battle Begins
Some time later the Maratha force attacked a 15,000 Afghan garrison in Kunjpura, on the banks of the River Yamuna. The Maratha's had used knowledge of the swollen river of the Yamuna to their advantage, Abdali had to watch as some of his best generals and 15,000 troops were killed across the River. This move strengthened the Afghan's resolve and they crossed the river further down, while the Marathas were pre occupied.
The Marathas having missed their opportunity to stop the Afghans crossing the river, set up defences at Panipat. Both armies effectively block themselves in and the Afghans first come across the forward force of the Marathas. They loose about a 1,000 of their men, but successfully push into the main Maratha force. The Marathas loose more men on foraging missions, or securing finance and rations from Delhi. The Marathas were surrounded! The next few months would see the Marathas under siege, but still taking 3,000 Rohilla heads in the process. Abdali even wanted to end the bloodshed and seek terms with the Marathas but these were argued against on Islamic grounds. The Siege got worse as the defensive garrison of 700-800 Maratha's were set upon by 2,500 Pashtun's at Kunjpura.
Glorious Death In Battle
Atai Khan Baluch then arrived with 10,000 Afghan troops and completely cut off Maratha supply lines. At this point to lay in wait meant they would surely starve and the Maratha commanders urged Bhau that they should have a glorious death in battle instead. Bhau planned to use his cannon fire to pulverise the afghan force and then march the cavalry through the weakened Afghans to the south and make it back to Delhi. In the early hours of 14th January, the Marathas ate the last of their food and so it began.
The Maratha placed their artillery in front protected by infantry, musketeers, pikemen and bowmen. The formation stretched for 12 kilometres, The Cavalry stood behind the forward formation and just behind that a further 30,000 lower ranked soldiers. Incredibly there were 200,000 civilians then sandwiched in-between another rear guard of Marathi warriors.
The opposition took on a similar line, but they didn't have any innocent civilians in tow. 50 to 60 heavy cannons took position, alongside 19,000 afghan chain mailed cavalry and long range musketeers.
The Maratha army, wasn't just fighting to win the battle, it had the responsibility of the very lives of around 200,000 innocent non-combatant Hindu's, that travelled with them. Regardless of being outnumbered they led the first charge on the left flank, but their firing had very little effect. The Rohillas then charged forward only to be repelled by bowmen, pikemen and gardi musketeers. The next salvo sent the Rohillas reeling back, the 8,000 or so unit of musketeers took about 12,000 Rohillas. Then Bhau himself led a charge on the centre of the forces, effectively splitting them down the middle but not quite carving a path through to Delhi and much needed supplies.
The Afghan Left flank still held strong but the centre was weakened and divided and the right was on it's last legs. It looked like the Marathas were close to a victory and could lead their starving soldiers back to Delhi. Abdali watching from his tent watching from above, sent his bodyguard to fetch 15,000 reserve troops and put them in front of his cavalry. He had 2,000 swivel mounted camels, yes camels! sent out into the back of the field. These Camels proved highly effective and mobile, shooting over the Afghan heads but easily into the Maratha forces.
Abdali then dispatched his own bodyguards, 500 to gather men from camp and another 1,500 to punish those that retreat to the right flank. These along with 4,000 reserves renewed the right. He sent the remainder, some 10,000 to reinforce the broken centre. The Marathas couldn't use their own artillery, given that their own men were in the way and lost around 7,000 cavalry and infantry. Than it was down to hand to hand combat, tired Maratha's fighting against fresh better protected reserves.
Seeing the demise of Vishwasrao, Bhau decided to come down off his elephant and lead the charge himself. But the enemy captors took advantage, revolted and began attacking within and causing panic in the ranks. Some Maratha troops are said to have escaped, seeing their leader apparently removed from his mount. The Marathas had ordered 4,000 cavalry to protect the Gardi's, but seeing that they didn't have a clear path of their cannons. The Maratha cavalry broke formation and charged the Rohilla sword in hand, and were picked off my enemy gunfire. Bhao and his Royal Guard fought to the very end, running through several horses. Holkar, realising the battle was over retreated to leave a forward line of Marathas that would fight for several more hours. This enables some 15,000 soldiers to eacape, along with Bhau's wife and her own bodyguard.
Camel Mounted Cannon
29,000 Total Forces
30,000 in Battle
10,000 in Retreat
40,000 - 70,000 Non-Combatants Slaughtered
110,000 Total Forces
4,000 Personal Guard
20,000 - 30,000 in Battle
10,000 in Kunjapura
The Afghan cavalry then proceeded to kill ten's of thousands of not just soldiers, but civilians. It is said that 22,000 women and children were taken as slaves, that was unless you were older then 14, in which case you would just be beheaded. The killing of Hindu's even became a reward for officers in the Afghan army. 40,000 Marathas are said to have been butchered in a single day. Those few Maratha women that were lucky enough to throw themselves into wells, rather then risk the dishonour of the Afghan rapists.
Lessons to Learn
None of the Hindu Kings came to the aid of the Marathas, had they done so, the outcome may have been different. The Marathas fought bravely, but were outnumbered and their light static artillery was no match for the combined heavy and light, mobile artillery of the invaders. The Marathas fought far from their homeland in Pune, where it was more difficult to secure supplies. Perhaps it would have been best to continue fighting guerrilla style as had been suggested in the Maratha camp. Some argue that had Balaji Bajirao Peshwa arrived in time with reinforcements, instead of celebrating his marriage the battle could have been won.