The Battle of Aliwal
was fought on 28 January 1846 between the British and the Sikhs. The British were led by Sir Harry Smith, while the Sikhs were led by Ranjodh Singh Majithia
Ranjodh Singh was a powerful member of the Sikh aristocracy. The Majithia family are Jats of the Shergill gotra , and were particularly influential in the area near their headquarters in Majithia ....
. The British won a victory which is sometimes regarded as the turning point of the First Anglo-Sikh War
The First Anglo-Sikh War was fought between the Sikh Empire and the British East India Company between 1845 and 1846. It resulted in partial subjugation of the Sikh kingdom.-Background and causes of the war:...
The First Anglo-Sikh War began six years after the death of Ranjit Singh
Maharaja Ranjit Singh Ji was the first Maharaja of the Sikh Empire.-Early life:...
, who had established the Sikh Empire in the Punjab
The Punjab , also spelled Panjab |water]]s"), is a geographical region straddling the border between Pakistan and India which includes Punjab province in Pakistan and the states of the Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and some northern parts of the National Capital Territory of Delhi...
. The Punjab became increasingly disordered, while the British increased their military forces on their border with the Punjab. Eventually, the increasingly turbulent Khalsa, the army of the Sikh empire, was goaded into crossing the Sutlej River and invading British territory, under leaders who were distrustful of their own troops.
On 21 December and 22 December 1845, the army of the British East India Company
The East India Company was an early English joint-stock company that was formed initially for pursuing trade with the East Indies, but that ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent and China...
commanded by Sir Hugh Gough
Field Marshal Sir Hugh Gough, 1st Viscount Gough, KP, GCSI, KCB, PC , was an Irish British Army officer. He was said to have commanded in more general actions than any other British officer of the 19th century except the Duke of Wellington.- Early career :Born at Woodstown House, Co...
and the Governor-General of Bengal, Sir Henry Hardinge
Field Marshal Henry Hardinge, 1st Viscount Hardinge, GCB, PC was a British field marshal and Governor-general of India.-Army career:...
, fought the bloody Battle of Ferozeshah
The Battle of Ferozeshah was fought on 21 December and 22 December 1845 between the British and the Sikhs, at the village of Ferozeshah in Punjab. The British were led by Sir Hugh Gough and Governor-General Sir Henry Hardinge, while the Sikhs were led by Lal Singh.The British emerged victorious,...
. The Sikh armies under Vizier
A vizier or in Arabic script ; ; sometimes spelled vazir, vizir, vasir, wazir, vesir, or vezir) is a high-ranking political advisor or minister in a Muslim government....
Lal Singh and Commander in Chief Tej Singh eventually retreated, but the British army was shaken by its heavy losses. They did not renew hostilities for some weeks, and Hardinge sought to relieve Gough of his command, blaming his tactics for the heavy casualties.
The Sikhs too were temporarily disheartened by the retreats ordered by their commanders. However, they were reinforced by troops who had not yet seen action, and moved back across the Sutlej to occupy a bridgehead at Sobraon, while, a detachment under Ranjodh Singh Majithia (sometimes transcribed as Runjoor Singh
), with 7,000 men and 20 guns, crossed higher up the Sutlej to besiege the British-held fortress of Ludhiana
and menace Gough's and Hardinge's supply lines. The British commanders detached a division under Sir Harry Smith to clear this threat to their rear.
On 16 January 1846, Smith recovered two outposts which the Sikhs had seized at Fategarh and Dharmkot. Although Runjodh Singh's irregular cavalry had raided over a wide area and set fire to part of the British cantonments at Ludhiana, his main body was advancing only slowly on Ludhiana.
Harry Smith first intended to attack Runjodh Singh's army at Buddowal. However, on learning of the Sikh strength, and receiving further orders from Gough, he instead force-marched his troops via Jagraon
Jagraon is a city and a municipal council in the Ludhiana district in the Indian state of Punjab. Jagraon is more than three centuries old. It has been thought by some that the city's original name was Jagar aon, meaning A place of great flooding, although this flooding has since ceased...
, collecting a British regiment there, to reach Ludhiana ahead of the Sikh main body. On 21 January, as he left Buddowal, the Sikh irregular cavalry (the Gorchurras
) continually attacked his rearguards. They captured most of Smith's baggage animals (mules, bullocks and elephants), and cut down any straggling troops. Nevertheless, Smith succeeded in reaching Ludhiana, with his troops exhausted. A brigade of troops from Delhi
Delhi , officially National Capital Territory of Delhi , is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest by population in India, next to Mumbai. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16,753,265 inhabitants in the Territory at the 2011 Census...
, including two Gurkha
Gurkha are people from Nepal who take their name from the Gorkha District. Gurkhas are best known for their history in the Indian Army's Gorkha regiments, the British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas and the Nepalese Army. Gurkha units are closely associated with the kukri, a forward-curving Nepalese knife...
battalions, reinforced him.
After resting his troops, Smith once again advanced to Buddowal. The Sikhs had withdrawn to Aliwal on the Sutlej, awaiting reinforcements. On 28 January, Smith advanced against them, cautiously at first.
The Sikhs had occupied a position 4 miles (6.4 km) long, which ran along a ridge between the villages of Aliwal, on the Sutlej, and Bhundri. The Sutlej ran close to their rear for the entire length of their line, making it difficult for them to manoeuvre and also potentially disastrous if they were forced to retreat.
After the initial artillery salvoes, Smith determined that Aliwal was the Sikh weak point. He sent two of his four infantry brigades to capture the village, from where they could enfilade the Sikh centre. They seized the village, and began pressing forwards to threaten the fords across the Sutlej.
As the Sikhs tried to swing back their left, pivoting on Bhundri, some of their cavalry tried to threaten the open British left flank. A British and Indian cavalry brigade, led by the 16th Lancers
The 16th The Queen's Lancers was a cavalry regiment in the British Army, first raised in 1759. It saw service for two centuries, before being amalgamated into the 16th/5th Lancers in 1922.-History:...
, charged and dispersed them. The 16th Lancers then attacked a large body of Sikh infantry. These were battalions organised and trained in contemporary European fashion by Neapolitan
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...
A mercenary, is a person who takes part in an armed conflict based on the promise of material compensation rather than having a direct interest in, or a legal obligation to, the conflict itself. A non-conscript professional member of a regular army is not considered to be a mercenary although he...
, Paolo Di Avitabile
General Paolo Crescenzo Martino Avitabile was an Italian soldier, mercenary and adventurer. A peasant's son born in Agerola, near Amalfi in Italy, he served in the Neapolitan militia during the Napoleonic wars. After Waterloo he drifted east like many other adventurous soldiers...
. They formed square to receive cavalry, as most European armies did. Nevertheless, the 16th Lancers broke them, with heavy casualties.
The infantry in the Sikh centre tried to defend a nullah
A Nullah or Nulla is an arm of the sea, stream, or watercourse, a steep narrow valley. Like the wadi of the Arabs, the nullah is characteristic of mountainous or hilly country where there is little rainfall...
(dry stream bed), but were enfiladed and forced into the open by a Bengal infantry regiment, and then cut down by fire from Smith's batteries of Bengal Horse Artillery.
Unlike most of the battles of both Anglo-Sikh Wars, when the Sikhs at Aliwal began to retreat, the retreat quickly turned into a disorderly rout across the fords. Most of the Sikh guns were abandoned, either on the river bank or in the fords, along with all baggage, tents and supplies. They lost 2,000 men and 67 guns.
Smith wrote afterwards:
Many commentators referred to Smith's victory as the "Battle without a mistake". Except for the 16th Lancers, who lost 144 men out of about 300, few of Smith's units had heavy casualties.
- 16th Queen’s Light Dragoons (Lancers)
- 31st Foot
- 50th Foot
- 53rd Foot
- Governor General’s Bodyguard
- 1st Bengal Native Cavalry
- 3rd Bengal Native Cavalry
- 5th Bengal Native Cavalry
- 4th Irregular Cavalry
- Shekawati Cavalry
- 3 Batteries of Horse Artillery
- 2 Field Batteries of Artillery
- 24th Bengal Native Infantry
- 36th Bengal Native Infantry
- 47th Bengal Native Infantry
- 48th Bengal Native Infantry
- Nasiri Gurkha Battalion
- Sirmoor Gurkha Battalion