Sunday, 16 April 2017

Lt. Col McDowell's Campaign in the Khandesh

Figure 1: Unke or Ankai Killa, 
please click on this image for larger version. 
Photo courtesy of Vivek Pillay

Following the breaking up of the Army of the Deckan, the Hyderabad Subsidiary Force, that had formerly been the Second Division or Hydrabad Division under Brigadier-General Doveton, was tasked with pursuing the Peishwah towards Nagpoor.

A detachment commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew McDowell, was however was sent at the request of Mountstuart Elpinstone to the Khandesh in order to reduce the fortresses and walled towns, that were being occupied by the defeated Arab mercenaries released from Holkar’s army defeated at Nagpoor, who had been allowed to make their way towards the western coast, but who were roaming the Kandeish attempting to live off the land, in the absence of any of the back pay they were owed by their former employer. Lt. Col. McDowall’s detachment consisted of the following units.

2 Flank Companies[1] of His Majesty’s Royals.
3 Companies of the Madras European Regiment.
The 1st Batt. 2d Regiment Madras Native Infantry.
4 Companies of the 2d Batt. 13th Regt. Native Infantry.
Sappers and Miners 80 men.
1 Company of foot-artillery. [2]

 A small battering train consisting of two 18 pounders, two 12 pounders, two mortars, four howitzers and some field pieces, was attached that had been collected from those of the first, second and third Divisions of the Army of the Deccan. [3]

McDowell only had about 1000 firelocks in total in his column, when he had left Sirrisgaum [4] near Aurungabad [5]  on the 30th of March 1818.

His force marched first to the west to Byzapoor [6] arriving on the 2nd of April, before turning towards the north towards its first target, Unkye Killa [7] which is a table-mountain overlooking an important pass about 70 miles from Aurungabad. The fort contained a small garrison, and Lt Col McDowell summoned it, as he approached the Pettah [8]  at the fort of the hill, to form his camp.

Figure 2: Google Earth Image marked to show the route taken by McDowell's column

Lieutenant Edward Lake describes the type of fort that McDowell's forces was about to attack.

“The reader must imagine a series of hills, rising very abruptly from 600 to 1100 feet above General the plain, and only connected with each other, and with the range of which they form part, by very low and narrow necks of land; and he must further imagine occasional bluff rocks, perfectly perpendicular, and varying in height from 80 to 100 feet, to rise from the summit of these hills. The range is evidently primitive, and the rocks which rise from them in this manner, basaltic, being so beautifully and regularly scarped, as to assume the appearance of having been formed by the chisel: and the number of them scattered throughout this range, which is much greater than could be required for the defence of the country, is the only fact, which makes the supposition of their having been formed by art incredible; for the excavation of the ditches at Dowlatabad, out of the same species of granite rock, is a proof of what difficulties the perseverance of the Natives of India is capable of surmounting. Those hills, which contain water on their summit, have been fortified by the Natives, in periods of the most remote antiquity, for there is no record of their first occupation; and the space contained within the rocky scarp before described, which often assumes a very fantastic form, such as only could have been traced by nature, constitutes the interior of the Fort. There is seldom any work raised on them, or indeed any thing done, farther than to cut flights of steps out of the solid rock, and to construct a number of gateways over them; and great ingenuity has been exerted to render these as intricate as possible. Nothing is necessary, but a determined Garrison to render such positions perfectly impregnable. Fortunately for us, this latter requisite was wanting, Unkye and Unkye Tunkye set an example, which was surrenders generally followed, of surrendering without opposition, the Killedar being intimidated by the determined language held out to him.” [9]

Figure 3: Aerial View of Unkye, part of the Inyadree Range.

“He arrived, on the 2d of April, at Byzapoor, on his route towards Unkye, a hill-fort on the summit of the Khandesh Ghats. It contained a small garrison, and commanded one of the principal passes descending into the low country. On this account it was considered of peculiar importance; and Lieutenant-colonel Mac Dowell summoned it, as he approached the pettah at the foot of the hill, to form his encampment. Some attempts at evasion from the garrison were met by a display of impatient determination; and the British troops proceeded to occupy the place on one side, as it was evacuated on the other. This proof of the impression which prevailed in the country, was highly satisfactory. Filled as it was with hill-forts, an opposition from all, however trifling, would have required larger means than those by which it could be met. The minds of the inhabitants also would have remained in a state of suspense, the prevention of which was very desirable. A party of forty Native infantry, under a European officer, was left in the place, wherein were found fourteen pieces of ordnance, with a large store of ammunition, and some treasure. The detachment halted till the 7th, and, on the three following days, marched to Chandoor, where it encamped on the 10th.” [10]

Figure 4:Unke or Ankai Killa. 

Amongst the 14 captured guns, were two 18 pounders, that were unexpectedly to become of great importance to the success of the siege at Malleygaum.

[1] There were ten companies in a battalion at this period, of which two were called the Flank Companies.  The right-hand company was the Grenadier Company traditionally composed of the tallest men, and who had originally been equipped with grenades, for use in sieges, when first formed in the late 17th Century. By 1818, grenades were rarely, if ever issued.  The left-hand company were the Light Company, and their purpose was to skirmish ahead of the line, adopting the tactics originated by the Croats, and taken up by the French Voltigeurs and then the British Army.  Frequently during the Mahratta War these two Flank Companies were detached for special purposes, and sometimes joined by other similar companies to form elite forces.  This often had a detrimental effect on the unit as a whole, as many potential junior leaders and potential future NCO’s were deployed in these companies, who borne the brunt of the assaults and casualties.
[2] Operations of the British Army in India During the Mahratta War of 1817, 1818 & 1819, by Lt. Colonel Valentine Blacker.  Page 317, 318.
[3] Journals of the Sieges of the Madras Army, in the Years 1817, 1818, and 1819 ... By Edward John Lake, pages 87 & 88. At full strength, a battalion had ten companies, each of approximately 80 to 100 men.  With 19 Companies and only 1000 firelocks, it can be seen that these companies in McDowell's force can only have comprised of between 40 to 50 men each.
[4] Sindhi Sirasgaon, 19°54'8.83"N
[5] Aurungabad 19°52'37.00"N 75°20'34.35"E
[6] Vaijapur, 19°55'31.48"N 74°43'52.64"E
[7] Unkye, also Unky Tunke, known today as Ankai or Ankai Killa. 20°11'13.24"N 74°26'55.95"E
[8] Pettah, town or village.
[9] Lake page 90.

[10] Blacker page 318.
[11] Malegaon in modern Indian spelling, 20°32'43.60"N 74°31'48.33"E.