Tirah Campaign

Last updated

Tirah Campaign
Sheet gordons c.jpg
Though wounded, Sergeant George Findlater continues to play the pipes while the Highlanders storm Dargai Heights.

British victory

  • Afghan forces withdraw from Tirah.

Flag of the United Kingdom.svg British Empire

Commanders and leaders
William Lockhart
Ishar Singh  
Gul Badshah
34,882 troops plus 20,000-30,000 followers 10,000-20,000

The Tirah Campaign, often referred to in contemporary British accounts as the Tirah Expedition, was an Indian frontier war during 1897–98. Tirah is a mountainous tract of country in what is now a federally administered tribal area of Pakistan.


The Tirah also spells as Terah, Tira, Tera region, also called the Tirah Valley, is located in Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, while its smaller part straddles the border to the north lying in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Tirah lies between the Khyber Pass and the Khanki Valley. It is inhabited by the Afridi, Orakzai and Shinwari tribes of Pashtuns.

Pakistan federal parliamentary constitutional republic in South Asia

Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a country in South Asia. It is the world’s sixth-most populous country with a population exceeding 212,742,631 people. In area, it is the 33rd-largest country, spanning 881,913 square kilometres. Pakistan has a 1,046-kilometre (650-mile) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the far northeast. It is separated narrowly from Tajikistan by Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor in the northwest, and also shares a maritime border with Oman.



The Afridi tribe had received a subsidy from the government of British India for the safeguarding of the Khyber Pass for sixteen years; in addition to which the government had maintained for this purpose a local regiment entirely composed of Afridis, who were stationed in the pass. Suddenly, however, the tribesmen rose, captured all the posts in the Khyber held by their own countrymen, and attacked the forts on the Samana Range near the city of Peshawar. The Battle of Saragarhi occurred at this stage. It was estimated that the Afridis and Orakzais could, if united, bring from 4,000 to 5,000 men into the field. The preparations for the expedition occupied some time, and meanwhile British authorities first dealt with the Mohmand rising northwest of the Khyber Pass. [1]

British Raj British rule on the Indian subcontinent, 1858–1947

The British Raj was the rule by the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. The rule is also called Crown rule in India, or direct rule in India. The region under British control was commonly called India in contemporaneous usage, and included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom, which were collectively called British India, and those ruled by indigenous rulers, but under British tutelage or paramountcy, and called the princely states. The whole was also more formally called the Indian Empire. As India, it was a founding member of the League of Nations, a participating nation in the Summer Olympics in 1900, 1920, 1928, 1932, and 1936, and a founding member of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.

Khyber Pass mountain pass connecting Afghanistan and Pakistan

The Khyber Pass is a mountain pass in the northwest of Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan. It connects the town of Landi Kotal to the Valley of Peshawar at Jamrud by traversing part of the Spin Ghar mountains. An integral part of the ancient Silk Road, it has long had substantial cultural, economic, and geopolitical significance for Eurasian trade. Throughout history, it has been an important trade route between Central Asia and South Asia and a vital strategic military choke point for various states that came to control it. The summit of the pass is 5 km (3.1 mi) inside Pakistan at Landi Kotal, while the lowest point is at Jamrud in the Valley of Peshawar. The Khyber Pass is part of Asian Highway 1 (AH1).

The Samana Range is a mountain ridge in the Hangu District of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of Pakistan, commanding the southern boundary of Tirah. The ridge lies between the Khanki Valley on the north and the Miranzai Valley on the south, and extends for some 30 m. west from Hangu to the Samana Suk. It is some 6000 to 7000 ft. high.

British advance


A map of places and battles in the campaign Tirah Campaign map.jpg
A map of places and battles in the campaign

The general commanding was General Sir William Lockhart commanding the Punjab Army Corps; he had under him 34,882 men, British and Indian, in addition to 20,000 followers. The frontier post of Kohat was selected as the base of the campaign, and it was decided to advance along a single line. On 18 October, the operations commenced, fighting ensuing immediately. The Dargai heights, which commanded the line of advance, were captured without difficulty, but abandoned owing to the want of water. On 20 October the same positions were stormed, with a loss of 199 of the British force killed and wounded. The progress of the expedition, along a difficult track through the mountains, was obstinately contested on 29 October at the Sampagha Pass leading to the Mastura valley, and on 31 October at the Arhanga Pass from the Mastura to the Tirah valley. [2]

William Lockhart (Indian Army officer) British Indian Army general

General Sir William Stephen Alexander Lockhart was a British General.

Kohat City in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Kohat, is a city in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan which serves as the capital of the Kohat District. The city is regarded as a centre of the Bangash tribe of Pashtuns, who have lived in the region since the late 15th century. Kohat's immediate environs were the site of frequent armed skirmishes between British colonialist forces and local tribesmen in the mid to late 19th century. Modern Kohat is now a medium-sized city with a population of approximately 270,000 people, and centres on a British-era fort, various bazaars, and a military cantonment.


The force, in detached brigades, now traversed the Tirah district in all directions, and destroyed the walled and fortified hamlets of the Afridis. The two divisions available for this duty numbered about 20,000 men. A force about 3,200 strong commanded by Brigadier-General (afterwards Major General Sir Richard) Westmacott was first employed to attack Saran Sar, which was easily carried, but during the retirement the troops were hard pressed and had 64 casualties. On 11 November, Saran Sar was again attacked by the brigade of Brigadier-General (afterwards Sir Alfred) Gaselee. Experience enabled better dispositions to be made, and the casualties were only three. [2]

Alfred Gaselee British Indian Army general

General Sir Alfred Gaselee,, was a soldier who served in the Indian Army.

The traversing of the valley continued, and on 13 November a third brigade under Brigadier General Francis James Kempster visited the Waran valley via the Tseri Kandao Pass. [2] [3] [4] Little difficulty was experienced during the advance, and several villages were destroyed; but on 16 November, during the return march, the rearguard was hotly engaged all day, and had to be relieved by fresh troops next morning. British casualties numbered 72. Almost daily the Afridis, too wise to risk general engagements, waged continual guerrilla warfare, and troops engaged in foraging or survey duties were constantly attacked. On 21 November, a brigade under Brigadier-General Westmacott was detached to visit the Rajgul valley. The road was exceedingly difficult and steady opposition was encountered. The objectives were accomplished, but with 23 casualties during the retirement alone. The last task undertaken was the punishment of the Chamkannis, Mamuzais, and Massozais. This was carried out by Brigadier-General Gaselee, who joined hands with the Kurram movable column ordered up for the purpose. The Mamuzais and Massozais submitted immediately, but the Chamkannis offered resistance on 1 and 2 December, with about 30 British casualties. [2]

Guerrilla warfare form of irregular warfare

Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which a small group of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military. Guerrilla groups are a type of violent non-state actor.


The Kurram column then returned to its camp, and Lockhart prepared to evacuate Tirah, despatching his two divisions by separate routes: the first under Major-General W. Penn Symons (d. 1899) to return via the Mastura valley, destroying the forts on the way, and to join at Bara, within easy march of Peshawar; the second division under Major General Yeatman Biggs (d. 1898), and, accompanied by Lockhart, to move along the Bara valley. The base was thus to be transferred from Kohat to Peshawar. The return march began on 9 December. The cold was intense, 21 degrees of frost being registered before leaving Tirah. The movement of the first division though arduous was practically unopposed, but the 40 miles to be covered by the second division were contested almost throughout. [2]

Penn Symons British Army officer

Major-General Sir William Penn Symons KCB was a British Army officer who was mortally wounded as he commanded his forces at the Battle of Talana Hill during the Second Boer War. While his forces won the battle, they had to abandon their position and fall back to Ladysmith. Symons and the more severely wounded were left to the Boers; he died three days later as a prisoner of war. A monument to his valour was raised in Victoria Park, Saltash, Cornwall, UK.

The march down the Bara valley (34 miles) commenced on 10 December, and involved four days of the hardest fighting and marching of the campaign. The road crossed and recrossed the icy stream, while snow, sleet and rain fell constantly. On the 10th, the casualties numbered about twenty. On the 11th, some fifty or sixty casualties were recorded among the troops, but many followers were killed or died of exposure, and quantities of stores were lost. On the 12th, the column halted for rest. On the 13th, the march was resumed in improved weather, though the cold was still severe. The rearguard was heavily engaged, and the casualties numbered about sixty. On the 14th, after further fighting, a junction with the Peshawar column was effected. The first division, aided by the Peshawar column, now took possession of the Khyber forts without opposition. [2]


Negotiations for peace were then begun with the Afridis. The expeditionary force was broken up on 4 April 1898. A memorable feature of this campaign was the presence in the fighting line of the Imperial Service native troops under their own officers, while several of the best known of the Indian princes served on Lockhart's staff. [2]

See also


  1. Blunt 1911, pp. 1005,1006.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Blunt 1911, p. 1006.
  3. Biggins 2011.
  4. "Kempster, Francis James (1855–1925), local Major-General commanding Third Brigade, retired 1902 as Colonel" ( Churchill & Gilbert 1967 , p. 180)

Related Research Articles

Afridi ethnic group

The Afrīdī is a Pashtun tribe present in Pakistan, with substantial numbers in Afghanistan. The Afridis are most dominant in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, inhabiting about 100p mi² (8000 km²) of rough hilly area in the Zarlash eastern Spin Ghar range west of Peshawar, covering most of Khyber Agency, FR Peshawar and FR Kohat. Their territory includes the Khyber Pass and Maidan in Tirah. Afridi migrants are also found in India, mostly in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir.

Robert Warburton Anglo-Indian soldier and administrator

Colonel Sir Robert Warburton, was an Anglo-Indian soldier and administrator. Half-Afghan and proficient in Pashtu, he served for many years that British political officer in charge of the Khyber Pass, a region of strategic importance to British India. He helped maintain peace with the Afridis who rose in revolt eighteen years after his retirement.

Military history of the North-West Frontier

The North-West Frontier region of the British Indian Empire was a difficult area to conquer in South Asia, strategically and militarily. It remains the western frontier of present-day Pakistan, extending from the Pamir Knot in the north to the Koh-i-Malik Siah in the west, and separating the modern Pakistani frontier regions of North-West Frontier Province, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan from neighbouring Afghanistan in the west. The borderline between is officially known as the Durand Line and divides Pashtun inhabitants of these provinces from Pashtuns in eastern Afghanistan.

Landi Kotal Town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Lanḍī Kōtal or Lwargai is a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, and the administrative capital of Khyber Agency. It is one of the largest towns in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and is located 1,072 metres (3,517 ft) above sea level, on the route across the mountains to the city of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Landi Kotal is at the western edge of the Khyber Pass that marks the entrance to the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, which is located just 5 kilometres (3 mi) to the west.

Jamrud Town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Jamrūd or Jam is a town in the Khyber District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Located in the Valley of Peshawar, on the western fringe of Peshawar city, Jamrud is the doorway to the Khyber Pass which is just to the west of the town. The pass connects Jamrud with Landi Kotal to the west, located near the border of Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province.

Khyber District District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Khyber District is a district in Peshawar Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. Until 2018, it was an agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas, with merger of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it became a district. It ranges from the Tirah valley down to Peshawar. It borders Nangarhar Province to the west, Orakzai District to the south, Kurram District to south west, Peshawar to the east and Mohmand District in north.

Orakzai is a Pashtun tribe native to the Orakzai Agency and parts of Kurram Agency located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. They speak the language Pashto or Pushto.

Khyber Rifles A Pakistani paramilitary border security foce.

The Khyber Rifles is a para-military force forming part of the modern Pakistani paramilitary's Frontier Corps. Dating from the late nineteenth century the regiment provided the title and setting for a widely read novel, King of the Khyber Rifles.

The following lists events that happened during 1899 in Afghanistan.

The First Mohmand Campaign was a British military campaign against the Mohmands from 1897 to 1898.

The Ambela Campaign in 1863 was one of many expeditions in the border area between the Emirate of Afghanistan and the Punjab Province of British India ; this campaign was against local Pashtuns of Yusufzai tribes of the border region between British India and Afghanistan.

Kala Khel is a clan of Tirah Adam Khel. Adam Khel is a sub-tribe of Afridi that has originated from the Karlanee or Karlani group of Pashtuns. The Kala Khel clan of Tirah Adam Khel inhabits in FR Peshawar region and in Bara and Torghar as well. It can be found on Google Maps at 33.728623N,71.55256E and Tirah valley of Khyber agency at 33.73N, 71.01E.

The Second Mohmand Campaign of 1935 was a British military campaign against the Mohmand tribes in the Northwest Frontier area of British India, now Pakistan. Tanks were used, the first operational use of tanks in India. The First Mohmand Campaign in 1897–98 followed earlier military expeditions in 1851–1852, 1854, 1864, 1879, 1880. After the First Mohmand Campaign, there was an expedition in 1908 and another in 1933, taking about a month in August.

Maidan, or Tirah Maidan, is a remote valley located in the Tirah region in Khyber Agency, Pakistan.

Khyber was the code-name for a military offensive conducted by Pakistan's military in the Khyber Agency in four phases; Khyber-1, Khyber-2, Khyber-3 and Khyber-4.

This was a military campaign conducted by British and Indian armies against Afridi tribesmen in the North West Frontier region of the Indian Empire, now in Pakistan.



Further reading