Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pistols: Howdah Pistols


During the age of British colonial rule of India, English sportsmen would often hunt in the same manner of Indian kings before them (i.e.) riding on top of an elephant. The large saddle mounted to the back of an elephant is called a Howdah, and this is where the sportsman would sit in. Often though, when hunting dangerous game like lions, tigers or leopards, there was a chance that the animal could charge the elephant and climb up to the howdah and attack the hunter. In this situation, a rifle could not be effectively used. Therefore, there was a need for a shorter length, large caliber, multi-firing weapon designed to work at close ranges for defensive purposes. To fill this need, the Howdah Pistol was developed. In this post, we will study this unique weapon.

The first Howdah pistols were simply rifles with the barrels sawn down to a shorter length. The shorter length made the weapon easier to point and manipulate at close ranges and confined spaces. Since these pistols were really rifles originally, they used rifle cartridges of that era, such as .577 Snider or .577/450 Martini Henry cartridges. Sawing down the barrels was a quick solution, but not always a good one. One of the major issues was that shortening the barrels of a rifle would alter the center of gravity and affect the balance of the weapon. Therefore, some manufacturers began to design their own Howdah pistols.



The above images are of a Howdah pistol manufactured by a well known London-based manufacturer named Purdey. It was made during the the first half of the 19th century. This is a very high-quality weapon, judging by the fact that the barrels are of the type known as "damascus barrels", which were more expensive to make. The barrels have been browned to protect them from rusting. The wooden stock is of high quality walnut wood and features checkering (i.e. a fine grid of squares) on the grip. The lock is a double lock of the percussion cap type. Typical of Howdah pistols of that era, the caliber of the barrels is pretty large, with each one accepting a ball of 0.661 inches in diameter. The 7.5 inch long barrels are smoothbore (i.e. there is no rifling on the inside). It has two triggers, one to operate each barrel. The sights are rudimentary: it has only a small bead mounted as a front sight and no rear sights. However, for the ranges it was meant to be used at, sights aren't exactly needed. The weapon is extremely well balanced and relatively light. Since it fires such a huge caliber, recoil from this weapon is pretty high. However, recoil was not much of a concern for hunters of that era, because this was designed as a last ditch defensive weapon; and as far as the hunter was concerned, it was better to end up with a bruised wrist than be eaten up by a tiger or leopard.

Howdah pistols were made by several well-known firms of that era: Manton, Purdey, Rigby etc. They came in double barrel, four barrel or even three-barrel configurations. They were used in both India and Africa and carried by many British officers as well. At that time, revolvers were not very mechanically reliable and the .36 caliber Colt Navy revolver was considered too weak. The howdah pistol was considered to be the perfect solution to a charging tiger (or a charging native tribesman). As revolver technology improved though, the howdah pistol gradually became outdated and these days, the only howdah pistols one can buy are antiques or replicas of antiques.

Bira Gun


 One of the variants of the Gardner Gun is an interesting weapon called the Bira gun. This was invented by a Nepalese General, Gehendra Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana and named after the reigning Nepalese monarch of the time, King Prithvi Bir Bikram Shah. It has the distinction of being the last mechanically cranked machine gun ever manufactured.

The history of the Bira has to do with the political situation between Nepal and British India at that time. Under a Nepalese-British agreement, the Nepalese government allowed the British to trade with Nepal and Tibet and allow recruitment of Gurkhas in the British Indian army. In turn, the British agreed to sell firearms and ammunition and a wide variety of armaments to the Nepalese. However, despite Nepalese requests to purchase machine guns, the British declined to do so, because they feared that the Nepalese would clone these (which they already did with some other British origin firearms) and then they would have too many automatic weapons and could challenge British power in India.

Undaunted, the Nepalese set upon building their own machine gun design around 1896-97. Without a background in firearms design, it was decided to start by borrowing a design from somewhere else, in this case, a British model of the American Gardner machine gun. The firing mechanism was essentially the same as the Gardner gun, but there were some other significant differences.


The first difference is that the caliber of this weapon is different from the Gardner gun. Since the Nepalese had already built up a large supply of ammunition for Martini-Henry rifles, it was decided to make their machine gun use the same cartridges as the Martini-Henry (i.e.) the 0.577-450 cartridge.

Unlike the Gardner gun is that the Bira doesn't have a vertical magazine for holding ammunition. Instead, it uses an drum magazine mounted horizontally on top of the barrel. The flat circular drum magazine can be clearly seen in the picture above. The drum magazine could hold up to 120 rounds, in 60 rows of 2 rounds each, one on top of the other. The magazine weighs around 14 kg. when empty and about 19 kg. when fully loaded with ammunition.

Biras were mostly made of iron and steel parts, but the wheels were made of teak wood and brass was used for the wheels controlling the vertical elevation and horizontal traverse, as well as the gearing used for these.

The Bira has twin barrels very much like the Gardner gun, but there is no cooling water jacket around the barrels.

One more curious difference is that the crank is turned backwards (i.e. counter-clockwise) instead of forwards. This was done because the General opined that it was easier to pull instead of push and since pulling is a more natural movement, it is easier to operate the weapon for longer periods without fatigue.

Since Nepal did not have any modern factories during this time, each gun was hand-made. This meant that they could not interchange parts at all. In fact, in some cases, individual screws on a Bira were marked to fit in specific holes! Similarly, the magazines were also numbered to match the serial numbers of specific guns, since they were hand-fitted individually and would only fit in a particular gun. In the above picture, you can see the serial number plate of the gun: it is the oval yellow plate located between the crank and the drum magazine.

Due to the hand-made nature of manufacturing, only 50 or so Bira guns were ever manufactured. These were put into storage and none of them ever saw any wartime service. By then, the Maxim machine gun had been invented and the Bira became obsolete almost as soon as it was made. In the late 1970s, some Bira guns were put on sale in the market and acquired by collectors in the United States. When one was fired in 2009, it was found that it was still pretty accurate once the sights were dialed in. It was also found that in spite of one of the extractors of the gun being damaged, the gun could still fire due to its rugged design!

Combined Firearms: Daggers & Combined Firearms: Axes

The Gunhistoryindia.com thanks the Firearmshistory blog for posting a wonderful piece.. an amazing confluence of technology and history that is noticeable in the piece is worth a praise.


Combined Firearms: Axes


In the early days of firearms history, there was no automatic reloading mechanism for firearms, so once the firearm was discharged, the time taken to reload a firearm was pretty high. During this time, the user of the firearm was at great risk of a counter-attack unless he had some other weapon to defend himself. With this view, there were several weapons developed that would combine a firearm with some other weapon. Unlike a rifle with a bayonet attached, these weapons were primarily designed as axes, swords, daggers etc., but had a pistol attached.

The first class of weapons that we will study are the pistol-battle axes. These first appeared in Europe in the late 1400s and still continued to be used into the 1800s in some parts of the world.

Public Domain Image taken from W.W. Greener's The Gun and its Development, Second Edition

The weapon in the illustration above is a pistol-axe made in Germany in the beginning of the 17th century. The reader may note that this weapon has a wheel-lock firing mechanism near the head of the axe. The barrel is six inches long and fires out of the top of the axe. The handle behind the wheel-lock is about 2.5 feet long and has the trigger mechanism at the end of the handle. This weapon was designed to be used by a horseback rider.

Click on image to enlarge

The above illustrations show two more fine German made pistol-axes, from the Dresden museum. As before, these use a wheel-lock firing mechanism as well. The triggers for these two axes are located just below the wheel-locks. The axe heads have a blade edge on one side for cutting and a ice-pick like spiked point on the other side to pierce through tough plate armor. The top spikes of the axes are removable to reveal the hollow barrels inside. Note that these two axes are much more expensive and have better workmanship than the previous one and also have intricate engravings on the body of the axes.


Click on images to enlarge

The next two illustrations are an axe using matchlock firing mechanism and another one using the flintlock firing mechanism. This particular flintlock axe was made in Germany in the late 17th century. Flintlock axes were also heavily used by the Polish Cavalry between the 16th and 18th centuries and was one of their trademark weapons.


Indian made battle axe. Click images to enlarge

The above illustrations are an Indian made Tabar axe from the 17th century. This one uses a matchlock firing mechanism as well. There is no real trigger, as the matchlock is mounted on a long thin lever around a pivot point, as can be seen in the first illustration. The fire is applied by simply pulling the other end of the long thin lever. This axe is an all-steel construction and originally had gold inlay, most of which is worn off. Judging by the carvings on the axe head, this was probably owned by a Hindu, since at least four human figures are depicted.

Indian made battle axe. Click to enlarge

The next illustration is a weapon dating from the 19th century. This is a pistol axe taken from the Santal tribe of India. The Santals are a tribe that traditionally occupied areas of the modern day Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Assam. This particular weapon is 16.5 inches (approx. 42 cm.) long, of which 8.5 inches (21.6 cm.) is the pistol barrel. It is a very light weapon and the thickness of the barrel at the muzzle is only 0.2 inches (approx. 0.5 cm.).

Axes were the most common weapons to be combined with pistols, since these two were the easiest to combine together. These designs were very widespread indeed. In the next few posts, we will see other weapons that were combined with pistols.

PART 2..
Combined Firearms: Daggers

In our last post, we studied the combination of a firearm with a sword. In this post, we will look into a relative of the sword, the dagger, which was also combined with firearms throughout history.

The combination of a firearm with a dagger was more common than combining a firearm with a sword. For one thing, they were cheaper. Also, unlike a sword, a dagger wouldn't be unbalanced as much and the firearm is also easier to manipulate and aim than if it was attached to a sword. As with swords, many of the early combined dagger pistols were made in Germany.

Image taken from W.W. Greener's The Gun and its Development, Second Edition. Click image to enlarge.

In the above image, we have a fine 16th century pistol dagger. This specimen uses a wheel lock mechanism. Note that unlike the pistol swords we saw in the previous post, this one has the barrel pass through the middle of the blade, thereby giving it better balance. The removable muzzle stopper piece is seen at the right bottom of the image. The muzzle stopper is removed to load the weapon and when replaced, forms the point of the dagger blade. The weapon is fired by depressing a small stud in the handle. The weapon is also beautifully ornamented, indicating that it was made for a rich customer.

In 1838, the United States Navy commissioned the Elgin Cutlass pistol, which is the only combination firearm ever to be officially accepted as a standard weapon by a military anywhere in the world. This combined a percussion lock pistol with a 11.5 inch long bowie knife.

This weapon was not only the first combination firearm officially accepted in military service, it was also the first percussion lock weapon adopted by the US navy. They were originally designed for use with the Navy South Sea Expedition. This is a .54 caliber weapon with a 11.5 inch blade. It had some success, especially in a battle in the Fijian islands in 1840. However, only 150 of these specimens were ever made. A few were used in the Civil war, but were unpopular with the troops. Some of them made it to civilian hands and were used in the Wild West.


Click on images to enlarge.

The above two weapons are Katar knives from India, circa the 18th or 19th centuries. Both weapons feature two firearms attached to them. In the first picture, we have two flintlock pistols, one on each side of the blade. The heavy blade has an engraving of the Hindu Dieties Shiva on one side and Kali on the other. The blade is made of the best pattern welded steel and the handles and sides have floral patterns that are inlaid with gold. The second Katar has two percussion lock pistols, one on each side of the blade. Like the first one, this is also heavily engraved. One side of the blade has a scene with two cranes and the other side has two elephants charging at each other. The blades are designed to be used as thrusting as well as slashing weapons and could easily go through mail or even plate armor.

In all the above weapons, they all feature single-shot pistols. After the advent of revolvers in the mid 1800s, some weapons began to incorporate revolver technology along with daggers.

The above images feature two examples of a type of weapon called the "Apache Revolver". This is a weapon that was produced in the late 19th to early 20th centuries (about 1870 to 1918). Most of these weapons were produced by French or Belgian (especially around the town of Liege) manufacturers, such as N. Dolne and J. Deleaxhe. The reason for its name is because it became famous as the sidearm of a notorious Paris based gang of criminals called Les Apaches. This distinctive weapon consists of a pepperbox revolver using pinfire cartridge technology, coupled with a knuckle duster (a.k.a. brass knuckles) and a wavy blade. The blade, the knuckle duster and the trigger are all foldable. Folded up, it measures only 11 cm. in length and can easily be carried in a pocket. When it is unfolded, it expands upto 20 cm. in length. The whole weapon weighs about 380-400 grams. It was generally carried with the first chamber unloaded, so that it could not be accidentally fired while it was still in the user's pocket. The user could put his fingers into the finger holes of the brass knuckles and punch someone with it, without unfolding it. Alternatively, the user could unfold it and use the brass knuckles as the handle and either shoot the revolver or stab the enemy with the blade. The firearm part was definitely underpowered and inaccurate and the blade was only a couple of inches long, nevertheless it was used quite a bit in the Paris underworld. Note that the sample on the left is heavily engraved. Quite a few gangsters had this done to show off their weapons and such weapons may actually be the first examples of "gangsta bling"! These weapons continued to be used in the 20th century. One example of a combination brass knuckles and pistol, called the Le Poilu, was manufactured by the French during World War I.



The next two examples are the sort of weapons that were designed along the principle of Swiss army knives. Both are dated to the 1860s and are both made by different firms in Sheffield, England. The first one is made by the firm of Unwin and Rogers and combines a pistol with two folding blades. The pistol is in .28 caliber and uses a rimfire cartridge. Unwin and Rogers received their patent in 1861 and made these weapons in many other calibers as well, such as .32, .34 etc.

The second one is made by another Sheffield firm called R. Turner & Co. This one uses a percussion cap and is in 0.22 caliber. It also contains a knife, corkscrew, hole punch, hook and tweezers. The cylindrical knob at the left side of the body is the cocking lever and is pulled out to cock the weapon. The picture below shows the other side of this weapon

The user would remove the barrel and breech and load the weapon and put the percussion cap in the end of the breech nipple. The user would then pull the cocking knob at the back of the weapon. On firing the weapon, the breech and barrel would also leave the weapon as a secondary projectile.

In the next post, we will cover some other combinations of firearms with other weapons.

Bowman: Guns, freedom and more guns


An Interesting take by this one From the COLLEGIAN. He actually says GUNS ARE OBSOLETE and we DONT need them.

Source: collegian

by Chadwick Bowman

The Rocky Mountain Collegian   



I can confidently say that as young man living in America, I have never been in a situation where I look back and say “wow, good thing I had my gun.”
 There is this antediluvian notion in this country that claims guns are a necessity for everyday life. The Second Amendment and the Bill of Rights were adopted in 1751; it is now 2011.
The issue is this: The Bill of Rights and the Constitution were written in an era that we are so far removed from, it is ridiculous that we still abide by the same social norms that were accepted in the mid-18th century.
If folk from 1751 were present today, they would try to coax me into the idea that I had to marry in my teens to a girl detached from love, solely for economic and status advancement. And that I should find a plot of land and grow my own wealth, and instead of playing basketball, I should go fowling, angling, shooting or fencing.
I would tell such folk to go fly a kite. Unless that person were Ben Franklin, he had already done that…
“But Chadwick, it’s in the Constitution, so therefore it’s the American standard.” It’s not. We’re in a different time. Today, we tweet, abuse credit cards, watch “Man v. Food” and smoke marijuana, which my Grandma says “turns your brain into a sponge.”
The Second Amendment was necessary in its day. It has become irrelevant and far more detrimental to society than beneficial.
In the wake of the Tucson shootings, the on-going battle over gun control is again raging, and this is an opportunity for Democrats to take charge on legislation to restrict the access to the dangerous weapons.
Unfortunately, the red party-of-guns lives for the nostalgia of the day when you got on a horse and rode west to fend off bandits and foreign enemies, with a refined, yet pleasantly voluptuous and promiscuous lass you met at a saloon in St. Louis.
The reality is, with gun laws as lackadaisical as they are, we now have East St. Louis, which a prominent professor of this university claims should be declared a “disaster zone” due to its crime rates, poverty and history of violence.
Estimates from justfacts.com say that in 2010, roughly 47-53 million American households own a gun or 40 percent of the population. Of those gun owners, a Gallup poll reports that the reason they own a gun is to protect themselves against crime, the second reason is to use at the shooting range.

Some Republican lawmakers came out claiming that if there had been more guns at the supermarket in Tucson, the situation would have had a better outcome. No. This conviction is an utter malign belief and is highly counter-intuitive. Unless Jason Bourne was in Safeway that day, chances are those rip-roaring gun advocates would be so anxious to pop off rounds that the final outcome would have been not only more innocent by-standers shot, but most likely everyone who had a gun drawn. Point being: amid the chaos and calamity, how is Jared Loughner going to be differentiated as 
the bad guy?

The logical concept is to separate everyone from their guns. Guns are a dead, obsolete technology.
“But Chadwick, I want my guns to shoot animals!” Wow. Okay, Elmer.
The Democrats need to do what is right in this situation. This is one of those scenarios in American politics where the smartest, most intuitive citizens need to force legislation upon the people, even when it is not the popular choice. The leadership roles that Congress and the President have taken oaths to uphold need to make decisions that are blatantly and obviously the correct ones, which will make for a safer country. A safer country, even when many citizens do not have the intellectual abilities to understand that it is the safest choice for them.
Editorial Editor Chadwick Bowman is a senior Sociology and Journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

250 years on, Battle of Panipat revisited

Source: rediff
Battle of PanipatColonel (Dr) Anil Athale (retd) recalls how the Battle of Panipat, 250 years ago, changed the history of the Indian subcontinent for the next century and half.
The doyen in the field of military history, Dr Srinandan Prasad underscored the importance of this field. According to him, wars are an acid test of the economic, social, technological and moral strength of a nation. On the other hand the result of wars affects all fields of human endeavour. History of nations can well be understood as history of its wars. On this score other than the exception of Shivaji and Ranjit Singh, Indian history is a succession of military defeats.
The events of January 1761 were momentous and had its impact for the next century and a half. The freedom that India [ Images ]ns lost was only regained in 1947. It is an event that needs to be studied and remembered even after 250 years since modern India again faces a similar Af-Pak threat.
The invasion of Nadir Shah of Iran in 1740 forced the Marathas to consider the strategic importance of Punjab [ Images ]. The Marathas were at the same time also involved in fighting in the south in Karnataka [ Images ] and against the Nizam whose capital then was at Aurangabad. Both these theatres of war were on an average 1,000 miles away from Maharashtra [ Images ]. The 1750s saw them over stretching in fighting in far flung areas.
The discord with the Rajputs meant a loss of potential allies as well as a secure base close to Delhi [ Images ]. The loyalties of various Mughal nobles were always suspect as most of them disliked the overlordship of the Marathas. When the Marathas took on the might of Abdali, the King of Afghanistan, it was a decisive moment in the Indian history. The Marathas not only had the plans to defeat Abdali but also wanted to move on to Bengal to reduce the growing British power there.
The Marathas had committed several policy blunders in the preceding years. Right from the time of Shivaji, friendship with Rajputs was a constant in Maratha policy. But in the 1750s, they got involved in the internal fights of the Rajputs and played one side against the other. Maharaj Surajmal Jat was a staunch Maratha ally. But when he demanded to be made governor of Delhi, the Marathas preferred the Nawab of Awadh, Shuja ud Daulla. His 50,000 strong cavalry was thought to be a greater asset. The fact that he was Shia and wary of Sunni Afghans, made the Marathas rely on him. But in the event Abadali lured him to his side by invoking Islamic solidarity.
The Sikhs under various 'Misals' (fighting groups) were similarly well disposed towards the Marathas. But the overconfident Marathas ignored them. Thus at Panipat, the Marathas who were fighting for India, nearly thousand miles away from their home base, found themselves lonely and friendless. Faulty Maratha diplomacy was largely responsible for this mess and the blame goes directly to the Peshwa or the prime minister of the Marathas.
On 14 April, Sadashivrao Bhau left Poona on his way to Delhi with the bulk of Huzurat or the Peshwa's army. The fighting strength of the army was around 50,000. Nearly three times that number also accompanied as followers. Most of the experienced soldiers like Mehendale, Samsherbahadur, Winchurkar, Pawar, Gaikwar of Baroda and Mankeshwar went with this force.
A major addition was the French-trained infantry of Ibrahim Khan Gardi that had a strength of 8,000 men armed with the latest French-made rifles. Gardi had an artillery park of 200 excellent guns and also war rockets. Many Goans, Portuguese and some western mercenaries manned the artillery. In May and June on reaching Agra [ Images ], Malharao Holkar and Jankoji Shinde joined the Maratha army with their cavalry. By the time the Marathas reached Delhi the strength of their army had swelled to nearly 2 lakhs.
Battle of PanipatIt was a confident Maratha army that embarked on this venture. The Maratha war aims were to re-establish their domination in Delhi and deal with the Afghan threat. In addition the Peshwa had also instructed Bhau that after settling Delhi, he was to proceed to Bengal to reduce the British power there.
The Marathas were treaty-bound to come to the aid of Mughal Emperor. In Delhi itself however the Marathas had very few friends. Most Mughal courtiers resented the Maratha domination and some like Najib Khan were instrumental in inviting Abdali.
In a similar way, in 1739, it was the Mughlal politicians that had invited Nadir Shah of Iran. Nadir Shah made no distinction between the Hindus and Muslims in looting and walked away with the Mughal Emperor's peacock throne and the Kohinoor diamond besides other goods worth Rs 100 crore. Despite this past, the hatred of Marathas proved stronger than common sense.
Abdali had invaded India not merely for loot but dreamt of establishing Afghan supremacy in place of the Mughals in Delhi. In this the Rohillas, people of Afghan descent living north of Delhi were fully on his side. The local support to Abdali was to prove crucial in the end.
On August 2, 1761, the Marathas entered Delhi and captured it after only slight resistance.
Between August and October 1760 negotiations continued between Abdali and the Marathas. Abdali wanted control over Punjab right upto Sirhind. The Marathas were not prepared to concede the rich province to him. All this while the Afghan army remained across Jamuna while the Marathas remained at Delhi. In October the Marathas marched north of Delhi and reduced the fort at Kunjpura to dust. Qutub Shah, the Afghan general defending the fort was killed so were nearly 10,000 Afghans. Qutub Shah's severed head was paraded by the Marathas in vengeance for the death of Dattaji Scindia.
Abdali was shaken up by the loss of Kunjpura and the bitterness generated by Qutub Shah's death made peace virtually impossible. While Bhau was thus engaged in the north, on October 25, Abdali crossed the Jamuna near Bhagpat and located himself between the Marathas at Kunjpura and their rear in Delhi.
Bhau had initially planned to advance further north and get in touch with the Sikhs. But the move of the Afghans caught him by surprise and he turned back towards Delhi. On reaching the plains of Panipat, he found his path to Delhi blocked by Abdali camped to his south. The opportunity to attack the Afghan army while it crossed the river had already passed. The Maratha army entrenched near Panipat, blocking the road to Afghanistan. Govindpant Bundele, a Maratha general with long experience in the north, was allotted the task of cutting off the supplies of Abdali.
The two armies entrenched themselves in the vicinity of Panipat, the Marathas blocking Abdali's route to Afghanistan and he in turn blocked the Maratha route to Delhi and down south. A war now became inevitable. In the initial period the Marathas were successful in cutting off supplies to the Afghan army and appeared to be in a better position.
On December 17, Govindpant Bundele, the experienced general in charge of procuring supplies to the Maratha army, was killed in an encounter. After this the Maratha supply position deteriorated rapidly. All the valuables in the camp were collected and sold to get food. The countryside around Panipat was dominated by Muslims of Afghan descent further complicated the problem of supplies for the Marathas. Soon the horses of the famed Maratha cavalry began dying of starvation. Bhau's essentially sound strategy of waiting for Abdali to attack his entrenched position and then destroy him with his artillery failed due to the problem of logistics.
The Marathas were unwise to carry a large number of non-combatants including wives along with them. This proved a severe handicap as it not only slowed down the movement of the army but also put extra burden on the supplies. A large part of the fighting strength had to be diverted to protecting the camp. The Maratha morale was however still very high and an attack in December offered the best hope. This was not to be and Bhau waited till January 14, 1761. Finally he was forced to battle as the Marathas could take the starvation no more and begged him to finish the agony once and for all. It was this army weakened by starvation that fought the decisive battle of Panipat.
On January 14, the Maratha army in a huge square formation began slowly moving south towards Delhi. The aim of the Marathas was to fight through the Afghan army to Delhi and safety. The Marathas battle array perforce had to keep a sizeable number of troops to guard the rear. The Marathas had formed a rough sphere with guns in front defended by infantry and cavalry. The aim of this formation was to keep the guns free to engage the enemy.
While Ibrahim Khan and his trained Gardis were familiar with these tactics the cavalry oriented Maratha armies of other generals were not. The ferocity of the Maratha attack in the early phase was such that the Afghans reeled under it and began running away. The Maratha artillery and rockets took a heavy toll of the enemy. It was at this juncture around mid-day that confusion occurred when the dismounted Maratha cavalry troopers left their position and masked the fire of guns. This proved fatal and Afghans regained their footing.
At this time a bullet hit Vishwasrao, the eldest son of the Peshwa. Bhau at this stage lost his cool and left his elephant and joined hand to hand combat. Rumours of leader's death set panic wave in the Marathas. At this crucial moment, Abdali unleashed his reserves of 12,000 chosen cavalry that attacked and broke the centre of the Maratha army.
A near victory now turned into a rout and Marathas began running in the direction of Delhi. A fearful slaughter took place and the Marathas were completely routed. The Afghan casualties were also very heavy and soon after the battle Abdali quickly left for Afghanistan.
On his way his army suffered heavily due to the attacks by Sikhs. In battle of Govindwal the Sikhs rescued many Maratha prisoners who were being carried off to Afghanistan as slaves. Many widows never came back and instead married Sikh soldiers. Many Marathas instead of coming back to Maharashtra went to the hills of north and settled there. In all the Maratha losses were put at 22 generals and nearly 1 lakh soldiers. The estimated population of Maharashtra at that time was around 80 lakh and it was indeed a heavy blow and flower of the youth of one whole generation perished at Panipat.
There was scarcely a home in Maharashtra that did not lose at least one member of its family at Panipat.
The battle of Panipat was a turning point in the history of not only Marathas but whole of India. A British historian writing about this battle has opined that but for this defeat' whole of India would have been 'Marathaised'.
Panipat was the first major battle that Marathas fought with reliance on artillery and fire-arms based infantry. The defeat at Panipat discredited this form of war and Maratha armies again reverted back to cavalry mode of fighting. The Maratha faith in efficacy of guns was shaken up so thoroughly that in many future battles with the British, they never hesitated to abandon the guns.
The Maratha defeat at Panipat can be primarily attributed to their failure to harmonise the cavalry mode of warfare with the drilled infantry and artillery based set piece battles. This problem was to plague the Marathas for long time to come.
Politically the Maratha loss was not felt for very long as they soon recovered and re-established themselves at Delhi. The Marathas however never again attempted to control Punjab and their western frontier remained on the Sutlej river for a long time. The Sikhs were other beneficiaries of the battle of Panipat. The weakened Afghans could no longer hold Punjab and soon a powerful Sikh state came up and ruled from Lahore [ Images ].
The Marathas fought at Panipat for a national cause. Their failure to defend India left a deep psychological impact on them. The ideal of Hindavi Swarajya and aim to dominate the entire country was given up.
Panipat inculcated a kind of diffidence in the Maratha psyche that brought in defeatist mentality when it came to a really great contest. The tendency now on was to retreat in good time rather than risk everything on an uncertain prospect. This caution that can be seen in many later day battles can be directly traced back to the happenings at Panipat. Panipat was a major national trauma and never again were the Marathas to repeat the daring feat of Bajirao the first and his dash to Delhi. Most post Panipat wars fought by the Marathas were defensive wars. The offensive spirit of the Marathas was the biggest casualty at Panipat.
The disaster of Panipat took place mainly due to bad politics on part of the Marathas.  The lessons from Shivaji's time were forgotten and Marathas fought simultaneously both in the south as well as in the north. Half the Maratha army was in south when the life and death struggle was being fought at Panipat. The Rajputs were alienated, the Jats spurned and Sikhs underestimated. With even one of these as allies, Panipat would never have taken place.
Unfortunately this lesson was never learnt and even in the fight against the British the Marathas fought alone except in 1804 when Holkar took the help of Jats of Bharatpore and defeated the British.
Colonel (Dr.) Anil Athale studied Maratha history as first Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses fellow in military history between 1991 -1996.
Colonel (Dr) Anil Athale (retd)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Guns Used by Indian Revolutionaries: Chandrasekhar AZAD, Bhaga Jatin, Dhingra

Chandrasekhar Azad
In 1931 azad was living in Jhunsi area of Allahabad. One of his close friend Tiwari shook hands with the Britishers on the cost of heavy wealth. On 27 Feb 1931 Azad was planning some activities with Sukhdev. Tiwari saw him there and reported their presence to police. Within few minutes policemen surrounded the whole park. On the initial encounter, Azad suffered a bullet on his thighs thus making it impossible to escape. But he somehow made the chance of Sukhdev to survive by covering him. After sukhdev escaped he kept the police on hold for a long time. At last only one bullet was left. Being surrounded, Chandrashekhar Azad shot himself, keeping his pledge to not be captured alive. It is said that the Indian soldiers who saw him die did not approach his dead body for 20 minutes. He had always induced the guilt of Indian soldiers and policemen working for the British government, wherever he went, claiming that 'they were not of the true Indian blood'. His COLT pistol is still kept in Allahabad Museum and is a great attraction of tourist. His very rare photographs are also placed there in museum.
 Source: defence.pk

The 0.32 bore colt automatic pistol with a magazine of 10 was used by the revolutionary in the encounter in which he was killed Sir John Bower who conducted the operation as a superintendent of police, Allahabad carried the prized momento (pistol)to the United Kingdom.
Source: Page no; 870 Encyclopedia of Hindu world

Maddanlal Dhingra

Curzon Wylie had retired from the Indian Army to become political A.D.C. to the Secretary of State for India in 1901. Madan Lal was infuriated and wrote home to say that he deplored an attitude which asked Anglo-Indians like Curzon Wylie to interfere in what were essentially India's private affairs.

Madan Lal bought a Colt revolver and also a Belgian weapon and started practising shooting at a private range. The National Indian Association had its annual general meeting on July 1, 1909. After dining at the Savoy, Curzon Wylie proceeded to the Association's At Home in Jahangir Hall of the Imperial institute. When the programme concluded, Wylie was seen descending from the staircase. Madan Lal engaged him in conversation and, then, suddenly, pulled out the revolver and fired five shots into his face at point blank range.
As Wylie fell down, a Parsi, Cowas Lalkaka tried to shield the victim. The sixth bullet killed him. When overpowered by the crowd Madan Lal tried to shoot himself but there were no more bullets left.
Source: India forum
Dhingra then went to Koregaonkar who was to accompany him to the Imperial Institute. He had an early lunch and afternoon tea at his own residence at 108 Leadbury Street. He left his house at 2 pm armed with a revolver. He bought a brand new dagger with a leather casket and put it in his pocket. He then went to ‘Funland’ and fired 12 rounds from a distance of 18 feet. Of these, 11 were close to the bull’s eye. He then asked his revolver to be cleaned.

At 7 in the evening, he dressed in lounge suit and a blue Punjabi turban. He loaded his Colt revolver and placed it in his right coat pocket. He placed one revolver each in another coat pocket and his vest. As he was unable to memorize the statement written by Savarkar, he wrote it in pencil on a sheet of paper and placed it in his inner coat pocket along with some newspaper cuttings. He put 10-12 shillings in his pocket. He hailed the first cab that came his way and left for the function.

The assassination

On 01 July 1909, Dhingra went as planned to the meeting at Imperial Institute. As luck would have it he had forgotten to take the invitation pass. However, as he was an Associate Member, he gained entry after signing in the visitors’ book. Koregankar also arrived armed with a pistol. After the meeting was over, Curzon Wyllie seemed ready to leave. “Aji jaao na. kya karte ho!” prompted Koregaonkar to Dhingra. Dhingra now approached Curzon Wylie under the pretext of talking to him. The two opened the glass door and left the hall. As they reached the landing, Dhingra lowered his voice as if he wanted to discuss something confidential. Curzon Wylie brought his ear close to Dhingra. Sensing the opportunity, Dhingra removed the Colt revolver from his right coat pocket and pumped two bullets at point-blank range. The time was 11.20 pm. As Curzon Wyllie reeled, dhingra fired two more bullets. A Parsee doctor Cawas Lalkaka tried to come in between but Dhingra fired at him as well. However, Dhingra’s attempt to shoot himself failed and he was overpowered. Even in this situation, Dhingra wrestled with his captors and even brought down one of them breaking his ribs. Dhingra was pinned to the ground. Only after his revolverwas taken away did his captors heave a sigh of relief. In the scuffle, Dhingra’s spectacles were thrown away. Dhingra calmly told his captors to hand over his spectacles. 
Source: Hindu jagruti

Bagha Jatin
The contingent of Government forces approached them in a pincers movement. A gunfight ensued, lasting seventy-five minutes, between the five revolutionaries armed with Mauser pistols and a large number of police and army armed with modern rifles. It ended with an unrecorded number of casualties on the Government side; on the revolutionary side, Chittapriya Ray Chaudhuri died, Jatin and Jatish were seriously wounded, and Manoranjan Sengupta and Niren were captured after their ammunition ran out. Bagha Jatin died in Balasore hospital on 10 September 1915.And, observes Ross Hedvíček in the article already mentioned : "India had to wait for another thirty years to have her democracy... Mahatma Gandhi was as yet in South Africa." During a conversation with Charles Tegart on 25 June 1925, Gandhiji qualified Jatin Mukherjee as "a divine man." And the author of the article (son of an officer in the Special Police created by Tegart)adds that Gandhiji did not know what Tegart told his colleagues : "Had Jatin Mukherjee been an Englishman, the English would have erected his statue at Trafalgar Square, by the side of Nelson's."
 Legacy of Jatin Mukherjee

Inspired by Swami Vivekananda, Jatin expressed his ideals in simple words: "Amra morbo, jat jagbe" — "We shall die to awaken the nation".            

Source: Defence.pk
Udham Singh

In 1940 General O'dywer was gunned down by Udham Singh in Revenge of the Amritsar maasacre, he took a .45 colt revolver and shot in twice.

Udham Singh was deeply influenced by the activities of Bhagat Singh and his revolutionary group. In 1935, when he was on a visit to Kashmlr, he was found carrying Bhagat Singh's portrait. He invariably referred to him as his guru. He loved to sing political songs, and was very fond of Ram Prasad Bismal, who was the leading poet of the revolutionaries. After staying for some months in Kashmlr, Udham Singh left India. He wandered about the continent for some time, and reached England by the mid-thirties. He was on the lookout for an opportunity to avenge the Jalliavala Bagh tragedy. The long-waited moment at last came on 13 March 1940. On that day, at 4.30 p.m. in the Caxton Hall, London, where a meeting of the East India Association was being held in conjunction with the Royal Central Asian Society, Udham Singh fired five to six shots from his pistol at Sir Michael O'Dwyer, who was governor of the Punjab when the Amritsar massacre had taken place. O'Dwyer was hit twice and fell to the ground dead and Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India, who was presiding over the meeting was injured. Udham Singh was overpowered with a smoking revolver. He in fact made no attempt to escape and continued saying that he had done his duty by his country.

Source: sikh world

Prohibited weapons being ‘doctored’

 
Vijay Mohan & G.S. Paul
Tribune News Service


An arms dealer shows a revolver where the wooden handgrip has obscured some of the markings on the weapon. Tribune photo: Manoj Mahajan


Chandigarh, October 3
There are increasing attempts at prohibited bore (PB) firearms being “doctored” to pass them off as non-prohibited bore (NP) weapons to sell them at a significantly higher price.
If some arms dealers in the city are to be believed, they are getting weapons in which certain parts and components containing the weapons specifications and markings have been changed with locally fabricated parts carrying different information. Though the bore of the weapon remains unchanged, sellers try to pass it off as a different weapon.
“Around 20 per cent of the weapons that come in for resale are suspicious. Either there is something amiss about the way the metallic parts fit or the wooden stock or handle is not proper,” a local gun dealer said. “The number of such weapons coming in have increased over the years,” he added.
According to gun dealers, close examination by experts can reveal if the weapon has been tampered with and they do not entertain such cases. “There have been instances where a handgun’s ‘sleeve’, which carries technical markings, had been changed with a locally fabricated one carrying fake markings,” a dealer said.
One dealer even showed The Tribune a Colt whose wooden handgrip overlapped some markings on the weapon’s body just above the trigger.
PB weapons are those that are used by the military or law enforcement agencies and are generally not available to the public. PB weapons possessed by individuals are those that have been allotted to them by the government and these include senior bureaucrats and defence officers.
“Since it is difficult to get a licence for a PB weapon, these do not command high market prices. A 9 mm PB pistol can be available for Rs 10,000-15,000,” a local arms dealer, Gurpreet Bhandari, said. “A NP weapon on the other hand can fetch as high as Rs 3-4 lakh,” she added. It is perhaps the desire to get high prices that drives people to doctor weapons.
Pointing out that doctoring weapons by fabricating their specifications was illegal and punishable under law, UT SSP S.S. Srivastava said so far the police had not received any formal complaint in this regard. He added that it was also the moral responsibility of gun dealers to bring such cases to the notice of the police.
The police as well as dealers admit that there are certain arms dealers and repair technicians in some parts of the country that are known to be involved in doctoring weapons or modifying them without authorisation.
A dealer cited an example where the owner of a revolver had the barrel of his weapon shortened by almost two inches.
Police sources said apart from doctoring weapons, fake pistols are also in circulation. “Locally fabricated pistols carrying ‘Made in USA’ markings are making their way into Punjab from Western Uttar Pradesh,” a Punjab Police officer said.
“Prices of such weapons are quoted between Rs 10,000 and 15,000, though depending upon bargaining they can go as cheap as Rs 5,000,” he added.
Police officers estimate that around a dozen such weapons are smuggled into Punjab every month and these find their way into the hands of criminal or subversive elements.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Netaji's aide Trilok Singh Chawla waits to hand over 'legacy' to India


New Delhi, Jan 22 (IANS):

Eighty-nine-year-old Trilok Singh Chawla, a close aide of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, has a wish before he breathes his last - to return to India two pistols belonging to the freedom fighter - and has sent his son from Thailand to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Seth Trilok Singh Chawla, a close associate of Netaji, with the pistols given to him by the freedom fighter a few days before he is believed to have died in an air crash in August 1945. IANSThe octogenarian, who worships the two pistols every day, said Netaji had handed them to him before the freedom fighter left Bangkok for the last time saying: "See you in the Red Fort soon."

The Colt .32 and FN .635 are still lying with Chawla, who was Netaji's secretary in Thailand, and he is keen to see that the legacy is back with the country he fought for. Netaji left them with Chawla a week before he was announced dead in a plane crash in August 1945.

Chawla's son has been camping in Delhi for the past two weeks to meet the prime minister and apprise him of the two pistols. Jan 23 is Netaji's 113th birth anniversary.
"He wanted me to return the pistols to him at Red Fort after independence. However, eight days later he was announced dead in a plane crash in Taiwan. I still don't believe he died then and I am still waiting for him. But with increasing age I think it is his legacy and should be with the country he fought for," Chawla said over phone from Bangkok.

His youngest son, Santokh Singh Chawla, arrived in India Jan 10 to see to it that his father's wish is fulfilled, though he is not carrying the pistols with him.
"I am on a mission; my father's duty will be over once these pistols come to India, the country of Netaji's origin and get the deserving honour. We feel the people of India should not be deprived of the right to see them," said Santokh Singh, a realtor in Thailand and president of the Indo-Thai Friendship Association.

According to Santokh Singh, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Afairs has shown interest in the matter. Indian Ambassador to Thailand Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty has also asked Chawla to meet him to facilitate the return of the pistols.
"I know mystery and controversy still shroud Netaji's death but he was our hero in the freedom struggle. India should give all honour and respect to his legacy," said Santokh Singh.

"It is unfortunate that Netaji is only being remembered in India through the controversial story of the plane crash and differences in opinion with Mahatma Gandhi. I feel that he should be remembered through these pistols, which are his personal belongings and deserve to be among the people of his country and placed with honour and dignity," he said.
According to Chawla, the Indian government looks reluctant to accept the pistols for reasons not known to him.
"We want the Indian government to approach the Thailand government to take them back. The Thai government has no problem in handing over Netaji's legacy to India. When India can bring back Gandhiji's belongings from an auction, why can't Netaji's? After all both of them fought for the country's independence," Chawla said.
In the 1970s, then prime minister Indira Gandhi asked Chawla during a visit to Thailand to give the pistols to the National Museum in Delhi.
"But my father did not agree because he was not willing to part with them for sentimental reasons. He still thinks Netaji will come back," said Santokh Singh.
Indians in Thailand had played a crucial role in assisting Netaji Bose when he was garnering support in Southeast Asia for India' freedom.
After World War II broke out, Netaji fled from India and travelled to Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union, seeking an alliance with the aim of attacking the British in India.
With Japanese assistance, he reorganised and later led the Indian National Army from Indian prisoners of war and plantation workers from Malaysia, Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia against the British forces. He is believed to have died Aug 18, 1945, in a plane crash over Taiwan.
Many theories float about his death, with some believing he was indeed killed that day and others, like Chawla, still hoping that he will return.

Books

The Evolution of the Artillery in India: From the Battle of Plassey (1757) to the Revolt of 1857
By R. C. Butalia
Published by Allied Publishers, 1998
ISBN 8170238722, 9788170238720