The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

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The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby Mark » 02 Aug 2014 19:48

While researching the operations of the Malakand Field Force I came across the following newspaper article from 1897: http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d= ... 1017.2.187 As you will see it is written by Lieutenant Rattray of the 45th (Rattray) Sikhs, which was raised by his father in 1856. In many ways it was the equal to, or some may argue greater than, the defence of Rorke's Drift eight years earlier (I will let you make up your own mind on that one!) However, unlike Rorke's Drift little attention seems to have been paid to Chakdara at the time or indeed since, yet it certainly deserves some attention from military historians.

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Re: The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby Josh&Historyland » 04 Aug 2014 14:34

Defence of Chakadra

After looking into it, The similarities between this action and that of Rorkes Drift are both at once huge and disparate. 

Both actions pitted a small force of British troops against overwhelming numbers of native tribesmen. Both have the British defending a perimeter. Both see extreme bravery on both sides, not least on the part of the attackers who repeatedly attempt to storm the position. Both are also built on poor ground overlooked by the enemy.

On the other hand. In the case of the "Indian RD", The British force was much better armed than that at RD, most dramatically with maxim machine guns and light artillery (their rifles were Martini Henry). The enemy was better armed than the Zulus though not as disciplined, RD lasted a day and some of the night, Chakdara for a whole week (I can't see the Zulu being so "bull headed" pardon the pun, as to continuously assault a post for so long). RD faced 4,000 Zulu but Chakdara 12-15,000 Afghans (how this was estimated I'd like to know! Had the Zulu come at RD in such numbers I doubt they could have withstood it, yet had the Zulus pressed the matter after the first day they'd have probably been wiped out so thats academic) the British force consisted not just of infantry but cavalry. Chakdara could signal for help, whereas RD could not.

Why is this arguably more dramatic action less known? Well first I'd say because they were Indian troops defending the garrison, the Victorian British public couldn't identify with their courage in the same patriotic way. 
Second, because there had not been an iSandlwana previous to the engagement in which reputation had to be saved.
And no gallantry medals. Third, because they made the movie Zulu and it was a hit! And Kenneth Moor made North West Frontier not "7 Days at Chakdara" even though it would make a great war movie.

I agree with Mark, this engagement needs the deep analysis that RD has been given, and it should be highlighted. Churchill alluded to its being an Indian RD, in his account of the Malakand field force, which is good reading, but since no one seems to have given the fight a modern treatment it's hard to gauge how accurate it is, it seems to make sense. His comments on the fire control of the garrison are impressive, and make sense, Chakdara needed to conserve its ammo, but good grief! 20 rounds a day by every man is some effective shooting! 

Here's Churchill's account of the campaign, chapter VI deals with Chakdara, doubtless it's familiar to most.
http://dansmc.com/Malakand/MALAKAND_FIELD_FORCE.htm#2HCH0006

The case of Chakdara is probably instructive in showing how RD would be treated without those medals and without the movie.
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Re: The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby bill wright » 04 Aug 2014 20:41

While totally agreeing with both of you guys, I think that the Defence of Chakdara can never be seen in isolation from the Defence of Malakand taking place just a few miles down the road. The two are linked because they broke out at approximately the same time and the larger garrison at Malakand was well aware of the difficulties the tribal rising would mean at the Swat River fort, knowing it could not be relieved until the tribesmen had first been defeated at the Malakand. That said, the fighting was equally fierce in both places...
Last year I managed to view and make copies of the private correspondence during both sieges of Colonel Meiklejohn commanding at the Malakand. He was also injured in a close quarter fight with a ghazi during the battles, but went on to lead troops under Bindon Blood to Chakdara. These documents are in the possession of his family.
An incredible but true anecdote is that Meiklejohn`s wife had left a few days previously for a visit to Murree, and he had the sole care of his 4-year old daughter, Meg. So throughout the fighting, when there was every chance the tribesmen might win, poor old Meiklejohn thought of what might happen to his little girl who was in the fort. British arms were victorious, as we all know, and Meg lived on to be the last survivor of the Malakand and Chakdara sieges, dying in 1977.
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Re: The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby Mark » 04 Aug 2014 21:12

There was a family of one of the officers at Malakand during the siege, I cannot remember who it was but will look it up.

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Re: The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby Josh&Historyland » 04 Aug 2014 22:57

Look forward to hearing Mark.
The connection with Malakand and the difficulty in separating the two actions from the other might be another reason why it's rather obscure. Everyone lumps it in with Malakand.

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Re: The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby Mark » 05 Aug 2014 15:40

I think you are right, Josh! Although Malakand and Chakdara were certainly cut off from each other for the majority of a week.

Bill, Meiklejohn's papers must be an interesting read! So far in my research I have be suprised by the lack of first-hand accounts of the defence of Malakand and Chakdara. That said there were relatively few British officers present.

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Re: The Defence of Chakdara, July/August 1897

Postby Josh&Historyland » 05 Aug 2014 18:31

Churchill mentions interviewing an officer who served at Chakdara, I wonder whether there is more to that?
I personally think that since both posts were cut off from one another they should be represented as separate actions, just as iSandlwana and RD are, both were fought with some extension at either end, on the same day, and obviously they are rarely confused.

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