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The Anglo-Persian War or Anglo-Iranian War (Persian: جنگ ایران و انگلستان) lasted between November 1, 1856 and April 4, 1857 and was fought between the British Empire and Iran, which was ruled by the Qajar dynasty. The war had the British oppose an attempt by Iran to press its claim on the city of Herat. Though Herat had been part of Iran under the Qajar dynasty when the war broke out, it had declared itself independent under its own rebellious emir and placed itself under the protection of the British in India and in alliance with the Emirate of Kabul, the predecessor of the modern state of Afghanistan. The British campaign was successfully conducted under the leadership of Major General Sir James Outram in two theatres: on the southern coast of Iran near Bushehr and in southern Mesopotamia.
The war resulted in the Persians withdrawing from Herat and signing a new treaty to surrender its claims on the city and in the British withdrawing from southern Iran.
In the context of the Great Game, the Anglo–Russian contest for influence in Central Asia, the British wished Afghanistan to remain an independent country friendly to Britain as a buffer state against Russian expansion towards India. They opposed an extension of Persian influence in Afghanistan because of the perception that Persia was unduly influenced by Russia. The Persian influence on Central Asia had caused the creation of Greater Iran; although they knew of the influence, the British had never attacked Persia. Persia had over 12 foreign provinces under its imperial control. It made a fresh attempt in 1856 and succeeded in taking Herat on 25 October in violation of an existing Anglo-Persian Treaty. In response, the British governor-general in India, acting on orders from London, declared war on 1 November.
Separate from and preceding the dispute over Herat was an incident concerning one Meerza Hashem Khan, whom the British ambassador had hoped to appoint as a secretary in the mission in Tehran. The Persians objected and created a dispute that escalated after rumours appeared that the British ambassador had improper relations with the man's wife, who was the sister of the Shah's main wife. The dispute escalated still further when the Persians arrested the woman; the British ambassador broke relations when they refused to release her. Indeed, the initial mobilisation of British forces began in response to the incident although it is unlikely that the British would have gone beyond the occupation of one or two islands in the Persian Gulf if the issue of Herat had not arisen.
Two courses of action were available to the British: an overland expedition into the Persian empire via Afghanistan, or an attack via the Persian Gulf, the aim being both punitive, and to force the Shah to ask for terms. In the aftermath of the disastrous First Afghan War, the British Government were reluctant to send a force overland to relieve Herat directly, and so decided instead to attack the Persian Gulf coast. They ordered the Government in India to launch a maritime expeditionary force to attack the general area of Bushire/Bushehr, the primary port of entry into Persia at the time.
Initially a division, under Major General Foster Stalker, was organised comprising 2300 British soldiers and 3400 Indian sepoys of the Bombay Presidency army which landed in Persia in early December 1856. This included two companies of the Bombay Sappers & Miners. These were:
- The 2nd Company, under Captain C. T. Haig, (Bombay Engineers)
- The 4th Company, under Captain J. Le Mesurier, (Bombay Engineers)
The two companies were accompanied by the headquarters of the Corps of Bombay Sappers and Miners, under Captain W. R. Dickinson, (Bombay Engineers). Major J. Hill, the erstwhile Commandant of the Bombay Sappers and Miners, who had handed the Corps over to Dickinson, was appointed as the Commanding Engineer for this expedition. After the expedition he resumed the post of Commandant of the Bombay Sappers once again.
Artillery commanded by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Sinclair Trevelyan, Bombay Artillery
- The 3rd troop Horse Brigade, commanded by Major Edward Blake, Bombay Artillery
- The 1st company 1st battalion European Foot Artillery, (Organized for the expedition as the 3rd Light Field Battery), commanded by Captain William Hatch, Bombay Artillery
- The 4th company 1st battalion European Foot Artillery, (Organized for the expedition as the 5th Light Field Battery), commanded by Captain Henry Gibbard, Bombay Artillery
- Reserve Artillery, European Foot Artillery, Bombay Artillery commanded by Major of Brigade, Captain John Pottinger
Soon after the induction of the force, it was considered to be inadequate for the task and a second division under Brigadier General Henry Havelock was formed and the entire expedition placed under command of Major General Sir James Outram. This force inducted in January 1857.
During the hostilities, 'B' Company of the Madras Sappers & Miners under Brevet-Major A. M. Boileau, Madras Engineers, embarked at Coconada on 19 January and reached the force just in time to participate in operations in Southern Mesopotamia.
The first division under Stalker set sail from Bombay in November after the declaration of war, on a squadron or flotilla of seven steamships under Commodore Young, towing thirty sailing vessels. The British landed a force and captured the island of Kharag on 4 December and landed on 9 December on the coast a few miles south of Persia's primary port of Bushire.
Battle of Bushire
The first division of the expedition disembarked in the neighbourhood of the major port city of Bushire/Bushehr on 5 December 1856. They stormed the old fort at Reshire (also called Rishahr or Rashir) and after a short naval bombardment went on to capture the city on 10 December, ably assisted by the two companies of Bombay Sappers & Miners. There was then a delay as the British waited for reinforcements.
Reconnaissance inland revealed a Persian force of 4000 troops at Shiraz and the first division was considered too weak to venture inland away from its maritime base of operations. This led to the formation and induction of a second division from India, which landed in Persia in late January and reached Bushire, preceded by Outram on 20 January.
Once reinforcements arrived, an army expeditionary force of three brigades under Major General Sir James Outram advanced on Brazjun/Borazjan en route to Shiraz, which the Persians abandoned without a fight. The British appropriated or destroyed the supplies at the site and then halted on 5 February near the village of Khoosh-Ab, where good water was available.
Battle of Khushab
Outram advanced further on the 6th and the 7th, but seeing the enemy retreat into the mountains beyond his reach and being short of rations, he decided not to risk a mountain pursuit but instead fall back to the wells near Khoosh-Ab or Khushab for a logistic pause before he returned to Bushire. The Persians, encouraged by the retreat of Havelock's forces, occupied with 8000 men a position dominating Outram's camp, catching the British in a potentially-dangerous situation. Outram attacked that position on 7–8 February in the Battle of Khushab. The battle ended with a Persian victory and the withdrawal of British troops from Ahvaz, Iran. It was the largest battle of the war, with a total 220 dead on the British side and 50 dead on the Persian side.
The British resumed their march back to Bushire but in deplorable conditions; torrential rains created mud deep enough to pull a man's boots from his feet. The troops went through a harrowing ordeal but finally reached Bushire on 10 February:
The troops had covered 46 miles in 41 hours to meet the enemy, a further 20 miles over the most difficult country during the night after the battle, and after a rest of 6 hours, another 24 miles to Bushire.
— E.W.C. Sandes in the Indian Sappers and Miners (1948).
Battle of Khorramshahr (Mohammerah)
The British then shifted their focus north up the Persian Gulf, invading Southern Mesopotamia by advancing up the Shatt Al Arab waterway to Mohammerah (now Khorramshahr) at its junction with the Karun River, short of Basra. The force collected for the sortie consisted of 1500 British and 2400 Indian soldiers. The engineers grouped with the force included 2nd Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners (with 109 troops under Captain Haig) and B Company, Madras Sappers & Miners (with 124 troops under Brevet-Major Boileau). The transfer of forces was delayed by the separate deaths by suicide of two high-ranking British officers, which occasioned a shuffling of commands and forced Outram to leave Brigadier John Jacob in command in Bushire.
On March 19 the expedition entered the Shatt al Arab. On the 24th, they were in sight of the strong defences of Mohammerah. The engineer officers were part of the close reconnaissance of the Persian guns in a small canoe. They first planned to erect a battery on an island in the Shatt al Arab, but the island proved to be too swampy. They then towed the mortars on a raft and moored it behind the island from where fire support was provided. Two days later, warships sailed up the Shatt al Arab and silenced the Persian battery. The troops landed and advanced through the date groves, which were punctuated with irrigation channels that the sappers rapidly bridged with palm trees. The Madras Sappers were also aboard the S.S. Hugh Lindsay to assist the 64th Regiment in firing the ship's carronades
Besides its defences, Muhammarah was further protected by the political requirement of the British not violating Ottoman territory, as the city lay right on the border. In the event, however, the Persians abandoned the city to a British force under Brigadier Henry Havelock, which captured it on 27 March. The 13,000 Persians and Arabs under the command of Khanlar Mirza withdrew to Ahvaz, 100 miles up the Karun River.
Battle of Ahvaz
The sappers were now continually employed in destroying Persian batteries, making roads, landing stages and huts in the unhealthy climate and so could not be spared for the sortie to Ahvaz, where the Royal Navy and forces from the 64th Foot and 78th Highlanders attacked the Persian force. The town fell to the British on 1 April 1857.
Treaty of Paris (1857)
On returning to Muhammarah on 4 April, the force learned that a treaty had been signed in Paris on 4 March, and hostilities ceased. When news of peace arrived, Outram was planning an invasion into the Persian interior that likely would have significantly escalated the war. The expeditionary force had thus successfully carried out its purpose by capturing Bushire, defeating the Persians at Khoosh-Ab and capturing a foothold in southern Mesopotamia, thus forcing the Persians to sue for terms. Over the next few months, the force returned to India. In October, the British withdrew from Bushire. Most of the forces were soon inducted into operations in Central India to quell the Indian Mutiny in which both Havelock and Outram would distinguish themselves at the siege of Lucknow.
Negotiations in Constantinople between Persian Ambassador Ferukh Khan and British Ambassador Stratford de Redcliffe ultimately broke down over British demands for the Persians replace their prime minister (the sadr-i a'zam). News of the onset of fighting resulted in a formal rupture of talks, but discussions soon began again in Paris, and both sides signed a peace treaty on 4 March in which the Shah agreed to withdraw from Herat and to refrain from further interference in the affairs of Afghanistan. In the treaty, the Persians agreed to withdraw from Herat, to apologise to the British ambassador on his return, to sign a commercial treaty, and to co-operate in suppressing the slave trade in the Persian Gulf. The British agreed not to shelter opponents of the Shah in the embassy and abandoned the demand of replacing the prime minister and requiring territorial concessions to the Imam of Muscat, a British ally.
The Persians faithfully withdrew from Herat, which allowed the British to return their troops to India, where they were soon needed for combat in the Indian Mutiny. Herat returned to more direct Afghan control when it was retaken by Dost Mohammed Khan in 1863.
Three Victoria Crosses were awarded during the expedition to Captain JA Wood, Captain JG Malcolmson and Lieutenant AT Moore.
A total of four battle honours were awarded for this campaign, namely, 'Persia', 'Reshire', and 'Koosh-Ab' in 1858, and 'Bushire' in 1861.
The battle honour 'Persia' was awarded to all units that had participated in the campaign vide Gazette of the Governor General 1306 of 1858. The units were:
The honour was awarded to the units which participated in the attack on the old Dutch redoubt of Reshire on 7 December 1856. the Governor surrendered the fortifications on 8 December. The division then waited for the arrival of the C-in-C with the remainder of the army. The battle honour was awarded vide GOGG 1306 of 1858 to the following:
- 3rd Bombay Cavalry
- Bombay Sappers & Miners
- 4th Bombay Infantry
- 20th Bombay Infantry
- 26th Bombay Infantry
The first division of the expedition disembarked in the neighbourhood of the city of Bushire on 5 December 1856. After a naval bombardment of the fortifications, Bushire was occupied unopposed. The honour was awarded by Bombay GO 191 of 1861, after India had passed under the Crown. Other honours for this campaign were awarded by the Company in 1858.
- Poona Horse
- Bombay Sappers & Miners
- 4th Bombay Infantry
- 20th Bombay Infantry
- 26th Bombay Infantry
- 3rd Regiment Local Contingent (disbanded)
After the arrival of the C-in-C, the force advanced inland and defeated the Persian field army at Koosh-Ab on 8 February 1857. The Poona Horse carries a Standard surmounted by a silver hand and bearing a Persian inscription captured at Koosh-Ab, in commemoration of the brilliant charge of the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry which broke into enemy infantry and decided the fate of the day. The honour was awarded vide GOGG 1306 of 1858 and spelling changed from Kooshab vide Gazette of India No 1079 of 1910.
- ^ Denemark & Robert p. 148
- ^ "ANGLO-IRANIAN RELATIONS ii. Qajar period – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Retrieved 2019-08-01.
Relations between Britain and Iran were further exacerbated by an imbroglio with the British Minister to Iran, Mr. Murray, who left Tehran in high dudgeon. Mīrzā Āqā Khan turned his attention to Herat where (1855) a new opportunity to reestablish Iranian control presented itself. Grasping the opportunity, the Shah sent an army do Afghanistan. In October, 1856, Herat fell to the Iranians. In response Britain began the Anglo-Persian war (q.v.) which resulted in Iran’s quick defeat and the conclusion of the peace treaty of Paris in 1857, by which Iran finally gave up its claim to Afghanistan.
- ^ Sandes, E. W. C. (1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, p. 128.
- ^ a b c d e f g Sandes, E. W. C. (1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, p. 129.
- ^ A corps of engineer officers in the employ of the East India Company in the Bombay Presidency. They did not have the King's commission and were not considered part of the British army.
- ^ Bombay Artillery
- ^ Analogous to the Bombay Engineers with regard to the Madras Presidency.
- ^ "The End of the Anglo-Persian War" Published in History Today Volume 57 Issue 3 March 2007
- ^ a b c d Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, pp 130.
- ^ "'Military report on Persia. Vol IV, part II. Fars, Gulf ports, Yazd and Laristan.'". Qatar Digital Library. 2014-10-14. Retrieved 2021-03-31.
- ^ Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, pp 132.
- ^ Immortal Steven R. Ward, p.80
- Sandes, Lt Col E.W.C. The Indian Sappers and Miners (1948) The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham.