Pathan Rising

Published: February 1st, 2017     
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Book cover
Author: Mark Simner
Reviewed by: 
Michael Novosad, IPMS# 36721
Company: Casemate Publishing
ISBN #: 9781781555408
Other Publication Information: hard cover, 242 pages
Price: $40.00

From the Casemate Publishing website

Pathan Rising tells the story of the large scale tribal unrest that erupted along the North West Frontier of India in the late 1890s; a short but sharp period of violence that was initiated by the Pathan tribesmen against the British. Although the exact causes of the unrest remain unclear, it was likely the result of tribal resentment towards the establishment of the Durand Line and British ‘forward policy', during the last echoes of the ‘Great Game', that led the proud tribesmen to take up arms on an unprecedented scale. This resentment was brought to boiling point by a number of fanatical religious leaders, such as the Mad Fakir and the Hadda Mullah, who visited the various Pathan tribes calling for jihad. By the time the risings ended, eleven Victoria Crosses would be awarded to British troops, which hints at the ferocity and level of bitterness of the fighting. Indeed, although not eligible for the VC in 1897, many Indian soldiers would also receive high-level decorations in recognition of their bravery. It would be one of the greatest challenges to British authority in Asia during the Victorian era.

Mark Simner has been interested in British military history since childhood, having widely read and researched the period of 1700 to 1945. In 2007 he setup the successful Victorian Wars Forum, which was followed by the equally popular Napoleonic Wars Forum in 2011. His first book, An Illustrated Introduction to the Battle of Waterloo, was published in May 2015, and he has since written a number of other titles and articles.

Pathan Rising documents the tribal unrest along the northwest frontier of India in the late 1890's. The battles between the British and Pathan tribes would span from 1849 until 1947 in the form of small campaigns with the goal of controlling the tribes. At the time the British were concerned about Imperial Russian expansion to the northwest of India. The small campaigns flared into major uprisings in 1897.

This book is broken down into 16 chapters and chronicles a significant uprising in 1897. The first two chapters document the early unrest where the British and Indian troops destroyed the homes of tribesmen, seized crops and livestock as a form of punishment. Chapters three through six address the major assault by thousands of tribesmen against the British. In chapters seven and eight additional fighting takes place in the lands of the Mohmands and Mamunds. Finally in chapters nine to fifteen more retaliatory attacks. The British forces were being spread thin as many of the confrontations took place at the same time. One saving grace for the British was the lack of coordination within the various tribes due to rivalries and infighting.

This book is a somewhat challenging read with the various personalities on both sides, named towns and villages, and battles that are relatively unknown to readers today. Some of the towns and villages appear in today's news reports about continuing conflict in the region. There are stories of intrigue, treachery, betrayal and heroism in battle. The fierce independence seen today existed in times past. Distrust between the various tribes and the British were common.

The British often won the early battles thanks to their modern firearms, use of artillery and their military discipline. Later many tribes were able to combine their manpower and obtain modern small arms thanks to the gun dealers that purchased surplus and out-of-date British military arms. The British then began to suffer greater manpower losses. Had the tribes joined forces the British most certainly would have been spread too thin to be effective in putting down the rising.

The book is sprinkled with maps of various regions and includes a substantial section of black and white vintage photos and paintings of personalities, landscapes, and weapons of the time. A glossary at the back also provides the much-needed definitions of the terms and titles sprinkled throughout the pages.

Appendix A presents a list of the Victoria Cross Citations, while appendix B covers the Maizar Awards Citations. The Maizar engagement resulted in 3rd Class of the Order of Merit to Indian soldiers. Appendix C is a translation of various letters from Saiad Akbar. Mullah Saiad Akbar was a driving force in the organization of the uprisings.

I wish to thank Casement Publications and IPMS/USA for the opportunity to review this publication. It was a fascinating read, and there are similarities between what happened then and most recently.​

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    Book cover