Indian Artillery

Antietam, Maryland, Cannon, Battlefield

The Sikh Army was the strongest force faced by the British in India. The Khalsa Fauj acquitted itself creditably in both Anglo Sikh wars. British historians have alluded to the ability of the Sikh gunners during the conflicts at Mudki and Chillianwala throughout both Anglo Sikh wars. The maharaja who dominated the Punjab for 40 years until his death in 1839 assembled the artillery of the Khalsa Fauj (Army) to an unparalleled efficacy level. No Indian ruler could match the genius of Ranjit who built up his artillery with the support of foreign advisors -largely French. The period from 1801 to 1839 marked the maturation of the Sikh army from a semi feudal and cluttered force to an efficient fighting machine which could hold its own against the greatest European armies.

Out of these Court set about organizing the artillery. He joined the Maharajas service in 1827 and married a regional Sikh girl. He began the practice of the gunners and made the organization of the batteries and guns.In reality he raised the degree of efficiency of the Khalsa army at par with the western powers.The foundries of Maharaja Ranjit Singh were accommodated by Court to generate high quality guns and howitzers. In this he was assisted by local gun smith Sardar Lahina Singh Majithia.

It’s worthwhile to bear in mind that if the first shell was created at the Lahore foundry that the Maharaja bestowed a prize of Rs 30,000 on Court. Subsequently fuses for the firearms were manufactured there. His impact on the Artillery efficacy bore fruit later as during the wars with the British, Sikh guns made the British pay a hefty price by their deadly salvos.

The Sikh artillery came into its own only after the entrance of the European advisers of Ranjit Singh. This artillery was to differentiate itself in the conflicts of the North West frontier and afterwards the British.The most deadly part of the Sikh army were the firearms made at the maharajas foundries in Lahore. These firearms added teeth to the khalsa (Sikh) army which makes it into a powerful force. Ranjit Singh had about 35 artillery pieces when he began his reign in 1801. But by the time of this first Anglo-Sikh warfare in 1845 that the Sikhs could marshal almost 250 firearms.

Ranjit Singh must take credit for the evolution of the artillery in his military. Right from 1807 he had been seized with the thought of producing his own cannons. In another 2 years mortars were created and Ranjit instructed his chief scientist Mian Qadir Bakhsh a Muslim, to examine the British guns and create similar copies. Ranjit also on the help of his French generals prepare the horse drawn artillery. By 1830 Ranjit could have a look at his gunnery division and love the fact he had over 100 horse drawn artillery pieces.

The Sikh shortly mounted an invasion of the North West. In conflicts with the Pathans and the Afghans from the Frontier area the Sikh Army made significant use of Artillery. The Battle of Jamrud and capture of the fort was on no account possible without the unerring aim of the Sikh gunners.
When Maharaja died in 1839 he left behind a powerful military force equipped with specialist artillery. But the Sikh leadership dedicated hara-kiri by attacking the British whom Ranjit had a treaty of peace. The Sikh army aided by the artillery could have carried the day but bad generalship and a desire to allow the British triumph from the traitorous Sikh Prime Minister Gulab Singh and his coterie resulted in the defeat of the Sikhs.

A good deal of guns were seized by the British and were paraded at Calcutta after the second Sikh war. Many were melted down in their foundry in Cossipore. But with the passage of time only a couple of artillery pieces can be found mostly in the united kingdom and the Lahore Museum.

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