Monday, 22 September 2014

The Capture of Gawilghur 1803


This is my third post following the events of the Richard Shape series by Bernard Cornwell - and will discuss the British capture of the Fortress of Gawilghur - which until 1803, had never been captured by enemy forces. This event was dramatically described in Sharpe's Fortress 

The fortress of Gawilghur was a strongly fortified mountain stronghold of the Maratha Empire in the Deccan Mountain range in India. The exact date of its construction is unknown, but it was believed to have been heavily fortified around 1424. The the fortress combined two forts, and outer and an inner. It was always believed that the Outer fort was to deter an attacking enemy while those inside retreated to the inner fort, which was protected by a ravine, and only had one entrance, only  accessible through a gate house, via a narrow twisting corridor. 

Following the British victory against the Maratha at the battle of Argaum, the remaining Maratha forces retreated to the mountain strong hold, believing that they could outlast the British forces. 

The British forces, led by Sir Arthur Wellesley set up camp at  the base of the mountain, well out of range of the fortresses guns, and began building a road up to the fortress, where they would establish a base for its guns to open a breach in the Outer Forts walls. The outer walls were in poor repair, as it was always meant as a decoy, and the British were successful in breaching the walls, and sent in the 11th Regiment of Foot, 94th Regiment of Foot, and a group of Sepoys on December 15th 1803. 

The Inner fort had a small service entrance at the south side, was was virtually inaccessible for an army. That being said, the 74th and 78th Highlanders attached the south side as a diversion, so that the Maratha forces believed they were being attached on two fronts. 

The breach was extremely steep, due to the fact that much of the walls were built on the end of cliffs. British soldiers had difficulty climbing while keeping their riffles in their hands. Many resulted in almost crawling to ascend the breaches. 

Once the British made it up the Breaches, they quickly over ran the defending Maratha forces. And for reasons yet to be discovered, instead of allowing the retreating forces inside the inner fort, the doors we closed. (Most likely due to a fear the British would advance too quickly). The retreating forces were slaughtered by the British and Sepoy troops. 

Perhaps over confident by their quick capture of the outer fort, the British sent in wave after wave to capture the gate house of the inner fort, and were slaughtered. The narrow twisting corridor housed three doors to gain access to the inner fort, and the walls above the corridor were heavily defended, and the Maratha forces threw rockets and musket fire at the approaching British troops. With no success after three waves, the assault looked doomed. 

Doomed, until Captain Campbell and his 94th Light Infantry discovered a difficult, but accessible way to climb the inner walls, out of sight of the defending Maratha forces. They were successful in fighting the Maratha forces around the gate house from behind, catching them by surprise, and opened up the doors to the awaiting forces outside. 

By the end of the day the once great fortress of Gawilghur had fallen, and the British had suffered the loss of 150 soldiers, while the Maratha had lost close to 4000, in what can only be seen as a lopsided miscalculation of a forts capabilities. 

A number of prominent historians have questioned why the Maratha did not further fortify both the outer and inner fort before the British attacked. While the Fortress of Gawilghur did not poses the riches of gold as others the British captured, but it had a fully stocked armoury that was never fully deployed. The British took more than a week building a road up to the fort, ample time for the Maratha to further defend both forts. Jac Weller (Military Historian) was quoted a number of times before he died as saying about Gawilghur, {that} 'three reasonably effective troops of Boy Scouts armed with rocks could have kept out several times their number of professional soldiers' 

The fall of Gawilghur ended the Second Anglo-Maratha war. The British did return the fort to the Maratha Empire - but it was never restored or used as a stronghold again. Total the walls lay in ruins, and the breaches can still be climbed if your up to the steep climb. 

Remembering the Capture of Gawilghur - December 15 1803