The First Afghan War 1839-42 - Invasion, catastrophe and retreat, Richard MacRory

The First Afghan War 1839-42 - Invasion, catastrophe and retreat, Richard MacRory

Campaign 298

The First Afghan War (1839-42) was one of the most disastrous in British colonial history. Although it began and ended with successful campaigns, it is remembered for the defeat and near-total destruction of a British army that had spent a year at Kabul. The war began as an attempt at regime change (although in this case the idea was to restore a previously deposed monarch, so there was at least some chance of success), and ended with the original ruler restored to power.

What rapidly becomes clear is that the defeat of the Kabul army was largely due to the incompetence and complacency of the British commanders on the ground. The success of the advance to Kabul was more down to luck than skill, and they nearly ran out of supplies on several occasions. Their main camp at Kabul was almost indefensible, overlooked by a series of forts and other strongpoints, and for almost entirely inexplicable reasons their main supply dump was placed outside the camp! The occupation itself went on for too long, undermining any credibility that their candidate for the throne might have had (although surprisingly he did remain in power for some time after the British left). The retreat itself was badly handled, slowed down by too many camp followers and an overly trusting attitude.

The book covers the entire history of the war, from the original decision to invade, through the almost-disastrous invasion itself, the occupation of Kabul, the uprising that forced the British to retreat, the disastrous retreat and finally the success of the Army of Retribution, which saved the besieged garrison of Kandahar and then left Afghanistan via Kabul. The text is clear and well written, and supported by a good selection of maps. There are some inevitable comparisons to recent events, but not so many as to irritate. Overall this is a good shorter history of an interesting conflict.

The Strategic Context
Opposing Commanders
Opposing Forces
Opposing Plans
Invasion and Occupation, 1839-40
The Rising, 1841
The Retreat, 1842
The Battlefield Today

Author: Richard MacRory
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 96
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 2016

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