Anglo-Afghan War FAQ (frequently asked questions)

What was the cause of the Second Anglo-Afghan war?
What were the main battles of the Second Afghan War?
What were the 'two phases' or 'two campaigns' of the war?
Who won the Second Anglo-Afghan war?
What was the march from Kabul to Kandahar?
Why is the march so famous?
How can i tell if my ancestor served in the Second Anglo-Afghan war, or was on the march to Kandahar?
What regiments served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War?


What was the cause of the Second Anglo-Afghan war?

The British had always been worried about the Russians and their expanding empire encroaching onto their north-west Indian border, a notion that opened play of the 'Great Game' and resulted in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42). With Afghanistan acting as a buffer zone, and existing as the open route from Russian to British territory, it was felt that control of Afghanistan - in the form of a friendly Amir - would solve this perceived threat. When the Amir, Sher Ali Khan, was not quick enough to accept British influence, with Russians in Kabul and a British envoy, General Sir Neville Chamberlain, refused entry to the country at the Khyber Pass, the British invaded.

There are several books that can tell you more about the Second Afghan War. One of the best modern overviews is Brian Robson's 'The Road to Kabul'. For general information on the British in Afghanistan I can recommend Michael Barthorp's 'Afghan Wars and the North-West Frontier 1839 - 1947'. The internet will also yield several interesting resources. See the bookshop and links.

Punch Nov 30 1878: "Save me from my friends!"

What were the main battles of the Second Afghan War?

Ali Masjid (sometimes Ali Musjid) 21-22 November 1878; Peiwar Kotal (sometimes Paiwar Kotal) 2 December 1878; Charasia (sometimes Charasiab or Charasiah) 6 October 1879; actions around Kabul (sometimes Cabul or even Cabool) in December 1879; Ahmed Khel 19 April 1880; Maiwand 27 July 1880; Deh Khoja (sometimes Deh Kwaja) 16 August 1880; and Kandahar (sometimes Candahar) 1 September 1880. There were hundreds of other smaller battles and minor actions.

What were the 'two phases' or 'two campaigns' of the war?

The Second Anglo Afghan War was split into two campaigns, Nov 1878 - May 1879, and Sep 1879 - Sep 1880, and sometimes (especially in early contemporary accounts) they were actually referred to as the Second Anglo-Afghan war (1878-79) and the Third Anglo-Afghan war (1879-80) respectively (now the conflict which took place in 1919 is officially known as the Third Anglo-Afghan War). The first campaign began in Nov 1878 with the British invasion of Afghanistan in three columns and the battle of Ali Masjid, and ended with the Treaty of Gandamak on 26 May 1879, and a new Amir (Yakub Khan). As part of the terms of that treaty the British sent an envoy (Sir Louis Cavagnari) and a small military escort to Kabul. On 3 September 1879 this mission was massacred in an attack instigated by Herati troops, and the conflict was reignited. It ended in September 1880 after a new Amir had been found (Abdurrahman) and another candidate, Ayub Khan, had been defeated.

Who won the Second Anglo-Afghan war?

The two campaigns that constituted the war did not result in a clear-cut winner, as such. To even call it a war where two countries gather to do battle would not represent the truth, as Afghanistan is and was a country of many tribes and nationalities, with complex loyalties and histories. The British forces emerged victorious from almost every encounter in Afghanistan, and although they failed to install a British ambassador at Kabul, they did end up with an Amir who was acceptable to their Asian interests. However, they would never win over the people and they could not stay in a country that constantly chipped away at any attempt to add portions of it to the British Empire.

What was the march from Kabul to Kandahar?

On 27th July 1880 British troops under General Burrows were totally defeated by Ayub Khan at Maiwand in the biggest British disaster, and the greatest Afghan victory, of the conflict. Ayub then besieged the remainder of the garrison at Kandahar. General Roberts set out with his army of 10,000 from Kabul on 8th August to relieve Kandahar which lay over 300 miles away.

Why is the march so famous?

The march from Kabul to Kandahar was quite a feat in that it moved so many men such a distance and in a relatively short period of time. They marched through terrific heat and dryness, not knowing what resistance they would meet on the way, including the possibility of Ayub Khan on his way to Ghazni or Kabul. It had heroic aspects in that it was a rescue mission and the day after Roberts arrived, on September 1st, he defeated Ayub Khan and the Afghan army, effectively ending the conflict of the Second Afghan War. A medal struck specially for the march heightened its renown. As well as being a real military and logistical success, it was inspiration to an empire and became the stuff of Boys' Own adventure. I don't think it would be untrue to say, with echoes of Rorke's Drift in relation to Isandlwana, the march and following battle were heightened over Maiwand. This does not lessen its achievement, but neither should Roberts' march overshadow the other events of the war (including Stewart's riskier march from Kandahar to Kabul five months earlier). See article.

How can i tell if my ancestor served in the Second Anglo-Afghan war, or was on the march to Kandahar?

See the Afghan War database and the notes on that page.

What regiments served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War?

See regiments that served.

The 5th Punjab Cavalry charge at Matun, January 1879.


All original content on this site is © Garen Ewing 2014, unless otherwise stated.
Original images from my own collection and data on this site should not be used without prior permission - thank you.
See about this site for more details.