1st Afghan War – Ghuznee Medal
In order to drive out the Persians under Prince Mahomed Khan and reinstate Shah Soojah-ool-Moolk (who was considered weak and unpopular), an army of 27,000 strong was formed, commanded by Sir John Keane, divided into 2 columns (Bengal and Bombay)
On 27th June, the Bombay Column began the final advance to Ghuznee which was heavily fortified. The gate was first blown up by a party of 13th Foot following which Ghuznee was taken on 23rd July and Mahomed Khan fled for safety towards Kabul.
The Ghuznee medal was awarded to all those engaged in the capture of Ghuznee on 23rd July 1839 (total 8371 medals issued).
The severe shortages of supplies along with the lack of draft horses had led to heavy siege equipment to be left in Kandahar as the Army no longer had the necessary number of draft horses to pull the equipment. The Army arrived at Ghazni on July 21, 1839. Initial reconnaissance showed the city to be heavily fortified with a 70 foot wall and a flooded moat. The defense of the city was led by Hyder Khan, the son of Dost Muhammad. Lacking siege equipment meant that the only way for the British to capture the city was through a frontal attack which would result in heavy casualties.
However, captured Afghan soldiers were interrogated by the Army’s chief engineer, Colonel Thompson, to whom they revealed that all of the gates into Ghazni had been sealed with rocks and debris except the Kabul Gate which was in the north. Thompson spied on the gate and observed an Afghan courier entering the city which confirmed what the prisoners had said. Further inspection showed the gate to be lightly guarded and inadequately defended. It was then decided to attack the city through Kabul gate. The Army went around the city and camped in the north side facing Kabul gate.
While the British forces had encircled the city, Shuja Shah Durrani and his forces had set up camp few miles away from the city to prevent any Afghan forces trying to relieve the besieged city. On July 22, 1839, thousands of Ghilzai tribesmen attacked Shuja Shah Durrani’s contingent but were repelled. With the Afghan relief forces driven away, the British were ready to mount an attack to capture the city.
British artillery was positioned to give covering fire to the advancing troops and 4 British regiments were formed into a storming party commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dennie. The rest of the three British regiments formed the main attacking column commanded by Brigadier Sale. High winds prevented the garrison from realizing they were about to be attacked.
At 3am on July 23, 1839, Indian engineers of the Bengal and Bombay Sappers and Miners moved towards the gate. As the engineers neared the gate they were fired upon by the Afghans inside the city. The British artillery bombarded the city and gave cover to the engineers as they reached the gate. Gunpowder was piled besides the door and the subsequent explosion destroyed the gate. The signal was given to attack and the 4 regiments led by Lieutenant Colonel Dennie rushed through the shattered gate. Bitter hand to hand fighting during the darkness of the night ensued. The Afghan defenders launched a counterattack which cut off the storming party from the supporting columns. Brigadier Sale’s forces fought their way through the gate to link up with Dennie’s encircled forces. Sale’s regiments linked up with Dennie’s but Sale was severely wounded. The British then fought their way into the center of the city and by dawn the city was captured. The British forces suffered 200 men killed and wounded while the Afghans lost nearly 500 men and 1,600 were taken prisoner with an unknown number wounded.