10 (Assaye) Battery RA
18th October 1926
Assaye was the scene of a famous battle that occurred in 1803, and resulted in a decisive victory
for the British forces, led by Arthur Wellesley 1769 - 1852, who would later become the
Duke of Wellington. It is 40 miles north-east of Aurangabad.
ASSAYE - September 1803
Mahratta War, India
The Bombay Artillery at the Battle of Assaye
By David Rowlands
History of the Battle
1. The Opening of the Campaign
Having crossed the important river Godavery, Wellesley managed to manoeuvre his adversary
Scindiah northwards, away from Hyderabad. On the 20th September 1803 he and his N°2, the
experienced Colonel Stevenson of the British East India Company separated at Bednapur;
Stevenson advancing through a valley some 14 English miles west of Wellesley's line of march.
He and Wellesley had planned to join forces again at a village twelve miles from Bokerdun.
In the neighbourhood of this place it was intended to bring the enemy to battle on the 24th September.
But on the 23rd September, with Stevenson not yet emerging from the hills through which his
detachment was supposed to march, Wellesley received intelligence that Scindiah's cavalry had
already escaped him, though there was still time to catch the Maratha infantry in their camp, which
was not 12 miles away, but only 6!
2. Throwing the Dice!
Wellesley himself made immediately a swift reconnaissance, entailing a circuit of four miles on a
speedy horse: The young general was astonished by what he saw! Instead of infantry alone opposing
him, Scindiah's whole army - first trained by the very gifted Benoît de Boigne, then taken over by his
equally gifted countryman François Perron - was still settled in their camp. This army spread over at least
7 miles of flat, simmering plain, where green parrots, vultures and kites flashed, circled and hovered in the
light above the small shrubs and tangled multicoloured banyans. Thousands and thousands of cavalry
stretched from Bokerdun on the left to merge with impressive amounts of artillery and infantry right in the
centre and around the village of Assaye. The river Kaitna protected their front! This was indeed a
position of considerable strength. François Perron had done his job!
Arthur had to think quickly now/ There were still no news of Stevenson, who had probably lost his
way in the mountains. Could Wellesley fight with his total strength of 7000 men of all ranks an army at
least six times stronger? In cavalry alone the Maratha outnumbered him 20:1. Retreat would not only
risk his baggage train but also this weak equilibrium of power established and uniquely based on his
reputation of invincibility! But if he attacked, he would do so with troops, tired from a 24 hours march
through accidented terrain and dazzling heat. Although Wellesley perfectly understood the challenge
( and privately confided to the EIC political agent Montstuart Elphinstone that should he lose this battle,
he would blow out his brains, himself!) he ordered the advance!
3. The Crossing of the Kaitna
A first crisis came, when Wellesley's small army saw the steep banks leading into the Kaitna
and no bridge or visible ford around. The Indian guides then returned to the general, informing him,
that it was impossible to cross the river; there was one possibility miles upstream only!
Observing his battleground through a telescope, Wellesley who saw below Assaye two villages
on the river's shores, facing each other, decided otherwise: Men would not construct habitations so
close to each other, without a possibility to easily communicate with one another. There was a ford,
whatever his Indian guides said! Arthur followed his own common sense, spurred his horse down the
steep banks and was indeed the first man in the water of the Kaitna..........it hardly touched the
stirrups and belly of his horse.
Nevertheless, the period of reflection upon a problematic crossing had given the Marathas on the
other side time to form into a dense line and to strike camp: But( they did not go as far, as to advance
and occupy the ford. But as Arthur's men marched towards the river crossing, they came under hot canon
fire from the adversary. While still in the waters of the Kaitna, the orderly riding to the General's left
and leading his two other horses had his head blown off by a canon ball. His headless trunk remained
for a few moments in the saddle, his terrified horse galloping away with its lifeless rider, scattered
Arthur's staff far and wide: At last another soldier captured the beast and the orderly's lifeless
remains slipped into the water, which thus saw its first blood of this day!
4. The Engagement
Once across the Kaitna, Arthur calculated that he would be able to profit from the ground. A tributary
of the river, the Juah, flowing parallel but behind Assaye until joining the main stream well below the
village, presented him with a tongue of land of less then a mile, which he could just fill up with his tiny
army. This would deny the Maratha cavalry to overwhelm them with sheer quantity of troopers or with
manoeuvre. As his men came up from the Kaitna, he immediately began to form them into three lines;
infantry in the first two, cavalry as a reserve just behind with his left and right flank to the Kaitna
and the Juah respectively.
There was no weakening in the Maratha cannonade, but Arthur intended anyhow to attack
immediately their left, where it lay along the river, roughly in a right angle to his own disposition.
All at once it became clear to the European army that something gory was to happen: The Marathas
did not play by the rules of the game! They were changing front with breathtaking precision and speed,
encouraged by Perron, Pohlmann and the other European officers in their pay. Such expert work
came somewhat unexpected: Soon Maratha guns were facing the British and Sepoy soldiers.
Every laps of time more and more canon balls were bouncing at them.
Despite this event, Arthur would not avoid a readjustment of his own men in his own front line
at its extreme right, nearest Assaye. The Maratha manoeuvre had dangerously lengthened
his front. The young general still intended to open his attack on the adversary's infantry on
the Kaitna, correctly reckoning that once their right and centre had been pushed back on the Juah,
their left and Assaye would imperatively fall!
Now however, first thing to do was to order his pickets that once on the right they could move
outward and make room for detachments coming up on their left to fill the gaps. With this precise
order a specific warning went to Col.Orrock, the pickets' commanding officer: He was not to
swerve still further to the right during the coming engagement or he would get into Maratha canon
range from those gunners grouped around Assaye! The order was sent, while the murderous
enemy cannonade redoubled in strength. Now Wellesley could not allow himself to wait any longer.
With the adjustment not yet quite completed, he gave word to attack! His troops advanced under a
terribly hot fire. Terrible enough but not sufficient to save Scindiah's artillery from the fury of a
34-years old general and his advancing centre and left.
The 74th Highlanders at the Battle of Assaye
There was no resisting them: They captured or cut down the first line of the brave Maratha gunners
at their posts and went on to destroy the second line, despite of an audacious ruse of some first-line
men: Claiming to be dead until the red firestorm had crossed over them, they immediately jumped
back to their guns, turning them to fire into Wellesley's back. But these brave soldiers where shot
down in their turn, too.
Deprived of their guns, the Maratha did exactly what Arthur had predicted: They showed no mind to
fight such a furious enemy, turned their back and ran. This should have turned directly into his planned
terrible push from the left towards the Juah. And so it would, but for a sudden dire calamity on his right!
5. The Crisis
Col.Orrock, probably shell-shocked and dazed by the enemy fire or simply unable to halt the
right-ward movement of his troops, or simply misunderstanding Arthur's order and warning had
led his pickets, followed by the 74th Highlanders straight at the Maratha guns under Assaye.
It was one of those unlucky accidents for which Wellesley could never blame Orrock,
although it accounted for half his losses of the battle and the fight's issue trembled in the balance!
The Charge of the 19th Dragoons at Assaye
By David Rowlands
With no thought but to save the remnants of their comrades, the 19th Dragoons under
Col.Maxwell and the 4th Native Cavalry of Mysore dashed in together, brought forward
from their reserve posts in a nick of time by Arthur himself. The rescue was made, the tide
had turned. Wellesley went on to drive in the adversary along the Juah, while Maxwell, the brave
man, together with his 19th Dragoons charged down upon the remaining Maratha infantry under
the command of Pohlmann, a German officer. At the striking moment Maxwell was shot dead.
His convulsion accidentally reined his well-trained charger, so that his men, imagining a
deliberate check, wheeled aside from Pohlmann's front with shouts of "Halt! Halt!"
The cunning German saw his opportunity and took it immediately to run for his life.
Some Maratha suspected the mercenary of deliberate treachery to Scindiah, this was fairly
understandable, as their own master had already fled the camp early in the morning.
6. The Prize of Victory
Last to leave the battleground where the Maratha horse. They sullenly rode away, when
they realised that the day was entirely lost to their cause. Arthur's victory was complete!
Assaye had been a 'Close Run Thing', as would be this other battle, he should fight a
decade later on Flanders Fields not far from the sleepy town of Brussels.
Assaye was won in a river of blood, the bloodiest of all his battles, as a war-weary
man nicknamed 'The Iron Duke' was to recall grimly still decades later.
To the enemy 1200 killed and 4800 wounded, Arthur lost 1584 through death,
wounds and missing, 650 of them were Europeans, the others Sepoys. Every mounted
field officer had at last one charger killed under him, Colin Campbell lost three horses,
Arthur had his bay stallion shot under him and the grey 'Diomed' (the one in the portrait of Hoppner)
he liked so well, was picked. Moreover Wellesley's emergency rescue operation of the pickets
of Orrock and the 74th Highlanders had him engage reserve cavalry, which the prevented him
(as so often in his soldier's life) from pursuing and wiping out the enemy. Thousands of Maratha,
fleeing over the bloody Jauh, were able to escape into the Adjanta ghats, leaving the battleground
littered with their splendid brass guns.
7. A Battle's Aftermath
On the darkening battlefield the victors dropped exhausted and slept where they fell, amongst the
ungathered death, dying and wounded. Arthur himself, at first sleepless and shell-shocked (this is
quite normal after a fight, even for the bravest and most invincible general!) sat for a time with his
head on his knees. Visions of his beloved Sepoys, of his vital European regiments, of officers
which had died under his eyes - all the courage and the carnage floated before him. When his
tired body was at last victorious over his upset mind, he also sank to sleep, but it was only to be
awaken by recurring nightmares, a confused feeling that "they were all killed, his friends all gone....
." Had it been worth it?
This was by no means the last time that black melancholy would follow a great victory of the
future Duke of Wellington: Talavera, Badajoz, Vitoria, Waterloo......they all brought their reactions.
But still years later, when his days of the sword were memory gone by and when asked what
was the best thin, he ever did "in fighting", he would reply sombrely "Assaye"
and........refuse to add even a single word!
A Short History of the Battery
10 Battery was originally formed in 1755 as the 3rd Company Bombay Artillery.
The Battery, at the time of formation, was equipped with cannons pulled by elephants.
The Battery holds three main honour titles: 1799 Seringapataam, 1803 Assaye and 1843
Hyderabad.Seringapataam and Hyderabad are the honour titles that have been given to two
of the troops within the Battery. Assaye is the main honour title of the Battery,
hence 10 (Assaye) Battery.
Please click on the above Link to visit David's impressive Website
Assaye is an honour title that carries with it the distinction of the white elephant crest
on all battery appointments.
Apart, however, from the sterling action which won it its Honour Title, 10 (Assaye) Battery
has many other records of fine service. It took part in both sieges of Seringgapatam in 1792
and 1799; it fought through the Pindari/Mahratta war of 1817-18; and it was in Napier's army
in Sind at the Battle of Hyderabad. It manned some of the heavy ordnance that reduced the fortress
of Multan in the Second Sikh war, and then, ex- changing its great cannon for field guns, moved
by forced marches to take part in the crowning victory of Gujerat when the artillery fireplan
was so effective that most of the infantry advanced to the assault without firing a shot.
The Battery also had the distinction, rare for a Field Battery, of taking part in mountain warfare
in the Relief of Chitral in 1895; and fought through the whole of the First World War in France
with the 2nd Division.
Between 1843 and 1914, the Battery saw service in India, England and Ireland. When the Battery
deployed to Ireland it was mainly used in training militia units in the use of Artillery weapons.
In August 1914, the Battery deployed with the British Expeditionary Forces to France.
On the 15th of September 1914, the Battery was in action on the first day of the battle of Aisne,
outside the town of Vandresse. Bombardier Horlock was on one of the Battery guns. The Battery
came under heavy fire, and a round of shrapnel landed under his gun killing his number one.
Horlock received splinters to his right thigh and to the dressing station.
The doctor dressed him and ordered him to get on an ambulance and go to hospital.
Horlock however ignored this order and returned to his gun. Five minutes after returning he was
wounded again, this time in the back. Back to the dressing station he went only to be met be an
angry doctor, who this time bandaged him and placed him under the charge of an orderly and ordered
him to the ambulance. Horlock used his powers of persuasion and returned to his gun once more.
He was again wounded, this time in the arm. However, too afraid to return to the dressing station he
remained with his gun for the rest of the day until it came out action that evening.
For his conspicuous gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross in November 1914. Shortly after,
he was promoted to Sergeant and later to Sergeant Major. Unfortunately Battery Sergeant Major
(BSM) Horlock was killed of the coast of Egypt and is buried in the Alexandria war cemetery.
Between 1918 and 1939 the Battery re-roled on a number occasions ultimately forming a coastal
Battery.During the Second World War the Battery served in many locations, and from 1940-1943
it served in Malta as an anti tank battery. It then re-roled to become a Medium Battery and
served in Syria, Palestine and Italy.
During the Battery's second deployment to Italy it served with the 2nd Polish Corps. Mainly
around the ancient monastery at Monte Cassino. In recognition of service with the 2nd Polish
Corps at Monte Cassino, the Battery was given the honour of wearing the Syrene also known as
“The Maid of Warsaw” which was the Polish Corps insignia. To this day all members of the Battery
still wear the Syrene on the service dress.
Since the Second World War the Battery has been in the Air Defence role. Initially equipped with
3.7-inch guns, in the 50’s it became one if the first units in the British Army to be equipped with
guided weapons, the Thunderbird.
In the early 70s, like many units in the British Army, the Battery found itself deployed in
Northern Ireland on several occasions. In 1978, the Battery again re-equipped this time with the
Blowpipe missile, which saw action in the Falklands Campaign. Fired off the shoulder this was a small
compact system, which brought Air Defence closer to other deployed units at the front of the battlefield.
In 1985, the Battery updated its air defence capabilities and converted to the Javelin missile system.
Similar to the Blowpipe in that it to could also be fired off the shoulder, it included a lightweight
Multiple Launcher. Armoured vehicles (Spartans) made this a highly mobile capable system.
Between 1990 and 1991 the Battery deployed to Saudi Arabia on operation Desert Storm
providing close air defence cover to 7th Armoured Brigade. In 1993 the Battery moved to
Thorney Island to form part of 47 Air Defence Regiment RA. During the next 6 years the
Battery deployed to Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Cyprus.
Ken Brown (centre), Paddy Daly (extreme right) and SNCO's whose
names were recordedon the 10 (Assaye) Bty elephant. Sgts Mess,
Napier Barracks 1976.
Copyright: Keith Holderness 2001- 2018
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