Κυριακή, 8 Μαΐου 2016

Today in Military History: April 21, 1526:First Battle of Panipat: Babur's Moghuls defeat Delhi Sultanate

First Battle of Panipat: Babur's Moghuls defeat Delhi Sultanate
Delhi elephants recoiling from Moghul artillery fire
"Babur introduced field guns at Panipat"
Illustration from book, "Hutchinson's Story of the Nations"
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

For today's lesson in military history, we travel to northern India and meet the military man who would defeat a numerically greater army, and establish a dynasty and political entity that survived until the early eighteenth century. This battle would destroy the ruling dynasty of Delhi and lay the foundation for the Moghul Empire.

In the late fifteenth century, Zahir ul-din Muhammad Babur attained the throne of the small kingdom of Fergana (in modern-day Uzbekistan). He launched numerous attacks against the major city of Samarkand, capturing it three times and subsequently losing it three times.
Babur invaded Afghanistan, occupying the city of Kabul which he initially established as his base of operations. He absorbed much of the Persian culture of the area. At the same time, he began training his military forces to reconquer his homelands. His success in this arena was not entirely successful. Therefore, Babur also decided he should attempt to recreate the empire of his great-great-grandfather Tamerlane, to whom he was related on his father's side. He was also related to the great Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan on his mother's side. Hearing of the fabulous wealth of India, Babur decided to exert his effort toward its conquest.
In order to gauge the strength of his opposition, Babur launched a number of periodic raids into northern India. These attacks yielded large amounts of booty, so the Moghul chieftain began making plans for a full-scale invasion.
17th century portrait of Babur, unknown artist; Original in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
17th century portrait of Babur, unknown artist
Original in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK
In addition to his military forces, Babur made use of diplomacy to further his ends. He was approached by a number of nobles from the disintegrating Delhi Sultanate. Founded in 1206, the Muslim-based kingdom ruled nearly the entire Indian subcontinent by the mid-fourteenth century. The fifth and final dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate was led by Ibrahim Lodi, who came to the throne in 1517. Babur was contacted by Dawlat Khan Lodi – brother of the sultan and governor of the province of Punjab – who invited Babur to take over the Punjab.
After some initial jockeying with the Punjabi governor and his forces, Babur realized he could not just march into Punjab and occupy the territory; he would have to fight for it. To that end, he assembled an army, and in November of 1525, Babur and his forces crossed into India via the Khyber Pass. However, he discovered that the treacherous Dawlat Khan had been deposed from the rule of Punjab and replaced. Rather than face Babur's army, the Delhi Sultanate forces withdrew (though some of the Delhi troops certainly deserted to Babur's force).
Prelude to the Battle
Babur continued his march through the Punjab, occupying the province's capital of Lahore with no resistance. After appointing a new governor and leaving a small garrison, Babur continued his march to Delhi. Arriving at the small town of Panipat on April 1, which is 54 miles north of Delhi, the Moghul army stopped and made camp to rest and recruit. At about this time, Sultan Ibrahim Lodi left Delhi and began marching to meet the Moghul army.
On April 12, 1526 the Delhi Sultanate army arrived in the vicinity of Panipat. [Babur knew his opponent was approaching, and was already preparing the battlefield for the coming fight.] The two armies faced each other for about 8 days, with neither side making an effort to begin the battle. Then on the night of April 19, Babur sent a raiding party to attack the Sultanate encampment. The attack was not well planned, and the Moghul force managed to return to their own lines by the skin of their teeth. Sultan Ibrahim, goaded to action, began preparations to finally attack the invading Moghuls.
Map of Delhi Sultanate, c. 1526; Illustration by Stefan Bollman via Wikipedia
Map of Delhi Sultanate, c. 1526
Illustration by Stefan Bollman via Wikipedia
Moghul Army
Babur's Moghul army – estimated at about 13,000 to 15,000 – owed much of its make-up to the Central Asian steppes which spawned the Mongols and other Asiatic groups that invaded the Middle East and Europe. Asiatic horse archers were the initial group which provided missile fire against an enemy. Frequently, early Moghul forces had a screen of horse archers in front of the main army [A], with flank guard units also composed of these mobile, fast-firing warriors. [B]
In the years leading up to Panipat, Babur had made contacts with Persians and Ottoman Turks. He even obtained a Turkish artillerist and a Turkish handgun trainer. With their assistance, Babur procured large numbers of matchlock muskets, early firearms with a slow rate of fire, and some cannon. Both of these devices were integrated into the Moghul military tactics, and would receive their first real test on the plains of Panipat.
Babur scoured the countryside, and his men appropriated some 700 oxcarts and wagons. He arranged them into a long barricade, tying them together with rawhide ropes. [C] The Moghul leader had a number of gaps left in the entrenchment, to allow his troops to move against the enemy when needed. He had these gaps blocked with wooden mantlets. Babur deployed his 20-24 cannon behind the barrier, and arranged some 3000 matchlockmen and numbers of foot archers to fill the gaps, as well as to garrison the entire line of the oxcarts. [D] There were also several hundred heavy infantrymen guarding the cannon crews and missilemen should the enemy penetrate the Moghul breastwork. To guard his army's flanks, Babur used the town of Panipat as the anchor of his right. On his left, there was a deep, dry ravine; Babur ordered his engineers and other available men cut down trees and pile them in front of the fissure.
The vast majority of an early Moghul army was cavalry; in addition to the steppe horse archers, there were large numbers of light cavalry wielding swords, lances, and maces, [E] as well as more heavily armed and armored horsemen providing a more powerful punch when the Moghuls went on the offensive. [F] In addition, Babur stationed two units of heavy cavalry on either flank of his main line, to act as strategic reserves to be sent to any threatened point of his battle line. [G]
At this early time in the Moghul military, there were some infantry recruited to Babur's forces, many were native Punjabis whose lords had sworn allegiance to Babur, while others were from his Afghan possessions. Many were heavy foot, wearing chainmail and partial plate mail, wielding swords, spears, and similar hand weapons; most of these men were stationed as a rearguard to watch the Moghul camp. [H] There were also considerable numbers of engineers, laborers, and camp followers in the Moghul army.
[Any readers curious as to the appearance of Moghul units should go to the link below http://www.balkanhistory.com/mughal_india.htm and see some wargaming units for this period.]
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Initial Dispositions [Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website http://historyofpashtuns.blogspot.com/2014_03_01_archive.html]
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Initial Dispositions
[Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website
Lodi Sultanate Army
The Sultan's army was said to total some 100,000 men; however, it is likely that many were porters, drovers, and camp followers. In the battle to come, Sultan Ibrahim's army probably numbered no more than 30,000 to 40,000 effectives. The Sultanate army was perhaps 60 percent horsemen and 40 percent infantrymen.
The forward element of the Sultanate army was Ibrahim's elephant corps. [J] These armored pachyderms numbered somewhere between 100 and 1000 (depending upon which chronicle of the battle you wish to believe). The beasts were usually deployed as terror weapons, as few enemies would stand face-to-face with these rampaging monsters. However, they posed an equal danger to their own troops, if they were somehow frightened or demoralized, the beasts might turn and run riot through friendly troops.
The Sultanate forward line was composed of heavy cavalrymen, seeking to make contact with the enemy and smash it to flinders quickly. It was deployed with a center, and left and right wings. [K] On each side of the Sultanate army were two units of heavy cavalrymen, [L] serving a role similar to the reserves in the Moghul army. Sultan Ibrahim Lodi commanded a unit of heavy cavalry sandwiched in between the front line and the main line. [M] Finally, the Sultanate main battle line [N] was primarily composed of infantrymen, more like a line of reserves than the likely deciders of the battle.
First Battle of Panipat: Opening Phase
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Opening Phase [Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website http://historyofpashtuns.blogspot.com/2014_03_01_archive.html]
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Opening Phase
[Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website
Both armies began deploying for battle well before dawn on April 21. As the first rays of the sun touched the horizon, the Delhi Sultanate army began to move forward. Leading the way were the war elephants, armored and carrying either a spearman or archer. As soon as the first movement by the Sultanate army was detected, Babur's cannon began to fire; upon hearing the new and discordant sound of a cannonade, the elephants refused to advance further. No matter what the mahouts (drivers) did to urge them forward, the beasts simply milled about, trumpeting in terror. [1] Consequently, the front line of the Sultanate cavalry moved through or around the recalcitrant creatures. [2] As the Delhi cavalrymen approached the Moghul barricade, they received a barrage of arrows courtesy of the horse archers positioned in front of Babur's army. [3] Not intended to take on heavy cavalry head-on, the Moghul archer screen fell back, using the gaps in the barricade to escape the Sultanate heavies. They were re-positioned on either flank of the center division of the Moghul front line. [4]
As the Delhi heavy cavalry advanced on the forward lines of the Moghul army, they were met by something they had never before experienced: concentrated artillery fire and volleys of musket fire. Supported by the archers stationed alongside them – and supporting fire from the steppe archers newly positioned behind them – the Moghuls managed to temporarily halt the advance of the enemy cavalry.
From his position in the center of his main line, Babur noticed that the Delhi left flank guard units were advancing toward his right flank, as well as the left-most unit of the front line. As part of his pre-battle orders, Sultan Ibrahim intended to try and turn the Moghul right flank, to separate the enemy from their anchor, the town of Panipat. To strengthen his endangered right, Babur ordered his right flank mobile reserve to move into position to guard against the Sultanate flanking maneuver. [5]
Meanwhile, Sultan Ibrahim and his heavy cavalry unit were advancing to join the fight, and consequently became separated from the infantry. [6] The infantry, initially reluctant to get involved in the battle, would spend most of the day holding back from the fight. [7] [The night before the battle, Sultan Ibrahim had to hand out large amounts of treasure – bribes – to get many of his units to participate in the battle. Apparently he didn't fork over enough…]
First Battle of Panipat: Second Phase
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Second Phase [Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website http://historyofpashtuns.blogspot.com/2014_03_01_archive.html]
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Second Phase
[Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website
As the leading portions of the Sultanate heavy horsemen reach the Moghul front line, they are confused by the line of wagons and the heavy fire of the cannons, the discharge of hundreds of matchlocks, and showers of arrows. They pull up short in hesitation, throwing their ranks in disorder and confusion, causing the entire Delhi left flank to pause and founder. They are also disconcerted by the movement of Moghul reserve units moving to the right flank, around the town of Panipat. [8]
The concentrated fire of the Moghul artillerists and matchlockmen has thoroughly disrupted the momentum of the Delhi heavy cavalry. The smoke, the noise, and the storm of shot and musket balls served throw the entire Sultanate attack into confusion and terrifies the men. [9] Meanwhile, Sultan Ibrahim Lodi and his heavy cavalry lancers have reached the site of the fighting, and are trying to rally his horsemen to attack the Moghul barricade. [10]
Finally, after enduring over an hour of the noise and smoke of Babur's secret gunpowder weapons, the Sultanate elephant corps could take no more. Terror and confusion finally overcame their training, and the pachyderms broke and thundered to the rear. Unfortunately, the Delhi rear line was in their way, and hundreds of footmen were trampled by the rampaging beasts. [11]
Meanwhile, Babur has not stood idly by, waiting for things to happen. He further reinforced his left flank by sending forward the right flank unit from his center. The rightmost unit of his front line shifts to its right to stay in contact with Panipat. [12] He also ordered the right flank steppe archer guard unit to begin to wheel to the rear of the Delhi left flank. [13]
Observing a similar situation on his right flank, the Moghul commander ordered the left flank steppe archer guard unit to wheel around to the rear of the Sultanate right flank. [14] He ordered his left flank front unit to begin to surround and outflank the Delhi right. [15] Then, to replace the front rank troops moving forward, he ordered the left flank unit from his center and the left flank reserve unit to move forward. [16] Soon, the Sultanate army is being bombarded by cannon and matchlock fire, and swarms of arrows from composite bows – which could fire three times faster than the Moghul muskets.
First Battle of Panipat: Final Phase
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Final Phase [Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website http://historyofpashtuns.blogspot.com/2014_03_01_archive.html]
1st Battle of Panipat, April 21, 1526; Final Phase
[Illustration is author's work, based on maps on the website
Between the cannon, musket, and bow fire of the Moghul army, the Sultanate army turned into several large masses of confused, milling, demoralized horsemen. The flank units of Babur's army outmaneuver and surround the Delhi soldiers. [17] Knowing their jobs well – after years of practice and drill – the Moghul outriders begin the butcher's work: wielding swords, lances, and maces, the Delhi cavalrymen are laid low, as the terrifying sound of the Moghul artillery and small arms continue to sow fear and disorder among their enemy. [18]
In concert with the flank units, the Moghul front line and main line forces attacked the mobs of Sultanate troops. The Moghuls came charging through the gaps deliberately place in the ox-cart line, after the wooden mantlets were removed. [19] The Delhi horsemen were so psychologically broken and disordered that they were essentially slaughtered like cattle.
By this point in the battle, Sultan Ibrahim Lodi and his elite lancers finally came to blows with the Moghul frontline. He was met by the central vanguard unit of the Moghul forward line. [20] Before long, the last Muslim Sultan of the Delhi Sultanate fell dead fighting for his empire and his life.
[Modern historians state that Sultan Ibrahim panicked, feeling he had to make a final attack to save his army. He, in fact, had large reserves – his unused, uncommitted infantry – lurking in his rear, which could have been used to tip the balance of the fight. By contrast, Babur had almost no fresh reserves to commit, and he army was on the verge of collapse.]
Word spread quickly throughout the Sultanate army that their leader had fallen. Within minutes, the badly beaten and rattled Delhi cavalrymen broke ranks and routed southwards. [21] Seeing the main segment of their army streaming away from the fight, the Sultanate infantry and elephants lost their collective nerve and joined the disordered retreat. [22] The First Battle of Panipat was over…
Three hours of fighting yielded massive casualties for the Delhi Sultanate, an estimated 15,000-20,000 men. Babur's smaller army sustained far fewer deaths, perhaps as many as 4000.
Footnote #1: Babur sent his cavalry in pursuit of the fleeing Sultanate army. During this time, all of the Delhi elephant handlers brought their beasts to the Moghul lines, and swore their allegiance to Babur, and offered their animals to the new power in northern India.
Footnote #2: While achieving a decisive victory at Panipat, Babur still had a difficult time ahead of him. Many local governors and nobles opposed the invasion of their lands by foreigners. The Moghuls established their empire in northern India, by 1529 conquering land all the way east in the Bengal. He established his administrative center in the city of Agra, which eventually evolved into the capital of the Moghul Empire. Babur, unfortunately, did not enjoy the fruits of his new realm. He died less than four years later, in January of 1531, at the age of 47.
Footnote #3: The empire Babur established lasted until the eighteenth century, when its armies were defeated by the emerging power of the Marathas. The last Moghul Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, ruled only a single city by 1857. However, native Indians respected his prestige. Not until 1858, when the British Crown took control of India, was the last vestige of Moghul power eclipsed.
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