Anglo-Persian War

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The Anglo–Persian War (Persian: جنگ ایران و انگلستان) lasted between November 1, 1856 and April 4, 1857, and was fought between Great Britain and Iran (Persia) which was at the time ruled by the Qajar dynasty. In the war, the British opposed an attempt by Iran to press its claim on the city of Herat. Though Herat had been part of Iran under the Qajar dynasty at the time the war broke out, it had declared itself independent under its own rebellious emir and placed itself under the protection of the British in India and in alliance with the Emirate of Kabul (the forebear of the modern state of Afghanistan). The British campaign was successfully conducted under the leadership of Major General Sir James Outram in two theatres—on the southern coast of Iran near Bushehr and in southern Mesopotamia. The war resulted in Persians withdrawing from Herat and signing a new treaty in which it surrendered its claims on the city, and the British withdrawing from southern Iran.


In the context of the Great Game—the Anglo–Russian contest for influence in Central Asia—the British wished for Afghanistan to remain an independent country friendly to Britain as a buffer against Russian expansion towards India. They opposed an extension of Persian influence in Afghanistan because of the perception that Persia was unduly influenced by the Russians. The Persian influence on Central Asia had caused the creation of Greater Iran; while knowing of the influence, the British had never attacked Persia.[citation needed] Persia had over 12 foreign provinces under its imperial control.[citation needed] They made a fresh attempt in 1856, and succeeded in taking Herat on 25 October, in violation of the existing Anglo-Persian treaty.[citation needed] In response, the British Governor-General in India, acting on orders from London, declared war on 1 November.

Persia in 1808 according to a British map, before losses to Russia in the north by the 1813 Treaty of Gulistan, and the loss of Herat to Great Britain in 1857 through the Treaty of Paris.

Separate from and preceding the dispute over Herat was an incident concerning one Meerza Hashem Khan, whom the British ambassador hoped to appoint as a secretary in the mission in Tehran. The Persians objected, creating a dispute that escalated when rumours appeared that the British ambassador had improper relations with the man's wife, who was the sister of the Shah's principal wife. The dispute escalated still further when the Persians arrested the woman; the British ambassador broke relations when they refused to release her. Indeed, the initial mobilisation of British forces began in response to this incident, although it is unlikely that the British would have gone beyond the occupation of one or two islands in the Persian Gulf had the issue of Herat not arisen.


Two courses of action were available to the British, to mount an overland expedition through Afghanistan or attack the Persian empire from the south through the Persian Gulf; the aim being both punitive, and to force the Shah to ask for terms. The British Government decided to attack in the general area of Bushire/Bushehr, the primary port of entry into Persia at the time. It ordered the Government in India to launch a maritime expeditionary force.[1] In the aftermath of the disastrous First Afghan War, the British were reluctant to send a force through Afghanistan to relieve Herat directly. Instead, they elected to attack the Persians on the Persian Gulf coast.

Initially a division, under Major General Foster Stalker, was organised comprising 2300 British soldiers and 3400 Indian sepoys of the Bombay Presidency army which landed in Persia in early December 1856. This included two companies of the Bombay Sappers & Miners. These were:[2]

  • The 2nd Company, under Captain C. T. Haig, (Bombay Engineers[3])
  • The 4th Company, under Captain J. Le Mesurier, (Bombay Engineers)

The two companies were accompanied by the headquarters of the Corps of Bombay Sappers and Miners, under Captain W. R. Dickinson, (Bombay Engineers). Major J. Hill, the erstwhile Commandant of the Bombay Sappers and Miners, who had handed the Corps over to Dickinson, was appointed as the Commanding Engineer for this expedition. After the expedition he resumed the post of Commandant of the Bombay Sappers once again.[2] Artillery commanded by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Sinclair Trevelyan, Bombay Artillery[4]

  • The 3rd troop Horse Brigade, commanded by Major Edward Blake, Bombay Artillery
  • The 1st company 1st battalion European Foot Artillery, (Organized for the expedition as the 3rd Light Field Battery), commanded by Captain William Hatch, Bombay Artillery
  • The 4th company 1st battalion European Foot Artillery, (Organized for the expedition as the 5th Light Field Battery), commanded by Captain Henry Gibbard, Bombay Artillery
  • Reserve Artillery, European Foot Artillery, Bombay Artillery commanded by Major of Brigade, Captain John Pottinger

Soon after the induction of the force, it was considered to be inadequate for the task and a second division under Brigadier General Henry Havelock was formed and the entire expedition placed under command of Major General Sir James Outram. This force inducted[clarification needed] in January 1857.[2]

During the hostilities, 'B' Company of the Madras Sappers & Miners under Brevet-Major A. M. Boileau, Madras Engineers,[5] embarked at Coconada on 19 January and reached the force just in time to participate in operations in Southern Mesopotamia.[2]

The first division under Stalker set sail from Bombay in November after the declaration of war, on a squadron or flotilla of seven steamships under Commodore Young, towing thirty sailing vessels. The British landed a force and captured the island of Kharag on 4 December and landed on 9 December on the coast a few miles south of Persia's primary port of Bushire.[2]

Battle of Bushire

The first division of the expedition disembarked in the neighbourhood of the major port city of Bushire/Bushehr on 5 December 1856. They stormed the old fort at Reshire (also called Rishahr or Rashir) and after a short naval bombardment went on to capture the city on 10 December, ably assisted by the two companies of Bombay Sappers & Miners. There was then a delay as the British waited for reinforcements.

Reconnaissance inland revealed a Persian force of 4000 troops at Shiraz and the first division was considered too weak to venture inland away from its maritime base of operations. This led to the formation and induction of a second division from India, which landed in Persia in late January and reached Bushire, preceded by Outram on 20 January.[2]


Once reinforcements arrived, an Army expeditionary force of three brigades under Major General Sir James Outram advanced on Brazjun/Borazjan (en route to Shiraz), which the Persians abandoned without a fight. The British appropriated or destroyed the supplies at the site and then halted on 5 February near the village of Khoosh-Ab where good water was available.

Battle of Khushab

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Outram advanced further on the 6th and 7th, but seeing the enemy retreat into the mountains beyond his reach and being short of rations, he decided not to risk a mountain pursuit but instead to fall back to the wells near Khoosh-Ab or Khushab for a logistic pause, before returning to Bushire. The Persians, encouraged by the retreat of Havelock's forces, occupied with 8000 men a position dominating Outram's camp, catching the British in a potentially dangerous situation. Outram attacked this position on 7–8 February in the Battle of Khushab, and managed to inflict a defeat on the Persians in what turned out to be the largest battle of the war, with 70-200 Persian dead.[2]

The British resumed their march back to Bushire, but in deplorable conditions; torrential rains created mud so deep as to pull a man's boots from his feet. The troops went through a harrowing ordeal, finally reaching Bushire on 10 February, about which is written:[2]

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The troops had covered 46 miles in 41 hours to meet the enemy, a further 20 miles over the most difficult country during the night after the battle, and after a rest of 6 hours, another 24 miles to Bushire.

— E.W.C. Sandes in the Indian Sappers and Miners (1948).

Battle of Mohammerah

The British then shifted their focus north up the Persian Gulf, invading Southern Mesopotamia by advancing up the Shatt Al Arab waterway to Mohammerah (future Khorramshahr) at its junction with the Karun River, short of Basra. The force collected for this sortie consisted of 1500 British and 2400 Indian soldiers. The engineers grouped with this force included 2nd Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners (with 109 troops under Captain Haig) and B Company, Madras Sappers & Miners (with 124 troops under Brevet-Major Boileau).[6] The transfer of forces was delayed by the separate deaths by suicide of two high-ranking British officers, which occasioned a shuffling of commands and forced Outram to leave Brigadier John Jacob in command in Bushire.

On March 19 the expedition entered the Shatt al Arab. On 24th they were in sight of the strong defences of Mohammerah. The engineer officers were part of the close reconnaissance of the Persian guns in a small canoe. They first planned to erect a battery on an island in the Shatt al Arab, but the island proved to be too swampy. They then towed the mortars on a raft and moored it behind the island from where fire support was provided. Two days later, warships sailed up the Shatt al Arab and silenced the Persian battery. The troops landed and advanced through the date groves. These were punctuated with irrigation channels which the sappers rapidly bridged with palm trees. The Madras Sappers were also aboard the S.S. Hugh Lindsay assisting the 64th Regiment to fire the ship's carronades[6]

Besides its defences, Muhammarah was further protected by the political requirement that the British not violate Ottoman territory, as the city lay right on the border. In the event, however, the Persians abandoned the city to a British force under Brigadier Henry Havelock, which captured it on 27 March. The 13,000 Persians and Arabs under the command of Khanlar Mirza withdrew to Ahvaz,[6] a hundred miles up the Karun River.

Battle of Ahvaz

The sappers were now continually employed in destroying Persian batteries, making roads, landing stages and huts in the unhealthy climate and so could not be spared for the sortie to Ahvaz, where the Royal Navy and forces from the 64th Foot and 78th Highlanders attacked the Persian force. The town fell to the British on 1 April 1857.

Treaty of Paris (1857)

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On returning to Muhammarah on 4 April the force learned that peace had been signed in Paris on 4 March and hostilities ceased. At the time that news of peace arrived, Outram was planning an invasion into the Persian interior that likely would have significantly escalated the war. The expeditionary force had thus successfully carried out its purpose by capturing Bushire, defeating the Persians at Khoosh-Ab and capturing a foothold in southern Mesopotamia thus forcing the Persians to sue for terms and over the next few months, the force returned to India.[6] The British later also vacated both Kharag island and Bushire. Most of these forces were soon inducted into operations in Central India to quell the Indian Mutiny, in which both Havelock and Outram would later distinguish themselves at the siege of Lucknow.[7]


Negotiations in Constantinople between Persian ambassador Ferukh Khan and British ambassador Stratford de Redcliffe ultimately broke down over British demands that the Persians replace their prime minister (the sadr-i a'zam). News of the onset of fighting resulted in a formal rupture of talks, but discussions soon began again in Paris, and the two sides signed a peace treaty on 4 March, in which the Shah agreed to withdraw from Herat and refrain from further interference in the affairs of Afghanistan.[8] In the treaty, the Persians agreed to withdraw from Herat, to apologise to the British ambassador on his return, to sign a commercial treaty, and to cooperate in suppressing the slave trade in the Persian Gulf; the British agreed not to shelter opponents of the Shah in the embassy, and they abandoned the demand to replace the prime minister as well as one requiring territorial concessions to the Imam of Muscat, a British ally.

The Persians faithfully withdrew from Herat, permitting the British to return their troops to India, where they were soon needed for combat in the Indian Mutiny. Herat returned to more direct Afghan control when it was retaken by Dost Mohammed Khan in 1863.

Gallantry awards

Three Victoria Crosses were awarded during the expedition, to Captain J.A.Wood, Captain J.G.Malcolmson, and Lieutenant A.T.Moore.

Battle honours

A total of four battle honours were awarded for this campaign, namely, 'Persia', 'Reshire', and 'Koosh-Ab' in 1858, and 'Bushire' in 1861.


The battle honour 'Persia' was awarded to all units that had participated in the campaign vide Gazette of the Governor General 1306 of 1858. The units were:


The honour was awarded to the units which participated in the attack on the old Dutch redoubt of Reshire on 7 December 1856. the Governor surrendered the fortifications on 8 December. The division then waited for the arrival of the C-in-C with the remainder of the army. The battle honour was awarded vide GOGG 1306 of 1858 to the following:

  • 3rd Bombay Cavalry
  • Bombay Sappers & Miners
  • 4th Bombay Infantry
  • 20th Bombay Infantry
  • 26th Bombay Infantry


The first division of the expedition disembarked in the neighbourhood of the city of Bushire on 5 December 1856. After a naval bombardment of the fortifications, Bushire was occupied unopposed. The honour was awarded by Bombay GO 191 of 1861, after India had passed under the Crown. Other honours for this campaign were awarded by the Company in 1858.

  • Poona Horse
  • Bombay Sappers & Miners
  • 4th Bombay Infantry
  • 20th Bombay Infantry
  • 26th Bombay Infantry
  • 3rd Regiment Local Contingent (disbanded)


After the arrival of the C-in-C, the force advanced inland and defeated the Persian field army at Koosh-Ab on 8 February 1857. The Poona Horse carries a Standard surmounted by a silver hand and bearing a Persian inscription captured at Koosh-Ab, in commemoration of the brilliant charge of the 3rd Bombay Light Cavalry which broke into enemy infantry and decided the fate of the day. The honour was awarded vide GOGG 1306 of 1858 and spelling changed from Kooshab vide Gazette of India No 1079 of 1910.

See also



  1. Sandes, E. W. C. (1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, p. 128.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Sandes, E. W. C. (1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, p. 129.
  3. A corps of engineer officers in the employ of the East India Company in the Bombay Presidency. They did not have the King's commission and were not considered part of the British army.
  4. Bombay Artillery
  5. Analogous to the Bombay Engineers with regard to the Madras Presidency.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, pp 130.
  7. Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) The Indian Sappers & Miners, pp 132.
  8. Immortal Steven R. Ward, p.80



  • Sandes, Lt Col E.W.C. The Indian Sappers and Miners (1948) The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham.

Further reading

External links