Part 12 - Twilight of the Imperium
Dawn. Judgement Day
Pandemonium and wailing erupted in the queen's camp , interrupting rudely the muezzins call to prayer. the Queen mother is missing! She is missing! where is she! maids and servants who came to the inner sanctum of the camp to resume their daily duties found the place deserted and signs of hasty departure evident.
fearing the worst, Ghazi khan who was the nearest senior commander rode like the wind first to the Prince's camp to find him still sleeping, he left behind a strong guard, and went with the rest to queen mother's camp to investigate the matter. By then, few more senior nobles and the Wazir had hastily run down from their own camps, in a blind panic.
Riders were sent in all directions to pick up track and to check on diggy khan who was supposed to be the close personal royal guard but ever since his clash with Faizal had kept his distance and licked his wounds.
the truth soon became evident. The Queen mother, most of the royal treasury which by then was a mobile collection of treasure chests on wagons pulled by horses, diggy khan and his 500 elite close protection royal detail seemed to have departed separately sometime in the night , but miles later all these three tracks converged into one heading in a direction north of rohtak, heading along the sparsely populated area in northern rajputana on its border with the land of five rivers...
Among the closing jaws of the trap with multiple columns coming out of Rajputana, the Punjab army of the The Uprising and the main gate closed by the army of the alliance, this westward vector was the sole remaining route of escape to the west still not blocked, and would not be blocked for another few days at the current rate of advance.
Faizal finally came up, grim but fully in battle dress and cut the wailing short. he caught the Wazir and said the queen mother had cleared abandoned her realm and each man had to make a decision now, whether to surrender immediately, desert individually or try and fight their way out of the trap together.
Caught off balance and out of his domain, the Wazir was evasive but cunningly sought to transfer the burden by appointing Faizal as the new commander in chief and asking for fresh orders!
after a quick consultation, Faizal decided the best chance of survival for the remnants of the army would be if the horse cavalry would mobilize into three divisions under himself, ghazi khan and gulab khan , march north to the panipath field and do enough damage to the Punjabi Misls who were as yet not cohesive like a veteran field army. if a path could be opened, the rest of the foot army, nobles, camp followers could head north, under rear and flank protection of surviving cavalry, cross the punjab rivers, cross the Indus at attock and make for the khyber pass with all speed, the alliance was unlikely to give chase beyond khyber as that area was infested with warlike tribes and difficult terrain. It was left unsaid that Khyber was still a months march to the west and how many could be expected to survive a active chase by the horsemen of the punjab , the rajputs and marathas looking for revenge.
the foot army was to hold on to the heights of the delhi ride.
nobody was left to make any defence to the west against the rajput spearheads...the only hope was to break the punjabi ranks and move out before the rajputs could overtake and engulf the entire ridge area. that was the best that could be done.
breakfast was quickly had, a quick prayer said and leaving the wailing and crying sychophants and nobles milling around gathering their clothes and jewels, the fighting units formed and went to their task.
before he left Faizal spoke to Ghazi alone for five minutes. Soon the remaining 15000 cavalry divided into three units with Faizal , Ghazi and Gulab khan each at the head of one had formed up and started cantering to the north to Panipat.
Saravanan Manickam was crouched in the foliage eyeing the fortifications along the ridge when a messenger on the run brought news of the sultanate cavalry streaming out to the north to give battle, while the infantry units continued to remain within the fortifications. flash order from the general accompanied the message with a request to expedite the final operation on priority basis.
Manickam crawled back to a clearing which afforded him cover from watchers on the ridge, picked up a handful of dust and released it...the grains drifted toward the ridge as they fell. He raised his eyes to his waiting squad - The wind is toward the west which is what we want . go to your posts and commence the plan!
for half an hour it was quiet again as men silently crawled through trails in the scrub to pre-selected positions .... then one by one white pillars of smoke started rising skyward from the foot of the ridges as carefully covered caches of dry hay and wood were set on fire and then spread among the nearby scrubs to start a general forest fire over a line three kos long. The recent rains had made the vegetation a bit soggy, and hence there was less of immediate fire but vast amounts of acrid smoke that formed a wall and started drifting in a bank up the ridge to the lines of sultanate infantry and archers trying vainly to maintain situational awareness.
another half hour and the entire delhi ridge was invisible behind the white smoke as the westward wind pushed it up and over the top ridgeline. coughing men held their throats and crawled out of their trenches to relatively clear air behind the ridge....leaving the forward lines undermanned and blind.
The general on Raisina hill observed this all through his spyglass, occasionally sending fresh orders to his shock army now manouvering out of cover into the open under the cover of smoke screen. once in a while he trained his telescope to the west, watching for any cloud of dust raised by hooves.
what was coming unexpected out of the south west after a forced march at night from Alwar was a column of 15000 horse Rajput cavalry led personally by the young Rana Ajai Singh of Mewar himself, who had chosen to wear the personal armour of one of his illustrious forbears handed down over the lineage. After resting for two hours prior to dawn to water the horses and don body armour, they took the smoke going over the ridge as their signal to commence operations and forming multiple battle lines rounded the end of the delhi ridge from the west and increased tempo of their charge directly into soft rear camp and support areas of the sultanate fortifications.
like a line of fast moving black ghosts the riders line abreast commenced its final meeting with the rear support elements, camp followers and deserters from the ridge now milling around and shattered the positions like elephants going through a wheatfield, swords flashed right and left as the cavalry maintained its charge through the camps and hacked right and left at anything on foot. Unable to absorb the blow and halt the attack, surprise turned to panic in a few minutes as thousands of people started running helter skelter to the west , toward the flat bushlands of kapashera village and dhaula kuan where another column of cavalry had curved around on a westerly route and now closed the loop again, commencing a deadly entrapment in a pocket several kos in diameter and shrinking rapidly as the horsemen viciously hacked left and right and drove their mounts forward back toward the ridge. it ceased to be a battle and descended into a massacre.
9 AM. east of the ridge
Manickam had one last thing to do, a set of 16 siege ballistas had been carefully concentrated and moved into position fronting the lowest part of the ridgeline which was a gap in the hilly fortifications. On his order these started to lob heavy handis full of explosive charges up the slope and behind the line on a narrow field of fire. He only had limited explosives for the core of the charge, but had improvised the outer shrapnel by using small pieces of broken rock instead of metal pieces. after a day of hair raising experiments where he nearly got himself killed multiple times, he found the shattered rock pieces inflicted as much damage as the metal pieces the textbooks prescribed using.
The General felt the massive explosions reverberate through the air up the raisina hill to his command position...one quick order and two arrows flaming a thick smoke trail arced up again signaling the division of 5000 shock infantry that moved into position behind the ballistas to commence their march. These men were outfitted with specially long and heavy shields which were inspired by those used in ancient greece. in Turtle formation of 200 men each, the sides and top were covered by the raised shields as they moved carefully up the ridge taking the occasional showers of arrows and muskets from the increasingly desperate defenders. progressively they hacked and speared their way up to the ridgeline before discarding the turtle formation and running downhill with war cries into the continuing melee between the rajput horsemen and the sultanate's broken infantry.
special red scarves were worn on the neck by each man, a friend or foe system that had been worked out the night Gen Karekar met the Rajputana emissaries as the two armies had not fought together earlier and lacked the common drills between foot and mounted troops.
The rajput horsemen could easily identify the line of red scarves charging down and moved off to the west to complete the massacre, leaving the sacking and burning of the camps and mopping up directly behind the ridgeline to the generals shock division and other units following behind them who now ran right and left along the ridgeline overwhelming weak positions and throwing explosive charges at strong positions.
In two hours the Delhi ridge was firmly in the hands of the alliance infantry, with moderate losses and 4000 est sultanate fatalities and 13000 prisoners by a rough estimate that arrived at the General's post. he sent a message of greetings and congratulations to Ajai Singh and reminded his commanders to treat the prisoners honourably and provide food, water and medical aid to the extent possible after taking care of alliance casualties.
A special task force under a senior commander crossed into the newly captured series of camps to capture and interrogate nobles and find the whereabouts of the prince and the queen mother.
The sun had crossed over its zenith and the winds wafted across the ripening wheat fields as the two colossal forces marched to their destined meeting.
on the Punjab side, 20000 cavalry had been committed to the first echelon of the battle, and during the night a mix of musketeers and archers around 15000 had managed to cross the Yamuna and join them at the edge of the battle area...lack of shipping meant no more could be brought into play for the decisive engagement. Bahadur Singh was pleased to note these were not second line alliance troops but battle hardened veterans of many a intense battle which the general had specially kept aside from the delhi battle..good, they would not break and run under pressure as immature infantry units often do when charged by heavy cavalry.
in the remaining hours, feverish planning and work took place to shape the battlefield to their advantage for they had reached there first, and the sultanate cavalry was expected to come out and give battle only after a day or two. Scouts brought news after dawn that something big had happened back at the ridge and all three divisions of heavy cavalry were riding north to give battle. Bahadur guessed as to the intent and adjusted his plans and fortifications again.
At 3pm the flags of the two armies finally came to within visual distance and the sultanate army paused for an hour to reform and deploy into their battle formation. Faizal as the senior commander had Ghazi and Gulab ride up for the war council together.
So friends, the hour of judgement has arrived, we are facing a force that is atleast three times bigger than us in horses and additionally thousands of infantry, with more coming in support. on paper we do not stand a chance , but in reality these misls are more guerilla units than field army caliber formations, they lack discipline and large unit training, they lack the experience of working under a unified commander, their body armour is nonexistent while we have excellent steel armour and weapons. our horses are somewhat larger and fresher as we had less to march. our horses being pure breed arabic are also faster on the charge than these local marwar and kathiawar breeds.
moreover we are the elite and the faithful, having fought for years together. Mashallah we shall break their back in a hour of fighting if we hold our nerve and scatter their army! if we can shatter their morale and punch a hole, the rest of our kinsmen can move through our lines on foot tomorrow and we make Attock and then the Khyber to relatively safety and finally home. Allah ho Akbar, let us teach these insolent dark-skinned kafir rabble a lesson in ghursawari and how weapons are used.
Ghazi khan silently nodded in agreement and said nothing. Gulab khan got all charged up and withdrawing his sword and pointing it skyward uttered a series of war cries and prayers which his 5000 man division of hardened Ghazi's eagerly echoed back.
without further ado, Faizal made his final decision...Gulab I am looking to you to smash a hole in the center and keep them occupied, fight hard and spare none...Ghazi you will take your men right and reach a flanking position, I will take my division left and reach a similar position....once the enemy is heavily tied down in the center, wait for my red smoke arrow, and together we shall fall upon them from the side, roll them up and cramp them into the center and cut them like fruit from a pomegranate tree.
next half hour the two flanking divisions disappeared to the sides under cover and the central division under Gulab khan formed into parallel rows of horsemen bearing lances and swords and increased their pace from trot, to a canter and finally to a gallop as they charged up a slight incline to the waiting rows of enemy horsemen.
Bahadur Singh's scouts off to the sides had already detected the potential outflankers and conveyed this news back immediately. four of the cavalry misls waiting in reserve behind the initial lot of 20,000 were tasked to stand ready to intervene and head off any such attack.
little by little the gap closed to a mile , then half a mile.... and he could clearly see the individuals in the lines of Gulab khans horsemen as he waited and waited before giving the order people were tensed up and waiting for .... for the Khalsa ! har har mahadev ! remember what they did to your families and friend! charge!
20,000 horses in close formation came to life and uncoiled off the top of the ridge and a tall flag was waved to signal the commencement of the charge.....seemingly in slow motion and soundlessly the two lines of cavalry covered the gap between them until they merged in a shattering meeting engagement of swords, lances, horses and ideologies. Dust, blood, war cries, the clang of metal on metal as the lines of horsemen attacked and Bahadur's men as per the plan passed through the sultanate horsemen and kept going a while instead of immediatelly stopping and indulging in mounted close combat. bodies of fallen warriors and horses lay here and there within the zone where the lines of cavalry had intersected.
the sikhs has four times the number of horses and Bahadur arranged his frontage to match Gulab's and leave a little more to the sides. roughly 4 times the number of pointed spears and slashing swords ran into the lines of charging sultanate cavalry, arranged in alternating rows of spearmen and swordmen.
carried forward by the momentum of their charge, the sultanate cavalry of 5000 minus those fallen crested the top of the ridgeline and drove forward, intending to reorg and turn back after a kilometer for the next charge.....this was when things started to go badly wrong....there were a spider network of freshly dug and narrow but deep trenches dug on the reverse slope of the ridge where horses in full gallop tripped into and fell head over heels , there were sharp bamboo spikes at the bottom of some of them. even worse, there were archers and musketeers hiding in this network who would emerge for a few moments and loose off shots at passing man and animal before ducking down again. they were too low to be attacked by swords from the mounted horsemen and too distributed for any general center of mass to be attacked. left with no option the horsemen had to run the gauntlet through this network before vaulting over the end and coming to firmer ground again.
of the 5000 who had started the charge, 500 had fallen in the meeting of cavalry and 500 more fell in this trench trap......
Gulab khan, florid faced with rage and exertion turned his cavalry to the left to outflank the trap and promptly came upon a line of impenetrable bamboo stake obstacled buried solidly into the earth to deter his horses, with archers standing behind and inside these frameworks showering arrows at his confused formation. he did a U-turn and tried the right flank to be similarly blocked. he finally tried dead center and could see two more sikh misls blocking his escape route.
swearing curses on the kafirs he turned again and led his men past the gauntlet of the trench traps again , losing a 1000 more men in all this before emerging with 3000 to face the roughly 19500 of bahadur shah's horse who had reformed into a crescent shape and were anticipating his return.
the contest became more unequal as the crescent closed its embrace on the doomed men and 3000 soon became 300 in a frenzied 30 minutes of melee combat. Gulab Khan stood tall on his horse and looked into the far distance right and left wondering for heavens sake why Faizal and Ghazi were not attacking to save his unit.
But Faizal's promised red smoke arrow was never sighted. his outflanking units never came to help. Gulab finally realized he had been played , like he had played so many people in his long career as a enforcer and a ghazi.
Bahadur Singh guided his horse with his knees as he went looking for Gulab Khan and finally finding him, engaged him in single combat. Gulab was the better skilled and more veteran warrior, but his mood and morale was down, while his opponent was fighting with a burning desire to avenge his Guru and his nephew.....both horses got killed and their swords and shields lay broken...they fought silently with bare hands and bodies....until inevitably Bahadur sensed his opponent weakening, trapped him with one leg and reaching behind him for the dagger with dried blood still caking it, buried it deep into Gulab khan's neck, tearing the cartoid artery.
Gulab's men down to 300 but fought to the death as they expected no mercy due to their past deeds and moreover they were ghazi's sworn to go down fighting or kill the kafir, whichever came first. greater numbers helped the sikhs to gang up and keep their own casualties low.
It was over in another half hour and exhausted men stumbled around, barely able to remount their horses.
Bahadur recovered his breath and rode away to survey the tactical situation...
he found Faizal sitting quietly under a white surrender flag on the next hillock! waiting patiently for gulab's unit to get slaughtered.
negotiations started, and were wrapped up as night fell. neither side had interest in further bloodshed. Faizal was apologetic and asked for mercy for himself and his men, pointing out they had a clear record of no atrocities against the rules of war unlike the just dead Gulab ghazis. Bahadur was generous and soon came up with surrender terms.
the two surviving divisions would lay down their weapons and flags but retain their horses. they would ride to attock and cross the indus. thereafter head to khyber or to quetta depending on where each man headed home. they would be provided food and water at certain points on the journey. four heavily armed Misls would follow half a day behind the retreating formations, carrying the surrendered weapons. these would be handed over at khyber or quetta for the last leg of their journey home. any breach of the treaty would be treated as a violation and no mercy would be shown. these men were asked never to return to Bharata again. Faizal thanked his God both for the mercy and for a slim chance to see his family again.
the two armies camped for the night close to each other and the surrender ceremony and long trot back to the border started the next day. the long line of 10,000 horsemen streamed downcast in single file through a gap in the sikh line opened for the purpose. hostile eyes watched their every move.
The Imperium was over. It had lasted 70 years.
Night. Raisina hill
The General was finishing off for the day and about to head back to sleeping quarters when a excited cluster of his special task force dragged The Prince into his tent. he looked dazed, mentally lost and in the middle of a nervous breakdown.
Sir, what shall we do with him?
the general took his time thinking it over, then simply said to give him food and let him sleep and that he would talk to his prisoner the next day.
Midnight. General's villa
Rana Hukum Singh finally led the rahore contingent in from the west and rode up to say his greetings to the leadership, who rose up to greet him. he spoke of his forces catching up and disposing off numerous fleeing nobles who had attempted to use a gap in the lines to the west to escape, north of his line of march. most intriguingly he spoke of a formation of his horse troops coming across a special convoy of wagons presumably treasure or high ranking persons, guarded by heavily armed close detail of 500 cavalry whom they had chased into a marshy area that gave way to a deceptively fast and deep river ..... some of the horses swam across and escaped, some had been brought down by his unit, but all the wagons had sunk and their occupants presmably drowned attempting to cross the river. Since he was on a tight schedule to reach Delhi his men did not investigate this further but did verified all wagons had sunk and no bodies had floated out.
The general did not comment on it, because fate had seemingly taken its own course.
Last edited by Singha
on 18 May 2014 09:22, edited 3 times in total.
Reason: Corrected 'Ghazi Khan' to 'Gulab Khan'