Artillery in India

Fortress, Yellow, Tunnel, Cannon, Gun

The Sikh Army was the most potent force faced by the British in India. The Khalsa Fauj acquitted itself creditably in the two Anglo Sikh wars. British historians have alluded to the ability of the Sikh gunners during the conflicts at Mudki and Chillianwala during both Anglo Sikh wars. The gunners and their pieces of artillery were the legacy of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The maharaja who dominated the Punjab for 40 years till his demise in 1839 assembled the artillery of the Khalsa Fauj (Army) to an unparalleled efficacy level. No Indian ruler could match the genius of Ranjit who built up his artillery with the help of foreign advisors -mostly French. The period from 1801 to 1839 marked the maturation of the Sikh army from a semi feudal and disorganized force to an efficient fighting machine which could hold its own against the best European armies.

Out of these Court set about organizing the artillery. He joined the Maharajas service in 1827 and married a regional Sikh girl. He started the practice of the gunners and made the organization of the batteries and guns.In reality he raised the degree of efficiency of the Khalsa army at par with the western powers.The foundries of Maharaja Ranjit Singh were accommodated by Court to produce high quality guns and howitzers. In this he was helped by local gun smith Sardar Lahina Singh Majithia.

It is worthwhile to remember that if the first shell was made at the Lahore foundry that the Maharaja bestowed a prize of Rs 30,000 on Court. Subsequently fuses for the firearms were also manufactured there. The participation of Court to the development of Sikh artillery is monumental. His impact on the Artillery efficacy bore fruit later as during the wars with the British, Sikh guns made the British pay a hefty price by their lethal salvos.

The Sikh artillery really came into its own only after the entrance of the European advisers of Ranjit Singh. This artillery was to distinguish itself in the conflicts of the North West frontier and later the British.The most deadly part of the Sikh army were the guns made at the maharajas foundries in Lahore. These guns added teeth to the khalsa (Sikh) army making it into a powerful force. Ranjit Singh had about 35 artillery pieces when he started his reign in 1801. However by the time of the first Anglo-Sikh war in 1845 that the Sikhs could marshal almost 250 guns. Some historians estimate that Ranjit Singh’s army may well have had more than 500 artillery pieces.

Ranjit Singh must take credit for the evolution of the artillery in his army. Right from 1807 he had been seized with the idea of producing his own cannons. In another 2 years mortars were produced and Ranjit instructed his chief scientist Mian Qadir Bakhsh a Muslim, to study the British guns and create similar copies. Ranjit also on the advice of his French generals set up the horse drawn artillery. By 1830 Ranjit could have a look at his gunnery division and appreciate the fact that he had over 100 horse drawn artillery pieces.

The Sikh shortly mounted an invasion of the North West. In conflicts with the Pathans and the Afghans from the Frontier area the Sikh Army made significant use of Artillery. The Battle of Jamrud and capture of the fort was on no account possible without the unerring aim of the Sikh gunners.
When Maharaja died in 1839 he left behind a potent military force equipped with professional artillery. But the Sikh leadership committed hara-kiri by attacking the British with whom Ranjit had a treaty of peace. The Sikh army aided by the artillery could have carried the day but bad generalship and a desire to allow the British win from the traitorous Sikh Prime Minister Gulab Singh and his coterie resulted in the defeat of the Sikhs.

The battles in Mudki and Chillianwale will forever be etched in memory of the glorious effect of the Sikh artillery while the sun was setting on the Sikh Kingdom. A good deal of guns were captured by the British and were paraded at Calcutta after the second Sikh war. Many were melted down at their foundry at Cossipore. However with the passage of time only a couple of artillery pieces can be found mostly in the united kingdom and the Lahore Museum.

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