Marathas List - Newcomer

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Marathas List - Newcomer

Post by DrMike » Mon May 30, 2016 11:33 pm

New to Field of Glory - returning to wargaming after a decade off! Am generally liking the game and all the material for it, but am struggling a bit with some of the army lists in areas of interest to me.

The one I have biggest issues with are the Marathas in Colonies and Conquest, the list is distinctly odd, and I'd like to know more about the author's source materials as I'd like to understand where they were coming from with some of their decisions, my hope is if I could read the source material I'd understand their angle better. Can anyone help me there?

As it stands I have no idea where the decisions on early Maratha infantry have come from, no source I've ever read (I am quite well read in this area, particularly in earlier material) has ever mentioned Maratha infantry being either noted spearmen, or musketeers, in fact quite the opposite! Maratha infantry under Shivaji, especially Maharashtran hill tribesmen (it's a notoriously rugged country) were considered great skirmishers, experts in guerilla warfare (learnt in part from the great Ethiopian Mamluk General Malik Ambar of Ahmadnagar) and mountaineers, with accounts of them scaling cliffs to enter hill forts. However, they couldn't stand up to the Mughal cavalry in the open, were terrified of Mughal artillery, and were desperately short of gunpowder, artillery and firearms, in fact their main sources of gunpowder and firearms were deals with the Europeans (who charged them extortionately and limited their supplies as they feared the Marathas attacking them) and arms captured from the Mughals, although they had to abandon Mughal artillery as even the lightest Mughal guns were too heavy to accompany their fast moving, pony mounted troops.

The Maratha irregular light cavalry were noted for using long bamboo spears, in fact I've found the quote mentioned in the list, it's worth reading it in full:

One Muhammadan historian says: “They so use the lance that no cavalry can cope with them. Some 20,000 or 30,000 lances are held up against their enemy so close together as not to leave a span between their heads. If horsemen try to ride them down the points of the spears are levelled at the assailants and they are unhorsed. While cavalry are charging them they strike their lances against each other and the noise so frightens the horses of the enemy that they turn round and bolt.”

It's worth noting this is nothing to do with infantry, but is referring to the use of spears (lances) mounted, a skill the Marathas were noted to excel in.

Here is another related quote:

“The Marāthas possess extraordinary skill in horsemanship, and so intimate an acquaintance with their horses, that they can make their animals do anything, even in full speed, in halting, wheeling, etc.; they likewise use the spear with remarkable dexterity, sometimes in full gallop, grasping their spears short and quickly sticking the point in the ground; still holding the handles, they turn their horse suddenly round it, thus performing on the point of a spear as on a pivot the same circle round and round again. Their horses likewise never leave the particular class or body to which they belong; so that if the rider should be knocked off, away gallops the animal after its fellows, never separating itself from the main body. Every Marātha brings his own horse and his own arms with him to the field, and possibly in the interest they possess in this private equipment we shall find their usual shyness to expose themselves or even to make a bold vigorous attack. But if armies or troops could be frightened by appearances these horses of the Marāthas would dishearten the bravest, actually darkening the plains with their numbers and clouding the horizon with [209]dust for miles and miles around. A little fighting, however, goes a great way with them, as with most others of the native powers in India.”

"On this account the Marāthas were called razāh-bazān or lance-wielders"

As far as I'm aware Maratha infantry never attempted to repel cavalry in open battle, in fact they tended to shy away from open battle as much as possible in the early years. The Marathas were most famed as light cavalry, and companies of them had long been used that way by various states, most famously the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar, which is where they'd learnt both the art of war and their highly effective guerilla tactics before Shivaji's rise to fame. According to some historians companies of them fought as light cavalry in virtually all the Deccan armies - and yet they don't appear on either the Muslim or Hindu lists? Their arms consisted of two types in this era (later they were to diversify), mobile light horse riding small ponies 'tied up with rubbishy saddles' and garrisons for the countless little hill forts of their homeland. They were brave defenders when cornered, but could notoriously disappear over the walls and into the hills at a moments notice if the tide of battle turned against them (which is why they were called 'Mountain Rats' by some historians, rather like our own, British 'Desert Rats', a term Indian Nationalists have perhaps misunderstood, as it's been described as 'insulting to Shivaji'!)

The long barreled firearms of 'greater accuracy than European' were of Mughal (actually Afghan - like the later Jezzail) origin, if anyone is interested I can find the original reference to that (have a feeling it was an early English ambassador to the Mughal court in Delhi), although the Marathas were well known for using captured Mughal weapons of all sorts, the Marathas themselves infamously lacked the resources to make their own firearms, artillery and effective gunpowder (some Indian made gunpowder was actually very good quality - e.g. Mysorean, but that was a bit after our era).

Here is an interesting observation on the comparative firearms used by Afghans and Marathas (although somewhat after our date at the third battle of Panipat, 1761): "The Afghans used more matchlocks than flintlocks, which had longer range and greater accuracy than the Maratha fusils." That is, indeed one of the commonly held views of the various advantages the Afghans had over their Maratha foes at that battle, and helps to explain their victory - the Marathas were certainly not lacking in courage and it was a hard fought battle, so historians have always sought reasons for the Afghan victory.

After this period some of the Maratha chiefs experimented with raising European style armies with regular infantry and artillery, some of which were extremely effective, most famously Benoit de Boigne's Brigade, who fought so valiantly against Wellesley at Assaye in 1803 (The Duke of Wellington's 'toughest battle'), although lacking their officers (all the Europeans had left leaving them without any command) so they were hardly at full effect, if they had been it would have been an even closer battle presumably? I wonder if this is where some of the idea for highly effective Maratha infantry comes from? I have read a (badly translated?) account of the battle which claimed the men opposing Wellesley at Assaye were Marathas 'trained in the tradition of Shivaji's soldiers', which is completely untrue in every regard - they weren't Marathas (de Boigne recruited Jats), and they were trained in the style of Europeans of the era, by European mercenary officers, nothing at all like Shivaji's early, irregular Marathan warriors!

One of the problems with the Marathas (in fact Indian history in general, but specifically the Marathas) is a tendency of certain groups to use them for political reasons. This cuts both ways, of course, but the Indian Nationalists have long held Shivaji up as a 'Godlike hero' (to the extent that in some accounts he's granted deity like powers!) This attitude even creeps on to Wikipedia and in to some otherwise well researched historical books I'm afraid. Thus it's possible to find some incredible claims made of Shivaji and his Marathas, who are often considered the 'first Indian Nationalists', even though that makes no logical sense at all, this does rather colour 'historicity' about the Marathas sadly, as their real accomplishments are fascinating enough without any further embellishments. Anything published regarding the Marathas in the last century does require a filter of common sense - and, as the historian Dr James Laine discovered, publishing anything which disagrees with Nationalist's um... grandiose ideas regarding them can be a risky business!

As someone with a long term interest in the Marathas I've often wondered just how well their early armies can be represented in conventional wargames, and I would guess this could be an issue with FOG as well - how do you represent an army of irregular light cavalry that vanishes like mist at the first sign of a pitched battle, but which can cut off your supplies and starve you into submission? However, if the authors decide to move away from history for that reason I'd like them to admit it, rather than claiming spurious 'historical' facts.

Another point on the various Indian lists is the presence of Camel mounted light guns, these seem a little early as they were claimed to first be fielded (and used) in India by Ahmad Shah Abdali's Afghans, specifically at the third battle of Panipat (1761) where they outgunned the Marathan artillery and were considered one of the key factors in the Afghans winning that climatic battle.

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