Camels and Colonial Armies: The Logistics of Warfare in Central Asia in the Early 19th Century

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
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This article explores the use of camels for baggage transport by European colonial armies in the nineteenth century. It focuses in particular on two episodes: the Russian winter expedition to Khiva, and the march of the Army of the Indus into Afghanistan, both of which took place in 1839. However sophisticated their weapons and other technology, until at least the 1880s European colonial armies were forced to rely exclusively on baggage animals if they wanted to move around: railways arrived very late in the history of European expansion. In Central Asia this meant rounding up, loading, managing and feeding tens of thousands of camels, which could only be furnished by the pastoral groups who inhabited the region, who in some cases were also the objects of conquest. Camel transport placed certain structural constraints on European conquest in Central Asia: firstly it meant that the forces involved were almost always very small; secondly it prevented the launching of spontaneous or unauthorised campaigns by “men on the spot,” as every advance had to be preceded by the rounding up of the necessary baggage animals, and the creation of a budget to pay for then. Finally, the constraints imposed by camel transport ensured that British and Russian armies would never meet in Central Asia, and that a Russian invasion of India was a chimera.

Camels and Colonial Armies: The Logistics of Warfare in Central Asia in the Early 19th Century

in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

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References

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2

G. W. SteevensWith Kitchener to Khartoum (Edinburgh: Wm Blackwood & Sons1898): 284-287.

3

A. N. KuropatkinZavoevanie Turkmenii (Pokhod v Akhal-Teke v 1880-1881 godu) (St Pb.: V. Berezovskii1899): 211.

4

H. B. and B. T. B [Hilaire Belloc]The Modern Traveller (London: Edward Arnold1898): 41.

5

Geoffrey ParkerThe Military Revolution 1500-1800: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1988): 122 128-136.

6

Randolf G. S. CooperThe Anglo-Maratha Campaigns and the Contest for India. The Struggle for Control of the South Asian Military Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2003): 284-312; Parker admitted that the Marathas had acquired European artillery by the late 18th century but considered this to be ‘another case of routine mimesis . . . too little and too late’ The Military Revolution: 136.

7

Kaushik Roy“Military Synthesis in South Asia: Armies, Warfare, and Indian Society, c. 1740-1849.” Journal of Military History 69/3 (2005): 651-690.

8

Dirk H. KolffNaukar Rajput & Sepoy. The Ethnohistory of the Military Labour Market in Hindustan 1450-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1990): 8-10 187-192; Kim A. Wagner Thuggee. Banditry and the British in Early Nineteenth-Century India (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2007): 1-12 217-226.

10

Major-Gen. W. CongreveA Treatise on the General Principles Powers and Facility of Application of the Congreve Rocket System as Compared with Artillery: Showing the Various Applications of this Weapon both for Sea and Land Service and its Different Uses in the Field and in Sieges. (London: Longman, Reese, Orme, Brown, and Green1827): 33 45-47.

11

Anon.“Khivinskaya Ekspeditsiya 1839 goda.” Russkaia Starina 1873 7/2: 245.

13

Despite its title Niels SteensgaardThe Asian Trade Revolution of the Seventeenth Century: The East India Companies and the Decline of the Caravan Trade (Chicago: Chicago University Press1973) reveals the surprising resilience of much caravan transport in the face of maritime competition; see further Scott Levi “India Russia and the Transformation of the Central Asian Caravan Trade.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 42/4 (1999): 524-526. The economic importance of the camel for transport over shorter distances in rural Pakistan was still significant in the 1980s: Alan Heston H. Hasnain S. Z. Hussain & R. N. Khan “The Economics of Camel Transport in Pakistan.” Economic Development and Cultural Change 34/1 (Oct. 1985): 121-141.

17

William H. McNeill“The Eccentricity of Wheels, or Eurasian Transportation in Historical Perspective.” The American Historical Review 92/5 (Dec. 1987): 1111-1126. The classic exploration of the revolutionary effect of the development of camel transport (which led to the disappearance of the wheel in the Middle East for a millennium) is Richard W. Bulliet The Camel and the Wheel (Cambridge ma: Harvard University Press 1975).

19

M. E. YappStrategies of British India. Britain Iran and Afghanistan 1798-1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press1980): 391.

21

M. Ivanin/D. Golosov“Pokhod v Khivu v 1839 godu otriada russkikh voisk, pod nachal’stvom General-Ad’iutanta Perovskago.” Voennyi Sbornik [vs] (1863) no. 2: 322-323; Anon. [Golosov/Ivanin] A Narrative of the Russian Military Expedition to Khiva under General Perofski in 1839. Translated from the Russian for the Foreign Department of the Government of India (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing 1867): 95.

82

Jos GommansMughal Warfare. Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire 1500-1700 (London: Routledge2002): 126; R. K. Saxena The Army of the Rajputs (Udaipur: Saroj Prakashan 1989): 319.

95

Anon.The House of Bikaner (Bikaner: Government Press1933): 173.

107

James AtkinsonThe Expedition into Afghanistan. Notes and Sketches Descriptive of the Country (London: W. H. Allen & Co.1842): 78.

109

AtkinsonThe Expedition into Afghanistan: 80.

115

Richmond Shakespear“A Personal Narrative of a Journey from Heraut to Ourenbourg, on the Caspian [sic] in 1840.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 51 (June 1842): 704.

127

M. E. Yapp“Disturbances in Western Afghanistan, 1839-41.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 26/2 (1963): 292.

134

LeonardThe Camel: 16; Leese A Treatise on the One-Humped Camel: 46.

135

A. N. KuropatkinAlzhiriya (St Pb.: Tip. V. A. Poletiki1877): 285-309; The Russians were also interested in the experiments made by the American army in Texas in the 1850s: A. A. Katenin “O pokhodnykh dvizhenii pekhota po stepi” 06/12/1858 Russian State Military Historical Archive (henceforth rgvia) f. 483 op. 1 d. 49 ll. 23-23ob referring to Jefferson Davis Report of the Secretary of War communicating in compliance with a resolution of the Senate of February 2 1857 information respecting the purchase of camels for the purposes of military transportation (Washington: A. O. P. Nicholson 1857) which described experiments undertaken by Major Wayne and Lt Porter with camels imported from Asia Minor and North Africa to Texas.

141

H. E. CrossThe Camel and its Diseases. Being notes for Veterinary Surgeons and Commandants of Camel Corps (London: Baillière, Tindall, and Cox1917): 42-43.

143

Alexander Morrison“ ‘Nechto Eroticheskoe?’ ‘Courir après l’ombre?’ Logistical Imperatives and the Fall of Tashkent, 1859-1865.” Central Asian Survey 33/2 (June 2014): 153-169.

144

Charles MarvinThe Russian Advance Towards India. Conversations with Skobeleff Ignatieff and other distinguished Russian Generals and Statesmen on the Central Asian Question (London: W. H. Allen & Co1882): 103-104.

146

James HeviaThe Imperial Security State. British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-Building in Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2012): 164-172.

147

David MacKenzie“Expansion in Central Asia: St. Petersburg vs. the Turkestan Generals (1863-1866).” Canadian Slavic Studies 3/2 (1969): 286-311.

Figures

  • View in gallery
    The route followed by the Khiva expedition from Orenburg to Aq Bulaq, November 1839-January 1840.
  • View in gallery
    ‘Packs with Sukhari and oats’ showing a Qazaq Vozhak (driver) with baggage camels. From M. I. Ivanin Opisanie zimnego pokhoda v Khivu v 1839-40g (1874).
  • View in gallery
    ‘Infantry of the Orenburg line battalions in winter expeditionary clothing’, showing both Camels and soldiers from the Khiva expedition in winter garb. From M. I. Ivanin Opisanie zimnego pokhoda v Khivu v 1839-40g (1874).
  • View in gallery
    The routes of the Army of the Indus from Lahore to Qandahar and Kabul.
  • View in gallery
    James Atkinson ‘The troops emerging from the narrow part of the defile in the Kojak Pass’ (1839) bl Oriental & India Office Collections WD2397 plate 10 © The British Library Board.

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