Crimson Snow – Britain’s First Disaster in Afghanistan

Author: Jules Stewart
Publisher: Sutton Publishing
ISBN-10: 0750948256

Unlike the author's previous work, The Khyber Rifles, which in fact contained very little material on the Khyber Rifles, Crimson Snow is a perfectly workmanlike account of the 1st Afghan War, its causes and the events leading up to it, together with an account of the subsequent actions of the Army of Retribution.

The first two chapters set the scene from around 1820 up to the occupation of Kabul and cover events both political and military including the formation of the Army of the Indus and its progression. Events in and around Kabul and the actual retreat fill the next three chapters, which also include a short account of the adventures of the hostages. Chapter six then covers Sale's actions and the advance of the Army of Retribution under Pollock. Finally there is an epilogue which refers briefly to 1878/9 and 1919, and inevitably makes a comparison with today's events in Afghanistan. The introduction by General Sir David Richards is excellent and makes some very valid points regarding comparisons with the nineteenth-century wars and today's conflict which are, rightly, at variance with those of the author.

The sub-title ‘Britain's First Disaster in Afghanistan' raises the question as to what the author considers to be the subsequent disasters. Apart from Maiwand, which was a battle lost rather than a major disaster, or the Kabul Residency incident, the 2nd War achieved its objectives and the 3rd, in 1919, was over in three months as far as Afghanistan was concerned; possibly it is another reference to today? The front flyleaf ‘blurb' contains the following comment: ‘Since then, British armies have returned to Afghanistan in 1878 and 1919, faring little better than they did in 1842.' It also refers to these returns as ‘humiliations'. Both comments are untrue but possibly indicate that the comparison is intended to be between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries.

There are some nice illustrations, mostly from the Royal Geographical Society, but with one exception they are all scenic or portraits. Some military pictures would be helpful. There are no references to the National Army Museum or the India Office Military Records in the acknowledgements, and the author is not good with unit titles which creates some confusion - for instance Anderson's and Christie's Horse were 1st and 2nd Shah Shujaha's Cavalry, and the 6th Native Infantry [Shah Shujaha's Troop] were the 6th Shah Shujaha's Infantry. In some cases units are given their Presidency prefix i.e. 16th Bengal Native Infantry or 3rd Bombay Cavalry, but mostly they are given numerics only, which is both confusing and incorrect.

Overall, however, this is a good readable history, provided the rather journalistic and occasionally over-dramatic prose is accepted.

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