Iron Mike – Gruntworks Contributing Blogger
Afghanistan is a fucking shithole and we should leave that dusty hellscape of fecal matter and Islam to rot in their own fetid garbage heap… Wait… I meant to say: “Circle up fuckers, it’s story time again!”
Today we’re going to talk about the manly virtue of Duty. Somewhere out there one of you window-lickers started giggling to yourself and repeated the word ‘duty’ out loud. Put down the Elmer’s Glue you’re drinking and stop hungrily eyeballing those laundry detergent pods…
Most of the “men” (and I use that term very loosely when speaking of the average Millenial) I meet these days wouldn’t understand the virtue of doing their duty to their country or fellow citizen if it came with Pumpkin Spice and a mandatory Gender Pronoun guide from their HR rep. Duty is more than a job, it is a moral obligation to a cause higher than yourself. It is what separates cowards from heroes in times of trial and adversity. Duty is the value that causes valorous men to stick together to the last at great personal cost, while lesser men flee in self-preservation or abandon the cause in moral cowardice. It is a man’s commitment to his duty by which he is judged as a man. A man who fails in his duties as a father is judged a deadbeat. A man who fails in his duty as a soldier is judged a coward. A man who fails in his duty as a citizen to obey the law is judged a criminal. No matter what the responsibility Duty is the virtue that compels men to achieve it. “Duty is the essence of Manhood” according to General George S. Patton and I couldn’t agree more. Today’s story is about a group of men who took an oath to do their duty and upheld that obligation in one of the finest displays of valor ever fucking demonstrated. Men who fought the same enemy some of you have on the Pakistan side of the border near Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province (The province that is today home to the Afghan faction of ISIS – ISIS-Khorasan). This is the story of the 21 Sikhs who fought to the last man in the Battle of Saragarhi.
Afghanistan is called “The Graveyard of Empires” by many historians. Alexander the Great’s Macedonians stopped at the Hindu Kush. The Persians could never quell the mountain tribesmen at the fringes of their eastern borders. Centuries later the British would fail to extend their influence from India into central Asia there and several British army units would be decimated in the attempt. In the 20th Century the Soviet Union would lose 15,000 men and suffer 54,000 wounded trying to add Afghanistan to its collection of communist satellite states. Finally, the US would send its best and brightest to eliminate the Taliban in the wake of the September 11th attacks, leading to the longest period of war in US history… A war whose outcome remains to be determined, but nearly 2 decades of war have so far resulted in a stalemate. For its entire history, the asshole of the world has never been successfully permanently occupied by any foreign power. Dirty Muslim cave-people have pretty much continued to run amok there for the last thousand years or so… I’m going to tell you about how some of their oldest enemies fought them during the British attempt to bring this lawless hell-hole to heel.
In 1858 the British East India company ceded governance of India to the British Crown, beginning the British occupation of India (and parts of what is today Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, Bhutan, and Myanmar) for nearly the next century. Throughout the remainder of the 1800’s the British would create and army and expand out its footprint in the region to dominate the trade in Tea, Spices, Opium (That shit was legal back then for a while and used as medicine), silk, and other consumer goods in high demand back in Europe. The British would be both loved and loathed by the various factions in the subcontinent they now ruled. One of those factions was the Sikhs, whose tradition as fearsome warriors and generational hatred for their traditional enemies (the Muslims to their West) made them loyal soldiers in the British Indian Army. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion hailing from the Punjab region mostly amongst ethnic Punjabis from the Indian side of the Hindu Kush. They believe in the deity they call the ‘Timeless One’ and the scriptures of Guru Granth Sahib, among their foremost virtues are selflessness, duty, and honorable conduct. Contrary to their regional neighbors, Punjabi Sikhs do not solely form alliances on tribal identities and make a point to integrate with other cultures as a sign of mutual respect while still holding to their core beliefs and traditions. They made excellent soldiers in the armies of Queen Victoria, and still do to this day. For many years the Sikh Empire had fought the Muslim tribesmen in the region, fighting a series of bloody wars and driving back multiple invasions into India from their Afghan neighbors. One of the last leaders of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, established friendly relations with the British as they began to colonize the region in the 1830’s. By 1858 when India formally became a possession of the Crown, the Sikh Empire had crumbled back into a number of regional confederacies due to war and in-fighting between the various provinces of the former empire. The Pashtun tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan seized on this weakness and drove the remaining Sikhs from the area of what is today Pakistan… The Sikhs wanted revenge for their perceived humiliation and loss of their former glory, and they found the means to get it when the British formed the British Indian Army nearly 50 years later.
The British, recognizing the need for a well-trained native force loyal to the Queen, recruited battalions from the “Martial Races” of the region and trained them into a tough, disciplined, and well-equipped fighting force. The British Indian Army was formally constituted in 1895, and would be a full field army tasked to protect the British empire in the Indian subcontinent. It consisted of Anglo soldiers rotated through from Britain and Australia as well as native soldiers outfitted with British arms and trained in British tactics. Among them was the 36th Sikh Regiment, and it wouldn’t be long before they got a taste of the action.
The Pashtun tribes of the area then-called “The Northwest Frontier” – a lawless border region in what is today Pakistan – were once again calling for Jihad against the British and mounting an insurrection. They wanted to live under Sharia Law, kill infidels, smoke opium, beat their wives, murder their neighbors over petty tribal disputes, stone women to death, fuck children, fuck goats, fuck donkeys, and wipe their asses with their hands… Sound familiar? You can see a lot has changed in Afghanistan during the last 110 years. The British were Infidels who spread Christianity and used soap. Naturally they were the hated enemies of the Pashtun tribesmen. In early August of 1897 the British Indian Army mobilized to defend the frontier against another tribal insurrection. The 36th Sikhs would send their five companies to two forts near the strategically important high-mountain Khyber Pass along with several other units as the advance holding force while larger units mobilized to combat the threat of invasion. The two forts were Fort Gulistan on the western side of the pass, and Fort Lockhart in the center of the pass. Between the two forts on a high ridge they positioned a relaying station equipped with a heliograph (a signaling device consisting of a mirror and mechanical interrupting device to send flashes of light and transmit Morse Code messages visually over long distances) near the tiny mountain village of Saragarhi. This relaying signal station was manned by one Hivaldar (Sergeant), one Naik (Corporal), and 19 Sepoys (Privates) of the 36th Sikhs and was used to relay communications between the two forts during daylight. The forts were a mere three miles apart, but due to the high terrain they could not see one another and Pashtuns had been launching small probing attacks against the forts over the previous weeks. The Sikhs at the signal post knew a large attack was likely coming and it was their duty to maintain communications between the forts no matter what. The survival of their whole unit depended on it. What they didn’t know was that the Afghan Pashtuns had been using these probing attacks to gauge the defenses of the area.
Early on the morning of September 12th, 1897, the 21 men of the 36th Sikh Regiment garrisoning the signal post woke up before dawn and went about their morning routine. The air was heavy with tension as they performed their morning meditations, ate their breakfast, sipped their morning tea, and affixed their turbans. On the horizon, a large dust cloud was gathering and the lookout sounded the alarm. Thousands of Pashtun tribesmen were on the march heading down the pass. As they closed in a desperate message flashed from Fort Lockhart: they count 14 battle standards amongst the tribesmen… Each standard represents around 1,000 fighters. In total, there are between 10,000 and 14,000 Afghan Pashtuns marching against the two forts garrisoned by a little over 500 men between them. But they weren’t marching on the forts… not yet anyway. They were marching straight for the signaling post in order to cut off communications and all that stood in their way was 21 men with rifles. Hivaldar Ishar Singh called his men together and told them he intended to hold the post as long as possible to buy as much time as he could for the two forts to get their reinforcements. He told his men that if any man wanted to try and make a break for it on their own, he would not be thought a coward. No man budged. Every man there quietly acknowledges what he knew in his heart the moment the alarm had sounded. They knew that it was their duty to hold their post at all cost and honor demanded that no man abandon his comrades even in such a hopeless fight. In the US Army, the First General Order States: “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved”. This is the most basic duty of every American Soldier and Marine; and there in the high mountains of the Khyber Pass a Sikh NCO of the British Army was living this maxim in his last day on earth 100 years before most of you were a sperm swimming around in your dad’s ballsack. There was no relief coming due to the limited manning at Fort Lockhart and the fact that thousands of tribesmen and miles of open ground stand between them and the Saragarhi signaling post. There was only the oncoming hordes and a battle to the inevitable in the name of Duty.
20 men took their positions along the walls and one man operated the Heliograph to signal Fort Lockhart during the battle. They broke open all of their stockpiles of rifle cartridges and placed them at their fighting positions. Their lone NCO set about assigning them fields of fire and instructed them how they should fall back if overrun. The post itself is a thick outer wall about 15 feet high made of mud and stone, then an inner compound with a blockhouse and a wooden tower built to give the signaling team the best view of the area. The defenders would have an initial advantage as the site was perched on top of a high point and the Pashtuns could not bring their full force to bear against the walls. The men fix their bayonets, say their prayers, and wait.
At around 0900 the Pashtuns tribesmen unleashed their first attack. Thousands of tribesmen rush up the mountainside to the walls of the post. They are beaten back by a surprising volume of rifle fire from the Sikh defenders. The Pashtuns fall back, regroup, and attack again. Again, they are repulsed. After two determined human-wave attacks. The Afghans send out a messenger… He tells the men inside that if they surrender they will be allowed to leave, that they will be given riches, women, and positions of prominence in the Pashtun tribes. The Sikhs inside pay no attention to the messenger, they know the Pashtuns are lying and will brutally execute them if they open the gates. Even back then you couldn’t trust an Afghan as far as you could smell one. The next assault comes and it too is beaten back, but the Sikhs are taking casualties and every wounded or fallen man means a wider gap on the walls. The Pashtuns begin climbing the walls and hand-to-hand fighting breaks out. Swords and rifle butts clash. The ferocity of the defenders never falters as the Sikhs once again prevail, but at a cost that increases with every charge. The Pashtuns once again fall back, but this time they try a new tactic. As the Sikh defenders rush to move their wounded into the inner compound, the tribesmen set fire to the brush surrounding the post. In the thick smoke only the Heliograph signalman can see, but he cannot observe the deadspace along the walls. In the haze, a group of tribesmen approach unseen and begin removing the stones at one far corner of the outer wall. By the time the smoke clears and an observer at Fort Lockhart sees these men in his field glasses, the damage has already been done. A warning flashes to the Sikhs, telling them the attackers are trying to breach the wall, but it is too late to prevent it. The Pashtuns succeed and one corner of the outer wall caves in. Pashtuns again rush the post and pour into the breach… At the same time the main force attacks the gate while the Sikhs rush to hold the breached wall. The leader of the post orders his remaining men to fall back into the inner compound and tells them he will buy them the time to get there himself. Ishar Singh fires his weapon one last time into the mass of attacking tribesmen, draws his sword and charges forward with bayonet and blade head-on into the rushing hordes. He is able to drop a half-dozen attackers by himself and buy his men a few moments to enter the inner compound and bar the gate behind them before he is cut down by the overwhelming numbers.
The remaining men hold themselves at the inner gate and wait. Most are out of ammunition and many are wounded. Outside the tribesmen are chopping at the gate with axes and swords as the remaining men inside anxiously await their destiny. Finally, the gate is breached and the men make their final stand, each man fighting with the strength of ten. The signalman sees what is going on below him as the defenders are being overrun. He sends one last message to Fort Lockhart notifying them he is the last man alive: “Permission to take up my rifle.” A message flashes back “Permission Granted”. The signalman packs his equipment in its case, takes up his rifle and begins raining hell down on the attackers below. He fells several, and then several more… From Fort Lockhart, the observers count 20 enemy tribesmen fall before the lone defender and the entire fort cheers his efforts even though they know he cannot hear them. The Pashtuns grow tired of being slaughtered, and finally set fire to the wooden signal tower. The trapped Sikh was reported by captured tribesmen after the battle to have screamed the Sikh battle-cry “Bol-eh So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal!” (Shout Aloud in Ecstasy! True is the Great Timeless One!) as he burned to death. The 21 men had delayed the Pashtun force of over 10,000 for over 6 hours and inflicted countless casualties. They would take nearly half a day to regroup.
The men’s sacrifice in the name of Duty and Honor had not been in vain. Forts Gulistan and Lockhart would be under attack for two days and on the verge of collapse when the relief column finally arrived. The roughly half a day bought by the 21 Sikhs of Saragarhi had been just enough. When the signal post was retaken by the reinforced British, over 600 Pashtun bodies were found there. The official estimate was that the men of the post had killed around 450 in the battle, and the rest had been killed by artillery when the post was retaken. Every single man who fought to hold the signaling station was awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest award for valor given to Indian troops by the British Army – the equivalent of the Victoria Cross. It is the first and only time every single member of a fighting unit was awarded a nation’s highest award for bravery. The battle is still celebrated by the Sikhs of the Indian Army every September 12th as ‘Saragarhi Day’. Their sacrifice is considered one of the greatest last stands in military history, commensurate with the 300 Spartans of Thermopylae.
Today’s story reminds us that men are judged by history on how well and faithfully they did their duties. If those 21 soldiers had simply cut and run, they would likely be nameless casualties of a forgotten campaign on the fringes of the British Empire. Instead they are remembered as heroes of the highest order, celebrated to this day for their virtue and valor. You too are going to be judged by your commitment to duty. The worst leaders and the worst soldiers in today’s military are the ones who fail in their most basic duties… Leading from the front, upholding physical fitness and training standards, not shirking away from the shitty taskings. If you can’t perform your basic duties in garrison, how in the hell are you going to perform your duties in combat? Your commitment to the virtue of Duty will be built in your triumph over the petty tribulations long before you face the supreme ones at risk of life and limb on the battlefield. That full quote from Patton I referenced earlier is as follows: “Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base. All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty. Duty is the essence of manhood”. Be a fucking man and do your duty. Duty is more than a job, it is a job with a moral obligation to something higher than yourself. Do what men expected to do for all of history before faggots and feminists came to destroy manhood entirely. Be a provider. Be a protector. Be a good father. Be physically strong, mentally alert, and morally straight. Be an embodiment of American values and their defender against those degenerates and outsiders who would destroy them. Fulfill your obligations as if every one was a reflection of yourself. No go to the fucking gym today and get stronger. Duty is not a virtue of the weak; weak men are worthless.