First Anglo Afghan War 1839 – 1842

The Anglo Afghan war was fought between British India and the Afghans between 1839 and 1842. It was a war born out of panic and exaggeration, in the competition for power and influence in Central Asia, between Britain and Russia. Many British Regiments were involved in the Afghan Wars and suffered huge casualties.

So began the long connection between  Afghanistan and Britain…

Afghan War 1839

1st Anglo Afghan War 1839


    • In the early 1830’s Britain’s foothold in India was well secured but by 1837, as the Russian Empire grew,  the British feared a Russian invasion of India through the Khyber Pass.
    • Afghan leaders were in negotiation with both the British and the Russians as they tried to secure their positions.
    • The negotiations with Russia collapsed and Russia joined forces with the Persians who had border disputes with the Afghans and they together attacked the city of Herat.
    • The already alarmed British were sent into a  panic, the threat of invasion was probably exaggerated but the fear of the Russians invading India was heightened greatly
    • Lord Auckland’s plan was to drive out the Russians and install a pro British ruler in Afghanisthan, Shuja Shah Durrani, on the pretext of offering him ‘support’, 21,000 troops set out from Punjab in 1838, Shuja was reliant upon British arms and funds to help him fight the invasion
    • By 1839, Kabul had been captured but the British could not control the countryside and the campaign looked like it would be a long haul.
    • The families of troops were sent out to join them but to the Afghans this looked a little too much like settlement and the fear of the Afghans, was that Afghanistan would become part of the British Empire
    • By 1841, the cost of the war was beginning to bite, that and the cold. The Afghans saw it as an opportunity to strike back and they forced the British to retreat
    • The retreat cost the lives of all but one of the troops and their families and retinues
    • It was seen as a humiliating defeat for the British
    • In 1842 British troops re- entered Afghanistan and took control of Kabul, releasing prisoners and razing markets as punishment for the former humiliation
Intriguing Connections:
    1. Many of the British troops belonged to the East India Company, consider what they would have got out of bringing Afghanistan into the Empire…..
    2. The war is also known as ‘Auckland’s Folly’ because his decision making was seen to be so foolish….
For further resources and sources visit Intriguing Family History to help put your family history in context. If you have ancestors who were involved in India or have a military connection:
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