One Hundred Years On: the 3rd Anglo-Afghan War of May 1919

One of history’s shorter conflicts, the 3rd Afghan War began with an Afghan invasion of British India on 3 May 1919 and ended a month later, following its repulse, with a ceasefire; sporadic fighting nevertheless continued until the final peace treaty was concluded in early August. Although official hostilities lasted only a matter of weeks, it still featured sharp fighting on three main fronts spread over a 500 -mile length of the frontier. On the British side, new weapons such as light machine guns and hand-grenades made their first appearance on the Indian northwest frontier; armoured cars saw combat alongside horsed cavalry; motor lorries and camels were equally essential in carrying supplies; and aeroplanes raided the Afghan capital, Kabul, in an early demonstration of strategic bombing. Among British commanders, General Dyer, temporarily setting aside his Amritsar notoriety, did as well as any. The war though saw the mass desertion of the tribal militias intended by Britain to police the frontier, and even a sit-down strike by disgruntled territorial soldiers, sent to India for the duration of the First World War and now eager to return home to the United Kingdom. For the Afghans, although defeated in all the major engagements, the war yielded results in that the British renounced their claim to control Afghanistan’s foreign policy, enabling the country to achieve full independence.

Dr Alastair Massie

Dr Alastair Massie worked at the National Army Museum between 1991 and 2018, where he was latterly Head of Research. He was curator of the Museum’s photographic exhibition ‘Afghanistan: Then and Now’ and has published widely on eighteenth-century soldiers for the ‘Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’ and the Army Records Society, as well as on the Crimean War

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