Persia 1856-57 (Theatre honour)

Persia 1856-57 (Theatre honour)

PersiaNote|Persia is a theatre honour of the British Indian Army awarded to units which participated with distinction in the Persian campaign of 1856-57. The expedition was launched with the purpose of bringing the Shah of Persia to heel after he had violated the existing treaty with the British and the campaign was successfully conducted under the leadership of Major General Sir James Outram resulting in a new treaty. The campaign was conducted in two regions, namely the southern coast of Persia near Bushire and in southern MesopotamiaNote|Mesopotamia.

Genesis of the problem

Instigated by the Russians, the Shah of Persia had occupied Herat in Western Afghanistan in violation of his treaty with the British. Two courses of action were available to the British, to mount an overland expedition through Afghanistan or attack the Persian empire from the south through the Persian Gulf; the aim being punitive and also force the Shah to ask for terms. The British Government decided to attack in the general area of Bushire, a small city near the southern coast of Persia and ordered the Government in India to launch a maritime expeditionary force.Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) "The Indian Sappers & Miners", pp 128.]

Expeditionary Force

Initially a division, under Major General F. Stalker, was organised comprising 2300 British soldiers and 3400 Indian sepoys of the Bombay Presidency army which landed in Persia in early December 1856. This included two companies of the Bombay Sappers & Miners. These were:Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) "The Indian Sappers & Miners", pp 129.]
* The 2nd Company, under Captain C.T. Haig, (Bo.E.)Note|Bo.E..
* The 4th Company, under Captain J. Le Mesurier, (Bo.E.).

The two companies were accompanied by the headquarters of the Corps of Bombay Sappers and Miners, under Captain W.R. Dickinson, (Bo.E.). Major J. Hill, the erstwhile Commandant of the Bombay Sappers and Miners, who had handed the Corps over to Dickinson, was appointed as the Commanding Engineer for this expedition. After the expedition he resumed the post of Commandant of the Bombay Sappers once again.

Soon after the induction of the force, it was considered to be inadequate for the task and a second division under Brigadier General Henry Havelock was formed and the entire expedition placed under command of Major General Sir James Outram.Note|Havelock & Outram This force inducted in January 1857.

During the hostilities, 'B' Company of the Madras Sappers & Miners under Brevet-Major A.M. Boileau, {M.E.)Note|M.E. embarked at Coconada on 19th January and reached the force just in time for participating in operations in Southern Mesopotamia.


War with the Persian empire was declared on 1st November and the first division under Stalker set sail from Bombay in November, as a flotilla of seven steamships, towing thirty sailing vessels. The British captured the island of Kharag on 4th December and landed ashore on 9th December on the coast a few miles south of Bushire.

The second division landed in Persia in late January and reached Bushire, preceded by Outram on the 20th of January.

Bushire, Reshire & Khoosh-Ab

Immediately on landing, the first division advanced onto the city of Bushire. They stormed the old fort at ReshireNote|Reshire and went on to capture the city on 10th December, ably assisted by the two companies of Bombay Sappers & Miners. Reconnaissance inland revealed a Persian force of 4000 troops at Shiraz and the first division was considered too weak to venture inland away from its maritime base of operations. This led to the formation and induction of a second division from India.

On landing in Persia, Outram immediately organised a force of three brigades and on 3rd February marched against the Persians at Borazjan, en route to Shiraz. The British halted on the 5th near the village of Khoosh-Ab where good water was available. Outram advanced further on the 6th and 7th, but seeing the enemy retreat into the mountains beyond his reach, and being short of rations, decided to fall back to the wells near Khoosh-Ab for a logistic pause. The Persians, encouraged by the retrograde movement of Havelock's forces, occupied with 8000 men a position dominating Outram's camp. On the 8th, Outram attacked this position and caused the Persians to flee leaving behind 700 dead on the battlefield.

The British resumed their march back to Bushire, but in deplorable conditions; torrential rains which created mud so deep as to pull a man's boots of his feet. The troops went through a harrowing ordeal finally reaching Bushire on the 10th of February, about which is written:

The Persians later published their own version of the battle of Khoosh-Ab claiming that the British had been defeated with losses of 1000 killed and wounded with own losses of 500. They claimed to have broken the British boxes twice and that the battle had been relinquished only when both sides were forced to abandon their guns in the mud. In this manner, the Persians attempted to minimise the political effects of their defeat on the battlefield.Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) "The Indian Sappers & Miners", pp 130.]

outhern Mesopotamia

The British then decided to invade Southern Mesopotamia by advancing up the Shatt Al Arab to Mohammerah at its junction with the Karun river, short of Basra. The force collected for this sortie consisted of 1500 British and 2400 Indian soldiers. The engineers grouped with this force included the following:
* 2nd Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners, with 109 troops under Captain Haig.
* B Company, Madras Sappers & Miners, with 124 troops under Brevet-Major Boileau.

On March 19th the expedition entered the Shatt al Arab. On the 24th they were in sight of Mohammerah. The engineer officers were part of the close reconnaissance of the Persian guns in a small canoe. They first planned to erect a battery on an island in the Shatt al Arab, but the island proved to be too swampy. They then towed the mortars on a raft and moored it behind the island from where fire support was provided. Two days later, warships sailed up the Shatt al Arab and silencedthe Persian battery. The troops landed and advanced though the date groves. These were punctuated with irrigation channels which the sappers rapidly bridged with palm trees. Mohammerah was captured on 27th with 13000 Persians and Arabs retreating up the Karun river towards Ahwaz.

During the attack the Madras Sappers were aboard the S.S. Hugh Lindsay assisting the 64th Regiment to fire the ship's carronades.

The sappers were now continually employed in destroying Persian batteries, making roads, landding stages, hutments in the unhealthy climate. They could not be spared for the sortie to Ahwaz which captured the town on the 1st of April and returned three days later. The very next day news was received that a treaty had been concluded in Paris on the 4th of March and hostilities ceased. Over the next few months, the force returned to India.


The expeditionary force had successfully carried out their mandate by capturing Bushire, defeating the Persians at Khoosh-Ab and capturing a foothold in southern Mesopotamia thus forcing the Persians to sue for terms.

The two sides concluded a treaty of peace in Paris on 4th March 1857, in which the Shah agreed to withdraw from Heratand refrain from further interference in the affairs of Afghanistan, subsequent to which British forces departed for India, with the British vacating both Kharag island and Bushire laterb on. Most of these forces were soon inducted into operations in Central India to quell the Indian Mutiny or the First War of Indian Independence as the campaign was referred to by Indian patriots.Sandes, E.W.C.(1948) "The Indian Sappers & Miners", pp 132.]

Theatre and battle honours

The Sappers and Miners were lauded for their hard work and valuable contribution in the campaign. When the theatre honour "Persia" and battle honours "Bushire", "Reshire" and "Khoosh-Ab" were instituted, all three battle honours were awarded to the Bombay Sapper units and the Theatre Honour went to both, the Bombay and Madras Sappers and Miners.Note|Honours


# 'Persia' is the old name for the kingdom of Iran.
# 'Mesopotamia' is the old name for the region now forming the nation of Iraq.
# 'Bo. E.' refers to the Bombay Engineers, a corps of engineer officers under the employ of the East India Company in the Bombay Presidency. They did not have the King's commission and were not considered part of the British army.
# Both Havelock and Outram would later distinguish themselves during the Indian Mutiny at the siege of Lucknow.
# 'M.E.' refers to the Madras Engineers, analogous to the Bombay Engineers with regard to the Madras Presidency.
# Also called "Rishahr" or "Rashir".
# Awarded to both the Sappers Corps vide General Order of the Government dated 14th September 1858 and 18th June 1861.



Major source for the article:
* The Indian Sappers and Miners (1948) The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham. Pages i to xxx, 1 to 726, frontispiece and 30 illustrations,31 general maps and 51 plans.

ee also

* Bombay Sappers
* Madras Sappers
* British Indian Army
* East India Company
* British Raj in India

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