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Thal Cantonment

Thall or Thal is a town of Hangu District in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. It is administratively subdivided into two Union Councils. Thal Village was a British military outpost in the Hangu tahsll of Kohat District, North-West Frontier Province, situated in 3320' N. and 7034' E., on a branch of the North-Western Railway. Thal was a depot for the through trade with Northern Afghanistan, which passed along the Kurram valley. It also did some local trade with the tribesmen of independent territory adjoining. The village lies on the left bank of the Kurram river, at the extreme limit of British territory, and gives its name to a subdivision of the District. The fort was garrisoned by detachments of native cavalry and infantry under a British officer. A new border military police post and civil resthouse were built here in 1905.

General Nadir Khan, the only Afghan military leader with a true grasp of strategy, was given overall command of Afghan strategy in 1919. He immediately saw that the British forces were dangerously stretched and planned to attack them where least expected. Gathering together a force of 3,000 Afghan infantry regulars and two cavalry regiments supported by ten 100mm Krupp guns and seven 75mm Krupp howitzers, he sought a target of opportunity. Thal, to the south of the Kurram Valley, offered an excellent target. Defended by no more than 800 militiamen with two artillery pieces, it occupied a strategically important position at the northern end of a railway line. If it were to fall, Nadir reasoned that the consequences would be enormous. The British would no longer appear invincible in the eyes of the hill tribesmen who would certainly rise against them, expelling their hated presence from the frontier.

On 25 May 1919, to British consternation, Nadir marched his force across the border and headed northeast towards Thal. Local military posts in his path were evacuated in panic or mutinied, allowing him to continue virtually unhindered to his objective. Soon he was joined by a force of 12,000 Pathan laskars goaded into rebellion by the seeming impotency of their former British masters. Within days 20,000 Wazir and Mahsuds, many of them former allies of the British on the Western Front, swelled the ranks of the rebels.

In the meantime the British position at Thal was becoming critical. The defender's guns were soon silenced by the far superior Krupps and the garrison was cut off from its water supply. A relief column had set off but had become bogged down somewhere to the east. Ammunition supplies were running low and defeat seemed inevitable. Had the infamous General Dyer not reached the fort on June 1 at the head of a force of 3,000 British-Indian regulars supported by a dozen large caliber field guns, Thal would have fallen. The attendant massacre of the British defenders at the hands of the Pathans would have electrified the frontier causing those tribesmen still at peace to take up arms in what would have become the largest insurrection in the history of the Northwest Frontier. Instead, Dyer's artillery destroyed the now out-gunned Krupps while his infantry routed the Pathans.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:39:41 ZULU