Resistance to British Aggression

  January 27, 2024   Read time 5 min
Resistance to British Aggression
Marling, the British minister in Tehran, to the Persian government informing them that British troops were about to invade, and gave the “justifications” for the act.
Formal military resistance to British aggression was negligible because Persia had no standing army in the true sense of the word. The resistance by the tribes, however, as the reports show, was formidable. In addition to opposition from the Qashqai tribes and Jangalis, the invading forces met resistance from the Sanjabi Kurdish tribes. Against the Jangalis and Sanjabis the British used armored cars and airplanes with devastating effect. A telegram from Southard states: Confidential. British have well established military line of communication from Bagdad across Persia via Kermanshah, Hamadan, Kasvin [Qazvin] to Enzeli [Bandar-e Anzali, or Bandar-e Pahlavi], headquarters Kasvin. Expedition called Dunsterville forces from the name of Major General Commanding and is supplied from Mesopotamia, but directly controlled by British War Office. Persian military opposition to British occupation is negligible. Occasional sniping at motor convoys has occurred in mountain stretch between Hamadan and Resht [Rasht]. Near Resht small fights have occurred with jungle tribes. Most serious one six days ago; when enemy casualties forty four and British three. Aeroplanes and armored vehicles used with success. . . . Motor convoys of troops and supplies continue uninterrupted. Indications are that British have Persian military situation well controlled.
A follow-up telegram provides additional military information: Strictly confidential. In all parts of Persia south of Bagdad-Caspian line of communication, British have practically control of military and political affairs. From Hamadan small detachments have gone to Sultanabad and Teheran. Sultanabad-Kermanshah road is under British control. British and Indian troops are at all important points in provinces [of] Kermanshah, Luristan, and Arabistan. At Shiraz, Yezd [Yazd], Kerman, and Meshed [Mashhad] there are reported increased detachments [of] Indian cavalry, nominally maintained as consular guards. British consuls or political officers are reported to be in all important points closely in touch with conditions. Inimical political agitators are kept under surveillance and I have ascertained from reasonably reliable sources that many arrests of tribal leaders have been made in Arabistan and that one or two have been executed for pernicious political offenses against Allied interests. Supplementing this organization there are about seven thousand native police known as [South] Persia Rifles with British officers and paid by British government. Some native tribes have attacked Persia Rifles at various places but discounting wilder reports and rumors, it is improbable that the tribes will be able to offer serious resistance to present British control of south Persia. Occurrence [of] important trouble in south Persia is considered improbable.
The main resistance to the British as recorded by the American legation came from the Qashqai tribes in the south and from Mirza Kuchik Khan and the Jangalis in the north. John L. Caldwell, the American minister in Tehran, describes a bloody encounter between the Qashqais and the British army. A detachment of South Persia Rifles under a British officer and noncommissioned officer was sent to the town of Khan-i-Zinian in the province of Fars on May 11, 1918.
The Kashgai [Qashqai] tribesmen, who, under the instigation of the German agent Wassmus, have been very hostile to the British, surrounded this force and cut off their running water supply. A column of Indian troops was despatched from Shiraz for their relief, but before their arrival at Khan-i-Zinian the British officer and non-commissioned officer had been murdered by their Persian command, who then gave over their rifles and ammunitions to the Kashgai. An engagement took place on the 25th instant between the BritishIndian troops and the Persian tribesmen, resulting in the route of the latter after losing about three hundred and fifty men. The British losses, which are reported to have been moderately heavy, included the loss of a British Major and Captain. After the encounter the British are reported to have fallen back on Shiraz. It is too early as yet to know what future action will be necessary on the part of the British authorities in regard to this matter, but as the Kashgais appear to be excellent fighters and determined in their resistance, further trouble is to be expected
Francis White, secretary of the American legation, reports on Mirza Kuchik Khan and his cause: Resht and Enzeli are in the hands of the Bolsheviks and the Jungali [Jangali] tribe under their leader Kuchik Khan, who is opposed to the British occupation of Persian territory. Kuchik Khan, from all accounts, is a man of some education, who is very much opposed to what he conscientiously considers the high handed actions of the British in Persia. He is a member of the so-called Democratic party and appears to be honest and patriotic and a man of some force of character, but short sighted and perhaps a bit fanatical.
By late May 1918, the British were preparing a push to the north against the Jangalis. Despite the rumored division among the Jangalis,6 they attacked the British headquarters on July 20, 1918. This desperate attack by Mirza Kuchik Khan was repulsed with heavy casualties. Twelve hundred jungle tribesmen attacked British headquarters in Resht on July 20, and were repulsed with about two hundred killed and wounded. They then attacked British bank and consulate, looting the latter. Fighting continued for four days and tribesmen were driven from Resht by aeroplanes and armored motors. To do this the British burned hotel, theater and six other buildings surrounding American missionary school, and school building had a large hole torn in the roof by a bomb from aeroplanes. No Americans injured or molested by tribesmen who expressed friendship for American missionaries. Two young Persians from the missionary school have joined the tribesmen. British losses not much and there is no interruption [of] line of communication to Caspian. Successful attacks by tribesmen very improbable as they cannot oppose British aeroplanes, armored motors, and increasing British forces now numbering about a thousand in Resht.
A month after the above report, Caldwell described the collapse of the Turkish forces and their withdrawal from Persia.8 With the revolution in Russia and the collapse of the Ottoman armies in Persia and Mesopotamia, the British had become the unchallenged military power. As outlined below, they quickly set about transforming their military supremacy into political domination and economic control.

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