The interwar period saw the increasing use of modern technology to police the tribal regions of the North West Frontier of India. Budgets between the wars were being squeezed, but aircraft and armoured cars offered a seemingly cheaper way of controlling the tribesmen of this region rather than traditional ‘boots on the ground’. Road building had been prioritised since the start of the twentieth century, but new roads were emphasised throughout the interwar period and these revolutionised British operations. They allowed men and supplies to be moved to troublesome areas quickly and, when supported by armoured cars, relatively safely. This week’s photograph is a fantastic image of a road convoy taking a break in the NWF in 1937 during the Faqir of Ipi’s rebellion:The back of the photograph indicates that this was taken at Tanai Fort ‘en-route for Manzai (and Delhi) from Wana. Wana was a fort in Waziristan whilst Manzai was in Baluchistan.
The part of the convoy seen here consists of an armoured car:Note the British soldiers taking a breather around the armoured car, each is wearing khaki drill with Cawnpore style solar topees. Behind this armoured care are a four wheel and a six wheel truck:And three further armoured cars:Also in the picture is a dispatch rider’s motorcycle:The armoured cars seem to be Crossley type cars rather than Rolls Royce designs. The domed turrets were particularly Indian in design and sported Vickers machine guns that could be slotted into four different sockets to provide all round fire. On top of each turret sits an armoured cupola for the car’s commander to sit in and control fire from. This example is preserved and on show at the Tank Museum in Dorset:Even with armoured cars, these convoys could be perilous:
On the early morning of 9 April 1937, a convoy set out from Manzai fort destined for the garrison at Wana carrying supplies and some officers and men returning to their units at Wana. The convoy was a large one, comprising forty-nine lorries, an ambulance, and three private cars, all escorted by four armoured cars, with infantry and a detachment of Sappers and Miners in lorries. One of the armoured cars was at the front, another at the rear, and two more were amongst the transport. Similarly, the infantry in their lorries were distributed along the length of the convoy. The long snake of lorries wove its way uneventfully past Jandola and then westward onto the Jandola-Wana road. At about 7.40 am it was ambushed in the Shahur Tangi, a narrow, steep-sided, three-mile long gorge, eight miles west of Jandola. There, having been slowed by camels let loose on the road, the convoy was attacked by a large party of Mahsuds and Bhitannis, who had occupied positions on the precipitous hillsides.
The leading armoured car and first three trucks, having passed out of the gorge, were not attacked directly and sped to the next manned outpost, carrying news of the attack. Meanwhile, the lorries at the front of the convoy in the gorge were disabled when their drivers were killed, trapping the others behind. Raiders hidden in the rocks close to the road attacked the convoy along its length causing very heavy casualties but, although some trucks were looted, the armoured cars, the infantry escort and the other troops with the convoy fought most gallantly and prevented the convoy from being overrun. An aircraft providing support overhead was badly damaged and forced to land. Reinforcements arrived later in the day and fighting continued sporadically until nightfall. In the evening as the firing lessened the lorries that could be moved were either sent on to Sarwakai or back to Manzai and the wounded were evacuated. By the following morning the raiders had gone…In total, the attack claimed seven British officers and two other ranks (Turner and Davies) killed, five officers and one other rank (Bowkett) wounded, 20 Indian other ranks killed and 39 Indian all ranks wounded.