Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Anglo-Burmese War, First (1824–1826)

Anglo-Burmese War, First (1824–1826)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Arakanese rebels vs. Burma
(Myanmar); Burma vs. British Bengal; Great Britain
vs. Burma

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Burma and northeastern

DECLARATION: Britain declared war on Burma,
March 5, 1824.

MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Arakanese sought to
reclaim their homeland in western Burma; Burma sought
to stop Arakanese raids from Bengal; Britain sought to
stop the Burmese from violating the Bengal border.

OUTCOME: The defeated Burmese were forced to cede
Assam, Manipur, Arakan, and the Tenasserim coast to
the British.

Anglo-Indian forces, 43,000; Burma, 95,000

CASUALTIES: India, 15,000 dead; Britain, 3,115; Burma,

TREATIES: Treaty of Yandabo, February 1826

After Burma defeated and annexed the kingdom of Arakan
(in present-day western Myanmar) in the late 18th century,
Arakanese refugees trundled northward into British-held
territory in northeastern India. From their sanctuaries in
Bengal, as most of northeast India and Bangladesh was
then called, the Arakanese recruited and armed contingents
that recrossed the border and attacked the Burmese
garrison in their former homeland. At one point, in 1825,
Arakanese patriots even recaptured the provincial capital
of Mrohaung. It did not take long for the Burmese to retaliate.
Almost immediately, Burmese forces marched into
Bengal in search of the Arakanese guerrillas. When challenged
by Bengal authorities, they quickly withdrew.
The Arakanese raids continued, and in 1823 the
Burmese, infuriated with the British for harboring the
raiders, once again breached the Bengal frontier. Burma’s
great general and the governor of Assam, Maha Bandula
(d. 1825), planned a two-pronged attack on Bengal from
Assam and Arakan. Burmese troops were soon threatening
Chittagong in modern-day Bangladesh.
The British responded in force, declaring war on Burma
on March 5, 1824, and in April sending a large seaborne
expedition of 5,000 British and Indian regulars under Major
General Sir Archibald Campbell (1769–1843), who seized
Rangoon without a fight on May 10. But British hopes of
persuading the Burmese to give up their border raids by
holding the delta and threatening the Burmese capital, Ava,
were dashed when Burma’s resistance stiffened. British
troops in Rangoon, ravaged by disease, soon found themselves
ringed by the determined natives. Fighting around
Rangoon continued savagely from June to July. In August,
Bandula’s army arrived from Arakan after a forced march
across country flooded by Burma’s powerful monsoons.
British reinforcements began arriving in October, a rocket
battery in tow. On December 1 Bandula launched his
assault. The British repulsed the onslaught and two weeks
later broke through the native cordon. Finding themselves
no match for the disciplined British regulars, the Burmese
In mid-February 1825, a column of 2,500 British
Indian troops under Campbell moved up the Irrawaddy
River, supported by a flotilla of 60 boats manned by
British sailors and carrying 1,500 additional troops. At the
same time the Imperial army also took control of coastal
regions. On April 2 Bandula checked the British advance
in a skirmish south of Ava, on the Irrawaddy, but Campbell’s
rockets saved him, breaking up the Burmese attack.
A British counterattack swept the field. In what became
known as the Battle of Danubyu, Bandula was killed and
his army routed.
At the end of April Campbell went into quarters for
the monsoon season, behind entrenchments at Prome,
while the Burmese army, now led by Maha Nemyo (d.
1825), once more surrounded him with field fortifications.
In the Battle of Prome, lasting from November 30 to
December 2, 1825, Campbell, after having repulsed a
Burmese attack on November 10, launched an offensive in
two columns supported by the flotilla. The British ruptured
and rolled up the line of Burmese fortifications,
Nemyo was killed, and after three days of intense fighting
the Burmese army disintegrated. Campbell continued his
advance upriver to Yandabo, 70 miles north of Ava, where
Burmese envoys under a flag of truce sought peace. The
British had won, mainly because India’s superior resources
made it possible for them to sustain a campaign through
two of Burma’s wretched rainy seasons—and at the cost,
one might add, of nearly 15,000 Indian fatalities.
The First Anglo-Burmese War formally ended with
the Treaty of Yandabo in February 1826, under the terms
of which the Burmese ceded Assam, Manipur, Arakan, and
the Tenasserim coast to the British. It was but the first of
THIRD) that collectively would leave Burma
so vulnerable it would be forced to concede British hegemony
over the Bay of Bengal.

Further reading: George Ludgate Bruce, Burma Wars,
1824–1886 (London: Hart-Davis MacGibbon, 1973).

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