Reflection: Strategical Analysis:
In this war, Aurangzeb’s army totaled more than 500,000 in number (compared to total Maratha army in the ballpark of 150,000). With him he carried huge artillery, cavalry, muskettes, ammunition and giant wealth from royal treasuries to support this quest. This war by no means a fair game when numbers are considered.
The main features of Aurangzeb’s strategy were :-
Use of overwhelming force to demoralize the enemy –
This tactic had proved successful in Aurangzeb’s other missions. Thus he used this even in Maharashtra. On several occasions giant Mughal contigents were used to lay siege to a fort or capture a town.
Meticulously planned sieges to the forts –
Aurangzeb knew that the forts in Sahyadri formed backbone of Maratha defense. His calculation was to simply lay tight siege to the fort, demoralizing and starving the people inside and finally making them surrender the fort.
Fork or pincer movements using large columns of infantry and cavalry –
With large number of infantry and cavalry, pincer could have proved effective and almost fatal against Marathas
Marathas had one advantage on their side, geography. They milked this advantage to the last bit. Their military activities were planned considering the terrain and the weather.
The main features of Maratha strategy were :-
Combined offensive-defensive strategy –
Throughout the war, Marathas never stopped their offensive. This served two purposes. The facts that Maratha army was carrying out offensive attacks in Mughal land suddenly made them psychologically equals to Mughals launching attack in Maratha land, even though Mughals were a much bigger force. This took negative toll on Mughal morale and boosted morale of their own men. Secondly, these offensive attacks in terms of quick raids often heavily damaged enemy supply chains taking toll on Mughal army.
The forts formed backbone of Maratha defense. Thanks to Shivaji, the every fort had provision of fresh water. The total forts numbered almost 300 and this large number proved major headache to Aurangzeb.
Strategic fort defense –
Marathas had one big advantage on their side. They were the expert in fort warfare. The game of defense using forts had two components.
First component was the right play of the strategic forts . In modern warfare, you have some strategic assets like aircraft carrier, presence of which needs a substantial change of plans on your enemy side. And then there are tactical assets, like tanks and large guns, which matter from battle to battle, but can be effectively countered by your enemy without making big plan changes. Similarly there are strategic forts, like Raigad, Janjira, Panhala and Jinji. Then there are number of tactical forts like Vishalgad, Sinhgad, Rajgad, etc.
Raigad, by its very nature, is large daunting fort. Built in 11th century by decedents of Mauryan Empire, it served as anchor to various kingdoms. Its cliffs sore high more than 1200 feet from base. It has abundant fresh water supply. Raigad, like Jinji could be defended for years at a stretch. No one could claim Sahyadri and Konkan as theirs without winning Raigad.
Aurangzeb knew difficulties in winning Raigad by war. So he managed to win it by using insider traitor, Suryaji Pisal. Had Marathas kept Raigad, Aurangzeb’s task would have been much tougher. Marathas lost Raigad early and could not win in back till much later. But they played the remaining two forts, Panhala and Jinji very well. Panhala is strategic because of its location on the confluence of multiple supply chains. Thus Marathas defended Panhala as long as they could and tried to win it back the earliest when they didn’t have it.
The second component of defensive fort warfare was matching the movements with weather. Forts are an asset in rest of the year, but are a liability in monsoon as it costs a lot to carry food and supplies up. Also the monsoon in coasts and ghats is severe in nature and no major military movement is possible. Thus Marathas often fought till Monsoon and surrendered the fort just before Monsoon. Before surrendering they burned all the food inside. Thus making it a proposition of loss in every way. Often times Marathas surrendered the fort empty, but later soon won it back filled with food and water. These events demoralized the enemy.
Offensive attacks in terms of evasive raids –
Marathas mostly launched offensive attacks in the region when Mughal army was away. They rarely engaged Mughal army in open fields till later part of the war. If situation seemed dire, they would retreat and disperse and thus conserve most of their men and arms for another day.
The rivers Bhima, Krishna , Godavari and the mountains of Sahyadri, divide entire Maharashtra region is in several North- South corridors. When Mughal army traveled South through one corridor, Marathas would travel North through another and launch attacks there. This went on changing gradually and in the end, Maratha forces started engaging Mughals head on.
A noted historian Jadunath Sarkar makes an interesting observation. In his own words, “Aurangzeb won battle after battles, but in the end he lost the war. As the war prolonged, it transformed from war of weapons to war of spirits, and Aurangzeb was never able to break Maratha spirit.”
What Marathas did was an classic example of assymetric defensive warfare. The statement above by Mr. Sarkar hides one interesting fact about this assymetric defense. Is it really possible to lose most of the battles and still win the war?
The answer is yes, and explanation is a statistical phenomena called “Simpson’s paradox.”. According to Simpsons paradox, several micro-trends can lead to one conclusion, however a mega-trend combining all the micro-trends can lead to an exact opposite conclusion. Explanation is as follows.
Say two forces go on war, force A with 100 soldiers and force B with 40 soldiers. Now say in every battle between A and B, the following happens.
If A loses, they lose 80% of the soldiers fighting.
If B loses, they only lose 10% of the soldiers fighting.
If A wins, they lose 50% of the solders fighting.
If B wins, they lose only 10% of the soldiers fighting.
In the case above, the ratio of (resource drain of A / resource drain of B ) is higher than (initial number of A soldiers / initial number of B soldiers). So even if A wins battle more than 50% of the time, they will lose their resources faster and, in the end, will lose the war. All B has to do is keep the morale and keep the consistency.
One of the most famous warrior in ancient Indian history seems to agree with the conclusion above. In “Bhishma- perva” of Mahabharata, pitamah Bhishma begins the war-advice to king Yudhisthira with a famous quote –
“The strength of an army is not in its numbers”
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