Wargaming: Rajasthan, India: November 13th 1804

24 February 2023
You're in Deeg

Words by Jon Sutherland. Pictures by Ian Cluskey.


It’s complicated...

Throughout their history, the Marathas were obsessed with internal power struggles and the second Maratha War was no different. The Peshwa of the Maratha, Baji Rao II, fled to the British for sanctuary after losing a battle against the Holkars. British interests were piqued by the state of affairs and events in Europe made them wary of French intriguing in the Maratha state. The French had indeed sent arms and advisors to support the anti-British wing of the Maratha nobility. Baji Rao II’s flight into British hands incensed the Marathas and they readied for war.

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You are Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar and despite having inflicted set-backs on the British in this second war with them you now find yourself on the back-foot. In vain, you pleaded with other leaders in India: “First Country, and then Religion. We will have to rise above caste, religion, and our states in the interest of our country. You too must wage a war against the British, like me.” None have come to your aid and you cause.

You successfully defeated the British under Fawcett at Kunch in early June and have enjoyed a string of successes until September culminating in your failure to capture Delhi. The British are now bearing down on you. Wellesley is approaching with your enemy Bajirao Peshwa’s army. In Mathura Maharaja, Yashwantrao Holkar learned that the British had captured some of his territory. By mid-November you have marched on Deeg, beating Major Frazer’s force. Here, you have joined with the Jat King Ranjit Singh of Bharatpur. Another British force under Lord Lake is at Farrukhabad, your spies tell you he has been ordered to attack you at the earliest opportunity.

Your primary aim is to prevent the fall of the city, but in your heart you know that this is unlikely as the British are bearing down on you from several directions. You resolve to hold as long as you dare, but above all you cannot afford to risk the destruction of your army.


What we actually know about the battle can be written on the back of a cigarette packet. Most of the very short descriptions of the battle seem to be similar to the following:

“On November 13 Fraser found the Mahratta army drawn up outside the fortress of Deig. They held a very strong position, with one flank resting on a morass and the other on a large tank. After a sharp fight, in which our little force lost 148 killed and 479 wounded, the Mahrattas broke, and took refuge behind the walls of the fortress. In the engagement General Fraser lost his leg from a round shot, and he sank beneath the effects of the wound.”

Battle Honours of the British Army From Tangier, 1662, to the Commencement of the Reign of King Edward V. C B Norman 1911.


We do have a very clear description of the forces available to Lord Lake, the overall British commander facing Holkar, again from the Norman book:


“Lord Lake’s army was massed in the vicinity of Agra, and consisted of an infantry division of three brigades, commanded by Major-General Fraser, a cavalry division under Brigadier Macan, and a reserve infantry division of two brigades under Brigadier Don. The infantry division included the 76th (West Riding Regiment), the 1st Bengal European Regiment (now the 1st Munster Fusiliers), and six regiments of Bengal infantry. The cavalry division included the 8th and 27th regiments of Light Dragoons, and four regiments of native cavalry. Brigadier-General Don’s brigade consisted of four battalions of Bengal infantry.”

This game probably works best by setting up Holkar’s first line of infantry and artillery diagonally across the table with a hillock on their right, the village (on a rise) in the centre and to their right flat ground for the cavalry. Set back behind this there is another line infantry and artillery with a pair of hills occupied by guns on Holkar’s left. Place a city wall or some buildings behind this line to represent Deeg itself.

Holkar must exit his forces either to the left of Deeg or march them into Deeg. The British enter the table from the opposite corner to Deeg leading with Monson’s column. Once Monson has deployed the second and third columns can enter, followed by the fourth and finally the reserves.

Unlike many battles in India, this can be fought on fairly conventional terms using Napoleonic sets of rules such as my own Grand Battery, or Black Powder or perhaps Principles of War. You may wish to use colonial sets such as Mad Dogs and Englishmen or John Company from The (Virtual) Armchair General. These sets will give a distinctly Indian flavour to the engagement and allow you to categorise the troops correctly.

In the actual battle, Frazer was mortally wounded by an artillery ball, Monson is next in command.


Frazer was in overall command of the attack on enemy lines. You can see from the map that he organised four columns of troops along with a reserve covering the baggage.

According to the journal of a young artillery officer present at the battle, the Martha army amounted to around 14,000 infantry, some 160 guns and a large number of “predatory” cavalry. This compares to around 1,000 Europeans and 4,000 Indian troops for the British. I would recommend the odds being around 4:1 in favour of Holkar.

Unlike many of the more traditional Indian armies of the period (relying on either mercenaries or hordes of unpredictable and ineffective cavalry), the backbone of the Maratha army were regular battalions of infantry, well drilled, highly disciplined and usually led by European ex-servicemen adventurers. These men had put their roots down in Indian, many were of French extraction, but there were Hanoverians and British former soldiers with colourful backgrounds that trained and led these battalions in return for prestige, land, power and pots of gold.

The Maratha front line should be the most numerous and consist of a mixture of skilled and some relatively newly trained battalions:


Holkar’s Reserve (second line)


Deeg Garrison forces





Holkar gets 2 points for each of his regular battalions that escape the clutches of the British. He can collect a maximum of 16 points:

  • 12-16 Points: outright victory
  • 8-11 Points: marginal victory
  • 4-7 Points: marginal loss
  • Less than 4 Points: abject defeat


This is a combination of a defence in depth and a holding action, but the primary goal is to preserve the best of the army (which is exposed on the front line), so that it can be used on ground where it will be more effective.

The first alternative is to consider the Plains of Abraham. This was also known as the Battle of Quebec and was, in effect, the battle that decided the future of Canada. Quebec was under siege and instead of waiting for a slow death the French sallied out of the fortifications and were decisively thrashed in around an hour on open ground.

Deep defences are synonymous with the First World War, but these were battles that were largely static, costly for both sides and rarely did either side choose to withdraw or have a delaying action as their primary objective. In a similar period, the Anglo-Boer Wars saw more fluid delaying actions aiming to prevent the British from overrunning supply, logistics and non-combatants. There are numerous examples on the Russian Front in the Second World War and particularly in the Pacific that could be fought using the same basic approach, a seemingly resilient front line which falls back to a second defended line and finally a withdrawal.

The British found themselves facing a similar set of circumstances just eight years later and over 5,000 miles to west at Redinha on March 12 1811. This was a masterful rear guard action by a couple of French divisions under Marshal Ney against a larger Anglo-Portuguese force under Wellington himself. Ney had around 7,000 men against Wellington’s 25,000. Ney was able to hold off the British allowing Masséna to retreat from Portugal. Ney held off the British at Pombal on March 11 before falling back to Redinha.

Ney placed Mermet’s division on a plateau south of Redhinha and Marchand’s division on the other side of the River Ancos to the north. All that connected the two divisions was a narrow bridge. It all looked very tempting for the British. Suffice to say Ney held Wellington off for a full day at the cost of 229 men.


Depending on who you believe, the battle saw a decisive victory for the British against fairly overwhelming odds (which then lead to a successful, if long, siege of the city) or that Holkar held off the British as long as he needed and then slipped away to Bharatpur.

The siege of Bharatpur was an embarrassing disaster for the British. Ranjit Singh’s men repulsed three determined British assaults holding out from 2 January and 22 February 1805. Eventually, Ranjit Singh was forced to accept the British surrender terms. He paid an indemnity to them in return for being allowed to retain his lands (including getting Deeg back).

Meanwhile, Holkar, trapped by three rapidly closing British forces sued for peace and got it with a treaty he signed with them on Christmas Eve 1805. Holkar continued his struggle to be free of British involvement, but died after suffering a stroke on 27 October 1811. Due to his relative success against the British he has acquired the reputation as the “Napoleon of India”.

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