The Tarps That Lost the War

There were plenty of battles between British and Indian forces in the establishment of the British colony in India, perhaps none as key as the Battle of Plassey. Who would of ever thought that tarpaulins would be the decisive factor in winning the battle. 

Lord Clive meeting with Mir Jafar, by Francis Hayman 1762

Lord Clive meeting with Mir Jafar, by Francis Hayman 1762

In 1756, the British suffered a heavy defeat when they lost Calcutta to the young Nawab(a Governor in the Mogul empire) of Bengal, Siraj-ad-daula. Once word had finally reached the East India Company in Madras, the British amassed a force led by Robert Clive, and took back the city some months later.

Clive's attention turned to Bengal in June 1757, he knew that if the British were to successfully occupy Bengal, they would need to replace the current Nawab of Bengal with a Nawab more compliant to British interests. He made a secret pact with discontented general Mir Jafar to be the given the title once the current Nawab was removed (which included excessive bribes to get him over the line). Once the agreement was finalised, it was sneaked in through the women's quarters of Jafar's house as he was under constant surveillance from the Nawab's spies.

By this time the Nawab was growing extremely paranoid and suspicious that people were plotting against him, despite the British protests to convince him that they weren't, and moved his front to Plassey.

Robert Clive, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland

Robert Clive, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland

By mid June, Clive and his army of almost 3,000, including howitzers and other artillery, moved north into position, despite mixed messages coming from Jafar about the heavy opposition they were about to face. On receiving the messages, Clive and his war council voted to not where they voted against taking action against the Nawab. Sources say that following this vote, Clive went to meditate for an hour, and when he returned he gave the order to attack.

The Nawab's forces were significant, and severely outnumbered the British with over 40,000 troops, war elephants and over 50 cannons, even though one of the Nawab's divisions was still being commanded by Jafar.

After some cannon engagements early in the day, a thunderstorm struck at noon, and lasted about half an hour. Once the downpour started the British quickly covered their artillery and ammunition with tarpaulins, however the Nawab's forces failed to do the same. Whether they didn’t have them, or didn’t think it was appropriate to use them at the time is anyone's guess.

The Nawab's forces quickly realised that all of their artillery had been rendered useless as a result of the rain, and they made the assumption that the British artillery had suffered the same fate so they proceeded with a ground attack against the British. The quickly learned that the British artillery was working quite well as they faced a barrage of artillery fire against them. The Nawab's forces quickly began a retreat which was instigated by Jafar.

The British continued to attack, and the Nawab jumped on his camel and fled the battle, his entire army followed suit. When the British entered the Nawab's camp there was no one left there.

In the end approximately 500 of the Nawab's men were killed with the British losing just under 20 soldiers. Soon after the Nawab was killed by his own people, and Jafar became the ruling Nawab.

The battle that took place at Plassey was pivotal and a decisive moment in establishing the British Indian colony.