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Weapon Trivia Wednesday: The Jezail
The history of firearms has witnessed its share of successes and flops. Often the design is married to necessities like tactical/military purposes or bringing down game so your family doesn’t starve. For western civilizations it drove the firearm makers to build and employ a functional weapon in lieu of an overly ornate design. Although ornate weapons were present on the battlefield and hunts, they were expensive and reserved for the affluent and royalty. Conversely, eastern culture encouraged a more aesthetically pleasing designs in its weapons. One such firearm is the Jezail.
The Jezail was made for war, but like its closest western cousins could be used to hunt for the family meal. Often lavishly ornate with materials readily available to its creator, it took on the personality and shape of the people who employed it. Usually a heavy caliber musket, between .50 to .70 caliber, it was most often fitted with flintlock firing mechanism from a Brown Bess or other similar ignition system. However, the rifle stock was hand made with a number of brass fittings and lavish material inlaid into the stock. Some Jezails have so much brass and inlay that from a western perspective it boggles the mind as to why the gun maker would go beyond function of the weapon by adding so many useless decorations.
A closer look at the people and the culture may explain the reasons; most of the population lives in drab, isolated areas void of colors. To create something that stands out with color or decorative inlay may have given tribesmen an ability to express their individualism within the tribe while still serving a functional purpose.
Another distinct difference in design was the curved buttstock. Debate continues about its true function and practical use, but it stands out as a very eastern style not seen anywhere in the western evolution of firearms. Whether the curve served to fit snugly in the armpit or firing from the shoulder, we have to understand the type of combat the Jezail may have faced. A firearm of many eastern cultures, it was more than likely employed and handled differently as well. If the Jezail had been made with an exceptionally long barrel, as was common with Arabs, it’s possible the fighting could have been done from camelback. The long barrel would have accommodated reloading and leveling the musket forward of the animal. The curve could have served as a brace under the arm to support the weapon and in concert with a charging camel cavalry charge would have sent a volley of large caliber lead toward an enemy formation. The shock and awe would have been overwhelming. That’s merely a theory, though; the Afghans used their jezails in a completely different manner.
The first Anglo-Afghan war occurred in the 1840’s with the British attempting to expand their empire and emplace puppet royals who were friendly to the crown. Unfortunately Afghanistan’s national sport was being invaded, so they knew how to play the game. A series of skirmishes ensued and the Brits decided to make a tactical withdrawal from Kabul to Jalalabad. The formation consisted of thousands of soldiers, their families and supplies. This kept them tethered to the passes and lower ground. From the high ground surrounding the passes, the Afghans played to their strength and mobility and rained down lead, iron, rocks and everything else they could fit down their Jezails, killing thousands of soldiers and their family members. With the Brown Bess’s limited range and accuracy, the British were essentially helpless.
Additionally, the soldiers of the empire couldn’t maneuver in the narrow valleys nor employ the Brown Bess in any concentrated area to effectively beat back the Afghan mountain warriors. It must have been terrifying. British accounts of the accuracy of the Jezail at 250 yards or more may have been embellished by fear, but the Afghan snipers with their Jezails decimated the slow-moving column (and this article is not intended to dispute the shooting prowess of the mountain warriors). There are some accounts of captives, but only one person survived to the gates of Jalalabad.
To rain such one-sided murderous firepower in a single area by musket fire overwhelms the senses. The Afghans may have worked in cells, loading and moving with the slow formation, giving them ample time to reload and take careful aim. As the Jezail was by all accounts a rifled musket, its accuracy reputed to be deadly, but with thousands of targets clustered together for protection it was the proverbial fish-in-a-barrel situation. Another possibility is the use of a shooting stick. With time on their side they could have shouldered the Jezail while placing the barrel on the stick, therefore increasing the chance of a kill. In any case, the British massacre kept the empire at bay for another thirty years, a testament to the mountain warrior and their Jezails.
The Jezail was used in small numbers during the Soviet invasion and against the US-led coalition, although these incidents were isolated and proved to be no real threat. The Afghans have moved on to using captured firearms such as the AK-47 and western weapons. Regardless, the Jezail has secured its place in history as a practical and effective battle implement.
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About the Author: Michael “Shrop” Shropshire is a master fudgelist from way back. Although he is frequently mistaken for one of Jim Henson’s Muppets (and once for Bombur’s brother Bofur), Shrop is in fact a retired USAF SNCO who spent a couple of decades as a TACP. A Hoosier by birth, he’s a huge gun nerd, though one far more interested in the historical variety (which is why he once restored a 19th century revolver dug up during construction of a COP in Afghanistan) than some of our other, more “modern” gun nerd minions. While admittedly something of a dork, he’s also a decorated combat veteran of both OEF and OIF and a huge fan of “name that bomb!” We’ll tell you a little about one of his adventures since he won’t. Shrop was awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Abu Sukhayr in ‘o3 while with 3-7 CAV. There, with C Troop surrounded in the middle of the worst sandstorm in 40 years, he dismounted under fire, confirmed the location of enemy armor, repaired a damaged radio and then directed JDAM drops and CAS missions that rendered an Iraqi tank battalion combat ineffective, destroying scores of tanks, hundreds of trucks and an unknown number of dismounted infantry. He’s held a number of billets, some and some lame, including a stint as Chief of Standards and Evaluations for the 12th Combat Training Squadron and O/C and trainer at NTC. Since retiring as the TACP Superintendent of the 146 ASOS Shrop has been relaxing, indulging his cryptoscopophiliac urges, writing a little on his blog Gunsmack and doing some custom work on the side as Straight Shooter Gun Designs. Shropshire is a devoted family man who has been married longer than some of you reading this have been alive. Perhaps predictably, he does not deserve his awesome wife, whom we’ve unsuccessfully wooed as a writer because she thinks we all need to grow up. want to read some crazy shit about Shrop? Start reading from the fourth paragraph down here.
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