Nader Shah's Poor Naval Policy

  July 07, 2021   Read time 3 min
Nader Shah's Poor Naval Policy
Nader Shah was a poor judge of naval talent and made serious mistakes in choosing his admirals and marine commanders. Years before the Dagestan campaign, Nader had selected Latif Khan to be his first admiral and to create a small naval force.

In 1735, Latif sailed into the Shatt al- Arab to threaten the city of Al Basrah with a few small vessels and three ghurabs, or “grabs,” a local type of trading ship used by Arabs on the coast. The local Ottoman commander commandeered two British ships and att acked Latif ’s small flotilla, which quickly retreated. In 1737, Latif provided transports to move troops to Oman to help the local ruler suppress rebels there. In the course of these operations, the Persian land commander, Muhammad Taqi Khan, poisoned Latif and took over command of the navy. Taqi Khan’s poor treatment of his Arab seamen caused a mutiny that ended the Persian intervention.

Over the next several years, new admirals fared little better, because they and their subordinate officers were unprofessional and generally incompetent. The Arab sailors, upon whom Nader Shah’s navy relied, repeatedly mutinied, and in 1740 mutineers waged a war of coastal raids against Iran. Nader sent two admirals to end the raids, but they spent more time quarrelling over precedence and command. One eventually was imprisoned by his rival, Imamverdi Khan, a seriously unqualifi ed officer. Khan was later killed when a cannon exploded after he ordered its powder charge doubled with the goal of increasing the weapon’s range. In January 1742 Nader Shah inexplicably turned again to Muhammad Taqi Khan to be his chief admiral. Persian forces intervened in another rebellion in Oman later that year, capturing Oman’s capital, Muscat, for Nader’s Omani ally. After a lengthy siege and three thousand casualties, the Persian ground forces, under Kalb Ali Khan, captured the city of Suhar in July 1743, which put an end to the rebellion. With Oman pacified, Nader recalled most of his forces. For a second time, however, Muhammad Taqi Khan murdered his superior officer, killing Kalb Ali and then att empting to spark a revolt in Fars. Nader put down the revolt, but the disruption in the navy prevented him from supporting his garrisons in Oman, which were overrun and cost him the intervention’s political gains.

In land warfare Na der’s success rested on careful planning and preparations as much as on the capabilities of his armed forces. He eff ectively mobilized large forces for his campaigns and was careful to stockpile provisions to sustain his forces in the fi eld. Na der paid att ention to the morale of his army and did not rely just on the material improvements he made to its organization and administration. He ensured that his troops were regularly paid and fully equipped, which, along with the prospect of spoils from their successful wars, undoubtedly helped to keep them motivated. Na der maintained his offi cers’ support and commitment with generous gifts of money, horses, and weapons.

Daily exercises to prepare the troops for campaigns were routine in Na der’s army. In these exercises, according to a Greek observer, the cavalry practiced wheels and counterwheels, charges, retreats, and counteratt acks while using real weapons. The jazayerchis also exercised together and even conducted target practice, expending expensive powder and balls to improve their skills. Na der sometimes joined in the exercises, demonstrating his skill with a bow on horseback and generally leading by example. Individual soldiers observed doing well by Na der and his commanders were oft en promoted on the spot, providing further encouragement for each soldier to do his best. In addition, the diversifi ed ethnic composition of the army probably helped to encourage competition and improve military eff ectiveness. It also lessened the risk of disaff ection spreading and off set the infl uence of the Safavid partisans. The large amount of resources and time put into building his army meant that Na der Shah could not allow it to be demobilized or allow the soldiers to return to their tribal homelands, as had been the Safavid practice.