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World War One


 

The Long Road to Baghdad
in
Two Volumes

by Edmund Candler

long road to baghdad

Available in PDF for Windows and Mac 

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The Long Road to Baghdad

Extract from the book...

"The Turks made no stand in their strongly entrenched position at Ctesiphon. We were too close on their heels,
and gave them no pause at Aziziyeh. After the action at Lajj their vanguard fell back on Diala, destroying the
bridge which crosses the
Diala River at its junction with the Tigris. We pushed on in pursuit on the left bank,
sending the cavalry with the 7th Division and the 35th Brigade to work round on the right bank, where the 
Turks had a force covering the city from the south and south-west. Speed in following up was essential, and the
column attacking Diala was faced with another crossing from which the element of surprise was eliminated. The
village lies on both banks of the stream, which is 120 yards wide. Houses, trees, nullahs and walled gardens
made it impossible to build roads and ramps quickly and bring up pontoons without betraying the point of
embarkation. Hence the old bridgehead site was chosen. The passage might have been forced with less loss by a
wide flanking movement farther inland, but this would have meant delay, and in a pursuit time is essential. One
must reckon on the enemy being hustled and weakened in moral, and one must display a boldness which would
be foolhardiness in an open fight. The general who does not presume weakness in an opponent in such circumstances,
or who hesitates to act on it, would be lacking in initiative. But if the enemy is not hustled, if his moral
is good and his dispositions sound, the details who are thrown in on this principle as a feeler have to pay.

The 13th Division were leading on the left bank, and the attack on the night of March 7th-8th was launched 
by the 6th King's Own of the 38th, or
Lancashire, Brigade. It failed completely ; but the gallantry of our
men has never been surpassed in war. Immediately the first pontoon was lowered over the ramp the whole
launching party was shot down in a few seconds. It was bright moonlight, and the Turks had concentrated their
machine guns and rifles in houses on the opposite bank. The second pontoon had got into the middle of the stream
when a terrific fusillade was opened on it. The crew of five rowers and ten riflemen were killed and the boat 
floated downstream. The third pontoon got nearly across, was bombed, and sank ; all the crew were killed. 
But there was no holding back. The orders still held to secure the passage. Crew after crew pushed off to an 
obvious and certain death. The fourth crossing party was exterminated in the same way, and the pontoons drifted
out to the
Tigris to float past our camp in the daylight with their freight of dead.

Telephone wires were carried over in the boats. In one boat that was drifting downstream the only survivors
were a signaller, and a private of the King's Own who appeared to be mortally wounded. The signaller 
attached his line to the bows of the drifting boat, dived overboard and reached the shore with the other end of the
line; by this, with assistance from the bank, he succeeded in hauling in the pontoon with the wounded man. The
rowers who went over were volunteers from other battalions in the brigade. They and the Sappers working
on the bank share the honours of the night with the attacking battalion. It had become a forlorn hope, but
the men laughed and joked, keeping the tragic, sentimental, and heroic at arm's length, as is the manner of
their kind. Nothing stopped them save the loss of the pontoons. In the last lap one of the
Lancashire men
called out: "It's a bit hot here; let's try higher up."

But the gallant fellows were reduced to their last pontoon. The East Lancashire Regiment, which was to have
crossed higher up simultaneously with the King's Own, were delayed, as the boats had to be carried nearly a mile
across difficult country to the stream. After the failure of the bridgehead passage this second crossing was abandoned,
but the men were still game.

On the second night the attempt was pursued with equal gallantry by the Loyal North Lancashires. This 
time the attack was preceded by a bombardment. Registering by the artillery had been impossible on the first day 
owing to the rapidity of the pursuit. It was the barrage that secured us the footing ; not the shells, but the dust
raised by them. This was so thick that you could not see your hand in front of your face. It formed a curtain
behind which the boats were able to cross. Afterwards, in clear moonlight, when the curtain of dust had lifted, the
conditions of the night before were established. Succeeding crossing parties were exterminated ; pontoons drifted
away. But the footing was secure ; the dust had served us well. The crew of one boat which lost its way during
the barrage was untouched in midstream, but they did not make the bank in time. Directly the air cleared a machine
gun was opened on them ; the rowers were shot down and the pontoon drifted back to shore. A sergeant called for
volunteers to get the wounded out of the boat. A party of twelve men went over the river bund; every man of
them, as well as the crew of the pontoon, was killed.

Some sixty men had got over. These joined up and started bombing along the bank. They were soon heavily
pressed by the Turks on both flanks, and found themselves between two woods. Here they discovered a providential
natural position. A break in the river bund had been repaired by a new bund, built in the shape of a half-moon 
on the landward side. This formed a perfect lunette. The
Lancashire men, surrounded on all sides save towards
the river, held it through the night and all the next day and the next night against repeated and determined attacks.
These assaults were delivered in the dark or at dawn. The Turks only attacked once in daylight, as our machine
guns on the other bank swept the ground of the position. Twenty yards west of the lunette there was a thin grove
of mulberries and palms. The position was most vulnerable on this side, and it was here the Turkish counterattacks
were most frequent. Our intense intermittent artillery fire day and night on the wood afforded some protection.
The whole affair was visible to our troops on the south side, who were able to make themselves heard
by shouting. Attempts to get a cable across by rockets, for passage of ammunition, failed. At night volunteers were
called for to swim the stream with a line. The strongest swimmer was almost across when Lieutenant
Loman, the adjutant of the regiment, who was paying out the wire, fell dead, shot through the heart, and the weight
of the line prevented the man in the water from reaching the other bank. At
midnight of the 9th-10th, the Turks
were on the top of the parapet, but were driven back. One more determined rush would have carried the lunette, but
the little garrison, now reduced to forty, kept their heads and maintained a cool control of fire. A corporal was seen
searching for loose rounds and emptying the bandoliers of the dead. In the end they were reduced almost to their
last clip and one bomb ; but we found over a hundred Turkish dead outside the redoubt when they were relieved
at daylight on the morning of the 10th.

The crossing on the night of the 9th-10th was entirely successful. With our cavalry and two columns of infantry
working round on the right bank the Turks were in danger of being cut off as at Sannaiyat. Before
midnight
they had withdrawn their machine guns, leaving only riflemen to dispute the passage. The crossing of the
Wiltshires upstream was a surprise. They slipped through the Turk's guard. He had pickets at both ends
of the river salient where we dropped our pontoons, but he overlooked the essential points in it, which offered us dead
ground uncovered by his posts up and down stream. It was so unexpected that the Turks did not realise what 
was in the air until our footing was established. One man was actually bayoneted as he lay covering the opposite
bank of the river with his rifle. The other ferry nearer the bridge also crossed with slight loss owing to the diversion
upstream. The Turks, perceiving that their flank was being turned, effected a general retirement; the greater
part of their garrison between the two ferries, some 250 in all, finding us bombing down on both flanks, surrendered.

A third ferry had been arranged on the Tigris. Two armed motor launches of the spacious pattern constructed
for the landing at Gallipoli .were manned overnight by 500 of the Cheshires. These were to be run ashore on to
the Turkish trenches facing the
Tigris half a mile above its junction with the Diala. The Cheshires were to land,
rush the position, skirt the village at the back, and join hands with the small garrison of the
North Lancashires,
provided it still held out, and with any details that might have effected a passage. It was a gallant venture ; but
the flats and shallows forbade. One of these ugly, clumsy barges, with its bellyful of armed men like the horse of
Troy
, grounded on a sandbank, and we on the Tarantula had an anxious quarter of an hour the next morning towing
her off, before the enemy's guns could register on us.

But the Cheshires, had they been in time, could not have added greatly to the success of the action. The passage
had been forced before dawn. By half-past nine on the morning of the 10th the whole brigade was across. Soon
after eleven the bridge was completed and the pursuit continued. The splendid gallantry of the 38th Brigade
will never be forgotten, and if there is any perspective in history, the Diala will be remembered—not as the stream
in which Cyrus lost his horse, but as a kind of
Lancashire Thermopylae.

At Bawi, four miles above Ctesiphon, we bridged the Tigris again, and threw a force of all arms on to the right
bank. The 35th Brigade had crossed by ferry on the night of the 7th and 8th, and were working up the river
bank. The Cavalry Division crossed by the bridge on thenight of the 8th ; the 7th Division on the early morning
of the 9th. The Turks were holding a position at Shawa Khan, some five miles south-west of
Baghdad, with their
left resting on the river. They had no natural defences on this bank comparable to the Diala. By this time they
had abandoned all hope of saving the city and were fighting a delaying action. The dust storm which blew hard
on the 9th and 10th helped them, screening them from our guns in their retirement.

On the 9th there was a scattered fight on a very wide front, and we advanced, driving the enemy's patrols and
pickets before us. By two in the afternoon the 7th Division were in touch with the 35th Brigade on the
right. As the line of our advance drew in towards the bend of the river our flank was exposed all day to an enfilade
fire from the enemy's guns on the other bank. Behind his huts and walls and in his hastily improved watercuts
the Turk had a strong rearguard position, and it was immensely improved by the support he received from his
artillery across the
Tigris, where his guns lay concealed in palm groves and safe from attack so long as the Diala
defences held. Inland our troops on the extreme left were seven and a half miles from water. A force consisting of
the 51st Sikhs, 56th Rifles, 92nd and 28th Punjabis, who were sent out to find the enemy's right flank, failed. And
the cavalry lent no aid, as, through want of water and the exhaustion of their horses, they were for all practical
purposes immobilised. When darkness fell the Turks were still holding the position, but before dawn our
patrols pushed forward and found that they had evacuated. The morning of the 10th discovered the
enemy in a new line of trenches covering the iron bridge.

The day was spent in a gradual advance under a heavy fire. All the time the Turk must have been slipping
away, but in the blinding dust our guns had no target. The wind served him in good stead ; a clear sky would
have doubled his losses. Our own casualties in the two days' fighting and marching, though there was no
bayonet work or rushing of trenches, were not small. For the Turk, having little transport to fall back upon,
was reckless in his expenditure of shells, and he had the advantage of us in the dust as he knew the ground and
had registered the positions. The losses of the 7th Division exceeded a thousand. But the Turks were not for
staying. They could hear the sound of battle on the left bank which told them that we had crossed the Diala. 
Towards evening they were firing salvoes from all their guns—no uncertain sign of impending departure ; and
their uneasiness was betrayed in the wild, rapid and continuous fire opened by their infantry on our patrols.
Then, soon after
midnight, the glare of the flaming city indicated the organised destruction of a retreat. At 1 a.m.
a patrol under a Gurkha officer of the 2 /4th Gurkha Rifles reported that the enemy's gun pits were empty, and
that there were no Turks in the
Iron Bridge nullah. The order for the attack in the early hours of the night had
not been cancelled, and no further move was made till 2 A.M.
on the 11th. The 21st Brigade then passed
through the 19th Brigade ; patrols were pushed forward, and it was found that the Turk had only left a few riflemen
to cover his retirement. At
5.45 a.m. a half company of the Black Watch under Lieutenant Houston
seized the
Baghdad railway station with the loss of two men. Two hours afterwards the 35th Brigade had
occupied the suburb opposite the site of the bridge of boats, and before
noon the cavalry were in Kadhimain.

On the left bank, after the crossing of the Diala, there was fighting in the palm groves of Saida and
Dibaiyi. The
Warwicks went in and the Turks were cleared with the bayonet after our artillery had combed
the wood. The enemy's main body was holding the Tel Mahomed position a mile and a half farther north, a
trench line running nearly four miles inland from the Tigris
. The 38th and 39th Brigades attacked this in front
while the 40th Brigade made a wide turning movement 
on the flank."

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In addition a supplementary 62 page volume of illustrated articles from the Great War
magazine series is included on the ebook, covering the Battle for Kut, the advance on Baghdad and the subsequent battles
in Mesopotamia.

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The Mesopotamian Campaign was a campaign in the Middle Eastern theatre of the World War I fought between Allied Powers represented by the British Empire, mostly troops from the British Raj, and Central Powers, mostly of the Ottoman Empire.

The war in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) was almost accidental in its scope. The British had no serious interest in this part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman government lead by Enver Pasha didn't care much about it either, it ranked in priorities below the Caucasus Campaign and the Sinai and Palestine Campaign. Mesopotamia was also rather isolated from the rest of the Ottoman Empire. Althought work had started on a Berlin to Baghdad Railroad as early as 1888, by the start of 1915 there were four gaps in the tracks and it took 21 days to travel from Constantinople to Baghdad.

The British interests were to protect their oil refinery at Abadan and to defend their allies in the area (Persia and Kuwait). Ottoman interests were to maintain the status quo.

Shortly after the war started in Europe, the British sent a military force to protect Abadan, one of the world's earliest oil refineries. The British didn't use much oil at the start of the war but they had already started building warships which would be fueled by oil instead of coal by 1912.

On November 6, 1914, the British force attacked and took the Turkish fort at Fao Landing. Two weeks later, the British occupied the city of Basra. The main Turkish army, under the over-all command of Khalil Pasha was located 275 north-west around Baghdad and made only weak efforts to dislodge the British from the southern end of Mesopotamia.

Initial British Conquest of Basra

British Offensive into Southern Mesopotamia, 1915

Battle of Ctesiphon, 1915

In April of 1915, a new British commander, General Nixon was sent to Mesopotamia. He ordered his commander in the field, General Townshend to advance to Kut or Baghdad if possible. Townshend and his small army advanced up the Tigris river, defeating several Ottoman forces sent to halt him. Worried about the possible fall of Baghdad, Enver Pasha sent an old German general, Baron von der Goltz, to take command of the Ottoman army in the field.

Townshend and Goltz fought a battle at Ctesiphon, 25 miles south of Baghdad. The battle was inconclusive as both the Ottomans and the British ended up retreating from the battlefield. However, Townshend concluded a full scale retreat was necessary so he withdrew in good order back to Kut, then halted and fortified the position.

Defending Kut as opposed to retreating back to Basra was a mistake. Kut was isolated, and while it could be defended, it could not be resupplied. Baron Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz was a famous military historian who had written several classic books on military operations, he had also spent 12 years working with the Ottoman army. Under his expert direction the Turkish forces built defensive positions around the land side of Kut, laid siege to the British, and built fortified positions down river designed to fend off any attempt to rescue Townshend.

The siege of Kut lasted from December 7, 1915 till April 29, 1916. The British made three major attempts to break the siege, each effort was unsuccessful. After the first failure, General Nixon was replaced by General Lake. All told the British suffered 23,000 casualties in their unsuccessful effort to break the siege. Townshend surrendered April 29, 1916 and his 8,000 soldiers became captives of the Ottomans. More than half of the British prisoners died as they were forced to do hard labor for the remainder of the war.

Baron von der Goltz died just before the surrender of Kut, supposedly of typhus. With the loss of Baron von der Goltz, the Ottomans never won another battle against the British in Mesopotamia.

The British viewed the loss of Kut as a humiliating defeat. It had been many years since such a large body of British Army soldiers had surrendered to an enemy. Also this loss followed only four months after the British defeat at the Battle of Gallipoli. Nearly all the British commanders involved in the failure to rescue Townshend were removed from command. The Turks proved they were good at holding defensive positions against superior forces.

The British refused to let this defeat stand and so the new commander, General Maude was given additional reinforcements and equipment. For the next six months he trained and organized his army. His offensive was launched on December 13 1916. The British advanced up both sides of the Tigris river, forcing the Ottoman army out of a number of fortified positions along the way. General Maude's offensive was methodical, organized, and successful. The British recaptured Kut in February of 1917, destroying most of the Ottoman army in the process.

By early March, the British were at the outskirts of Baghdad, and the Baghdad garrison, under the direct command of the Governor of Baghdad province Khalil Pasha, tried to stop them. General Maude outmanouvered the Turkish forces, destroyed a Turkish regiment and captured the Turkish defensive positions. Khalil Pasha retreated in disarray out of the city. On March 11, 1917 the British entered Baghdad where they were greeted as liberators. Amidst the confusion of the retreat a majority of the Ottoman army (some 9,000 soldiers) were captured. A week after the city fell, General Maude issuing the oft-quoted Proclamation of Baghdad, which contained the famous line "our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators"

Further small scale attacks were made by the British towards the north and east but General Maude died from cholera in November of 1917 and his successor, General William Marshall halted operations for the winter. The British resumed their offensive in late February 1918 capturing Kifri and Hit (previously called Khanaqin). General Marshall's forces supported General Lionel Dunsterville's operations in Persia during the summer of 1918 but his very powerful army was "astonishing inactive, not only in the hot season but through most of the cold" (Cyril Falls, "The Great War" pg. 329). In October the British went on the offensive for the last time and fought a battle at the Battle of Sharqat, routing the Turkish army. General Marshall accepted the surrender of Khalil Pasha and the Turkish 6th Army on October 30 1918. British troops marched unopposed into Mosul on the 14 November 1918.

The British lost 92,000 soldiers in the Mesopotamian campaign. Turkish losses are unknown but the British captured a total of 45,000 prisoners of war. By the end of 1918 the British had deployed 410,000 men into the area though only 112,000 of them were combat troops. The vast majority of the British empire forces in this campaign were recruited from India.

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Get to grips with the history of the campaign which lead to modern day Iraq and the continuing turmoil in the region.

The Long Road to Baghdad is comprehensive and makes for fascinating reading. So many of the places mentioned are still in the news today.

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