A Brief Outline of the Campaign in Mesopotamia
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A Brief Outline of the Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-18
LT-COL. R. EVANS, M.C., P.S.C.
LONDON: SIFTON PRAED & CO. LTD.,
THE MAP HOUSE, 67, ST. JAMES'S STREET, S.W. i.
FRINTED IN (GREAT BRITAIN BY SIFTON PRAED & Co., LTD.. ST. TAMKS'S.
Mesopotamia. A brief sketch of its history in relation to the Eastern policy
of Great Britain; of its geographical and climatic characteristics; and of
certain other factors which affected the problem of taking military action
Events in the Middle East prior to the rupture with Turkey—The conflicting
claims of general and local policy—The first step towards British action in
Mesopotamia—The British Plan—Events up to the capture of Basra.
Policy in Mesopotamia after the occupation of Basra—Political and strategical
conditions governing the question of an advance—Baghdad the focal point of
political ambition—The situation m the Middle East at the and of
1914-—Preparations for the Turkish counter-offensive and German activities in
South Persia necessitate increasing the size of the Expeditionary Force in
Mesopotamia—The overthrow of the Turkish counter-offensive—The formation of
the II Indian Army Corps—Its Commander's plans for the future.
The operations in Persian Arabistan in May, 1915—The Advance-to Amara—The
proposal to advance to Nasiriyeh—Views expressed bv the General Staff in India
and by the Commander-in-Chief—The operations on 4he Euphrates iu July—The
capture of Nasiriyeh—The distribution of the II Indian Army Corps in
August—The general situation in India and the Middle East—The strategical
situation in Mesopotamia—General Nixon's proposal to advance to Kut—The
capture of Kut.
The situation in the Near and Middle East at the capture of Kut - The
strategical situation in Mesopotamia—General Nixon's proposal to advance to
Baghdad, and the discussion which preceded the decision of the Cabinet on this
point—The responsibility for the decision—The strategical situation in
Mesopotamia immediately before the advance—The battle of Ctesiphon and the
retirement to Kut—The decision to stand at Kut, and its strategical result—The
strategical role of General Townshend at Kut
The general situation in Mesopotamia in December, 1915—The conclusions of the
War Committee—British policy after the anticipated relief of Kut—The first
phase in the attempt at relief; the battles of Sheikh Saad, the Wadi and eil
Hanneh—The second phase; the operations on the right bank; the battle of the
Dujailah—The third phase; The capture of the Hanneh and Fallahiyeh positions;
the succession of the failures at Sannaiyat, Bait Issa; the " Julnar "—The
surrender of Kut—Reflections on the relief operations.
The political and strategical situation at the surrender of Kut—The definition
of British policy regarding the campaign—The strategical role of the Tigris
Corps; withdrawal or not?—Facts affecting the strategical situation—C.I.G.S.'s
instructions to General Lake—The situation on the Tigris in May—The situation
on the Persian front and its effect on British Policy—The situation on the
Tigris and on the Euphrates in June—The administrative problem—Proposals to
resume the offensive—The administrative reorganisation—The change in command:
General Maude appointed G.O.C.—The situation in Mesopotamia in September—The
modification of the War Committee's defensive policy—Courses of action open to
General Maude—The situation on the Tigris in September and October.
CHAPTER VIII. THE BRITISH OFFENSIVE ON THE TIGRIS.
Final preparations for the offensive—The first phase: The line of the Hal
gained and consolidated; General Maude's redistribution of his forces in order
to form a mobile striking force: The operation at the Shumran Bend; The
situation at the close of the first phase—Courses of action open to General
Maude—The second phase: The attack on the Kadairi position by the 1st Corps
meets with unexpectedly strong resistance; The action of the 3rd Corps; The
situation at the end of the second phase—The third phase: operations at the
Hai Salient—The fourth phase: operations at the Dahra Bend—The Turks lose the
whole of the right bank of the Tigris.
THE OFFENSIVE ON THE TIGRIS—(continued). The situation in the Caucasus and in
north-west Persia in January, 1917, and its effect on the Tigris Front—The
possible developments in British policy—The situation on the Tigris after the
battle at Dahra Bend— General Maude's plan—the assault at Sannaiyat on the
17th—Preparations for crossing the Tigris—General Maude's orders for the
operation on the 2~3rd February—The crossing at Shumran and the final assault
at Sannaiyat—The Turkish retreat—The "break out" from the Shumran
Peninsula—The pursuit—Administrative arrangements cause a halt at Aziziyeh—Comments
on the operations between the 12th December, 1916, and the 28th February,
THE CAPTURE OF BAGHDAD AND THE CONSOLIDATION OF THE POSITION THERE.
The halt at Aziziyeh—General Maude is informed that he is to exploit his
success—Baghdad becomes the objective of the campaign- Russian
co-operation—The advance—Fighting at the Diyala and on the right bank of the
Tigris—The capture of Baghdad—Measures for consolidating the position—The
Russian failure—Operations in March and April—Turkish project for a
counter-offensive in the Autumn— The situation in Mesopotamia in the summer of
1917—The situation in Mesopotamia in the autumn of 1917—The operations at
Ramadi in September—The offensive in Palestine diverts Turkish reserves from
Baghdad—The death of General Maude—The courses open to General Mai shall, his
successor—Local offensives carried out in the spiing and early summer of
1918—The situation in the Caucasus— "Dunster force"—The Turkish advance from
Tabriz—The renewal of General Allenby's offensive in Palestine, and its effect
in Persia- General Marshalls' advance on the Tigris—The defeat of the remnants
of the Turkish Sixth Arm>—The declaration of an armistice with Turkey—British
troops enter Mosul—The end of the Campaign, 115
CHAPTER XI. REFLECTIONS ON THE CAMPAIGN.
This little book does not pretend to be more than an epitome of the subject
with which it deals. In writing it, my sole object has been to produce a clear
outline-picture of the campaign., an outline which will help the reader to a
more detailed study.
It is intended to lead up to, and not to supplant, the extremely valuable and
comprehensive volumes of the Official History by setting down, in condensed
form, the essential facts which governed the policy, strategy and—to a very
limited extent—the conduct of tactical operations in and connected with the
To attempt to deal with even an outline of four years of war in a volume of
135 pages, is to lay oneself open to severe criticism upon both matter and
manner. My only excuse for the presentation of such an inadequate work is my
desire to make easy for those who are unacquainted with this campaign the
study of what is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting " side-shows " of
the Great War.
Staff College,, Camberley, •September, 1926
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
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
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
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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