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A Brief Outline of the Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-18

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A Brief Outline of the Campaign in Mesopotamia 1914-18



(Third Impression).








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 there.


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.


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, 1917,



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




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 campaign.

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 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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