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lay siege to

Siege of Kut

The Siege of Kut was a major battle of World War I. It was part of the Mesopotamian Campaign (in what is now Iraq). The British Empire's Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force (MEF) was defeated by Ottoman forces.

Kut-al-Amara is a town on the Tigris, where it meets the ancient Shatt al-Hai canal. It is 350 km upstream from Basra and around 170 km from Baghdad. In 1915, its population was around 6,500.

Prelude

The 6th (Poona) Division of the Indian Army, under Major-General Charles Townshend, had fallen back to the town of Kut after retreating from Ctesiphon. The British Empire forces arrived at Kut around 3 December 1915. They had suffered significant losses and were down to around 11,000 soldiers (plus cavalry). General Townshend chose to stay and hold the position at Kut instead of continuing the march downriver towards Basra. Kut offered a good defensive position because it was contained within a long loop of the river. The problem was how to get supplies. Kut was a long way from Basra. In retrospect, Townshend's decision to stay at Kut was a disastrous one.

The siege

The pursuing Ottoman forces arrived on 7 December 1915. Once it became clear the Turks had enough forces to lay siege to Kut, Townshend ordered his cavalry to escape south, which it did, led by Colonel Gerard Leachman. The Ottoman forces numbered around 11,000 men and were commanded by the respected but old German General and military historian Baron von der Goltz. Goltz knew the Turkish army well as he had spent 12 years working on modernizing the Ottoman army from 1883 to 1895. After three attacks in December, Goltz directed the building of siege fortifications facing Kut. He also, like Caesar at Alisia, prepared for an attack from Basra, using the Tigris River, by building defensive positions further down the river.

After a month of siege, Townshend wanted to break-out and withdraw southwards but his Commander, Sir John Nixon saw value in tying down the Ottoman forces in a siege. However, when Townshend — inaccurately — reported only one month of food remained, a rescue force was hastily raised. It is not clear why Townshend reported he only had enough food for one month when he actually had food for more than four months (although at a reduced level).

Relief expeditions

The first relief expedition comprised some 19,000 men under General Aylmer and it headed up the river from Ali Gharbi in January 1916. It was badly mauled in three clashes in January.

Battle of Sheikh Sa'ad

The first attempt to relieve Kut (the Battle of Sheikh Sa'ad) came on 6 January. Aylmer's advance force, under Major-General Younghusband, moved forward from Ali Al Gharbi towards Sheikh Sa'ad along both banks of the Tigris. Younghusband's column made contact with the Turks on the morning of 6 January 3.5 miles east of Sheikh Sa'ad. British efforts to defeat the Turks were unsuccessful.

The following day, on 7 January, Aylmer arrived with the main body of his forces and ordered a general attack. Younghusband led the attack on the left bank and Major-General Kemball took the right. After heavy fighting all day, Kemball's troops had overrun Turkish trenches on the right bank, taking prisoners and capturing two guns. However, the Turkish left bank held firm and the Turks carried out supporting maneouvres from the north.

After little change on 8 January, renewed British attacks on the 9 January resulted in the Turks retiring from Sheikh Sa'ad. Over the following two days the Turks were following by Aylmer's force but heavy rains made the roads virtually impassable.

Battle of Wadi

The Turks retreated for about ten miles (16 km) from Sheikh Sa'ad to a tributary of the Tigris on the left bank known by the Arabic toponym simply as the Wadi (meaning "the river valley"). The Turks made their camp beyond the Wadi and on the other side of the Tigris opposite the Wadi.

On 13 January, Aylmer attacked the Turkish Wadi position on the left bank with all of his forces. After putting up a stiff resistance the Turks retreated five miles (8 km) to the west and they were followed by Aylmer's troops.

Battle of Hanna

The Turks then made their camp upstream of the Wadi at the Hanna defile, a narrow strip of dry land between the Tigris and the Suwaikiya Marshes. British losses at the Battle of Hanna amounted to 2,700 killed and wounded which was disastrous for the garrison in Kut.

Later efforts

At this point, Khalil Pasha (the Ottoman commander of the whole region) came to the battle, bringing with him a further 20,000 to 30,000 reinforcements.

Following the defeat of Aylmer's expedition, General Nixon was replaced as supreme commander by Percy Lake. More forces were sent to bolster Aylmer's troops. He tried again, attacking the Dujaila redoubt on 8 March. This attack failed at a cost of 4,000 men. General Aylmer was dismissed and replaced with George Gorringe on 12 March.

The relief attempt by Gorringe is usually termed the First Battle of Kut. The British Empire forces numbered about 30,000 soldiers, roughly equal to the Ottomans. The battle began on 5 April and the British soon captured Fallahiyeh but with heavy losses, Bait Asia was taken on 17 April. The final effort was against Sannaiyat on 22 April. The Allies were unable to take Sannaiyat and suffered some 1,200 casualties in the process.

The relief efforts had all failed at a cost of around 23,000 Allied killed or wounded. Ottoman casualties are believed to be around 10,000. The Turks also lost the aid of Baron von der Goltz. He died on 19 April supposedly of typhoid. After Goltz's death, no German commander took his place in Mesopotamia for the rest of the war.

Surrender of the British army

British leaders attempted to buy their troops out. Aubrey Herbert and T. E. Lawrence were part of a team of officers sent to negotiate a secret deal with the Turks. The British offered £2 million and promised they would not fight the Turks again, in exchange for Townshend's troops. Enver Pasha ordered that this offer be rejected.

The British also asked for help from the Russians. General Baratov, with his largely Cossack force of 20,000 was in Persia at the time. Following the request he advanced towards Baghdad in April 1916 but turned back when news reached him of the surrender.

General Townshend arranged a ceasefire on the 26th and, after failed negotiations, he simply surrendered on 29 April 1916 after a siege of 147 days. Around 13,000 Allied soldiers survived to be made prisoners. 70% of the British and 50% of the Indian troops died of disease or at the hands of the Turkish guards during captivity. Townshend himself was taken to the island of Malki on the Sea of Marmara, to sit out the war in luxury.

In British Army battle honours, the siege of Kut is named as "Defence of Kut Al Amara".

Aftermath

James Morris, a British historian, described the loss of Kut as "the most abject capitulation in Britain’s military history." After this humilitating loss, General Lake and General Gorringe were removed from command. The new commander was General Maude, who trained and organised his army and then launched a successful campaign which captured Baghdad on 11 March 1917. With Baghdad captured, the British administration undertook vital reconstruction of the war-torn country and Kut was slowly rebuilt. .

Some of the Indian prisoners of war (P.O.W) from Kut later came to join the Turkish Indian Volunteer Corps under the influence of Deobandis of Tehrek e Reshmi Rumal and with the encouragement of the German High Command. These soldiers, along with those recruited from the prisoners from the European Battlefields fought alongside Turkish forces in a number of fronts. The Indians were led by Amba Prasad Sufi, who during the war was joined by Kedar Nath Sondhi, Rishikesh Letha and Amin Chaudhry.These Indian troops were involved in the capture of the frontier city of Karman and the detention of the British consul there, and also successfully harassed Percy Sykes' Persian campaign against the Baluchi and Persian tribal chiefs who were aided by the Germans.

References

Sources and further reading

  • Barber, Major Charles H. Besieged in Kut - and After Blackwood, 1917
  • Braddon, Russell The Siege Cape, 1969 / Viking Adult, 1970 ISBN 0-670-64386-6
  • Dixon, Dr. Norman F. On the Psychology of Military Incompetence Jonathan Cape Ltd 1976 / Pimlico 1994 pp95–109
  • Harvey, Lt & Q-Mr. F. A. The Sufferings of the Kut Garrison During Their March Into Turkey as Prisoners of War 1916–1917 Ludgershall, Wilts: The Adjutants's Press, 1922
  • .

    • Keegan, John (1998). The First World War. Random House Press.
    • Long, P. W. Other Ranks of Kut Williams & Norgate, 1938
    • Mouseley, Capt. E. O. The Secrets of a Kuttite: An Authentic Story of Kut, Adventures in Captivity & Stamboul Intrigue Bodley Head, 1921
    • .

      • Sandes, Major E. W. C. In Kut & Captivity with the Sixth Indian Division Murray, 1919
      • Strachan, Hew (2003). The First World War, pp 125. Viking (published by the Penguin Group).
      • .

        • Wilcox, Ron (2006) Battles on the Tigris. Pen and Sword Military.
        • Mons, Anzac & Kut by Aubrey Herbert

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