24/4/1917 Britain consolidates its gains in Mesopotomia

While the British have suffered another reverse at Gaza, in Mesopotamia they continue to make progress. Maude has continued offensive operations since capturing Baghdad, not content to rest on his laurels. His goal is to push back Halil, the Turkish commander, so that his still powerful army does not present a threat to Baghdad. Maude is also concerned about Halil being reinforced by Turkish troops retreating from Persia, from which they have been expelled by the Russians. He may also want to prevent the Russians from expanding into upper Mesopotamia ahead of him.

Maude’s offensive halts today. With Fallujah on the Euphrates and Samarra on the Tigris now in British hands, he is confident that British possession of Baghdad is now secure.

11/3/1917 Baghdad falls to the British

In Mesopotamia the British have been advancing from Kut-al-Amara towards Baghdad. They have already passed Salman Pak and Ctesiphon and appear to be unstoppable. Realising that their position is untenable, the outnumbered and outgunned Turks decide to retreat. Shortly after midnight they and their German allies begin to withdraw from the city, destroying military equipment before they go. They also dynamite railway infrastructure and set fire to the pontoon bridge across the Tigris. As the Turks withdraw the city descends into anarchy, with looters descending on the commercial district.

As the day wears on, British troops arrive and secure the city. Indian cavalrymen are the first to enter Baghdad, with Maude making his own entrance in the afternoon once the situation is fully under control.

Last year the Turks won their great victory at Kut. Now this is just a distant memory, with the British clearly in the ascendant in Mesopotamia. 300 years of Ottoman rule in the region are coming to an end.

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Maude enters Baghdad (Wikipedia)

Mesopotamia (World War I Centenary: Continuations and Beginnings)

6/3/1917 Maude advances to the gates of Baghdad

After building up a stock of supplies, Britain’s Maude resumes his advance on Baghdad from Kut-al-Amara. Now he reaches Salman Pak and the Arch of Ctesiphon. Here Townshend was forced to retreat in 1915 but things are different now. Turkish strength in Mesopotamia has depleted while that of the British has grown. The Turks make no stand at Salman Pak and the town falls unopposed to Maude. Now he prepares for the final advance on Baghdad.

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The Arch of Ctesiphon (100 Years Ago Today: a Chronological Catalogue of the Tragedy of the First World War)

Maude’s men advance on the Arch of Ctesiphon (Alexandra Churchill (@churchill_alex) on Twitter)

3/3/1917 Robertson changes his mind: Maude is to march on Baghdad

After driving the Turks from Kut, Britain’s Maude is chomping at the bit to march on to Baghdad. In London however Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, fears that if Maude pushes ahead he could be marching into a trap. Robertson does not want to lose another army in Mesopotamia, after Townshend was forced to capitulate last year.

Robertson had ordered Maude to do no more than raid in the direction of Baghdad. However after remonstration by Maude and by senior British figures in India, Robertson changes his tune. Robertson now frees Maude to advance on Baghdad if he thinks the situation warrants it, though he continues to warn him against over-stretching himself.

What has changed Roberson’s mind? He has begun to realise that the Turks are currently in some disarray, with Baghdad potentially there for the taking before they reorganise themselves. Its capture would greatly raise Britain’s prestige in the Muslim world and correspondingly discredit the Turkish Empire. Robertson has also heeded warnings that the Russians are planning their own offensive into Mesopotamia from Persia. If the Russians were to seize Baghdad then it would tear up the secret division of the Middle East that Britain has agreed with France.

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Mesopotamia (Naval-History.Net)

28/2/1917 Mesopotamia: Maude is eager, Robertson cautious

After the British crossed the Tigris upstream of Kut-al-Amara, the Turks abandoned the city and retreated towards Baghdad. The Turks withdrew in good order but they have been roughly treated by British gunboats that chased them up the river. Turkish troops isolated from their fellows have also suffered from the opportunistic attentions of local Arab tribesmen, who are always on the lookout for an opportunity for robbery and pillage.

Maude, the British commander in Mesopotamia, knows that he has the upper hand in Mesopotamia. He wants to advance on Baghdad once he has gathered sufficient supplies, preventing the defeated Turks from consolidating their position. But he is under orders to avoid any further advance. He requests updated orders from London.

Robertson, the Chief of Imperial General Staff, remains cautious. He fears that a rash advance by Maude could see his force over-extended. Above all, Robertson wants to avoid a defeat like that suffered by Townshend last year, when he was forced to surrender in Kut after an ill-judged attempt to march on Baghdad. So Maude is disappointed when Robertson’s orders arrive. He is allowed to push a small force in the direction of Baghdad and even to raid it with cavalry, but he is forbidden to advance on the city with his main force.

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Frederick Maude (Wikipedia)

William Robertson (Wikipedia)

25/2/1917 Britain returns to Kut

Two days ago the British crossed the Tigris, upstream of Kut-al-Amara, forcing the Turks to abandon the city. Now the British return to Kut itself. British gunboats send a boarding party ashore to fly the Union Jack once more over the site of Townshend‘s humiliating surrender last year. It is unlikely that the townsfolk are too pleased to see the British back, remembering the horrors of the siege and the brutal reprisals that followed the British surrender.

With Kut now secure the gunboats prepare to sail upstream, to harry the retreating Turks. Their blood is up now: perhaps this defeat can be turned into a rout that will secure British victory in Mesopotamia.

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British troops march through Kut (The Heritage of the Great War)

23/2/1917 Mesopotamia: the Second Battle of Kut

Last year Britain suffered a humiliating defeat at Kut-al-Amara, where the Turks trapped a British army there and forced it to surrender. But now in Mesopotamia the fortunes of war appear to be once more favouring the British. They have received considerable reinforcements while Turkish numbers have been depleted by the need to send men to other fronts, notably Persia, the Caucasus and Palestine.

Maude, the British commander, has resumed the offensive. Fighting earlier this month appeared to be a replay of the failed attempts to raise the siege of Kut last year, with British attacks on strongly defended Turkish positions being repelled with heavy losses. But today Maude tries something else. While mounting diversionary attacks on the Turks at Sannaiyat and near Kut itself, he has a flanking force move upstream, where they manage cross the Tigris.

Now the Turkish forces in Kut are in danger of being trapped. Rather than face the same fate as the British last year, Halil Pasha orders his men to retreat towards Baghdad. Kut is abandoned to the British.

image source (Wikipedia)