18/11/1917 Allenby decides to press on towards Jerusalem #1917Live

After his victory at Gaza Allenby has pushed into Palestine, capturing Ramlah and Lydda and then most recently the vital port of Jaffa. His men have advanced some 80 kilometres and taken around 10,000 prisoners. Now the winter rains begin to arrive, making the conditions for mobile warfare considerably more difficult.

Allenby faces a choice: should he stop now, consolidate his positions, and then renew his offensive in the spring, or should he press on now, hoping that notwithstanding the rains he will be able to capture Jerusalem from the still disorganised Turks before the year’s end. Allenby decides to press on, hoping to seize the opportunity his victory has given him.

Meanwhile in Mesopotamia the British have also been pressing the Turks, but now they suffer an unfortunate blow. Maude, their commander there, who had overseen the recapture of Kut and the fall of Baghdad, dies suddenly of cholera. He meets his end in the same house in Baghdad that Goltz, Germany’s then commander in Mesopotamia, had died in last year. Maude’s death gives the Turks in Mesopotamia a breathing space, though it is inevitable that sooner or later the British there will renew their offensive.

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New Zealand troops accepting surrender of Jaffa (Wikipedia: Battle of Jaffa)

Frederick Maude (Wikipedia: Frederick Stanley Maude)

5/11/1917 Mesopotamia: Britain takes Tikrit #1917Live

While Allenby presses the Turks in Palestine, Maude continues to do the same in Mesopotamia. Maude’s efforts are seen as something of a sideshow in London and he is not receiving the resources that are at Allenby’s disposal, but that is not stopping him from making gains against the enemy. Continuing their advance up the Tigris, today Maude’s men take Tikrit, albeit after a tough battle with the Turks. Maude hopes now to continue his advance as soon as possible, in order to capture and secure the Mesopotamian oilfields.

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British West Indian troops in Mesopotamia with Turkish prisoners (Africans And West Indians At War: British West Indies Regiment)

30/9/1917 Falkenhayn redeploys to Palestine #1917live

Enver Pasha, the most prominent of the triumvirate that leads Turkey, has formed a new army group known in Turkish as Yildirim (Lightning Force). With a German senior staff, headed by none other than Falkenhayn, the group has been assembling in Aleppo in preparation for an offensive in Mesopotamia to recapture Baghdad and turn the tables on the British there.

Djemal Pasha, Turkey’s proconsul in Syria, is concerned about the threat of a British advance into Palestine. Enver has no time for naysayers and relieves him of his command, but Djemal’s concerns are heeded by Falkenhayn. He becomes convinced that an offensive in Mesopotamia would be foolhardy when his rear in Palestine is threatened. The British have also just pushed on successfully from Baghdad to Ramadi (after their previous failure), making a Turkish Mesopotamian offensive there that bit more difficult.

Enver would not listen to his Turkish colleague but he heeds the German. With his grudging acquiescence Yildirim now begins to redeploy to southern Palestine to meet the British threat there.

24/7/1917 Lightning Force: Enver’s plan to recapture Baghdad #1917Live

In Aleppo today Enver Pasha, Turkey’s paramount leader, meets with senior military figures including Djemal Pasha, the Proconsul of Syria, and Kemal Pasha, whose star has been on the rise since the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. Enver has a big plan to reveal. He is forming a new army group to be called Yildirim (Lightning Force), combining formations commanded by Kemal and Halil Pasha with German units. The overall commander will be none other than Germany’s Falkenhayn, the former German commander in chief who recently presided over the conquest of Romania.

Yildirim’s mission is a simple one: the recapture of Baghdad. Enver hopes that by doing so Turkey’s prestige in the Middle East will be restored. His audience are more sceptical, fearing that it would be foolhardy for Turkey to launch an offensive in Mesopotamia when the British are threatening to advance into Palestine. And the Turkish officers do not relish the prospect of being commanded by Falkenhayn. The Turks are increasingly resentful of the perceived arrogance of their German allies and suspect that Falkenhayn will be cut from the same cloth as the various German officers they have had to deal with. But Enver is insistent and with Germany providing considerable financial and military resources to Yildirim they are able to call the tune.

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Enver and Djemal visiting Jerusalem last year (Wikipedia)

13/7/1917 Britain retreats from Ramadi #1917Live

British forces have been attacking the Turkish position of Ramadi in Mesopotamia. Conducted under the unforgiving glare of a burning sun, the attacks have been a failure, with the Turks refusing to be dislodged. Now the British retreat back to their base in Dhibban on the Euphrates, upriver from Baghdad. Along the way they are harassed by pro-Turkish Arab irregulars.

British forces end up taking more casualties from the heat than from enemy gunfire, with many men succumbing to heat stroke and thirst. The failure to take Ramadi brings home the folly of campaigning here in the heart of summer. It will be the autumn before Maude makes any further attempt is made to take Ramadi.

11/7/1917 Ramadi: Britain’s failed attempt to advance upriver from Baghdad #1917Live

The tide of war ebbs and flows in Mesopotamia. Last year the Turks were triumphant, causing the surrender of Townshend‘s army at Kut-al-Amara. Since then the British have recaptured Kut and advanced upriver to drive the Turks from Baghdad.

Now in the searing heat of the Mesopotamian summer Maude makes the odd decision to send troops up the Euphrates to attack the Turkish force occupying Ramadi. The extreme temperature makes it impossible for the British to march from Baghdad to Ramadi, even at night, so they are instead transported by truck.

The British attack today in the early morning. They may have hoped that the Turks would be demoralised after their previous losses. Unfortunately the men at Ramadi put up stout resistance and do not yield to British assaults. The British attack fails and the men find themselves trapped in the open, unable to retreat until night falls, suffering terribly from enemy gunfire but more so from the burning intensity of the sun.

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Map (Wikipedia)

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.