Friday, December 16, 2011

Battles of the Great War

The siege of Kut.

The Iraq War "ended" yesterday, they say. This is a story about another war in Iraq.

The siege of Kut occurred between 7 December 1915 and 29 April 1916. Nasty war things seem to have a habit of starting on December 7.

Historians will note that the battle of Gallipoli was still in progress at this time, a bit to the north. [Update: actually, the Allies were retreating from Gallipoli during December as well.]

The largest city in Syria is not Damascas; it is Aleppo. That's Italian for Alep, a different story.

In Iraq, retreating British Empire forces (mainly the Indian Army 6th Division under Major General Charles Townshend) stopped in Kut (south of Baghdad) instead of continuing on down the (Tigris) river to Basra. Basra is often where the British fight when they fight in Iraq. Why Townshend stopped at Kut, isn't quite clear. Something about a loop in the river made him think he could make a stand against the Turks.

Well, the Turks surrounded Kut and laid siege. Supplies from Basra were quite far away and not likely to be forthcoming anyway. So. What to do?

Townshend sent what cavalry he had out, so they could escape before the siege line was completely closed.

It wasn't long before General Townshend decided he would prefer to leave now, too, and asked his commander to send relief. However, Townshend's superior sees value in not doing that, liking the idea of having that many Turks tied up in a siege, so he tells Townshend that he should just hold on. History tells us that Townshend sent word to his commander that he wished he could do that, but he only had food and supplies enough to last one month. So, relief is sent.

Some say Townshend REALLY had enough food and supplies for four months (if he cut back on rations.) I was double-checking the dates on Wikipedia, and, at the end of the account, it says "It is not clear why Townshend reported he had only enough food for one month when he actually had food for more than four months..."

May I take a stab at answering this mystery? My theory is that Townshend decided he would rather live to see old age rather than be tortured to death over a lengthy period of time by the Turks.

Looking at pictures of the survivors of the siege, I would say Townshend was telling the truth about only having food to last one month.

Sadly, however, the relief effort was unsuccessful and the British Forces (including the relief forces) were forced to surrender.

They put up a courageous fight. They were starving by then.

The prisoners were marched to Aleppo.

Lawrence of Arabia was there, somewhere, they say.


  1. Cannot remember where I read abut this, but Townshend was blamed for staying there and not withdrawing. Later I may look that up.
    His troops suffered badly and I thought this was because he moved forward too far, with little supplies and got into a mess. A force attempted to break through and failed (the Turks were no fools at soldering.)
    The General got away, most of his men died.

  2. Townshend should be blamed for stopping there in the first place instead of continuing his retreat all the way to Basra. But I don't think he could be blamed for wanting to stay after a few days.

    Interesting tidbits: while the thousands of surrendered troops were marched to Apella in Syria to prison after starvation (75% died of starvation or disease during the siege, or during the march, or during imprisonment-- Townshend himself was sent to an island to spend the rest of the rest of the war in pretty comfortable conditions. Of course it is a complete 'nother story about how many MANY of the Indian soldiers under his command went over to the Turk side (during/after confinement) and fought against the British forces, traitors that they were, including against Percy what's his name.

    Eventually Allenby put the squash to the Turks and everyone else in that region.

    The siege of Kut began in early December. By the end of December, Allied forces had withdrawn from Gallipoli as well.

    I read and read and read.



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