Battles - The Battle of the Boot, 1917

Indian machine gun teamThe Battle of the Boot signalled the end of the March-April 1917 Samarrah Offensive launched by British regional Commander-in-Chief Sir Frederick Stanley Maude with the intent of seizing control of the vital Turkish railway at Samarrah.

Having on numerous recent occasions attempted - and failed - to break up Ali Ishan Bey's XIII Corps, en route from Persia to meet up with Turkish Commander-in-Chief Khalil Pasha's 10,000 troops retreating north in the wake of the fall of Baghdad, Ishan's force had sought temporary refuge in the Jebel Hamlin mountains in mid-April 1917.

Intending to surprise the British by suddenly re-appearing with the bulk of his force at Dahubu (bar 2,000 left to distract British cavalry among the mountainous foothills), some 40km from the River Tigris, Ishan was however disappointed in his aim, with the British aware of his movements.

General William Marshall of III Corps consequently led two infantry brigades - fresh from their recent action against Ishan at the Battle of Shiala - northeast up the Adhaim River to meet Ishan's latest threat; in due course Marshall's force was supplemented by a third brigade from the south.

Aware of the impending arrival of the British - and with the element of surprise lost - Ishan promptly withdrew to pre-prepared positions in the foothills spanning the river at Band-i-Adhaim.  The boot-shaped peninsular of high ground sited there gave the subsequent action its somewhat lively name.

Early on the morning of 30 April Marshall began his attack, throwing his entire force at the Turkish positions.  Within a short time he succeeded in taking 300 Turkish prisoners and two lines of trenches.

The onset of a sandstorm however brought British operations to a halt; meanwhile Ishan drafted reserve forces into his centre in preparation for the counterattack that succeeded in pushing Marshall back with the loss of slightly more prisoners than Ishan himself lost earlier: 350.

The sandstorm cleared by late afternoon, but blistering temperatures ensured that Marshall could not pursue Ishan's retreating forces into the mountains.  Indeed the attacks of 30 April 1917 brought the Samarrah Offensive to an end.

British casualties during the largely successful Offensive ran to around 18,000, but with losses to sickness running at over twice that figure Maude determined to pause operations pending regrouping and recovery.  Meanwhile Ishan and his force remained encamped in the mountains in readiness for a renewal of hostilities in the autumn.

Click here to view a map charting operations at the time of the fall of Baghdad.

Photograph courtesy of Photos of the Great War website

Observation balloons were referred to as 'sausages'.

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