Primary Documents - Austrian Report on the Siege of Kut, May 1916

Sir Charles Townshend Reproduced below is the official Austrian report into the Turkish siege against the British garrison at Kut in early 1916.  Authored by Dr. Gaston Bodart the report outlined the steps taken by British forces to relieve the Kut garrison commanded by Sir Charles Townshend.

The British garrison - chiefly comprised of native Indian troops - eventually surrendered to Turkish forces at the end of April 1916, and was widely regarded as a heavy humiliation to British influence in the region.  Townshend's reputation, although initially intact, was subsequently tarnished when news emerged of the Turkish mistreatment of his troops, and he died in some disgrace in 1924.

Click here to read Townshend's first communiqué dated 26 January 1916; click here to read his second communiqué dated 10 March 1916; click here to read his final communiqué dated 28 April 1916; click here to read a British memoir of the final days of the siege.

Account of the Siege of Kut by Dr. Gaston Bodart, Official Austrian Investigator

In order to fasten the bolt against the "German impulse toward the East," England converted the fiction of 1912, regarding the independence of the Sultanate of Kuwait into an actual title of possession and, in the beginning of November, 1914, from this base brought the Persian Gulf under British dominion.

An Anglo-Indian expeditionary corps, under General Nixon, consisting originally of six Indian infantry brigades and one of cavalry, marched tip the Shatt-el-Arab, seized Basra, the former port of Baghdad and the starting point for the Arab incursions into India.

In this exploit the corps was supported by the British warships.  In addition to military and political motives, economic interests also came into consideration as regards this expedition, inasmuch as the concession regarding the renewed irrigation of Iraq and the exploitation of the rich petroleum and naphtha wells, which lay on nearby Persian territory along the Karun River, were in the hands of English companies.

From Basra a group of the expeditionary corps marched to the Karun region in order to occupy it, although this was neutral Persian ground.

After fights with the Turkish vanguard, which, however, could not prevent the capture of Korna at the junction of the Euphrates and Tigris (December 9th), the British were held up by Turkish counter attacks on January 10th, 21st and 30th, 1915.

Not until the middle of April were they able to break down the resistance (at Shaiba and Sobeir) by reason of the vigorous participation of their gunboats.  Thereupon one column marched up the Euphrates and another up the Tigris, always accompanied by gunboats and steamers.

The Turkish military command had meanwhile, in the face of great difficulties, concentrated its Sixth Army under Nur-ed-Din (later under Khalif Pasha) and met the advance on both rivers.  The Tigris column under Townshend advanced with relatively good speed, forced back the Turks before Amara, and, on September 29th, 1915, occupied the important point Kut-el-Amara.

The Euphrates columns of the English under Gorringe met with defeat at two places, but subsequently captured Nasariyeh on July 24th.

Made overconfident by his easily won successes, Townshend, underrating his enemy and without awaiting reinforcements, advanced impetuously against Baghdad, encountered, on November 22nd, near the ruins of Ctesiphon, four well-entrenched Turkish divisions and suffered a severe defeat.

Hard pressed by the pursuing Turks, who were now commanded by Field-Marshal Von der Goltz, who had hurried here from the Dardanelles, Townshend was compelled to retreat to his point of support, Kut-el-Amara, where he was surrounded by the superior forces of the Turkish army.

General Percy Lake, who had superseded General Nixon in the chief command of the expeditionary corps, from his base at El Garbi did all in his power to relieve Townshend.  In a surprisingly short time five divisions, including the Thirteenth under General Maude, which had shortly before arrived from the Dardanelles, were put in readiness, and, as the Tigris corps, were placed under the command of General Aylmer.

The latter, at the beginning of January, 1916, encountered the Turkish besiegers of Kut-el-Amara at Sheick-Saad and succeeded, after continuous fighting, in forcing them back to a point near El Gussa, one day's march from the positions occupied by Townshend's division.

Aylmer succeeded, after penetrating the first Turkish line of defence, in reaching Fellahieh, while the column of Younghusband, which was advancing along the southern bank, advanced about an equal distance and threatened the second Turkish line at Sanaaiyat.

But the English forces, weakened by heavy losses, unfavourable weather and camp diseases, were not equal to the task of breaking this second line.

Although within ten miles of their goal, they were forced to relinquish all the positions captured and to fall back to their point of departure, Amara, leaving the brave defenders of Kut-el-Amara to their inevitable fate.

Forced by hunger, Townshend, on April 26th, 1916, surrendered with 13,000 men at Kut-el-Amara.  This was the worst blow which English prestige suffered in the war.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. IV, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

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