The Battle That Won Kut-el-Amara
By General Sir John Nixon
[The New York Times/Current History, June 1916]
Of Sir John Nixon's detailed report of the Mesopotamian operations under his command, made public on April 5, we give here the most interesting portion, namely, his story of how General Townshend captured Kut-el-Amara on Sept. 28, 1915:
The defeat of Nur-Ed-Din and the occupation of Kut-el-Amara became my next objective as soon as Nasiriyah was secured, and I commenced the transfer of troops toward Amara on the following day.
By Sept. 12 the force was concentrated at Ali al Gharbi. Thence the advance was continued by route march along the river bank, accompanied by a naval flotilla and shipping, until Sannaiyat (some eight miles below the enemy's position covering Kut-el-Amara) was reached on Sept. 15. Intense heat prevailed during the period of this march, with temperatures ranging from 110 degrees to 116 degrees in the shade. The column remained halted at Sannaiyat until Sept. 25, receiving reinforcements during this period.
Nur-Ed-Din Bey's army lay astride the river some seven miles northeast of Kut and eight miles from General Townshend's force at Sannaiyat. It occupied a line naturally favorable for defense, which, during three or four months of preparation, had been converted into a formidable position. On the right bank the defenses extended for five miles southward along some mounds which commanded an extensive field of fire. The river was blocked by a boom composed of barges and wire cables commanded at close range by guns and fire trenches. On the left bank the intrenchments extended for seven miles, linking up the gaps between the river and three marshes which stretched away to the north. The defenses were well designed and concealed, commanding flat and open approaches. They were elaborately constructed with a thoroughness that missed no detail. In front of the trenches were barbed wire entanglements, military pits, and land mines. Behind were miles of communication trenches connecting the various works and providing covered outlets to the river, where ramps and landing stages had been made to facilitate the transfer of troops to or from ships, while pumping engines and water channels carried water from the river to the trenches.
Nur-Ed-Din's army held this position, one division being on each bank, with some army troops in reserve on the left bank, near a bridge above the main position. A force of Arab horsemen was posted on the Turkish left flank; most of the Turkish regular cavalry were absent during the battle on a raid against our communications at Sheikh Saad.
On Sept. 26 General Townshend advanced to within four miles of the Turkish position. His plan was to make a decisive attack on the left bank by enveloping the Turkish left with his main force, but in order to deceive the enemy as to the direction of the real attack, preliminary dispositions and preparatory attacks were made, with the object of inducing the Turks to expect the principal attack on the right bank.
On the morning of the 27th our troops advanced by both banks. The principal force, on the right bank, made a feint attack on the trenches south of the river, while the left bank detachment intrenched itself within 3,000 yards of the enemy. Meanwhile a bridge had been constructed, and uncler cover of night the main force crossed from the right bank and deployed opposite the enemy's left flank.
On the morning of Sept. 28 a general attack was made against the enemy on the left bank. The Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, under Major Gen. Fry, with its left on the line of the river, made a pinning attack, while Brig. Gen. Delamain, commanding the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Infantry Brigades, advanced in two columns against the enemy's left, one column being directed frontally against the flank intrenchments, while the other moved wide around the flank and attacked in the rear. General Delamain's right flank was protected by the cavalry brigade.
The first troops to enter the enemy trenches were the First Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment, One Hundred and Seventeenth Mahrattas, and Twenty-second Company Sappers and Miners, who made a brilliant assault, well supported by the artillery, and soon after 10 A. M. captured a redoubt and trenches on the enemy's extreme left, inflicting heavy losses and taking 135 prisoners. A combined attack by the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Infantry Brigades was then made, and after hard fighting, during which the enemy made several unsuccessful counterattacks, the whole of the northern part of the enemy's position was in our hands by 2 P. M.
General Delamain reorganized his troops on the captured position and gave them a much-needed rest, as they were exhausted by the great heat, the long march, and hard fighting. After a brief rest General Delamain moved his column southward to assist the Eighteenth Infantry Brigade, by attacking the enemy opposed to it in rear. Before this attack could develop strong hostile reserves appeared from the southwest, in the direction of the bridge. General Delamain immediately changed his objective, and attacked the new troops, supported by his guns firing at a range of 1,700 yards.
The sight of the approaching enemy and the prospect of getting at him in the open with the bayonet put new life into our infantry, who were suffering from weariness and exhaustion after their long and trying exertions under the tropical sun. For the time thirst and fatigue were forgotten. The attack was made in a most gallant manner with great dash. The enemy were routed with one magnificent rush, which captured four guns and inflicted heavy losses on the Turks. The enemy fought stubbornly, and were saved from complete destruction by the approach of night.
General Delamain's troops bivouacked for the night on the scene of their victory, about two miles from the river, both men and horses suffering severely from want of water, as the brackish water of the marshes is undrinkable. In the morning the column reached the river, and the horses got their first water for forty hours.
Throughout the battle the naval flotilla co-operated with the land attack from positions on the river. Late in the evening of the 28th, led by the Comet, (Lieut. Commander E. C. Cookson, R. N., acting senior naval officer,) the flotilla advanced upstream and endeavored to force a passage through the boom obstruction. The ships came under a terrific fire from both banks at close range. The Comet rammed the boom, but it withstood the shock. Lieut. Commander Cookson was shot dead while most gallantly attempting to cut a wire cable securing the barges.
The Turks evacuated their remaining trenches during the night and escaped along the bank of the Tigris. On the morning of the 29th a pursuit was organized, troops moving in ships preceded by cavalry on land. The cavalry, consisting of four weak squadrons, overtook the enemy on Oct. 1, but had to wait for the support of the river column, as the Turks were making an orderly retreat, covered by a strong rearguard with infantry and guns. The progress of the river column was so delayed by the difficulties of navigation due to the constantly shifting shallows in the river that it was unable to overtake the retreating enemy. When the ships reached Aziziyah on Oct. 5 the enemy had reached their prepared defensive position at Ctesiphon, covering the road to Bagdad, where they were reinforced.
The Turks lost some 4,000 men in casualties, of whom 1,153 were prisoners captured by us. In addition, we took fourteen guns and a quantity of rifles, ammunition, and stores. Considering the severity of the fighting, our casualties were comparatively small. They amounted to 1,233, including a large proportion of men only slightly wounded.
The defeat of Nur-Ed-Din Bey completed the expulsion of Turkish troops from the Basrah Vilayet. Apart from material gains won at Kut-el-Amara, our troops once again proved their irresistible gallantry in attack, and added another victory to British arms in Mesopotamia.
I am glad to place on record my appreciation of the ability and generalship displayed by Major Gen. C. V. F. Townshend, C. B. D. S. O., throughout these operations. His plan for turning the Turkish left was the manoeuvre whereby the position could best be captured without incurring very heavy losses.
Brig. Gen. Delamain, who commanded the main attack, showed himself to be a resolute and resourceful commander. His leadership during the battle was admirable.
The troops under the command of Major Gen. Townshend displayed high soldierly qualities, and upheld the reputation they have earned during this arduous campaign.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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