The Siege of Kut Al Amara - 7 Dec1915-29 April 1916
The seige of Kut Al Amara, also known as the First Battle of Kut, was the besieging of an 8,000 strong British-Indian garrison in the town of Kut on the Tigris River in the Basra province of Mesopotamia (now known as Iraq)100 miles south of Baghdad.
The garrisom had withstood nearly five months under siege by Turkish and German forces at the town of Kut-al-Amara. Under the command of Sir John Nixon, British troops had enjoyed early success in their invasion of Mesopotamia. Forces led by Nixon’s forward divisional commander, Sir Charles Townshend, reached and occupied the Mesopotamian province of Basra, including the town of Kut al-Amara, by late September 1915. They then attempted to move along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers toward Baghdad, but were rebuffed by Turkish troops at Ctesiphon in late November. Despite outnumbering the Turks two-to-one, Townshend’s troops, made up partially of soldiers dispatched from India, were forced to retreat to Kut, where on December 5th Turkish and German troops began to lay siege to the city.
Problems with illness plagued Townshend’s forces, and morale sank along with dwindling supplies and a lack of relief due to the heavy winter rains. This resulted in a swollen Tigris River which made it difficult to manoeuvre troops along its banks. The British attempted four times over the course of the winter to confront and surround their Turkish opponents only to suffer 23,000 casualties. Following the surrender of the garrison on 29rd April 1916, the survivors of the siege approximately 13,000 men were marched to imprisonment at Aleppo.
James Morris, a British historian, described the loss of Kut as ‘the most abject capitulation in Britain’s military history.’ After this humiliating loss, General Lake and General Gorringe were removed from command. The new commander was General Maude, who trained and organised his army and then launched a successful campaign which Indian and Comonwealth troops captured Baghdad on 11th March 1917. With Baghdad captured, the British administration undertook vital reconstruction of the war-torn country and Kut was slowly rebuilt.