British and Indian troops were sent to Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), then a part of the Ottoman Empire, in November 1914, principally to protect the Abadan oil refineries, vital for the supply of petroleum to the Royal Navy. Initial victories were eventually checked by a large Turkish army at the battle of Ctesiphon, 25 miles from Baghdad, 22-24 November 1915. With heavy casualties suffered by both sides, the British force, Commanded by General Townshend, retreated to the small city of Kut on the banks of the river Tigris. Here the British and Indian troops were quickly surrounded by a newly reinforced Turkish army of 80,000 men.
The British Indian forces held out for almost five months, in brutally cold conditions, with little medical treatment and dwindling food supplies. Three unsuccessful attempts were made by British forces to fight their way through to Kut, and relieve the besieged troops. On 29 April 1916, General Townshend surrendered to the Turkish forces. Townshend spent the rest of the war confined at Constantinople, while around 4,000 of the 10,000 troops which surrendered at Kut died either on the march to Turkish prison camps, or were worked to death in the camps.
This is the first few pages of Lake’s confidential report on the siege, which included copies of General Townshend’s Despatches.
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Dr Santanu Das reveals the role of the Indian sepoy in World War One and explores the fragments of historical sources that shed light on the experiences of the one million Indians who served.
- Article by:
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Professor Stephen Badsey considers the huge volume of official documentation produced during and after World World One for both public circulation and as secret state records.