From Indian Expeditionary Force D
To the Chief of the General Staff, Army Headquarters, India.
I have the honour to forward a report on the operations in Mesopotamia
during the months of October, November and December, 1915.
2. In my last despatch I described events up
to October 5th. On that date the Turkish Army under Nur-Ed-Din,
which had been defeated at Kut-Al-Amarah, had reached a previously-prepared
position astride the Tigris at Ctesiphon, where it received reinforcements
; and our advanced troops under Major-General Townshend reached
Aziziyah (30 miles east of Ctesiphon).
3. During the next six weeks reinforcements,
supplies, and transport animals were brought up to Kut and Aziziyah
preparatory to a further advance up the Tigris. These preliminary
movements were inevitably slow on account of the difficulties
of navigation during the low water season, which delayed the passage
4. Throughout this period of preparation frequent
skirmishes took place with the enemy, who had pushed out advanced
detachments to Zeur and Kutunie, seven and 14 miles respectively
5. The Cavalry Brigade and one Infantry Brigade
advanced from Aziziyah on 11th November, and occupied Kutunie
On the 18th November General Townshend had concentrated the whole
of his force and the shipping at Kutunie.
6. On the 19th November
the advance was continued, moving by both banks of the river,
and Zeur was occupied. The enemy's advanced
troops withdrew towards Ctesiphon after offering slight opposition.
On 20th November the force on the left bank reached Lajj (nine
miles from Ctesiphon); the shipping and the right bank detachment
arrived on the 21st, the latter crossing the river and joining
the main body on the left bank.
7. The Turkish position at Ctesiphon lay astride
the Tigris, covering the approach to Baghdad, which is situated
some 18 miles to the north-west. The defences had been under construction
for some months. They consisted of an extensive system of entrenchments
forming two main positions. On the right bank the front position
extended from the river for about three miles in a S.W. direction;
the second line trenches lying some five miles further upstream.
On the left bank a continuous line of entrenchments and redoubts
stretched from the river for six miles to the north-east; the
left flank terminating in a large redoubt. On this bank the second
line was about two miles behind the front position and parallel
to it for three miles from the Tigris, thence it turned northwards
to the Dialah River. Close to the Tigris, on the left bank and
midway between the two defensive lines, was situated the Arch
of Ctesiphon—a prominent landmark. A mile in rear of the
second line of trenches a bridge of boats connected the two wings
of the Turkish Army. Further in rear, the Dialah River, near its
junction with the Tigris, was bridged at two points, and entrenchments
commanded the crossings. During General Townshend's concentration
at Aziziyah accuratje information had been obtained by aerial
observation regarding the position of the Turkish defences.
8. The officers employed on these reconnaissances
displayed the same intrepidity and devotion to duty that has been
commented on in previous despatches. Unfortunately during the
actual period of the battle at Ctesiphon a series of accidents
deprived the Royal Flying Corps of several officers and machines.
Among those forced to descend within the enemy's lines was Major
H. L. Reilly, a Flight Commander of exceptional ability, who has
much distinguished service to his credit.
9. It was reported that the enemy had over 13,000
regular troops and 38 guns in the Ctesiphon position. There were
reports of the
early arrival of further reinforcements. Though information on
this point was indefinite and lacked confirmation, it was advisable
that there should be no delay in attacking and defeating Nur-Ed-Din
before the arrival of possible reinforcements.
10. General Townshend, after a night march from
Lajj, on 21st/22nd November attacked
the hostile position on the left bank at the centre and on the
north-east flank. A severe fight lasted throughout the day, resulting
in the capture of the front position, and more than 1,300 prisoners.
Our troops pressed on and penetrated to the second line, capturing
eight guns and establishing themselves in the enemy's trenches.
Here they were subjected to heavy counterattacks by fresh troops.
The captured guns changed hands several times. Finally they had
to be abandoned, as shortly before nightfall it was found necessary,
owing to diminished numbers, to order the withdrawal of our troops
from the forward positions to which they had penetrated back to
the first position.
11. On the 23rd November
our troops were reorganised in the position they had captured,
and the work of collecting the numerous casualties was continued.
Owing to heavy losses in killed and wounded it was inadvisable
to renew the offensive. Thsre is no doubt that the Turkish troops
who had fought on the previous day were in no condition to resume
the fight. The battlefield was littered with their killed and
wounded, and many of the trenches were choked with dead. The 45th
Turkish Division which had held the front trenches was practically
destroyed. But reinforcements came up, and heavy attacks were
made all along General Townshend's line throughout the night 23rd/24th
November. These were repulsed, and the enemy must have lost heavily.
12. On the 24th November
wounded and prisoners were evacuated from Ctesiphon to Lajj, where
the shipping flotilla was banked in; and General Townshend consolidated
the position he had taken up on the battlefield. His left flank,
which had been near the Ctesiphon Arch, in advance of the main
position, moved back into the general alignment. Owing to the
interruption of a water channel which had supplied the trenches
on the northeast flank our troops there suffered from want of
water; so the right flank was brought nearer the river. This movement
was successfully effected under the cover of an offensive movement
pushed out from the centre of the position. The enemy displayed
little activity throughout this day, except for shell fire. Most
of this came from guns on the right bank, which prevented the
steamers advancing upstream from Lajj.
13. On the 25th November
the remainder of the wounded were sent back to Lajj. Up
to this time it appeared from hostile movements to their rear—reported
by air reconnaissance— that the Turks contemplated a retirement
from their remaining positions. But apparently they received fresh
reinforcements on the 25th. During the afternoon large columns
were seen advancing down the left bank and also inland, as if
to turn our right flank; while hostile cavalry threatened our
14. General Townshend was nine miles from his
shipping and source of supplies at Lajj, faced by superior forces
of fresh troops. He decided to avoid an engagement, and, under
cover of night, withdrew to Lajj. Here he remained during the
15. A position so far from bases of supply, with
a vulnerable line of communication along the winding shallow river
was unfavourable for defence. It was necessary to withdraw further
downstream to a more secure locality until conditions might enable
a resumption of the offensive.
16. General Townshend withdrew unmolested during
the night of 27th/28th to Aziziyah.
On the 29th the Cavalry Brigade, under Brigadier-General Roberts,
east of Kutunie engaged and drove back the enemy's advanced mounted
troops who were attacking a stranded gunboat. The 14th Hussars
and the 7th (Hariana) Lancers made a successful charge. Some 140
casualties were inflicted on the enemy.
17. On the morning of 30th,
continuing the retirement, the main force halted at Uram Al
Tubal; a mixed brigade under Major-General Sir C. Melliss pushing
on towards Kut to deal with hostile mounted troops which had interrupted
the passage of steamers at Chubibat about twenty-five miles below
18. The troops had to remain at Umm Al Tubal
as the ships were in difficulties in shoal water in this vicinity
and the enemy's whole force came up during the night. They attacked
in great strength at daylight on 1st December.
A fierce fight ensued, the Turks losing heavily from our artillery
fire at a range of 2,500 yards. General Townshend took advantage
of a successful counter-attack made by the Cavalry Brigade against
a column which attempted to envelop his right flank, to break
off the fight and retire by echelons of Brigades. This was carried
out in perfect order under a heavy shell fire, and by mid-day
the enemy had been shaken off. General Townshend reports that
it was entirely due to the splendid steadiness of the troops and
to the excellency of his Brigadiers that he was able to repulse
the enemy's determined attacks and extricate his force from the
difficult situation in which it was placed. The mixed Brigade,
commanded by General
Melliss, consisting of: — 30th Infantry Brigade, 1/5th Hants
(Howitzer) Battery R.F.A., and the 16th Cavalry, which had been
despatched to Chubibat on the morning of 30th November, was recalled
on the night of 30th November/1st December. This Brigade marched
80 miles in three days, including the battle of December 1st.
At the end of it their valour and discipline was in no way diminished
and their losses did not include a single prisoner.
19. After a march of 30 miles, Shadi was reached
on the night of 1st/2nd December, and on the morning of 3rd
December General Townshend was installed at Kut-Al-Amarah,
where, it was decided, his retirement should end.
20. The Naval flotilla on the Tigris operated
on the left flank of the troops throughout the operations that
have been described. From November 22nd to November 25th the gunboats
from positions below Bustan (two miles east of Ctesiphon) were
engaged against hostile artillery, particularly against concealed
guns on the right bank which prevented ships from moving above
21. During the retreat from Ctesiphon to Kut
the gunboats under Captain Nunn, D.S.O., Senior Naval Officer,
rendered valuable services in protecting the steamers and barges
and in assisting when they grounded. The Naval gunboats were employed
at this work day and night, frequently under fire from snipers
on both banks. Owing to numerous loops and twists in the course
of the river, it was impossible for the flotilla to remain in
touch with the troops during the retirement.
22. On the-evening of the 28th November, "Shaitan"
went aground about eight miles above Aziziyah and could not be
refloated. Throughout November 29th, "Firefly" and "Shushan
" salved "Shaitan's" guns and stores under heavy
sniping from both banks, until the situation was relieved in the
afternoon by the action of the Cavalry Brigade which has already
been referred to. The hull of "Shaitan" eventually had
to be abandoned, as the Turks opened fire with guns on the ships
which had remained behind.
23. On the occasion of the Turkish attack on
the morning of December 1st, at Um Al Tubal "Firefly"
and "Comet" made good practice with lyddite at a large
body of Turks at a range of 3,000 yards. The ships came under
a heavy and accurate shell fire, and, at 7 a.m., a shell penetrated
the boiler of "Firefly," disabling her. H.M.S. "Comet
" (Captain Nunn) took "Firefly" in tow, and in
endeavouring to turn in the narrow river, both ships took the
ground. "Firefly" was got clear and sent drifting downstream;
but "Comet" would not move from the bank, against which
she had been wedged by "Firefly."
24. "Sumana" came up and made several
unsuccessful attempts to drag "Comet" off the bank.
The enemy's fire increased in intensity; they brought up several
field guns to short range; the ships were surrounded by Turkish
troops and fired on at a range of 50 yards. "Comet"
and "Firefly" were badly damaged and on fire. They were
abandoned after the guns had been rendered useless and the crews
were taken on board "Sumana," which succeeded in effecting
her escape. Subsequently "Sumana " did most valuable
work in salving shipping which had got into difficulties further
25. Throughout these operations Captain Nunn,
Lieutenant Eddis, who was wounded, and all officers and men of
the Naval Flotilla behaved with great coolness and bravery under
most trying circumstances.
26. The valour of the troops who fought under
General Townshend at the battle of Ctesiphon is beyond praise.
The 6th Division exhibited the same dauntless courage and self
sacrifice in the attack that has distinguished it throughout the
campaign in Mesopotamia. The dash with which the Indian troops
(enlisted from all parts of India) have attacked a stubborn foe
in well-entrenched positions, I attribute largely to the confidence
with which they have been inspired by the British battalions of
the Force. When forced by greatly superior numbers to act on the
defensive, .and during the retreat to Kut, under the most trying
conditions, the troops responded to the calls made on them with
admirable discipline and steadiness. They proved themselves to
be soldiers of the finest quality.
27. These fine troops were most ably commanded
by Major-General C. V. F. Townshend,'C.B., D.-S.O. I have a very
high opinion, indeed, of this officer's capabilities as a commander
of troops in the field. He was tried very highly, not only at
the battle of Ctesiphon, but more especially during the retirement
that ensued. Untiring, resourceful, and even more cheerful as
the outlook grew darker, he possesses, in my opinion, very special
qualifications as a commander. He is imperturbable under the heaviest
fire and his judgment is undisturbed.
28. With great regret, I have been forced, by
reasons of ill-health, to resign the command of the British Forces
in Mesopotamia—an appointment I have had the honour of holding
during the past nine months. In order to complete the record of
events during my period in command, I will now give a brief narrative
of the operations on the Tigris from the time that General Townshend's
Force reached Kut-Al-Amarah on December 3rd until the date of
my departure from Mesopotamia.
29. When General Townshend reached Kut on December
3rd, measures were taken to withstand a siege until the arrival
of relief from reinforcements which were coming from overseas.
Defences were improved. Shipping was despatched to Basrah, evacuating
the sick and wounded, and also the Turkish prisoners (1,350 were
captured at Ctesiphon and all were safely brought away in the
retreat). The armed tug "Sumana" was the only vessel
left at Kut. The Cavalry Brigade and a convoy of transport animals
were marched down to Ali Al Gharbi, before the enemy could effect
an investment. The Cavalry left on December 6th. On that day the
enemy closed on the northern front, and by December
7th the investment of Kut was complete.
30. The cavalry at Ali Al Gharbi was reinforced
with infantry and guns from Basrah. Behind this advanced detachment
a force under the command of Major-General F. J. Aylmer, V.C.,
was collected on the line Amarah-Ali Al Gharbi, for. the relief
of Kut as soon as its concentration was completed.
31. The entrenched camp at Kut is contained in
a " U " shaped loop of the Tigris; the town stands at
the most southerly end of the peninsula so formed. The northern
defences are some 3,200 yards from the town; the peninsula is
about a mile in width. A detached post was established at a small
village on the right bank of the river opposite Kut. East of the
town was a bridge of boats, covered by a bridge head detachment
on the right bank.
32. On December 8th,
the enemy carried out a heavy bombardment from three sides, and
Nur-Ed-Din Pasha called upon General Townshend to surrender.
33. On December 9th,
our detachment on the right bank, covering the bridge, was forced
to retire before a heavy attack. The enemy occupied the right
bank at the bridge head. During the night, December 9th/10th,
the bridge was successfully demolished by a party gallantly led
by Lieutenant A. B. Matthews, R.E., and Lieutenant R. T. Sweet,
2/7th Gurkha Rifles.
34. During the following days Kut was subjected
to a continuous bombardment and several attacks were beaten off.
The enemy's losses
were heavy, especially in the abortive attacks on December
12th, when, it is estimated, their casualties amounted
35. Operations were then conducted on the lines
of regular siege warfare. A redoubt at the north-east corner of
the defences became the special objective of Turkish shell fire
and sapping operations.
36. On the night of December
14/15th a successful sortie was made against trenches facing
the detached post on the right bank, and, on the night, December
17th/18th, two sorties, from the redoubt previously referred
to, cleared the enemy's nearest trenches. About thirty Turks were
bayonetted and ten were captured.
37. Heavy fire was concentrated on the redoubt
during the night December 23rd/24th
and throughout the 24th. The parapet was breached and the Turks
effected an entrance, but they were driven out by a counter-attack,
leaving 200 dead behind. Attacks were renewed later, .and throughout
the night of December 24th/25th a
fierce struggle took place around the redoubt. The enemy again
effected a lodgment, but by morning they had been ejected and
the assault was finally defeated.
38. No decisive attacks have been attempted by
the Turks since their failure at Christmas, which, it is reported,
cost them about 2,000 casualties.
39. On December 28th
a movement of troops, which was continued for several days, took
place from the Turkish main camp (six miles above Kut) to Shaikh
Saad—which had been occupied by enemy mounted troops for
40. On January 4th,
General Aylmer's leading troops, under Major-General Younghusband,
advanced from Ali Al Gharbi towards Shaikh Saad, moving by both
banks. General Younghusband's column got in touch with the enemy
on the morning of January 6th. The Turks were entrenched astride
the Tigris, three-and-a-half miles east of Shaikh Saad. An attempt
to turn Turkish right flank did not succeed owing to presence
of hostile cavalry and Arabs in superior force on this flank.
41. General Aylmer arrived on morning of January
7th with the remainder of his force and ordered a general
attack; Major-General Younghusband commanding on the left bank
and Major-General Kemball on the right bank. Very heavy fighting
lasted throughout the day. By evening the enemy's trenches on
the right bank had been captured and some 600 prisoners and two
guns taken. On the left bank our troops were entrenched opposite
the enemy, who still held their positions on that bank. Attempts
to turn their left flank had been checked by counter enveloping
movements from the north.
42. The troops were very fatigued next day and
little progress was made. On January 9th,
the Turks were forced to abandon their remaining positions and
retired upstream, followed by General Aylmer's force. But heavy
rain now fell, making the alluvial soil of the roads almost impassable,
and prevented active operations for the next two days. It is estimated
that the enemy's losses during the three days' fighting at Shaikh
Saad amounted to 4,500.
43. The enemy fell back about ten miles, to the
Wadi—a tributary which joins the Tigris on the left bank.
They took up a new position behind the Wadi and on the right bank
of the Tigris, opposite the mouth of the Wadi.
44. General Aylmer concentrated his whole force
on the left bank and attacked the Wadi position on the 13th. After
hard fighting the Turks were driven out on the 14th
and retired five miles further west and entrenched across a defile
bounded on the north by a marsh and
on the south by the Tigris. They were followed to this position
by General Aylmer's force.
45. Throughout these operations the weather was
very bad. The heavy rain and high wind caused great discomfort
to the troops and made movement by land and by river most difficult.
Up to January 17th there was no improvement in the weather and
active operations were at a standstill.
46. As, owing to ill-health, I am about to relinquish
command of Indian Expeditionary Force " D " I desire
to place on record my warm appreciation of the able and devoted
assistance afforded me by the Staff at General Headquarters and
Officers of the various Administrative Services and Departments.
I wish specially to bring forward the names of the following officers
who have rendered very valuable services:—Major-General
G. V. Kemball has proved himself to be a very gallant officer
and has the true offensive spirit. As a commander of troops in
the field I consider him to be a leader of great ability and power.
I am indebted to Major-General M. Cowper for the assistance which
his knowledge of administrative staff work and organisation has
afforded me. Major (temporary Lieutenant - Colonel) W. H. Beach
is at all times a hard-working, capable and thoroughly reliable
Staff Officer whose services have been invaluable to me. As head
of the Intelligence Branch he has shown exceptional powers of
insight and organisation. Major (temporary Lieutenant-Colonel)
H. R. Hopwood has performed his important duties in a highly satisfactory
manner. He is thoroughly capable and full of tact and resource;
in fact, possesses all the qualities that go to make a good Staff
Officer. Major R. A. Cassels has in the field proved himself to
be a bold and resourceful Staff Officer, and the manner in which
he has acquitted himself of duties falling to hand outside the
ordinary scope of his work is highly satisfactory and of value
to the State. Major W. C. Croly, R.A.M.C., has been in medical
charge of the Staff at General Headquarters and has shown himself
always the right man in the right place, and to have taken the
keenest interest in his work and care of those whom he had in
To my Personal Staff I am under great obligations for their willing
and able assistance in quarters, on the march, and in the fight,
and I draw attention to the recommendations for rewards which
I have already made: — Captain L. G. Williams, Captain E.
J. Nixon, Lieutenant G. B. Walker.
The Medical Services have had to face very trying and unusual
conditions. On more than one occasion the number and severity
of the casualties have thrown the greatest strain on them, but
the organisation and efficiency of the arrangements have ensured
as speedy an evacuation of the wounded as the means placed at
their disposal permitted. In this connection I wish to bring forward
the name of Surgeon-General H. G. Hathaway.
The work of the Royal Engineers has been excellently carried out
under the able direction of Brigadier-General J. C. Rimington,
and I take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the
valuable assistance rendered by this branch of the service as
The British General Hospital has throughout been in charge of
Lieutenant-Colonel D. J. Collins, R.A.M.C., whose zeal, energy
and organising power have rendered it a model hospital of its
kind. Credit is also due to Lieutenant-Colonel G. B. Irvine, I.M.S.,
for his devoted and careful supervision of the Indian General
I have before expressed my indebtedness to Major-General K. S.
Davison and his Staff, and I must now do so again for their able
and efficient management of the lines of communication under the
most difficult and trying circumstances. In Captain J. C. Macrae
he has a good and able Staff Officer. It must be remembered that
as a port Basrah has no facilities for the discharge of stores
or the disembarkation of troops and animals. The officers of the
Royal Indian Marine consequently have had no easy task in improvising
wharves and berths, and dealing with the large number of transports
which have recently arrived and have had to be unloaded with the
utmost expedition. They have, nevertheless, overcome these many
difficulties, and the greatest credit is due to them for what
they have accomplished. The officers and crews of the Tigris steamers
belonging to Messrs. Lynch Brothers and of the other river craft
have always displayed gallantry of a high order in bringing their
ships on, often under heavy fire, and it is not too much to say
that without this assistance, and the indefatigable manner in
which they have worked, that the movements of troops and supplies
would not have been possible.
I cannot praise too highly the work done by the Telegraph and
Postal Departments, the state of completeness of which has done
much to promote the general efficiency of the force. All demands
made on the Telegraph Department have been rapidly and effectively
met at the cost of much hard labour under trying conditions and
at great personal risk, which reflects the greatest credit on
Mr. L. Bagshawe and the important department over which he presides.
The exigencies of field service has thrown a great strain on the
Postal Department, but owing to the hard work done and the excellent
organisation built up by Mr. E. Clerici and his staff the results
have been most satisfactory.
Finally, I am very grateful to Lieutenant-Colonel Sir P. Z. Cox
for his able co-operation and willing assistance. The Force has
largely profited by his deep knowledge of local conditions and
peoples, and by the tact and bold resource which he has displayed
in all he has
The names of the following officers, all of whom have performed
good service, are brought to the notice of His Excellency the
Commander-in-Chief in India: —
47. As soon as postal communication is established with General
Townshend I have no doubt that he will have further names to bring
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
JOHN NIXON, General,
Commanding Indian Expeditionary Force "D."