Mesopotamia

Indian Expeditionary Force ‘D’

The Indian contribution was huge in Mesopotamia. Many of the campaigns in this region were fought by Indian units although this is hardly known by the general public.

The London authorities had requested for Indian troops and the Indian Government mobilized the 6th (Poona) Division for service in the Persian Gulf in mid-October, even before Turkey had entered the war. For the British, the key concern was the protection of British oil installations and their staff in the region.

Despite fierce rainstorms, the operations on 19th November 1914 on the main Turkish position above Muhammerah was a success. Local Arabs had advised that Basra could be easily taken and two Indian units quickly were dispatched to seize the opportunity. Basra became the local supply base for future Indian Army operations in Mesopotamia. In December 1914, Qurna was captured after three successive attacks.

In 1915, the Constantinople religious authorities declared Jihad, or Holy War against the enemies of Turkey and planned to recapture Basra. In April 1915, Sulaiman Askari, the Turkish commander at Nasiriya, led 6,000 soldiers and over 10,000 armed Arab tribesmen toward Basra. On 14th April a fierce battle developed at Shaiba where the Indian cavalry, hemmed-in against flooded ground, suffered attrition before the infantry won the day and Basra was secure. After seeing his men being decisively defeated Sulaiman Askari shot himself. The Allied forces also suffered heavy losses with over 1,000 men killed.

On 9th April, Lieutenant-General Sir John Nixon arrived to command the corps in Mesopotamia. Major General Charles Townshend was appointed to command the 6th (Poona) Division who would later be linked to one of Britain’s greatest military disasters.

The British advanced on Nasiriya and captured it on 25th July. General Nixon then had his eyes on Baghdad. Townshend captured Kut on 27th September with very heavy casualties. After a failed advance by Townshend which left half of the 8500 British troops killed or wounded, he had to withdraw back to Kut. Townshend had decided to defend Kut and Nixon promised him reinforcements, however all successive attempts to reinforce the garrison at Kut failed due to successful Turkish defensive tactics. On 26th April, Townshend gave an unconditional surrender to the Turks. The British garrison of Kut, 13,309 men, surrendered on 29th April after destroying its weapons and equipment. Nearly 1,500 sick or wounded men were exchanged for Turkish prisoners but the remainder were marched to Anatolian prison camps.

In December 1917, the British force under General Maude began to fight its way up the Tigris and Kut was captured in February and then Baghdad on 11th March 1917. An advance was made up the Euphrates in September 1917 by the 15th Indian Division which resulted in the Turkish defeat at Ramadi. By early November Samarra and Tikrit had been captured as well. Small actions continued to be fought till the end of the year.

Several Indian regiments were slowly withdrawn to other fronts in early 1918. By March, operations in Mesopotamia and slowed down and last action took place on the Little Zab River after which Shraqat was taken. The campaign in Mesopotamia came to an end in early November 1918.

Casualties

Total killed or died 29,555
Total wounded 32,608
Total missing or prisoners 1,809
Total casualties 63,972

 

Honours and Awards

Victoria Cross 3
Bar to Military Cross 1
Military Cross 42
Indian Order of Merit (1st Class) 10
Indian Order of Merit (2nd Class) 405
Bar to Indian Distinguished Service Medal 15
Indian Distinguished Service Medal 1,756

Battle Honours

Battle Honours are awarded to military units as official acknowledgement of their achievements in specific wars or battles of a military campaign. These honours usually take the form of a place and a date and are emblazoned on the colours of the units that are so honoured. Artillery units, which traditionally do not carry colours, are awarded honour titles instead. Units take great pride in their Battle Honours and specially hard-earned honours are commemorated annually by the celebration of selected “battle honour days”.

Battle Honours awarded to the Indian army in Mesopotamia:

  • Mesopotamia, 1914-18
  • Mesopotamia, 1914-16
  • Mesopotamia, 1915-18
  • Mesopotamia, 1915-16
  • Mesopotamia, 1916-18
  • Mesopotamia, 1916-17
  • Mesopotamia, 1917-18
  • Mesopotamia, 1918
  • Basra
  • Shaiba
  • Kut Al Amara 1915
  • Ctesiphon
  • Defence of Kut Al Amara
  • Tigris 1916
  • Kut Al Amara 1915-17
  • Kut Al Amara, 1917
  • Baghdad
  • Khan Baghdadi
  • Sharqat

Source: CAFHR-United Service Institution of India

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