Kut - The Death of an Army, Ronald Millar

Kut - The Death of an Army, Ronald Millar

We start with a brief introduction to the British campaign in Mesopotamia, which began as a fairly modest affair to capture Basra and protect British oil supplies and then developed into an ambitious attempt to advance up the Tigris and capture Baghdad. After some initial successes, the British pushed on too far for their resources, suffered a defeat at Ctesiphon and had to retreat to Kut, where they were soon besieged by the Ottomans.

It must be said this is a rather depressing book. We know the eventual fate of the besieged army at Kut, so we know that all of the relief plans failed, and that many of the survivors of the siege died in Ottomon captivity. The relief force also suffered heavy casualties, and the campaign effectively ended the careers of many of the senior officers involved  (not to mention those actually captured at Kut).

Although the author doesn’t directly set out to apportion blame for the disaster, we do get a fairly good idea of who was at fault. Townshend actually emerges from the disaster quite well – before the fatal advance on Baghdad he had made it clear that his force wasn’t strong enough, and during the siege he appears to have made his position pretty clear. Some of his attitudes look worse now than they would have done at the time – in particular his failure to understand fully how difficult it would be to get his Indian troops to abandon their normal dietry restrictions. On the other hand his concern for the Arab population of Kut at the end of the siege is commendable. At the next level up General Nixon, the commander in chief in Mespopotamia, emerges from the whole mess rather badly, in particular for over-optimism before the advance on Baghdad, and terrible failures of organisation (in particular the medical services). His successor, General Lake, also emerges rather badly, in his case largely for failing to understand how desperate the situation at Kut was becoming and blocking Townshend’s suggestions for ways out.

The book was originally published in 1969. One way in which that does show is that we don’t really get much from the Turkish point of view – they aren’t quite the anonymous ‘other’, but most of their actions are reported from the British point of view – rumours of new divisions arriving, reports of troop movements seen from Kut etc.

Apart from that this is an excellent account of the siege of Kut, which may have been a relatively minor affair by the standards of the Western Front, but was still the longest siege endured by British troops during the First World War.

1 - The Road to Nowhere
2 - Ctesiphon
3 - The Affair at Umm at Tubal
4 - Kut al Amara
5 - The Hold Tightens
6 - The Assault
7 - Mud and Muddle
8 - Hanna
9 - Dujaila
10 - Sannaiyat
11 - Air Drop
12 - Julnar
13 - Negotiations for Surrender
14 - Interlude Near Maqasis
15 - The Road to Baghdad

Author: Ronald Millar
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 323
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2017 edition of 1969 original

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