1915 AUGUST - SEPTEMBER EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
During the Euphrates operations, Nur-ud-Din, the Turkish Commander-in-Chief at Kut, had been making demonstrations towards Amara, and Sir John Nixon now resolved on an immediate advance up the Tigris, with Kut-el-Amara as the objective, by the 6th Division, under General Townshend. How successfully this was carried out under the most trying circumstances, how the battle of Es Sinn was fought and won, and how the routed Turks evacuated Kut-el-Amara, are matters which are described by eye-witnesses in fullest detail in the diaries printed in the following pages. From the 1st August until the end of the year General Townshend and his gallant Division stand out as the central figures in the Mesopotamian Campaign. Advancing from Kut they drove the enemy before them to within a distance of thirty miles of Baghdad, and then (22nd November), pinning him to his strong position at Ctesiphon, fought him for three days with the greatest valour, and captured his trenches and several of his guns, only to be robbed of complete victory by insufficient numbers to meet the heavily reinforced Turks. That the enemy had been severely punished is vouched for by the fact that General Townshend was able to break off the engagement and effect the withdrawal of his whole force, together with the wounded and such Turkish prisoners (between 1,300 and 1,400) as had been taken, to the river at Lajj, nine miles from the battlefield. This took place on the night of the 25th/26th November, and at Lajj the force remained until the following night, while the wounded were being sent down the river.
From Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's diary. August 2nd.—Amara. We heard this evening that the Turks at Fillai-fillah did not wait for General Delamain, but fired a few rounds from their guns, and then cleared. The 117th go up to Ali-al-Gharbi tomorrow.
August 4th.—A statement of the Nasiriyeh casualties came in today: 15 officers killed, and 30 wounded; other ranks about 600 killed and wounded, but we hear that nearly 2,000 went sick from the awful heat. The 24th Punjabis suffered most heavily, and are said to have been bogged in the marshes, and then fired into from the rear by so called friendly Arabs, losing all their officers except Colonel Climo and one subaltern. No Arabs are friendly if they get the chance of being anything else. One can only judge them by the way they have let the Turks down every time.
August 5th.—General Hoghton arrived today to command our Brigade.
August 7th.—The 73rd Battery, the Howitzers, and the Norfolks returned from Nasiriyeh today.
August 8th.—Busy with machine-guns, skirmishing drill, etc. There is a rumour that the Turks are withdrawing from Kut to Ctesiphon.
August 10th.— I got orders to embark with the Machine-Gun Section and two guns to-morrow evening, 20,000 rounds, to act as escort to a reconnaissance to Ali-al-Gharbi. Arab rifle thieves busy in camp.
August 11th.—Inspected by Brigadier-General Hoghton. The 110th Mahrattas arrived. A squadron of 7th Lancers left for Ali-al-Gharbi.
August 12th.—Got the guns on board "T. 2" last night, and started at 4 a.m. today. Strong north wind, and it was actually cool—almost cold. There were on board General Fry, Colonel Evans (G.S.O. 1), Colonel Hehir (A.D.M.S., 6th Division), Colonel Chitty (D.A.A.G.), Winsloe (C.R.E.), and Morland (G.S.O. 3). We steamed all day through flat, desert country; the river, with low mud banks, yellower than ever. Passed Kumait, where the 22nd Punjabis were lately in camp, and Ali Sherki, where there is a cool-looking grove of willows, and a fine tomb with a dome of glazed yellow and blue tiles.
We reached Ali-al-Gharbi at 5.30 p.m., and went ashore. Heard from Cochran (Political) that Yussuf Nureddin (brother of the Turkish cavalry commander), a sly old dog, who used to live at Amara, is catching and hanging all our spies. At Sheikh Saad, 30 miles higher up, 200 Turks and 4 guns are reported; and at Kut various estimates—probably 10 battalions and 16 guns—but it is said that they are ready to withdraw to Ctesiphon.
August 13th.—Returned to Amara, leaving Ali-al-Gharbi at 9.30 a.m., and doing the 90 odd miles in 8 hours. We had a following wind, and found it very hot. Powell tells us that they started work today with the new field wireless set, which has a range of 300 miles by day, and can get Bushire (in the Gulf) at any time.
August 14th.—Have been ordered to train two more Machine-Gun Sections, as we are to have 6 guns per battalion. The difficulty will be to get the men. The "Sumana" brought up two more 4.7 inch guns.
August 15th.— The first half of the 120th Rajputana Infantry arrived yesterday, and the remainder come tomorrow.
August 17th.—A Brigade exercise in the morning; the Machine-Gun Section of all three regiments brigaded together, under Courtis, who is now to command permanently the Brigade machine-guns The 22nd Punjabis have their section with them at Ali-al-Gharbi.
August 18th.—Some days ago we had been told that we were going to move forward up river almost at once; now we hear that India has not yet given leave for us to go beyond this place (Amara).
Captain J. J. Powell's Diary. August 21st.—The 20th Punjabis are leaving Kalaat Salih, and are going up to Ali-al-Gharbi, to join the 16th Brigade. They will be relieved by the 2/7th Gurkhas, who are very weak, having lost many men from disease. The 22nd Punjabis will rejoin our Brigade, when we go to Ali-al-Gharbi. The l/4th Hants are to garrison this place when we move forward.
August 23rd.—"T. 2" arrived from up-river in the evening with General Hoghton, who was not much impressed with Ali-al-Gharbi —a hot and dusty place, with no trees to speak of. The enemy's cavalry are supposed to have come down to within nine miles of it, and a certain amount of sniping goes on there every night. Above Ali-al-Gharbi the river becomes very bad, as there are many shoals and sand-banks, which are continually shifting; in fact, until the rains start in October, the river has no fixed channel.
August 24th.—H.M.S. "Comet" went up to Ali-al-Gharbi, having failed to get there yesterday, owing to the wind, which kept blowing her on to the bank. She cannot steam much more than 4 knots up stream, and is not too easy to manage, as she has fixed paddles, which makes turning difficult. She has been on the river for years, and before the war was the yacht and guardship of the British Political Agent at Baghdad.
August 25th.—Tug "Sherin" brought up two more aeroplanes. More are coming, as new machines have arrived from home. The Jaipur Transport Corps left today for Ali-al-Gharbi. It is getting very hot again, as the wind has dropped. The l/4th Hants arrived in the evening, and are only 170 strong, as they had to send a great number of their men back to India after the march up the Kharkeh River, with General Gorringe, in April. The 63rd Battery R.F.A. also arrived.
From Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's Diary.
August 26th.—There are a large number of boats on the river now, so we are hoping for a move on. We played the west bank at rounders this afternoon, and were defeated. We have just heard of a House of Commons speech (as reported in the "'Times"), on the subject of comforts for the troops in Mesopotamia. As far as Basra is concerned, it may be all right, but elsewhere all that was said is quite untrue and utter nonsense. We once had ice for a fortnight, but since then the machine has been out of order. Potatoes we have not seen for many months now.
August 27th.—Aeroplanes much in evidence, flying over the aerodrome on the west bank; also practising artillery observation, the Volunteer Artillery (Eurasian) doing the shooting.
We received a draft of 197 men, mostly reservists from India, others from T.F. battalions of Somerset, Border, and Wilts. Also 3 officers from those regiments—Mellor, Wilson, and Heawood.
August 28th.—General Townshend arrived from India.
August 31st.—Drew 12 mules for the machine-guns, and not at all bad ones. General Townshend came round to the mess, and was very interesting about future plans.
September 1st.—We are to leave tomorrow. Very busy, but all going well. A draft of 250 men have arrived for the l/4th Hants.
September 2nd.—Started off with the mules and horses at 6 a.m., and had them all embarked on "P. 1" by 6.45 without any trouble. The Regiment was on board by 8.30. An awful day, with a tearing, scorching wind, and the ship frightfully crowded. We got to Ali Sherki by dark (7.30 p.m.), and tied up for the night to the left bank, just above the village. Anyone who liked was allowed to sleep ashore, but I personally preferred the deck.
September 3rd.—All on board again by 4.30 a.m., and we were off by 5.30. A scorching north-west wind again. At 9.30 a.m. our starboard barge bumped the bank, and we ran aground, and could not get off, against the wind, for four hours. The air was thick with sand, and one could scarcely breathe. Eventually we arrived at Ali-al-Gharbi at about 5 p.m., disembarked, and bivouacked on the shore below the town. We had a good deal of difficulty in getting off the horses and mules, as there is no pier, and the ramp down to the shore was very steep. We hear that there is a considerable amount of sniping into the 22nd Punjabis' camp here. A man was killed last night.
September 4th.—We have got a walled garden and a piece of open desert at the north end of the town for our camp—not a bad place. All day spent in pitching camp. I have got the mules and horses in a small, mud-walled yard in rear, which is quite safe from snipers.
September 6th.—This morning a small force, consisting of 1 squadron of the 7th, 1 section of guns, the 20th Punjabis, and 104th Rifles, went out to try and round up some mobile cavalry that has been hanging about. They do not seem to have had much success, and suffered severely from the heat, the 20th losing two dead and several sick. We are now in E.P. Tents, 2 officers to each. Quite comfortable, but frightfully hot. Yesterday it was up to 121°, which is a bit thick.
September 9th.—We were informed two days ago that we are to march on the 12th, and are to have camel transport, the camels being supplied by local Arabs. None have come in so far, and Arabs who possess camels are said to be trekking for the desert for all they are worth. I have been trying for the last month to get a pony from the Remount, but without success, so to-day, in desperation, I bought a little beast from an Arab for ten guineas.
September 11th.—Aeroplane reconnaissance reports no Turks between here and Sheikh Saad, our destination. Unfortunately, the aeroplane, on landing, got smashed up. It is an old, slow Maurice Farman, but we have none to spare. The transport of our Brigade for the march consists of 100 camels, 200 donkeys, and 4 cows. It will march separately, under a large escort.
September 12th.—Started at 5 a.m. and marched till 9 a.m., with one halt. Our casualties from heat were 24; the Dorsets many more, including two deaths. It was after 10 a.m. before we started pitching camp, as there was a lot of delay. "P. 2," our parent ship, which follows us by river, was very late in arriving with tents and stores. General Townshend came round in the evening.
September 13th.—Marched at 4.15 a.m., and had a long trek over bad country, and travelled a good deal too fast—our Brigade leading. We halted for the day at 8 a.m., and there was again a long delay in selecting the camping ground. We are one march from Sheikh Saad, and hearing that the place was evacuated, General Townshend went on there in the "Comet."
September 14th.—Marched at 3.45 a.m., and at 8 a.m. halted for the day at Sheikh Saad. Very hot day; we had 12 men down with heat-stroke. As soon as we had pitched tents, the most awful sandstorm came on with a scorching wind, the sand getting into one's eyes, nose, ears, and throat. The ship, with officers' mess stores, was blown on to the bank, and we got nothing up until the evening. The aeroplane reports Es Sinn very nearly evacuated, so we are to press on to-morrow, instead of halting 8 days here to complete our concentration, as originally intended.
September 15th.—Marched at 3.45 a.m., halted for the day at 8, and got into camp at 10.30 a.m.; 6 men sick. Our cavalry patrols in touch with enemy's cavalry. All the mules are getting sore backs.
September 16th.—Marched at 4.15 a.m., and had a short march to Sannaiyat, 12 miles short of Es Sinn. We have been marching on the right bank of the river all the way from Ali-al-Gharbi. The report that the Turks have evacuated their position at Es Sinn is quite wrong. They are there in force, and this morning one of our reconnoitring aeroplanes was shot down and landed in their lines. Rather serious, as it was the best of the remaining machines, and a pilot and observer (Treloar and Atkins) have gone, too. The "Comet" saw the whole thing, but could not help. Here we halt for probably 10 days—a welcome rest for the men after their hard work in the scorching heat.
There was some sniping last night. Two of the Dorsets and two natives were hit. We bagged one Arab. We had a "long lie" this morning, which was very pleasant.
September 18th.—The force has now to stand to arms at 4 o'clock each morning for a couple of hours. It is considered quite likely that the Turks will attack us here, but we are not to make any defences except some shallow lying-down trenches, the idea being to "foster the offensive spirit," i.e., if the Turks make any sign of coming for us, we are to go for them in the open. Our piquet line is about 1,500 yards to the front.
Today we have at last heard something more about our extra machine-gun section, which seemed to have been forgotten. We are to get 4 or 6 guns, but this is leaving things to the eleventh hour with a vengeance. September 19th.—Just as we were opening our mail and thinking of breakfast, we were ordered to stand-to. Great excitement, and we stood. Then the order came to fall-out, but to stand by, with equipment on. So, with loins girded, we returned to our breakfast, and had just finished, when we were ordered out again. We moved about a mile from camp, but were then sent back' disconsolate. Later we heard that the trouble arose from a flock of sheep being mistaken in the mirage for Turks; but the discovery was not made until the heavy guns had put about 50 shells into them. The men are delighted, and say that there will be mutton for dinner tomorrow!
The Bishop held a large open-air service in the evening, and preached a very fine sermon.
September 20th.—The day before yesterday a reconnaissance of the 7th Lancers and 20th Punjabis went up the left bank, got in touch with the enemy, and captured an officer and three men; but today a patrol of the 7th Lancers got scuppered and cut up by Arabs, only one of their number getting away.
I have seen a map of the Es Sinn position, which looks as if it would be a tough nut to crack. It lies astride the river, and apparently there are some 12 miles of trenches and redoubts, and 32 gun-emplacements .
September 21st.—Rather heavily sniped last night; a bullet through my tent and into the ground near my bed. I was sleeping outside. One of the most disagreeable duties one has to perform here is at the Observation Post, with eyes glued to field-glasses. What with the constant sand-storms and mirage, it is almost impossible to see anything.
September 23rd.—The Machine-Gun Brigade paraded this morning for a final polish-up. No further news of the extra guns.
September 24th.—Seaplanes arrived, and have been scudding about. They look huge and heavy, and seem very slow climbers. They have come from East Africa, where they took part in the destruction of the "Koenigsberg," in the Rufiji River. We are to march early the day after tomorrow, and are the strongest unit in the force—about 700 rifles.
September 25th.—About 4.30 this morning, while we were standing-to, fire was suddenly opened on us from guns apparently close to the opposite bank. For about five minutes the fire was brisk, direction good, but range (luckily for us) about 100 yards over. I counted 7 shrapnel bursting together, which looks like Q.F. guns. All tents were struck at once, but it was most difficult to get the men down. They all wanted to stand up and have a look. Later in the morning Sir J. Nixon and Headquarter Staff arrived, also some motor ambulances, and machine-guns mounted on motor-cars.
We are putting all kits on board the ships to-night, after which we shall have one blanket apiece.
September 26th.—We started at 5 a.m. and marched, on the right bank, for about two hours, when we reached Chahela Mounds, about 6,000 yards from the enemy's position. The march was quite uneventful, except for two land-mines exploding, one of which killed a sergeant of the Dorsets! We could see our planes being shelled, but without effect.
At 2.30 p.m. they started shelling our camp. We are evidently a bit too near. They put several shells into the 22nd Punjabis, and went precious close to some of the ships, especially the old "Comet." One 15-lb. shell fell just short of our mess, and just missed Munton (103rd), who was walking towards us. Fortunately it was a "dud." Soon afterwards a 40-lb. shell burst right over us, but, though bits flew among the dinner, it did no harm.