EXTRACTED FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
BATTLE OF ES SINN.
Captain J. J. Powell's Account.
(See Sketch Map, No. 2.)
Aeroplane reconnaissance discovered the following information regarding the Turkish position : Lying astride the River Tigris, some six miles below Kut-el-Amara, it faced north-east, and guarded a deep loop of the river. On the south, or right bank, the position extended for at least five miles, and ended at the Dujailah Redoubt," a large and strong work, protecting the right flank. Between the river and this redoubt the ground was very heavily entrenched; near the bank small works, connected by a series of fire and communication trenches, had been thrown up; next, at a distance of about a mile and a half from the bank, were a few gun-emplacements, enfilading the long reach of the river down towards Saffa; and thence the position ran south-east along the line of a broad and solidly-banked dry canal, with one or two smaller dry watercourses in rear. At the bottom of the loop in the river stood a small fort, in the vicinity of which were huts and tents for the Turkish garrison of this part of the position.
On the north, or left bank, the position was divided into three distinct sections, separated by marshes. The first section extended from the obstruction which had been placed in the river to the Horse-shoe Marsh, a distance of about 1,500 yards, and had one strong work in the centre, with flanking trenches running out on either side, and having a very efficient system of communication trenches to the rear. In this section had been observed several gun-emplacements (as shown on the map), so sited as to command the river approach, and co-operate in dealing with a possible attack on the right-bank position. The central section, closing the gap between the Horse-shoe Marsh and the Suwada Marsh (a distance of about 1 ½ miles), was perhaps the strongest part of the line, being protected by rifle pits and wide stretches of barbed-wire entanglement. The trenches were very deep and narrow, with a parapet of barely 9 inches, so gradually sloped to the front as to have the appearance of being on the ground level, thus affording an excellent field of fire, and making the trenches difficult to locate. Gun-emplacements had also been seen in this section, but only a few guns had been observed, as the Turks ran them under cover on the approach of our aircraft. Lastly, the whole of the foreground for a considerable distance had been most carefully cleared of brushwood and grass.
The third section, situated to the north-west of the Suwada Marsh, consisted of four self-contained works, surrounded by several bays of barbed-wire entanglement, and connected by fire trenches, with a perfect maze of communication trenches in rear, which in parts ran back a mile behind the position and joined up successive lines of trenches. Between the Suwada Marsh and the southernmost work of this section (a distance of some 1,100 yards) there were only a few rifle pits and machine-gun emplacements. According to aeroplane reports there were several gun positions in this section. At one time the small marsh (Ataba) lying to the south-west of the Suwachi Marsh almost touched the northernmost work, but it had been gradually drying up, and there was a considerable tract of dry ground between the work and the marsh. The weakness thus resulting to their left flank had been realized by the Turks, who were building a second line of redoubts echeloned to the rear.
About two miles below Kut the enemy had thrown a bridge across the river, thus providing communication between the two portions of the position; and close to the bridge several large camps had been located—evidently the position of the reserves.
So much for what was known of the position prior to the battle.
The enemy's force was thought to consist of 1,600 cavalry, 24 guns of various calibre, 6,000 infantry, and some 500 Arab tribesmen.—J. J. P.
I will now pass to the plan of operations.
First day (September 26th).--The 18th Brigade to go by river up to Nakhailat, accompanied by the heavy guns on barges; disembark on the left bank below Nakhailat, under cover of the fire of the heavy guns. A few of the cavalry, the 104th, and nearly all the transport to march up the left bank as far as Nakhailat, and thence proceed to the east corner of the Suwada Marsh. There to halt and form a post to protect the right flank of the force, and suitable for a starting point for further operations.
The remainder of the force to proceed to the Mounds east of Chahela, on the right bank, and there encamp. Their parent ships to follow up the river, and anchor about 1 ½ miles below the camp.
Later in the day demonstrations to be made on the right bank, to induce the enemy to expect attack on his right flank. Simultaneously the 18th Brigade to move up the left bank to within 5,000 yards of the centre section of the enemy's position on that bank.
Second day (September 21th).--The 18th Brigade to push on up to within 3,500 yards of the section of the enemy's position between Horse-shoe Marsh and the river. There to entrench, with a view to covering the heavy guns coming up into prepared positions during the night.
The troops encamped on the right bank to move out and make further demonstrations on that side of the river, but to withdraw, without becoming seriously engaged, at dusk.
The pontoon bridge, brought up from Sannaiyat, to be got ready during the day, and thrown across the river close to the camp as soon as it was dark.
Leaving the tents in the camp standing in full view of the enemy, the troops on the right bank (less the 30th Brigade), under General Delamain, to cross the bridge after dark, march out to the post at the corner of the Suwada Marsh, and there halt.
Third day (September 28th).--At 2 a.m. the march to be resumed, leaving behind the second-line transport in charge of half the 117th and picking up the 104th, to the place of deployment, about 5,500 yards east of the northernmost work of the enemy's position.
The northern section was then to be attacked as follows : Part of the force to make a frontal attack on the redoubt second from the north; the remainder to march round the left flank of the position, and attack the northernmost redoubt in flank, thereby rolling up the whole of the northern section before the Turkish reserves (near the bridge below Kut) could come up.
With the commencement of the above attack, the 18th Brigade, covered by the fire of the heavy guns R.G.A., and some 4.7-inch Q.F. guns in horse barges on the river, to move forward against the centre section, in order to distract the enemy's attention from the flank attack. Then, as soon as the northern section had been carried, if the enemy had not already fled, the centre section to be attacked from front and flank.
The 30th Brigade (370 men of the 2/7th Gurkhas, and half 76th Punjabis) to remain on the right bank, to protect the camp, bridge, and shipping from possible enemy attacks on that bank.
An aeroplane to destroy, if possible, the Turkish bridge, and thus prevent the enemy from moving reinforcements from one bank to the other.
Lieut.-Commander, Cookson's River Column (H.M.S. "Comet," " Shaitan," and " Sumana") to assist in the operations as far as possible with their 12-pounders and machine-guns.
Headquarters on S.S. "Mejidieh," anchored near Nakhailat. September 26th.—Marched out of Sannaiyat camp at 5 a.m., 17th Brigade in rear, with only 6 miles to go. Before we left a detached post on the lines of communication was established at Sannaiyat, and consisted of all the weak men of the force, with a few others, and one gun of the Volunteer Battery. We reached the mounds east of Chahela at 7.30 a.m., and as we are to be here for the next two days, set to work to entrench the camp forthwith. Half the tents were pitched, later, all along the perimeter, to make the force appear to the Turks to be larger than it really is. While the entrenching was in progress the Dorsets dug over some Turkish mines, which exploded, but luckily only one sergeant was killed. One of our remaining aeroplanes capsized in landing, and is now out of action. The ships came up and anchored about a mile below the camp, out of range of the enemy's guns, which began to shell us in the afternoon. Very little damage was done, and only a few men were hit. As a result of this, and in expectation of being shelled at night, "funk pits" were dug for all troops. In the evening' the 103rd were sent out about a mile south of the mounds, to protect our flank, with orders to remain out until relieved by a force which is going out early in the morning to demonstrate on that flank.
The 18th Brigade disembarked from their ships, pushed up the left bank, and have occupied some high ground west of Chahela, meeting with very little opposition, but coming under fire from some of the Turkish guns. The 104th and their column have reached the corner of Suwada Marsh without opposition, are establishing themselves there, and are forming a depot for the force, with two days' complete rations.
September 27th.—During the night the camp was shelled, but no damage was done, beyond one or two casualties, as the troops were in the trenches, previously dug. At about 4 a.m. the 43rd, 119th, one squadron of cavalry, and two guns R.F.A., under Colonel Darley (119th), moved out to the mounds occupied during the night by the 103rd, who now returned to camp. We had orders to show ourselves as much as possible, but on no account to be drawn into an action with the enemy, as we were there merely to induce the Turkish general to believe that the attack was coming on his right flank. As soon as it was light the guns opened fire, to cover the advance of our demonstration, and to allow the 18th Brigade to carry on the advance begun yesterday on the left bank. The demonstration remained out until noon, and then returned to camp. Meanwhile the 18th Brigade made good the ground up to within 3,000 yards of the centre section of the left bank position, and drove in the enemy's advanced troops, with very little opposition, and not having more than 30 casualties. Having gained the required ground, they dug themselves in, so as to be ready to cover the landing of the heavy guns (two 4-inch of the 104th R.G.A., and two 5-inch of the 86th R.G.A.) at night, and their advance to the emplacement to be dug for them as soon as it became dark. The Turks contented themselves with dropping occasional shells on the 18th Brigade during the day, but without much effect.
At 5 p.m. part of the 16th Brigade (Dorsets and 20th Punjabis) went out up the right bank, and commenced to entrench in full view of the enemy, with the object of strengthening the idea that the right-bank position was going to be attacked. They rejoined the force at dark, by which time the working parties had completed the roads down to the bridge, which was then thrown across.
At 7 p.m. the 17th Brigade fell in and marched off to the bridge, and commenced to cross in rear of the artillery. There was a certain amount of delay in getting the transport across, and checks were frequent, since the roads on either side of the bridge were steep and heavy with sand, and silent movement was essential. The roa4way of the bridge had been covered with earth and straw to deaden the sound, and small searchlights played on the river above the bridge to detect any mines which the enemy might float down.
Having crossed to the left bank we formed up at Nakhailat, and then marched out towards the corner of the Suwada Marsh, where the 104th (Colonel Clery) had formed the post, and prepared bivouac grounds for the whole of Column "A," as our force was called. Davenport led the Brigade, and we reached Clery's Post at 9 p.m. Loads were removed from the mules, and the animals were sent off to water, but only a few would drink, as the water of the marsh was brackish. A little later the remainder of the transport arrived, and we got some food; but sleep was out of the question, owing to the intense cold. We walked about to keep ourselves warm, and the strictest silence was maintained. The empty tents, which we had left standing at the Chahela camp, drew the enemy's fire, and were heavily shelled throughout the night.
September 28th.—Column "A" marched off at 2 a.m. across the enemy's front to the point of deployment. We moved in two columns, at about 200 yards interval, with a small advanced guard, and the scouts of the 43rd in front as a guard for Matthews (R.E.), who was leading the Column, with Davenport, checking the distance covered. The night was very still, and nothing was to be heard, except an occasional rattle of the packs on the mules, or the distant sound of artillery wheels in rear. At about 4.45 a.m. scouts were sent out to pick up the Suwachi Marsh, which was soon discovered quite close at hand. We marched up along the edge of the marsh for a short distance, and at 5 a.m. we halted at the point of deployment. Our exact position on the ground was not certain, as no landmarks were visible, and the situation of the marsh did not appear to correspond altogether with its outline on the aeroplane map—probably due to the fact that, like all these marshes, it had been drying up for some time.
The whole force now formed up as follows : On the left the Dorsets, half the 117th Mahrattas, the 22nd Company Sappers and Miners, the 63rd Battery R.F.A., the Hants Howitzer Battery, and a battery of six Maxims in A.T. carts (General Delamain), ready to make the frontal attack on the second work. On the right General Hoghton, with the 17th Brigade (43rd, 22nd Punjabis, 103rd Mahrattas, 119th Infantry) and two Battalions of the 16th Brigade (20th and 104th Punjabis), to move farther round to the flank and attack the northernmost work from the north-west.
Between the Suwachi Marsh and the latter work the map showed a small circular marsh (Ataba), and it had been intended that General Hoghton's force should move to the south of this, and then take the work in flank. But the marsh was farther south than we had imagined, and we marched round to the north of it, instead of to the south, with the result that we found ourselves in rear of the work instead of on its flank. As soon as all of us were round the marsh, we formed up for attack, and the Cavalry Brigade (7th Lancers and 16th Cavalry, with two machine-guns mounted on motorcars), who had accompanied us, took up a position far out on our flank, to protect it, and to reconnoitre to the west and towards Kut-el-Amara. We saw no more of them during the day.
In the meanwhile, owing to the delay caused by our long march, General Delamain's frontal attack was badly held up, but the 43rd, 22nd, and 119th relieved the situation by immediately moving to the attack of the northernmost work. At the same time the machine-guns and the 104th were sent out to deal with a counterattack which was developing on our right flank; but this was soon stifled, and the enemy surrendered. These proved to be a party of Turks engaged in building a new redoubt in rear of the northernmost work, to protect the flank, now exposed by the drying up of the small circular marsh. As we advanced to the attack the 22nd was obliged to halt and face to the south, to meet another counterattack, so the 103rd was ordered up to take their place in the attack. The 20th was then sent to support the 22nd. Shortly after this General Delamain's force, together with the 119th, and assisted by the 76th Battery R.F.A., carried one redoubt; and the 43rd, attacking it in rear, carried the other, after very heavy fighting, the Turks hanging on to their trenches in the most dogged manner. It was found that several of the communication trenches were fire-trenches, and each work was self-contained, with barbed wire all round.
By 1 p.m. the whole of the northern section of the position was in our hands, and such Turks as remained were made prisoners.
The Dorsets had had fairly heavy casualties, nearly all their officers being wounded, but mostly only slightly. The 43rd had Melclon wounded, and a few men killed and wounded, while the 119th had Nicholson killed and Taylor wounded.
As soon as the works had been cleared the 119th were left behind to garrison them, and General Delamain took all the other regiments of Column "A," except the 22nd, 20th, and 104th, and moved to the west of the Suwada Marsh.
General Hoghton, with the 22nd, 20th, and 104th, pushed down in the direction of the river, to deal with counter-attacks which were developing from that quarter, the 76th and 82nd Batteries R.F.A. assisting him with their fire. I, as Signalling Officer, accompanied General Hoghton, and thus for the time being was away from the Regiment. There was great difficulty in finding out what was going on in other parts of the field, as the telephone wire was continuously being cut by Arabs, who, we heard later on, hung about in rear of the fight, doing what damage they could, and cutting off any small parties of our men they came across. This difficulty in maintaining communication was constant thrcmghout the day; for a time we kept the telephone working with Headquarters, but the Arabs cut the line time after time, in spite of the fact that linesmen were continuously patrolling it. Visual communication, except within brigades, was impossible on account of mirage; and eventually recourse had to be had to aeroplanes.
About this time ammunition began to run short, and General Hoghton sent for the Brigade reserve. The enemy withdrew in front of our advance, but he brought his new Q.F. guns into action, which caused some casualties in our ranks, until our guns forced them to retire.
At about 3 p.m. a message was received from General Delamain, in which he said that he was hard pressed in front, and wished General Hoghton to join up with him, and reform. He also said that he had had no news of General Fry and the 18th Brigade.
Consequently, at about 3.30 p.m., General Hoghton began to draw off towards the west of the Suwada Marsh, to join General Delamain. On seeing this movement, the Turks opened a heavy artillery fire on our ammunition carts, with the result that several ponies were killed, and some of the carts knocked over, but the remainder succeeded in withdrawing.
At about 4 p.m. General Hoghton's battalions were in touch with General Delamain's force; and then an aeroplane brought a message' from General Fry to the effect that he was held up, and could not get on until we came to his assistance. General Delamain replied that we would start at once, and would endeavour to come in on the enemy's flank, starting our attack at about 5.30 p.m. Orders were given out, and soon after 5 p.m. we moved off in a south-south-easterly direction, not too fresh, and suffering from want of water, since none had been procurable during the day, the marsh water being too brackish to drink.
After going a short distance we saw, about a mile away, a large force of the enemy moving up as if to reinforce the Turks opposite General Fry. No doubt they had been sent out to make a counterattack- on us after dark. We immediately wheeled round to our right and faced south-west, so as to get into a suitable formation for attack. Our guns promptly opened fire on the enemy, and soon silenced his four guns, but had to cease firing fairly soon, as it was getting too dark to distinguish friend from foe. The maxim battery also came into action, and covered the advance of the infantry. The wheel completed, the whole force began to advance; 17th Brigade on the left, with the 43rd and 22nd in front line, and 103rd in support; 16th Brigade on the right, with the Dorsets and 104th leading. The men, who a few minutes before could hardly move from sheer exhaustion and thirst, suddenly revived, and commenced to advance at top speed in the best of style.
Captain Powell, being with the Brigade Signal Section, speaks with first-hand knowledge of the messages received and sent; while others who have described the fight, being unaware of these messages, knew no reason, at the time, for the movements which followed. From the receipt of General Fry's message appears to have resulted the final defeat of the Turks at Es Sinn,—ed.
Before we had gone far we were met by a very heavy fire, but, thanks to the failing light, their aim was rather high, and, consequently, most of our casualties occurred at some distance from the enemy's position and amongst the supports. The 103rd were ordered up to reinforce the first line, as a gap was starting between the 43rd and 22nd. I was sent off to get them up. It was dark before we approached close to the position, but as soon as we were near enough we charged. I was still with the 103rd, when I was hit within about ten yards of the position.
As soon as the position was carried the force halted, and as a further advance in the dark was out of the question, arrangements were made to meet possible attacks during the night.
I was bandaged up by Private Stevens (one of the Regimental Signallers), and was then carried back for more than a mile by him and Corporals Purseglove, Ballard, Oliffe, and Cave. One of them went on, to try to find the ambulance, but it had m'oved. A little later some more wounded of the Regiment were found, and I was left with them. A few Turks came wandering past us, and these, including an officer, were captured by our escort. At about 11 p.m. Foljambe and Startin found us and brought out some mule rugs to cover us up, as the night was becoming very cold. Heard that poor Simpson had fallen in the beginning of the attack, being hit clean through the forehead and killed instantaneously. The total casualties in the Regiment are supposed to be about 85.
September 29th.—In the early morning nearly all the wounded were collected and taken to the spot where the Brigade had spent the night. We were conveyed there in carts, and we spent the remainder of the day lying in a ditch. All the prisoners were also brought in to this spot, and a strong escort left in charge. At about 8 a.m. the force marched off, to fight its way to the river and get water, no one having had any for 36 hours. The river was reached without opposition, and every available receptacle was filled with water. At about 10.30 a.m. packhals reached us. Simpson was buried before the Brigade marched off.
The 18th Brigade were ordered to embark on their ships, and take up the pursuit of the enemy, who was retiring towards Baghdad, with our cavalry following them. The 16th Brigade set out on the march to Kut-el-Amara, which was reported to have been evacuated, while the 17th Brigade went into camp on the river bank, about two miles above the Es Sinn position.
In the evening all the wounded were carried down to the camp by the river, and placed in the ambulance.
The 22nd Punjabis went into camp at our resting-place of the day, with orders to send out search parties, to bring in any wounded who might still be lying out concealed in the high grass. The 119th rejoined the Brigade today, from the captured works which they-had been garrisoning since yesterday morning.
September 30th.—A lot of wounded were found and brought in yesterday, and a good many dead were decently buried, but in several cases not before the Arabs had mutilated the bodies. Heard that the 18th Brigade, in their ships, had stuck for 24 hours off Kut, and so were unable to assist the cavalry, who, consequently, were forced to keep at a respectful distance from the Turks. The latter, it is reported, have recovered from their defeat here, and are now making a most orderly retirement up the river, which would never have happened if the 18th Brigade's ships had not run aground.
All the wounded have been taken over by No. 1 Field Ambulance, and I was moved into my own tent, which my servant, Kirby, had pitched for me amongst the ambulance tents. The men have been most attentive to me since I was hit, moving me with the greatest care, and doing everything in their power to make me comfortable.
Lieut. Birch-Reynardson's Diary September 30th.-Rode into Kut with Wynter, and found that all rumours of further captures by the 18th Brigade were quite untrue; in fact, the Brigade in their ships had stuck on the mud, and had only just got off when we arrived there.
Kut is a wretched place, and the dust awful. There is a good minaret and some nice houses on the front. It looks about the same size as Amara, but I believe is much smaller.
On the way back we found a wounded Turk, who had been lying out three days without water. Luckily we saw the motor-ambulance car, and managed to get it and put him in.