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Kut 1916
Courage and Failure in Iraq 

Kut 1916 Courage and Failure in IraqThis modest venture led to a British military disaster so total yet unnecessary, so futile yet expensive, that its like did not occur again until the fall of Singapore in 1942.

The town of Kut in Mesopotamia, now Iraq, surrendered to the Turkish Army on 29 April 1916. The occupying British-led and mainly Indian Army force had been besieged for four months. 12,000 soldiers were taken into captivity and were to suffer almost as much as their countrymen did in different circumstances under the Japanese nearly thirty years later. There had been 3,776 casualties during the siege, 23,000 men were killed or wounded during the unsuccessful relief attempts and a further 4,000 were to die, subsequently, as prisoners. It was, arguably, Britain’s worse military defeat since the surrender of Cornwallis’s army in 1781 during the American Revolutionary War and came only a few months after the evacuation from Gallipoli.

The campaign in Mesopotamia was India’s main contribution to the First World War. It spawned two major enquiries, the resignation of Austen Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for India, and the offer of resignation from Lord Hardinge, the Viceroy of India. It is now a littleknown affair, overshadowed by the scale of the First World War and the attention that is given to the Western Front and Gallipoli. However, it was an expeditionary campaign fought over ground to which the British Army was to deploy again in the 1920s and 1940s and assault through in 1991 and 2003. Many Britons, both military and civilian, have seen service in the area, so the fascinating story of Kut is currently of great pertinence. Foresightedly, in his analysis of the campaign in 1926, Major Evans commented: ‘Unless these difficulties are studied, unless they are met before, and not after, they occur; unless the essentials of the problem are appreciated before the solution is begun, the mistakes in 1914–18 will occur.’3

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