After 2 years of mixed fortunes, and the disastrous fall of Kut, the British Army in Mesopotamia spent much of 1916 reorganising and rebuilding their army. In December a new offensive began, mainly following the axis of the River Tigris. Taking part was the British 13th Division and the Indian III Corps – also known as the ‘Tigris Corps’.
The Ottoman defences were in a series of fortified positions astride the river. Unlike the British earlier, the Turks learnt from history and abandoned Kut in the face of the advancing British, rather than risk a siege. They then fell back upon Baghdad.
Khalil Pasha, the Turkish commander, decided to withdraw his forces from Baghdad on 10th March. The British followed up swiftly and the city was taken without much of a fight on 11th March 1917. The British troops received a mostly enthusiastic reception from the residents as they entered the city.
Sir Frederick Stanley Maude
The British commander, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, formerly of the Coldstream Guards, had distinguished himself earlier in World War 1 in both France and the Gallipoli campaign. He had fought the Turks before and respected their dogged courage. On 19th March Maude gave his proclamation of Baghdad which included the following passage:
“It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance, that you should prosper even as in the past, when your lands were fertile, when your ancestors gave to the world literature, science, and art, and when Baghdad city was one of the wonders of the world.”
The Tigris Corps Political Officer was Sir Percy Cox. He would become a major player in the future of Mesopotamia and Iraq. He would soon be joined by a woman who would become, and remains, a legend in Iraq – Gertrude Bell.
A sad postscript is that Maude died of Cholera in November 1917 and is buried in Baghdad (his grave is still there to visit). A reminder of the fact that disease can be almost as big a killer on campaign as shot and shell.