23 December 1915 – Redoubt

Turkish troops began to surround the British force at Kut al-Amarah during the first week of December. After deploying his army for three days to assault the city on all sides, Colonel Nureddin Pasha formally requested that General Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend surrender, beginning hostilities in earnest the next day. But three days of human wave assaults on the northern defensive perimeter and constant bombardment failed to penetrate into the city, so Nureddin switched to sapping, and focused his shellfire on the old fort at the northeast corner of the ancient city. The garrison — a mixed force of British and Indian troops — made spoiling sorties last week, slowing Nureddin’s progress but not breaking the siege. Tonight, an intense bombardment of the antique fort by his field guns ends just before midnight, at which moment his infantry surges from their trenches to rush the breach. Nureddin is attacking the strongest point of Townshend’s defense plan.

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A map of the defenses at Kut. Note the demolished pontoon bridges

Nureddin’s men occupy the fort for only a moment. An immediate counterattack by the Oxford Light Infantry expels them, leaving many dead Turks behind. After morning prayers, the Colonel tries again with the same plan of concentrated fire followed by an infantry assault, but the all-day fight ends on Christmas morning with hundreds of Ottoman soldiers dead. Less than two hundred defenders have been killed or wounded. Cut off from overland communications, Townsend reports to Basra by radio:

The enemy effected a lodgment in the northern bastion, were ejected, came on again, and occupied the bastion. The garrison (Oxford Light Infantry and 103rd Mahrattas) held on to an entrenchment, and were reinforced by the 48th Pioneers and the Norfolk Regiment. The enemy vacated the bastion on Christmas morning, and retired into trenches from 400 to 900 yards in the rear, although the attack had been made from trenches only about 100 yards from the breach. The rest of Christ­mas Day passed quietly. The fort garrison, in excellent spirits, reoccupied the bastion.

Having tried and failed to storm the city, Nureddin changes his strategy. Holding his lines around Kut al-Amarah with a minimum of strength, on the 28th of December he begins moving downriver to Sheikh Saad to block the Army of India from relieving Townshend and choke the garrison’s logistical lifeline. Having set out for Baghdad with such promise this year, Townshend has led his little army into a trap from which it cannot hope to escape — one of the worst defeats in the history of the British Empire.

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A map of the siege lines downriver of Kut al-Amarah. Click to embiggen